Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate the view that the media portray women in a stereotypical way [20 marks]

An essay plan covering some of the knowledge and evaluation points you could use to answer this question for AQA A-level sociology paper two: the media option.

You might like to review this post on how women are represented in the media before going through the plan below.

The item refers to three main types of stereotypical representations

  • A limited range of roles (Symbolic annihilation)
  • Concern with appearance (The Beauty Myth)
  • Women needing a partner

Symbolic Annihilation

  • Symbolic Annihilation (Tuchman, 1978) =  under-representation/ narrow range of social roles, gender stereotypes – housework and motherhood
  • ‘Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux – Disney Films – Snow White.
  • Gauntlett – increase in the diversity of representations, reflects wider social changes.
  • films with ‘strong’ lead female characters – e.g. Alien, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.
  • However, lead female characters are slim and attractive
  • The Bechdel Test.
  • Global Media Monitoring group (2015) – women in news – the overall presence of women as sources was 28%. largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.

The Beauty Myth

  • media present unrealistic and unattainable images of women which encourages women to worry unnecessarily about their looks (Naomi Wolfe).
  • Tebbel (2000) body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.
  • Killborn – women presented as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.
  • Orbach – media associates slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity
  • Recent evidence challenges Beauty Myth…. Backlash to 2015 Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign
  • Since 2015 increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising: Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 , Sport England ‘ This Girl Can‘ campaign.
  • 2017 – Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising, banned ads 2019.
  • UN women’s Unstereotype Alliance‘.

Women needing a partner

  • Ferguson (1980) – content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980: cult of femininity: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.
  • Ferguson: teenage magazines aimed at girls offered broader range of female representations, but still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.
  • However, McRobbie – Cosmopolitan has featured positive representations of young women as seeking to control their own lives rather than being dependent on men.

 

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

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

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

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

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

AQA A-Level Sociology Paper 2: Families and Households Section – Exam Advice

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 2: Topics in Sociology (7192/2): families section only.

Families Households Sociology AQA Paper 2

AQA A-Level Sociology: Topics in Sociology Exam: Advice for answer the families and households section 

  • Paper 2 is a 2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • You get a booklet of questions, split into two sections (A and B), you write your answers into a separate answer booklet.
  • You answer one topic from each section (whichever two topics you’ve studied), one topic from section A, one from section B.
  • There are three 3 questions per topic (10/10/20)
  • So across the two topics, you answer a total of 6 questions
  • You have 1.5 minutes per mark.
  • This blog post only refers to section A, families and households option!

AQA Families and Households Specification

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

The 10 Mark ‘outline and explain’ (no item) question 

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • These ask about two elements from one or more bullet points within the specification topic (e.g. the nature of childhood in relation to demographic trends).
  • It will generally ask about the links or relationships between these two elements.
  • For example: ‘Outline and explain two ways in which the decline in birth rates has affected the position of children in society’ (10 marks)
  • Students don’t need to evaluate. Analysis is specified in the mark scheme for assessment objective 3.
  • Using PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) is useful for developing sufficient analysis.
  • Expressing each of the two ways in at least two separate paragraphs is useful tool.

Two examples of outline and explain families and households questions

Modified from the AQA’s advice on 10 mark questions sheet…

  • Outline and explain two ways in which women’s going into work has affected relationships (10)
  • Outline and explain two ways in which changes to gender roles have affected diversity of family structures (10)

10 Mark Analyse using the item questions 

  • These have an item which is linked to the question. It encourages linking two elements from the same or different bullet points in the specification.
  • The first part of the item contains a number of points about the first of these elements.
  • These points provide possible hooks, designed to be developed into an explanation of the relationships between the two elements.
  • The second part of the item links these points back to the question.

Example of a 10 mark ‘analyse from the item’ question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item B
Many commentators seem to agree that the ageing population is a problem for society – as it leads to an increasing strain on public services, and results in a greater burden being put on the younger generation to care for the elderly.

However, some claim that such problems have been exaggerated, and are based on stereotypical views about the elderly.

Applying material from Item B, analyse two consequences of the ageing population for British society (10 marks)

20 Mark Essay Questions 

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 30 minutes.
  • Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  • 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?

General Structure 

  • Introduction
  • Point (relate to question)
  • Explain
  • Expand
  • Criticise
  • (repeat 3-5 times)
  • Overall Evaluations
  • Conclusion (refer to item)

Some possible examples of 20 mark families and households essay questions…

  • Assess the view that the main aim of the of the family is to serve the needs of capitalism (20)
  • Assess the view that the family has become more child-centred (20)
  • Assess the reasons for changes in the birth rate and family size (20)

And repeat for section B!!!

Evaluate the view that differences in educational achievement between social groups are the result of factors and processes within schools (30)

Intro

  • There are significant differences between class, gender, ethnic groups in terms of educational achievement
  • The idea that processes within school explain these differences is associated with Interactionism and especially labelling theory
  • Interactionists argue micro processes such as interactions between pupils and teachers, subcultures and issues of identity explain these differences rather than structural factures or home background/ socialisation and material differences Teacher Labelling
  • Howard Becker (1960s) argued middle class teachers have an ideal pupil and use this as a standard by which to judge all pupils. Positive labels were given based on things such as smart appearance and language (links to elaborated speech code), not intelligence. This gave MC pupils positive self-esteem (1960s) WC pupils negative
  • Rosenthal and Jacobsen argued labels can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy – where if a teacher doesn’t expect much of a student, they internalise the label and it becomes true. If the above is true, it will explain why WC pupils underachieve in education compared to MC pupils.
  • Labelling theory has also been used to explain why girls do better than boys – John Abraham (1980s) found that teachers thought typical boys were lazy and typical girls studious, thus they expected more of girls and encouraged them more than boys
  • It has also been applied by David Gilborn (1990s) to explain why African Caribbean children underachieve – he found that teachers thought black boys were more aggressive, and so this explained why they were 4* more likely to be excluded than white boys, which relates to underachievement.
  • A criticism of labelling theory is that there is limited evidence of it – all of the above studies are based on small samples and so unrepresentative, we can’t generalise from them.
  • A second criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – students are not as passive as it suggests – not every student is effected negatively by a negative label for example, some try harder to prove the teacher wrong (Fuller’s research on black girls 1980s).
  • A third criticism of Labelling theory applied to education is that blames those in power, in this case teachers, for the failure of underachieving groups, arguing they are biased, the problem with the theory today is that teachers are probably amongst the least sexist/ racist/ classist professionals of all, and they are amongst the most well-trained at avoiding discrimination.

Pupil Subcultures

  • It has been argued that pupil subcultures are a response to in-school processes such as teacher labelling – with both pro and anti-school subcultures forming within schools. Peer groups reinforce positive or negative attitudes towards school, thus helping to explain levels of educational achievement. HOWEVER, much of the research actually suggests that although this is an in-school process, a lot of the attitudes that lead to subcultures emerging come from home background.
  • ‘Lad subcultures’’ have been blamed for the underachievement of boys. This linked to hegemonic (dominant ideas about) masculinity – stereotypically, ‘real men’ succeed without trying, and so there is pressure to not work in school. Verbal abuse is one way these peer groups reinforce such dominant masculine identities. Boys who try hard at school may be accused of being ‘gay’, for example.
  • To evaluate, this is especially true for working class boys, less so for middle class, but even MC boys tend to hide their efforts at school work from their peers. It will also be less the case for older children (doing A levels for example).
  • Paul Willis in 1977 found that the white working class lads he followed formed an anti-school culture, gaining status by ‘having a laff’ because they couldn’t see the point in school. However this wasn’t so much to do with in-school factors, the lads actively wanted working class factory jobs and so didn’t see the point of education.
  • Similarly Tony Sewell found that black boys who formed anti-school subcultures brought their anti-school ‘hyper-masculine street culture’ from home, and he argued that out of school factors were really the cause of such subcultures.

Banding and Streaming

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets and are victims of ‘educational triage’ – such pupils effectively get ‘written off’ because they are perceived as having no chance of achieving A-Cs.

The Ethnocentric Curriculum

The ethnocentric curriculum (EC) might explain the underachievement of some ethnic groups – the EC is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

To evaluate, the problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

Racism/ Institutional Racism

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism amongst Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion. The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling.

Some recent statistics also suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate). Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Overall Evaluations – Home factors – link to in-school factors!

  • Material deprivation — hidden costs/ exclusion// private schools.
  • Cultural deprivation – speech codes/ teacher labelling
  • Single parent families – banding and streaming
  • Policy – always favours the MC.

Conclusion

  • 90% of the difference comes from home background!

Related posts 

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

Using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties

An example of how you might answer a methods in context question on the AQA’s A level sociology paper 1.

(05) Read item B, then answer the question below (hooks in bold)

Item B

Investigating pupils with behavioural difficulties

Some pupils experience behavioural difficulties and problems interacting with others. This can create a major obstacle to learning, for both themselves and their classmates. In some cases, they are taught in specialist schools or in pupil referral units separate from mainstream education. Often, their behavioural difficulties result from problems outside school and many pupils come from materially deprived and chaotic home backgrounds.

Some sociologists may study pupils with behavioural difficulties using covert participant observation. This method enables the researcher to witness directly the pupils’ behaviour and its context. It may also allow the researcher to build a relationship of trust with pupils and parents. However, the researcher may find it difficult to fit in and he or she may need to adopt a specialised role such as teacher or support worker.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties.

 Section 1 – – Deal with The Method (and hit the middle mark band, 9-12) – If possible, link to education general or even the topic using words in the item from the beginning.

  • Covert participant observation is generally preferred by interpretivists – good for insight, depth.
  • Validity is generally good, but in this case it may not be (see below)
  • Reliability and representativeness are poor
  • Practically – difficult to do, especially with closed institutions like PRUs
  • Ethically – highly problematic, especially within education, researching vulnerable students.

Section 2 – Main body – Covert PO directly applied to the specific topic of pupils with behavioural difficulties – all of these hit the top mark band descriptor (17-20)

  • Students with behavioural difficulties are vulnerable, thus gaining access would be a problem, especially with any type of PO given the close contact you would have with the students. Gatekeepers would be reluctant to let people in in order to protect students, they may also not be keen for a researcher to see how chaotic life is in such institutions. Thus Covert PO is a sensible choice because you’re more likely to get into a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) if you pose as a professional and thus appear on ‘the side of the institution’.
  • However, covert would still be difficult to gain access, because getting into a PRU covertly would require you to be trained as a teacher or LF, they won’t just let anyone in!
  • In terms of validity, while PO is good for getting respondents to trust you, if you were covert, apparently working with the PRU, then they may not open up to you because such students wouldn’t trust authority figures, thus this major advantage is nullified.
  • Having said this, it would still allow the researcher to observe how peer groups reinforce bad behaviour in the context of the institution.
  • Ethically, there is a possibility of the researcher being put in danger, they may come across violent students and not be able to break cover easily if in a class room.
  • Practically, if you were to adopt to role of covert observer as a support worker, you would not be able to follow the students to their home backgrounds or onto ‘the street’ to see how they behaved outside of the institution where you ‘worked’, thus you wouldn’t get any insight into where they spend most of their time. Thus this method is pretty useless for this topic.
  • On a similar level, you wouldn’t be able to gain access to their homes either, to explore their ‘chaotic’ backgrounds, so you wouldn’t be able to observe this, you’d be stuck with asking them about it while in the PRU.

Section 3 – Conclusion

Overall, participant observation may well be a sensible choice of method for researching this topic, but there is nothing to be gained from doing covert compared to overt, and with covert, it probably wouldn’t happen because no one would fund it given the ethical problems surrounding researching vulnerable students, so all of this has been a rather pointless discussion.

The last sentence is optional!

Methods in Context CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then why not purchase my handy ‘How to Write Methods in Context Essays‘ hand-out, a bargain at only £1.49, and who knows, it may prevent you from being the victim in a future research study focusing on why certain students fail their A levels… 

It covers the following processes of how to deal with Methods in Context (MIC) questions.

  1. It starts off by looking at an example of a methods in context question and a mark scheme and outlines what you need to do to get into the top three mark bands.
  2. It tells you how to plan methods in context essays.
  3. It tells you how to actually write methods in context essays – presenting a ‘safe’ strategy to get into at least mark band 4 (13-16)
  4. In total it provides three examples of how you might go about answering a three different MIC questions.

 

How Are A-Level Sociology Essays Marked?

Below is a pared-down general mark-scheme for 20 and 30 mark sociology essays, adapted from the AQA’s more specific mark-schemes from the 2016-17 specimen A level papers.

/30 /20 Descriptor
25-30 17-20 Sound, conceptually detailed knowledge of a range of relevant material, good sophisticated understanding of the question and of the presented material. Appropriate material applied accurately and with sensitivity to the issues raised by the question.

Analysis and evaluation will be explicit and relevant. Evaluation may be developed for example through a debate between different perspectives, e.g. by comparing or contrasting different perspectives. Analysis will show clear explanation. Appropriate conclusions will be drawn.

19-24 13-16 Accurate, broad and/or deep but incomplete knowledge. Understands a number of significant aspects of the question; good understanding of the presented material.

Application of material is largely explicitly relevant to the question, though some material may be inadequately focused.

Some limited explicit evaluation e.g. the debate about the symmetrical family and/or some appropriate analysis, e.g. clear explanations of some of the presented material.

13-18 9-12 Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, e.g. a broadly accurate knowledge of relevant concepts and theories. Understands some limited but significant aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.

Applying listed material from the general topic area but with limited regard for its relevance to the issues raised by the question, or applying a narrow range of more relevant material.

Evaluation limited at most to juxtaposition of competing positions or one to two isolated stated points. Analysis will be limited, with answers tending towards the descriptive.

7-12 5-8 Limited undeveloped knowledge, e.g. two to three insubstantial knowledge points. Understands only very limited aspects of the question; simplistic understanding of the presented material.

Limited application of suitable material, and/or material often at a tangent to the demands of the question, e.g. drifting into answering a different question.

Very limited, minimal or no evaluation. Attempts at analysis, if any, are thin and disjointed.

1-6 1-4 Very limited knowledge, e.g. one to two very insubstantial knowledge points. Very little/no understanding of the question and of the presented material.

Significant errors, and/or omissions, and/or significant incoherence in application of material. Minimal or no analysis or evaluation.

Of course the actual mark schemes will refer to the actual question, and have a bunch of ‘indicative knowledge’ at the end of it, but the above is a general guide at least.

 

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.