Analyse two ways in which marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

Applying material from item A and elsewhere analyse two reasons why marketization policies may have increased inequality of educational opportunities for some students (10)

  • Hooks
  • What you need to apply the hooks to

Item A

Since the 1980s, a major aim of government policy has been to increase parental choice in education. In order to increase choice, the government introduced Open Enrolement, allowing parents to choose more than one school and league tables on school performance were also made publicly available.

However, critics of marketization argue that such polices have increased inequality of educational opportunity.

Suggested answer

The first way is that although open enrolement gave parents the right to choose more than one school, technically giving all parents the right to choose the ‘best schools’, middle class children have more effective choice than working class parents.

Development/ analysis: This is because middle class parents have more cultural capital than working class parents – they are more comfortable with reading school literature, attending open evenings and filling in multiple application forms (where they can use their elaborated speech skills), while working class parents are less confident and just end up sending their children to the local schools.

Further development/ analysis: This is further compounded by the ‘school-parent alliance’ – schools want middle class children because they know they get better results, which

Further development/ analysis: An even more basic reason is selection by mortgage – schools have catchment areas, and the houses which fall inside these catchment areas are more expensive, meaning only wealthier children get selected for such schools.

Further development/ analysis: All of this means that ‘choice policies’ have resulted in unequal opportunities for working class children, because they are less likely to be selected for the best schools, not because of their individual potential, but because the higher levels of material and cultural capital of the middle classes gives them more effective choice and thus a greater opportunity to be selected for the best schools.

A second way is that league tables have resulted in schools tending to focus more on formal academic subjects such as English and maths which possibly disadvantages those children who are not good at formal academic subjects.

Development – Because schools are now concerned about their position in the league tables, which depends on their reports and exam results, they have narrowed the curriculum to focus more on core subjects such as English and Maths, putting more resources into these subjects – this is good for those pupils who like those subjects, but bad for students who are gifted in sports or creative subjects, as these are now relatively less funded, meaning there is no equality of opportunity for all students to fulfil their diverse potentials.

Development – Postmodernists would argue this is especially problematic in a postmodern society which is supposed to be more individualised – surely in such a society, if schools are to provide equality of opportunity then they would diversify the way their resources are distributed rather than focusing them more narrowly on ‘core subjects’ for the sake of going up the league tables.

Evaluation – Having said this, the above point only applies to schools: it is quite possible that students who are more creative or vocational will put less emphasis on the cores subjects and instead take advantage of the greater diversity of ‘learning opportunities’ now available outside school to explore their talents, such as online courses and apprenticeships, which you could say ‘fit in’ with the idea of ‘an education market’.

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Contemporary sociology: false news spreads faster than true news

A recent MIT study led by Sinan Aral, published in the journal Science in early March (2018) found that ‘false news’ spreads much more quickly than real news—and it seems to be humans, more than bots, who are responsible for the imbalance.

Fake political news stories spread the fastest, but the findings also applied to stories on urban legends, business, terrorism, science, entertainment, and natural disasters.

Aral’s team of researchers looked at sample of 4.5 million tweets created by about 3 mmillion people over an 11 year period. Together these tweets formed 126,000 “cascades” of news stories, or uninterrupted retweet chains. The researchers compared to spread of false vs. true news stories, verified by using sites such as

The main findings

Fake News Twitter

  • false stories were 70% more likely to be retweeted,
  • while true stories never reached past a  ‘cascade-depth’ of 10, false stories spread to a depth of 19,
  • false studies reached a cascade “depth” of 10 about 20 times faster than true ones.
  • true news stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 readers as false ones did,
  • “False political news traveled deeper and more broadly, reached more people, and was more viral than any other category of false information,”
  • humans were more likely to spread the false news than bots,
  • Fake news tended to be associated with fear, disgust, and surprise, whereas true stories triggered anticipation, sadness, joy, and trust.

Why do people spread fake news?

The authors of the study offer a ‘neutral’ explanation – simply that fake news is more ‘novel, novelty attracts more human attention, and ‘novel news’ is more valuable – individuals gain more status for being the ones who share novetly (or at least peopel think they will gain more status) and novel information tends to be more useful in helping us make decisions about how to act in society.

Ironically, spreading false news tends to have the opposite effect: it makes individuals who spread it look stupid and may lead to us taking fewer risks and to a misallocation of resources as we attempt to mitigate this (non-real) risks.

Relevance to A-level Sociology?

This is a great example of hyperreality…. to paraphrase Baudrillard, False News never happened… but it has real consequences.

It’s worth noting the limits of the study too… it’s limited to Twitter and doesn’t really help us to understand where fake news comes from, for example.

The fact that it’s humans, not bots spreading false news means that interventions will be more difficult and more complicated, because it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to find a technological fix for the problem.

I could imagine that Gomm and Gouldner would criticise this study as being ‘too neutral’… it could have looked more at the ideological bias of the political fake news stories, and the profiles of those spreading fake news, for example.


The Spread of True and False News Online – Science, March 2018

Fake News Spreads Faster than the Truth on Twitter – Forbes


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Contemporary sociology: how should we tackle the increase in knife crime?

According to a recent BBC news article, London’s murder rate is increasing rapidly, so rapidly in fact that it’s just overtaken the murder in New York’s, a city historically notorious for its problems with violent crime.

Murder London

So is this just a moral panic, or is this recent increase in violent crime something we should be taking seriously?

What are the recent statistics?

So far in 2018 the MET police have investigated 46 murders, and the rate seems to be increasing alarmingly:

  • 8  murders were investigated in January
  • 15 murders were investigated in February
  • 22 murders were investigated in March.

Of the 44 murder investigations so far launched by the MET in 2018, 31 have been the results of stabbings.

So is this just a moral panic?

Focusing just on knife crime here, because this is the implement used in nearly 3/4s of all murders, the short answer is, probably not….

This recent increase seems to be in the context of a longer term increase in knife crime…

knife crime statistics

Although London’s knife crime rate is twice the national average…

Knife crime London

So while there does seem to be an issue with London’s knife crime rate increasing (rapidly!) this may not be representative of the country as a whole!

What’s causing this increase in Knife crime and murder?

A lot of the debate has focused on the fact that the police are stopping and searching fewer people. Police have become more withdrawn and are less pro-active in preventing crime through the use of stop and search:

stop search

Source: Ministry of Justice/ BBC

There is anecdotal evidence from the police that this has led to an increase in knife crime because young people are now more inclined to carry knives because they know they are less likely to be stopped and searched.

(Ironically it was Theresa May who oversaw this reduction as home secretary, partly responding to fears that the disproportionate use of stop and search against young black men was alienating huge numbers of people.)

Interestingly, knife crime is increasing despite a stiffening of penalties for possessing an offensive weapon:

Knife crime punisment

Source: Ministry of Justice/ BBC

You’re significantly more likely to get a custodial sentence today than compared to 2009, but this doesn’t seem to be putting people off carrying or using knives. I guess the ‘less likely to get caught’ outweighs the ‘likeliness of a stiff penalty’ or the ‘risk of being a victim if I don’t carry one’ factors in the cost-benefit calculation.

Right realists would agree with this approach – of increasing stop and search, of going back to a more random stop and search strategy.

Do we need a public health approach to reducing knife crime?

Labour MPs Sarah Jones (chair of the all-party parliamentary group on knife crime) and Dianne Abbott (both speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme), have both suggested that London needs to adopting a public health approach to reducing Knife crime – which means, for example:

  • engaging in major intervention work with youth workers
  • going into schools, changing the social norms, educating kids, teaching them what it is to be a man, teaching them how they don’t need to carry knives.
  • Working with mental health charities

Both point to case studies of New York and Glasgow, where such interventions have been adopted with both seeing significant reductions in violent crime (while at the same time also having a lighter touch approach to stop and search.

These policies are very left realist in nature – and both of the above MPs are skeptical about the usefulness of increasing the role of random stop and search – pointing out the toxic legacy it leaves in terms of police-community relations.


Selected sources 

Crime in England and Wales: Year Ending 2017

London murder rate overtakes New York’s (BBC)

Nine charts on the rise of knife crime in England and Wales (BBC)

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How to revise effectively

20 Effective revision strategies used by A* students and/ or  proven to be effective through actual research.

how to revise

The revision advice below is broken down into three general categories:

  • General health and well being advice – how to ‘take care’ of yourself during the revision and exam period to make sure you’re physically and mentally up to the challenge.
  • General ‘exam and revision preparation’ advice – advice on planning your revision and exam period: what you need to do before you start your two months (or so) of revision, and what to do before any particular ‘revision session’
  • Specific revision  techniques you should be using during any particular revision session (whether that’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and hour or more!)

NB – I teach A-level sociology (as if the blog doesn’t give that away), but the advice here should be relevant to anyone studying similar humanities A-levels, or even science based A-levels. If you’re doing A-level sociology, you might be interested these exam-focused revision resources I’ve put together – they’re basically a series of ‘bundles’ of revision notes, mind maps and model answers based on possible exam questions. 

General health and well being advice 

How to ‘take care’ of yourself during the revision and exam period to make sure you’re physically and mentally up to the challenge. 

  1. Eat properly – this means eating breakfast, plenty of fruit and veg, minimize the junk and sugar, and stay hydrated!
  2. Get a decent night’s sleep – keep your phone in a separate room if necessary.
  3. Get our for some exercise and fresh air – even just a brisk 20 minute walk around the block can help shake off fatigue.
  4. Figure out when you work best (morning, afternoon, evening) and plan to do as much revision during your own personal ‘mental peak’ times as possible.
  5. Figure out where you work best – at home, or at college, or a mixture of both.
  6. Set yourself realistic revision goals and treat yourself when you reach them (see number below) – although don’t overdo the treats. Take a leaf out of the workout kid’s book – just a few pieces of candy as a treat at the end of each session, rather than a large Dominos,  jumbo Toblerone or family size pack of Cornettos.

Preparing for Revision

Advice on planning your revision and exam period: what you need to do before you start your two months (or so) of revision, and what to do before any particular ‘revision session’.

sociology revision timetable 2018

An example of a monthly ‘overview’ revision timetable

  1. Download the specification (or more broken down knowledge checklist) for each subject, put them at the front of your revision folder, or stick them on your bedroom wall. (If you’re studying sociology, then here is an overview of the AQA’s sociology specification). Another way of saying this, is that the first thing you need to know, is what you need to know! 
  2. On the above lists, grade each sub-topic into ‘easy’ ‘moderate’ and ‘difficult, use the traffic light system if you like…. then you’ll know what you need to spend more time revising.
  3. Do a monthly ‘overview’ revision timetable – which overviews the topics you’ll be studying on a day to day basis, stick it at the front of your revision folder, or on your bedroom wall. This ‘overview plan’ should incorporate at least one day off a week. For A-levels, I’d suggest starting on April 1st (and if you think that’s a joke, you’re the fool) at the latest – to allow yourself time to ‘visit’ each sub-topic at least three times before the exam. Click here for an example of what I believe an effective revision timetable. (This ticks the ‘spreading out study over time’ box in many of the guides used to compile this mega-list.)
  4. Read the examiners reports and any marked exemplars you can find from past-papers – together these will tell you what the examiners want you to do to get particular grades.
  5. Download all of the past papers you can find, or at least know where you can get hold of them. Text books, revision guides, your teacher, or little moi (on this very we site) can provide you with examples of ‘possible questions’ for the new specifications, given that there aren’t too many exemplars around ATM.
  6. If you have to, then organise your revision notes (or if you don’t have them yet, your actual notes) – into appropriate folders with dividers which demarcate each sub topic.
  7. Sort out your study space – you don’t necessarily have to fold your clothes up, but at least clear a desk space in advance of hitting the revision. I’d also recommend having a ‘place’ for each set of revision notes for each of your subjects.
  8. Cut out all distractions before you begin any study session – for most students this is probably simply a matter of putting their phone in another room for a couple of hours or so, and making sure there are no social media windows open through which you may be distracted. Obviously you might go online for revision advice, but don’t get distracted down the rabbit-hole in the process!
  9. At the beginning or day (or week, but I prefer days), plan out what you are going to revise that day- with goals for each session. A decent ‘day revision plan might incorporate the following:
  • Two or three sessions with each session lasting from one to three hours, and focusing on one or more sub-topics (depending on how well you know that sub-topic).
  • Each session should have a distinct goal: for example: review all of the marriage and divorce topic by ‘testing myself’ and ‘plan 2 exam questions’ on this topic.
  • You should ‘mix it up’ over the course of the day – for example if you you’re doing three sessions, do one of sociology, one of English, one of History.
  • Your daily plan should be realistic – some sub-topics might take you two sessions, depending on how large they are and how difficult you find them.
  • If should incorporate all of the health and well being advice above: time for breakfast, breaks, exercise, and allow you time for a decent night’s sleep
  • It might incorporate an element of the ‘revision cycle’: the first 10 minutes of your sociology session might involve testing yourself on yesterday’s sociology session.

Specific Revision Techniques 

This is probably what you came here for: these are the specific strategies you should be using during any particular revision session (whether that’s 20 minutes, 30 minutes, and hour or more!).

The advice below is supposed to apply to any of the major ‘topics’ or ‘chunks of learning’ within any topic. For A-level sociology, for example, a sub-topic is something like ‘perspectives on education’, or ‘demography’ within the family. For each of these topics, you should have something like 1-4 pages of your own revision notes, depending on how you’ve organised the information.

Some general advice is that revision should be active and exam focused, not passive (i.e. not just re-reading)

  1. Test yourself – rather than simply re-reading your own revision notes, you should ‘turn the page face down’ and ‘go over the content in your head/ our out-loud’, and then turn the page back over to see how well you remembered the content.
  2. Make brief, active revision notes with a clear structure  (NB most of these should already be done BEFORE you start on your final wave of revision in April-May, so this should only be applying to the few gaps you have) – then do more reading and thinking and less ‘writing’ – i.e. think about the structure of the notes, use sub headings, and as few words as possible. Make links between other areas of the course and be as visual as possible (mind maps work well for many students), and TEST WHAT YOU KNOW immediately after you’ve made them.
  3. When reviewing revision notes, do so actively – THINK about how you would use the material to answer exam questions, look for links to other areas of the course. This is where working with a constructive friend can come in really handy – test each-other, and explain what you’ve just reviewed to your friend. ‘Teaching’ someone else is often the best way of learning.
  4. Read past papers and exemplars – make sure you’re doing this regularly, especially towards the end of May for A-levels (2018 dates)
  5. Practice exam papers – both planning and the occasional full answer.

In short – Effective revision is not rocket science, it’s just a matter of adopting a healthy lifestyle, planning in advance, and doing active, exam focused revision in each revision session. 

Sources used to write this post

Below, I list the sources I used to create the above ‘mega revision advice list’ with a summary of each of the specific pieces of advice given on each site, and a rationale for why I used this each source of advice. 

Making the Grade: A* Students Share their Secrets (Nik Taylor, The Student Room, Which University)

  1. Read the examiners reports
  2. Check the past papers
  3. Download the syllabus for your subjects and check off everything as you learn it
  4. Break down revision into manageable, bite sized chunks
  5. Don’t cram, revise continually (unfortunately if you’re reading this in May and you haven’t yet done this, then it’s already too late!)
  6. Make a revision timetable.

I’ve included this first as everything on this list is just very sensible! No gimmicks at all here, just good, sound, exam focused revision advice.  In terms of validity, these strategies are what have actually worked for actual recent A* students. 

Revision Techniques – the Good, the OK and the Useless

The above BBC article summarizes some research carried out by Professor Dunlovsky and co (published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest) which reviewed 1,000 scientific studies looking at 10 of the most popular revision strategies found that only 2 of them were ‘highly’ effective in promoting learning a further 3 had a ‘moderate’ impact on learning, while the remaining 5 had a low (or possibly detrimental) impact on learning.

2 High impact learning techniques – Do these!

  • ♦Practice testing – Self-testing to check knowledge – especially using flash cards – HIGH
  • ♦Distributed practice – spreading out study over time – HIGH

3 Moderate impact learning techniques – use them if they work ‘for you’

  • Elaborative interrogation – being able to explain a point or fact – MODERATE
  • Self-explanation – how a problem was solved – MODERATE
  • Interleaved practice – switching between different kinds of problems – MODERATE

5 Low low impact learning techniques – DON’T USE THESE!

  • X Summarising – writing summaries of texts – LOW
  • X Highlighting/underlining – LOW
  • X Keyword mnemonics – choosing a word to associate with information – LOW
  • X Imagery – forming mental pictures while reading or listening – LOW
  • X Re-reading – LOW.

In terms of validity of this advice, well it’s summarising 1000 pieces of research…. and certainly where the top five are concerned, I’m fairly convinced these are all effective revision techniques. As to the five to avoid…. personally I still think there’s a place for all of them, but only in moderation and only at certain stages in the revision process:

  • Highlighting and note taking are probably best used when learning initially, probably not for revision.
  • Mnemonics might be useful in certain areas – for example the TPEN plan for research methods.
  • I’ll withhold comment on the use of visuals…. Personally I’m a fan, but I’ll come back to this later.
  • As to re-reading, yes, useless, unless you’re ‘turning your notes over and going through them in your head’ and then re-reading said notes to check you’ve got them ‘in your noggin-nog’.

The University of Reading Library’s Revision Guides

It may be directed at degree level students, but there’s lots of good advice that’s relevant to A-level students here too. The web sites also got lots of useful downloadable pamphlets, so it’s well worth checking out!

  1. Plan your time effectively – work out a revision timetable, be realistic
  2. Download exam papers
  3. Find out what the examiner wants you to do
  4. Learn actively – if you’re ‘reviewing’ revision notes then do ‘active reading’: test yourself, and ask yourself ‘how would I use this to answer an exam question’? Look for links between what you’re revising and other areas of the course.
  5. Know the ‘structure’ of the course you are studying.
  6. Make your revision notes memorable with sub-headings, and spider diagrams, and do them in your own words.
  7. Work in blocks of two to three hours
  8. Mix it up – revise something different in each ‘block’
  9. Set targets and rewards
  10. Test yourself
  11. Practice exam questions – do written answers
  12. Be nice yourself – basically, don’t overdo it! Take regular breaks.
  13. Know when the best time is for you to revise and stick to it!
  14. Revise with friends (?)
  15. If you need to learn formulas and facts, then mnemonics or making up songs may help with ‘rote learning’
  16. Stick to a revision cycle:
  • 10 minutes after learning something (e.g. at the end of the 10 minute study break which you take after learning the topic).
  • 1 day later at the beginning of the next revision session.
  • 3 days later…
  • 1 week later….etc

I really like this well-organised list of sensible revision advice! Check out the web site for some useful and free revision resources. 

The Science of Revision: Nine Ways Students Can Revise for Exams More Effectively (The Guardian Teacher Network)

  1. Eat breakfast
  2. Put your phone away
  3. Start early and spread it out
  4. Test yourself
  5. Teach someone
  6. Think twice about using highlighters
  7. Don’t listen to music
  8. Get some fresh air and take some excercise
  9. Sleep

This is more of a ‘health and well being and general preparation list, but it’s credible because it’s from The Guardian Teacher Network. 


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A-level Sociology Revision Timetable

The revision planner below allows you revise each of the major topics across the entire A-level sociology syllabus three times before the first sociology exam.

In a recent blog article ex Harrow headmaster Barnaby Lenon advised that GCSE students should revise each topic ‘at least three times’:

“You need to revise all your work at least three times before the exam… it is the coming back to the notes three or more times that drives the information into the long-term memory”

This is something I agree with… and if mere GCSE students are being advised to revise everything thrice, it figures that if you’re revising for A-levels, you should up your game from this, so the timetable below schedules ‘3 rounds’ of revision which finish on the Saturday before the first A-level sociology exam (2018 dates), allowing you to get in a final ‘fourth round’ immediately before each exam:

sociology revision timetable 2018A-level sociology revision timetable


General advice about using the above A-level sociology revision timetable 

  • Remember (as if you’re going to forget!) to add in your other A levels to your own personalised revision timetable! This is just sociology
  • Before you begin revising, make sure that you ‘know what you need to know’: the above sub-topics are derived from the AQA’s specification (click here for the AQA’s specification and here for my much prettier summary of it).
  • Obviously if you’re not doing ‘global development’ as the option on paper 2, then swap the global development topics above for whatever topic you’re doing.
  • Each sub-topic is not the same length, and they will take you different amounts of time to revise effectively. Education policies is much bigger than say ‘the Marxist perspective on crime’ for example.
  • The amount of time you will need to spend on each sub-topic depends on how well you personally know each sub-topic.
  • There is considerable overlap between some of the sub-topics, so you may find some of these quite quick to revise.
  • NB – It’s not the point of this post to offer advice on how to revise, I’ll cover that in a future post, but you should be aiming to some ‘testing yourself’ and exam practice in most of your revision sessions.
  • Of course ideally, you would have already revisited most of the first year A-level content (usually education, research methods and families) at some point in the second year, and so if you follow this revision schedule, then you will actually have revised some of the sub-topics more than four times.
  • ‘R and R’ stands for ‘rest and relaxation’, or ‘rock and roll’ (2) – take your pick, but I recommend you have at least one day off a week! I thought ‘Friday’ was more student centered than Sundays. If you don’t like either version of R and R, you can always go Nandos instead.


Good Results are Made in the Easter Holidays (Barnaby Lenon, for the Independent Schools Council)





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The Condition of Postmodernity: Chapter 2

Condition PostmodernityA summary of David Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity’: An Inquiry Into the Origins of Cultural Change, chapter 2.

In chapter 2, Harvey deals at length with the contradictions within Modernity, from the Enlightenment project to the 1968 counter-culture, suggesting that the fundamental contradiction is between Modernity’s quest for the immutable, which it continually undermines by producing constant change.

You might like to read my summary of chapter 1 before embarking on this chapter. 

Chapter 2: Modernity and Modernism

‘Modernity’ wrote Baudelaire in ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ (1863) is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is the one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable’.

There are many conflicting meanings associated with Modernism – the cojoining of the ephemeral and the fleeting with the eternal and immutable’ is very important – and modernism as an aesthetic movement has wavered between both extremes.

Berman’s description of modernism is generally agreed on…..

To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world – and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, we know and everything we are. Modernity cuts across all boundaries, it unites all mankind…. but it is a paradoxical unity – a unity of disunity, it pours us into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration, of contradiction and struggle… to be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said ‘all that is solid melts into air’.

ModernityIn his excellent book, ‘All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity’, Marshall Berman shows how a number of writers tried to deal with this sense of chaos – such as Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, and Simmel – the common theme in their writing being a concern with the experience of space and time as transitory and arbitrary.

One of the pithiest examples of this is in W.B Yate’s lines…

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The consequence of this transitoriness is that modernity can have no respect for its past – if there is any meaning in history then it has to found within the maelstrom of change, but because everything is changing, the question of how to interpret the past and the meaning of change, and the attempt to find the universals, is a fundamental problem.

The quest for the Internal and Immutable were a central concern in Modernity 

Where to look for the eternal and the immutable has been the central concern of modernity since the Enlightenment.

What Habermas calls the project of Modernity came into focus during the eighteenth century. That project amounted to an extraordinary intellectual effort on the part of Enlightenment thinkers ‘to develop objective science, universal morality and law and autonomous art according to their inner logic’. The idea was to use the accumulated knowledge of individuals for the pursuit of human emancipation from scarcity and the arbitrariness of nature – scientific domination of nature promised liberation from scarcity and rational forms of social organisation promised liberation from arbitrary power based on religion or despotism.

Enlightenment thought embraced the ideal of progress and activity and sought a break with the past… Doctrines of equality, liberty and universal reason abounded… Writers such as Condorcet truly believed that the arts and the sciences would promote control of natural forces, and understanding of the world and the self, moral progress and the happiness of human beings.

The 20th century, with its death camps and death squads, its militarism, two world wars, and threat of nuclear annihilation, shattered that optimism.

Writing in the aftermath of the holocaust and Hiroshima, Adorno and Horkheimer (in their book, ‘The Dialectic of Enlightenment’) even argued that the enlightenment project itself was doomed to turn in on itself and transform the quest for human emancipation into a system of universal oppression in the name of human liberation. For them Nazi Germany was the revolt of ‘human nature’ (culture and personality) over many decades of the dominance of purely instrumental reason over everything else.

Today there are those who still support the enlightenment project, but believe we need to rethink the relationship between means and ends; and there are those who are postmodernists who insist we need to abandon the project in the name of emancipation.

Enlightenment thought has always internalised a whole load of contradictions, and there have thus been many competing voices which seek to answer the following questions:

  • what should be the relation between means and ends? (with the role of ‘utopias’ being particularly interesting as far as I’m concerned)
  • who possesses the claim to superior reason? (and what is the role of science is central here)
  • under what conditions should that reason should be exercised as power? (obviously politics here is crucial).

There have been many competing visions put forwards to try and answer the above questions/ solve the above contradictions– from Adam Smith’s invisible hand to Marx’s work… but contradiction has been a mainstay of Modernity.

Critics of Modernity 

The Enlightenment has always had its critics, but by the early 20th Century there were two major branches of criticism:

Firstly there was Max Weber who saw a strong necessary linkage between the growth of science, rationality and universal human freedom but saw the ultimate legacy of the Enlightenment as the ultimate triumph of instrumental rationality which led to the creation of an iron cage of bureaucracy from which there was no escape.

Secondly, there was Nietzsche’s earlier attack on the premises of the Enlightenment which is the nemesis of the above.  Nietzsche saw the modern as nothing more than a vital energy, the will to live and to power, swimming in a sea of disorder, anarchy, individual alienation and despair…. Beneath the surface of knowledge and science the essence of humanity was primitive, wild and merciless, and the only path to self-affirmation was to act in a maelstrom that at the same time destructively creative and creatively destructive…. The end was bound to be tragic.

The image of creative destruction is very important to understanding modernity – and one of the classic characters which illustrates this is Goethe’s Faust who, in the very process of development transforms the wasteland into a thriving physical and social space, but recreates the wasteland inside himself, in an ethical sense – Faust ended up killing a much loved old couple who lived in a cottage by the sea because they didn’t fit in with his ‘grand plan’.

Hausmann’s creative destruction of second empire Paris is a good example of a real life Faustian figure; while the entrepreneur, championed by Schumpeter, is another more generalised figure, destroying that which was in order to profit and ‘drive society forwards’.

By the beginning of the 20th century it was no longer possible to accord reason a privileged status in the definition of the eternal and immutable essence of human nature… this gave a role and a new s. impetus to cultural modernism, basically the arts and philosophy.

This shift had a long history, in the romantics and Saint Simon, for example, saw it coming….

The problem with such sentiments is that aesthetic judgments are influenced by the societies in which they are embedded – and artists  can just as easily sway to the left or the right, even if the protagonists themselves think their artistic endeavours ‘eternal and immutable’.

Harvey now makes some very general points about the evolution of cultural modernism since 1848 (because it’s necessary to do so to make sense of the postmodern reaction).

The successful modern artist tried to distil the eternal and the immutable and the question of how to represent this in the midst of change was a key question, and they sought to innovate representations of the eternal and immutable – e.g. Joyce with his use of language; also Jackson Pollack.  Modernism tried to ‘freeze time’ in order to represent the eternal – collage and montage were popular, however, the ephemerality and change was a central part of modernism – equilibrium had to be continually re-established.

Commodification was a major part of modernism – every new artist attempted to change something in order to sell it…. ‘artists for all their anti-bourgeois rhetoric spent much more energy struggling against each other to sell their own products’. The resulting art and movement was arrogant and individualistic…. As with the Dadaists and early surrealists.

Ultimately Modernism internalised its own maelstrom of ambiguities, contradictions, and pulsating aesthetics at the same time as it sought to affect the aesthetics of daily life, and the facts of daily life had a profound effect on modernism – many modernists had a fascination with technique, speed and motion, inspired no doubt by the factories and production lines of modernity.

Modernism before the first world war was a reaction to the conditions of production (the factory), circulation (transport and communication) and consumption (the rise of mas markets and advertising) than a pioneer in the production of such changes.

Modernism consisted of diverse reactions to these changes (from William Morris to The Bauhaus) – it encompassed the futuristic, nihilistic, the revolutionary and the conservative, the naturalistic and the symbolistic, and it moves between different centres with different feels – London, Paris, Munich for example.

There were many tensions within it – between nationalism and internationalism and between globalism and parochialism for example. For a while it had an international and universalist stance – but eventually diversity based in different cities such as New York and Berlin came to be one of its major defining aspects.

Modernism was also an urban phenomenon – most notably emphasised by Simmel in his essay ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’ (published in 1911).

Simmel theorised that in the city we were liberated from the chains of subjective dependence and thus allowed more individual liberty but this was achieved at the expense of treating others in objective and instrumental terms. We had no choice but to relate to the other except through faceless, cold and calculating money exchanges which could co-ordinate a vast division of labour, and we also submit to our sense of time and space being disciplined by surrendering to the hegemony of economic rationality.

Simmel argued that this produced a psychological response known as the blasé attitude – we block out most of the external stimuli and cultivate a sham individualism through the pursuit of signs – the best example of which is fashion, which according to Simmel allowed for both differentiation, as it changed rapidly, and yet conformity.

Harvey argues that in the USA the city and the machine were important drivers of modernism in the 20th century, art less so, but in Europe, the arts were more important.

Five Periods in the Development of Modernism

Harvey now suggests there are five broad periods within the development of modernism:

The Englightenment Project

The Enlightenment project argued that there was only one possible answer the every question – there existed one correct mode of representation – we see this in Condorcet and Saint-Simon for example, and Comte.

Post 1848

After 1848 the idea that there was only one possible mode of representation began to break down – there is an emphasis on the diversity of representational modes – we see this in Baudelaire for example, which exploded in the 1890s

1910 to 1913

Most commentators believed that was a further qualitative shift between 1910 and 1913. Works published around this time which demonstrate this shift include Saussure’s structuralist theory of language; Einstein’s theory of relativity; and Taylor’s principles of scientific management.  The changes in this short space of time were affected by the loss of faith the progress and by growing unease with the categorical fixity of enlightenment thought.

This shift between 1910-1911 had much to do with class struggle – it was very unclear whether it should be the workers or the bourgeois who should direct the modernist project, it was also a response to the increasing sense of anarchy, instability and despair which grew with Modernism as emphasised by Nietzsche.

Modernism between the wars

Modernism between the wars was more ‘heroic’ – as the appeal to the eternal myth became more imperative. One wing of this appealed to rationality and the machine – logical positivism for example, and the Italian Futurists, and of course Nazism.

This was a period when the always latent tensions between internationalism and nationalism, universalism and class politics were heightened into absolute and unstable contradictions…. It was hard to remain indifferent to the Russian Revolution for example.

Post 1945

Modernism after 1945 (what Harvey calls universal or high modernism) exhibited a much more comfortable relationship with the centres of power – the search for an appropriate myth abated because (Harvey suspects) of the international power system organised along Fordist- Keynseian lines and under US Hegemony this became relatively stable.

The belief in linear progress, absolute truths, and rational planning of ideal social orders was particularly strong – and the result was a positivistic, rationalistic and technocentric system to be gradually wheeled out to the third world from the first.

In the realms of planning there was a real belief that we could organise cities and housing and transport so that everyone would have access to a decent standard of living.

Its nether side lay in the celebration of corporate power and rationality and the return to the efficient machine as a sufficient myth to embody all human aspiration.  Aesthetic modernism also became depoliticised, it became part of the establishment. Art basically became part of the Corporate machine – Coca-Cola and consumerism subsumed modernist art during this period.

The Counter Culture as the Harbinger of Postmodernity

It was in this context that the various counter-cultural movements of the 1960s sprang to life – Antagonistic to the oppressive qualities of scientifically grounded technical-bureaucratic rationality as purveyed through institutionalised power the counter cultures explored realms of individualised self-realisation through embracing an anti-authoritarian critique of daily life.

All of this came to the fore in the global turbulence of 1968 -it was almost as if the universal pretensions of modernity had, when combined with liberal capitalism and imperialism, succeeded so well as to provide a material and political foundation for a cosmopolitan, transnational, and hence global resistance to the hegemony of high modernist culture.

Though this 1968 movement failed, it was a cultural and political harbinger of postmodernism.

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Contemporary Sociology: The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by the Russian State

The recent poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, allegedly by the Russian State, is relevant to many areas of the A-level sociology specification.

Details of the poisoning 

On 4th March 2018 Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33 were poisoned by a nerve agent called Novichok. The pair were found collapsed on a bench in Salisbury in the late afternoon, following what seems to have been a pretty ordinary ‘afternoon of leisure’ involving a trip to a pub and lunch in Zizzi’s. Four weeks later, they remain in a critical condition. 

Sergie Skripal.png

Sergie and Yulia Skripal

Much of the news has focused on just how deadly the nerve agent ‘Novichok’ is – basically a tiny, practically invisible amount was sufficient to render two people seriously ill, and even the police officer who first attended Sergei and Yulia Skripal was taken seriously ill just from secondary contact with what must have been trace elements of the nerve agent.

Pretty much everywhere the pair had visited that afternoon was shut down, and any vehicles that they had been in contact with were quarantined while they were cleared of any trace of the nerve agent and total of 250 counter-terrorism officers are at work investigating the case.

Theresa May has accused the Russian State as being complicit in this attempted murder, which seems plausible as Colonel Sergie Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI. He was later flown to the UK. It seems that the poisoning is the Russian State passing its ‘final sentence’ on this poor guy.

HOWEVER, Russia strongly denies these allegations, so this might just be a hypothetical state-crime!

The international reaction to the poisoning has also been dramatic: to date 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats, and Russia, which of course denies any involvement in the poisoning, has done the same as a counter-response.

Links to the A-level sociology specification

sociological perspectives russia.png

Probably the most obvious link to the A-level sociology specification is that this is a primary example of a state crime – it seems extremely likely that the poisoning was carried out by an agent of the Russian state – The UK condemned Russia at the United Nations Human Rights Council as being in breach of international law and the UK’s national sovereignty.

Secondly, this case study reminds of us that nation states are still among the most powerful actors in the world – nation states are the only institutions which can ‘legitimately’ manufacture chemical weapons such as Novichock.

Thirdly, you could use this as an example of how ‘consensus’ and ‘conflict’ exist side by side. he existence of global values allows various nations to show ‘solidarity’ against Russia and express ‘value consensus’ but it also reminds us that there are conflicting interests in the world.

Fourthly, media coverage aside, it’s hardly a post-modern event is it! Having said that, we don’t know for certain who did the poisoning, so all of this could be a good example of ‘hypperreality’.

There’s lots of other links you could make across various modules – for example, the way the media has dealt with the event (it’s very news worthy!) and the ‘panic’ surrounding it, it fits with our ‘risk conscious society’ very nicely!


Spy poisoning: Highest amount of nerve agent was on door (BBC News)

UK slam Russia over spy poisoning (Washington Post)

Posted in Contemporary Sociology, Countries, Pot Luck, Sociology in the News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

AQA A-level sociology specification content at a glance

I think it’s useful to have the specification laid out in one easy to access to place – so here you go:

With Families and Households and Global Development as the ‘options’ on paper 2

AQA sociology specification content at a glance

Please click here for a PDF Version of the above (probably better for both viewing and printing!): AQA sociology specification content at a glanceI

Text Version of the above:

Core themes (run through all exam papers)

  • socialisation, culture and identity
  • social differentiation, power and stratification.
  • the significance of conflict and consensus, social structure and social action, and the role of values.
  • the focus of study should be on UK society today, within its globalised context.

Education (paper 1)

  • the role and functions of the education system, including its relationship to the economy and to class structure
  • differential educational achievement of social groups by social class, gender and ethnicity
  • relationships and processes within schools: teacher/pupil relationships,
    pupil identities and subcultures, the hidden curriculum, and the organisation of teaching and learning
  • the significance of educational policies, including policies of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy.
  • Methods in Context – students must be able to apply sociological research methods to the study of education.

Theory and Methods (papers 1 and 3)

  • quantitative and qualitative methods of research; research design
  • sources of data, including questionnaires, interviews, participant and non-participant observation, experiments, documents and official statistics
  • the distinction between primary and secondary data, and between quantitative and qualitative data
  • the relationship between positivism, interpretivism and sociological methods; the nature of ‘social facts’
  • the theoretical, practical and ethical considerations influencing choice of topic, choice of method(s) and the conduct of research
  • consensus, conflict, structural and social action theories
  • the concepts of modernity and post-modernity in relation to sociological theory
  • the nature of science and the extent to which Sociology can be regarded as scientific
  • the relationship between theory and methods
  • debates about subjectivity, objectivity and value freedom
  • the relationship between Sociology and social policy

Families and Households (option on paper 2, section A)

  • the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change, with particular reference to the economy and to state policies
  • changing patterns of marriage, cohabitation, separation, divorce, childbearing and the life course, including the sociology of personal life, and the diversity of contemporary family and household structures
  • gender roles, domestic labour and power relationships within the family in contemporary society
  • the nature of childhood, and changes in the status of children in the family and society
  • demographic trends in the United Kingdom since 1900: birth rates, death rates, family size, life expectancy, ageing population, and migration and globalisation.

Global Development (option on paper 2, section B)

  • development, underdevelopment and global inequality
  • globalisation and its influence on the cultural, political and economic relationships between societies
  • the role of transnational corporations, non-governmental organisations and international agencies in local and global strategies for development
  • development in relation to aid and trade, industrialisation, urbanisation, the environment, and war and conflict
  • employment, education, health, demographic change and gender as aspects of development.

Beliefs in Society (option on paper 2, section B)

  • ideology, science and religion, including both Christian and non-Christian religious traditions
  • the relationship between social change and social stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations
  • religious organisations, including cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements, and their relationship to religious and spiritual belief and practice
  • the relationship between different social groups and religious/spiritual organisations and movements, beliefs and practices
  • the significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation in a global context, and globalisation and the spread of religions.

The Media (option on paper 2, section B)

  • the new media and their significance for an understanding of the role of the media in contemporary
  • the relationship between ownership and control of the media
  • the media, globalisation and popular culture
  • the processes of selection and presentation of the content of the news
  • media representations of age, social class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability
  • the relationship between the media, their content and presentation, and audiences.

Crime and Deviance (paper 3)

  • crime, deviance, social order and social control
  • the social distribution of crime and deviance by ethnicity, gender and social class, including recent patterns and trends in crime
  • globalisation and crime in contemporary society; the media and crime; green crime; human rights and state crimes
  • crime control, surveillance, prevention and punishment, victims, and the role of the criminal justice system and other agencies.


Modified from the AQA’s A-level Sociology Specification from 2015 onwards (7191-2) – which can be accessed in all its glory here:

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Russia’s ‘Managed’ Democracy

Pre-script… I wrote this before the Russian elections, time-released it and then put it back so it ended up being published after the elections…which was maybe an effort on my part! Anyway, it is what it is, sort of a testament to postmodernity, sort of… Putin won of course!

Russian elections are coming up in March, and given that Russia is one of the BRIC nations, and thus relevant to the A-level sociology module on global development, I thought it worth doing a quick post…..

Technically Russia is a democracy, and has been since 1993, because presidential elections are held every 6 years, and there’s an elected parliament and an ‘independent’ judiciary.

However, in reality it’s more of a ‘managed democracy’: those in power rely heavily on the Oligarchs who control Russian business and the media to pre-determine election results. This happened initially with the first elected President, Boris Yeltsin, and even more so with his chosen successor, Vladimir Putin, who has been in power since the year 2000. If he wins this year’s presidential election, he’ll remain there until 2024.

Putin has been very successful in managing democracy – through media manipulation he remains very popular, with policies which are strong on cutting down on ‘gangsta capitalism’ and an aggressive foreign policy – however, he also uses ‘blatant corruption’ tactics to stay in power, as when he bused supporters to different polling stations to stuff ballot boxes in the 2011-12 elections, which led to protests, to which he responded by banning protests, unless you get a permit, which are often refused.

Is there any chance Putin will lose the next election in March?

His main opposition is from a guy called Alexi Navanly – a nationalist with an anti-immigration stance, his main problem being that less than half of Russians seem to know who he is due to Putin’s control of the mainstream media.

However, there is a possibility that Putin’s inability to allow any genuine alternatives in opposition could be his downfall as more and more young people turn to the online sources for their information about politics in Russia.


The Week, 2nd Sept 2017

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How equal are men and women in relationships these days? Student survey results

Women who do the lioness’s share of the housework, but men and women seem to have equal control over the finances, at least according to two surveys conduct by my A Level sociology students last week.

This acts as a useful update to the topic of power and equality within relationships, especially the ‘domestic division of labour’ aspect.

I actually did two surveys this week with the students this week, both on Socrative.

For the first survey, I simply asked students via Socrative, who did most of the domestic work when they were a child (mostly mother or mostly father – full range of possible responses are in the results below), with ‘domestic work’ broken down into tasks such as cleaning, laundry, DIY etc…

For the second Survey, I got students to write down possible survey questions on post it notes, then I selected 7 of them to make a brief questionnaire which they then used as a basis for interviewing three couples about who did the housework.

Selected results from the initial student survey on parents’ housework

These results were based on students’ memory!

Housework survey 2018

Housework survey 2018 DIY

Selected results from the second survey

based on student interviews with couples

Domestic labour questionnaire 2018

men women finances survey 2018

Discussion of the validity of the results…..

These two surveys on the domestic division of labour (and other things) provided a useful way into a discussion of the strengths and limitations of social surveys more generally….we touched on the following, among other things:

  • memory may limit validity in survey one
  • lack of possible options limits validity in survey two, also serves as an illustration of the imposition problem.
  • asking couples should act as a check on validity, because men can’t exaggerate if they are with their partner.
  • there are a few ethical problems with the ‘him’ and ‘her’ categories, which could be improved upon.

Postcript – on using student surveys to teach A-level sociology

All in all this is a great activity to do with students. It brings the research up to date, it gets them thinking about questionnaire design and, if you time it right, it even gets them out of the class room for half an hour, so you can just put yer feet up and chillax!

If you want to use the same surveys the links, which will allow you to modify as you see fit, are here:


Posted in Families and Households, Feminism, Sex and gender, surveys | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment