Evaluate the view that the media have a direct and immediate effect on their audiences [20 marks]

This is an example of a 20 mark essay question written for the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2, Topics in Sociology, Media option.

Read Item N below and answer the question that follows.

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Applying material from Item N and your knowledge, evaluate the view that the media have a direct and immediate effect on their audiences [20 marks]

Commentary on the question

 A classic essay, asking you to evaluate the Hypodermic Syringe Model, picking up on the relationship between violence and the media as an example.

Answer

Introduction – hypodermic syringe model key points

  • the media can have a direct and immediate effect on the audience, audience as a ‘homogeneous mass’ (all the same), and as passive
  • content creators can manipulate vulnerable audiences
  • associated with neo-Marxists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (A and H), from the the 1940s
  • They noted that there were similarities between the ‘propaganda industry’ in Nazi Germany’ and what they called the ‘Culture Industry’ in the United States.
  • A and H saw popular culture in the USA was like a factory producing standardized content which was used to manipulate a passive mass audience. The point was to creat false psychological needs and keeping capitalism going.
  • Pluralists and postmodernists would criticise the above theory – people have diverse needs which they actively meet through media, and especially New Media.

 

Other evidence that media messages can have a direct and immediate effect on audiences:

  • Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds‘ in 1938.
  • However, people are more media literate now.
  • The ‘beauty myth’, especially the representations of size zero as normal, have encouraged an increase in eating disorders.
  • However, evidence of women (and men) resisting such messages – and setting up ad campaigns which celebrate diverse body shapes criticises this.
  • Campaigns behind Trump and Brexit used sophisticated targeted advertising to nudge voters into voting for Trump and Brexit, suggesting the media can have a very direct and immediate effect on specific populations.
  • However, it is not quite accurate to say this is the media having a direct and immediate effect –they don’t even bother targeting the people who they know will make ‘oppositional readings’ – thus the two-step flow and reception analysis models may be more applicable.

Violence (in item)

  • There is some evidence that media violence can ‘cause’ people to be more violence in real-life…
  • The Bandura ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment
  • However, this experiment was carried out in such an artificial environment, it tells us little about how violence happens in real life.
  • A more nuanced version is ‘desensitisation’

Conclusion

  • There are enough criticisms which can be made of the Hypodermic syringe model to say that it is mostly invalid today….
  • model may have been true in the 1940s when the media was relatively new and audiences less literate, but in today’s new media age, audiences are more likely to criticise what they see rather than just believing it, and to check what they see with other sources.
  • Audiences are also clearly more diverse, active, and USE media for their own devices rather than the other way around.
  • Finally, it is just too simplistic a theory to explain social problems – societal violence has many causes, and it’s all too easy to scapegoat the media
  • This model explains little about how the media and audiences are interrelated in a complex postmodern age.

 

 

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Analyse two reasons why the media portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Read Item M below and answer the question that follows.

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Applying material from Item M, analyse two reasons why the media often portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Commentary on the question

A non-standard question about representations, focusing on ‘why’ rather than on ‘how’ one group is represented. There are two clear hooks in the item – the first about power and the second just about difference, suggesting that candidates make two points – one from a broadly hegemonic perspective, the other focussing on the public/ pluralism.  Remember that you can pick up marks for evaluating in this type of 10 mark ‘with item’ question.

Before reading the answer you might like to review the material on ethnicity and representation, and some of the theories of ownership and control such as Pluralism, Instrumental Marxism and Hegemonic Marxism, all of which can be applied to this question.

Answer

The first reason why minority groups are represented negatively is because they have different values/ beliefs and practices from ‘mainstream’ society and are perceived by the wider public as not being fully integrated into the ‘British way of life’. The public at large is thus prejudiced against ethnic minorities, and anything which seems to threaten British identity.

By focusing on negative representations of minorities – Islamic terrorists, benefit claiming immigrants, Romanian beggars, for example, newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail can sell more newspapers and make more profit – it is easier to do this by perpetuating stereotypes compared to running stories which challenge such negative representations.

It is relatively easy for papers to find stories about ethnic minorities which have many news values because some ethnic minorities do engage in activities which are ‘shocking’, and it’s maybe understandable why newspapers may choose not to publish stories in which minority groups are just ‘being British’ – because there’s nothing ‘newsworthy’ about such stories.

This theory fits in with the pluralist view – newspapers aren’t deliberately prejudiced against ethnic minorities, they just run stories which reflect public bias to increase profits.

Hegemonic Marxists would argue that ethnic minority groups are represented negatively because they are underrepresented in positions of power – both in society/ government and within the media itself.

According to Stuart Hall, ethnic minorities have been used as scapegoats for society’s larger economic problems – knife crime by black youths in London in the late 1970s was turned into a moral panic by negative reporting in the press, even though the rate of that crime was declining.

In a similar way gang crime today is largely constructed in the media as a black problem, rather than a multi-ethnic phenomenon.

A further reason why such negative representations are so common could be the lack of black voices among media professionals, meaning the white majority just go along with the racial victimization of young black youth by the government and police.

However, such negative representations may be changing in the age of New Media, which gives more power to ethnic minorities to challenge stereotypes and power inequalities in society more directly.

Exam Advice from the AQA’s 2018 Examiner Report – Paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods)

Below I summarise the 2018 AQA’s examiner report for crime and deviance with theory and methods and add in the questions, which aren’t in the report. You can get both the report and the question paper here!

General Advice 

  • Most students seem to have managed their time appropriately, with few signs that they were unable to complete the paper.
  • Some students showed detailed sociological knowledge and sophisticated understanding that they applied successfully to the set questions, and in general students seemed reasonably well versed in relevant material.
  • However, fewer found success in evaluating the issues raised by the questions.

Question 1

Outline Two ways in which gender may influence the risk of being a victim of crime

  • Most students successfully identified two ways in which gender may influence being a victim of crime.
  • Most answers referred to the vulnerability of women or the influence of patriarchy; many linked this with domestic abuse or sexual crimes.
  • References to male victims usually referred to socialisation and/or to violence related to masculinity, leading to men becoming victims of the violence of other men when they became gang members or spent time in the wrong places.
  • The main reason for failing to score marks was to write about committing crime rather than about being a victim.
  • Some gained partial reward for identifying a particular type of crime of which men or women are likely to be victims but without going on to elaborate on this.

Question 2

Outline three criticisms of the labelling theory of crime and deviance

  • The most frequently cited criticism was that labelling theory is deterministic; this was usually explained correctly.
  • Other frequently cited criticisms included the theory’s failure to explain primary deviance, its romanticised view of deviants or its neglect of structural factors.
  • A significant minority of answers outlined criticisms of the labelling process (for example that labelling is discriminatory or unfair), rather than of the theory.
  • Some students tended to recycle the same criticism in different guises.
  • A few wrote excessively long answers to this question.

Question 3

Sociology examiner report 2018.png

Applying material from Item A, analyse two reasons for social class differences in official crime statistics

  • Most students were able to draw on one or two appropriate points from the Item.
  • More effective answers then developed these points appropriately by employing relevant sociological concepts and studies.
  • For example, ‘agencies of the criminal justice system, such as the police’ was linked to how the police use typifications in activities such as stop and search, how justice may be negotiated etc.
  • ‘some individuals may also have greater… pressure to offend’ was applied to utilitarian crime via relative deprivation or blocked opportunities faced by the working class.
  • In less effective answers, the connection between the potential point from the Item and the material presented was less clearly made.
  • In a minority of cases, students simply offered various sociological explanations of class differences in the statistics but with no application of material from the Item.

Question 4

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological contributions to our understanding of the relationship between crime and the media (30)

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Good answers included…

  • the social construction of crime news;
  • media representations of crime,
  • criminals and victims; t
  • he role of the media in creating crime (for example, relative deprivation, moral panics and the deviance amplification spiral)
  • the role of new media in contributing both to crime and to its policing.
  • Good answers also had evaluation which was explicit and well linked to the specific issues raised in the answer.

Some answers took a ‘perspectives’ approach, including Marxist, functionalist, feminist or other views. Unfortunately, this approach led many to focus on tangential material, with detailed accounts of the general sociological perspectives that quickly lost sight of the media, crime, or both. However, there were a few very good answers of this type that did succeed in applying such perspectives to the set question.

Question 5

Outline and explain two disadvantages of using laboratory experiments in sociological research (10)

  • Most students could offer two disadvantages of laboratory experiments.
  • Most often these included the artificiality of the setting (often conflated with the Hawthorne effect)
  • other disadvantages included difficulties in identifying and controlling variables, a lack of representativeness or ethical problems.
  • However, many answers failed to explain or develop these points successfully; some simply described an example of an experiment that experienced such problems. Some students did not know the difference between reliability and validity.
  • A minority of students included evaluation, for which no marks were available on this question.

Question 6

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the advantages of using  structured interviews in sociological research [ 20 marks]

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  • This question proved to be quite challenging for some students.
  • Most were able to put together a list of positivist characteristics as advantages, such as objectivity, reliability, quantification and generalisability.
  • However, most could not evaluate these advantages.
  • Instead a typical response, having provided a paragraph or two on the advantages, gave a list of disadvantages, or a list of reasons why interpretivist sociologists would not like the method.
  • The result was an essay of two halves with little to link them into a coherent answer to the set question.

 

Summary of the 2018 A-level sociology examiner report for beliefs in society, paper 2

Below I’ve reformatted the examiners report for the 2018 A-level sociology exam, paper 2 (families and households section) into bullet points and included the exam questions.

This is really just designed to make this more user friendly!

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018.

Beliefs in society 2018 Questions and examiner commentary 

Question 13

Outline and explain two ways in which globalisation may affect religious beliefs and practices (10)

  • Most students able to explain two ways in which globalisation may have affected religious beliefs and practices.
  • Popular answers included pluralism and greater choice, deterritorialisation and the growth of fundamentalism.
  • Some weaker answers described recent changes in beliefs or practices without making the role of globalisation clear.

Question 14

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Applying material from Item I, analyse two reasons why minority ethnic groups in the United Kingdom are often more religious than the majority of the population (10)

  • This question was generally answered well.
  • Popular answers included cultural defence and cultural transition (although the difference between these two concepts was not always clear), and the idea that migrants are simply more likely to be religious when placed in a secular society.
  • This question referred specifically to the United Kingdom and so answers about other countries could not be credited.

Question 15

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Applying material from Item J and your knowledge, evaluate the view that an increase in spirituality in the United Kingdom has compensated for the decline of organised religion (20)

  • Answers here showed a good range of knowledge.
  • Most students took cues from the item and discussed a range of developments, such as variations of secularisation, growth of science and rationality and the growth of New Age activities.
  • There was pleasing evidence of knowledge of contemporary postmodern approaches but only the best answers explicitly addressed spirituality or considered that there might be a difference between the spiritual and the religious.

 

Summary of the 2018 A-level sociology examiner report for families and households, paper 2

Below I’ve reformatted the examiners report for the 2018 A-level sociology exam, paper 2 (families and households section) into bullet points and included the exam questions.

This is really just designed to make this more user friendly!

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018.

Families and Households 2018 Questions and examiner commentary 

Question 04

Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure. [10 marks]

  • There was a tendency to go into detail about the chosen policies rather than to discuss effects on family structures.
  • Some answers assumed an effect and did not take the opportunity to use their sociological understanding to explore the ideas in greater depth. For example, some answers said that changes to divorce laws increased the number of lone parent families, but few discussed increases in reconstituted families or bi-nuclear families.
  • Similarly the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 was recognised as increasing the number of same sex married couples but also led to same sex divorces, changes in adoption, surrogacy and so on.

Question 05

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Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today. [10 marks]

  • Many answers went into reasons for the demographic changes referred to in the item rather than focus on effects on childhood.
  • Others discussed childhood a hundred years ago or earlier.
  • However, many did develop points about child centeredness by looking at its positive consequences for childhood and then developing this to link it to over protectiveness, age patriarchy, pester power, toxic childhood and so on.
  • Similarly, the presence of grandparents was in better answers not merely described but analysed as to how it could be both positive and negative in contributing to socialisation and childcare and in adding to the burden of care for the family with some children becoming young carers.
  • Better answers were distinguished by, as the mark scheme says, ‘developed applications’, going beyond the immediately apparent.

 

Question 06

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Applying material from Item D and your knowledge, evaluate the view that individual choice in personal relationships has made family life less important in the United Kingdom today

  • Many answers discussed changes in family life such as divorce, cohabitation, same sex marriage and gender roles in terms of greater choice but few explored whether these developments made family life more important or less important.
  • More developed analysis showed how diversity did not always lead to less importance being given to family life, importance of a changed form of family life. Functionalism and the New Right were often included but, sometimes with Marxism, described rather than being applied to the question.
  • There was a shortage of postmodernist views in addition to choice and diversity. Better answers referred to pure relationships, confluent love, negotiated families and alternative life courses.

 

 

A-level sociology exams: hints for paper 2 from the 2018 examiner report

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018. It is relevant to both the families and households and beliefs sections of paper 2.

General advice

Get your timings right and make sure you spend enough time on the final 20 mark question in section B

The report notes that most students answered the questions in the order they appeared in the question paper, answering the last question they attempted was the 20 mark question in section B.

Some students messed the timings up and wrote a very brief answer to this question!

Advice on 10 mark questions

Don’t write introductory paragraphs or conclusions

These are unlikely to gain extra marks, they just take up time

Write two distinct points in your answers 

The report notes that some students made only one point, others made more than two, you need to make two points (as it says in the question!)

The report also notes that ‘sometimes it was unclear how many points were being made’ – you should make your two points distinct by leaving a blank line between them, or starting each of them with ‘one way is…’, and later on ‘a second way is…’

Don’t evaluate in the 10 mark ‘Outline and explain’ question (the one with NO item)

Evaluation is not a requirement for answers to 10 mark “outline and explain” questions, there are no marks for evaluation here.

You can get evaluation marks for the the ‘with item’ 10 mark questions.

Develop each point by using sociological concepts, theory and evidence

The best answers to 10 mark questions were focused, clearly stating a point and then developing it, using sociological concepts, evidence and theory where appropriate.

Make sure you link the two aspects of the question together 

For example, both of the questions below have two aspects (highlighted for emphasis)

‘Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure‘ (10)

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today (10)

What you need to do (ideally) is link the red to the blue in each question, using appropriate concepts, theories and evidence.

Furthermore, you want to pick different aspects for each point – for example, in the first question above start with two different policies and link them to two (or more) different aspects of family structure. (And don’t forget that you must use the item for your ‘aspects’ in the Item question)

NB – both of those questions were in the 2018 Sociology A level paper 2.

Advice on 20 mark questions 

‘It may be more effective to cover a limited number of views or theories in some depth rather than to include every possible theory’

I’ve always said ‘3-5 points’ for an essay – this report confirms that you can get a decent mark with 3 points/ theories.

Stay focused on the question 

The report notes that there was a tendency for answers to progressively lose sight of the question and to become a list of different views’.

This ties in with the above point – it might be that the item only directs you to two or three theories, stay focused on them!

Link evaluations to your points and theories

The report notes that ‘evaluation which meets the demands of the questions is better than points which have been learned and included’.

The report also notes that evaluation means strengths as well as limitations – there is a tendency for students to just focus on criticisms.

Plan your essays in advance 

This will help you select appropriate material, stay focused on the question and evaluate effectively!

Sociology Revision Webinars for the 2019 exams!

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my revision webinars. We’re focusing on families and beliefs this coming Sunday!

For more information on Revision Webinars, please click the above gif, or check out this blog post.

Exam advice from the AQA’s Examiner Reports from 2018

The AQA produces an examiner report after every exam, and it’s very good advice to look at these reports to see common mistakes students made last year, so you can avoid making the same mistakes this year!

AQA sociology examiner report 2018.png

Below I’ve selected FIVE choice pieces of advice based on the two most common errors from the 2018 Education with Theory and Methods paper.

  1. For the short answer questions, make sure you get your ID and Development the right way round – for example, last year’s 4 mark question was on ‘two reasons why marketisation policies may create social class differences in educational achievement’ – many students started with a policy rather than a reason, they should have started with a reason and then illustrated with a policy.
  2. The six marker was ‘outline three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement – the report says that many students did not get a second mark because they failed to be specific enough in their application to gender or educational achievement, so be specific!
  3. For question 5 – the methods in context question – the best answers used the hooks in the item, so use the item!
  4. At the other end of the paper – the final 10 mark theory and methods and question, a lot of students seemed to run out time to answer this, so make sure you get your timing right. Remember that it’s almost certainly going to be easier to get 4/10 for a 10 mark question than to go from 12/20 to 16/20 on a methods in context question – the bar’s lower after all!
  5. Focussing on the final 10 marker – if you get another ‘criticise a theory’ type question’ then the best answers simply used other perspectives to develop their criticisms.

It seems that the 10 marker with item and 30 mark essay question were OK!

Sources 

All information taken from the AQA’s 7192/1 examiner report.

You can read the full report here.

You can view the 2018 paper here.

A-level sociology of education summary grids

I’ve been designing some sociology of education summary grids to try and summarise the AQA’s A-level sociology of education specification as briefly as possible. I’ve managed to narrow it down to 7 grids in total covering…..

  • Perspectives on education (Functionalism etc)
  • In-school processes (labelling etc.)
  • social class and differential achievement
  • gender: achievement and subject choice
  • Ethnicity
  • Policies
  • Globalisation and education (I couldn’t fit it in anywhere else!)

Here’s a couple of them… I figure these should be useful for quick card sorts during revision lessons. And let’s face it, there is only ONE thing students love more than filling in grids, and that’s a card sort!

Perspectives on education summary grid:

sociological perspectives education.png

Education policies summary grid:

education policies.png

Of course I couldn’t resist doing fuller versions of these grids too, but more of that laters!

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

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Older people are more likely to both attend church and express religious beliefs than younger people.

Some sociologists have suggested that this is due to changes which occur during the life-course. Other sociologists believe this trend is more about social changes resulting in generational differences.

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

The first reason why older people are more religious is that as they come to the end of their ‘life course’, they are simply biologically closer to death which means they start to think more about what happens after death. This is something which all religions deal with, and so it could simply be that older people become more religious because they find a suitable explanation to their questions about the afterlife in religion.

This could be especially the case today, as modern society is obsessed with ‘youth and life’ and so religion is one of the few places people close to death might find solace.

A related life course related factor is social isolation. As people enter retirement, they lose their work place connections, and are more likely to see their friends die. Attending church could be a way of making up for these lost connections.

The second possible reason is social changes – meaning that each successive generation is less religious than the previous generation.

The church has gradually become disengaged from society and so has less influence over social life: thus children today are much less likely to see religious authority being exercised in politics, and religion has also lost its influence in education: RE is now somewhat watered down compared to what it used to be: presenting religion as a choice rather than a necessity.

Also, now that society has become more postmodern, it emphasizes, fun, diversity and choice, all of which traditional religion at least doesn’t offer as much of: people would rather spend Sunday relaxing rather than in church, and this is very much normal today.

As a result of all the above, parents are much less likely to socialize their children into religious beliefs and practices, which explains the decline in religion across the generations and between younger and older people today.

Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Karl Marx famously argued that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ and Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion compensated women for their second class status. Both theorists believed that religion was an ideological tool which pacified the oppressed.

These views have, however, been criticized:

Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression (10)

Firstly, Marxist and Feminist views tend to downplay the positive functions of religion.

As Functionalists have pointed out, it is quite likely that some form of religious belief and organisation is functional (i.e. beneficial for the individual and society) given that religion is practically universal (i.e found in nearly all societies).

Functionalists have pointed to many positive functions of religion – such as helping people deal with death and societies deal with transition and times of uncertainty. Rather than this being about simply keeping inequality in place, it could be that religion benefits everyone by keeping society stable.

Furthermore, people still practiced religion in secret in communist countries when religion was banned, suggesting that they actively wanted religion for their own comfort, rather than it simply being something forced on them by elites.

You could argue that a similar thing is found with religion today in the form of ‘civil religion’ – where people find comfort in quasi-religious ceremonies such as Football matches and Royal Weddings… again this seems to be a matter of choice, and because attendance is optional, it’s hard to argue that these ‘shallower’ forms of religion have a  sinister social control function like Marxists and Feminists suggest!

Secondly, The above theories assume that people simply passively accept an elitist interpretation of religious doctrines. There is plenty of evidence that this is not always the case.

Liberation theology is a good example of this: where Catholic Church leaders in Latin America took the side of the landless peasants, and argued against the elitist interpretation that inequality was God’s will: instead helping the poor fight back against inequality and elite institutions and attempting to bring about a more equal society.

This is supporting evidence for the Neo-Marxist view that religion is not simply controlled by elites, but is relatively autonomous, thus meaning it can be a tool for social change.

From an Islamic Feminist point of view, Nawal el Sadawi argued that Islam was not inherently patriarchal, but rather that it had been interpreted in a patriarchal way in patriarchal societies (patriarchy comes first, if you like!). She further argued that it was perfectly possible for women to challenge Patriarchal interpretations of Islam, as she herself did, thus meaning it doesn’t have to be a tool of social control and pacification.

A postmodern analysis of religion further supports the ‘active intepretation’ criticisms of Marxism and Feminism – today people are much more likely to pick and mix their religious beliefs, and reject anything they don’t like, and use religion at selected times when they find it useful. This is hardly religion controlling and pacifying the population!