Jeffry Sachs – Summary of The End of Poverty, Chapters 12-16

This is a brief summary of the case Jeffry Sachs made for International Development Aid in his 2005 book ‘The End of Poverty’. Taken mainly from chapters 12-16

(1) Why is Aid needed?

Sachs argues that injections of aid are needed to break the poverty trap –because there is no where else money is going to come from when there is insufficient income to tax or save.

Sachs uses a description of a visit to Sauri village in Western Kenya to describe the poverty trap – the villagers face a range of poverty related problems including poor food yields due to lack of fertilisers and nitrogen-fixing trees, the fallout from diseases such as AIDS and malaria and the fact that children cannot concentrate in school because of malnutrition. All energies and money are basically spent on combating disease and staying alive.

As a result of the poverty trap the village faces under investment in the following five areas

  1. Agriculture
  2. Health
  3. Education
  4. Power, transport and communications infrastructure
  5. Sanitation and water.

Aid needs to be spent boosting whichever of these areas are undeveloped (and all of them, all at once, if necessary) because a weakness in one can mean money is wasted on another (it’s pointless spending billions on education if disease means kids can’t concentrate in school, or lack of roads means they can’t get to school.). This should be based on what Sachs calls a ‘clinical diagnoses‘ of a countries requirements.

(2) How much aid is needed?

There’s a number of ways of looking at this>

$70 per person per year for at least 5 years would being sufficient to provide suitable investment in these five areas for the poorest regions on earth (basically the bottom billion who are stuck in the poverty trap). After an initial 5 year period, Sachs believes that this figure should reduce considerably and that 10 years should be sufficient for a country to be self-sustaining financially.

Looked at globally The World Bank estimates that meeting basic needs costs $1.08 per person per day – 1.1 billion people lived below this with an average income of 77 cents. Making up the short fall would mean $124bn/ year, or 0.7% of rich world GNP.

(3) Arguements for providing International Development Aid

Firstly, using aid to eradicate poverty will make the world a more secure place

The US spends 30 times as much on its military as it does on aid (for the UK it’s about 8 times as much, 2002 figures), but spending money on military solutions is not going to make an insecure world more secure.

A CIA task force examined 113 cases of state failure between 1957 and 1994 and found that three explanatory variables are the most common:

  1. High infant mortality rates (which indicate low levels of material well-being)
  2. Openeness of the economy – the more open, the less stable
  3. Democracy – the more democratic, the more stable.

Sachs rounds off by listing 25 countries which America has intervened in following State Failure since 1962. His point is that state failure typically leads to US intervention, which is more costly than the price of providing aid which would prevent such interventions.

Secondly, Official Development Aid  is crucial to provide health, education and infrastructure, and because it makes up a significant part of the total income of many countries.

Thirdly,The  public will support a massive increase in aid if there’s leadership on the issue – nearly 90% of the US public support food aid (it depends how you frame the question). Also, broad support was garnered for The Marshall Plan, The Jubilee Drop the Debt Campaign and The Emergency AIDS campaign.

Fourthly – There is evidence that Aid can work:

Besides the usual green revolution and eradication of smallpox examples Sachs also cites…

  • The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation
  • The Campaign against Malaria
  • The Eradication of Polio
  • The spread of family planning
  • Export Processing Zones in East Asia
  • The Mobile Phone Revolution in Bangladesh

Five – the West can easily afford it 

Sachs points out that the richest 400 individuals incomes stand at just under $70 billion dollars, and the first two years of the Iraq War, which was an unexpected cost, was $60 bn a year, so basically yes. He also recommends a 10% additional tax on the richest for the purposes of development.

(4) Sach’s view of why Aid Doesn’t Always Work – Poor Countries Aren’t Getting Enough Aid! (**This can be used to criticise Dambisa Moyo”s views on aid. )

Poor countries are receiving no where need enough aid to make a difference to development – To demonstrate this he uses the West African Water initiative as an example – Worth $4.4 million over 3 years, but this only worked out at less than a penny per person per year, no where near enough to make a difference.

He also cites the case of Ethiopia – in 2003 it would have needed approx $70 billion to kick start development – half for health and most of the rest split between food productivity and infrastructure. It was then receiving $14 per head per year which was well short of the money needed. At the time the IMF acknowledged in private that this was not sufficient but in public made no mention of this.

Another way of outlining how limited current ODA is lies in the following:

in 2002 of $76 billion total assistance….only $12 billion amounted to what might be called development support to the poorest countries (most of the rest was emergency aid, with $6 billion being debt relief and $16 billion going to middle income countries.

As a result of this countries often don’t get anywhere near what they need – Sachs cites Ghana as an example – it requested $8 billion over 5 years in 2002 and got $2 billion. His point is that $2 billion is no where near enough to kick-start development.

(5)) Myths about why aid doesn’t work (**these could be used to criticise Dambisa Moyo)

He actually lists 10, but I’ve only included the first three!

Myth One – Giving aid is ‘money down the drain’

It is common to hear Americans bemoaning the fact that there is nothing to show for the amount of aid given to Africa. This is, however, unsurprising. The total amount of aid per Africa works out at $30 per head, but of this $5 goes to consultants, $4 was for food aid, $4 went to servicing debts and $5 for debt relief, leaving $12 per African.

Of the $3 of US aid to Africa, approximately 6 cents makes it on the ground African projects.

Myth Two – Aid programmes would fail in Africa because of backward cultural norms

Sachs points out that he frequently encounters prejudiced views based on African stereotypes even among those in senior positions in the aid industry – Such as the idea that Africans don’t understand western concepts of time. He dispels this by simply drawing on his own experiences telling him different things.

Myth 3 – Aid won’t work because of corruption

Nearly all low income level countries have poor levels of governance. However, corruption is not a reason to not invest in a country because the causal relationship runs in the direction of wealth reduces corruption. This is because when incomes increase people have more of an interest in keeping governments in check and there is more money to invest in good governance through better communication systems and a more educated civil service for example.

Looking at cross national comparisons reveals two things – Firstly that African countries governance levels are similar to similarly poor countries. That is to say that governance is not especially poor in Africa, and secondly there must be something else going which results in poverty other than poor governance – there are still some very poor countries in Africa with good governance yet high poverty, he cites Ghana as one such example.

Statistical indicators reveal that African countries grew at 3% percentage points slower than countries with similar levels of governance and income between 1980 and 2000. The reason for their low growth is geography and poorly developed infrastructure.

(6) A more ambitious approach to Development Aid

Ultimately Sachs believes we should be spending more on aid rather than less!

Sachs outlines ‘a needs assessment approach’ to development which basically involves identifying a package of basic needs, figuring out the investments required,, figuring out what poor countries can pay and then working out the finance gap which is what rich countries should meet. The list of basic needs includes such things as:

  • Primary education for all children, including teacher pupil ratios
  • universal access to antimalarial bednets
  • I kilometre of paved road per person
  • nutrition programmes for all vulnerable populations
  • access to modern cooking fuels
  • Access to clean water and sanitation.

To establish these poor countries would need $110 per person per year for 10 years (calculated by the UN for five countries – Bangladesh, Ghana, Cambodia, Tanzania and Uganda.

Of this Sachs believes that households and poor country governments could pay $10 and $35 dollars respectively meaning that $65 per person per year is the finance gap

Who should pay? Basically it breaks down like this…

USA – 50%
Japan – 20%
UK, Germany, France, Italy – 20%.

Factors Affecting Choice of Research Methods

What are the theoretical, ethical and practical factors which influence a sociologist’s choice of research method?

1. Theoretical factors: Positivists prefer quantitative research methods and are generally more concerned with reliability and representativeness. Interpretivists prefer qualitative research methods and are prepared to sacrifice reliability and representativeness to gain deeper insight which should provide higher validity.

2. Practical factors: include such things as the amount of time the research will take, how much it will cost, whether you can achieve funding, opportunities for research including ease of access to respondents, and the personal skills and characteristics of the researcher.

3. Ethical factors: thinking about how the research impacts on those involved with the research process. Ethical research should gain informed consent, ensure confidentiality, be legal and ensure that respondents and those related to them are not subjected to harm. All this needs to be weighed up with the benefits of the research.

4. A fourth factor is the Nature of the Topic to be studied. Some topics lend themselves to certain methods and preclude others.

Remember this by using the most handy and memorable mnemonic: TPEN

Factors effecting choice of research method

Theoretical Factors Affecting the Choice of Research Method

Theoretical Factors include Positivism and Interpretivism, Validity, Reliability and Representativeness

Positivist and Interpretivist approaches to research are dealt with in this post: Positivism and Interpretivism: A Very Brief Overview, and a more detailed post on the Positivist approach to social research can be found in here: Positivism, Sociology and Social Research.

The three terms Validity, Reliability and Representativeness are are fundamental to evaluating the usefulness of research methods. They should appear in any essay you do on any research methods, without exception!

Validity

Research is valid if it provides a true picture of what is really ‘out there’ in world. Generally speaking, the more in depth the research, the fuller picture we get of the thoughts and feelings of the individuals acting, so the more valid the data and then more the researcher stands back and allows the respondents to ‘speak for themselves’ the more valid the data. In more quantitative research, such as social surveys, validity may be lacking because the researcher has decided on what questions should be answered by respondents, rather than letting the respondents decide on what they want to say for themselves.

Reliability

If research is reliable, it means if someone else repeats the same research with the same population then they should achieve the same results. In order to be reliable, research needs to be easily repeatable. Self-Completion questionnaires have high reliability because it is easy for another researcher to administer the questionnaire again. More in depth methods such as participant observation, where the researcher can spend several months or even years with a small group of respondents are not very reliable as it is impossible to replicate the exact procedures of the original research. More qualitative methods also open up the possibility for the researcher to get more involved with the research process, probing respondents for very detailed information.

Representativeness

Research is representative if the research sample reflects the characteristics of the wider population that is being studied. Whether a sample is representative thus depends on who is being studied. If one’s research aim is to look at the experiences of all white male AS Sociology students studying sociology, then one’s sample should consist of all white, male sociology students. If one wishes to study sociology students in general, one will need to have a proportionate amount of AS/ A2 students as well as a range of genders and ethnicities in order to reflect the wider student body.

Practical Factors and Research Methods

All Social Research must take place within the practical constraints of the real world. Social researchers need to plan, collect, analyse and publish their data with limited budgets; they need to secure funding from somewhere willing to fund their research; they need to publish their research within a realistic time frame, otherwise, the data they collect may be worthless because it is so out of date; they also need to manage their own lives at the same time, and a final constraint on choice of research methods is the choice of topic itself!

Five practical constraints on social research

Time – As a general rule, the more in-depth the method the more time consuming it is. Also, doing your own primary research tends to take longer than using secondary sources.

Money – As a general rule, the more in-depth the method the more money it costs. Also, doing your own primary research tends to be more expensive than using secondary sources.

Funding – There are numerous organisations that fund sociological research including charities and businesses, but the largest by far is the government. In the past the government has been far more likely to fund quantitative research than qualitative. Can you suggest why this might be the case? The government is also more likely to fund research that fits in with its present aims. What kind of research topics would be more likely to get funding in contemporary Britain?

Opportunity and Access to Respondents – Some research topics and some kinds of respondents are more difficult to gain access to. It will probably be more difficult to gain access to research pupils in schools compared to teachers for example, and some people may be less willing to engage with research than others – those engaged in deviant or illegal activity might not want to be researched because what they are doing is not socially acceptable.

Personal Situation, Characteristics and Skills of the researcher – Family and work commitments may prevent researchers from doing long term field work such as participant observation, and not everyone has the emotional intelligence or resilience required to engage in long-term empathetic field work. Some research topics might also be better suited to researchers with certain personal characteristics – girls in education might respond more openly to female researchers for example.

Ethical Factors and Social Research

Ethical behaviour helps protect individuals and communities and offers the potential to improve the quality of life of individuals within society. Much social research is designed to tackle social problems such as social exclusion, and so sets out to collect knowledge in order to make the the world a ‘better place’. Understanding the causes of poverty, for example, can help us to reduce poverty, and understanding how people come to be involved in crime can help us to figure out how to prevent this from happening.

However, the actual process of doing research involves interfering with people’s lives and so could potentially be harmful to those involved, and in order minimise harm, most research follows ethical guidelines laid down by The British Sociological Association. There are five ethical criteria which should inform sociological research.

  • Respondents should be able to give informed consent
  • Information which the respondents give should be kept confidential (if they ask for it to be kept confidential)
  • Research should not involve law breaking behaviour
  • Research should not involve harming the respondents or anyone else involved in the research process
  • Research should, ultimately, aim to do more good than harm for society.

Respondents should give informed consent

Respondents should be able to give informed consent to take part in the research process. In order to do this, they should know that research is taking place, what the purpose of the research is and what the researcher intends to do with the results.

Informed consent can be difficult with young children, because they may not have the capacity to fully understand the purposes of the research. Informed consent can also be a problem because respondents might influence the results if they know the purpose of the research, and some experiments have deliberately misled respondents in order to ensure results are valid – Field experiments where actors act in a deviant way (vandalising property for example) in order to measure public responses are an example of this.

Informed consent is also not possible covert research – both in covert participant observation and in covert non-participant observation.

Respondents’ information should be kept confidential.

It is often important for some aspects of research to remain confidential, especially when it could harm the respondents or an institution if others became aware of their responses. For example a teacher might have their career affected if a senior manager became aware of any negative comments she may have made, or accounts of disruptive behaviour of pupils were made public. For these reasons, researchers often have to guarantee anonymity and they often change the names of respondents and institutions when writing up results.

However, where case-studies are concerned and there is a lot of in-depth information being published about just a handful of people, confidentiality is less likely as the chances of being able to guess who said what might be fairly high. Anonymity also compromises reliability, as it makes it more difficult for other researchers to verify the results from particular respondents.

Some sociologists have taken the issue of confidentiality to extremes. While undertaking research on a particular prisoner In the USA Keith Tunnel (1998) discovered that the prisoner had taken on the identity of someone else in order to avoid a much larger prison sentence. The prison authorities became suspicious and investigated the prisoner’s background. Thought Tunnel knew the truth, he felt he owed the prisoner confidentiality and deliberately lied, stating that he knew nothing about the ‘identity theft’. As a result the prisoner was released many years early.

Research should avoid harming respondents

Research can often have an effect on the people being studied, and researchers need to think of this impact before they begin their research. When researching victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, or bullying in schools, this could bring up painful memories which could result in trauma in the respondents, and, if the abusers find out that respondents have spoken up to researchers this could result in further victimisation. Within the context of education, even researching something such as reasons for educational underachievement need to be treated sensitively, as people who have a past history of failing in school probably won’t be happy about being reminded of it.

Research should not involve law breaking behaviour

Research should also take place within the boundaries of legality. This is only really an issue when researching criminal and deviant behaviour using participatory methods where researchers may have to take drugs to fit in with the group, or witness or even commit crimes in order not to blow their cover. A classic case of where this happened was with Sudhir Venkatesh’ study Gang Leader for a Day where he participated in beating up a member of the gang he was studying as a form of punishment.

The social impact of research: research should, ultimately, aim to do more harm than good.

As mentioned earlier, much research aims to make society a better place, and choice of research topic is sometimes based on this ethical decision to generate knowledge in order to improve society. The problem is that there are many competing (subjective) ideas about the kind of topics, the kind of data (quantitative or qualitative) and the kind of research process which are the best suited to improving society.

Positivists would argue that quantitative research which collects ‘objective’ and generalisable data about the causes of social problems such as crime, unemployment, educational underachievement is the best suited to improving society because governments can use this data to enact large scale social changes.

Marxists and Feminists would not necessarily agree, however, because people in power would not necessarily fund the type of research that could harm them, and would not act on any research which was done but was harmful to their interests. If research found that high levels of inequality is what causes educational underachievement among the lower classes, they would not expect those in power to adopt social policies to reduce inequality because that would mean the rich and powerful becoming poorer. For this reason some Marxist and Feminist researchers engage in smaller scale research and focused on highlighting social injustices in order to galvanise people into political action and make more radical changes. Some Marxist inspired sociologists have focused on issues such as Corporate Crime for example to highlight the extent to which this often hidden crime harms society, while a major focus of Feminist research has been to do with issues such as Domestic Violence and the persistence of sexist attitudes in social media.

Feminists and Interactionist researchers also believe the most ethical research is qualitative in nature – where the researcher co-creates the data on an equal basis with the respondents – using methods such as the unstructured interview – such methods are seen as ethical because they empower the respondents, allowing them to speak for themselves, which is especially useful when researching the powerless, or the voiceless, the kinds of people who are invisible (victims of domestic violence for example) or who are typically talked about in a negative way by people in power (criminals for example).

The nature of the topic to be studied

The methods chosen will vary with the topic being studied. If one wishes to find out more about criminal gangs, for example, these will not respond well to survey based research and other methods of study will need to be used. Similarly, if one wishes to do research on sensitive issues such as domestic violence, a closed question questionnaire may be a little ‘cold’ for such emotive issues.

Other topics lend themselves very naturally to survey based research, such as voting intentions in the run up to an election, or market research to glean people’s feelings about new products.

The nature of the topic will also influence the way in which the research is administered. The British Crime Survey asks about people’s experiences as victims of crimes, and so lends itself to a structured interview, given the sensitive nature of the topic and the possible need for clarification of the definitions of certain crimes.

Related Posts:

Is the UK really the 18th most gender equal country in the world?

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, the United Kingdom is one of the most gender equal countries in the world, but if you drill down into the statistics, women and men appear to both more and less equal than the headline data suggests.

The BBC’s ‘How equal are you?’ interactive infographic allows you type in any country and see how equal men are to women across a range of different indicators – These statistics come from the latest Global Gender Gap Index, produced by the World Economic Forum which analyses more than a dozen datasets in order to compare gender inequality in 144 countries.

For example in the UK we are told that:

  • The UK ranks 18/ 145 in the world for gender equality.
  • However, women are still not equal to men
  • For every £100 a man earns, a woman earns £83
  • 43% of graduates are male (the only statistic where women appear to be outperforming men.
  • 72% of women and 83% of men are either in work or looking for work (so I assume from this we can imply that women are slightly more likely to take on the caring role)
  • 65% of senior managers and legislators are male
  • 77% of government ministers are male.

The Global Gender Gap Index gives each country a score card – The UK’s Gender Gap Score Card looks like this:

Gender Equality Indicators in the UK
Gender Equality Indicators in the UK

Just a quick glance at the above chart should be sufficient to demonstrate some of the flaws in the Global Gender Gap Index:

  • We rank 68th out of 144 for primary school enrolment – we couldn’t get any better but I’m guessing we’re brought down because there must be 67 developing countries where more girls are enrolled in primary school than boys (making up for years of gender discrimination)
  • We rank 1st for sex ratio at birth – OK I know it’s lower in many developing countries because of female infanticide, but in the many countries where this simply isn’t significant, surely we’re just being rewarded here for very minor ‘luck of the draw differences’ in child sex at birth?
  • We’re 81st for healthy life expectancy – surely here were just being penalised for women suffering from degenerative conditions linked to longer life expectancy compared to men’s? Surely this is a problem of low male life expectancy?
  • Also, if you look at our real ranking success story – we’re effectively first in the world for gender equality in education, the real story is that despite ranking first in the world for gender equality in education, these gains have not been translated into economic, political or health advantages. This is hardly good for women.
  • Our other great gender equality success story is the number of years with a female prime minister – Thatcher in other words. Given that Thatcher = neoliberalism and neoliberalism = increasing inequality, there’s plenty of disagreement over the extent to which this particular indicator can be interpreted as being positive for women.

There’s quite a few other things these stats don’t tell you – for example, there are enormous differences in the gender pay gap by age:

gender pay gap age

 

There’s also been enormous, rapid progress with women moving into Politics in increasing numbers…. The Gender Gap Index hasn’t been around long enough to show you this….

Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015
Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015

So how useful is the Global Gender Gap Index?

I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly interested in the issue of gender inequality, so I’m not particularly passionate about tracking down criticisms of data sets related to the issue, but it’s only taken me 30 minutes to find seven criticisms of the validity of this particular data applied to the UK, so I’m left wondering whether these world rankings have any meaning at all?

 

Research Methods in Sociology – An Introduction

An introduction to research methods in Sociology covering quantitative, qualitative, primary and secondary data and defining the basic types of research method including social surveys, experiments, interviews, participant observation, ethnography and longitudinal studies.

Why do social research?

The simple answer is that without it, our knowledge of the social world is limited to our immediate and limited life-experiences. Without some kind of systematic research, we cannot know the answer to even basic questions such as how many people live in the United Kingdom, let alone the answers to more complex questions about why working class children get worse results at school or why the crime rate has been falling every year since 1995.

So the most basic reason for doing social research is to describe the social world around us: To find out what people think and feel about social issues and how these thoughts and feelings vary across social groups and regions. Without research, you simply do not know with any degree of certainty, what is going on in the world.

However, most research has the aim of going beyond mere description. Sociologists typically limit themselves to a specific research topic and conduct research in order to achieve a research aim or sometimes to answer a specific question.

Subjective and Objective Knowledge in Social Research

Research in Sociology is usually carefully planned, and conducted using well established procedures to ensure that knowledge is objective – where the information gathered reflects what is really ‘out there’ in the social, world rather than ‘subjective’ – where it only reflects the narrow opinions of the researchers. The careful, systematic and rigorous use of research methods is what makes sociological knowledge ‘objective’ rather than ‘subjective’.

Subjective knowledge – is knowledge based purely on the opinions of the individual, reflecting their values and biases, their point of view

Objective knowledge – is knowledge which is free of the biases, opinions and values of the researcher, it reflects what is really ‘out there’ in the social world.

NB – While most Sociologists believe that we should strive to make our data collection as objective as possible, there are some Sociologists (known as Phenomenologists) who argue that it is not actually possible to collect data which is purely objective – The researcher’s opinions always get in the way of what data is collected and filtered for publication.

Sources and types of data

In social research, it is usual to distinguish between primary and secondary data and qualitative and quantitative data

Quantitative data refers to information that appears in numerical form, or in the form of statistics.

Qualitative data refers to information that appears in written, visual or audio form, such as transcripts of interviews, newspapers and web sites. (It is possible to analyse qualitative data and display features of it numerically!)

Secondary data is data that has been collected by previous researchers or organisations such as the government. Quantitative sources of secondary data include official government statistics and qualitative sources are very numerous including government reports, newspapers, personal documents such as diaries as well as the staggering amount of audio-visual content available online.

Primary data is data collected first hand by the researcher herself. If a sociologist is conducting her own unique sociological research, she will normally have specific research questions she wants answered and thus tailor her research methods to get the data she wants. The main methods sociologists use to generate primary data include social surveys (normally using questionnaire), interviews, experiments and observations.

The major primary research methods

Social Surveys – are typically structured questionnaires designed to collect information from large numbers of people in standardised form.

Social Surveys are written in advance by the researcher and tend to to be pre-coded and have a limited number of closed-questions and they tend to focus on relatively simple topics. A good example is the UK National Census. Social Surveys can be administered (carried out) in a number of different ways – they might be self-completion (completed by the respondents themselves) or they might take the form of a structured interview on the high street, as is the case with some market research.

Experiments – aim to measure as precisely as possible the effect which one variable has on another, aiming to establish cause and effect relationships between variables.

Experiments typically start off with a hypothesis – a theory or explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation, and will typically take the form of a testable statement about the effect which one or more independent variables will have on the dependent variable. A good experiment will be designed in such a way that objective cause and effect relationships can be established, so that the original hypothesis can verified, or rejected and modified.

There are two types of experiment – laboratory and field experiments – A laboratory experiment takes place in a controlled environment, such as a laboratory, whereas a field experiment takes place in a real-life setting such as a classroom, the work place or even the high street.

Interviews – A method of gathering information by asking questions orally, either face to face or by telephone.

Structured Interviews are basically social surveys which are read out by the researcher – they use pre-set, standardised, typically closed questions. The aim of structured interviews is to produce quantitative data.

Unstructured Interviews, also known as informal interviews, are more like a guided conversation, and typically involve the researcher asking open-questions which generate qualitative data. The researcher will start with a general research topic in and ask questions in response to the various and differentiated responses the respondents give. Unstructured Interviews are thus a flexible, respondent-led research method.

Semi-Structured Interviews consist of an interview schedule which typically consists of a number of open-ended questions which allow the respondent to give in-depth answers. For example, the researcher might have 10 questions (hence structured) they will ask all respondents, but ask further differentiated (unstructured) questions based on the responses given.

Participant Observation – involves the researcher joining a group of people, taking an active part in their day to day lives as a member of that group and making in-depth recordings of what she sees.

Participant Observation may be overt, in which case the respondents know that researcher is conducing sociological research, or covert (undercover) where the respondents are deceived into thinking the researcher is ‘one of them’ do not know the researcher is conducting research.

Ethnographies and Case Studies

Ethnographies are an in-depth study of the way of life of a group of people in their natural setting. They are typically very in-depth and long-term and aim for a full (or ‘thick’), multi-layred account of the culture of a group of people. Participant Observation is typically the main method used, but researchers will use all other methods available to get even richer data – such as interviews and analysis of any documents associated with that culture.

Case Studies involves researching a single case or example of something using multiple methods – for example researching one school or factory. An ethnography is simply a very in-depth case study.

Longitudinal Studies – studies of a sample of people in which information is collected from the same people at intervals over a long period of time. For example, a researcher might start off in 2015 by getting a sample of 1000 people to fill in a questionnaire, and then go back to the same people in 2020, and again in 2025 to collect further information.

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Related Posts 

Factors Effecting the Choice of Research Method

Positivism and Interpretivism – A Very Brief Overview

my main research methods page contains links to all of my posts on research methods.

The Bottom Billion – Paul Collier – A Summary

Global poverty has been falling for decades, but a few countries which are caught in four distinct traps (such as the resource curse) are falling behind and falling apart. Aid does not work well in these places but there are things we can and should do because neglect will pose a security nightmare for the world of our children.

Paul Collier’s Bottom Billion Theory can be used to criticise all previous grand-theories of development – modernisation theory, dependency theory and neoliberalism.

The Four Traps

Trap 1- The Conflict Trap

73% of people in the bottom billion countries are in a civil war or have recently been through one. Civil war reduces income and low income increases the risk of civil war. Low income means poverty and low growth means hopelessness and available young men. When the economy is weak the state is weak and rebellion is easier. Sometimes rebel movements get finances from resource exporters in return for future deals.

“Rebels usually have something to complain about, and if they don’t they make it up. All too often the really disadvantaged are in no position to rebel: they just suffer quietly.” Little relationship has been found between the risk of civil war and political repression or intergroup hatreds or income inequality or colonial history. There is some relationship to particular patterns of ethnic diversity.

A civil war doubles the risk of another civil war. “Civil war is development in reverse.” “Both economic losses and disease are highly persistent: they do not stop once the fighting stops.” Usually there is a further deterioration in political rights. “A rebellion is an extremely unreliable way of bringing about positive change.” “The foot soldiers of rebellion, often do not have much choice about joining the rebel movement.” “Gradually the composition of the rebel group will shift from idealists to opportunists and sadists.” The kind of people most likely to engage in political violence are the young, the uneducated, and those without dependents.

95% of global production of hard drugs comes from conflict countries. Conflict provides territory outside government control for illegal activities to operate.

Three economic characteristics make a country prone to civil war: low income, slow growth, and dependence upon primary commodity exports. “Civil war leaves a legacy of organized killing that is hard to live down. Violence and extortion have proved profitable for the perpetrators. Killing is the only way they know to earn a living. And what else to do with all those guns?”

Trap 2 – The Natural Resource Trap

Paradoxically, the discovery of valuable natural resources in the context of poverty constitutes a trap. It often results in misuse of its opportunities in ways that make it fail to grow and results in stagnation.

Societies at the bottom are frequently in resource-rich poverty. “The heart of the resource curse is that resource rents [rents = excess of revenues over all costs] make democracy malfunction.” “Oil and other surpluses from natural resources are particularly unsuited to the pressures generated by electoral competition.” In the presence of large surpluses from natural resources autocracies produce much more growth than do democracies. When there is plenty of money, leaders tend to embezzle funds, spend on large, pet projects and buy votes through contracts. The corrupt win the elections. Resources reduce the need to tax, undercut public scrutiny, erode checks and balances, and leave electoral competition unconstrained where parties compete for votes by patronage. Alternatively restraints raise the return on investment.

Autocracies work with little ethnic diversity. Diversity tends to narrow the support base of the autocrat and requires greater income distribution to the autocrat’s group. “Becoming reliant upon the bottom billion for natural resources sounds to me like Middle East 2.”

Trap 3 – Landlocked with Bad Neighbours

Geography matters. Landlocked countries must export to neighbouring countries or through their infrastructures to the coast. Uganda is poor and Switzerland is rich because they are dependent upon their neighbours. All countries benefit from the growth of their neighbours but resource-scarce landlocked countries must depend on their neighbours for growth. This includes about 30% of Africa.

Trap 4 – Bad Governance in a Small Country

Terrible governance and policies can destroy an economy with alarming speed. Note President Robert Mugabe. Governance matters, conditional upon opportunities. Differences in opportunities can make a big difference. Countries who have done better since 1980 have generally exported labour-intensive manufactures and services. The government simply has to avoid doing harm. Exporters need an environment of moderate taxation, macroeconomic stability, and a few transport facilities.

Why is bad governance sometimes so persistent? Because some benefit. The leaders of many of the poorest countries in the world are themselves among the global superrich. They like it that way. Many of them are simply villains. But beyond villainy, there is a shortage of people with the requisite knowledge, brave reformers get overwhelmed by the resistance, and there is often not much popular enthusiasm for reforms.

Recent failing states include Angola, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, the Solomon Islands, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is borderline. Turnarounds are rare because reformers are often suppressed and in danger.

Three characteristics encourage a turnaround: larger populations, higher proportion of people with a secondary education, and recent emergence from a civil war. Whether the state was a democracy or granted political rights did not seem to matter. The impetus for change must come from the heroes in the society. The probability for a turnaround in any given year is 1.6%, so they are likely to stay as failing states for a long time.

 

The New Right’s View of Education

The New Right believe in Marketisation (schools competing like businesses) and Parentocracy (parental choice) and they are well known for introducing league tables, GCSEs and OFSTED in the UK as part the 1988 Education Reform Act.

This post covers the underlying principles of New Right thought and should be read along with this post on the 1988 Education Act which outlines specific New Right education policies

The New Right is closely associated with Neoliberalism, and this post (Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction) covers the similarities and differences between them.

Underlying principles of the New Right

  • They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.

  • The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.

  • Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.

Key ideas of The New Right on Education

  1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables

  1. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth. Hence: New Vocationalism!

  1. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum

Evaluation of New Right ideas on Education 

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act

  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools

The Neoliberal and New Right view of education 

You might also like the mind map below – a more up to date summary of neoliberalism and the new right

Neoliberal new right education.png

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

 

Related Posts 

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction

The 1988 Education Reform Act – Class Notes

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Marxist Perspective on Education

The New Right View of the Family

Factors Influencing a Sociologist’s Choice of Research Topic

What are the factors which influence a sociologist’s choice of research topic?

The personal interests and values of the researchers

A Sociologist is obviously going to be more motivated to study something they are interested in – and nothing motivates quite like personal experience – Tony Sewell is an example of a Sociologists who studied a group with who he shared personal characteristics.

Theoretical perspective/ political beliefs

Whether one is a Feminist, Marxist or Functionalist/ New Right Thinker/ or Post-Modernist can influence what one studies. Feminists emphasise the importance of focussing on issues of gender inequality, so might choose to research issues such as domestic violence or the impact of the Beauty Myth, while Marxists focus on researching the impact of wealth inequalities, so might research things such as class inequalities in education. All of this raises the question of whether Sociology can remain value-free (unbiased)

Opportunity

also matters when it comes to research topic – Mac An Ghaill wanted to study the experiences of Irish students but he couldn’t study, so instead he focused on the black and Asian students in his own college.

Funding

Sociologists are professionals and need get funding for their research, so funding bodies can influence topics of research.

Society

Societies change, and so new topics of study will emerge with social changes. For example, sociologists have studied things such as rave culture, and virtual gaming communities as these have emerged, which overlaps with the first point above!

Find out more

This post has been written primarily for students studying the research methods topic within A-level sociology. For further info, please see my page on research methods.

Explaining Social Class Differences in Education Using Longitudinal Studies

Why do working class children do worse than middle class children in education? This post looks at some quantitative, longitudinal data to explore why.

A recent report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation argues that early intervention is not enough to tackle the persistent differences in class inequalities in educational achievement – The report is a follow up to earlier research published March last year which is summarised below

This four page summary (and the longer document which you can get if you follow the links) is an excellent example of a quantitative approach to social research – in the tradition of Positivism (although strictly speaking, not purely Positivist). NB IF THE IMAGES AREN’T CLEAR JUST CLICK ON THEM! I’ve spent way too long faffing about with them already.

This study uses statistical data from four longitudinal studies  to uncover the main ‘causal factors’ behind why children from low income backgrounds do so badly in education.

Before we get onto the ’causes’ please note that ‘educational achievement gap’ between the social classes widens as children get older. The study notes that –

The research showed that educational deficits emerge early in children’s lives, even before entry into school, and widen throughout childhood. Even by the age of three there is a considerable gap in cognitive test scores between children in the poorest fifth of the population compared with those from better-off backgrounds. This gap widens as children enter and move through the schooling system, especially during primary school years.

The report demonstrates this graphically as follows –

 

Differences in 'cognitive ability' by income and age
Differences in ‘cognitive ability’ by income and age

 

And you can see from the table below how the differences are greater by ages 7 and 11…

untitled8

According to the study The main ’causes’ of class differences in educational achievement are –

  • Children from poorer backgrounds are much less likely to experience a rich home learning environment than children from better-off backgrounds. At age three, for example, reading to the child is less likely to happen in poorer households.

Reasons for the widening gap between children from richer and poorer backgrounds are:

  • lower parental aspirations for higher education – (81% of the richest mothers hope their child at age 9 will go to university, compared to only 39% of the poorest mothers)
  • how far parents and children believe their own actions can affecttheir lives;
  • children’s behavioural problems.

• It becomes harder to reverse patterns of under-achievement by the teenage years, but disadvantage and poor school results continue to be linked, including through:

  • – teenagers’ and parents’ expectations for higher education
  • material resources such as access to a computer and the internet at home;
  •  engagement in anti-social behaviour;
  • and young people’s belief in their own ability at school.

What’s interesting is the way the stats visually display the multiple disadvantages people from low incomes face – for example –

untitled

Probably my favourite graphic of all is this – which is hopefully at least partially self explanatory
 
untitled7

If it’s not clear from the graphic – this is saying that family background is correlated with  two thirds of the difference in cognitive ability between the richest and poorest children aged three.

Overall, the main message of this study – that home background and parental aspiration matter a lot when it comes to explaining class differences in educational achievement.

The study also mentions that there are certain policy implications that need to be followed through if the government wishes to address these issues, but of course just because some research suggest certain courses of action, it doesn’t necessarily mean the government will adopt those courses of action, because of funding constraints, or ideological biases.

Related Posts

Sociology and Social Policy

 

Our waning interest in Pornography and Patriarchy?

Here’s an interesting correlation between the quantities of books published on Pornography and Patriarchy…

Patriarchy and Porn

This is from Google ngram viewer, which searches the content of five million books. If you take it at face value, then public interest in both pornography and patriarchy peaked around 1995, and have been declining at a similar rate ever since.

wordpress.com doesn’t allow me to embed html – but click here for the online version:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=patriarchy%2C+pornography&year_start=1940&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cpatriarchy%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cpornography%3B%2Cc0

Of course I’m skeptical about whether that’s actually the case, I’ve just been messing around with Google ngrams and wanted to share my pretty graph.

Besides being perty, the above graph is useful to demonstrate the limitations of quantitative secondary  data analysis…

Firstly, public interest in Patriarchy and Pornography haven’t necessarily been declining since 1995 – books may still be written about these topics, but without using these words – So people may be writing about the same things, but just using different words – an important reminder of the limitations of doing quantitative analysis using a limited range of key terms.

Secondly, we can’t necessarily compare over time – this is only a mere book search – I’m damn sure the majority of people who write about the above two topics today do so online, and when did the online writing explosion start – the late 1990, so probably books on everything decline from the mid 1990s!

Thirdly, the above obviously tells you nothing about the quality, tone, ideology of the material being produced. Are these pro or anti-books. Is it that useful to just know merely the topics that people are writing about?

I’d be interested in comments – How much does Google ngrams actually tell us about changing trends in the kind of things people are writing and reading about today?

 

Evaluating the Functionalist Perspective on Education

A range of quantitative and qualitative evidence which both supports and criticises the Functionalist view of education.

Functionalist theorists such as Durkheim and Parsons argue that education systems are meritocracies and that they perform positive functions such as secondary socialization and role allocation, but how valid are these views today?

Before you read the material below, make sure you have a clear understanding of the functionalist view of education. You should have notes, organised into at least four points which functionalists make about the role of education in society. Then read/ watch the material below and annotate your notes, linking each piece of evidence to a particular aspect of the Functionalist theory of education, stating whether the evidence supports or critics that particular aspect of the theory (of course, some of the evidence might be ambiguous).

Evidence you could use to evaluate the Functionalist view of education

NB the evidence I present below is far from the only evidence you can use. I have tried to select a variety of qualitative and quantitative sources. You might have your own, more recent evidence you can use to evaluate Functionalism!

Whatever evidence you’re using You need to consider how valid, reliable and representative each piece of evidence is! It might be useful to brush up on your research methods knowledge before looking at the material below!

Education Yorkshire: The Case of Musharaf

Educating Yorkshire was a documentary which aired on British T.V. back in 2013. In terms of methods it used a variety of non participant observation (filmed) and interviews with mainly the students.

Musharaf was one of the main characters from this first series, and to my mind this clip is one of the best pieces of supporting evidence for the functionalist view on education – it’s a really positive story. Watch it to find out more, it’s all in there: especially solidarity at the end!

Cross National Comparisons

Cross National Comparisons suggest support for the Functionalist view that formal education and qualifications are functionally advantageous for society as a whole, as they are correlated with a society’s level of economic development.

education-country-comparisons

Human Development statistics show a clear relationship between improved education, higher skilled jobs and economic growth. In the most developed countries such as those in Northern Europe children spend more than a decade in full time education, with the majority achieving level three qualifications (A level or equivalent) while huge numbers of children in Sub-Saharan Africa receive only a basic primary or  secondary education, with actual enrolment figures in school much lower, and only a few going on to level three education or level four (university level).

You can use Google Public Data to compare a range of Education Indicators across a number of countries

Of course as a counter-criticism, it’s worth keeping in mind that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation in every country. 

School Exclusion Statistics

Exclusion statistics suggest that the education system doesn’t act as an effective agent of secondary socialisation for every child, although the numbers of exclusions are small, with only 5% of pupils being given a fixed term exclusion and only 0.1% being permanently excluded.

However, some types of student are much more likely to be excluded – boys are three times more likely than girls, FSM students 4 times more likely than non FSM and Black-Caribbean and mixed white and Black-Caribbean 3 times more likely than the figures as a whole, suggesting that school works better for some types of student than others, which is something Functionalists do not consider.

Extension work: if you’re interested you can read more about the limitations of school exclusion statistics here.

School Absentee Statistics

You get a very different picture of absenteeism depending on which set of stats you look at!

Statistics on persistent absenteeism show that one in nine, or 11% of pupils are routinely absent from school, missing more than 10% of school in any one term –and the numbers are much higher for special schools, for boys and FSM students.

HOWEVER, if you look at the overall absentee rate (which looks at number of sessions missed for all students, rather than individual students) then the absentee rate is much lower – it stands at around 4.8%

So whether you see these statistics as supporting evidence for Functionalism or as criticizing Functionalism is kind of open to interpretation!

The correlation between employment and education

Employment statistics from the ONS demonstrate a strong correlation between educational level,  employment skill level and income – those with GCSEs earn 20% more than those without GCSEs and those with degrees earn about 85% more than those with only GCSEs. This set of statistics from The Poverty Site further demonstrates that those with poor GCSCEs/ no qualifications are approximately five times more likely to either be unemployed or in low paid-work (less than £7/ hour) compared to those with degrees. This demonstrates at least partial support for the theory or Role Allocation – the higher your qualification, the better paid job you get (although this says nothing about whether this is meritocratic).

This more recent survey of graduate compared to non graduate earnings backs this up – post graduates earn more than graduates, and graduates earn more than non-graduates…

To simplify it – for 16-64 year olds, on average, graduates earn about £8K more a year than non-graduates and postgraduates earn another £8K year a more than graduates.

graduate-earnings

More recent data from the Labour Force Survey shows that those with a level 4 qualification earn almost twice as much as those with no qualifications, in 2019.

And data from 2018 suggests that working age graduates earn £10 000 a year more on average than non-graduates.

However, the gap between the earnings of non-graduates and graduates has narrowed in the last decade… .In 2005 graduates earned 55% more than non-graduates, but by 2015, they only earned 45% more.

graduate-earnings-2015

Longitudinal Studies

Criticising the view that schools are meritocratic, A recent Longitudinal Study found: ‘three years after graduation, those from more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who attended private schools are more likely to be in the ‘top jobs’….

‘This research shows that even if we compare students from the same institution type, taking the same subjects and with the same degree class, socioeconomic status and private schooling still affects an individual’s chance of securing a top job,’ the report concluded.

‘An individual who has a parent who is a manager and who attended a private school is around 7 percentage points more likely to enter  the highest status occupations. Male graduates from a managerial background who attended a private school are around 10 percentage points more likely to enter the highest status occupations.

But academics do not know whether the advantage given to private school pupils is simply the ‘old boys’ network’ or whether they learn better social skills so appear more confident in job interviews.

‘Our results indicate a persistent advantage from having attended a private school. This raises questions about whether the advantage that private school graduates have is because they are better socially or academically prepared, have better networks or make different occupational choices.’

Ken Robinson (a Post Modern View)

This TED talk by Ken Robinson (An RSA animated video of a talk) – Offers several criticisms of the contemporary education system –  you could loosly call this a post-modern/ late modern criticism of the role of modernist education, which also criticizes the Functionalist paradigm that school performs positive functions:

In short, Robinson argues that modern education lets most kids down in the following ways –

  1. It stifles their creativity by focusing too much on academic education and standardised testing – kids are taught that there is one answer and it’s at the back, rather than being taught to think divergently.
  2. It tests individual ability rather than your ability to work collaboratively in groups (which you would do in the real world).
  3. Lessons are dull – out of touch with children who are living in the most information rich age in history.
  4. It medicates thousands of kids with Ritalin – which Robinson sees as the wrong response to kids with ADHD – we should be stimulating them in divergent ways.

Related Posts 

The Functionalist Perspective on Education – revision notes

The Marxist view of Education  and the New Right view both criticise the Functionalist view of the role of education

This is an evaluative posts – click here for a reminder of the key skills in sociology and an explanation of different ways you can evaluate perspectives.