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Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy

Social policy refers to the actions governments take in order to influence society, or to the actions opposition parties and ‘social movements’ (think Marxism and Feminism) propose to do if they were to gain power. This topic basically involves looking at perspectives on government policies

The Positivist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

For both Functionalists and Positivists the role of the researcher is to provide the state with objective, value free data which can be used to uncover the root causes of social problems in society. Social Policy recommendations are seen as ‘cures’ to a whole range of social problems.

Durkheim and Comte (in the 18the and early 19th centuries) both believed that doing research was part of the Enlightenment project – to use science and reason to improve society. Durkheim, and later Parsons both believed that through using cross national and historical comparisons they had started to understand the ‘laws of social evolution’ and so could inform governments of what the appropriate policies were to manage social change. For example, one of the things Durkheim suggested, way before his time, was for governments to establish a meritocratic education system and abolish inherited wealth (yay!) as a way to foster a fairer society and ensure that the most talented people could rise to positions of power and influence in the newly industrialising Europe.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Governments claim to collect data about the social world in a ‘value free’

E.G. Office for National Statistics employs over 4000 people to collect and analyse data on everything from family trends (births/ marriages/ deaths are recorded) to crime statistics

The UK national census is also a good example (from 2011)

Governments use this data to make decisions about how many school places will be needed, how many prison places etc.

The Marxist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Marxists believe that Sociology should target research to highlight a) the exploitation by the Bourgeois and b) the oppression of the working classes

Marxist inspired research includes anything that involves looking at the relationship between social class and inequality in education, research into the unfair criminal justice system, research on the harms ‘Corporate elites’ do (Tombs and Whyte) and The Spirit Level

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Marxists argue that governments mainly ignore research done from a Marxist Agenda because governments typically consist of the upper middle classes.

Marxists argue that Social Policies generally protect the interests of the wealthy – and there are several examples that support this view –

Within Education – the existence of private schools allows the wealthy to get their children a better education – upper middle class children effectively get ‘hot- housed’ so they are more likely to get better A levels and end up in top-end universities when compared to those attending state schools.

Looking at Crime Policy – the government does not adequately fund the Health and Safety Executive which prosecutes companies which breach health and safety law, neither does it adequately fund the Financial Services Authority, which prosecutes companies and individuals who engage in financial crimes – this is despite the fact that (according to Jones 2008) that these crimes together do more economic harm to the economy than all street crime put together.

Finally – taxation policy has tended to favour wealthy individuals and Corporations since the Thatcher years in the early ‘80s (NB – New Labour are effectively the same as the Tories these days) – Before the Tories came into power, there was a 90% rate of tax on earned income over —– – today the top rate of tax on earned income is 50% (on all income over £150 000).

Marxists argue that because of the inherent bias in Social Policy, Sociologists should not aim to work with governments – Sociologists should identify with the ‘underdog’ and focus on ‘critical research’ (which, of course, will be self-funded) to help alert people to the injustices of the Capitalist system and assist in the inevitable revolutionary movement that will bring down the Capitalist system.

Feminism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Feminists generally focus on researching gender inequalities

Liberal Feminism traditionally focussed on achieving political and economic equality for women

Contemporary Feminism focusses on issues of domestic violence, the Pornification of Culture and the Beauty Myth, sex trafficking and the persistence of inequalities in work and politics

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?


Policies promoting gender equality include

  • The vote (obviously) (1918 and 28)

  • The divorce act (1969)

  • The equal pay act (1972)

  • Rape in marriage made illegal (1991)

  • The Paternity Act (2011)

HOWEVER: The current government seems to want to reverse women’s rights –

  • 70% of the government cuts fall on women

  • Prominent MPs such as Nadine Dories want to reduce the time limit for abortion, giving women less control over their bodies.

Interactionism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

According to Interactionists, research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions. It should aim to achieve Verstehen. Traditionally research has focussed on process such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy, often taking the side of underdog (the powerless in society) – a good example of which is Venkatesh’s sympathetic account of Crack dealers in Chicago.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Interactionists such as Becker criticise the government as being THE Source of labels – people in government label people not like them as ‘problems’.

The government doesn’t tend to use interactionist research – It tends to be too critical and too supportive of deviants, and in any case it’s too small scale to be of interest.

However there are some exceptions –

o Research on the extent of police labelling – Prompted compulsory multiculturalism training in the police

o Ditto for training school teachers and other ‘state workers’.

The New Right and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

The New Right believe that the state should have minimal involvement in society. In particular they opposed to using state provision of welfare to deal with social problems. In their view, state intervention in areas such as family life and education robs people of their freedom and undermines their sense of responsibility. This in turn leads to greater problems such as crime and delinquency.

One classic New Right Theory is Charles Murrays’ view of the underclass – Murray argues that overly generous welfare benefits and council housing have encouraged ‘perverse incentives’ and lead to the growth of over a million people in the UK who are now dependent on state hand-outs – This includes hundreds of thousands of lone mothers, abandoned by feckless, irresponsible fathers, all made possible because these people know that if they don’t take responsibility, the state will just pay for them.

The New Right point out that there is a very strong correlation between being long term unemployed and social problems such as binge drinking and crime.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

THE CURRENT UK GOVERNMENT IS THE NEW RIGHT (as was the last one, and the one before that)

Breakdown Britain (2007) – A report by a Conservative think tank proposes a number of social policies designed to tackle these problems – such as

  • Cutting unemployment benefit to make it less attractive

  • Tax incentives for married rather than cohabiting couples as married families are more stable than cohabiting ones.

  • Marriage preparation and parenting classes where required.

In addition to the above, New Right thinking was responsible for ‘Right Realism’ and ‘Broken Windows’ theory – The only exception to their theory that the state should do less is that it should provide strong law and order – to help communities that suffer from low levels of social control and to clamp down heavily on those who break the law with Zero Tolerance Policing techniques.

Related Posts

Social Policy and The Family


Good Sociology Sites

Some of the best web sites and other sources for keeping up to date with social trends, news and sociological research. Most of these are hub sites through which the latest sociological research is published and analysed.

I’ve broken down my selection into into the following categories, and selected just 3-5 resources under each heading, so as to keep ‘the list’ manageable.

  • news sites
  • web sites (typically linked to sociology organisations)
  • sociology podcasts
  • blogs
  • video and documentary sites
  • magazines
  • text books

If a resources isn’t here it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t rate it, it just means I don’t think its as useful as the ones I have included, or it could mean I haven’t come across it, or I just haven’t found the time to link to it!

NB – I’m updating this when I can, latest update April 2018!

Recommended News Sites for Sociology Students

The sites below are those I use to keep myself up to date with the News… 

The Conversation

The Conversation describes itself as ‘an independent source of news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.’

Unlike regular news outlets, The Conversation works directly with knowledge creators, and people who work in universities have spent their whole career studying their subject specialisms in-depth, and have done so in collaboration with their peers, and so can tap into their global knowledge network with relative ease.

The Guardian 

The Guardian’s supposedly a bit left of center, but that all depends on how left-wing your own personal politics are, and personally, I don’t think it’s that far to the left….

What I especially like about The Guardian is it’s strong focus on data journalism, which has been going strong since 2010 when it launched its Datablog, the first national data journalism site, which is a great source for finding infographics.

It’s also got a great international development section, so is a great resource for anyone studying the global development topic in the second year.

Al Jazeera

Launched in 1996, Al Jazeera Arabic was the first independent news network in the Arab world. It has since expanded to a global network in 70 countries and reaching over 300 million people. Its organisation seems to be much more decentralised and localised than other mainstream news companies (such as the BBC) and it claims to put people at the heart of reporting and to offer an alternative narrative to most mainstream news outlets.

The Week 

The Week is my number one go-to source for keeping up to date with the news, because it basically summarizes all of the best news articles from the previous week from a range of global news sources and is thus a very efficient way of keeping up to date with the news while avoiding all the unnecessary fluff that goes along with the daily news. Unfortunately you can’t access very much of its content online as it’s a subscription magazine service so I’ve included it in the magazine section below.

Sociology Podcasts and Radio Shows

For this section I’m going with 3 from radio 4. If you know of any from other sources, please do share, I’d like a broader range!

Thinking Allowed

I just love Thinking Allowed – it’s a great way of getting up to date information on a whole range of contemporary social research – the typical format is a sociologist summarizing their research and responding to questions from the host, or occasionally it may take the form of a ‘panel interview’ if there’s a broader topic under discussion. It’s hosted by Laurie Taylor who not only has a great voice for this sort of thing (IMO) but is also of A-level crime and deviance fame, if that counts for anything these days.

To give you some idea of just how good ‘Thinking Allowed’ is – just how relevant it can be to A-level sociology, you might like to check out my summaries of some (relatively) recent episodes – as below:


This programme provides an in-depth, analytical (funny that!) look at public policy issues, and it’s presented by ‘distinguished writers and academics, so it really does ‘dig down’ into the issues. Topics for analysis are also very contemporary – although there’s a few weeks delay from when they’re ‘hot news items’ – proper analysis takes a while to put together after all! For example – interesting episodes for sociology students include programmes on whether we unconsciously harbor racist or sexist attitudes; whether it’s genes or our social environment which influence our behaviour, and there’s even an entire 30 minutes devoted to ‘The Spirit Level’ in one episode.

More or Less 

This show explores and debunks the statistics used in political debate. Upcoming in the new 2017 series is a focus on why it’s so hard to count some things – such as the number of dead in Grenfell Tower, or the number of Domestic Violence Incidents. (It’s not always so depressing!). The show is supported by the Open University -which has some quite nice links for exploring statistics further.

More sources to follow – this page is a work in progress. NB the list above is a general lise – relevant to all levels of students and just anyone who has a general interest in sociological issues – the list below (which I will shortly be making into an entirely separate page or post is good sites specifically for A-level students studying for those dread exams. 

Good sociology Web Sites (linked to organisations)

The British Sociological Organisation 

British Sociological Association.png

The British Sociological Association is the biggest network of sociologists in Britain, and its primary aim is to promote sociology. It does this through its website, and also through a number of public conferences and lectures, some of which focus on specific areas of sociology, such as the ‘Work, Employment and Society Conference’.

Membership only costs around £100 per year (less if you’re a student) and gives you to access to lots of academic journals, such as ‘Sociology‘.

The Bauman Institute 

Ah Zygmunt Bauman (RIP) – My favourite sociologist of postmodernity – because of his critical nature and ethical concern for how the hell on (globalised) earth we’re all going to ‘get on’ with our others….

The Bauman Institute (University of Leeds) aims to ‘honour his legacy of a morally-committed form of sociology providing a constantly critical commentary on everyday life’, now there’s a cause I can get on board with!

The London School of Economics Sociology Pages

I had to include at least one university in this list, and the LSE is a good candidate because of its global and interdisciplinary focus, which is the future of Sociology (IMO). The related blog ‘researching sociology‘ is also worth checking out.

NB, I’m including this here not because  I’m recommending you to go do a degree at the LSE (although TBH you could do a lot worse), but rather because their sociology web site is one of the best.

Good sociology Blogs 

Sociology Images – was founded in 2007 and ‘aims to encourage people of all backgrounds to present brief sociological discussions of  imagery that fires their sociological imagination. The blog has multiple contributors and is very broad ranging, having a solid focus on a range of contemporary issues (changing gender norms is a major focus!).

What I especially like about this blog is that when it was founded in 2007, by then PhD student Lisa Wade, is that many people were sceptical about the role blogging might play in an academic’s career, 10 years later, it’s now a very well respected blog which has won teaching awards and is cross posted on various news sites. And according to this September 2017 Post: A New Era for Sociological Images, the blog is just going from strength to strength!

Good sources catering to A level Sociology Students which focus mainly on Sociology

For Starters – The Exam Board (AQA)

Before starting to revise please do check out the The AQA Specification (for Sociology!) – checking out what the exam board thinks you need to know is a good starting point for any student of A level Sociology. The AQA isn’t the only exam board, but it’s the major one and the one I teach, hence the one this site focuses on. NB the exam board doesn’t actually give you that much detail about what you need to know – so you should check out the content of the major text books – this is what they use to set the exam questions!

Chris Livsey’s Sociology Central has some excellent teaching notes – in text book style. NB The site mainly focuses on full text rather than revision resources. A very good site, and quite entertaining if you click around enough. This was one of the first web sites to go online, so it’s a bit old-school, but still useful.

The Earlham Sociology Pages contains an enormous amount of material for Sociology and Government and Politics students – some of the pages are very in-depth, so probably best used as a source of extension work.

Twynham Sociology has some useful revision diagrams and podcasts, although some the former have been designed for the old-style of exam-questions so watch out for that!

Steve Basset’s YouTube channel is the place to go for some excellent podcasts on a range of topics within Sociology – The downside of the playlist is that Steve teaches mainly minority options’ which most students don’t study! But what’s there is excellent – especially good on the theories of development (Modernisation Theory etc.), and all students could make good use of his introductory materials on sociological perspectives

Sociology sections of ‘generic revision sites’

I’m a bit of a purist, so I do prefer material that’s put online by dedicated Sociology teachers – however, there are some useful materials on yer generic revision sites – S-Cool and the like, so use these if you prefer. NB a lot of the material below is just copied straight out of text books – so you can’t go far wrong with it (well, at least no wronger than what’s in said text books, which isn’t necessarily always that right). 

The Sociology section of ‘Get Revising’ which is part of the student room has a range of resources – from class notes to mind-maps – uploaded by a range of people, so the quality isn’t standardised, but there is a lot of material, and some useful stuff in there!

The Sociology section of S-Cool has some OK basic revision resources – but it doesn’t cover the whole specification anywhere near comprehensively and it’s a bit basic, but a good starting point if you want the basics!

The History Learning Site – I have to begrudgingly admit that this has some useful material on it as it’s pitched at a nice level for A level students – the reason I begrudge it is because whoever writes the sociology material seems to have copied out a dated (as in 20 years old) text book which is ironically useful because the exam board’s specification is also set 20 years in the past. Honestly, you couldn’t write the script, well I couldn’t because I actually live in the present.

Good sources for further reading/ research 

Thinking Allowed – this is a weekly broadcast/ podcast by radio four which typically focuses on two pieces of recent sociological research. Of particular interest are the annnual ethnography awards – which outline some of the best recent ethnographic studies done in the UK and abroad on a range of topics.


Good sites for Class, Gender and Ethnic Inequalities

The Equality and Human Rights Commission

Good Sociology Books

I’m jiggling things about at the moment, this page was originally about sociology text books only, the material for which is still below, but I’m transforming it into a page about sociology reading more generally. It’s likely to broken up into the following sections: 

  • Good books written by actual sociologists
  • Good books with sociological content (but not necessarily written by actual sociologists)
  • Good text books for A level and degree level sociology

NB – on books, often more is less – it can be quite pleasant to pick one of these, read it slowly, and get as much out of it as you can – I’ve done this with Bauman and Giddens especially. Feel free to take this to the next level – David Harvey has read re-read Marx’s Capital every year for the last forty years.

As with all these pages, this is a work in progress, to be gradually populated with more info throughout 2016-17. 

A chronology of good books written by actual sociologists

I’m in the process of re-ordering these in chronological order, so you get a feel a for when they were written. Follow the links to the summaries I’ve done for some of them. I’ll add in a brief synopsis paragraph to all of them when I get chance. 

NB I’ve only selected the most quintessentially sociological books for this list (I’ll get round to explaining what I define as ‘quintessentially sociological’ at some point).

Eric Fromm (1941) Fear of Freedom 

Erving Goffman (1959) The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life

David Harvey (1989) The Condition of Post-Modernity

Anthony Giddens (1991) Modernity and Self Identity 

Anthony Giddens (1999) Runaway World

Zygmunt Bauman (2000) Liquid Modernity

Thomas Hylland Eriksen (2001) Tyranny of the Moment

  • David Miller – Stuff
  • Ulrich Beck – Risk Society
  • Sudhir Venkatesh (2008) Gang leader for a day: A rouge sociologist crosses the line. London: Penguin books.
  • Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K. (2009) The spirit level – Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Penguin books.

Good books with sociological content (but not necessarily written by actual sociologists)

  1. Klein, N. (2008) The Shock Doctrine. London: Penguin (reprint edition).  Just Read It!
  2. Chang, Ha-Joon (2010) 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Penguin Group
  3. Banyard, K. (2010) The equality illusion : The truth about men and women today. London: Faber and Faber.
  4. Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion – Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Chomsky, N. (2004) Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance. London: Penguin Books.
  6. Fisker – Early Retirement Extreme

Good Introductory Sociology Text Books

Giddens and Sutton (2007) Essential Concepts in Sociology, Polity.

This is a handy little supplementary text for students studying mainly degree level sociology. It covers most of the classic and contemporary sociological concepts from ‘society’ to ‘globalisation, and from ‘patriarchy’ to ‘intersectionality’.

The book is divided up into 10 sections, which each section exploring around seven sociological concepts, providing a ‘working definition’, a section on the origins of the concept, meanings and interpretations, critical comments, and a final section on the continued relevance of the concepts.

Concepts SociologyThe 10 sections are:

  • Thinking Sociologically
  • Doing Sociology
  • Environment and Urbanism
  • Structures of Society
  • Unequal Life Chances
  • Relationships and the Life Course
  • Interaction and Communication
  • Health, Illness and the Body
  • Crime and Social Control
  • Political Sociology.


Good contemporary A Level Sociology text books

This page is devoted to outlining and reviewing AS Sociology text books for AS and A level students. They’re not necessarily in any order either…. .

The reviews below are based entirely on the education, family, and research methods aspects of the books.

Just because something is not here doesn’t mean I don’t rate it! This page is a work in progress

Ken Browne (2015) Sociology for AQA Volume One 

Browne_Sociology_ for_AQA_Volume_1_ AS_and_1st-Year A_Level_5th_Edition

Ken Brown’s excellent text book is a nice balance of depth and breadth. The chapters are clearly broken down by specification area, and covers the new areas of the specification well – it is the only text book to specifically deal with the issue of Selection in education for example.

The book is more ‘no nonsense’ than the others on offer, which is what I like about it – It’s well structured and key concepts are defined briefly in the margins where necessary. There are also various mind maps and diagrams throughout the book for some of the topics.

The downside to the book is that there is less of an exam focus compared to other two, but then again, if you want exam practice you could always just buy a revision guide!


Webb et al (2015) AQA A Level Sociology Book One Including AS Level

Even though this is not one of the AQA endorsed text books, the fact that it’s not endorsed probably says more about the AQA than it does about this book.

The book follows the new 7191 specification more closely than all of the others – It uses the kind of ‘structure’ examiners are expecting to see in the exam, so it’s definitely a safe option – for example, the methods section is clearly broken up into Theoretical, Practical and Ethical Factors and there are solid sections on Methods in Context. It also has the most significant updates on the new areas in the specification – such as some reasonable material on globalization and migration, the ageing population, privatization and education, and the sociology of personal life, although the later section seems to have borrowed heavily from from edition 8 of Haralambos

So while I do think this book is lazily written – no major work has gone into updating it since the incarnation before it (given that 4 people have had 4 years to add bits in and, to be honest, haven’t really done that much) – it is a very safe option – hence a good recommendation well suited to our risk society.


Chapman, Holborn, Moore and Aiken (2015) Sociology AQA A-Level Year 1 and AS

If you want an interesting text with more up to date examples, and a good solid focus on contemporary research studies, this is the one to go for. It’s a bit clumsier in terms of structure than Robb Webb’s book, but has a better ‘exam training’ focus  – For example all of the chapters are peppered with definitions and explanations of key concepts which are clearly designed with the new ‘briefly explain with one example’ 4 mark type questions in mind.

This text book has been fully updated for the 2015 specification change – the chapter on the family option is especially good, and seems to have been more thoroughly updated than the rest. One exception is that the material on the personal life perspective is a little on the thin side.

The methods chapter is OK – gets a bit thin towards the secondary data material at the end. What’s nice about this chapter is that the book has clear methods in context boxes throughout the methods chapter which link to education research (some of which has even been done this decade!)

The chapter on education is less well updated than the rest, but it is still good enough to get you through the specification.

All in all I like this book the best, it’s less of a relic than Robb Webb’s book.

Good Text Books for Specific Areas within Sociology

Bryman, Alan (2015) Social Research Methods – A great introductory book on research methods organised by the major different types of research method (surveys, interviews, etc.), with supplementary material including PowerPoints and mutli-choice quizzes.

Gilbert, Nigel (2015) Researching Social Life – A classic introductory text book which takes you through the research process step by step, from research design, to data collection and analysis.

Other Books

AS Sociology for AQA – The Application of Sociological Research Methods to the Study of Education – This odd little booklet provides a useful overview of the methods used in various studies relevant to different topics within the Education module. 

Finally,, I may as well plug my own research methods revision notes – a condensed version of what’s on this site for research methods: Over 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

Research Methods Coverv3
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*Price will fluctuate with the dollar exchange rate

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Religion and Social Change

Does religion cause social change, or prevent it?

Functionalists and Traditional Marxists have generally argued that religion prevents social change. Neo-Marxists and the Social Action theorist Max Weber have argued that religion can be a force for social change.

There are wide variety of opinions with Feminist thought as to the relationship between religion and social change. Some Feminists tend to side with the view that religion prevents social change. Other Feminists recognise the potential for religion to bring about social change.

This post considers some of the arguments and evidence against the view that religion prevents social change.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion prevents social change

Functionalist thinkers Malinowski and Parsons both argued that religion prevents social change by helping individuals and society cope with disruptive events that might threaten the existing social order. Most obviously, religion provides a series of ceremonies which help individuals and societies cope with the death of individual members.

Marx believed that religion helped to preserve the existing class structure. According to Marx religious beliefs serve to justify the existing, unequal social order and prevent social change by making a virtue out of poverty and suffering. Religion also teaches people that it is pointless striving for a revolution to bring about social change in this life. Rather, it is better to focus on ‘being a good Christian’ (for example) and then you will receive your just rewards in heaven.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro argued that historically the Catholic Church in Latin America tended to prevent social change. It did so by supporting existing economic and political elites, thus justifying the unequal social order. However, he also recongised that religion had the potential to be a force for social change (see below)

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion causes social change 

Max Weber’s ‘Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ is one of the best loved accounts of how religion can bring about social change. Weber pointed out that Capitalism developed first in England and Holland, taking off in the early 17th century (early 1600s). Just previous to Capitalism taking off, Protestantism was the main religion in these two countries, unlike most other countries in Europe at that time which were Catholic. To cut a very long winded theory short, Max Weber argued that the social norms instilled by Protestantism laid the foundations for modern capitalism.

Neo-Marxist Otto Maduro pointed to the example of Liberation Theology in Latin America to demonstrate that religion can act as a force for social change. He further suggested that this is especially the case where the marginalized have no other outlet for their grievances than religious institutions.

Reverend Martin Luther King and the broader Baptist Church in the Southern United States played a major role in the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America. This movement effectively helped to end racial segregation in America and secure more equal political rights for non-whites.

Martin Luther King was very much inspired by Gandhi’s religiously inspired practice of Non Violent Direct Action. This involved the use of peaceful protest and resisting of violence in order to bring about social change.

The Arab Spring which swept across the Middle East and North Africa between 2010-2014 offers a more contemporary example of the role of religion in social change. Islamic groups were very active in using social media to highlight the political injustices in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

This post is a work in progress, further details to be added in due course…!

Image Source

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.

Beliefs in Society

Links to posts on sociological explanations of religion, science and ideology; the relationship between social change, stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations; religious organisations: cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements; class, gender, ethnicity and religion; the significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation; globalisation and the spread of religions.

Beliefs In Society (Sociology of Religion) (1)

This page is a work in progress and will gradually be populated with links to posts covering the whole of the AQA religion specification and more!

What is Religion? – An introductory post, covering the difference between substantive and functional definitions of religion.

Sociological explanations of religion, science and ideology including both Christian and non-Christian religious traditions

What is the the difference between science and religion?this post outlines four general differences between science and religion: the empirical versus the supernatural, open versus closed belief systems, evolving versus absolute knowledge, and objectivity versus subjectivity. 

Religion and Science – Are They Compatible? – this post is really a counter-post to the one above. It focuses on the similarities between science and religion, rather than the differences between the two. 

The relationship between social change, stability, and religious beliefs, practices and organisations

AKA ‘sociological perspectives on religion’

The Functionalist Perspective on Religion summary revision notes covering Durkheim’s Malinowski’s, and Parsons perspectives on the role of religion in society

Emile Durkheim’s Perspective on Religionclass notes covering Durkhiem’s view that religion really represents society, so when people worship religion, they are really worshiping society. Durkhiem argued that religion is a conservative force which reinforces people’s commitment to social values.

Malinowksi’s Perspective on Religionmore in-depth class notes – Malinowski differs from Durkheim in that he did not believe that when people worshiped religion they were really worshiping society. He tended to focus more on the positive functions religion performed for the individual rather than society. 

Talcott Parsons’ Perspective on Religionmore in-depth class notes on Parson’s view that religion acts as the source of moral order in contemporary societies. 

The Marxist Perspective on Religionclass notes on Marx’s well known view that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’.  

The Neo-Marxist Perspective on Religion – class notes on Otto Maduro’s theory that religious leaders sometimes act independently of the economic elite and take the side of the oppressed, as they did in the case of Liberation Theology in Latin America. 

Max Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalismrevision notes outlining Max Weber’s complex theory that the austere values and lifestyle of Protestant Calvinism eventually gave rise to modern Capitalism. 

Neo Functionalism: Civil ReligionRobert Bellah’s concept of Civil Religion dragged Functionalist analysis of religion into the 20th century, and maybe you can use it to drag it into the 21st?!

Radical Feminist perspectives on religionsummary revision notes covering Simone de Beauviour and Nawal El Saadawi among other fave rad fems.

Simone De Beauvoir’s Perspective on Religionclass notes on DeBeavour’s view that religion compensates women for their second class status in society. 

Nawal El Saadawi: The Hidden Face of Eveclass notes covering Egyptian feminist El Saadawi’s perspective on the role of religion in oppression women in the Arab World. She basically argues that it’s patriarchy, not religion that’s the problem.

Carol Christ’s Feminist Spiritualityclass notes covering Christ’s view that women should seek personal paths to finding the Goddess.

Religion and social changesummary revision notes summarising the above perspective’s views on the relationship between religion and social change. 

Religious organisations: cults, sects, denominations, churches and New Age movements and their relationship to religious and spiritual belief and practice

The Churchrevision notes covering the key features of the church, which are the largest, well established and most conservative religious organisations in many societies. 

Denominationswhich share many of the features of churches, but are generally smaller, more appealing to minority groups and do not have a monopoly on the truth. 

Sects – In some was can be seen as the ‘opposite of churches’ but it’s not quite that simple. Sects tend to be smaller groups which break away from churches, demand the highest level of commitment from members and are oppositional to society, but they still have a monopoly on the truth. 

Cultsare the most loose knit and ‘disorganised’ of religious organisations. These tend demand very low commitment from members and are often have a business-client relationship. They fit well with postmodern society. 

World rejecting new religious movementsrevision notes

World accommodating new  religious movementsrevision notes

World affirming new religious movementsrevision notes 

What is the new age movement?Introductory post

Explaining the growth of the new age movementrevision Notes covering Steve Bruce’s and Paul Heelas’ views on how the New Age Movement ‘fits into’ post modern society. 

Postmodernity and The New Age

Class, gender, ethnicity and religion

The relationship between religion and social class – class notes on how religious practice and belief varies by social class background. 

Gender and religious belief – a short post outlining some of the statistics which suggest that women are more religious than men. 

Why are women more religious than men (1) – class notes focusing on the extent to which different gender roles might explain this. 

The relationship between ethnicity and religion in the UK

Reasons why ethnic minorities in the UK have higher levels of religiosity

Religion and age

Why are older people more religious than younger people?

The significance of religion and religiosity in the contemporary world, including the nature and extent of secularisation

What is secularisation? a basic definition is ‘the declining significance of religion in society’, but this post digs a little deeper. 

Evidence for secularisation outlining the statistics on religious belonging, belief and behaviour. 

Disengagement as evidence of secularisation

Rationalisation, Disenchantment and secularisationsome theorists of secularization argue that modernity and the growth of science, reason and bureaucracy have killed off religion. This post provides more details on these theories.

Religious pluralism – evidence for secularisation?

Religion in global context; globalisation and the spread of religions

Religion and globalisationbrief revision notes covering different perspectives on the relationship between globalisation and religion. 

What is Fundamentalism? – class notes outlining Steve Bruce’s five features of religious fundamentalism and the difference between individual and communal fundamentalism. 

The Causes of Fundamentalismclass notes outlining Steve Bruce’s theory of the causes of Fundamentalism. 

Samuel Huntington – The Clash of CivilisationsHuntington believes that religion has become more important as a source of identity in a global world. Furthermore, as globalisation brings civilisations into closer contact, religion increasingly becomes a source of conflict. 

Karen Armstrong: Fundamentalism and the WestAgainst Huntington, Armstrong argues that political and economic factors are more important in explaining the rise of Fundamentalism since 2001, and that Islam is not necessarily prone to Fundamentalism. 

AQA A-level Sociology Exam Practice – Questions and Answer Links

Analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10) – A full model answer which should get into the top band. 

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons why younger people are generally less religious than older people (10)

Evaluate the view that religion no longer acts as a shared universe of meaning for people today (20) an essay plan. 

Evaluate the view that the extent of secularisation has been exaggerated (20) – an essay plan covering arguments and evidence for and against the view in the question.

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

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Karen Armstrong – September 11th 2001, Islam and the West

Karen Armstrong argues that there is no inherent incompatibility between the Western and Islamic world, but sees economic and political factors as the main reasons for increasing tensions in recent decades.

Armstrong’s arguments can be used to criticise Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civlizations’ thesis, which sees increasing conflict between different cultures/ religions as an inevitable outcome of globalisation brining ‘incompatible’ civilizations into closer contact with each other.

Islam and the failure of modernisation

Armstrong points out that in the late 19th and early 20th century, most Muslim intellectuals looked up to the process of modernisation occurring in the West at that time, and wanted Islamic countries to become more like Britain and France.

Some Islamic scholars even claimed that Britain and France were more Islamic than Islamic countries: Islam advocates the sharing of resources, and there was a trend towards this in so countries in early 20th Europe.

Armstrong characterises modernisation as consisting of:

  1. Technological evolution moving countries beyond being agricultural, and making people less dependent on nature.
  2. Increasing productivity and innovation.
  3. Higher levels of education for the general populace. 
  4. Greater inclusion of people from diverse religious backgrounds
  5. The development of the ‘modern spirit’ which involves more people engaging in politics, science and intellectual pursuits more generally.

Western imperialism and human rights

Western countries occupied most Muslim countries, including Egypt, Sudan, Libya and Algeria. There were attempts to introduce democracy in many countries, the historical record of Western occupation of Muslim countries has not exactly been conducive to ‘positive modernisation’ –

in many countries, the West backed autocratic leaders when it suited them (in return for access to oil supplies for example) and these leaders tended to deprive people of their human rights, suppressing freedom of speech for example.

In Iran for example, the Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi was installed in power in 1953 in a coup supported by the American and British. He was a particularly ruthless leader who ordered a massacre in Tudeh Square in 1978 in which nearly 900 people were killed. He was overthrown the year after in the famous Islamic Revolution of 1979.

Then in 1979 In Iraq, the British and Americans supported the installation of Saddam Hussein as a dictator, because he was hostile to Iran.

A further effect of Western occupation was to increase divisions and inequalities: money derived from British oil companies for example tended to go to the minority of autocrats, and very little trickled down to the ordinary people. In fact there is something of a history of exploitation of poor workers by wealthy corporations operating in Islamic countries.

In Iran for example, the British and then the Americans backed the Pahlavi shahs as dictatorial leaders. These turned out to be particular

The Causes of Fundamentalism

Armstrong argues that the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism is a reaction against the nationalist and secularist ideologies imposed on them by the West, which basically failed the average citizen in Muslim countries.

Fundamentalists believe they are fighting for their survival against a Western Imperialism that wants to wipe out Islam from existence.

Future Prospects:

Armstrong believes that there is no reason why Islam cannot co-exist with the West, because most Muslims are not Fundamentalists and there is plenty of room for interpreting Islam as ‘being all about peace’.

Like Lowkey does in this video:

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Armstrong isis thus more optimistic about the prospect of peaceful co-existence between religions when compared with Huntington.


Haralambos and Holborn: Sociology Themes and Perspectives edition 8.

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Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change

This is a suggested answer to the first type of 10 mark question you’ll find in section A of the AQA’s second sociology paper (paper 2, topics in sociology).

For some general advice on how to answer (both types of) 10 mark questions – please see this post

A 10 mark question (which has no item) will ask students about two elements from one or more of the bullet points on the topic specification. Thus it is here that you might see ‘classic’ questions such as this one.

Outline and explain two ways in which religion might promote social change (10)

The first way in is through helping people to challenge perceived social injustices and helping them fight for a ‘better’ society.

One example of where this has happened is with Liberation Theology. This developed in South America in the 1970s, when certain members of the Catholic Church started to criticize the economic inequality in the region, following witnessing the enormous deprivation suffered by the poorest in society.

Some priests challenged the role of the church in supporting the economic and political elites, taking up the cause of the landless peasants and campaigning for a more equal society.

Maduro actually argued that in such societies, where the church is central, it is the only institution which might bring about social change!

While they were not very successful, the question does say MIGHT! This type of political involvement has a long history in Christianity, and lately the Archbishop of Canterbury has been criticizing the effects of neoliberal economic policies, again standing up to power.

While the above examples may not have been successful, they can be: as with Martin Luther King and the wider Baptist Church – churches not only act as sources of solidarity for those fighting oppression, they can also act as centers which can organise protest marches.

A second way in which religion might promote social change was outlined by Max Weber in his ‘Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism‘.

Weber argued that the values of Calvinism (A very strict version of Protestantism) gave rise, over a couple of centuries, to the economic system of capitalism.

Calvinism taught that working hard was a way to worship God and also to ‘prove’ that you were one of the ‘elect’ (saved). It also taught that having fun was sinful. These two religious beliefs together encouraged the development of societies with cultures which valued hard work and entrepreneurialism, and discouraged frivolous expenditure.

Eventually, this led to any money saved from setting up businesses to be put back into the business (it was a sin to spend on leisure) in order to encourage more ‘work’ and ‘industry’.

These were the exact same set of values which were necessary for Capitalism to work – the work ethic and entrepeneurialism.

Weber developed his theory by doing comparative analysis – he argued that Capitalism emerged first in Holland and England where Calvinist values were strongest (he has been criticised but I don’t any marks for that, so no point saying why).

A further analysis point is that this is religion promoting social change unonciously.

Another further analysis point is that this study shows that religion can promote huge ‘systems level’ socio-economic changes in society.

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An Introduction to Culture, Socialisation, and Social Norms

In sociology, it is essential to understand the social context in which human behaviour takes place – and this involves understanding the culture in which social action occurs.

Culture is a very broad concept which encompasses the norms, values, customs, traditions, habits, skills, knowledge, beliefs and the whole way of life of a group of people.

To give two specific, and classic definitions of the term culture:

  • Ralph Linton (1945) defined the culture of a society as ‘the way of life of its members: the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’.
  • Clyde Kluckhohn (1951) described culture as a ‘design for living’ held by the members of a particular society.

To a large degree, culture determines how members of society think and feel: it directs their actions and defines their outlook on life. Culture defines accepted ways of behaving for members of society.

In order to survive, any newborn infant must learn the accepted ways of behaving in a society, it must learn that society’s culture, a process known as socialisation, which sociologists tend to split into two ‘phases’ – primary and secondary.

Primary socialisation takes place in the family: the child learns many social rules simply by copying its parents, and responding to their approval or disapproval of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviour, which is taught through a variety of rewards and punishments, such as simple praise, treats, smacking and the naughty step.

Secondary socialisation takes place outside of the family in other social institutions including the education system, the peer group, the media, religion and the work place.

Many (though not all) sociologists argue that the norms and values we pick up through these institutions encourage us to act in certain ways, and discourage us from acting in others, and, just as importantly,  they ‘frame’ our worldviews in subtle ways – encouraging us value certain things that other cultures might think have no value, or discouraging us to ask certain ‘critical questions’.

Just some of the ways these institutions might subtly shape our behaviour include:

  • Religion – reinforces basic moral codes such as ‘not killing’, ‘not stealing’, and the value of monogamous relationships, sanctioned by marriage.
  • Education – teaches us the value of tolerating people with different views from ourselves, the value of teamwork and the idea of the individual work ethic – ‘if I work hard I can achieve’.
  • The Media – through advertising, it teaches us that high levels of consumption of products are normal, and through the over-representation of skinny, beautiful, young people, it encourages to spend time and money to look good.

Socialisation is not simply a process in which individuals just passively accept the values of a society – children and adults actively reflect on whether they should accept them, and some choose to actively engage in ‘mainstream’ culture, others just go along with it, and still other reject these values, but those who reject mainstream culture are very much in a minority, while most of us go along with mainstream norms and values most of the time. 

Socialisation and the process of learning social norms

Part of the socialisation process involves learning the specific norms, or informal rules which govern behaviour in particular situations.

There are literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of social norms which govern how people act in specific places and at specific times – the most obvious ones being dress codes, ways of speaking, ways of interacting with others, body language, and the general demeanor appropriate to specific situations.

Social norms are most obvious at key events in the life course such as weddings and funerals, with their obvious rituals (which would be out of place in most other situations) and codes of dress, but they also exist in day to day life – there is a ‘general norm’ that we should wear clothes in public, we are generally expected to turn up to school and work on time, to not push in if there’s a queue in a shop, and we are also generally expected to politely ignore strangers in public places and on public transport (1) (2)

Norms also vary depending on the characteristics of the person – for example, whether you are male or female, or young or old, but more of that later.

Cross cultural differences in social norms

One of the best ways of illustrating just how many social norms we have in Britain is to look at examples of other cultures which are far removed from our own – such as traditional tribes who still exist in parts of South America, Oceania, Asia, and Africa. By reflecting on how different the norms are in these other cultures, we get a good idea of just how many aspects of our day to day lives we take for granted.

For example the San Bushmen of Southern Africa have very different norms surrounding material culture – because they are hunter gatherers, they own very few items, and traditionally their economy was a gift economy, rather than a money economy. Thus, in this culture, money has no value, and ‘stuff’ is simply a burden.

San Bushmen.jpg
The San Bushmen (although their traditional culture is much changed from 100 years ago)

The Sanema, who live in the rain forests of Brazil and Venezuela, have a radically different belief system in which dreams are as important as ‘waking reality’:

The Sanema believe in a dream world inhabited by the spirits of everything around them. The trees, the animals, the rocks, the water all have a spirit. Some can be used to heal, others to bring disaster and death.

Four out of five Sanema men are practicing shamans and it is in their dreams that the spirits visit them. The main work of  the shamen is to dispel the evil spirits they believe cause illnesses, and to do this they induce a trance by taking powerful hallucinogenic drug, sakona, made from the dried sap of the virola tree.

In Sanema culture, it is perfectly usual for these shamans to be off their faces on hallucinogenic drugs, ‘warding off evil spirits’ in the middle of the day, while other people go about their more ‘ordinary’ (by our standards) business of cooking, washing, cleaning, or just chillaxing (typically in hammocks).

Sanema Tribe
Bruce Parry and a Sanema shaman off their faces on hallucinogens – it’s normal there!

There are many other examples that could be used to illustrate the extreme variations in social norms across cultures – such as differences in how cultures treat children, or differences in gender norms, the point is that none of these behaviours are determined by biology or physical environment – we’re all pretty much the same as a biological species – these cultural differences are simply to do with social traditions, passed down by socialisation.

Historical differences in social norms 

Social norms also change over time – the most obvious being how norms surrounding childhood and gender have changed, as well as norms surrounding expenditure and consumption.

The fact that social norms change over time again shows that biological differences cannot explain historical variations in human behaviour, and also raises the important point that individuals have the freedom to change the norms they are born into.

Related Posts 

(1) To illustrate just now many social norms govern our lives, you might like to read this post: how social norms structure your day (forthcoming post)

(2) Some sociologists (and sociologicalish commentators) are very critical of many of our social norms – suggesting variously that they are just not necessary, too restrictive of individual freedom, or even downright harmful – for more on this – see this post: Social Norms – the unnecessary and the harmful (forthcoming post).

Sources used to write this post

Haralambos and Holborn (2013): Sociology Themes and Perspectives



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Sociological Perspectives – Key Supporting Evidence

Below are a few quantitative and qualitative sources (case studies and statistics) that can be used to illustrate aspects of the main perspectives within A-level sociology – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Post and Late Modernism


  • Bruce Parry: participant observation with ‘The Tribe’
  • Educating Yorkshire
  • Official statistics show declining family Size
  • Cross national statistics – positive correlation between economic development and social development
  • Official statistics – the positive correlation between truancy and crime
  • The Cambridge study in delinquency and development


  • The correlation between increasing neoliberal policies and increasing global inequality
  • Official statistics show a positive correlation between material deprivation and underachievement in education
  • Official Statistics show an increase in childhood obesity, suggesting a link between advertising, pester power and poor child health
  • Case studies of the huge economic and social costs of corporate crime: Enron, Bhopal
  • Case studies of exploitation in the developing world. E.g. Ship breaking in Bangladesh
  • Case studies of elite criminals not being punished for their crimes – e.g. Mark Ashley of Sports Direct


  • Official Statistics on gender equality and empowerment – no country on earth has gender equality
  • Statistics on the Domestic Division of Labour show that women spend twice as long on domestic chores as men
  • Official statistics on domestic violence show that ¼ women are victims in their lifetimes, more than men
  • A range of qualitative evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project
  • Statistics on gender and subject choice – 97% of hairdressing apprenticeships = female….
  • The prevalence of pornography and prostitution and their links with sex trafficking

Social Action Theory

  • Life-histories and Facebook profiles reveal complex and diverse family structures
  • Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s field experiment showing the self- fulfilling prophecy
  • Jock Young’s research on the drug takers
  • Self-report studies demonstrating that official crime stats are socially constructed
  • The fact that Gok Wan is famous
  • Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism


  • Judith Stacey: The Divorce Extended Family: show complex family structures
  • My Monkey-Baby
  • Research studies on the importance of identity in education – e.g. Carolyn Jackson and the Ladettes
  • Stan Cohen’s research on the Mods and Rockers
  • The happy pierced prostitute who has a client who shoves golf-balls up his ass
  • Vanilla vloggers such as Zoella

Late Modernism

  • Official Statistics on growing global problems such as climate change, global crime and migration
  • The increase in New Social Movements such as the Green Movement
  • Jock Young – The Vertigo of Late Modernity
  • The fact that many nation states have nuclear weapons
  • The high global expenditure on the military
  • The positive correlation between educational achievement and income – nationally and globally
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Evaluate the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) #LONG VERSION

An A-level sociology essay written for the AQA’s 7192 (1) specification, exam paper 1. This is the long, ‘overkill’ version of the essay, written using the PEAC system (Point – Explain – Analyse – Criticise)

An obvious starting point before reading this essay would be to read my post on the Functionalist Perspective on Education.

NB – At time of posting, it’s half an essay, more to follow!


Functionalism is a somewhat dated structural theory popular in 19th century France (Durkheim) and mid-20th century America (Parsons). Functionalist theorists adopted a ‘top-down’ approach to analysing the role which institutions, such as schools play in relation to other institutions, such as work, and generally believe that schools form an important part of a society’s structure. Functionalism is also a consensus theory: functionalists generally emphasise the positive functions which schools perform for individuals and society, arguing that schools tend to promote social harmony and social order, which they see as a good thing.

Below I will analyse and evaluate four specific ‘functions’ or roles which schools perform according to Functionalist theory, ultimately arguing that it obscures more than it enlightens our understanding of the role of education in society.

POINT 1: According to Emile Durkheim (1890s), the founder of modern Functionalism, the first role of education was to create a sense of social solidarity which in turn promoted value consensus.

EXPLANATION: Social Solidarity is where the individual members of society feel themselves to be a part of a single ‘body’ or community and work together towards shared goals. According to Durkhiem schools achieved social solidarity through children learning subjects such as history and English which gave them a shared sense of national identity, which in turn promoted value consensus, or agreement on shared values at the societal level.

Analysis: Durkheim thought schools were one of the few institutions which could promote solidarity at a national level – he may have a point. It is difficult to imagine any other institution which governments could use to socialise individuals in to a sense of national identity.

Evaluation: To evaluate this point, there do seem to be examples of where schools attempt to promote a sense of social solidarity. Writing in the 1950s, Talcott Parsons pointed to how, in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag; while today British schools and colleges are obliged to promote ‘British Values’ (woohoo!)

However, it is debatable whether schools are successful in instilling a genuine sense of social solidarity into most, let alone all students. A minority of students are excluded from schools, and around 5% are persistent absentees – if students are not in mainstream education, then schools cannot promote a sense of belonging; while for those students who are at school, many are there ‘in body, but not necessarily in spirit. Finally there is the fact there is such a huge diversity of schools (faith schools, private schools, home education) that surely education is too fragmented and divided for it to promote true solidarity at the national level – to the extent that postmodernists suggested there is no such thing as a unified culture anymore.

POINT 2: A second function of education, again according to Durkhiem, is that schools teach individuals the specialist skills for work, which is crucial in a complex, modern industrial economy. (Schools thus have an important economic function).

Durkhiem argued that school was an efficient way of teaching individuals these diverse skills while at the same time teaching them to co-operate with each-other – schools thus instilled a sense of organic solidarity, or solidarity based on difference and interdependency, with school being one of the only institutions which could do both of these functions simultaneously within the context of a national economy.

The idea that schools have an economic function certainly seems to be true – basic literacy and numeracy are certainly important for any job today, and ever since the New Right, Vocational education has expanded, right up to the present day in the form of Modern Apprenticeships, and today. There is also a relationship between government expenditure on education and economic growth – more developed countries tend to have stronger economies.

However, it is debatable whether schools prepare children adequately for work – for example, there is a shortage of STEM graduates, and many doctors come to Britain from abroad, so maybe the education system today focuses on the wrong subjects, not the subjects the economy actually needs to grow effectively? There is also a Postmodern critique from Ken Robinson that suggests that ‘schools kill creativity’ – a system obsessed with standardised testing hardly prepares people to go into the creative industries or become entrepreneurs, both of which are growth areas in the current UK economy.

More to follow…!

Short version of this essay

  • Point – Simply state something Functionalists say about education
  • Explain – Explain what is meant by the ‘Function’ of education mentioned previously
  • Expand – this could mean giving examples, evidence, or explaining in more depth
  • Criticise – criticise with evidence against or limitations

(P1) Secondary Socialisation and Value consensus       

  • The teaching of norms and values after the family – leading to agreement around these norms and values
  • Formal Curriculum – Shared history/ Shared language/ Shared religion
  • Team sports – working together shared aim
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Sub cultures
  • More school types – more diversity, surely = less value consensus?

(P2) Teaching skills for work – economic function          

  • Diverse subjects,
  • Punctuality
  • Vocationalism and apprenticeships have expanded
  • Are apprenticeships useful?
  • Tea servers

(P3) Bridge between home and school  

  • School prepares us for the world outside the family – it acts like a society in miniature
  • Particularistic/ Universalistic Standards
  • Doesn’t apply to everyone – Home schooling

R(P4) Role Allocation  

  • Different qualifications sift people into appropriate jobs
  • Does this through exams – sifting and sorting
  • Meritocracy (since 1944)
  • Marxism – not meritocratic – myth of meritocracy,
  • Private schools
  • Feminism – gender stereotyping and subject choice

Evaluate using other perspectives –

  • Marxism – Agrees with Functionalists that school socialises us into shared values, but these values are the values benefit the ruling class (we get taught that inequality is natural and inevitable, we believe in the myth of meritocracy and so end up passively accepting society as it is.
  • Feminism – Functionalism ignores the gender divide in school
  • Interactionism – Argues Functionalism is too deterministic – it sees individuals as passive, but there is a lot more evidence that pupils are active and aren’t just moulded by the school system

Conclusion – You must point out that this perspective is too optimistic and overgeneralises!



Related posts 

For more essays, please see my main post on exam advice, short answer questions and essays.