Mexican government still struggling to control drugs cartels

There were 29,168 recorded murders in Mexico in 2017, or 20 murders for every 100, 000 of the population, more than at the height of the country’s drug war in 2011. (Source: The Guardian).

This dismal new record is being blamed on intense drug-related violence and turf wars – owing in particular to the rise and spread of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Jalisco Cartel

Analysts also believe the spike could be related to a number of autonomous groups emerging in the vacuum created by the capture of several major cartel bosses.

This is of obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance aspect of A-level sociology – it demonstrates the continued power of organised (or dis-organised?) crime in countries through which drugs travel and the relative powerlessness of nation states to get this problem under control!

To put Mexico’s homicide rate in context, it’s more than 20* higher than the UKs, and yet smaller than Brazil’s and Colombia’s (27/ 100, 000) and El Salvador’s, which stands at 60.8 per hundred thousand.

Further sources used: 

The Week, 27 January 2017.

 

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Criticisms of Quantitative Research

Bryman (2016) identifies four criticisms of quantitative research:

Quantitative researchers fail to distinguish people and social institutions from the world of nature

Schutz (1962) is the main critique here.

Schutz and other phenomenologists accuse quantitative social researchers of treating the social world as if it were no different from the natural world. In so doing, quantitative researchers tend to ignore the fact that people interpret the world around them, whereas this capacity for self-reflection cannot be found among the objects of the natural sciences.

The measurement process possesses an artificial and spurious sense of precision and accuracy

Cicourel (1964) is the main critique here.

He argues that the connection between the measures developed by social scientists and the concepts they are supposed to be revealing is assumed rather than real – basically measures and concepts are both effectively ‘made up’ by the researchers, rather than being ‘out there’ in reality.

A further problem is that quantitative researchers assume that everyone who answers a survey interprets the questions in the same way – in reality, this simply may not be the case.

The reliance on instruments and procedures hinders the connection between research and everyday life

This issue relates to the question of ecological validity.  

Many methods of quantitative research rely heavily on administering research instruments to participants (such as structured interviews or self-completion questionnaires), or controlling situations to determine effects.

However, these instruments simply do not ‘tap into’ people’s real life experiences – for example, many of the well known lab experiments on the A-level sociology syllabus clearly do not reflect real life, while surveys which ask people about their attitudes towards immigration, or the environment, do not necessarily tell us about how people act towards migrants or the environment on a day to day basis.

The analysis of relationships between variables creates a static view of social life that is independent of people’s lives. 

The main critique here is Blumer (1956).

Blumer (1956) argued that studies that seek to bring out the relationships between variables omit ‘the process of interpretation or definition that goes on in human groups’.

This is a combination of criticisms 1 and 3 above, but adds on an additional problem – that in isolating out variables, quantitative research creates an artificial, fixed and frozen social (un)reality – whereas social reality is (really) alive and constantly being created through processes of interaction by its various members.

In other words, the criticism here is that quantitative research is seen as carrying an objective ontology that reifies the social world.

The above criticisms have lead intepretivists to prefer more qualitative research methods. However, these too have their limitations!

Sources:

Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods

 

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Homophobic Friends?

It’s almost 15 years (!) since the hit T.V. show ‘Friends’ went off the air. The show has been voted the best sitcom of all time, but since it started streaming on Netflix this month, many millennials have been shocked by its themes, perceiving the show as somewhat homophobic and transphobic.

Friends gender

Most of the criticism focuses on the way the show deals with sexuality and gender: younger viewers are offended by the recurring jokes about Ross’ Lesbian ex-wife, for instance, and Chandler’s cross-dressing father.

They have also criticized the show for ‘fat-shaming’ Monica, following the flashbacks to herself as an undesirable fat teenager, and the lack of diversity in the show: it is, to say the least, very white!

It’s amazing how our sensitivity to such issues has changed in the space of just one generation. 

NB – here’s an article defending Friends, suggesting that it isn’t actually homophobic etc.

Sources:

The Week, 20th January 2018

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The Four Main Concerns of Quantitative Research

Quantitative researchers generally have four main preoccupations: they want their research to be measurable, to focus on causation, to be generalisable, and to be replicable.

These preoccupations reflect epistemological grounded beliefs about what constitutes acceptable knowledge, and can be contrasted with the preoccupations of researchers who prefer a qualitative approach.

Measurement 

It may sound like it’s stating the obvious – but quantitative researchers are primarily interested in collecting numerical data, which means they are essentially concerned with counting social phenomena, which will often require concepts to be operationalised.

Causality 

In most quantitative research there is a strong concern with explanation: qualitative researchers are more concerned with explaining why things are as they are, rather than merely describing them (which tends to be the focus of more qualitative research).

It follows that it is crucial for quantitative researchers to effectively isolate variables in order to establish causal relationships.

Generalisation 

Quantitative researchers tend to want their findings to be representative of wider populations, rather than the just the sample involved in the study, thus there is a concern with making sure appropriate sampling techniques will be used.

Replication

If a study is repeatable then it is possible to check that the original researchers’ own personal biases or characteristics have not influenced the findings: in other words, replication is necessary to test the objectivity of an original piece of research.

Quantitative researchers tend to be keen on making sure studies are repeatable, although most studies are never repeated because there is a lack of status attached to doing so.

Source:

Bryman (2017) Social Research Methods

 

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A few thoughts on revising research methods in context/ applied research methods

The ‘applied methods*’ question appears in paper 1 of the AQA’s Education with Theory and Methods exam (paper 7192/1). This is out of 20 marks, and students are expected to apply their understanding of any of the six main research method covered in the A-level sociology specification to any conceivable topic within education.

An example of an ‘applied methods*’ question is as follows:

‘Applying material from item B and elsewhere, evaluate the strengths and limitation of using participant observation to investigate truancy from school’ (20)

Here’s how I revise these questions with my students… NB I don’t introduce the item until later…

Warm up with the method

Firstly, I get students to talk through the theoretical practical and ethical strengths and limitations just of the method. I do this because students need to know they method anyway, and they can get 10/20 just for writing a decent methods essay (without applying it) – see the mark scheme here.

Methods in Context

Warm up with the method generally applied to the topic

Students brainstorm the general ethical, practical and theoretical issues you may encounter when researching this topic with this method… I think it’s good to be as open-minded as possible early on… It’s easiest just to get them to do this on paper. 

Sociology applied methods

Do a plan applying the method to the specific details in the item

I use an A3 sheet for this, with the item and question in the middle, students now read the item. 

Methods in Context

Write a detailed flow-chart

Here I get students to add in analysis and evaluation points to each original lead-point, showing a chain of reasoning (side 2 of A3 sheet).

Applied Research Methods

Repeat stage two with a different topic, to emphasise the difference in answers for the same method applied to a different topic

DO NOT go over the whole process again, once is enough!

Research Methods

Issues with Revising Applied Research Methods 

There’s a very real possibility that students will just not ‘get it’, because they have to be so nit-pickingly overt about relating the method to the specific topic. Drilling this into students is a painful and thankless task, induced solely by the demands of this specific form of the assessment.

There is also the possibility that students may lose the will to live, especially when some past papers have examples that even I find intolerably dull, and I’m actually interested in this stuff!

*These are sometimes referred to as ‘Methods in Context’ questions. This was the term originally used by the AQA for many years, but (much like this question format itself as a means of assessing application skills) it’s pretty clumsy, so the new ‘applied methods’ phrase is IMO much better.  

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Knowing Capitalism and Lively Data

Knowing Capitalism and Lively Data

Nigel Thrift (2005) developed the concept of ‘knowing capitalism’ to denote a new form of global economy which depends not only on technologies which generate large amounts of digital data, but also on the commodification of that data: a big data economy in which power operates through modes of communication, and

Digital data have become especially valuable as forms of knowledge, especially when they are aggregated into big data sets, and are seen as having huge potential to offer new insights into a range of human behaviours, and to disrupt various industries: from health care to education.

One key change in the age of ‘knowing capitalism’ is that there has been a shift from commodifying workers’ physical labour to profiting from information collected on people’s preferences – which online users willingly give when they create and upload digital content online, download and use geolocation apps, shop online, and like various content.

In this digital age, prosumption is the new norm – people simultaneously consuming and generating online content and In commercial circles, the user of online technologies is ‘the product’, because the information they give off when online is so valuable.

This is why so many applications, such as Facebook, are free to use – because they are really just platforms to harvest valuable data (why charge?)… and the Four big tech companies excercise huge power by virtue of the sheer amount of big data they have already, and continue to collect on their users.

Central to portrayals of the digital data economy is the idea that digital data are lively, mutable, and hybrid. Metaphors of liquidity are very commonly used:

  • Flows
  • Streams
  • Rivers
  • Floods
  • Tsunamis

In the digital data economy flows of information are generated and engage in non-linear movement, and according to THrift (2014) new hybrid beings emerge with the mixture of data, objects and bodies….and bodies and identities are fragmented and reassembled through a process of reconfiguration.

Furthermore, digital data and the algorithmic analytics used to interpret them are beginning to have determining effects on people’s lives, influencing their life chances and opportunities.

There is a mobile dimension to how we interact with data too.

Data can become stuck, for example when a company hoards it, or when people do not know how to use it!

Data materialisations constitute an important dimension of knowing capitalism – data is lively, in flux, but it needs to be frozen to be used – in 2D (infographics) or 3D… through printers.

Where 2D data visualisations are concerned, a lot of emphasis is placed on their aesthetic quality, and how the meaning of the data is structured.. And behind this process lies decisions about what to include and what to exclude, and limitations on what can be shown due to software used…. This there are many contingencies framing the way we understand big data in knowing capitalism!

Sources

Summarised from:

Lupton, Deborah (2017) The Quantified Self, Polity

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Russell Brand’s Wedding Present for Harry and Meghan

A Windsor counsellor recently suggested that the homeless of Windsor should be cleared off the streets in time for Harry and Meghan’s wedding.

One person (probably among many others) that’s not happy about this is Russell Brand, who pointed out that yet again it’s the marginalised and powerless who are being made to suffer so that the elite can have a ‘jolly nice time’.

He outlines his views in this brief, 5 minute video clip:

One of this suggestions is that Slough Council should hand over one its buildings to SHOC ‘Slough Homeless Our Concern’, so at least there is some real, tangible, extra support being made available for the homeless in the area.

You can sign an online petition in support of the idea here>

Relevance to A level sociology

I thought this was a cheeky little example to highlight how the marginalised get treated in this country, also illustrates elements of the social construction of crime – in that ‘homelessness’ becomes more of a problem when the context (the impending wedding) approaches.

Also – here we have celebrity Russell Brand, a ‘moral entrepreneur’ spearheading a very specific, niche, social policy campaign (/suggested intervention) via his YouTube channel – there’s something very postmodern about all of this…

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Evaluate the Strengths of Using Social Surveys in Social Research (20)

‘Evaluate the Strengths of Using Social Surveys in Social Research’ (20)

This is an essay plan for a possible essay for the AQA’s A Level Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods. This essay plan uses the TPEN structure which covers the theoretical, practical, ethical and ‘nature of topic’ factors relevant to this research method.

You might like to review this post which introduces social surveys and this post on ‘the advantages and disadvantages of social surveys‘ first. 

20180117_082357

  • Theoretical Factors: Positivists/ Interpretivists – Positivists generally like social surveys because the data from Structured Social Surveys is easy to put into graphs and charts – it is easy to make comparisons, find trends and uncover the ‘laws’ of human action
  • Theoretical: Representativeness/ Sampling – It is generally easy to obtain large samples
  • Theoretical: Reliability – Surveys generally have good reliability because….
  • Theoretical: Validity – Validity should be good for simple topics and it is less likely that the researcher’s opinions will affect the research process as with more qualitative methods
  • Practical Factors: Social surveys are one of the cheapest methods for collecting data from a wide, geographically dispersed sample of the target population; they are generally one of the quickest ways of collecting data
  • Ethical Factors: There are few ethical issues with this method compared to more qualitative methods.
  • Nature of Topic: Social surveys are best used for simple, straightforward topics.
  • Conclusion: Social Surveys are good for gaining an ‘overview’ of social trends
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Sociological Perspectives on Veganuary

Launched in the United Kingdom in January 2014, Veganuary is a global campaign that encourages people to try eating a vegan diet for the month of January.

Veganuary is dedicated to changing public attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible.

It is a growing movement, with over 50 000 people committed for January 2018 (1) compared to just over 20 000 in 2016 (2). The report of the impact of 2016 Veganuary (see 1 below) argues that the month long campaign has a positive impact on helping people maintain their veganism and helping some transition from vegetarianism. meat-eating to full-blown veganism.

Comments/ sociological relevance

My optimistic, and vegan-sympathetic self wants to ask ‘Are we seeing an ‘anticipation of the morality of the future’? (following Durkheim’s stance on deviance and social change) – might veganism be the new norm in 50 years?

Or, following postmodernism,  is this just a case which illustrates a new forms of ‘incredibly weak solidarity’ orchestrated through social media. Is this is just yet another faddish lifestyle culture?

From a research methods perspective, you might also want to have a look at that report on the ‘impacts’ of Veganuary… the survey asked people about their diets in the first week of February, in order to measure the impact of going vegan in the previous months… hmmm, can anyone see any problems there???? As always, answers welcome in the comments below!

 

Sources

(1) Veganuary 2016: Participant Research and Impact

(2) The Week, 6 January 2018

 

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On teaching to a question – but what question to ask?

For teachers, ‘teaching to a question’ is often the most efficient way of organizing a lesson, and it’s something I found especially useful when I first began my teaching career, 146 years ago.

In this post all I’m doing is re-visiting this basic strategy in preparation for teaching the next block of theories of crime and deviance, and simply asking myself what are the best ‘starting point’ questions to get students thinking along the line of Marxists, Interactionists and Realists….

Any of these questions can be used as useful starters… as kind of ‘what do you already know’ starter if you like. You could always add in a brief data response task to each block of questions to bring them to life a bit more.

Marxist theories of crime – four basic questions

  • Does Capitalism cause crime?
  • Do the police disproportionately target the working classes?
  • Are elites more likely to escape prosecution by the courts than the working classes?
  • Do Corporations cause more harm to people, society and the planet than ‘actual’ criminals?

Interactionist theories of crime – four basic questions 

  • Do teachers/ the police label students/ people based on their class, gender and ethnicity?
  • Does this create a self-fulfilling prophecy?
  • Are teachers/ the police to blame for the deviance of their students/ the crimes of criminals?

Right Realist theories of crime – to tap into rational choice theory…..

  • Really simple..brainstorm anything the government might do to reduce crime in society (prize for the most solutions)
  • Any series of questions relating to ‘Rational Choice Theory’ (future post on this) – e.g. here’s a scenario, such as it being late at night, no guards, no ticket barrier, would you bunk the train…
  • All things being equal, do you think harsher punishments generally reduce crime?
  • All things being equal do you think more police on the streets is an effective way to reduce crime?

NB – the questions above aren’t supposed to be exhaustive, just the simpler ones to kick start the topics.

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