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The Neo-Marxist Perspective on The Media

Neo Marxists argue that cultural hegemony explains why we have a limited media agenda.

Journalists have more freedom than traditional Marxists suggest, and the media agenda is not directly controlled by owners. However, journalists share the world view of the owners and use gatekeeping and agenda setting to keep items which are harmful to elites out of the media agenda and thus voluntarily spread the dominant ideology.

This perspective is also known as the Dominant Ideology, or Hegemonic perspective on the media.

The Neo-Marxist Perspective on the Media.png

Neo-Marxists emphasize cultural hegemony

Hegemony is where the norms and values of the ruling class are taken as common sense.

According to Neo-Marxists, the reason why we have a limited media agenda is because of cultural hegemony, not because of direct control by wealthy media owners. In other words, cultural factors are more important than economic factors in explaining narrow media content.

Simply put, Journalists have accepted the conservative worldview of the ruling class as common sense, and they share this world view with the ruling class – they thus unconsciously spread the dominant ideology themselves without the need for direct control by the media owners.

Journalists voluntarily spread the dominant ideology

Journalists have the freedom to report as they please, so other factors besides economic control/ ownership determine media content, factors such as the interests of journalists and industry news values.

HOWEVER, the broad agenda of the media is still limited because the journalists share the same world view as the ruling class and the owners (this is known as ‘cultural hegemony’).

This is at least partly because Journalists are themselves mostly white and middle class, with more than 50% of them having gone to private schools. They thus present a conservative/ neo-liberal view of the world on autopilot.

Also, journalists do not want to risk their careers by annoying owners and so are reluctant to publish content which might annoy owners.

Agenda setting and gate keeping

Agenda setting and gatekeeping are the two processes through which journalists limit media content. They are normally used in relation to the selection and presentation of The News.

Gatekeeping = the process of choosing which items are selected for coverage, and others are kept out.

Agenda setting = deciding how media items are going to be framed, for example, who is going to be invited to discuss topics and what kind of questions are going to be asked.

According to neo-Marxists gatekeeping and agenda setting tend to result in issues which are harmful to the elite being kept out of the media, thus reinforcing the dominant ideology.

Examples of agenda setting and gate keeping include:

  1. Only having two political parties discuss a news item – we rarely hear from the Green Party, for example.
  2. Focussing on the violence at riots and protests, rather than the issues which are being protested about, or the cause of the riots.
  3. The news taking the side of the police and the government, rather than hearing from criminals or terrorists.

Criticisms of Neo-Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists argue that it underestimates the important of economic factors, for example the power of owners to hire and fire journalists
  • As with traditional Marxism, the role of new media may make this perspective less relevant. It is now much harder to maintain the dominant ideology, for example.
  • Pluralists point out that this perspective still tends to assume the audience are passive and easily swayed by the dominant ideology. In reality, the audience may be more active and critical.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2
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The Marxist Instrumentalist Theory of Media

Marxist Instrumentalist theory holds that media owners control media content, and that the media performs ideological functions. The primary role of the media is to keep a largely passive audience from criticizing capitalism and thus maintain the status quo.

Marxist Instrumentalist Theory is also known as the Traditional Marxist or Manipulative Approach to the media.

This post is primarily written for students of A-level sociology, studying the AQA 2019 specification.

Marxist media sociology

Media owners control media content 

Media owners are part of the ruling class elite and they consciously manipulate media content to transmit a conservative ideology to control the wider population and maintain their wealth and privilege.

The content of the media is thus narrow and biased and reflects the opinions of the ruling class generally and the media owners in particular.

The government does not effectively regulate media content because the political elite are also part of the ruling class like the media owners.

The media performs ideological functions 

According to Instrumentalist Marxists, the primary role of the media is to spread ruling class ideology and maintain the status quo, keeping the current unequal capitalist system in place.

The media performs ideological functions in many ways:

  1. We see many favourable representations of (rather than critical commentary on) the wealthy – for example Royalty, millionaires on Cribs, and middle class lifestyles more generally in all of those hideous programmes about spending £500K on a house in the country.
  2. It spreads the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – Dragons Den and The Apprentice are two wonderful contemporary examples of this.
  3. The News often dismisses radical view points as extremist, dangerous or silly, and a conservative (ruling class) view of the world as normal.
  4. Negative portrayals of ethnic minorities and immigrants serve to divide the ruling class and discourages criticisms of the ruling class.
  5. Entertainment distracts the public from thinking critically about important political issues.

The audience are passive 

Marxist instrumentalists see the audience as a mass of unthinking robots who are passive and easily manipulate. They essentially take what they see in the media at face value, and believe what they see without questioning it.

Supporting evidence 

Curran (2003) suggests that there is a lot of historical evidence of media owners manipulating media content. He carried out a historical analysis of UK media, broken down into four historical periods.

Control by owners was most obvious in the era of the Press Barons in the early part of the 20th century, when some even said that they used their newspapers to consciously spread their political views.

Rupert Murdoch’s control of his News Corporation since the 1970s is another good example of an owner controlling media content. All of his newspapers have a strong right wing point of view, which reflects his values.

A specific example of Murdoch’s control is that all of his news outlets supported the Iraq War in 2003, a war which he personally supported. It’s unlikely that all the editors of all his newspapers globally shared this view.

Criticisms 

Pluralists are the biggest critics of Manipulative Marxists.

It is impractical for media owners of large corporations to control all output on a day to day basis. At some point they have to trust editors.

Pluralists argue that media owners are primarily motivated by making a profit and thus would rather provide audiences with the diverse content they want rather than use their media companies to spread their own narrow view of the world.

The previous criticism follows on from the Pluralist view that audiences are not just passive and unthinking, they are active and critical, and thus not easily manipulated: they can easily choose to switch off if they don’t like what they see.

The rise of the New Media especially undermines the Manipulative approach – New Media encourage audiences to be more active and allow for a greater range of people to produce and share media content. It’s simply not possible for owners to control such content.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

 

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.
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The pluralist view of the media

Pluralists argue that power in democratic, free market societies is spread out among diverse competing interest groups, and not concentrated in the hands of a minority economic elite, as Marxists suggests. According to pluralists, no one group has a monopoly on power. Their view of the media reflects their view of power in society more generally.

Pluralism media sociology.png

Media content driven by profit

Pluralists argue that in democratic, free market economies different media companies must compete for customers, and so they must provide the kind of content those customers want in order to make a profit and survive. If a company fails to provide the kind of news and entertainment that people need and want, customers will simply stop buying their media products and go elsewhere, forcing that company out of business.

It follows that control over media content ultimately lies with consumers, not the owners of media, because the owners need to adapt their content to fit the demands of the consumers.

Media owners primarily want to make money and so they would rather adapt their media content to be more diverse and keep money coming in, rather than use their media channels to publish their own narrower subjective views and opinions.

Media content thus doesn’t reflect the biased, one sided views of media owners, it reflects the diverse opinions of the general public who ultimately pay for that media content. The public (being diverse!) generally don’t want one-sided, biased media!

Consumers determine content

From the pluralist perspective audiences are active rather than passive and not easily manipulated. They are free to select, reject and re-interpret a wide range of media content, and they increasingly take advantage of new technologies and new media to produce their own content.

It is thus ultimately the consumers of media/ the wider audience who determine media content rather than the media owners.

Journalists not controlled by owners

Finally, pluralists point out that on a purely practical level media owners of large global corporations cannot personally determine the content of all their media products, there are too many products and too many global-level management issues to keep them occupied. Thus producers, editors and journalists have considerable freedom to shape media content, free from the control of the big bosses.

Criticisms of Pluralism

  1. Ultimately it is still owners who have the power the hire and fire journalists and they do have the power to select high level editors who have similar views to themselves, which may subtly influence the media agenda.
  2. It still requires a lot of money to establish a large media company, and ownership remains very concentrated. There is relatively little journalism which is both independent and widely consumed.
  3. Owners, editors and most journalists share an upper middle-class background and a conservative worldview.
  4. The pressure to maintain profits has led to narrowing of media content – more towards uncritical, sensationalist entertainment and less likely to be critical and independent.
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What the public thinks of Boris Johnson

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

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

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

Boris new PM.PNG

But almost 60% of people don’t trust Boris

public opinion Boris Johnson.PNG

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

Boris Johnson Slytherin.PNG

Relevance of all of this to A-level Sociology 

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

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

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

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

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The challenges of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

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

ebola congo 2019.PNG

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

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

Additional Sources 

The Week, 29 June 2019

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Does Prison Work? The Stats suggest not!

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

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

Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations 

Prison population england.PNG

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

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

prison population and crime rate.PNG

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

Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences 

what people are sentenced for.PNG

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

People are getting sentenced for longer 

long sentences for serious offences.PNG

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

Does Prison work?

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

reoffending rates England 2019.PNG

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

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

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

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

reoffending community service compared prison.PNG

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

Conclusions 

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

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

Sources 

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

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Generation Anxious

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

emotional disorders NHS

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

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

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

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

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

What is anxiety?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body Image and anxiety

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

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

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

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

How to help children control anxiety…

Various solutions are offered

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

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

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

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

 

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

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

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

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

Recent topics include:

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

 

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The UK – a world leader in renewable energy generation…

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

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

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

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

renewable energy.png

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

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

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

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

Sources

The Week, 6th July 2019

 

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Lost Wallet Crime and Deviance Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

Relevance to A-level sociology

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

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

Limitations of the experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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