Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

This methods in context question came up in the June 2022 A-level sociology education with theory and methods paper. 

Below I include the item, a plan and a possible response. NB this isn’t an easy question IMO!

The Item and Question 

Read Item C below and answer the question that follows

As well as compulsory subjects at school, pupils can often choose optional ones. Pupils may choose different subjects for a variety of reasons. They may have a personal interest or talent in a subject or act on the basis of advice given by parents, professionals working within schools or others. However, there are patterns in subject choices linked to class, gender and ethnicity which could result from factors external to schools. 

One way of studying differences in the subject choices made by pupils is to use group interviews. This type of interview can encourage deeper thought as participants can develop ideas put forward by other group members. However, participants may be influenced by peer pressure. Furthermore, some pupils, teachers and parents may find it difficult to find a time to meet as a group.

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using group interviews to investigate the reasons for subject choices made by pupils.

Hints for Methods in Context Questions 

The difficulty with Methods in Context questions is keeping three things in mind at once:

  1. The specific topic as elaborated on by the item – in this case subject choice. 
  2. The research contexts – where and who you are researching. 
  3. The theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the specific method – in this case group interviews.  

The easiest way to do this is to highlight the main points in the item and then do quick bullet points for the contexts and method. 

For example my plan to cover would look something like this: 

Topic (subject choice)Contexts Method – Group interviews
– Personal interest/ talent
-Advice from parents/ teachers/ others
– External factors (home, socialisation/ poverty/ culture)
-Influence of class, gender, ethnicity. 
– Who… pupils/ teachers/ parents. Mixture of the above 
– Practical – access/ time. 
-Theoretical – validity, reliability, representativeness.
-Also ethical factors such as consent.
  • I would then start with each of the four things on the left and TRY and relate them to BOTH context and then practical, ethnical, and theoretical issues. 
  • Then Contexts in relation to the method (and the topic)
  • And finally if you have time start with the method and relate to the other two. 
  • Try to not repeat yourself, but if you do it doesn’t matter, there are no points for style, but do make sure you have a conclusion!
  • Careful NOT to just recycle what’s in the item. 

This is NOT an easy question to answer!!! 

For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

I briefly cover group interviews here

Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

Suggested answer below…

(First a reminder of the question AND item!)

an item for an A-level sociology methods in context exam question.

One of the general strengths of group interviews is it allows for respondents to bounce ideas off each other. This means you could get more in-depth answers than when interviewing individuals. It also allows for respondents to check each other’s answers for accuracy. A group interview can also be like a conversation, where the respondents are talking among themselves, which is natural. If the researcher is skilled they may even drift into the background. The researcher can also check group dynamics to know when to interject and possibly detect if respondents are exaggerating or lying based on the responses of others. All of this means group interviews should have relatively high validity. 

However these strengths may not apply when researching this particular topic of subject choice. 

If you are researching small groups of students and trying to find out their personal motives for choosing say science, or maths or performing arts, for example, they may not be forthcoming with their real motives if those motives are not perceived as being acceptable to peers. Embarrassment may prevent individuals from telling the truth in a group setting because of peer pressure. 

Similarly ideas about what is acceptable or cool may result in students in a group giving you what they see as socially desirable motives rather than their actual motives. For example among boys it might be desirable to make a lot of money, so that might be the reason given for choosing economics, rather than them just being interested in the subject.

Validity may further be reduced by the types of student, as mentioned in the item. Working class boys are more likely to see taking an interest in school as cool, thus you are less likely to get valid information about students liking a subject as the motive. However with middle class boys it is more acceptable to express interest in school work. 

Where parental influence is concerned it may be seen as shameful to admit this in front of one’s peers, so this method wouldn’t be good here. 

Girls are more comfortable with conversational settings and discussing their feelings, thus you are more likely to get valid information about why girls choose their subjects compared to boys. 

The mix of different classes, different genders and ethnicities in the group would also influence the results. In terms of reliability, it would be more difficult to repeat if you had a mixture because you may not be able to get the same mix in other schools. 

Thus if you want reliability, you might want to do research on just boys and girls from one class background and ethnicity. 

Another way of doing this would be to research on a subject by subject basis, and ask students why they chose that subject, here you would probably get more specific information compared to asking students in general. 

Another possible way of getting validity in group settings might be to get all the boys, for example, who chose typically girls subjects, they might be more willing to open up if they are with other students who have chosen subjects outside of their gender domain. .

You can also research with parents and teachers, the latter may be able to tell you their take on why students choose different subjects. In terms of researching parents I think you’d have little to gain because they don’t necessarily know their children’s real reasons, and they could be just as unwilling to open up about their role in subject choice in a group. 

From a practical point of view you would have to do these interviews in school, it’s going to be difficult to get groups of students together outside. This means you’d need to get past the headmaster, the teacher, gain parental consent ideally, it would be tricky practically. 

And students would either need to agree to stay after school or be given time off lessons. 

Group interviews would be quicker than individual interviews initially, you could research up to 5 students, any more and some students may clam up or sit back given the size of the group, but it would take a long time to transcribe. 

You would be able to interview dozens of students in say a week, in one school, using this method, so it’s good for representativeness. 

Ethically this allows for students to speak for themselves. 

It might be best to do this BEFORE students take their subject choices, that way students are more likely to be open about pressure, and it might make them think more about making choices independently. This could be a good method for improving reflexivity in the research process. 

In conclusion I don’t think this is a good method for researching this topic, it is too sensitive to reasonably expect students to open up about it. 

However if you were to be very selective and select all the non typical students who have chosen one subject it could work to yield valid, if not very representative data. 

Thoughts on this question 

It is not an easy question. This is mainly because this is not a particularly good method for this topic. Also it’s one of the LEAST interesting topics for students to have to think about. 

Because of these two factors, it is precisely the kind of question that will give you that empty and numb feeling. Especially in the exam you might well sit there and feel a sense of dredd. You might feel angry: ‘what is the point of this’? I think this and I’m a teacher INTERESTED in this kind of stuff. I can only imagine how bad this must have been for an average A-level student. 

For the most part the examiners have provided some pretty good questions over the last few years. THIS is an exception, you just had to suck it up and get on with it! 

But it is what it is. 


For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

For more general advise on all sociology exam papers.

Mark Scheme for 2022 paper 7192/1

The examiners report June 2022 for paper 7292/1

Two ways globalisation has influenced religion’s capacity to change society

The following 10 mark outline and explain question above came up in the AQA’s November 2021 Sociology 7192/2 topics paper, as part of the beliefs in society section.

Outline and explain two ways that globalisation may have influenced the way in which religion acts as a force for change (10)

Probably the safest way to approach this question is to consider one way in which globalisation has reduced the capacity of religion to act as a force for social change and another it has increased it.

The challenge is going to be to keep the question tightly focussed on two ways, and drawing out the links, rather than drifting into discussing several ways in general.

This post on the impact of globalisation on religion more generally would be a good source to draw on for this question.

Globalisation and religion for social change

  • One aspect of globalisation is the increased use of the internet for global communications which makes it easier for people to access information about religion.
  • This means it is easier for fundamentalist groups to gain access to a wide audience via setting up their own websites and through social media, increasing their global reach, meaning that groups such as ISIS have managed to radicalise individuals in countries thousands of miles away from their main base such as England.
  • Fundamentalism may appeal to people living in postmodern society as there is more anomie, and the simple messages which appeal to traditional values offer a sense of certainty and identity to people who may feel lost and without purpose.
  • In some cases radicalised individuals have travelled to countries like Syria in order to become part of fundamentalist movements.
  • The internet has also made it easier for fundamentalist groups to gain funding through cryptocurrency, meaning it is harder for governments to cut off funding for them, giving them more power.
  • Such groups can make use of encrypted apps such as Telegram to discuss strategy and recruit members making it more difficult for governments to prevent terrorist attacks, and this is such a serious matter there is currently an online privacy bill going through parliament that may make Whatsapp illegal in the UK.
  • Another indicator of how serious a threat to social change fundamentalism may be is the PREVENT agenda in schools, designed to protect British Values from radicalisation.

Globalisation undermining religion and social change

  • one aspect of globalisation is increasing amounts of cultural diversity as ideas and people migrate from country to country.
  • This means in the UK for example that we now have several religions rather than one.
  • This undermines the capacity of the Church of England to claim that it has a monopoly on the truth and thus undermines its ability to compel people to act in its name.
  • We saw this in the attitude of religion during the King’s Coronation, with all of the religious aspects looking outdated and a little bit silly which was broadcast to a global audience via the media.
  • State religion now seems like something that is for entertainment and a choice rather than something with the power to change society.
  • When there are many religions competing with each other it becomes more obvious that there are religious truths rather than one truth and the State increasingly focuses on how to create a society in which multiple religions can get along without conflicting rather than the state allying with one religion as a powerful source for social change.
Signposting and Sources

Mark Scheme for AQA Sociology Paper 2 November 2021.

Analyse two ways in which family diversity has been influenced by government policies

This question came up in the AQA’s November 2021 7192/2 topics paper, in the families and households section.

This post includes some advice on how to interpret the item and answer the question.

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which family diversity in the
UK has been influenced by government policies (10)

item for AQA' 10 mark question A-level sociology

Using the item…

The item in this case is very short and also a bit tricky, directing you to ‘aspects of diversity’ rather than policies.

TWO types of increasing diversity…..

  • more divorced families….
  • more same sex couples.

The item then refers to government policies more generally.

So what this seems to be directing you to do is to talk about a range of policies in relation to increasing divorce and the increase in same sex couples.

As with any question it’s probably a good idea to not have too much overlap, so try to apply different policies to both types of diversity.

Policies relating to increasing divorce

  • The divorce act of 1969 led to a rapid increase in divorce, changing the grounds (you should include details of this). However divorce had been increasing before the act and continued to increase after the act so clearly there were social changes contributing rather than just the policy.
  • The 1984 divorce act made divorce possible after a shorter period of marriage, there was an immediate spike in that year, so clearly this made a difference.
  • Benefits for single parents make it easier for women to get divorced in families with children so they are not as financially dependent on men, apply terms such as breadwinner/ role/ carer role and Feminism.
  • The equal pay act of 1975 – women equal pay to men, more financial independence, same logic as above.
  • This is crying out to be evaluated… divorce has been going down for 20 years, one of the reasons is immigration (still a policy), immigrants have lower divorce rates.
  • Maternity and paternity pay may have helped ease (lower) the divorce rate as these take pressure off young families.
  • Final evaluation – it’s probably more about social changes and social policy changes reflect that!

Polices relating to an increase in same sex couples

  • The civil partnerships act 2004 made it legal for same sex couples to get a civil partnership, same basis as marriage, reduced stigma, increases number of formally partnered couples.
  • Same sex marriage act 2013 enabled same sex couples to get married, further reducing stigma.
  • Analysis point: possibly the number hasn’t increased, just the amount of openly gay couples.
  • Adoption Act (2004) made it legal for same sex couples to adopt children on same basis as opposite sex couples, increase in same sex families.
Signposting and related posts

For more information on how to answer exam questions please see my exams and essay writing advice page.

AQA mark scheme for this November 2021 paper.

Outline and Explain Two Ways in which Consumption may be Affected by Social Class (10)

This 10 mark question came up on the November 2021 A-level sociology exam paper (AQA), here I provide an elaborated answer based on the guidance in the mark scheme.

In a 10 mark question without the item you are expected to fully discuss any of the two ways/ reasons/ criticisms mentioned in the question. You have to analyse (e.g. show the logical links between points/ pick up on differences) but there are no specific marks for evaluation (although some analytical points may be evaluative in nature!).

NB this isn’t a complete answer, just some thoughts on how you might approach this question.

How is consumption affected by social class?

The mark scheme suggests the following:

  • popular, mass, high and folk cultures and social class
  • differences between social classes in leisure opportunities and choices
  • financial resources for consumption
  • time considerations because of work commitments
  • expectations about what it is acceptable for different social classes to consume
  • conspicuous consumption
  • taste as a symbol of identity.

How to answer this question using the bullet points…

You need to pick up on the two bits of the question, in this case ‘social class’ and ‘consumption’ and then draw the links between them… you are looking for two differences between social class that lead to two differences in consumption.

Actually it’s not a bad idea to quickly do a list in note form like the above, and then your ‘two ways’ can just be fusing these bullets together, that way you are guaranteed to include more concepts and theories and show the links between them.

Looking at the list above I’d personally pick material differences between social classes and then cultural/ social norm differences, so your two ways are:

  • Social class, money and consumption differences
  • Social class, culture (norms and values) and consumption differences

Social class, money and differences in consumption

  • People lower down the social class scale have less money so are less able to engage in more expensive forms of conspicuous consumption.
  • Whereas those with more money are more likely to engage in consumption of expensive clothes and cars to display their wealth and perceived higher status.
  • This may have the effect of pushing consumption of culture more into the private realm for the poor – out of a sense of shame, whereas in the public realm what we tend to see is the more affluent side of consumption of culture.
  • Lower incomes also means those lower down the social class scale have to work longer hours to survive meaning they have less leisure time to engage in consumption, possibly meaning leisure is more passive rather than active.

Social class, cultural differences and differences in consumption

  • Lower social classes possess less cultural and social capital than higher classes.
  • This means children growing up have less knowledge about high culture (classical music and so on) and are less likely to know people who work in the high cultural arts (lack of social capital) .
  • They thus have less access to such cultural products and so are less likely to want to consume them.
  • In contrast the elite class actively encourage their children to consume high culture from a young age, and these people are more likely to grow up and into consuming such products.
  • The fact that high culture is very much upper-middle class may actually act as a further barrier to working class kids and adults wanting to consume it.
  • Lower social class groups are more likely to consume popular or mass culture because it is much more accessible (and cheaper).
  • A Marxist take on this is that the lower classes are being pacified by mass culture, although postmodernists would rather see this as still a matter of choice.
  • Those from higher classes invested in high culture may look down on popular culture and see it as inferior, thus avoid consuming it for this reason, believing their high culture products to be indicative superior taste.

Sources and signposting

For advice on how to approach the sociology exams please see my page on exams advice.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Sources: AQA Paper 2: Topics in Sociology Mark Scheme.

Secondary Data on Academic Progress

What are the strengths and limitations of using secondary data to research the academic progress of students in schools?

This challenging question came up in the methods in Context section of the November 2021 AQA A-Level Sociology exam, and students found it difficult according the Examiners Report, with significant numbers focussing only on quantitative secondary data, rather than both quantitative and qualitative, and many answers making generalisation and failing to pick up on the specifics of different types of data, let alone APPLY these to the topic at hand which was student progress.

So this applied research methods topic is probably worth going over in some depth! (Remember, even though this came up relatively recently it can still come up this year, especially since the examiners know it’s a challenging topic for many students!).

The Question and Item

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using secondary data to investigate the
academic progress of pupils in schools.

Notes towards an answer

The item suggest that you should focus on both quantitive and qualitative forms of secondary data.

And with methods in context questions you need to at least try and apply the strengths and limitations of the data to the actual topic in the question: academic progress!

Secondary quantitative data to research academic progress

This topic is partly dealt with in this post: Official Statistics on Education: Strengths and Limitations

Official Statistics include exam results and SATs. They have excellent representativeness and usually these are easy to compare, but with education statistics, there are several different versions to measure progress and this can get confusing, also GSCE results changed from A-C to numerical form which makes comparing more difficult over time.

However, official stats do not tell us WHY students achieve at different rates, also for Gypsy and Roma children, many don’t sit formal exams so there is missing data here.

Schools may also record their own quantitative data in the form of internal tests (not official statistics) which provide more insight than official statistics but there are access issues.

Secondary qualitative data to research academic progress

Secondary qualitative data will give you more insight into WHY students achieve at different rates, and such data includes OFSTED reports, school progress reports, the written work of students and even personal documents such as diaries.

Written work in particular can give you an insight into the quality of feedback students get and also how much effort they are making, while personal documents can tell you what is going on in students’ lives outside of education.

The main problem with both of these sources is access.

This topic is covered in depth in this post: Assessing the usefulness of secondary data for researching education. NB this post is broader than this topic, and some of the sources mentioned in it may not be useful for measuring academic progress.


The AQA’s mark scheme for the November 2021 Sociology A-level Education with Theory and Methods exam paper.

For more information on exams see my exams and essay writing page.

Sociology Exam Dates 2023

Mon 15th May, Friday 9th June and Weds 14 June!

The A-Level Sociology exam dates for spring/ summer 2023 are:

  • Monday 22nd May: Education with Theory and Methods (morning)
  • Friday 9th June: Topics in Sociology (morning)
  • Wednesday 14th June: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods (afternoon).

To make it easier on the head I’ve put these dates into calendar form:

So as of today, Wednesday 3rd of May the first exam is not that far away, so students should be revising in full force RIGHT NOW!

Of course the downer for the first exam is you need to revise both the entire education topic and the entirety of theory and methods!

You’ve then got a nice 2 and a half week break until topics, which is usually families and religion for most centres, but topics will vary depending on what you’ve been taught.

And then a reasonable five days until the final exam!

Overall, not a bad spread of time between exams.

Do double check the above dates using the The AQA Timetable, don’t rely on me, always double and treble check these things for yourself, you as a student are responsible, after all!

Good luck to anyone sitting these exams, and don’t be gutted when you get worse results than students did during lockdown: this is probably going to be the year when the exam boards adjust marks back down so they are much closer to what they were in 2019, to try and wash clear the memory of the suspiciously high teacher predicted grades awarded in 2020 and 2021, and the ‘half way house’ results from 2022 which I think were placed at half way between 2019 and 2021 in order to make those two years of Teacher Results seem more credible.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much if your cohort gets worse results than the lockdown students, you are mostly going to be competing against your cohort for university places!

Please see my exam and revision advice page for hints and tips on how to answer the different styles of exam questions on these three papers!

How has increased choice in personal life affected family structures in the UK today?

This question recently came up on the June 2022 A-level sociology exam paper two, the families and household topic.

It was one of the 10 mark questions which linked to an item, as follows:

‘People have more choice today than in the past over who they can be in a personal relationship with. They also have more choice when a relationship ends.

This increased choice in personal life has affected family structures in the UK today’.

Then the question: Applying material from Item C, analyse two effects the increased choice in personal life has had on family structures in the UK today.

How to answer this question

It should be quite easy to spot the two hooks in the item:

  • choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with.
  • choice over when the relationship ends.

So these are going to form the basis of your two points and the fact that the question refers to ‘family structures’ in the plural gives you plenty of options to develop each point.

Although be careful not to repeat yourself too much!


Suggested answer

The answer below should get 10/10.

The fact that there is more personal choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with (as it says in the item) means there is more diversity in partnerships today.

In the 1950s the vast majority of couples were heterosexual leading to the norm of the cereal packet family, one man, one women and their children.

With the increasing acceptance that sexuality is a matter of personal choice, however, there are now a higher proportion of openly gay couples, however despite the law changing so that adoption agencies cannot discriminate against non-heterosexual couples, gay couples are still much less likely to have children than heterosexual couples, which is a change in family structure.

It’s not just sexuality over which people have more choice – people are more free today to get involved intimately with people from other ethnic backgrounds, meaning there are more ethnically mixed families today.

And people can also choose more long distant relationships with people in other countries, meaning families are more stretched globally.

It’s not just about partners either, people have more choice over whether or when to have children, meaning there are more childless families.

A second way people have more choice in relationships is ‘when to end them’ as it says in item C. This ties into Ulrich Beck’s concept of the negotiated family – because relationships are now a choice, people have to spend more time negotiating the rules of family life, such as whether they should get married and what ‘structure’ that family might take (how many kids to have, or whether to have them at all, for example, which has resulted in more diversity of family structures with increasing amounts of co-habitation, and childless families for example, but also still many families having children.

It also ties into Giddens concept of the pure relationship – people are in a relationship for the sake of the relationship, not because of tradition or a sense of duty – this means, because being in a relationship is now a choice, that they can end if just one person isn’t happy.

This in turn can lead to more relationship breakdowns and there are more step-families today and complex relationships such as the Divorce Extended Family identified by Judith Stacey – where it is mainly women who make the effort to keep in touch which ex-partners and children.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

Marxism Applied to Topics in A-level Sociology

The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.

For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.

This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.

Research Methods Implications

  • Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
  • Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
  • Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)

Marxism applied to the family

  • Capitalism, Private Property and The Family
  • The family as a safe haven

More at the Marxist Perspective on the Family.

Marxism and Education

  • The ideological state apparatus
  • Reproduction/ Legitimation of class inequality
  • Correspondence Principle
  • Cultural Capital

More at the Marxist Perspective on Education.

Dependency Theory

  • Colonialism and Slavery
  • The Modern World System
  • Unfair trade rules
  • TNC exploitation

More at Dependency Theory .

Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance

  • Private Property and Crime
  • The costs of Corporate Crime
  • Selective Law Enforcement
  • Criminogenic Capitalism (‘Dog Eat Dog“ Society)

For more see The Marxist Perspective on Crime and Deviance.

Marxism – more advanced theory

Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.

For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.

Advanced Information for the AQA A-level Sociology exam 2022: Education Paper 1

The [pre-release information](https://filestore.aqa.org.uk/content/summer-2022/AQA-7192-AI-22.PDF) for Paper 1 has selected the broad topic of education policies as the one which students will DEFINITELY be tested on…

the significance of educational policies, including problems of selection, marketisation and privatisation, and policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome, for an understanding of the structure, role, impact and experience of and access to education; the impact of globalisation on educational policy’.

The problem is, this is very broad topic, probably best further broken down into a number of separate bullet points:

There are FOUR broad types of policy:

  • selection policies
  • marketisation policies
  • privatisation policies
  • policies to achieve greater equality of opportunity or outcome,

You need to be able to consider all of the above policies have affected the social structure and other institutions, the way in which (different types of) student experience school, and how they have affected equality of access to education, and educational outcomes (who gets what results.

In addition to all of the above you also need to be able to discuss and evaluate the impact of globalisation on educational policy!


NB I don’t think there are any quick fixes with this topic area, it’s just going to be a hard grind of revision trying to cover all the material!

Where I covered these topics on ReviseSociology.com

NB the exam board has been asking students to focus on policies ‘since 1988 for several years’ so I think it’s reasonable to expect the same

  • Every student should know in depth the 1988 Education Reform Act – which introduced Marketisation.
  • New Labour’s policies carried on with Marketisation (choice) and introduced more policies to do with equality of opportunity
  • The Coalition’s Policies included Free Schools (more choice) and the Pupil Premium – the later an attempt at
  • Selection Policies include the tripartite system from the 1940s, but the linked post in this bullet point covers more recent selection policies and concepts such as ‘selection by mortgage’
  • Privatisation polices come in two ‘broad types’ – endogenous and exogenous, covered in this linked post.
  • Globalisation and Education is covered here

You will find more links to posts on education policies on my sociology of education page.

Good luck with the 2022 exams and happy revising!

The relationship of the family to the social structure and social change

The pre-release information for the 2022 A-level sociology exam from the AQA selected the relationship of the family to the social structure and social change as the topic area that WILL come up for the 20 mark essay.

NB we are talking here about the Paper 2 exam: topics in sociology the families and households option, and this post is just a reminder of the core content that comes within this sub-topic!

What is the social structure?

The idea of a social structure is most commonly associated with the two classic sociological perspectives Funtionalism and Marxism:

  • Functionalists argue that society is structured through institutions which all perform specific functions, all working together to maintain the whole system of society – like organs in a body (the ‘organic analogy’) – the family is seen as playing a crucial role in (obviously?) the reproduction of the next generation.
  • Marxists see the social structure as being organised along social class lines – with the bourgeoisie exercising control over the major institutions of society
  • Feminism has a more complex view of the social structure whether you’re talking about Liberal, Marxist or Radical.
  • Postmodernists and Late Modernists suggest the social structure which Marxists and Functionalists refer too is much more fluid than it used to be and that it constrains the individual much less today than in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries when Marxists and Functionalists did most of their writing.

Recent social changes you might consider….

The social changes associated with the shift from modernity to postmodernity are what you could address, such as:

  • Globalisation
  • The breakdown/ increasing fluidity of social structure
  • More individual freedom and choice

The relationship of the family to the social structure

The ‘classic’ approach to this topic is to address it through the main sociological perspectives, and if you know what the different perspectives think about the family and social structure, you SHOULD automatically be addressing social change at the same time, as the two are fundamentally related.

The rest of this post offers a brief summary of what the main sociological perspectives have to say on this topic.

for further details and especially evaluations be sure to check out the linked posts below!

The Functionalist view on the family and social structure

Talcot Parsons developed the Functional Fit Theory to explain how the main type of family changed from the extended family to the nuclear family with the shift from pre-industrial to industrial society.

He argued that the nuclear family better fitted the needs of an industrial society because it was smaller and more mobile, and the changes with industrialisation meant that families needed to be able to move around more easily.

He also argued that the family in industrial society had to perform fewer functions than in industrial society because other institutions developed to perform functions more efficiently than the old extended family could – schools for education, for example.

The family in industrial society performs only two functions – the stabilisation of adult personalties (emotional security) and reproduction.

Find out more here: The Functionalist view of the family.

The Marxist view of the family and social structure

This stands in direct contrast to the Functionalist view – the nuclear family emerges with industrialisation, according to Engles, but only to legitimise the passing on of property down to the next generation – with Capitalism, there are now wealthy people and the family unit makes sure their new wealth stays in the family.

Before Capitalism Engles argued that families were a kind of ‘promiscuous hoard’ – when there was no property people cared for children collectively – it’s only when SOME families have property under capitalism that the nuclear family emerges.

Later Marxists suggest the nuclear family continues to perform functions for Capitalism by becoming a unit of consumption, for example.

Find out more: The Marxist Perspective on the Family.

The Radical Feminist view on the Nuclear Family

Radical Feminists see the nuclear family as the main institution which keeps Patriarchy going.

The traditional nuclear family and the ideology of the housewife role for women keeps women in the domestic sphere and out of the work place, preventing them from developing financial independence and limiting them to a caring role and a life of dull-drudgery.

Moreover, women are effectively exploited with the nuclear family, and far from the family being a safe haven, domestic abuse within family life is a common, yet hidden feature of many relationships.

A core belief of radical feminism is that the nuclear family needs to be broken down and women are better off seeking alternative relationships.

Find out more: The Radical Feminist View of the Family.

Post and Late Modernism

Writing since the 1980s, Postmodernists argue that there is no such thing as a normal family anymore – rather, family diversity is now the norm – with there being more variety of families than ever before – as shown by the increase in single person households and single parent households for example.

For postmodernists, every aspect of family life is a choice – and hence we see people getting married and starting families later and divorce rates persistently high.

Late Modernists suggest it is not as simple as family life being all about choice – rather social life today makes holding down a relationship and having a stable family life more difficult – people still want these things, but busy working lives and constant distractions make family life much more difficult.

Find out More

This has been just a quick reminder post, be sure to check out the linked blog posts for further details.

Be sure to check out the New Right and Personal Life Perspective too!

Also, remember that the specific question you get asked could be either broad or very narrow, AND the 10 mark questions will probably be from other areas of the module!