Radical Feminism Applied to Globalisation, Gender and Development

Radical Feminists point out that Globalisation may actually be leading to new forms of exploitation of women, and that, despite globalisation generally improving the lives of women, there are still significant areas for improvement. Two examples of this include the emergence of the global sex-industry and the persistence of violence against women despite globalisation.

Globalisation and Modern Slavery

The most obvious example of globalisation opening up new forms of female exploitation is the rise of modern slavery, and especially the global sex industry.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 2.5 million trafficking victims who are living in exploitive conditions and another 1.2 million people who are trafficked across and within borders. These numbers include men, women, and children who are trafficked into forced labour or sexual exploitation, and appear to be on the rise worldwide. Women account for more than 50% percent of all trafficking victims. Globalization has provided for an easier means of exploiting those living in poverty who are seeking better lives, it also has provided for dramatic improvements in transportation and communications with which to facilitate the physical processing of persons.

Women are generally lured into slavery through promises of employment as shopkeepers, maids, nannies, or waitresses in developed countries. Upon arriving, these women are then told they have been purchased by someone and must work as a prostitute to repay the enormous debt they suddenly owe. To ensure that these women do not flee, their “owners” often subject them to beatings, take their documents upon arrival, and keep them under conditions of slavery. These women then either physically cannot go to the authorities or are fearful of being deported, especially if they do not have their documents or the documents were fraudulently obtained through their trafficker.

One of the main contributing factors to this increase in trafficking has been the widespread subjugation of women. Often ethnic minorities or lower class groups are more vulnerable to trafficking, because these women and girls have a very low social status that puts them at risk. Another contributor to the increase in trafficking is political and economic crisis in conflict or post-conflict areas. The breakdown of society and the rule of law have made these displaced populations vulnerable to the lure of a better future or an exit from their current countries.

Trafficking flourishes because it is a lucrative practice, generating from 7 to 12 billion dollars a year. In addition, the highly clandestine nature of the crime of human trafficking ensures that the great majority of human trafficking cases go unreported and culprits remain at large. There are reports that many human traffickers are associated with international criminal organizations and are, therefore, highly mobile and difficult to prosecute. Further complicating matters, sometimes members of the local law enforcement agencies are involved in trafficking. Prosecution is made difficult because victims of trafficking do not testify against traffickers out of fear for their and their family members’ lives.

South-East Asia and South Asia are considered to be home to the largest number of internationally trafficked persons, with estimates of 225,000 and 150,000 victims respectively.

Future for Women is a useful source for exploring this topic in more depth.

The Continuing prevalence of Violence Against Women

Radical Feminists also point out that physical and sexual violence against women also poses a significant threat to women’s health and safety.

In 2013, the WHO sponsored the first widespread study of global data on violence against women, and found that it constitutes a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions.’ Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women, and 38 percent of all women who have been murdered were murdered by an intimate partner. Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are also 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually-transmitted infection.

Some traditional cultural practices impose threats to the health of women, and may be more difficult to change through educational and preventative policies than unhealthy practices that are unrelated to culture, such as nutrition. The UN Human Rights Commission identifies the practices most threatening to women as:

  • Female circumcision, known as female genital mutilation to its opponents, which involves the excision of a woman’s external sexual organs
  • Other forms of mutilation, such as facial scarring
  • Traditional practices associated with childbirth
  • The problem of dowries in some parts of the world
  • Honour killings
  • The consequences of preference for male babies, such as parental neglect and infanticide of female babies.

Female genital mutilation is a special focus of many efforts to end violence against women, although the movement to view it as a violation of human rights meets some resistance to what some consider a violation of family and community sanctity. Amnesty International says,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the cornerstone of the human rights system, asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It protects the right to security of person and the right not to be subjected to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment — rights which are of direct relevance to the practice of female genital mutilation. The traditional interpretation of these rights has generally failed to encompass forms of violence against women such as domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

To explore this topic in more depth see this page from UN women.

Related Posts

Modernisation Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Dependency Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Radical Feminism Applied to Gender and Development 

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Dependency Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Dependency theory and Marxist-Feminists would probably point out that many Transnational Corporations are not interested in helping developing countries. Rather, they simply exploit patriarchal values rather than promoting real equality. They do this through taking advantage of ‘women’s material subordination’ – women put up with worse conditions than men because there is no better alternative other than to return to their roles as mothers and unpaid domestic labourers.

Women’s proportion of global supply chain production workers discloses a range of 65% to 90% women in many global supply chains, most obviously the garment industry, and in some countries it is much higher – in China, 75% of garment workers are women, in Bangladesh the figure is 85%, and it rises to 90% in Cambobdia.

The charity War on Want argues that women workers in ‘sweatshops’ in Bangladesh are exploited by the Corporations that employ them (link), although there is a view that this exploitation is gradually leading to greater emancipation for women (link).

From a Dependency perspective, increased participation in the work force also implies increased hazards for women. Women’s jobs outside the home tend to be the lowest earning, least secure, and most dangerous available in the economy, especially in periods of recession that plague most developing countries.

The following video shows the conditions of women working in Bangladesh. Although they work in hazardous and strenuous conditions, most of these women are willing to work in such environments in order to financially support their families.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wqBRWa0fno

On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza, a garment factory outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing at least 1,127 workers. Over half of the casualties were women. In Bangladesh, the garment industry is the largest employer of women, a majority of whom live in rural areas where employment is scarce. In addition, these women are often supporting large extended families, and working for the garment industry is often the only option other than working as a farm hand. Jobs in the garment industry do much to elevate the status of women, but they are often left powerless in the face of harassment and dangerous working conditions. The Bangladesh factory collapse is a prime example of how women are often required to take jobs in dangerous industries with little to no recourse of their own. (Uddin, 2013) To read more on the Bangladesh factory collapse, visit http://www.globalization101.org/manufacturing-after-the-bangladesh-factory-collapse.

The dearth of labour laws, or ignorance and lack of enforcement of the labour codes in practice, allow for the exploitation of women. In Guatemala, women constitute 80 percent of the textile factory sector, and thousands of mostly indigenous women provide services as domestic servants. In both sectors, women have only a precarious claim on the rights to Guatemala’s legally mandated minimum wage, work-week length, leave time, health care under the national social security system, and privacy protections. Often, they are subject to physical and/or sexual abuse, according to Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2012).

Unfortunately, even the global nature of business does not confer universal rights for these women. Many U.S.-based companies, such as Target, The Limited, Wal-Mart, GEAR for Sports, Liz Claiborne, and Lee Jeans, have contracts with Guatemalan factories and continue to honor them even if the factories break explicit company policy, such as physically examining women to determine if they are pregnant and denying health care to employees. According to Human Rights Watch, strengthening legal protection for women labourers and increasing their access to legal recourse might cement increased participation in the work as a positive development for women.

Source: http://www.globalization101.org/uploads/File/Women/Women.pdf

Sociological Perspectives: Key Concepts

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

More details on the perspectives below can be found at the relevant links on my sociological theories page, which has been written to specifically cover the AQA A-level sociology syllabus.

Functionalism

Norms and Values

Norms = the normal, typical or expected patterns of behaviour associated with societies or specific contexts or social roles.

Values = major and lasting ideas and beliefs about what is desirable and undesirable. Important sources of values include religion, politics, and one’s family background.

Socialisation

The process of learning the norms and values of a society. Functionalists see this a neutral process, important for the maintenance of social order; Marxists and Feminists see this a process which benefits the powerful as the ideas learnt through socialisation maintain the status quo.

Value Consensus

Agreement around share values. In Functionalist thought is the outcome of effective socialisation and crucial to maintaining social order.

Positive Functions of Institutions

The Functionalist idea that institutions generally benefit society and most people within a society. For example, the nuclear family provides a stable and secure environment in which to raise children and school prepares individuals for work and is necessary for an advanced economy to work effectively.

Anomie

A state of normlessness, arising because of a lack of social regulation. Anomie occurs when there are either too few rules guiding individual behaviour or where there are conflicting sets of rules, which contradict each other (as in Merton’s Strain Theory)

Marxism

Capitalism and Private Property

Capital refers to financial wealth – especially that used to start businesses (rather than emergency savings or the house you live in). Capitalism is a system which gives private individuals with capital the freedom to invest, make money and retain profit.

The opposite of Capitalism is Communism, where the state owns all the property and makes all of the decisions about what to produce.

In Marxist theory, the Capitalist class are known as the Bourgeoisie – these are the minority class, and are those with capital  who make money from profits on investments. The majority make up the Proletariat, the working class, who have no or little capital and have to work for a living.

Private property is crucial to Capitalism, because the protection of private property rights is what makes the system work: the capitalist class are allowed to maintain the wealth from their investments, rather than having their property redistributed by the state, as would happen under communism.

Exploitation

The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the Capitalist pays his workers (their wages) is always below the current selling, or market price of whatever they have produced. The difference between the two is called surplus value.

Ideological Control  

Marx argued that the ruling classes used their control of social institutions to gain ideological dominance, or control over the way people think in society.  Marx argued that the ideas of the ruling classes were presented as common sense and natural and thus unequal, exploitative relationships were accepted by the proletariat as the norm.

Revolution

Marx believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. Eventually, following a revolution, private property would be abolished and with it the profit motive and the desire to exploit. In the communist society, people would be more equal, have greater freedom and be happier.

Feminism

Patriarchy

‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)

Gender Scripts

The learned patterns of behaviour associated with different genders in a society. Gender scripts incorporate a whole range of gender-norms  associated with different ‘being’ male and female – such as typical ways of dressing, speaking and self-expression more generally. The term ‘gender script’ rather than ‘gender norm’ emphasises the fact that individuals actively have to ‘act out’ their gender-identity, but at the same time a script is just a guide, and individuals have considerable freedom to interpret and play around with the suggested normative ways of expressing gender.

Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism

Liberal Feminists tend to emphasise the importance of securing formal legal equality for women, Marxist Feminists focus on how capitalism perpetuates gender equality, and radical feminists focus on how patriarchy operates across many institutions, especially the family.

Deconstruction

Involves critically analysing normative behaviour or truth-claims more generally, exposing the ‘relational nature’ of knowledge. In Feminist theory, this mainly means exposing the binary opposition ‘male-female’ and all of the traditional norms associated with this division as a social construct, rather than something which is rooted in objective biological divisions.. Such critical analysis forms the basis of breaking down such gender norms and opens up the possibility of a living a life free from the restraint of such g norms.

Interactionism

The I and the Me

The ‘I’ is the active aspect of one’s personality, the ‘Me’ is the social aspect – the me is one’s social identity, which the ‘I’ reflects on.

The looking glass self

The idea that and individual’s self-concept is based on their understanding of how others perceive them.

Social identity

One’s social identity is how one sees oneself in relation to others in a society. It is likely to incorporate a number of different social roles, such as one’s role within a family and the workplace, and one’s social status in society more generally based on class, gender, ethnicity etc.

Backstage and Front Stage

Key ideas within Goffman’s dramaturgical theory – frontstage is any arena within society where one has to act out one’s identity, such as the workplace or the street, but it might also be in the home itself on certain occasions. Backstage is where one rehearses and prepares for one’s front stage performances, or just relaxes.

Labelling

‘Labelling’ is where someone judges a person based on the superficial ‘surface’ characteristics such as their apparent social class, sex, and ethnicity.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This is where someone acts according to their label and the label becomes true in reality.

Postmodernism 

Service Sector Economy

The service sector is also referred to as the ‘tertiary’ or third sector economy, in contrast to the first and second sectors – agriculture and industrial manufacturing. A service sector economy is one in which most people work in this third sector, in jobs such as retail, education and financial and informational services rather than manufacturing.

Consumer culture

Consumer society is one in which consumption practices and leisure activities are more important as a source of identity, status and division than work, income and social class background.

Social Fragmentation

The breaking up and splitting apart of communities into smaller groups, which are relatively isolated from each other.

Hyperreality

Jean Baudrillard’s concept to describe a society in which most people cannot distinguish a simulated, media representation of reality, from actual reality.

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Sociological Perspectives are a key component of the social theories aspect of the Sociology A-level Theory and Methods compulsory module, usually studied in the second year.

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Feminist Theory for A Level Sociology: An Introduction

Inequality between men and women is the most significant form of inequality

Anthropological evidence demonstrates that inequalities between men and women exist in every single society in human history, and in most of these societies women have an inferior social status to men. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex

Gender norms are Socially Constructed, not determined by biology and thus gender norms can be changed

Feminism is a set of ideas which criticises the discrimination experienced by women based on their gender. Remember, there are few biological differences between men and women at birth, but the social norms associated with being a “women” result in discrimination against females. Children are taught “gender norms” from a young age i.e. what it means to be a “women” in terms of dress, language, expectations, roles within the family, how they relate to men etc. Gender norms are learned in the family, but reinforced in the school, at work and through the media.

Note, boys also learn gender norms e.g. assertiveness, confidence etc, but more importantly for feminism they also learn the behaviour they expect from a “women” based on female gender norms. Many boys will grow up watching gender norms being played out in the family and will therefore replicate the same roles with their own partners.

Patriarchy is one of the main causes of female disadvantage

‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)

NB – the idea of ‘structure’ is central to the concept of Patriarchy – Women are inferior because men are superior – For example, women end up staying at home looking after the kids BECAUSE it is assumed that men are the breadwinners, thus men are the ones who go out to work. Similarly, women dress up in high heels, make up and short skirts BECAUSE they have internalised the idea that that’s what they need to do to attract men. The idea behind patriarchy is that men gain and women lose from socially constructed gender differences.

Feminism is a political movement

Feminists emphasise the importance of political activism in order challenge gender inequalities. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex. There is a lot of disagreement within Feminism over how to achieve this – strategies vary from doing research to highlight the extent of gender inequality, to having consciousness raising sessions with groups of women and men, to working with governments to create social policies, to more radical strategies such as political lesbianism.

Feminist Theory: A Criticism of Previous Sociological Explanations Gender inequality

Feminist theory arose as a reaction to the sexist, biological explanations for gender inequalities such as those of Talcott Parsons. Feminism actually sees sociology itself as sexist as all previous theories: Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism have failed to adequately explain gender differences in modern society. Feminism is a huge body of theory. Below it is simplified into four main perspectives: Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Liberal Feminism and Difference Feminism

The Moral Panic About Boys ‘Underachievement’ in Education

Researchers in the Gender and Education Association take a critical feminist approach to the issue of boys’ underachievement.

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A news headline from 2016 – Is this just a ‘moral panic’?

 

They argue that boys’ underachievement has long been a feature of the UK education system, but it has recently become a ‘moral panic’ (In 1996, the UK’s Chief Inspector of Schools called it “one of the most disturbing problems facing the education system”) which has arisen because of the following three reasons:

  • First, deindustrialisation in the UK has led to the decline of traditional manufacturing jobs, and so there are fewer jobs available for those with few or no educational qualifications. As a result, young working-class men who leave school with relatively few qualifications have now become a ‘problem’.
  • Second, feminism has had an impact on girls’ education and career aspirations, and so women are advancing into technical and professional jobs which were previously male dominated.
  • Third, examination performance is increasingly central to policy, with Britain ranked against other countries, and failing students matter more.

They argue that focusing on boys’ underachievement is a problem because:

  • It ignores other differences between young people, particularly of ethnicity and class, which actually have a far greater affect on results.
  • Since girls are on top, there’s no space to tackle the problems that girls have in education. including teenage pregnancy, sexualisation and bullying in friendship groups.

Finally, they point out that some of the strategies adopted to deal with the ‘problem with boys’ are unlikely to work:

  • For example, there has been a big push to recruit more male teachers, particularly in primary schools, to act as role models for their male pupils. Yet research shows that the gender of the teacher has no effect on how well boys achieve in school.
  • Similarly, to solve the gender gap in reading policymakers have suggested giving boys adventure stories and factual books. But research shows that boys have a more positive attitude to reading when all pupils are encouraged to read as wide a range of books as possible.

Five Reasons Women Don’t Get Promoted

Paula PrincipleFive reasons why women are less likely to get promoted than men include discrimination, caring responsibilities, lack of vertical networks, lack of self-confidence and ‘positive choice’ – at least according to Professor Tom Schuller in his recent book ‘The Paula Principle: How and Why Women Work Below Their Level of Confidence‘.

The context of this research is that there are now nearly two women for every man in UK universities, which suggests increasing levels of competence among women compared to men, but this is not the case in the world of work – the rate at which women are catching up to men in the world of work (as measured by the pay-gap for example), and especially in the higher ranks of the professions, is not as rapid as it should be based on the relatively high numbers of female graduates.

Five reasons women are less likely to get promoted than men

  1. Discrimination – both overt and covert – here prof. Schuller reminds us that people are likely to employ people who are ‘like them’, and in most cases it’s men doing the employing to higher positions.
  2. Caring responsibilities – women are more likely to go part-time to care for children and increasingly for their elderly parents. here prof. Schuller points out that there is this tendency to see only full time workers as being ‘serious about their careers’.
  3. Lack of vertical networks – men tend to network more with people above them.
  4. Lack of self-confidence – women are more likely to feel they can’t move up the career ladder, whereas men just ‘go for it’.
  5. ‘Positive Choice’ – women are more likely to make a positive choice to stay employed below their level of competence. They simply make the rational decision that they are earning enough and are fulfilled enough where they are, and don’t believe the increased stress of moving up the career ladder to a job they won’t necessarily enjoy would be worth the extra money.

So which factor is the most important?

Tom Schuller suggests this will be dependent both on the sector, the employer, and the individual, but he would never say that it’s purely the fault of an individual woman for failing to get a promotion.

The above summary is based on a Women’s Hour interview with Tom Schuller, broadcast on Radio 4, Saturday 18th March.

Feminist Theory: A Summary for A-Level Sociology

Introduction – The Basics

  • Inequality between men and women is universal and the most significant form of inequality

  • Gender norms are socially constructed not determined by biology and can thus be changed.

  • Patriarchy is the main cause of gender inequality – women are subordinate because men have more power.

  • Feminism is a political movement; it exists to rectify sexual inequalities, although strategies for social change vary enormously.

  • There are four types of Feminism – Radical, Marxist, Liberal, and Difference.

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Radical Feminism

  • Blames the exploitation of women on men. It is primarily men who have benefitted from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

  • Society is patriarchal – it is dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class.

  • Rape, violence and pornography are methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. Andrea Dworkin (1981)

  • Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

  • Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.

  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

  • The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and Matrifocal households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries.

  • Women’s subordination plays a number of important functions for capitalism:

  • Women reproduce the labour force for free (socialisation is done for free)

  • Women absorb anger – women keep the husbands going.

  • Because the husband has to support his wife and children, he is more dependent on his job and less likely to demand wage increases.

  • The traditional nuclear also performs the function of ‘ideological conditioning’ – it teaches the ideas that the Capitalist class require for their future workers to be passive.

  • The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

  • They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

  • In Communist society, Marxist feminists believe that gender inequalities will disappear.

Liberal Feminism

  • Nobody benefits from existing inequalities: both men and women are harmed

  • The explanation for gender inequality lies not so much in structures and institutions of society but in its culture and values.

  • Socialisation into gender roles has the consequence of producing rigid, inflexible expectations of men and women

  • Discrimination prevents women from having equal opportunities

  • Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.

  • The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

  • Liberal feminists try to eradicate sexism from the children’s books and the media.

  • Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives – e.g. mainstreaming has taken place.

Difference Feminism/ Postmodern Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group. MC/WC ,

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Criticised preceding Feminists theory of being essentialist

  • Critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Postmodern Feminism – concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – An example of a postmodern/ destabilising theorist

Criticisms of Feminist Theories

Marxist

1. Radical Feminists – ignores other sources of inequality such as sexual violence.

2. Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example.

3. The experience of women has not been particularly happy under communism.

Liberal

1. Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

2. Liberalism is accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.

3. Radical and Marxist Feminists – it fails to take account of deeper structural inequalities

4. Difference Feminists argue it is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.

Radical

1. The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

2. Some critics argue that it focuses too much on the negative experiences of women, failing to recognise that some women can have happy marriages for example.

3. It tends to portray women as universally good and men as universally bad, It has been accused of man hating, not trusting all men.

Difference

  1. Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  2. Dividing women sub-groups weakens the movement for change.

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

Sources Used to Write this Post 

  • Haralambos and Holborn (2013) – Sociology Themes and Perspectives, Eighth Edition, Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597479
  • Chapman et al (2016) – A Level Sociology Student Book Two [Fourth Edition] Collins. ISBN-10: 0007597495
  • Robb Webb et al (2016) AQA A Level Sociology Book 2, Napier Press. ISBN-10: 0954007921

Theory and Methods for A Level Sociology: The Basics

An overview of theory and methods for second year A level sociology – a very brief overview covering the bare-bones of (1) Positivism and Interpretivism, (2) Is sociology a sicence?, (3) Sociology and value freedom, (4) Functionalism, (5) Marxism, (6) Feminism, (7) Social action theory, (8) Post and late modernism, (9) Sociology and social policy. 

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Theory and Methods for A Level Sociology

1.  Positivism and Interpretivism

  • Positivist approaches to social research are quantitative, ‘scientific’, objective.
  • Durkhiem’s suicide is an example of a positivist study
  • Interpretivists criticise Positivist’s reliance on statistics (they are socially constructed)
  • Interpretivist approaches to social research = qualitative, empathetic, micro
  • Key example = Douglas’ study of the multiple meanings of suicide.
  • Positivists criticise Interpretivist research because it’s too subjective, not authoritative.

2. Is Sociology a science?

  • Key features of the scientific method = the experiment, objectivity, cause and effect relationships, making predictions.
  • Positivism = a scientific approach applied to society – Durkheim’s suicide as an example.
  • Interpretivist criticisms of the scientific method applied to society – humans are conscious actors, they cannot be understood using detached, quantitative methods
  • Criticisms of the ‘objectivity’ of science and the scientific method – Kuhn’s paradigm critique is especially important.
  • Realism – we can still usefully study society as an open system, rather than just focussing on individuals – for example we can still make general predictions about social behaviour based on statistical trends, even if we can’t predict exactly what that action will be or who, specifically will do what.
  • Postmodern views of science – the idea that ‘truth’ is no longer possible.

3. Can Sociology be value free?

  • Values = people’s own subjective beliefs and opinions. If social research is value free then it means that it is free of the personal biases of the researcher.
  • Positivism – Claimed that sociology could be value free using scientific methods which meant the researcher was as detached as possible.
  • Interpretivists criticise this – values creep into the quantitative research process – through the social construction of statistics for example.
  • Moreover – Interpretivists say we need to understand people’s values to understand how they act! However, it is harder to remain value free when doing qualitative research.
  • Weber argued that we could collect objective date on people’s values but we needed to be explicit about our own values all the way through the research process.
  • Some sociologists criticise ‘institutional sociology’ for being limited in scope, and argue we need a political, explicitly value laden sociology to counter-balance this.
  • For example Howard Becker argued sociologists should take the side of the underdog and give them a voice – this is an explicitly value-laden sociology
  • Marxist and Feminist sociology is also value laden in its choice of research topic – Sociology should be aimed at achieving political
  • Postmodernists believe objective knowledge is not possible, so all we can do is deconstruct knowledge, and criticise people who claim to have value-free, objective knowledge.
  • Late Modernists such as Giddens criticise at least one aspect of postmodernism – there are still objective social problems, such as global warming, migration, global inequality, which sociology needs to focus on.
  • However, constructing objective knowledge is a problem in contemporary sociology because knowledge is reflexive – it is part of the society it comes from – thus we need to careful to make our own value and opinions clear throughout the research process so that others can make an informed judgement about the usefulness of our research. That’s just the way it is!

4. Functionalism

  • Durkheim’s functionalism – social facts and anomie
  • Parson’s systems theory – the organic analogy and social evolution
  • Merton’s internal critique of functionalism – latent and manifest functions
  • Functionalism applied to the family – Murdock’s four universal functions, Parson’s functional fit theory and the two irreducible functions of the family – socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities
  • Functionalism applied to education – meritocracy, social solidarity, school as a bridge between home and society (particularistic and universalistic values)
  • Functionalism applied to Crime and Deviance – Durkheim’s three positive functions of crime, strain theory, consensus subcultural theories.
  • Functionalism and Modernisation Theory – Parson’s traditional and modern values and the evolutionary model of society
  • Functionalism and research methods – Durkheim’s Positivist approach to suicide

5. Marxism

  • Karl Marx – the basics: bourgeoisie and proletariat, exploitation, alienation, false consciousness, revolution.
  • Gramsci’s humanistic Marxism – hegemony, dual consciousness and organic intellectuals
  • Althusser’s structuralist Marxism – the repressive state apparatus.
  • Marxism applied to the Family – capitalism, private property and the family, The family as a safe haven, ideological functions, also see Marxist Feminism
  • Marxism applied to education – the ideological state apparatus, reproduction of class inequality, legitiimation of class inequality, correspondence principle
  • Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance – • Private Property and Crime, The costs of Corporate Crime, Selective Law Enforcement, Criminogenic Captialism („Dog Eat Dog“ Society)
  • Marxism applied to Global Development – Colonialism and Slavery, The Modern World System, Unfair trade rules, TNC exploitation
  • Marxism and Research Methods – Social Class, Comparative Analysis, Objectivity/ Critical Research.

6. Feminism

  • Liberal Feminism – does not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure; the creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act
  • Marxist Feminism – capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries, through the housewife role for example; overthrowing capitalism remains the main objective.
  • Radical Feminism – Society is patriarchal, dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class. Rape, violence and pornography some of the key tools through which men control women; separatism can be part of the solution.
  • Difference Feminism – women are not a homogenous group, they experience disadvantage in different ways.
  • Postmodern Feminism – critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project; concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities‘.

7. Social Action Theory

  • Max Weber: Verstehen, and Social Change – observation alone is not enough to understand human action, we need empathetic understanding. Gaining Verstehen is the main point of Sociology, e.g. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).
  • Symbolic Interactionism – people’s self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self); need to understand meanings to understanding actions;  social roles are not specific or fixed; they can be interpreted in various different ways.
  • Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory – People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves
  • Labeling Theory – the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)

8. Post Modernism and Late Modernism

Postmodernism

  • Economy and Politics = Industrial economies, jobs for life; Nation State, most people vote and are in trades unions; Organised/ Heavy Capitalism and the Welfare State
  • Society/ Culture reflects the underlying class and patriarchal structures; Nuclear family the norm, marriage for life; Identities shaped/ constrained by class position/ sex; Media – one way communication, reflects ‘reality’
  • Knowledge – The Enlightenment – Science/ Objective Knowledge/ Truth and Progress
  • Sociology – Positivism/ Functionalism – doing research to find how societies function and gradually building a better world; Marxism/ Feminism –emancipation.

Late Modernism

  • Economy/ Politics  = Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central; Declining power of the Nation State; Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)
  • Society/ Culture – Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented ; Relationships more diverse; More Individual Freedom to shape identities; Media – more global, two- way, hyperreality (Baudrillard)
  • Knowledge – Critique of the Enlightenment; Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)
  • Sociology – Narrative histories; Deconstruction (Lyotard) and Destabilising Theory.

9. Sociology and social policy

  • Intro – Social policy = things the government does to steer society in some way. Examples include taxation which affects wealth distribution, various education policies and policies about how to tackle crime
  • There are several reasons why governments may ignore certain findings of research – e.g. lack of money; Marxists and Feminists believe governments generally have an ideological bias which mean they ignore certain research findings.
  • Positivists believe researchers should collect objective knowledge to assess the impact of social policies and to help introduce new policies
  • Social Democratic Perspectives generally agree with the above.
  • The New Right and Neoliberals – have had most influence on social policy recently – e.g. The education system/ crime policy and in International Development
  • Marxist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which favour the redistribution of wealth and promote equality of opportunity, such as the abolition of private schools.
  • Feminist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which emphasis gender equality, such as the Paternity Act.
  • Postmodernists focus on deconstruction rather than social policies
  • Late Modernists emphasise the importance and challenges of developing and evaluating social policies in an age of globalisation.

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my social theory revision notes – available for cheap on iTunes.

social-theory-revision-notes

You might also like my ‘Theory and Methods Mind Maps’ – 11 Beautiful mind maps covering the above material, available for cheap on Selfy.

sociological-theories mind maps

 

Related Posts 

Please see my ‘Social Theories Page‘ For more links to a whole range of posts – both summary and in depth on various social theories relevant to both A level sociology and beyond!

Sources Used 

The content in this post has been derived from the four major ‘A’ Level sociology text books and the AQA specification.

Sylvia Walby’s Six Structures of Patiarchy

To Sylvia Walby, the concept of Patriarchy must remain central to a feminist understanding of society. She argues that there are six patriarchal structures which restrict women and maintain male domination – the existence of these structures restricts women’s freedom and life-chances compared to men. However, she does recognise that women of different class and ethnic backroads and different sexual orientations experience these structures in different ways.

 Walby also recognises that patriarchal structures can change and they can be affected by the actions of both men and women – and in more recent works she talks of ‘gender regimes’ rather than patriarchy to reflect this greater fluidity.

 Walbys’ Six structures of Patriarchy

Paid Work

Walby believes that paid employment remains a key structure for disadvantaging women in Britain. Today, men continue to dominate the best paid jobs and women are still paid less than men, and do more part-time work. Many women choose not to work, or work part-time because of poor job opportunities.

gender-pay-gap-uk

Household Production

According to Walby individual men still benefit from women’s unpaid labour. Women still do most of the housework and childcare. However easier divorce means women are not as trapped as the once were by marriage and some black feminists see family life as less exploitative than the labour market, where there is considerable racism.

gendered-division-of-labour

Culture

Walby believes that that the culture of Western societies has consistently distinguished between men and women and expected different behaviours from them, but the expected patterns of behaviour have changed. The key sign of femininity today is sexual attractiveness to men, and not just for younger women, but increasingly for older women.

male-gaze

Also, the increase in Pornography increases the freedom of men while threatening the freedom of women. To Walby, the ‘male gaze’, not that of women, is the viewpoint of pornography which encourages the degradation of women by men and promotes sexual violence.

Sexuality

Despite the sexual liberation of the 1960s, there is still a ‘sexual double standard’ in society – males condemn women who are sexually active as slags and those who are not as drags, which males with many sexual conquests are admired.

sexual double standard.png

Walby also argues that ’heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal structure’ – there is more pressure today for women to be heterosexually active and to service males through marrying them.

Violence

Like many other Feminists Walby sees violence against women as a form of male control of women, which is still a problem for many women today, although she concedes that it is difficult to measure how much progress has been made in this area, because of validity problems where the stats are concerned.

domestic-violence-stats

The state

To Walby, the state is still patriarchal, racists and capitalist. She argues that there has been little attempt to improve women’s position in the public sphere and equal opportunities legislation is rarely enforced.

women-politics

 

Yummy Mummies – A Sociological Explanation

Yummy Mummies may think they’re expressing their individuality, but they’re really just a product of our neoliberal society according to one recent piece of Analysis:

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy’: popular conservatism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture by Jo Littler

I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and maybe why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks (see below for online versions) and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised psychological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavowing wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

claudia-shciffer-yummy-mummy
Yummy Mummy Claudia Schiffer – ‘More Gucci than Gap’?

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamorous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

yummy-mummy
In her head she’s the ultimate ‘modern woman’

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indicative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of femininity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….

Sexualisation

Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructed asexuality of mothers in particular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and be-suited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioning as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of interpreting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no excuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks such as The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complex to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity involves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticising yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a significant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimited range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is consume more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visible yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very inflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and social care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a traditionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistic.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and their brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticulated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

Examples of ‘how to’ Yummy Mummy guides

The Yummy Mummy How to Guide

 

 

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