To what extent is the family a willing unit of consumption?

Evaluating the Marxist view of the family and false needs

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Contemporary Marxists argue that one of the main functions of the family in capitalist societies is to act as a ‘unit of consumption’ – the family unit is supposed to buy the products necessary to keep capitalism going.

Key to understanding this theory is the idea of ‘false needs’ – which in Marxist theory are perceived ‘needs’ created by the capitalist system, rather than our ‘real needs’.

‘Real needs’ are basic material things such as food, shelter, clothing, but we might also include transport, health, education and general welfare.

‘False needs’ arise because of the demands of the capitalist system, rather than what we as individuals need. They include such things as the need for distraction or anything else we ‘need’ to make life bearable in an unfair system,  anything we might buy to give off a sense of our social status, and anything we buy or do to give ourselves or our children an edge in an artificially unequal world.  We could also include many of the products we buy out of fear, or out the need to make ourselves safe, if that fear is engineered by the capitalist system to keep the population under control.

This post has been written as part of an evaluation of The Marxist Perspective on the Family, part of the families and households module within A-level sociology.

False needs and the family

It is possible to think of many examples of families making purchases and consuming stuff which could fall into the category of false needs, which ultimately serves the needs of the capitalist system. Examples could include:

  • Purchases parents make just keep their kids quiet and simply give themselves time to manage their lives, given that parents do not have enough time at home because they both must work in a Capitalist system. This could include toys and subscriptions to media entertainment packages.
  • Purchase parents make to give their children an advantage in education. In Marxist theory education reproduces class inequality, primarily because the middle classes can buy their kids a better education.
  • Purchases parents make to give their family a sense of status to the outside world – this could be for the family as a whole, such as a better car, or parents giving in to the demands for kids to have the latest status clothes or phone.  
  • Products bought to keep kids ‘safe’, which could be mainly for younger children.
  • A lot of the above will be exacerbated by ‘built in obsolescence’ of many products.

Evidence of the Family perpetuating false needs

This section looks at possible evidence that families purchase ‘shit they don’t need’, giving into false needs, rather than consumption based on real needs.

Some places we might look for evidence include:

  • Case studies of high consumption families, but how representative are they?
  • Stats on advertising expenditure aimed at families and their effectiveness.
  • Stats on family expenditure – trends in how much parents spend on children. and what do parents actually buy?
  • Pester Power – how often do parents give in to their kids nagging?
  • Counter studies – what does an example of a family living in ‘real consciousness’ look like?!?

Keep in mind that there are limitations with all of the evidence below and you can always use your own brain-thing to find your own examples!

My Super Sweet 16

Shows such as ‘My Super Sweet 16’ probably show us the most extreme examples of parents willingly meeting their children’s false needs. An excellent analysis of this is provided my the most excellent Charlie Brooker in the clip below (5.30 mins on)

The problem with such case studies is they are maybe not that representative of families in America, let alone in the UK!?!

According to the FintechTimes children receive almost £20 a month in pocket money, sometimes for doing chores.

According to their research, nine year olds are already well versed in the habit of saving to buy expensive consumer items, as this top chart of products shows:

Whether you regard this as evidence of ‘false needs’ being established from a young age is debatable. Some of the products would fall well within the ‘false need’s category – the Play Station and Slime for example, but others seem quite educational – lego and books seeming to be high up the priority list!

A third of parents say Pester Power has made them take on debt

Corporations know that children Pester parents for toys they want, and so a good deal of advertising has historically been targeted at children. Some recent research from 2018 suggests that a third of parents have given into pester power to the extent that they’ve bought something on credit, just to stop their children nagging.

Parental Expenditure on Education

The average UK parental expenditure on education is almost £25K a year, and that’s over and above the free education provided by the State. Most of this will be by middle class parents trying to give their children an advantage.

Counter Evidence

Don’t forget to look for counter-evidence too – you might want to look up recent restrictions on the power of companies to advertise to children (reducing pester power) or look for examples of ‘frugal families’.

Criticisms of the Marxist view on the family as a unit of consumption

Are parents really in false consciousness, do they really have ‘false’ needs. ?

To what extent are parents under false consciousness and buying ‘shit they don’t need’ for their families and their children, rather than buying stuff because they have made a rational decision?

Some of the safety products for babies may well come under this category – maybe this is a genuine need – maybe it is better to spend £400 on a super safe buggy rather than relying on your parent’s hand me downs?

Individuals might have more false needs than families

I’m also not convinced that the family in particular is the most significant unit of consumption – young adults not yet in families are perfectly capable of buying ‘shit they don’t need’ themselves in their 20s and 30s, and it’s debatable whether their relative expenditure on ‘false need’ type items will be higher when they have families in their 30s 40s and 50s?

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A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19

A Marxist-Feminist response to covid-19 demands that the political response to the pandemic puts people, and especially essential-service workers, before the interests of capital.

Below I summarise an article from Spectre, a Marxist-Feminist journal, based in the United States, which outlines seven ways we should be responding to the pandemic.

I’ve re-worded some of the material to make it a bit simpler to understand, as it is written in typcically ‘Marxist’ language/ Hopefully I haven’t changed the meaning too much in translation

Better funding for life-making institutions

Social reproduction services such as the health care services and education have been undermined by years of cuts. The crisis has shown us how essential these are, and so we should maintain them at a higher level of funding going forwards.

Better pay for essential service workers

We need to recognize the real value of nurses, care workers, cleaners and the people who do the basic work of society. They need better pay and conditions

Bail out people, not corporations

The article suggests that some CEOs are sacking people while keeping their high salaries, we need to make sure bail-out money doesn’t go to the shareholders of companies who have cut jobs

Open borders, close prisons

This is the most contentious to my mind – but they remind us that migrants and prisoners are probably some of the most effected people in all of this – the former because their livelihoods are decimated with border closures, the latter because they are forced to be inside in crowded conditions.

Stand in solidarity against domestic violence

Governments need to make sure domestic violence services are funded appropriately to meet the spike in DV since coronavirus

Use solidarity against capital

Ordinary people all over the world are stepping up and voluntarily making sure their neighbours and the vulnerable are getting what they need during this crisis. The governments need to follow their lead in provided assistance – help the people, but take the lead from the people, based on need.

Use solidarity to change society

This moment can be the moment when the left push forward with a pro-people, anti-capitalist agenda, it needs to be dynamic and global.

A few thoughts on the above

IMO there’s little to disagree with in the above statements with maybe the exception of the borders/ prisons point.

I like the idea of building on the voluntary work and renewed (or just new?) respect key workers now have in the eyes of general public to really push forward an economic recovery agenda that emphasizes rebuilding society based on basic individual needs, a recovery which puts health, care, education, essential services at the center.

It will be interesting to see if this is going to be the case!

A Marxist-Feminist Analysis of Coronavirus

I read a very interesting article called in Dissent online magazine which seems to be a ‘Marxist-Feminist‘ analysis of the Coronavirus.

The article’s called ‘Social Reproduction and the Pandemic, and consists of a Q and A session with Tithi Bhattacharya, a professor of history at Purdue university and co-author of a book: Feminism for the 99%, which hints pretty strongly at her left-leaning and Feminist views!

Tithi Bhattacharya

I’ve included a summary below, but if you’d like to read the whole thing yourself, then I’ve included a link below.

Social repdoduction theory

Bhattacharya is a ‘social reproduction theorist’ – social reproduction theory sees the real source of wealth and value in our society as coming from human labour associated with ‘social reproduction activities’.

Social reproduction activities are those required for making and maintaing life, such as producing food, education, maintaing health, transportation, caring for people and various ‘domestic chores’ such as cleaning. The institutions associated with such ‘life making’ activities are the health-care sector, education and public transport. Typical ‘life-making’ jobs inlcude nursing, teaching, caring, and cleaning, sectors dominated by female workers.

Bhattacharya suggests that the capitalist system does not value ‘life-making activities’ because the capitalist system emphasises the importance of ‘thing-making’ and ‘profit-making’ rather than ‘life making’. Thus ‘life-making’ jobs such as nursing and teaching are undervalued and the workers poorly paid.

Social reproduction theory aims to analyse social events keeping in mind the fact that the really important work in society is ‘life-making work’, work currently done by women!

How Coronarvirus criticizes Capitalism

The coronavirus has been tragicially clarifying in two major ways:

It highlights that care work and life-making work are the really essential work of society – in lockdown we are keeping the essential services going such as nursing and refuse collection, no one is clamouring for stockbrokers or the leisure industry to be kept running.

It also highlights how incapable capitalism is when it comes to dealing with a crisis – once again we require the public sector to come to the rescue, the sector that’s been undermined by cuts for a decade.

Undervalued work

Many of the jobs in America that are on the essential services list (the ones that are allowed to stay open) are paid at minimum wage, or $10 an hour, and many workers have no paid sick time or health insurance.

One suggestion is for ‘pandemic pay’ – pay these workers more as they are now being called on to risk their lives.

The uneqal response in India

Bhattacharya also focuses on the unequal response to the virus in India (her home country) – there is a lot of poor migrant labour in India, and because of lockdown closing public transport, millions of such workers are now literally having to walk home hundreds of miles to their home villages.

Meanwhile the Indian government allowed wealthy middle class Indians stuck abroad to come home on special flights, despite the borders being closed to everyone else.

She goes on to suggest that capitalist governments in the global south might well use the virus as a means to clear out the slums of the unwanted, i.e. just let it kill a lot of people.

Coronavirus and the domestic sphere

Battacharya thinks that this is a positive time for us to reconnect with families, and we might even see a rebalancing of domestic labour with men doing more housework than usual, but she also reminds us that there will probably be a spike in domestic violence for those unfortunate enough to be caught in absuive relationships.

‘War-footing’ not an appropriate analogy…

Some really interesting thoughts on why the ‘war footing’ isn’t an appropriate analogy:

Firstly, we need to ramp-down production rather than ‘ramping it up’ (like we normally would in a war) – because we need to think of minimising the social contact through global supply lines.

Secondly, we need to redefine ‘troops’ – they are not soldiers, but our care-sector and essential service workers.

Coranavirus and climate change

An interesting final thought – we need to deal with climate change with the same sense of urgency as we are dealing with this pandemic!

Sources:

Marxism in Pictures

A selection of images to represent some of the main Functionalist concepts for A level sociology. Concepts covered include the organic analogy, socialisation, integration, regulation, anomie and more!

This post aims to simplify some Marxist concepts by representing them as pictures and providing some brief definitions…

For more detailed posts on Marxism you might like any of the following:

Feminisms

Capitalism and Class Structure

Society is structured like a pyramid, those with capital at the top

Society’s Structure is made up of institutions

Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

Exploitation

Lies at the heart of the capitalist system according to Marx

Surplus Value

Alienation

Where workers feel detached from their work, not at home in the work place, not in control, thus ‘alienated’

Ideological Control

Institutions such as the media teach the masses to be passive and not criticize the injustices of the capitalist system

Communism

An economic system based on shared ownership of the means of production

Revolution

Necessary to achieve Communism according to Marx

Repressive state apparatus

State institutions which perform ‘obvious’ social control – such as the police and the army

Ideological state apparatus

Institutions of the state which achieve social control through controlling people’s minds – namely schools

Organic Intellectuals

Middle class individuals who will emerge to educate the masses to be more critical of capitalism, according to Gramsci

Commodity Fetishism

Where we value material objects (and money) more than people and social relations

False Needs

The desire for unnecessary products created by advertising. False needs are necessary to keep capitalism going 

Correspondence Principle

Where norms learnt in school prepare children for their future exploitation in work

Neo-colonialism

Where western global institutions make developing countries economically dependent on western countries

The reproduction of class inequality

Where inequalities between classes are carried on across the generations, as wealth and poverty get passed down

The Transnational Capitalist Class

The new global capitalist class – world political leaders, billionaire and heads of large companies etc.

Marxism in pictures final thoughts

Marxism is a pretty complex theory, and this post does ‘simplify to the extreme. For more in depth posts on Marxism, please follow the links on my Theory and Methods page!

Competition …. Win REVISE tokens!

Post a picture in the comments of a picture which you think represents a Marxist concept, along with a short (20-100 words) explanation of why it’s a relevant picture.

Prizes

Prizes will be awarded purely at my own sole discretion.

  • First prize – 50 REVISE
  • Second prize – 30 REVISE
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  • First ten entries all receive 2 REVISE each, just for entering!
  • If you submit a hand-drawn original work of art or photo as part of your entry I’ll gift you 10 REVISE!

I’m going to make this a 6 month rolling competition and these prizes are going to be awarded EVERY MONTH – from December 2019 until May 2020.

WTF are ‘REVISE’ tokens?

The REVISE token is ‘ReviseSociology.com’ token. It’s basically a crypto-currency I’ve conjured out of virtual space which you can use on the site.

REVISE tokens can be redeemed for money off my revision resources and revision Webinars, all for sale in my Sellfy shop.

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It’s just a bit of fun at this stage!

Redeeming REVISE tokens

ATM this process isn’t automated (it would cost me a fortune to pay someone to integrate all of this!) but if you want to purchase something and you’ve got some REVISE, just contact me (on here, on Steem, or via mail), tell me what you want to purchase and I’ll sort out a discount based on how many REVISE you’ve got!

You’ll need a Steem account to send me back the REVISE tokens so I can issue you the discount voucher.

If you would like a FREE INSTANT steem account, drop me a line, I’ve got about 100 free accounts I can give away!

The redeemable value of the revise token is a % off your purchase. So if you have 50 Revise then you get 50% off the purchase price. If you have 10 revise tokens, you get 10% off the purchase price.

This is up to a maximum discount of 100% of the purchase price!

You can also buy (and sell!) REVISE tokens on steem-engine.

Good luck with the competition and all the technicalities and working out the math!

Please post your competition entries in the comments below!

 

What is concentration of media ownership?

Concentration of media ownership is the trend towards fewer individuals and/ or companies owning a higher proportion of the media.

Increasing concentration of ownership has long been a concern of sociologists. For example, In 2004 Bagdikian pointed out the following trend towards increasing ownership of the media:

  • In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the majority of news media in the USA
  • By 1992, 22 companies owned and operated 90% of the mass media

By 2014, United States media ownership was concentrated mainly in the hands of six companies: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox/ News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom

In the United Kingdom in 2017 10 companies received 70% of the revenue generated by all media companies, and 40 companies received 92% of all of the revenue (source: Deloitte media metrics, 2017).

 

The following were the three largest media companies by revenue in the UK in 2017

 

How do we measure concentration of ownership of media? 

Looking at revenue share as the above examples do is only one way of measuring concentration of ownership, however, there are several other ways concentration may be occurring which are not measured simply by looking at how revenue is distributed.

Below I outline several different ways in which media ownership can become more concentrated 

Vertical Integration

Where one company owns all of the stages of production of media products – for example a company owning a film production studio, and the cinema where the film is shown.

Horizontal integration

Where one company diversifies to own more types of media – e.g. when a film production company also gets into book publishing.

Lateral expansion or diversification

When media companies branch out into non media areas – e.g. Virgin Media getting into trains and insurance.

Global Conglomeration

Where companies in one country buy up companies in other countries. News Corp, for example, owns media outlets in several different countries.

Synergy

Where a media product is sold in several different forms – often as a form of marketing. For example, a company produces a film for cinema, then a DVD, a T.V. spin off series, a sound track for download, maybe a cartoon strip and some action figures too.

Technological convergence

Where traditional media companies link with IT companies to make sure their media products are available across several different devices.

Final thoughts 

Intuitively it seems likely that there is increasing concentration of ownership, especially with the rise of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, but at the same time it is difficult to say for certain given the complexity of the concept of concentration of ownership

The hypodermic syringe model of audience effects

The hypodermic syringe model believes that the media can have a direct and immediate effect on the audience. This model sees the audience as a ‘homogeneous mass’ (all the same), as passive and believing what they see in the media without questioning the content.

It is thus possible for content creators to use their media productions to manipulate vulnerable audiences into thinking or acting in certain ways.

The culture industry 

This theory of media effects is associated with neo-Marxists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the 1940s, who had managed to escape Nazi Germany and resettled in America.

They noted that there were similarities between the ‘propaganda industry’ in Nazi Germany’ and what they called the ‘Culture Industry’ in the United States.

culture industry.PNG

Adorno and Max Horkheimer theorised that popular culture in the USA was like a factory producing standardized content which was used to manipulate a passive mass audience.

They argued that consumption of the ‘dumbed down’ content of popular culture made people passive and false psychological needs that could only be met and satisfied by the products of capitalism.

The ultimate function of the culture industry was thus to manipulate audiences into becoming good consumers and keeping capitalism going.

Further evidence that the media can have direct effects on a passive audience

One of the earliest examples is the audience response to Orson Welle’s radio adaptation of ‘War of the Worlds‘ in 1938.

War of the Worlds is a fictional story about Alien invaders coming from Mars and killing very large numbers of people in the process. The original radio adaptation was done in the style of a news report, and some of the listeners who tuned in after the show had begun (and so missed the introduction to it) actually believed they were hearing a news report, packed their cars and fled to the country.

Feminist sociologists such as Susi Orbach and Naomi Wolfe have highlighted how the ‘beauty myth’, especially the representations of size zero as normal, have encouraged an increase in eating disorders, especially among young women, as well as an increase in mental health problems.

More recent evidence suggests that the campaigns behind both Trump and Brexit used sophisticated targeted advertising to nudge voters into voting for Trump and Brexit, suggesting the media can have a very direct and immediate effect on specific populations (even if such campaigns didn’t treat the audience as a ‘mass’ and so this is only partial support the Hypodermic Syringe Model).

Imitation or Copycat Violence

One of the most researched areas of media effects is that surrounding the relationship between media violence and real-life violence. There is some evidence that media violence can ‘cause’ people to be more violence in real-life…

The Bandura ‘Bobo Doll’ experiment is evidence that media-violence can ‘cause’ children to act more aggressively when given the opportunity to do so. Bandura showed three groups of children real, film and cartoon examples of a bobo-doll being beaten with a mallet. A further group of children were shown no violence. The children were then taken to a room with lots of toys, but then ‘frustrated’ by being told the toys were not for them. They were then taken to a room with a mallet and a bobo-doll, and the children who had seen the violent examples (whether real, film, or cartoon) imitated the violence by beating the doll themselves, while the children who had seen no violence did not beat the doll.

Desensitization 

Newson (1994) theorised that the effects of media violence on children were more subtle and gradual. She argued that continued exposure to violence in films over several years ‘desenstised’ children and teenagers to violence and that they came to see violence as a norm, and as a possible way of solving problems. She also argued that television and film violence tended to encourage people to identify with the violent perpetrators, rather than the victims.

Newson’s research led to increased censorship in the film industry – for example, the British Board of Film was given the power to apply age certificates and T.V. companies agreed on a 9.00 watershed, before which shows would not feature significant sexual or violent scenes.

Criticisms of the hypodermic syringe model

Firstly, this model may have been true in the 1940s when the media was relatively new and audiences less literate, but in today’s new media age, audiences are more likely to criticise what they see rather than just believing it.

Secondly, the hypodermic syringe model treats audiences a ‘homogenous mass, but today’s audiences are more diverse than in the past, so this model is less applicable. This post offers a more nuanced counterpoint: it theorises that the masses were ‘willingly misled’ and thus co-produced a false reality in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

Thirdly, it’s too simplistic a theory to explain social problems – societal violence has many causes, and it’s all too easy to scapegoat the media.

Fourthly, where Bandura’s imitative aggression model is concerned, this was carried out in such an artificial environment, it tells us little about how violence happens in real life.

Sources 

This post from Marxists.org provides a nice summary of Adorno and Horkheimer’s views on the culture industry.

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

The Marxist Perspective on the News

Marxists suggest the news agenda is heavily interests by those with power in capitalist societies and that the content of the news reflects the worldview and interests of the elite and middle classes.

Those working for mainstream news media may claim that the news they construct is objective and unbiased, but this is a myth according to Marxists, and the news primarily serves to legitimate capitalism and maintain the status quo.

This post is really an application of a combination of Instrumentalist Marxist Theory and Neo-Marxist (‘hegemonic’) theory.

Owners influence content

Owners may not be able to shape the day to day content of the news, especially live 24 hour news, but they can shape the broader context by setting the policies of their companies and influencing the general approach to selecting and editing news.

Owners the power to hire and fire Chief Executive Officers and other high-ranking officials, and they can exercise direct control over such decisions because they do not have to be made that often.

According to Marxist theory, owners will generally appoint senior officials who share their ideology and then lower ranking media professionals will avoid publishing content that might annoy them for fear of their jobs.

The news agenda legitimates a capitalist, neoliberal view of the world

News companies rely on advertisers for their income and so it should be no surprise that the news does not generally critique the capitalist system, in fact it does quite the opposite.

Most news programmes and papers have large sections devoted to business news and economics, where Corporate leaders and business experts are generally deferred to and are favourably presented.

These sections of the news rarely challenge the concept of economic growth, it is taken for granted as a universal ‘good’, and elsewhere the news rarely focuses on issues of poverty and inequality.

The Hierarchy of credibility

Journalists rank people in elite and professional positions as being more credible sources of authority than those lower down the social class order.

Heads of companies, government officials, the police and academic experts are all more likely to be invited to comment on news items than those from pressure groups, less popular political parties, or just ordinary members of the general public.

The elite thus end up becoming the ‘primary definers’ of the news agenda.

The news often reports on what such people think of events, rather than the events themselves, so we end up with an elite/ middle class frame of the world through the news.

The social class class background of journalists

GUMG argue that media professional tend to side with the elite because they share a middle class background with them, and thus a worldview.

News items thus tend to represent the elite and middle classes more favourably than the working classes.

Fiske (1987) for example found that news reports on industrial disputes tended to report on managers as ‘asking’ whereas trades unionists tended to reported as ‘making demands’, presenting the former as more reasonable.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

The Marxist Instrumentalist Theory of Media

Marxist Instrumentalist theory holds that media owners control media content, and that the media performs ideological functions. The primary role of the media is to keep a largely passive audience from criticizing capitalism and thus maintain the status quo.

Marxist Instrumentalist Theory is also known as the Traditional Marxist or Manipulative Approach to the media.

This post is primarily written for students of A-level sociology, studying the AQA 2019 specification.

Marxist media sociology

Media owners control media content 

Media owners are part of the ruling class elite and they consciously manipulate media content to transmit a conservative ideology to control the wider population and maintain their wealth and privilege.

The content of the media is thus narrow and biased and reflects the opinions of the ruling class generally and the media owners in particular.

The government does not effectively regulate media content because the political elite are also part of the ruling class like the media owners.

The media performs ideological functions 

According to Instrumentalist Marxists, the primary role of the media is to spread ruling class ideology and maintain the status quo, keeping the current unequal capitalist system in place.

The media performs ideological functions in many ways:

  1. We see many favourable representations of (rather than critical commentary on) the wealthy – for example Royalty, millionaires on Cribs, and middle class lifestyles more generally in all of those hideous programmes about spending £500K on a house in the country.
  2. It spreads the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – Dragons Den and The Apprentice are two wonderful contemporary examples of this.
  3. The News often dismisses radical view points as extremist, dangerous or silly, and a conservative (ruling class) view of the world as normal.
  4. Negative portrayals of ethnic minorities and immigrants serve to divide the ruling class and discourages criticisms of the ruling class.
  5. Entertainment distracts the public from thinking critically about important political issues.

The audience are passive 

Marxist instrumentalists see the audience as a mass of unthinking robots who are passive and easily manipulate. They essentially take what they see in the media at face value, and believe what they see without questioning it.

Supporting evidence 

Curran (2003) suggests that there is a lot of historical evidence of media owners manipulating media content. He carried out a historical analysis of UK media, broken down into four historical periods.

Control by owners was most obvious in the era of the Press Barons in the early part of the 20th century, when some even said that they used their newspapers to consciously spread their political views.

Rupert Murdoch’s control of his News Corporation since the 1970s is another good example of an owner controlling media content. All of his newspapers have a strong right wing point of view, which reflects his values.

A specific example of Murdoch’s control is that all of his news outlets supported the Iraq War in 2003, a war which he personally supported. It’s unlikely that all the editors of all his newspapers globally shared this view.

Criticisms 

Pluralists are the biggest critics of Manipulative Marxists.

It is impractical for media owners of large corporations to control all output on a day to day basis. At some point they have to trust editors.

Pluralists argue that media owners are primarily motivated by making a profit and thus would rather provide audiences with the diverse content they want rather than use their media companies to spread their own narrow view of the world.

The previous criticism follows on from the Pluralist view that audiences are not just passive and unthinking, they are active and critical, and thus not easily manipulated: they can easily choose to switch off if they don’t like what they see.

The rise of the New Media especially undermines the Manipulative approach – New Media encourage audiences to be more active and allow for a greater range of people to produce and share media content. It’s simply not possible for owners to control such content.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

 

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

Lakewood Church and the Prosperity Gospel

Three out of four of the Largest churches in the U.S. preach the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ – these are megachurches which preach the idea that God is a spiritual source which individuals can call upon to ‘enrich’ their lives – popular buzzwords include ‘hope, destiny and bounty’, and the sermons are filled with optimism, with the Christian themes of guilt, shame, sin and penance hardly ever being mentioned.

Lakewood Church.png
Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas

These mega churches are attended by 10s of thousands and watched by millions, and it’s estimated that one in five Americans now follow the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, which is a sort of cross between Pentacostalism and Faith healing and run by celebrity mega preachers such as Joel Osteen and Kenneth Copeland.

Joel Osteen’s sermons draw in a massive 7 million viewers a week, and more on Satellite radio. Apparently he practices his sermons for hours, until he gets them exactly right, totally polished.

Osteen’s Church is the ostentatious Lakewood in Texas, and it brought in an income of $89 million in 2017, the same year it failed to open its doors to those driven to homelessness by Hurricane Harvey, at least until a social media backlash forced it to do so!

Osteen himself has a personal fortune of around $60 million and speaks broadly for the broken middle classes of America. He is a fan of Positive Thinking, as is Donald Trump.

Underlying both Trump’s and Osteen’s idea is a belief that God underwrites the justice of the marketplace – or put another way, the market rewards those who work hard!

Sociological Perspectives on Lakewood

The best fit perspective here seems to be Marxism – this seems to be a modern day version of the religious/ ideological justification for wealth and inequality in America.

Although a deeper question from this perspective is why so many people are stupid enough to believe this?!?

Perhaps it’s because it’s just too hard to accept the truth that it’s neoliberalism which has made so many people rich at the expense of so many others being relatively or absolutely poor.

Or perhaps it’s simply because it fits in with the neoliberal ideology, and the widespread acceptance of the prosperity gospel in the states is a sign of how far gone so many of the population are!

Sources

Adapted from The Week 18 May 2019

How effectively does the government deal with criminal employers who fail to pay the minimum wage?

The National Minimum Wage is currently £5.20 and hour for 18-20 olds, rising to £7.83 per hour for those aged 25 and over.

According to one recent study (based on a survey of 4000 workers), 20% of 18-30 year-olds reported being paid less than the minimum wage, which is, on the part of their employers, illegal.

Formal detection and prosecution rates, however, are much lower than this reported 20%…

Between 2013-2018 the government fined around 17, 000 employers for failing to pay their workers the minimum wage, with a total number of 67 000 workers being underpaid. Collectively, these criminal employers have had to pay £9 million in back pay for and have been fined an additional £6.3 million in total.

The most likely offenders were retail and hospitality, but it’s not just small businesses illegally underpaying their workers, there are some big names in there too, such as certain branches of Wagamama’s and TGI Friday’s.

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The stats suggest that the government isn’t punishing these criminal employers sufficiently 

  • This doesn’t seem to be very ‘victim centred’ – from the perspectives of the victims (the underpaid workers) – If you work out the average underpayment (£9m/ 67K) this = £134 per worker, now this not may sound like a lot, but if you’re on minimum wage, then this could well be a significant amount of money!
  • The government has the power to fine underpaying employers 200% of wages not paid, whereas if they’re paying back £6 million on £9 million not paid, this is nearer 60%. Minimum wage is around £7, and if you get caught underpaying then you pay an additional £4 on top – it is a deterrent, but not much of one… these are the kind of figures that could well encourage some employers to gamble and try and get away with underpaying workers.
  • As far as I’m aware, none of these criminal employers have gone to jail for failing to pay minimum wage, they have only been fined, so there’s no physical deterrent – unlike if you steal something, which is basically what this is.
  • Add to this the fact that these employers have to know what they are doing… underpaying the minimum wage simply is not something you can do accidentally! The above fines seem like very soft punishment for powerful actors pre-meditatively steeling from their vulnerable workers.

So it appears if you’re unfortunate enough to be employed by an employer who breaks the law and pays you less than the minimum wage, then you’re not going to get justice under the present government.

Overall this seems to be great evidence to support the marxist theory of crime and punishment – the idea that elites do not get punished effectively when they break the law.