Posted on Leave a comment

What the public thinks of Boris Johnson

YouGov recently published a post outlining ‘Everything they know about what the public think of Boris Johnson‘ – these are basically the results of various opinion polls carried out in recent months and are a great example of secondary quantitative data.

The polls clearly show that most people think Boris will be a strong leader, and a different type of leader to previous PMs, but not in a good way: most people don’t trust Boris and think he’s going to make a terrible Prime Minister….

Most people think he’ll be a different type of leader…

Boris new PM.PNG

But almost 60% of people don’t trust Boris

public opinion Boris Johnson.PNG

One of the more creative questions was what Hogwarts House Boris Johnson would be in – no surprise that 42% of the population put him in Slytherin – which values ambition and cunning.

Boris Johnson Slytherin.PNG

Relevance of all of this to A-level Sociology 

These polls are a good example of the problems with validity in quantitative social survey research.

We need to treat these results with caution: the negative responses may be because of the lack of say most people have had over Boris being elected, or about the lack of any kind of progress over Brexit.

In other words, people may not be expressing their dissatisfaction with Boris in particular, but possibly at the whole of the inept political class in general!

Having said that, I’m not going to dismiss criticism of Boris: he is an Eton educated millionaire who seems to be prepared to lie and spin his way to the top, always putting his own personal ambition ahead of anything else.

Advertisements
Posted on Leave a comment

The challenges of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ebola recently resurfaced in Democratic Republic of Congo, and has now infected more than 2500 people in the Eastern part of the country, near the border with Uganda.

ebola congo 2019.PNG

Ebola is one of the world’s most infectious and deadliest diseases: as of 22nd July 2019 the World Health Organisation reported 2503 cases in this latest outbreak, with 1764 deaths. (Source: Relief Web).

The World Health Organisation first declared an Ebola outbreak in the DRC in August 2018, but the number of cases have increased dramatically since Spring of 2019. This is now the second largest Ebola outbreak after the 2014-16 epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which killed 11, 300.

Health workers have a new vaccine which appears to work to deploy to help keep the disease under control but they face the following barriers to treating people:

  1. There is ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC. This extends to attacks on health care facilities – there have been around 200 such attacks reported which have killed 5 people.
  2. Local people are being displaced as a result of the conflict – at least 300 000 so far, and some of these are heading across the border to Uganda, where there have been some reported cases of Ebola.
  3. There is a local rumor that aid workers are actually infecting people with Ebola because they are ‘paid by the corpse’ – and in a country mired by corruption and conflict, I guess this sounds plausible.

It remains to be seen whether the Ebola outbreak can be kept under control: the ongoing conflict and local suspicions are certainly going to hamper efforts, and it seems aid agencies are going to have to spend a lot of time working with locals and building trust in order to keep things under control!

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This recent tragedy should be of interest to any students studying the Global Development module in A-level sociology. The case of Ebola in the DRC illustrates the relationship between conflict and health problems and it also shows some of the local challenges Aid agencies face when trying to deliver emergency aid.

Additional Sources 

The Week, 29 June 2019

Posted on Leave a comment

Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK?  Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?

These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.

Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime 

prison population and crime rate.PNG

  • England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
  • Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
  • Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!

Does Prison work?

In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.

How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?

it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:

  • 63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
  • 56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
  • 54% of those who receive suspended sentences.

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!

Conclusions 

Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.

Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?

Sources 

This post is based on data taken from ‘Prison the facts, Summer 2019‘, published by the Prison Reform Trust.

Posted on Leave a comment

Generation Anxious

700 000 children in the U.K. are currently registered with an emotional disorder, that’s 7.2%, of 5-19 year olds, or about 1 in 13, according to a recent survey by NHS Digital.

emotional disorders NHS

And that’s just those children who have been formally diagnosed. That figure of 7.2% represents those children who have reached the clinical diagnoses threshold – where their distress impairs them so much that it gets in the way of their daily functioning.

The Children’s society says there are many who can’t get help because their problems are not serious enough, maybe as many as 3-4 times the above figure.

Mental health disorders have a huge economic impact, costing the UK 4% of GDP.

In this blog post I summarize a recent podcast from Radio Four’s ‘Bringing Up Britain: Generation Anxious’ which explores why so many of today’s children suffer with anxiety.

The show explores various possible contributors such as social media, pressurized exams, genetics and parents passing on their own worries to their children, as well as changing cultural norms which remove children’s agency.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the buzz word of the moment, but the anxiety which stops children going to school is different to butterflies in tummies before going on stage at the school play. The word covers both, a human experience we all feel and a clinical diagnosis.

The later type of ‘ordinary’ anxiety can be helpful in some senses, and anxiety is a normal response to stress and entirely normally developmentally – e.g. up to the age of three separation anxiety is normal as are phobias for pre-school children, and for teens there is a heightened sense of awareness of our selves and how others see us.

In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the level of distress must be so debilitating that one cannot function – it’s where you can’t face going out because you’re so anxious.

There are also different types of anxiety: such as social anxiety – not being able to be scrutinized without going bright red, and generalized anxieties – about anything that can go wrong, for example.

If you get serious anxiety as a child, it harms your development – you’re behind your peers and with schoolwork, and it’s reinforcing – the more you get behind, then the more there is to be anxious about!

Anxiety Increases with age, more common with girls, strong link to deprivation and family history. It’s also affect by personality types – some are more cautious and socially shy.

What is it that’s making children feel more anxious?

Social context is important – not so long ago, children would be out playing at ages 6-7, away from their parents, developing a sense of their own agency, but we’ve now starved them of these chances to be independent in primary school – primary schools forbid children to travel their alone – hence why secondary school is now seen as more of a challenge!

It could also be parents are increasingly transferring their anxieties onto their children – linked to the fact that there are too many experts telling parents what to do and the increased pressure on ‘getting parenting right’ – anxious parents makes anxious children: they do share an environment, after all!

A recent column in The Times likened GCSEs to a type of child abuse, but increased exam pressure is dismissed as being linked to increasing anxiety, because we’ve been doing them for thousands of years, and they’re probably less stressful now than they were 30 years ago.

However, it doesn’t help that children are more sensitive about the future nowadays and that more creative subjects which many children prefer are now squeezed out in favour of English and Maths.

The show also considers the effect of Social Media – it makes sense because your social media presence is fundamentally linked to your social identity – and it doesn’t switch off, and this is especially likely to impact teens at the time of life when they’re thinking about their identities.

However, there is a lock of good evidence of the relationship between social media usage and anxiety levels: its just cross sectional but we don’t know what comes first, we don’t know what kind of social media activity teens are involved in and we don’t have longitudinal data.

Socioeconomic factors also play a role – giving time to children, both physically and emotionally is important for their development, but the lower an income you earn, then the more time you need to spend working, and the less time you have for your children.

Body Image and anxiety

There does seem to be evidence of a relationship between body image and anxiety.

A recent Mental Health Foundation Survey found that ¼ people aged 18-24 believed that reality TV shows such as Love Island makes them worry about body image.

1/3rd of young people worry every day about their body, feeling things such as shame.

Over 1/5th 17-19 year old girls have anxiety depression or both. Around 11-14 there is a relationship between obesity and anxiety, but the relationship is complex.

How to help children control anxiety…

Various solutions are offered

  • More resources for mental health services
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy is mentioned as a good way of dealing with more serious anxiety.
  • Forest Schools and meditation lessons in schools are day to day things we could be doing socially
  • Giving young people more of a sense of agency
  • Being prepared to listen to children and talking about anxiety.

We also need to remember that ‘normal’ levels of anxiety are helpful – without it, we probably wouldn’t care about how we perform in society, it’s a natural part of going through changes, and the best things in life don’t tend to happen in comfort zones!

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is of relevance to the sociology of childhood, especially toxic childhood, and also research methods: we need to question whether these anxiety stats are valid or whether they’re socially constructed. The growth of anxiety might just be because there are more experts more willing to diagnose anxiety.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Bringing up Britain – A useful resource for A-level sociology

If you’re struggling to find useful resources to update the childhood topic within the sociology of the family then you should check out ‘Bringing Up Britain‘, a weekly radio 4 show/ podcast hosted by Mariella Frostrup. bringing up Britain.png

Each episode lasts 40 minutes and consists of debate among ‘experts’ on an aspect of contemporary parenting and childhood. You can see from the screenshot above just how relevant some of these topics are to the sociology of the family as well as to A-level sociology more generally.

The programme tends to analyse issues through more of a psychological perspective rather than a sociological one, but it’s a useful resource nonetheless which does consider social issues such as labelling, the role of the media, and changing norms and values, and how all of these (among other things) affect modern parenting and childhood.

Recent topics include:

  • why do children lie (and is it a problem, not necessarily apparently!) – relevant to the family and crime and deviance
  • Generation anxious – relative to toxic childhood and just generally useful for helping kids deal with mental health issues.
  • Parenting in the Smart Phone age – also relevant to the media module.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The UK – a world leader in renewable energy generation…

The UK is generating more energy from zero carbon sources than from fossil fuels for the first time since the industrial revolution, the National Grid announced recently.

Gas and coal generated 46.7% of Britain’s power in the year to the end of May, while zero carbon sources generated 47.9%. The rest came from biomass.

A decade ago coal plants generated almost a third of the UK’s electricity. Now there are only 7 left, two of which are going to close in the near future.

Energy from renewables has risen from 2% in 2009 to almost 25% with most coming from wind (18.8%).

renewable energy.png

What’s the relevance of this to A-level sociology?

For anyone studying the module in Global Development, this is a great counter trend to the doom and gloom of the ‘environmental decline’ we see in so many parts of the world.

It might also be a sign of a new value consensus emerging about the ‘right way’ to generate energy? At least at the level of the UK.

However, I guess we shouldn’t overstate the importance of this, the UK is only home to >1% of the global population after all!

Sources

The Week, 6th July 2019

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Lost Wallet Crime and Deviance Experiment

People are more likely to return a lost wallet if it has cash in it than if its empty

In a recent field experiment researchers posing as members of the public dropped off 17000 lost wallets at reception desks of banks, hotels and museums in cities in 40 countries.

Some wallets contained no money and others £10 cash, and each had a shopping list, a key and business cards with contact details for the owner.

Only 40% of the empty wallets were returned compared to 51% of wallets with £10. The researchers also tried the experiment with £75 in which case the wallet was returned in 72% of cases.

There were significant cross-national variations: In China less than 20% of wallets were returned while in Switzerland the figure was 75%.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a great example of a field experiment and a cross national study combined, which seems to be designed to test levels honesty in different countries.

It’s mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module and seems (at face value) to be supporting evidence for the view that 60% of the reception staff in hotels around the world won’t go out of their way to return a wallet with no money it to its owner – but progressively more of them will if there is more money in the wallet – this seems to be suggesting reasonably high levels of empathy/ honesty – if 75% of people return a wallet with £75 in, that’s higher than I would have expected. (Then again perhaps I’m just dishonest scum?).

Limitations of the experiment

Despite the 40 countries, it’s not very representative of the populations within those countries – basically reception staff in hotels/ banks/ museums – that’s a very thin cross section of the class structure.

The experiment also tells us very little about the reasons why people didn’t return the wallets, and very little about why the return rates varied so widely.

The low return rates in China could be because the Chinese are inherently less honest, and the high return rates in Switzerland might be because the Swiss are inherently more honest.

However, it might just be showing variations in cultural norms and values.

In China, for example, the low return rates may be due to a collectivist culture resulting in everyone thinking a lost wallet is no big deal, as everyone’s going to be OK whatever happens to them, due to a collective safety net.

Also, people may not have bothered to return the wallets because very few people actually use cash in China (at least in the cities) – money transfers are done by phone, and people increasingly use their phones to access their properties. Thus, maybe the low levels of return there are because the wallets were seen as something of a ‘back up’ or an ‘eccentricity’?

In Switzerland on the other hand, maybe the high return rates signify the high levels of individualism?

As with many things sociological/ psychological, more research required to dig deeper!

Sources:

I stumbled upon this in a recent edition of ‘The week’, however there’s also a summary of the experiment here.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Global Justice Now – A Useful Example of an NGO

Global Justice Now is a decentralized democratic global social movement which aims to challenge the powerful and create a more equal and just world.

It’s a great example of a small, politically oriented NGO (Non-governmental organisation) so makes a great study for that part of the Global Development module within A-level sociology.

Some of their current main campaigns include focusing on promoting Fair Trade that works for people and planet and the Freedom of movement for people (pro migration).

They have a strong anti-Corporate and anti-Trump agenda.

They organize several activities every year to highlight global social justice issues, which typically involve small protests and handing petitions to ministers expressing concern about generally neo-liberal policies.

They also produce a magazine full of leftist articles focusing on fair trade and the global south and organize occasional meetings around global social justice issues.

One of things to be critical of is how effective (or ineffective) this organisation is their budget is only £1.5 million a year, which is less than the annual salaries of most of the CEOs of the companies they criticise!

Still, it’s a good NGO case study and useful source of information to keep you up to date with global justice issues.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Global Drug Survey – a good example of invalid data due to bias?

86% of the global population have used drugs in the last year, and more people have used cannabis than tobacco. Almost 30% of the world’s population have used Cocaine in the last year, at least according to the 2019 Global Drug Survey.

Global Drugs Survey.PNG

This survey asked adults in 36 countries about their use of drugs and alcohol.

According to the same survey, the British get drunk more often than people in any other nation, at least according to a recent

In Britain, people stated they got drunk an average of 51 times last year, with U.S., Canada and Australia not far behind. The average was 33 times.

Where Cocaine use was concerned, 73% of people in England said they had tried it compared to 43% globally.

How valid is this data?

I don’t know about you, but to me these figures seem very high, and I’m left wondering if they aren’t skewed upwards by selective sampling or loose questions.

This report is produced by a private company who sell products related to addiction advice, and I guess their market is national health care services.

Seems to me like it’s in their interests to skew the data upwards to give themselves more of a purpose.

I certainly don’t believe the average person in the UK gets drunk once a week and that almost 3/4s of the population have tried Cocaine.

Sources

The Week 25th May 2019

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Intersex Policing – the case of Caster Semenya

You’ll probably recognize Caster Semenya the female 400 meter runner with intersex traits who won the 800 meters in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

800 meter gender police.PNG

However she probably won’t be at next year’s in 2020 because the Court of Arbitration for Sport recently judged that female athletes with intersex traits won’t be able to compete in middle distance events (from 400m to 1 mile) unless they take medication to suppress their naturally high levels of testosterone.

On the surface this seems to be creating a ‘level playing field’ for all female athletes, but if we’re going to insist that someone like Semenva takes medication to suppress her unfair natural advantage, surely we should drug all the future Michael Phelps and Usain Bolts of the athletics world too?

Michael Phelps’ 6 ft 7″ arm span and size 13 feet certainly gave him an unfair natural advantage, and Usain Bolt’s supreme body-mechanics contributed to his sprint world records: how many other people have you seen ‘jogging to line’ and winning that often?

So maybe there’s more to the Semenva Case? 

Maybe she (and anyone else whose intersex) is being punished for their ‘gender ambiguity’ rather than this being a just penalty for being physically advantaged.

Then there’s the fact that she (and other intersex females) are easy victims here: they are an extreme minority, and relatively powerless, after all – easy to mete out harsh justice on such individuals and then forget about it in the name of ‘fairness’.

Maybe this is about rendering intersex females invisible – policing our ‘normalised’ sex-boundaries, making sure the rest of us don’t become too uncomfortable about the reality that sex/gender are complex/ fluid….. it CANNOT be about just biological advantage as the cases of Phelps and Bolt demonstrate – we celebrate their ‘good’ freakishness, after all!)

NB – she’s rejected the ruling, it is a violation of her human rights, after all!

Sources

https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/5/3/18526723/caster-semenya-800-gender-race-intersex-athletes