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

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

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

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

Marxist theories of crime – four basic questions

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

Interactionist theories of crime – four basic questions 

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

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

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

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

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Revise Sociology on Facebook, Twitter and the Rest…

Below are some links to the main social media sites I use.

If you like this sort of sociology thang, then you might like to follow me by clicking on any, or all of the icons below….

Blog

Twitter – @realsociology

 

 

 

 

Facebook Page

 

 

 

 

Google Plus 

 

 

 

 

Linked In

 

 

 

 

And a few more….

I’ll add in the real perty (‘pretty’) logos later….

  1. YouTube
  2. TES
  3. Quizlet.com

Disclaimer/ Apology

OK OK I know this is a shameless ‘plug my online constructed self page’, but I’ve just spent two hours consolidating my social media profiles, so that’s it for today folks!

It’s probably worth noting that this blog is the main ‘hub site’ I use to post stuff: and most of the other sites are just what I use to publicize what I post on this blog – so cycling through all the above sites will give your the most wonderful feeling of an inward looking cycle of self-referentiality.

Also this is something of an experiment with the ‘contact details’ part of my C.V. which I’m currently trying to reinvent for the 21st century, and that is honestly about as much fun as it sounds!

Tomorrow I promise I’ll post some actual content.

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An Introduction to Social Action Theory

This post introduces the key idea of social action theory in simplified form for first year A-level sociology students…

Unlike structural consensus and conflict theorists social action theorists do not try to explain human behaviour in terms of an objective social structure that passes down norms, values, or disadvantage. Instead, they try to understand human action by looking at how people interpret their world and the actions of others. They make the following points…

  1. Individuals are Active

According to Social Action Theory, individuals are active, complex and react to the social structures around them in very different ways.  People don’t just passively respond to social norms and institutions and go along with them, rather, we examine them and decide whether to accept or reject certain norms and values.

  1. We need to understand people’s understanding of their own identities

Interactionists argue that we can’t understand individuals without understanding how they see themselves (their identity). A considerable amount of our time in modern society is devoted to constructing and expressing ‘my’ identity, which involves communicating something about myself to others through the use of shared symbols (symbolic action). Unraveling the complexities of how people construct their identities is one of the main things symbolic interactionists contributed to modern sociology, and the main man that looked at this was Erving Goffman in his classic text The presentation of the Self in everyday life

Goffman demonstrated how complex symbolic interaction is in modern life. Goffman argued that when we are out and about ‘in society’, it is like we are on stage, acting for the benefit of others. The ‘self’ that we present others requires careful behind the scenes management of the smallest detail. This is carried out at home, the equivalent of back stage. Such careful management of the self is required because of the dense array of meanings associated with such mundane things as dress, speech and body language. We need to understand these meanings to understand people.

  1. Social Action theory criticises Structuralist Social Theory

Sociologists such as Goffman argue that Social Norms don’t have as much power over us as Functionalists suggest. Rather, most people learn what norms are appropriate and ‘act them out’ when they are in particular social roles (at school, at work, with parents etc), returning to their more complex ‘true selves’ when by themselves or with their friends and family. This is why societies can change unpredictably – what appears to be mass conformity with social norms isn’t, it’s just masses of people going along with existing norms in a kind of illusory mass performance. If we want to get to the truth of who people really are, we need to dig deeper.

  1. Sociologists Should Aim for Empathetic Understanding

Because individuals are active, Social Action theorists aim for empathetic understanding – trying to see the world through the eyes of the people acting and they believe that individual action can only be understood by understanding the how people define their ‘realities’ and uncovering the meanings humans give to their actions. [1]

There are several different reasons why someone might wear something to college on one particular day, and there are several different ways other people might interpret that action. According to Interactionists, there isn’t simply one correct interpretation of human action – someone’s decision to wear a mini-skirt can’t be reduced to the influence of the patriarchal media making that woman think she needs to wear a particular item to impress men (like Radical Feminists might argue), there are lots of possible reasons.

Individuals make hundreds of thousands of ‘choices’ throughout the course of their lives, and so social life is full of hundreds of thousands of decisions, interpretations and mis-interpretations, and if we want to understand people, we need to understand their own personal motives, and how they see themselves in relation to others.

This means research is a complex, and very involved business, it won’t result in nice neat theories of why people act like they do, like you get with Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism, you end up with lots of stories about how people shape their identities.

(Also, you may have noticed that if you want to know why someone acts in the way they do, you need more details in the question – How warm? How short? Did they go out the night before and not go home?)

  1. Labelling Theory is an important part of Interactionism. It argues that there are existing power-structures that constrain people, and that these power structures are kept going by people in power labelling themselves as superior and people not-like them as inferior. Power inequalities are maintained by the powerless accepting their inferior labels.

Labelling theory was developed by Howard Becker in the 1960s. Becker argued that agents of social control often work in narrow stereotypes and label people like them as being ‘good’ and people not like them as being ‘bad’. He argued, for example, that white middle class teachers had an idea of the ‘ideal pupil’ as being middle class, well spoken, quite, respectful of authority, polite and well dressed, and often gave these middle class children positive labels, irrespective of their intelligence. Similarly, working class or underclass children, who tended to be scruffier and more energetic than middle class children, were seen as inferior.

According to Rosenthal and Jacobsen, this could result in a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy which is the process where an individual accepts the label given to them and acts accordingly. If middle class children are labelled positively and working class children negatively we end up with a social pattern: Middle class children do better than working class children. According to labelling theory this structural trend emerges not because of structural disadvantages working class children face as a result of their background, but because they are labelled negatively by middle class teachers. Thus the social structure emerges out of social interaction.

[1] Max Weber, the founding father of social action theory used a German word ’Verstehen’ to describe this type of understanding, which loosely translated means ‘empathetic understanding’

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Outline and Explain Two Theoretical Problems of Using Social Surveys in Social Research

Firstly, social surveys suffer from the imposition problem, closed questions limits what respondents can say Interpretivists argue respondents have diverse motives and it is unlikely that researchers will think up every possible relevant question and every possible, response, thus questionnaires will lack validity.

This is especially true for more complex topics such as religions belief – ticking the ‘Christian’ box can mean many different things to many different people, for example.

Interpretivists thus say that surveys are socially constructed—they don’t reflect reality, but the interests of researchers

However, this is easily rectified by including a section at the end of questionnaires in which respondents can write their explanations.

Secondly, self-completion surveys can also suffer from poor representativeness…

Postal questionnaires can suffer from a low response rate, and samples might be self-selecting— due to the illiterate or people who might be ashamed/ scared to return questionnaires on sensitive topics.

Also, you can’t check who has filled them in, so surveys may actually misrepresent the target population.

However, it is possible to rectify this with incentives and booster samples.

The above is a suggested response to a possible 10 mark ‘pure methods’ question which might come up on either paper 1 or 3 of the AQA’s A Level Sociology Papers. It follows the basic formula – make a point, develop it twice, and then evaluate it (which to my mind seems to work well for ‘pure methods’ 10 mark questions. 

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.
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Analyse two reasons for gender differences in subject choice (10)

The trick here is to pick two broad (rather than very specific) reasons, which will give you the most scope to develop

 The first reason is gendered differences in early socialisation

Fiona Norman (1988) found that most parents socialise boys and girls in different ways – they tend to be more gentle with girls, protect them more, and encourage them in more passive activities, such as reading with them, whereas ‘typical boys’ are encouraged to run around and ‘let of steam’ more.

Later on in school, this might explain why more boys do active subjects such as P.E. and why more girls do reflective, academic subjects such as English and sociology.

A further gender difference in socialisation is the toys boys and girls play with – dolls for girls and cars and tool sets for boys, which could explain differences in vocational subjects – health and social care subjects (working with children) are very female dominated, engineering (making and fixing) are very much male dominated.

However, Postmodernists would say that these stereotypes are breaking down, and that gender stereotypes in socialisation are much less common than in the past, hence why we are seeing more gender diversity in subject choice today.

Peer group pressure might also encourage boys to do ‘typically boys subjects’ and girls to do typically girls subjects.

This linked to hegemonic (dominant ideas about) masculinity – stereotypically, ‘real men’ are good at sport, and so boys are under pressure play sport to fit into their male peer group, this doesn’t apply to girls and could explain why more boys do PE later in their school careers.

Similarly hegemonic femininity also requires that girls ‘look good’ (as Louise Archer found) which could explain why it is mostly girls who do hair and beauty courses.

Verbal abuse is one way these peer groups reinforce dominant gender identities. Boys choosing girls’ subjects can be accused of being ‘gay’, and vice versa for girls, and this may steer them away from subjects which don’t fit in with their gender domains.

To analyse this even further all of this is especially true of working class girls and boys, and for younger children, less so for middle class and older children (doing A level for example).

 

 

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A Level Sociology Essays – How to Write Them

This post offers some advice on how you might plan and write essays in the A level sociology exams. 

The sociology A level exam: general hints for writing essays

  1. Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes for a 30 mark essay.
  2. Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  3. Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/ your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  4. Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  5. Try to stick to the following structure in the picture above!
  6. Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  7. Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

 

Skills in the A Level Sociology Exam

The AQA wants you to demonstrate 3 sets of skills in the exam – below are a few suggestions about how you can do this in sociology essays.

AO1: Knowledge and Understanding

You can demonstrate these by:

  • Using sociological concepts
  • Using sociological perspectives
  • Using research studies
  • Showing knowledge of contemporary trends and news events
  • Knowledge can also be synoptic, or be taken from other topics.
  • NB – knowledge has to be relevant to the question to get marks!

AO2: Application 

You can demonstrate application by…

  • Using the item – refer to the item!!!
  • Clearly showing how the material you have selected is relevant to the question, by using the words in the question
  • Making sure knowledge selected is relevant to the question.

AO3: Analysis and Evaluation (NB ‘Assess’ is basically the same as Evaluation)

You can demonstrate analysis by….

  • Considering an argument from a range of perspectives – showing how one perspective might interpret the same evidence in a different way, for example.
  • Developing points – by showing why perspectives argue what they do, for example.
  • Comparing and contrasting ideas to show their differences and similarities
  • You can show how points relate to other points in the essay.

You can demonstrate evaluation by…

  • Discussing the strengths and limitations of a theory/ perspective or research method.
  • You should evaluate each point, but you can also do overall evaluations from other perspectives before your conclusion.
  • NB – Most people focus on weaknesses, but you should also focus on strengths.
  • Weighing up which points are the most useful in a conclusion.

A note on using the item:

Every 30 mark question will ask you to refer to an ‘item’. This will be a very short piece of writing, consisting of about 8 lines of text. The item will typically refer to one aspect of the knowledge side of the question and one evaluation point. For example, if the question is asking you to ‘assess the Functionalist view of education’, the item is likely to refer to one point Functionalists make about education – such as role allocation, and one criticism.

All you need to do to use the item effectively is to make sure at least one of your points stems from the knowledge in the item, and develop it. It’s a good idea to make this your first point. To use the evaluation point from the item (there is usually some evaluation in there), then simply flag it up when you use it during the essay.

Seven examples of sociology essays, and more advice…

For more information on ‘how to write sociology essays for the A level exam’ why not refer to my handy ‘how to write sociology essays guide’. 

The contents are as follows:

Introductory Section

  • A quick look at the three sociology exam papers
  • A pared-down mark scheme for A Level sociology essays
  • Knowledge, application, analysis, evaluation, what are they, how to demonstrate them.
  • How to write sociology essays – the basics:

The Essays

These appear first in template form, then with answers, with the skills employed shown in colour. Answers are ‘overkill’ versions designed to get full marks in the exam.

  1. Assess the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the Marxist view of the role of education in society (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the extent to which it is home background that is the main cause of differential education achievement by social class (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that education policies since 1988 have improved equality of educational opportunity (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the view that the main aim of education policies since 1988 has been to raise overall standards in education.’ (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that in school processes, rather than external factors, are the most important in explaining differences in educational achievement (30) – detailed essay – Quick plan.

 

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Demography – Families and Households Topic Overview

Topic 7: Demography

Demography refers to the study of the causes and consequences of changes to the size and structure of a society’s population. There are generally three things which can change the size and structure of a population – birth rates, death rates and migration, and these three things make up the three major sub-topics.

As with marriage and divorce, we break this down into discussing the reasons for the changes and then consider the consequences. A final additional topic here is migration patterns, which we deal with separately.

Subtopics

7.1: Reasons for changes to the Birth Rate

7.2: Reasons for changes to the Death Rate

7.3: The consequences of an Ageing Population

7.4: The reasons for and consequences of changes to patterns of Migration

Key concepts, research studies and case studies you should be able to apply

  • Birth rate

  • Death rate

  • Dependency Ratio

  • Total fertility rate

  • Infant Mortality Rate

  • Child Mortality Rate

  • Life Expectancy

  • Healthy Life Expectancy

  • Demographic Transition

  • Immigration

  • Emigration

  • Net Migration

  • Push Factors

  • Pull Factors

Possible exam style short answer questions

  • Suggest two reasons for the long term decline in birth rate (4)

  • Suggest changes in the role of women that may explain why they have fewer children (4)

  • Suggest three consequences of the decline in the birth rate (6)

  • Suggest three reasons for the long term decrease in the death rate (6)

  • Suggest three problems society may face as a result of an ageing population (6)

  • Suggest three ways in which the elderly might be represented in stereotypical ways (6)

  • Suggest three ways in which society might respond to the challenges of an ageing population (6)

  • Suggest three pull factors which might attract people to immigrate into a particular country (6)

  • Suggest two push factors which might explain patterns of migration (4)

  • Identify two changes in the patterns of child-bearing over the last thirty years (4)

Possible Essay Questions – You should plan these

  • Examine the reasons for, and the effects of, changes in family size over the past 100 years or so (24) (January 2012)

  • Using material from item B and elsewhere assess the view that an ageing Population creates problems for society (24) (June 2014)

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Social Policy and The Family – Topic Overview

Families and Households – Topic 6 – Social Policy

Overview of the topic

You need to be able to assess a range of policies using three key perspectives

The New Right

New Labour

Feminism (Liberal and Radical)

Some of the policies you need to know about –

Changes to the Divorce law

Tax breaks for married couples

Maternity and paternity pay

Civil Partnerships

Sure Start – early years child care

Key ‘test yourself’ questions (basic knowledge)

Identify three social policies that might have led to increasing family diversity

Identify three social policies that have ‘extended childhood’ (links to last topic)

Essays

Assess the New Right’s perspective on the relationship between Social Policy and The Family (20)

Assess the view that the main function of laws and policies on families and households is to reproduce patriarchy (20)

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The Sociology of Childhood – Topic Overview

Subtopics

5.1 – To what extent is ‘childhood socially constructed’

5.2 – The March of Progress view of childhood (and parenting) – The Child Centred Family and Society?

5.3 – Toxic Childhood and Paranoid Parenting – Criticisms of ‘The March of Progress View’

5.4 – Is Childhood Disappearing?

5.5 – Reasons for changes to childhood and parenting practices

Key Concepts

The social construction of childhood

The golden age of childhood

Child centred society

The cult of childhood

The March of progress view

Conflict perspective

Child liberationism

Age patriarchy

Acting up

Acting down

The disappearance of childhood

Toxic childhood

Selected Short answer questions

Suggest three ways in which children are viewed in modern western societies

Identify two ways in which children’s live are marked out as being separate from adults

Suggest two ways in which notions of childhood are different in different cultures

Explain two ways in which childhood differed in the middle ages compared with today

Suggest three reasons why the position of children has changed over time

Explain one way in which industrialisation lead to the position of children in society changing

Suggest two ways in which children’s positions have improved in recent years

Briefly outline two ways in which gender inequalities exist between different types of children

Suggest two examples of ethnic inequalities between children

Suggest two examples.. nationality/ class/ ethnicity/ gender

Suggest three ways in which adults control children in modern society

Suggest two ways in which children resist the status of ‘child’

Suggest two pieces of evidence that childhood is disappearing

Suggest two reasons why childhood may me disappearing

Suggest two pieces of evidence that suggest the boundaries between adults and children are stronger than ever

Possible Essays

Assess the view that childhood is disappearing (24)

Examine Sociological Perspectives on changes to childbearing and parenting (24)

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Gender Roles, Domestic Labour and Power Relationships – Topic Overview

Families and Households Topic 4 – Changes within the family

Gender Roles, Domestic Labour and Power Relationships

Overview of the topic and sub-topics

In this topic we look at the extent to which relationships between men and women have become more equal, focussing on the following three areas:

4.1. To what extent are gender roles characterised by equality?

4.2. To what extent is the Domestic Division of Labour characterised by equality?

4.3. Issues of Power and Control in Relationships

4.4. To what extent has women going into paid work resulted in greater equality within relationships?

Key Concepts

  • Conjugal roles

  • Segregated conjugal roles

  • Joint conjugal roles

  • Instrumental roles

  • Expressive roles

  • The symmetrical family

  • The ‘march of progress view’

  • The Domestic Division of Labour

  • The ‘New Man’

  • Dual burden

  • Domestic Violence

  • Intenstive Mothering

  • Superdads

  • Gender norms

  • Liberal Feminism

  • The commercialization of housework

  • Emotion work

  • Gender scripts

  • Triple shift

Selected Short Answer Questions

  • Suggest three ways in which families are becoming more ‘symmetrical’

  • Suggest three reasons why families may be becoming ‘more symmetrical’

  • Outline three pieces of evidence that criticize the view that the family is becoming more symmetrical

  • Suggest two reasons why a gendered division of labour still exists between some couples

  • Suggest three ways in women going into paid work has influenced domestic relationships

  • Suggest three ways in which men may still have more power than women in domestic relationships

  • Suggest three reasons why official statistics on domestic violence may be inaccurate

  • Suggest three reasons why domestic violence occurs

Possible Essay Questions

  • Examine the factors affecting power relations between couples (24)

  • Assess the view that modern relationships are becoming more symmetrical (24)