Malinowski’s Perspective on Religion

A summary of Bonislow Mainowski’s perspective on religion.

The Anthropologist Bronislow Malinowski is the third of ‘three functionalist thinkers’ it’s useful to know about for A-level sociology, the others being Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons.

Malinowski was one of the founding fathers of anthropology, who lived as a participant-observer on the Trobriand Islands, in the South Pacific (near New Guinea) for four years between 1914 and 1918. He  developed his theory of religion based on his observations of the role of religion in this one small-scale society.

Malinowski Trobriand Islands

Religion and Life-Crises

Malinowski argued that the main function of religion was to help individuals and society deal with the emotional stresses which occur during life crises such as birth, puberty, marriage and death.

Death, for example, is socially disruptive, because it not only removes an individual member from the fabric of society, which potentially creates tension, it is also stressful for those with close emotional ties to the deceased, who may not be able to function efficiently for a period of time.

Religion deals with the problem of death through both belief and ritual: a belief in the afterlife (common in many cultures) denies the fact of death and comforts the bereaved, while the funeral ceremony offers a chance for other members of society to comfort the bereaved with their physical presence and it may also act as a form of catharsis.

The funeral is effectively an expression of social solidarity which serves to reintegrate society following the ‘stress’ caused by a loss of one its members.

Religion and control

Manlinowski argued that a second function of religion was to help people deal with situations or events which could not be fully controlled or predicted.

To illustrate this Malinowski contrasted the way in which two different types of fishing were conducted on the Trobriand Islanders (NB – it’s an Island culture, fish is a staple food): Inland Lagoon based fishing was a very different affair to deep-sea ocean fishing.

Fishing in the calm, inland waters of the lagoon was very much a day to day, relaxed affair – there was a high level of certainty that fish would be caught using the tried and tested method of poisoning. There were no religious ceremonies performed during this type of fishing activity.

However, when men went out to fish in the ocean, beyond the barrier reef, there was no certainty of getting a catch, this depended on the luck of a shoal of fish being present, and there was also the danger of death usually associated with going out to sea. During these times the Trobriand Islanders engaged in religious rituals to try to ensure a favourable outcome.

Malinowski theorised that when people are in control of the situation (or at least feel they are) and can rely on their knowledge and skill to provide predictable results, there is no need for religion.

However, when there is uncertainly and unpredictability and danger, people engage in religious rituals to try to ensure a particular outcome: these were social events which served to reduce anxiety by providing confidence and a feeling of control over the situation.

The similarities and differences between Malinowski and Durkheim….

Like Durkheim, Malinowski theorised that the key role of religion was to reinforce social norms and values and promote social solidarity.

Unlike Durkheim, Malinowski did not see religion as reflecting society as a whole, nor did he see religious rituals as involving the ‘worshipping of society’ – he argued that religion had a more specific function: that of reinforcing solidarity during times of emotional stress that threaten to undermine the stability of society.

 

Sources used to write this post

  • Haralamabos and Holborn: Sociology: Themes and Perspective, seventh edition (unchanged in the eighth!).

 

Emile Durkheim’s Perspective on Religion

A summary of Emile Durkheim’s Perspective on Religion, covering his concepts of sacred and profane among other things….

In the Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1912) Durkheim argued that all societies divide the world into two basic categories: the sacred and the profane:

  • The profane refers to mundane ordinary life: our daily routine/ grind of getting up in the morning, doing our ablutions, going to college, eating our daily Nachos, and doing the dishes.
  • The sacred refers to anything which transcends the humdrum of everyday life: which typically take the form of collective representations which are set apart from society (spiritual places such as churches or mosques are the most obvious examples of ‘sacred’ spaces.)

For Durkheim, Religion is the collective practice of marking off and maintaining distance between the sacred and the profane, which is typically done through rituals, such as those associated with the daily or weekly visit to the church or mosque: prayer is an obvious example of an ‘occasional (sacred) ritual’ is marked out from ordinary mundane (or profane) life.

Or in Durkheim’s own words:

Durkheim religion.pngImportantly for Durkheim, anything can be sacred (or rather, a society can determine that anything is sacred): there is nothing in any object or action that makes it inherently sacred: anything can be sacred: not only churches, mosques, and religious books, but in some cultures, trees, or even rocks may be regarded as sacred.

Durkheim believed that in order to understand the role of religion in society, the relationship between sacred symbols and what they represent must be discovered.

A work in progress, to be updated shortly!

Totemism

Durkheim saw Totemism as one of the earliest and simplest form of religious practice. It is most commonly found among aboriginal peoples, such as the Australian aborigines, and North West Native American Indians, who have clan based societies.

Durkheim TotemismDurkheim used the totemic religion of Australian aborigines to develop his theory of religion. Aboriginal society was divided into a number of clans, and members of the clan had certain obligations that had to be fulfilled – such as mourning the death of other clan members or helping seek vengeance if another member was wronged by someone external to the clan. Each clan was also exogenous – people had to marry someone outside of the clan.

Each clan had a totem, typically an animal or a plant which was represented by drawings or carvings made on wood or stone, typically linked to a ‘creation myth’ that explained the origins of that clan and linked current members into that history. The totem served to distinguish the clan from all other clans.

To clan members, the totem was as sacred object, nothing less than ‘the outward and visible form of the totemic principle or god’ – their animal/ plant was sacred and the totemic representation just as sacred if not more so.

Durkheim’s ‘big idea’ is that by worshipping the totem, clan members are actually worshipping society, and thus individuals are reminded that society is more important than the individual, which is essential in Functionalist theory because individuals are dependent on society.

The reason why humankind needs a totem to worship rather than just literally worshipping society (or the clan in the case of Aborigines) is because the clan is too complex a thing for people to conceptualise – religious symbols are just much simpler entities to worship!

Sources used to write this post

Beliefs in society revision bundle for sale

If you like this sort of thing then you might like my ‘beliefs in society’ revision bundle.

The bundle contains the following:

  • Eight mind maps covering the sociological perspectives on beliefs in society. In colour!
  • 52 Pages of revision notes covering the entire AQA ‘beliefs in society’ specification: from perspectives on religion, organisations, class, gender ethnicity and age and secularisation, globalisation and fundamentalism.
  • Three 10 mark ‘outline and explain’ practice exam  questions and model answers
  • Three 10 mark ‘analyse using the item’ 10 practice exam questions and answers
  • Three 30 mark essay questions and extended essay plans.

The content focuses on the AQA A-level sociology specification. All at a bargain price of just £4.99!

I’ve taught A-level sociology for 16 years and have been an AQA examiner for 10 of those, so I know what I’m talking about, and if you purchase from me you’re avoiding all those horrible corporations that own the major A-level text books and supporting a fully fledged free-range human being, NOT a global corporate publishing company.

Evaluate the view that the growth of family diversity has led to a decline in the nuclear family (20)

An example of a top band answer (17/20) to a possible question on the AQA’s 7192/2 topics in sociology paper (families option, section A)

This is an example of a 17/20 top band answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

Sociology essay mark scheme

Student’s Response (concepts highlighted in blue, evaluation in burnt orange)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

 

Family diversity essay 2018

A-level sociology essay full marks

 

KT’s commentary

This is a bit of a bizarre essay, but this is a good example of how to answer it.

Without the final paragraph it would be floundering down in the middle mark band!

 

Source 

AQA specimen material 2016

Evaluate the usefulness of functionalist approaches in understanding crime and deviance (30)

This is an example of a 25/30 answer to the above question, as marked by the AQA.

In the pictures below, I’ve highlighted all of the candidate’s evaluations in red to show you the balance of knowledge and evaluation required to get into the top mark band!

This is also a good example of a borderline Band 4-Band 5 answer… it just wants a little more evaluation to go up even higher.

The mark scheme (top two bands)

crime-deviance-essay-full-mark-answer.png

Student’s Response (evaluation highlighted in red)

NB It’s the same response all the way through, I’ve just repeated the title on the two pages!

Evaluate functionalist views crime essay (30).png

Evaluate consensus theories crime (30).png

 

Examiner’s commentary

This is a thorough account of a range of functionalist studies. There is sophisticated understanding of the material presented.

Analysis is clear and the material is well explained using appropriate concepts. This conceptual detail in some evaluation is shown, although this is limited to internal evaluation between the various functionalist perspectives.

Other perspectives are only briefly mentioned in the final paragraph. This could be developed further to show a clear debate between perspectives. The answer shows application of material from the item and also from the student’s knowledge. This is accurately applied to the question.

The final concluding paragraph could be more developed. The brief points on Marxism and feminism could be developed throughout the answer rather then simply stated at the end.

Analysis is explicit and relevant.

Source 

AQA specimen material 2015

Sociological Perspectives on the Royal Wedding

Just a few thoughts on how you might apply Functionalism and Marxism to the Royal Wedding!

Functionalists might interpret the wedding as one of those symbolic events which brings people together – enhancing a sense of national identity, and possibly social solidarity. You certainly get this impression from Sky News’ Live Stream which is already in full swing – showing footage of the massing crowds, bunting and al.

HOWEVER, if you dig a little deeper,  it seems that this interpretation just doesn’t stack up… for starters, 50% of ‘us Brits’ were indifferent to the royal engagement:

 

And there’s also small but significant undercurrent of anti-royalist sentiment:

On the question of belonging, this New York Times article is well worth a read, on what Black Britons think about Meghan and the royal wedding – it’s an odd one, given the very whiteness of the royal family, FINALLY including a mixed-race woman into the ‘bloodline’…..

Maybe a Marxist interpretation might be more appropriate…..?

Despite the continued existence of royalty being one of the most obvious reminders of the class divide in the UK, there is some evidence that the state (in the form of the police) are very much inclined to work for the elite class, and suppress those who would oppose it, or even just make it look a bit untidy:

For example, it’s unlikely that the homeless of Windsor probably will celebrating the event, given that the local police have been involved in seizing their Belongings Before the Royal Wedding in an attempt to ‘clear up the area’, maybe so ‘brand Britain’ looks its best for the global media

You also have to wonder how many anti-royalist protesters have been arrested and locked up this morning: the video below shows some anti-royalist protesters on their way to do some ‘street theatre’ being arrested for ‘pre-crime back in 2011 a few hours before Kate and Will tied the knot.

 

Then there’s the apparent disdain with which the royals are treating the ‘commoners’: despite her £400 million fortune, the Queen isn’t even prepared to stump up a free lunch for the 2000 ‘commoners’ who have been invited to Windsor Castle to celebrate the big day – the ‘normal’ guests have [been advised to bring a picnic lunch](https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/03/bring-your-own-picnic-royal-wedding-guests-bemused-by-lack-of-catering).

So while I wish Harry and Meghan as individuals all the happiness in the world, maybe we should wish that the institution surrounding them would just whither away?

Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work

Functionalism

Main post on the functionalist perspective on education.

Education teaches us specialist skills for work – At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs. This allows for a complex division of labour to take place.

Role Allocation and meritocracy – Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy

Marxism 

Main post on the marxist perspective on education.

The reproduction of class inequality and the myth of meritocracy – In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

School teaches the skills future capitalist employers need through the ‘Hidden Curriculum (e.g. pupils Learn to accept authority; they learn to accept hierarchy, and motivation by external rewards)

Paul Willis

Willis described the friendship between the 12 boys (or the lads) he studied as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work. The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.

Feminism

Stereotypical views of teachers and careers advisors as well as peer group pressure means that subject choices are still shaped by traditional gender norms – which limits the kind of jobs boys and girls go onto do in later life.

Even though girls do better at school, they still get paid less than men, so qualifications do not necessarily result in more pay!

The New Right

Main post on the new right and education

The mid 1970s was a time of rising unemployment in Britain, particularly among the young.  It was argued that the education system was not producing a skilled enough workforce and that the needs of the economy were not being met. From the mid 1970s both the Conservative and Labour governments agreed that education should be more focussed on improving the state of the economy by providing training courses for young people in different areas of work.

This emphasis on meeting the needs of industry became known as ‘New Vocationalism’ which first took off in the 1980s.

Evaluate the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) #LONG VERSION

Essay practice for A-level sociology!

An A-level sociology essay written for the AQA’s 7192 (1) specification, exam paper 1. This is the long, ‘overkill’ version of the essay, written using the PEAC system (Point – Explain – Analyse – Criticise)

An obvious starting point before reading this essay would be to read my post on the Functionalist Perspective on Education.

NB – At time of posting, it’s half an essay, more to follow!

Introduction

Functionalism is a somewhat dated structural theory popular in 19th century France (Durkheim) and mid-20th century America (Parsons). Functionalist theorists adopted a ‘top-down’ approach to analysing the role which institutions, such as schools play in relation to other institutions, such as work, and generally believe that schools form an important part of a society’s structure. Functionalism is also a consensus theory: functionalists generally emphasise the positive functions which schools perform for individuals and society, arguing that schools tend to promote social harmony and social order, which they see as a good thing.

Below I will analyse and evaluate four specific ‘functions’ or roles which schools perform according to Functionalist theory, ultimately arguing that it obscures more than it enlightens our understanding of the role of education in society.

Education and Social Solidarity

POINT 1: According to Emile Durkheim (1890s), the founder of modern Functionalism, the first role of education was to create a sense of social solidarity which in turn promoted value consensus.

EXPLANATION: Social Solidarity is where the individual members of society feel themselves to be a part of a single ‘body’ or community and work together towards shared goals. According to Durkhiem schools achieved social solidarity through children learning subjects such as history and English which gave them a shared sense of national identity, which in turn promoted value consensus, or agreement on shared values at the societal level.

Analysis: Durkheim thought schools were one of the few institutions which could promote solidarity at a national level – he may have a point. It is difficult to imagine any other institution which governments could use to socialise individuals in to a sense of national identity.

Evaluation: To evaluate this point, there do seem to be examples of where schools attempt to promote a sense of social solidarity. Writing in the 1950s, Talcott Parsons pointed to how, in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag; while today British schools and colleges are obliged to promote ‘British Values’ (woohoo!)

However, it is debatable whether schools are successful in instilling a genuine sense of social solidarity into most, let alone all students. A minority of students are excluded from schools, and around 5% are persistent absentees – if students are not in mainstream education, then schools cannot promote a sense of belonging; while for those students who are at school, many are there ‘in body, but not necessarily in spirit. Finally there is the fact there is such a huge diversity of schools (faith schools, private schools, home education) that surely education is too fragmented and divided for it to promote true solidarity at the national level – to the extent that postmodernists suggested there is no such thing as a unified culture anymore.

Education teaches Skills for Work

POINT 2: A second function of education, again according to Durkhiem, is that schools teach individuals the specialist skills for work, which is crucial in a complex, modern industrial economy. (Schools thus have an important economic function).

Durkhiem argued that school was an efficient way of teaching individuals these diverse skills while at the same time teaching them to co-operate with each-other – schools thus instilled a sense of organic solidarity, or solidarity based on difference and interdependency, with school being one of the only institutions which could do both of these functions simultaneously within the context of a national economy.

The idea that schools have an economic function certainly seems to be true – basic literacy and numeracy are certainly important for any job today, and ever since the New Right, Vocational education has expanded, right up to the present day in the form of Modern Apprenticeships, and today. There is also a relationship between government expenditure on education and economic growth – more developed countries tend to have stronger economies.

However, it is debatable whether schools prepare children adequately for work – for example, there is a shortage of STEM graduates, and many doctors come to Britain from abroad, so maybe the education system today focuses on the wrong subjects, not the subjects the economy actually needs to grow effectively? There is also a Postmodern critique from Ken Robinson that suggests that ‘schools kill creativity’ – a system obsessed with standardised testing hardly prepares people to go into the creative industries or become entrepreneurs, both of which are growth areas in the current UK economy.

More to follow…!

Short version of this essay

  • Point – Simply state something Functionalists say about education
  • Explain – Explain what is meant by the ‘Function’ of education mentioned previously
  • Expand – this could mean giving examples, evidence, or explaining in more depth
  • Criticise – criticise with evidence against or limitations

(P1) Secondary Socialisation and Value consensus       

  • The teaching of norms and values after the family – leading to agreement around these norms and values
  • Formal Curriculum – Shared history/ Shared language/ Shared religion
  • Team sports – working together shared aim
  • Ethnocentric Curriculum
  • Sub cultures
  • More school types – more diversity, surely = less value consensus?

(P2) Teaching skills for work – economic function          

  • Diverse subjects,
  • Punctuality
  • Vocationalism and apprenticeships have expanded
  • Are apprenticeships useful?
  • Tea servers

(P3) Bridge between home and school  

  • School prepares us for the world outside the family – it acts like a society in miniature
  • Particularistic/ Universalistic Standards
  • Doesn’t apply to everyone – Home schooling

R(P4) Role Allocation  

  • Different qualifications sift people into appropriate jobs
  • Does this through exams – sifting and sorting
  • Meritocracy (since 1944)
  • Marxism – not meritocratic – myth of meritocracy,
  • Private schools
  • Feminism – gender stereotyping and subject choice

Evaluate using other perspectives –

  • Marxism – Agrees with Functionalists that school socialises us into shared values, but these values are the values benefit the ruling class (we get taught that inequality is natural and inevitable, we believe in the myth of meritocracy and so end up passively accepting society as it is.
  • Feminism – Functionalism ignores the gender divide in school
  • Interactionism – Argues Functionalism is too deterministic – it sees individuals as passive, but there is a lot more evidence that pupils are active and aren’t just moulded by the school system

Conclusion – You must point out that this perspective is too optimistic and overgeneralises!

Signposting

This essay plan is based on these class notes on the Functionalist perspective on education.

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

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

What is the difference between Functionalism and Marxism

Functionalists have a very general analysis of the role of education in society, simply looking at how it contributes to the maintenance of social order, whereas Marxists analyse the role of education by focusing on how it performs different functions for different social classes.

As I see it, Marxists offer a ‘deeper layer’ of analysis compared to Functionalists, although critics of Marxism may say they seeing class divisions where there are none.

Below is a basic comparison of Functionalist and Marxist perspectives on the role of education in society:

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of an industrial society by providing it with an advanced, specialised division of labour

Marxism: Education part of the ideological state apparatus, and works for the Bourgeois

Functionalism: Education serves the needs of the social system by socialising new generations into shared norms and values which provide harmony and stability

Marxism: Teaches us the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – we believe we fail because it’s our own fault, thus put up with inequality

Functionalism: The formal and hidden curriculums helpsprepare children for service to society

Marxism: Correspondence Theory – Hidden Curriculum makes us accept authority without question

Functionalism: Education provides the means for upward mobility for those prepared to work hard

Marxism: Education reproduces class inequality – middle class kids more likely to succeed and get good jobs

Outline three functions which education might perform for society (6)

This is an  example of a relatively straight forward 6 mark question which might appear on the AQA’s A level paper 1 (7192/1).

  • If you require a more detailed breakdown of paper 1 please click here.

The basic approach to answering 6 mark ‘outline’ questions is to think of them as 1+1 questions – in this case identify a function (for 1 mark) and then explain how education performs that function (for +1). Repeat this 3 times, and you have 3*(1+1) = 6/6 marks.

You should spend no more than 9 minutes on this question (a minute and a half per mark).

A ‘function’ of education is something education (mainly schools) does; a purpose it fulfills, or a goal it contributes towards achieving.

Below are some (1+1) suggestions as to how you might successfully answer this question.

Outline three functions which the education might perform for society (6)

  • Getting students ready for work – school does this by starting off teaching basic reading and writing, which most jobs require, and later on by giving students specific job related skills – such as biology gets you ready for a career in medicine.
  • Education creates social solidarity which is where we all feel as if we are part of something bigger, working towards the collective good – school does this by teaching everyone the same history and literature, which helps to forge a sense of national identity.
  • Education maintains social order, performing a social control function – it does this through requiring that all students attend and through surveillance, any student who does not conform is subject to disciplinary procedures, thus learning to stick to the rules in later life.

Related Posts

I’ve basically taken the above from the Functionalist Perspective on the role of education in society.

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