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The Long History of the ‘Underclass’ Thesis

Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory – the idea that there is a ‘hardcore’ of a few hundred thousand families and individuals who are welfare-dependent and responsible a disproportionate amount of crime in society has a long history:

  • In Victorian times there was a concern about a ‘social residuum’, and shortly afterwards it was ‘unemployables’ who were the target of social reformers and politicians.
  • The Eugenics Society was influential in promoting the ‘social problem group’ in the 1930s and the idea of ‘problem families’ in the years following the Second World War.
  • In the 1960s, Oscar Lewis, the cultural anthropologist, popularised the heavily racialised ‘culture of poverty’ theory in the USA.
  • Sir Keith Joseph, former Conservative MP, raised the issue of a ‘cycle of deprivation’ in the 1970s.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, American academic Charles Murray suggested that a ‘plague’ had crossed the Atlantic in the form of an ‘underclass’.
  • New Labour expressed concern about 2.5% of people who were ‘socially excluded’ in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  • The development of the Respect agenda in the 2000s raised the issue of ‘problem families’ once again.

However, these ideas have flourished, despite no robust evidence which supports the idea of an ‘underclass’, whatever it is called. Professor David Gordon, who led the recent Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom study, the largest ever research project of its kind, has offered the following view of such concepts:

These ideas are unsupported by any substantial body of evidence. Despite almost 150 years of scientific investigation, often by extremely partisan investigators, not a single study has ever found any large group of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty … any policy based on the idea that there are a group of ‘Problem Families’ who ‘transmit’ their ‘poverty/deprivation’ to their children will inevitably fail, as this idea is a prejudice, unsupported by scientific evidence. (Gordon, 2011)

Source: Stephen Crossley, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy? – Briefing Paper – November 2015

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Evaluating the The New Right View of the Family

CIVITAS is one of the best examples of an organisation which represents the New Right View of the Family, and the decline of the nuclear family and increase the the number of single parent families is one of the social trends it focuses on.

In one of it’s documents, entitled ‘Experiments in Fatherless Living‘ CIVITAS focuses on the consequences of rising number of single parent families for both children and society. Just some of the problems they single out include the fact that:

Lone mothers

  • Are poorer – one mothers are twice as likely as two-parent families to live in poverty at any one time (69% of lone mothers are in the bottom 40% of household income versus 34% of couples with children).
  • Are more likely to have mental health problems – At the age of 33, divorced and never-married
  • were 2.5 times more likely than married mothers to experience high levels of psychological distress.
  • may have more problems interacting with their children. Young people in lone-parent families were 30% more likely than those in two-parent families to report that their parents rarely or never knewwhere they were

Children from Lone Parent families

  • Among children aged five to fifteen years in Great Britain, those from lone-parent families were twice as likely to have a mental health problem as those from intact two-parent families (16% versus 8%).
  • Have more trouble in school – After controlling for other demographic factors, children from lone-parent households were 3.3 times more likely to report problems with their academic work, and 50% more likely to report difficulties with teachers
  • Analysis of 35 cases of fatal abuse which were the subject of public inquiries between 1968 and 1987 showed a risk for children living with their mother and an unrelated man which was over 70 times higher than it would have been for a child with two married biological parents.
  • Are more likely to run away from home – children from lone-parent families are twice as likely to run away from home as those from two-birth-parent families (14% compared to 7%).

Criticisms of the New Right view of single parents 

This text, Charles Murray and The Underclass (especially from page 62 – ‘The Focus on Single Mothers’) provides some useful criticisms of the above statistics – As follows:

‘Murray’s thesis may have been exaggerated for effect, so as to get his main point over, but making scapegoats of single mothers for society’s ills does not help us to approach the serious issues raised by the growing proportion of one-parent families.

This growth has to be seen in the context of changes in social attitudes across the wider society. We live in an age when over 90 per cent of those aged between 18 and 34 do not consider pre-marital sex to be particularly wrong, and when divorce and cohabitation are increasing and are being seen as acceptable at all levels of society.

We may want to seek ways to counter these developments at an individual level, but is not easy to see how we can turn back the clock to a less permissive age—short of a massive religious revival or draconian laws which attempt to control private behaviour between adults.’

Related Links

 

NB – It’s not just single parents that CIVITAS have got it in for – in their ‘The facts behind cohabitation Fact Sheet‘ they provide more misleading statistics on how marriage is better than cohabitation

 

 

 

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Neoliberalism and The New Right – An Introduction

What is Neoliberalism?

Neoliberalism is a pro-capitalist economic theory which believes that the ‘free market’ in capitalist economies is the best basis for organising society. Free market economies are based upon the choices individuals make when spending their money. The general principle is that if you ‘leave everything to the market’, then businesses will provide what people demand – because businesses want to make a profit and they can’t make a profit if they don’t provide what people want.

Market forces also encourage competition – when people see high demand for a product, they are encouraged to produce and sell that product – and the better product they can make and the cheaper they can sell it for, then the more profit they make.

According to Neoliberalism – the advantages of a free-market system are as follows:

  1. Individual Freedom – They are based on the principle of allowing individuals to be free to pursue their own self-interest – this is seen as the best way to pursue the maximum good in society.

  2. They are efficient – businesses try to be efficient in order to maximise profit.

  3. Innovation – Competition and the profit motive encourage people to produce new products to stimulate demand – we probably wouldn’t have had the iPad without Capitalism!

  4. Economic Growth and jobs – The end result of leaving businesses free to do do business is more wealth and more jobs.

Neoliberalism and Social Policy

Neoliberals believe that governments should play a reduced role in managing the economy and in controlling people’s lives. In Neoliberal thought, the free market knows best, and individuals should be allowed as much freedom as possible to go about their businesses should be allowed more freedom to compete with each other in order to make profit.

  1. Deregulation – Removing restrictions on businesses and employers involved in world trade – In practice this means reducing tax on Corporate Profits, or reducing the amount of ‘red tape’ or formal rules by which companies have to abide – for example reducing health and safety regulations.

  2. Fewer protections for workers and the environment – For the former this means doing things like scrapping minimum wages, permanent contracts. This also means allowing companies the freedom to increasingly hire ‘flexible workers’ on short-term contracts.

  3. Privatisation – selling to private companies industries that had been owned and run by the state

  4. Cutting taxes – so the state plays less of a role in providing welfare – social security, education and health for example.

  5. IMPORTANTLY – In most neoliberal theory, the state does have a minimal role to play – it needs to protect private property – given that profit is the main motive, the system won’t work if anyone can steal or vandalise anyone else’s property – and so the state needs to maintain control of law and order.

The New Right

The New Right is a political philosophy associated with the Conservative Government (1979-1997 and 2010 to the present day). The New Right adopted and put into practice many of the ideas of Neoliberalism, but there are some differences (indicated below).

There are Five Key Ideas associated with New Right thinking:

  • The introduction of free market principles into many areas of life (Like Neoliberalism) – The best example of this is the Marketisation of Education, and we also see it with academies.

  • Reduced Spending by the State (Like Neoliberalism) – The 1979 Conservative government cut taxes on the highest income earners and the current conservative government is cutting public services massively.

  • An emphasis on individual freedom and responsibility (Like Neoliberalism) – The New Right have cut welfare spending enormously – believing that welfare breeds dependency. Similarly, tax breaks for the rich are seen as promoting self-interest.

  • A strong state in terms of upholding law and order – we see this in ‘Right Realist’ ideas of crime control – with Zero Tolerance Policing and increasing use of Prison as a form of punishment – this links with the above idea of holding people responsible for their own actions (rather than blaming their backgrounds like other perspectives might).

  • A stress on the importance of traditional institutions and values (unlike neoliberalism). The New Right believe in maintaining some traditions, as they see this as the basis for social order and stability – they strongly support the traditional nuclear family as the backbone of society for example, and still support the idea of a National Curriculum, set by the government, which sets the agenda in education.

Related Posts 

New Right Views of the Family

The New Right View of Education

The Neoliberal Theory of Economic Development (if you’re teacher, you really should be teaching the Global Development module!)

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Sociological Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A Level Sociology – Perspectives on Education Summary Grid

A summmary of the Functionalist, Marxist, New Right, Late Modern/ New Labour and Postmodern Perspectives on the role of education in society – focusing on Key ideas, supporting evidence and criticisms. (Scroll down for ‘test yourself’ link)

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Functionalism

  • Education performs positive functions for the individual and society.

  • It creating social solidarity (value consensus) through teaching the same subjects.

  • Teaching skills necessary for work – necessary for a complex division of labour.

  • Acting as a bridge between home and soceiety – from paricularistic to universalistic values.

  • Role Allocation and meritocracy

  • School performs positive functions for most pupils – exclusion and truancy rates are very low.

  • Role Allocation – Those with degrees earn 85% more than those without degrees.

  • Schools do try to foster ‘solidarity’ – Extended Tutorials – (‘cringing together’?)

  • Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses.

  • Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer).

  • Marxists – the education system is not meritocratic (not fair) – e.g. private schools benefit the wealthy.

  • Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school –

  • Many schools fail OFSTED inspections,

  • Not all pupils succeed

  • Negative In school processes like subcultures/ bullying/ teacher labelling

  • Postmodernists argue that ‘teaching to the test’ kills creativity.

  • Functionalism reflects the views of the powerful. The education system tends to work for them. (because they can send their children to private schools) and it suggests there is nothing to criticise.

Marxism

  • Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. The education system performs three functions for these elites:

  • Reproduces class inequality.

  • Legitimates class inequality.

  • The Correspondence Principle – School works in the interests of capitalist employers.

  • Neo- Marxism – Paul Willis – A Classic piece of Participant Observation of 12 lads who formed a counter school cultur. Willis argued they rejected authority and school and just turned up to ‘have a laff’ (rejecting the correspondence theory). However, they ended up failing and still ended up in working class jobs (so supports the reproduction of class inequality).

  • To support the reproduction of inequality – Who gets the best Jobs. And there is no statistically significant evidence against the FACT that, on aggregate, the richer your parents, the better you do in education.

  • To support the Legitimation of class inequality – pupils are generally not taught about how unfair the education system is – they are taught that if they do badly, it is down to them and their lack of effort.

  • To support the Ideological State Apparatus – Surveillance has increased schools’ ability to control students.

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites (e.g. Sociology).

  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority (see Paul Willis).

  • Some students rebel – 5% are persistent truants (they are active, not passive!).

  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly.

  • The growth of the creative industries in the UK suggest school doesn’t pacify all students.

  • The nature of work and the class structure has also changed, possibly making Marxism less relevant today.

Key Ideas about Education

Supporting Evidence

Criticisms/ Limitations

Neoliberalism and The New Right

  • Created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school = league tables.

  • The state provides a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing – National Curriculum.

  • Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work: New Vocationalism!

  • Their policies seem to have raised standards.

  • Their policies have been applied internationally (PISA league tables).

  • Asian Countries with very competitive education systems tend to top the league tables (e.g. China).

  • Competition between schools benefited the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice.

  • Vocational Education was also often poor.

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools.

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools.

Late Modernism and New Labour

  • Government needs to spend more on education to respond to the rapid pace of change brought about by Globalisation.

  • People need to reskill more often as – government should play a role in managing this.

  • Schools are also necessary to keep under surveillance students ‘at risk’ of future deviance.

  • New Labour Policies – the purpose of school should be to raise standards, improve equality of opportunty, and promote diversity and equality.

  • See Evaluation of New Labour Policies

  • All developed economies have governments who spend large amounts of money on education, suggesting more (not less like Neoliberals suggest) state education is good.

  • It is difficult to see what other institution could teach about diversity other than schools.

  • There did seem to be more equality of opportunity under New Labour rather than under the 2015 Neoliberal/ New Right government.

  • Postmodernists argue that government attempts to ‘engineer’ pupils to fit society kill creativity

  • Marxists argue that whatever state education does it can never reduce class inequalities – we need to abolish global capitalism, not adapt to it!

  • Late-Modern, New Labour ideas about education are expensive. Neoliberalists say that we can no longer afford to spend huge sums of money on education.

Postmodernism

  • Stand against universalising education systems.

  • See Modernist education as oppressive to many students – especially minority groups

  • Believe the ‘factory production-line mentality of education kills creativity

  • Ideas of education which fit with a postmodern agenda include – Home Education, Liberal forms of education, Adult Education and Life Long Learnin and Education outside of formal education (leisure)

  • Many people agree that schools do kill creativity (Ted Robinson, and Suli-Breaks)

  • Sue Palmer – Teaching the test has resulted in school being miserable and stressful for many pupils.

  • Do we really want an education system more like the Chinese one?

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised as being ethnocentric (potentially oppressive to minority groups).

  • Late-Modernists – we need schools to promote tolerance of diversity.

  • Neoliberalism – we need a competitive system to drive up standards in order to be able to compete in a global free market!

  • Marxists would argue that home education would lead to greater inequality – not all parents have an equal ability – if we leave education to parents, the middle classes will just benefit more, and working class kids will be even further behind.

  • Liberal forms of education may result in the survival of the fittest’

 

Test yourself:

Functionalist or Marxist? (Quizlet Test)

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The New Right’s View of Education

The New Right introduced the 1988 Education Reform Act and believe in Marketisation and Parentocracy within the framework of a National Curriculum and with teaching and learning monitored by OFSTED. 

Underlying principles of the New Right

  • They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.

  • The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.

  • Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.

Key ideas of The New Right on Education-

  1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables

  1. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth. Hence: New Vocationalism!

  1. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum

Evaluation of the New Right

  • Competition between schools benefitted the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act

  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education

  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools

  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools

The Neoliberal and New Right view of education 

You might also like the mind map below – a more up to date summary of neoliberalism and the new right

Neoliberal new right education.png

Sociology of Education CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

 

Related Posts 

Neoliberalism and the New Right – An Introduction

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

The Marxist Perspective on Education

The New Right View of the Family

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The New Right and The Education Reform Act

The New Right refers to conservative, right wing political beliefs, best exemplified by the Thatcher government’s policies of the 1980s. Please note that the New Right is a political philosophy not a Sociological theory!

Underlying principles of the New Right

  • They believe the state (government) cannot meet people’s needs.
  • The most efficient way to meet people’s needs is through the free market – through private businesses competing with each other.
  • Economic growth is an important overall goal – to be achieved by allowing individuals the freedom to compete with each other.

Key ideas of The New Right on Education-

1. The New Right created an ‘education market’ – Schools were run like businesses – competing with each other for pupils and parents were given the choice over which school they send their children to rather than being limited to the local school in their catchment area. This lead to the establishment of league tables

2. Schools should teach subjects that prepare pupils for work, Hence education should be aimed at supporting economic growth.  Hence: New Vocationalism!

3. The state was to provide a framework in order to ensure that schools were all teaching the same thing and transmitting the same shared values – hence the National Curriculum
Evaluation of the New Right

  • Competition between schools benefitted the middle classes and lower classes, ethnic minorities and rural communities ended up having less effective choice – refer to the handout criticising the 1988 Education Act
  • Vocational Education was also often poor – refer to the HO on Vocational Education
  • There is a contradiction between wanting schools to be free to compete and imposing a national framework that restricts schools
  • The National Curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric and too restrictive on teachers and schools
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The New Right View of the Family

This post is designed to help you revise for the AS Sociology Families and Households Exam (Perspectives on the Family)

In the 1980s New Right thinkers argued that government policy was undermining the family so policy changes were needed. Their thinking dominated policy development from 1979 to 1997.

Like Functionalists, the New Right hold the view that there is only one correct or normal family type. This is the traditional or conventional nuclear family. Again like Functionalists, The New Right sees this family as ‘natural’ and based on fundamental biological differences between men and women. In their view this family is the cornerstone of society; a place of contentment, refuge and harmony. Finally the New Right argue that the decline of the traditional family and the growth of family diversity are the cause of many social problems such as higher crime rates and declining moral standards generally

The New Right believe that it is important for children to have a stable home, with married mother and father, and that ideally the wife should be able to stay at home to look after the children.

They believe that the introduction of the welfare state led to a culture where people depend on hand-outs from the state and that these encourage single parenting, which in turn, they argue leads to deviancy and a decline in morality.

New Right thinking encouraged the conservative government to launch the Back to Basics campaign 1993 to encourage a return to traditional family values. This was criticised for being unsuccessful, and hypocritical due some Conservative MPs being found to be having affairs or being divorced.

Evidence for ‘non-nuclear families’ being a problem

  • The rate of family breakdown is much lower amongst married couples (6% compared to 20%)
  • Children from broken homes are almost five times more likely to develop emotional problems
  • Young people whose mother and father split up are also three times as likely to become aggressive or badly behaved
  • Lone-parent families are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as two-parent families.
  • Children from broken homes are nine times more likely to become young offenders.”

Criticisms of the New Right

  1. They exaggerate the decline of the Nuclear family. Most adults still marry and have children. Most children are reared by their two natural parents. Most marriages continue until death. Divorce has increased, but most divorcees remarry.
  2. Feminism – gender roles are socially determined rather than being fixed by biology. Traditional gender roles are oppressive to women.
  3. Feminism – divorce being easier is good because without it many women end up being trapped in unhappy or abusive relationships.
  4. Most single parents are not welfare scroungers – most want to work but find it difficult to find jobs that are flexible enough so they can balance work and child care.
  5. Chester (see later!) argues that the New Right exaggerate the extent of cohabiting and single parent families – most children still spend most of their lives in a nuclear family arrangement

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Related Posts (both of which criticise The New Right)

The Troubled Families Programme – A current social policy which the New Right agree with

The Feminist View of The Family

The Late Modern View of The Family