Explaining The Long Term Increase in Divorce

There are four main factors which can explain for the long term increase in divorce:

  • Social policy changes
  • Economic factor
  • Changing gender roles
  • Postmodernsisation.

This post examines these factors and others.

  

Social Policy Changes

Social Policy changes are the first factor that explains rapidly increasing divorce in the early 1970s – the 1969 the Divorce Act extended the grounds of divorce to ‘irretrievable breakdown’, making divorce possible even if only one partner wanted a divorce.

However, this cannot explain all of the increase, since the divorce rate was rising before the act, and continued to rise for many years afterwards.

Economic Factors

We also need to look at economic factors – Increasing inequality in the UK has meant that the lower social classes now get paid less compared to rising living costs (mortgages/ bills). This means that both partners in a marriage now need to do paid work to get by, which puts a strain on the marriage which leads to higher numbers getting divorced.

A positive evaluation of this is that divorce rates are higher amongst poorer families.

Functionalism

There are a number of reasons linked to the Functional Fit Theory which could explain the increase in divorce:

•           Functionalists such as Goode (1971) believe that conflict has increased because the family has become more isolated from other kin, placing an increased burden on husbands and wives who have little support from other relatives.

•           Dennis (1975) believes that because the family performs fewer functions the bonds between husband and wife are weaker.

•           Allan and Crowe (2001) point out that because the family is no longer an economic unit, this makes it easier for families to break up.

The New Right

Would claim that increasingly generous welfare benefits for single mothers is a crucial factor which allows women to divorce if they deem it necessary – because if divorce occurs within a family, in 9/10 cases, the child will go with the mother – making it difficult to find full time work – and hence benefits may be a necessary link in the chain of explaining the increase in divorce. The New Right would also see the increasing divorce rate as a sign of wider moral decline, a point of view which is not shared by the next three perspectives.

Feminism/ changing gender roles

The changing position of women in society. Is crucial to understanding the increase in divorce rates.

Women today are much more likely to be in employment today and this means they are less financially dependent on their husbands and thus freer to end an unsatisfactory marriage. The proportion of women in some kind of paid work is now 70%, whereas in the 1950s it was less than 50%

Giddens himself argues that two trends are the most important – the impact of the Feminist movement, which arguably lies behind all of the above changes, and also the advances in contraception – which allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies – and women in marriages without children will be freer to leave those marriages. Feminists however, point out that the advances of women can be exaggerated – women still earn less than men, and traditional gender norms remain in many families.

Postmodernism

Both religion and traditional values have declined in Britain. As a result there is no longer a set of social values which force people into staying married, there is less social stigma attached to getting a divorce and so people are freer to choose to get divorced. This change reflects the declining importance of social structure and the rise of consumer culture – the idea that individuals can choose their own lifestyles.

Giddens (1992) believes that the nature of marriage has changed because the nature of intimate relationships more generally have changed:

•           In the early period of modernity in the late 18th century, marriage became more than an economic arrangement as the idea of romantic love developed. The marriage partner was idealised as someone who would perfect a person’s life. Women kept their virginity waiting for the perfect partner.

•           In the era of what Gidden’s calls ‘late modernity’, plastic sexuality has developed. This means that sex can be for pleasure rather than conceiving children with your perfect marriage partner. Relationships and marriages are no longer seen as necessarily being permanent.

•           Marriage is now based on confluent love – Love that is dependent upon partners benefitting from the relationship. If they are not fulfilled in their relationship, couples no longer stay together out of a sense of duty, so divorce and relationship breakdown become more common.

Ulrich Beck points out that divorce has increased because individualisation. This involves:

  • More opportunities for individuals, especially women, and the opportunity for individuals to take more decisions about every aspect of their lives.
  • Increased conflict emerging from increased choice and uncertainty which leads to chaotic relationships and helps explain the higher divorce rate.

What is Social Control?

Social control refers to the mechanisms a society uses to get individuals to conform. This post covers sociological perspectives on social control such as Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism

A broad definition of social control is ‘all of the formal and informal mechanisms and internal and external controls that operate to produce conformity’*

Social control is the opposite of deviance. Sociologists of deviance ask ‘why do people break social norms and values’? Social control theorists ask ‘why do people conform to social norms and values’?

NB for students studying the crime and deviance component of A-level sociology, most resources tend to focus on the ‘crime and deviance‘ aspect, NOT the social control aspect, but the question of why people conform is just as important as the question of why people break the rules!

Origins of the Concept of Social Control

The concept is often traced back to the seventeenth century Philosopher Thomas Hobbes who argued that in a society of self-interested individuals a great power (the State) was needed to prevent things deteriorating into a war of all against all.

Individuals agreed to give up some of their individual freedoms by promising to obey the laws of the State, and in return the State promised to protect individuals.

Talcottt Parsons (1937) developed one of the earliest sociological perspectives on social control. He argued that conformity was not just produced by external agencies coercing individuals to obey rules through the threat of punishment, but also through individuals internalizing norms and values through socialization.

Travis Hirschi (1969) developed this idea further when he argued that juvenile delinquency was the result of an individual’s bonds to society were weakened. His theory emphasized the importance of ties to family, peers and other social institutions such as education and work as important in maintaining social control.

Types of social control theory

One way of dividing up theories of social control is to separate them into conformity producing and deviance repressing approaches (Hudson 1997) suggested there were

Conformity producing theories tend to focus on how people learn to conform by internalising social norms and taking on social roles (like with the Functionalist view of the family or education)

Deviance repressing theories tend to look at the relationship between deviance behaviour and the measures used to reduce it (like with right and left realist approaches to deviance).

Better methods combine both types of approach

Parsons’ approach to social control

Parsons was interested in the question of how societies produce enough conformity to reproduce themselves (or carry on) across several generations.

He pointed out that the majority of people to do not seem to mind conforming to most of society’s norms and values for most of the time during most of their lives. In other words most people willingly conform.

Parsons argued that socialization was central to this ‘willing conformity’. Socialization within institutions such as the family and education helped individuals to internalize the norms and values of a society and convince people that a ‘good-person’ was one who willingly conformed to society’s rules.

Matza’s Techniques of Neutralisation

David Matza’s work on ‘techniques of neutralisation’ supported this view. He pointed out that even people who broke the laws of society still shared the general values of that society.

Matza argued that when people committed deviant acts, they employed ‘techniques of neutralisation’ to explain why they had broken social norms and/ or values.

Techniques of neutralization may include such things as ‘I was drunk, so I was out of control’ or ‘that person is nasty, they deserved it’, and they are used by individuals to justify why they were temporarily deviance on that particular occasion.

Matza argued that ‘techniques of neutralisation’ enabled people to convince themselves that there were exceptional circumstances which explained their occasional acts of deviance, while at the same time allowing them to maintain their self-concept as someone who generally conforms to social norms most of the time.

Hirschi’s Control Theory

Hirschi’s theory of social control emphasized the importance of attachments and social bonds. The more bonds an individual has to society, the more time he or she spends involved with other people and social institutions, then the less likely that individual is to commit deviance.

In Hirschi’s theory, deviance doesn’t really need explaining: it happens whenever an individual is cut free from social bonds and has the opportunity to be deviant.

Marxist Approaches to Social Control

Unlike the three consensus approaches above, Marxists tend to see social control as being consciously or unconsciously ‘engineered’ by the capitalist class and the state.

In terms of ‘conformity producing’ approaches – Marxists see the norms and values of education as working to produce a docile and passive workforce – as outlined in Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Theory.

The media is also seen as an important agent of social control – processes such as agenda setting and gatekeeping mean the elite’s view of the world is presented as normal, thus producing ideological control.

Marxists are also critical of how ‘deviance is reduced’ – seeing the police as working with the elite and the state – working class street crime is, for example, over-policed and prosecuted, while Corporate Crime is relatively under-policed and prosecuted.

Interactionist Approaches to Social Control

The labelling perspective sees social control and deviance as having an ironic relationship.

The more the agencies of social control try to prevent deviance, by labelling and policing certain behaviours as deviant, then the more deviance will be created.

A lot of research from the interactionist perspective has focused on how it is certain types of people (rather than behaviours) who tend to get labelled as deviant, and thus are more likely to become deviant.

Sources

(*) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

Education and social control

How do schools try to control pupils? Some of the ways include academic surveillance, CCTV, teaching British Values. Prevent and the use of isolation units. It also explores how effective schools are as agents of social control.

One possible social function that schools perform is that of social control. This post explores some of the ways school might perform this function and asks how effectively schools control pupils and parents today?

You can use the material below to evaluate some of the perspectives on education, and much of it is also relevant to the crime and deviance module, especially the material on surveillance.

What is social control?

Social control refers to the formal and informal techniques that may be used to make the individual conform to social norms and values.

In sociology the focus is usually on how those with power and authority use institutions to control ‘ordinary’ people in society.

There are many institutions which can be said to perform social control, such as the law and the courts, the police, religion, the media and education.

The education system is of interest as an institution of social control because it reaches more people than most other institutions. Nearly all of us will attend school from a young age, and spend thousands of hours in school as children, while most of us will have no direct contact with the police, for example.

How might school act as an agent of social control?

  1. Parents are legally required to either send their children to a state or independently run school. Put another way, pupils are expected to attend school, and truant officers are employed to catch those who are not attending. Parents can be fined if their students have unauthorised absences.
  2. The > 90% of pupils who attend state schools will spend at least six hours a day in formal education. Many will spend more time in school because the school day has been getting longer in recent years, through the addition of both morning classes or breakfast clubs and after school clubs.
  3. Students who attend state schools will be taught the National Curriculum, having limited choice over what they study until they make their GCSE choices at 14.
  4. From 2013 young people are required to remain in some form of education or training until the age 18, raised from the previous ‘education leaving age’ of 16.
  5. Schools and colleges are required to teach pupils about ‘British Values’. This might be regarded as indoctrination by the State.
  6. Schools are responsible for Prevent – they have to report to the police anyone they believe to be involved with terrorist activities, and they have to work to prevent students being attracted to terrorist organisations.
  7. Schools engage in physical surveillance of pupils, most obviously through the increasing use of cameras, but also by using staff at school gates, in playgrounds and walking the corridors during lessons.
  8. Schools have clear codes of conduct and use isolation units and detentions to regulate deviant behaviour.   
  9. Schools increasingly involve parents in monitoring students and keeping them on track, using ‘parenting contracts’ with deviant cases.
  10. Schools keep databases of student’s academic progress and report back to parents regularly. This means students know they are being watched, and most of them ‘self-regulate’ because of this.
  11. Schools may require certain students to work with learning support staff or attend further supported learning, which means such students will be under higher levels of surveillance.
  12. Schools may keep (confidential) records of student discussions about mental health and well-being and work with medical professionals to require students to attend further ‘support’ as necessary.  
  13. Schools constantly remind students of the importance of qualifications for getting a good career, which may lead to some students self-regulating.
  14. Students are required to resit GCSE maths and English when in 16-19 education if they achieve less than a C first time round, meaning less choice in later life for those students.

Are schools effective agents of social control: exploring the evidence

It’s hard to argue against the view that schools use more control measures today than they did in the 1970s and 80s. However, just because schools try to control pupils more than they used to, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are effective in doing so.

Furthermore, there are some possible counter trends, such as the growth of home education and the increase in post-16 educational choices, that suggest that ‘formal education’ might actually be less constraining and controlling than it once was for increasing numbers of pupils.

Below I explore some of the different types of evidence to examine whether schools are effective agents of social control

Fines for Parents taking their children out of school during term time

Local councils can impose fines on parents if their children have an unauthorised absence from school during term time, even if just for one day. The fines start at £60 and if not paid parents can be prosecuted and face up to three months in jail.

These fines were tested in 2015 when John Platt refused to pay a fine handed out by the Isle of Wight LEA after he took his daughter on holiday to Disney World, Florida during term time. He argued that his daughter’s attendance had otherwise been excellent, and took his case the Supreme Court.

John Platt: guilty of taking his daughter on holiday for one week during term time.

Platt lost the case, with the court siding with the Local Education Authority, declaring that he was guilty of breaching school rules and failing to secure his child’s regular attendance at school.

This court ruling seems to have made LEAs more likely to impose fines, and in 2017 -18 Local Authorities issued 260 000 penalty notices for unauthorized absences to parents, which was an increase of 110 000 on the previous year.

Extended School Days

Though not compulsory, there are some academies, such as the NET Academies Trust which run extended school days – starting school at 8.45 rather than at 9.00, running extra lessons after 15.00 for underachieving students, and offering a further enrichment programme later in the afternoon.

The rising of the ‘education’ leaving age in 2013

In 2013 the government raised the ‘formal education’ leaving age of pupils in England from 16 to 18 years.

Pupils can still leave school at 16, but only if they have a place at a further education college, or are going into work which has some kind of accredited training attached to it.

This means that rather than being able to transition to full adulthood and relative freedom at the age of 16, students are now subjected the control and surveillance associated with training for at least another two years.

If an individual is on a work-based training course, this regime of control may not be as severe as being in school, and in many ways this is probably going to be quite similar to just starting out on a new job anyway. But since 2013 this layer of ‘educational control’ has been formalised, and it means that MORE PEOPLE are now definitely going to be subjected to work based observations and assessments than ever before.

Physical surveillance

In 2012 Big Brother Watch released a report based on Freedom of Information requests that estimated there are over 100 000 CCTV cameras in schools.

There are more recent reports that camera footage taken in schools to show parents how their children have misbehaved, and to get students to reflect on and take responsibility for their ‘bad’ behaviour.

It’s interesting to note that if you do a google search for ‘schools’ and ‘cctv’ or ‘surveillance’ there isn’t much research being done, so the use of CCTV in schools seems to have become normalised as a form of social control.

Some schools even have security cameras in toilets, and this is raising some concern among parents.

The most recent evolution of physical surveillance is the use of body cams by teachers, which some schools are currently trialing. (Link from 2020).

The increasing use of isolation units

Isolation units are staffed rooms, often with partitioned booths, where disruptive students are sent to ‘cool off’, possibly for an hour or so, but sometimes for an entire day.

They are especially popular, according to at least one of the reports below, among multi-academy trusts.

Isolation booths in one primary school – may as well start ’em young!

According to a 2018 BBC report, at least 200 out of 1000 schools use isolation units, or booths. Some even have permanent units with their own toilet facilities so pupils can remain in them for an entire day if necessary.

According to this Guardian article (2020), schools are using isolation units to punish pupils for more and more trivial breaches of the rules. For example the article refers to one girl who was put in isolation for forgetting her planner, for the first time ever.

Some schools seem to be using isolation on a more regular basis to freeze some pupils out of the mainstream school environment. The article refers to one individual, Brendan, who spent much of his last term in isolation, and left schools with no GCSEs.

It’s likely that these units are growing in popularity since the government has cracked down on the use of exclusions, which means schools are more likely to try and deal with deviant students in-house, which explains the rise of isolation units.

isolation units – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46044394

British Values

According to Ofsted, ‘fundamental British values’ are:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.
A fairly typical ‘British Values’ poster from one of Britain’s Academies.

The British government has required schools to promote ‘British Values’ since 2014, when it first published its guidance on how schools might go about doing this.

Certain extracts from the guidance read like something out of the 1950s: schools are required to prepare pupils for modern life by ensuring their moral, spiritual and cultural development.

The primary aim of the British Values agenda seems to be about promoting democracy, and it is suggested that schools look for opportunities within the National Curriculum as well as extra-curricular activities to promote them.

This article in The Conversation presents one of the problems with teaching British Values is that the idea of what British Values should be taught in schools wasn’t discussed particularly widely by parliament, let alone the general public before schools were required to teach them to pupils.

The Prevent Duty

The Prevent Duty (in effect since 2015) requires that schools take due regard to ensure that pupils are not drawn into terrorism.

Specifically, the guidance recommends teaching British Values, as well as the possibility of monitoring students’ online activities, and it provides contacts if schools have a concern about particular students, among which it lists the local police force.

This seems to be some extremely strong evidence that schools are directly being used as agents of formal social control, working directly with the police to combat terrorism.

However, although the intention is to prevent extremism, the legislation may have had the opposite effect. This 2016 report by Rights Watch UK suggests that Prevent may have increased divisions in British society.

The report argues that divisions may have increased as a result of untrained teachers unnecessarily referring students on to anti-terrorism authorities because they have misinterpreted certain patterns of behaviour or actions as being suspicious, when in fact the students has no terrorist intentions at all.

The increasing use of technology to monitor students

In the United States some schools have moved to 24 hour monitoring of students’ online activities, at least those made within the school’s own system.

This article cites the example of one student talking about self-harm on a school messaging system, after school hours, this triggered an alert from the monitoring system, and a member of staff contacted the student’s parent immediately.

I know this is the United States, but the UK so often follows what the U.S. does, just a few years afterwards. This article from Wired Magazine highlights the fact that students are already under a historically unprecedented level of electronic surveillance here in the UK, and maybe this is just the start, with surveillance of personal communications set to get ever more intrusive.

Other forms of Surveillance in schools

I’ve only examined a limited range of some of the more obvious forms of evidence which suggests schools are increasingly acting as agents of social control for the British State.

In addition to all the above, schools have increased their level of ‘academic surveillance’ since the introduction of the 1988 Education Act, and students are now exposed to regular testings, reports, and reviews of their progress as just a normal part of school life.

This kind of academic-surveillance has just become normalised: most students expect it, and don’t even think about challenging it.

It is possibly this that is the most profound social control measure – millions of students knowing that their progress is going to be reviewed at least once every six weeks, probably more often, keeps them working, keeps them doing homework, keeps them chained to the system.

The same may be said of getting students to think about their future careers – where UCAS is concerned, students have to start thinking about what universities to go to and writing their personal statements a year in advance, taking up considerable time in their final year of formal education, AND (if they get a conditional offer) keeping them working.

So it is possibly the competitive nature of the system, the concern about failure and the constant surveillance of progress which are the main mechanisms whereby schools control pupils?

Counter Trends?

The system doesn’t control all students equally, and there are at least three recent counter-trends which suggest schools are NOT effective agents of social control: the increase in home education, the increase in exclusions and the increase in choice in 16-18 education.

The Number of Exclusions is Increasing

According to DFES data, both fixed term and permanent exclusions have been increasing since 2012/13

However, whether this counts as evidence against schools being effective agents of social control is debatable.

Personally I think it does suggest schools are not being effective, because exclusions suggest schools cannot control students within school boundaries, so students are offloaded, possibly to be under less surveillance once they have been excluded.

HOWEVER, you might interpret this increase as evidence of MORE control: it all depends what happens to the students afterwards!

The increase in Home Education

48,000 children were being home-educated in 2016-17, up from about 34,000 in 2014-15, according to this BBC article.

Students educated at home are more likely to get a choice in how they are educated, and are less likely to be subjected to many of the control measures suggested above.

However, we are talking about relatively small numbers of students here – 48, 000 children, compared to a few million in the education system as a whole!

Increasing post 16 education choices

Students may have to stay on in some form of education or training until they are 18, but it’s debatable whether many of those are really still under educational surveillance.

Once students hit 16 years of age, they can enter work based training, which can be just like an ordinary job, except with lower pay because they are ‘training’, so this may not be that much of a change from pre-2013 when they could have just left formal education altogether!

Conclusions: Are schools effective agents of social control?

Based on the evidence above, I’d say that they are certainly being used by the State to control certain pupils more, and that schools themselves are making increasing use of technology to control students through surveillance.

When it comes to the question of effectiveness – I’d say yes, they have become more effective – but this is primarily due to the more subtle forms of academic surveillance, which works day to day, and goes largely unquestioned.

However, there are a significant minority or students who are NOT controlled – both those who get excluded, and those who are home educated, and I’m sure if I dug further I’d find that we’re talking about the underclass being excluded and the educated middle classes who are being home educated.

Sociological Perspectives Teaching Resource Bundle

A level Sociology teaching resources for sale – perspectives in sociology.

I’ve just release a new sociological perspectives teaching resource bundle as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources subscription package.

This teaching resource bundle contains everything teachers need to deliver 10-hour long theory lessons for A level sociology, focusing on perspectives in sociology.  

An overview of the ten theory lessons

  1. An overview of the perspectives/ key sociological questions (2 lessons)
  2. Functionalism (1.5 lessons)
  3. Marxism (1.5 lessons)
  4. Feminisms (2 lessons)
  5. Social Action Theory (1 lesson)
  6. Postmodernism (2 lessons)

Resources in the bundle include:

  • Six Student workbooks covering all of the above lessons
  • Six Power Points covering most of the above lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
  • Lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
  • Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the above lessons as necessary.
  • LOTS of different types of theory grids and concepts for cutting and doing sentence sorts with
  • Full theory and methods scheme of work.

Fully modifiable resources

Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather than as PDFs, so you can modify them!

NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!

Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

What is Hate Crime?

The Home Office defines Hate Crime as ‘

‘Any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’ (Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2018-19).

There are five main characteristics which the police monitor…..

  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender identity.

However this is not an exhaustive list and hate crimes can also be committed on the basis of age or gender, and there are calls to include misogyny (hatred of women) as a hate crime.

Hate crimes typically include any of the following acts motivated by ‘hatred’ against any of the above characteristics….

  • Assault with or without injury
  • Harassment
  • Causing fear, alarm or distress
  • Criminal Damage

All of these crimes can also be committed in general, but if a victim feels they were motivated by hatred of their religion or gender identity etc. then the police must record the act as a hate crime.

Trends in Hate Crime

Trends in hate crime vary significantly depending on where you get your data…

Police recorded Hate Crime reports that there were 103,379 Hate Crimes in England and Wales in 2018/19, an increase of 50% over the last five years:

However, the 2018-19 Crime Survey for England and Wales shows a decline in Hate Crime the estimated number of hate crime incidents experienced by adults aged 16 has fell by 40 percent from 307,000 in the combined 2007/08 and 2008/09 surveys to 184,000 in the combined 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 surveys.

Thus it’s possibly best to reject the Police Recorded Crime Stats as being invalid as a measurement of the total amount of Hate Crime committed, given that around 50% of CSEW Hate Crimes are not picked up by the police.

Sociological Perspectives on Hate Crime

Many of the earlier perspectives seem pretty ineffective at explaining this type of crime. You’d probably have a hard time trying to apply Functionalism, for example: by definition these crimes are divisive, and a reflection of conflict in society, rather than social integration, and it’s hard to see how this particular type of crime could be regarded as functional for society or in any way positive.

Similarly with other consensus theories: there’s little evidence that a breakdown of social control, a strain in society, or of subcultures being significant causal factors (at least no more than with any other type of crime) of hate crime… many of these crimes are committed by lone individuals.

It’s possible to apply Interactionism to help understand religiously motivated crime motivated by Islamophobia, given the general negative press coverage of Islam, focussing mainly on infrequent terror attacks when they happen. However, this doesn’t explain hate-crimes agains other religions or minority groups. There’s hardly a moral panic against the LGBT community for example!

Rational Choice Theory (from Right Realism) could partially explain hate crime – possibly some of the perpetrators feel as if there’s little chance of them being caught harassing their victims because the ‘general public sentiment’ is on their side, so they won’t be reported.

This does seem to be a very postmodern crime – in that it’s a negative response to the increased visibility of minority groups and the increase in Diversity in British culture in recent years, although this is a very general level of theoretical explanation.

Possibly hate crime is a reaction to the increased relative deprivation and a feeling of marginalisation experienced by the perpetrators? Maybe they feel as if everything ‘diverse’ and ‘minority’ is being celebrated and has a place in British Culture but that more traditional British culture now has no place? So maybe there’s a possible application of Left Realism to be made here.

Conclusions>?

Hate Crime is a difficult crime to understand. It seems that many of the perspectives simply don’t apply to it, and those that do only seem to apply at the most general level.

So maybe this is a type of crime that defies sociological explanation?

NB – there may be quite a lot of it, but remember that if you take the CSEW stats, hate crime is actually going down, while the police seem to be getting better at reporting it, so whatever the causes, maybe it’s not all bad?!?

The globalisation of education

Three examples of the ‘globalisation of education’

The globalisation of education refers to how a ‘global system’ of education is emerging, beyond the level of individual countries. Three examples of this are:

  1. PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.
  2. International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.
  3. Private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students.

Below I will briefly consider each of these aspects of the globalisation of education in more depth, applying some sociological perspectives to provide some analytical depth.

PISA league tables rank countries according to how well pupils’ score on English and maths tests.

From a New Right/ neoliberal perspective this encourages competition between countries – with each country trying harder to raise standards. The UK ranks in the mid 20s for most of the tests for example and so should be under pressure to do better!

International companies are increasingly providing educational services in Britain and abroad.

One example of this is where companies such as Apple and Microsoft provide educational software to schools all over the world.

A second example is International exam boards providing assessment services and text books to different countries.

From a neoliberal perspective, this makes sense as these companies are efficient and in a better position to provide such services than especially governments in poorer countries (who tend to lack money).

From a Marxist perspective, this is a process of mainly Western companies gaining power and control over the education systems of poorer countries

U.K. private schools and universities are expanding abroad and offering services to fee-paying parents/ students

From a neoliberal perspective this is very good for the UK education sector, it increases profits and more money flows into the UK.

From a Marxist perspective, looked at globally, these institutions only really benefit the elite, they do nothing for the poor, so this will just perpetuate global inequality.

Related posts

You might also like to consider this post on how globalisation more generally has affected education in the UK, and how education policy has responded to this.

 

Revising core themes in A-level sociology

There are six ‘core themes‘ in the AQA’ A-level sociology specification: 

  • Socialisation
  • culture
  • identity
  • Social differentiation
  • power
  • stratification

These six core themes cut across every compulsory topic and every optional topic (usually families and beliefs), and they can form the basis of any 10 mark or any essay question. Students should not be at all surprised if they see any of the words cropping up in one of the 30 mark essay questions.

NB – these themes should look familiar, as they are basically some of the core concerns of the perspectives: Functionalism and postmodernism tend to focus on the top three, Marxism and Feminism the bottom three, with interactionism sitting somewhere in between them.

Where 10 mark questions are concerned, I recommend trying to use these two sets of core themes to develop points you find in the item – ‘one way’ focussing on a Functionalist/ postmodern analysis, the other focusing on developing a marxist/ feminist/ postmodern analysis. To my mind, it’s easy to develop Postmodernism from Functionalism and Labelling theory from Marxism/ Feminism.

Where essays are concerned, the 4 boxes above might be used as a suitable structure for four paragraphs, again, in relation to the item.

Quite a useful revision task is to place different questions in the middle of the above slide and just talk through how you might relate the different core themes/ perspectives/ concepts to the question.

In future posts this month I’ll outline how I use this analysis structure in mainly 10 mark questions!

Sociological Perspectives on ‘Renting a Womb’  

Kim Kardashian and Kayne West are apparently expecting a fourth child, employing a surrogate mother to carry their fertilised eggs. This will be the second surrogate child, following the birth of their first surrogate child, ‘Chicago’, born in January 2018.

Paying someone to be a surrogate mother, or ‘renting a womb’ is legal in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, surrogacy is legal, but parents are only allowed to pay the surrogate expenses related to the pregnancy, rather than paying them a fee for actually carrying the child.

The reason Kim Kardashian and Kayne West have opted for surrogates recently is because Kim has a medical condition which means that becoming pregnant again carries a higher than usual risk of her dying, so this isn’t just a lifestyle choice, but an interesting ethical/ sociological question is whether or not paid for surrogacy should be legal in the U.K. (NB – there’s a chance that it will be, as the surrogacy law is currently under review.

This topic is clearly relevant to families and households and especially social policy, and it’s quite useful to use it to explore different Feminist perspectives on the family….

Liberal Feminism

From a liberal feminist point of view, renting a womb should be acceptable because it would enable career-women to avoid taking time off work to pregnancy and child birth, and thus prevent the kind of career-breaks which put them at a disadvantage to men.

In fact, as far as the couple hiring the surrogate are concerned, this puts them on an entirely equal footing in relation to the new baby, meaning that it would be practically possible for them to share maternity/ paternity leave equally, rather than it ‘making sense’ for the woman to carry on taking time off after she’s done so in order to give birth.

Paid for surrogacy also provides an economic opportunity for the surrogate mothers, an opportunity only available to women.

Marxist Feminism

From a marxist feminist point of view renting a womb is kind of paying women for their labour in one sense, however it’s a long way off providing women a wage for ‘traditionally women’s work’ within the family, such as child care and domestic labour.

Ultimately renting a womb does little to address economic inequality between men and women because it’s only available to wealthier couples, meanwhile on the supply side of the rent a womb industry the only women likely to enter into a surrogacy contract are those that are financially desperate, i.e. they have no other means to make money.

Radical Feminism

From a radical feminist perspective renting a womb does nothing to combat patriarchy more generally. If paid for surrogacy was made legal in the UK, the only consequence would be to give wealthy couples the freedom to pay poor women to carry their children for 9 months.

This does nothing to combat more serious issues such as violence against women.

In conclusion…

While it’s an interesting phenomenon, renting a womb, rather than just voluntary surrogacy, will probably do very little to further the goal of female empowerment. However, it will obviously be of benefit to potentially millions of couples (in the long term) who are unable to have children.

Is religion a conservative force?

For the purposes of A-level sociology, ‘conservative’ usually has two meanings:

  • Preventing social change
  • Supporting traditional values.
  • We might also add a third: modest, reserved, austere, not showy.

On important analytical point is that some Fundamentalist groups want to reverse some social changes that have undermined the role of religion in society, taking society back to a more ‘traditional era’.

A second analytical point is to distinguish between the extent to which different religions promote conservative views and how successful they are in actually translating those views into actions.

Arguments and evidence for the view that religion acts as a conservative force

  • Various functionalist thinkers have argued that religion prevents rapid, radical social change and that it supports traditional values
  • Marx certainly argued that religion was a conservative force – through acting as the ‘opium of the masses’
  • Simone deBeauvoir argued that religion propped up Patriarchy by compensating women for their second class status.
  • Churches tend to have traditional values and be supported by more conservative elements in society. They also tend to support existing power structures (e.g. links to royalty and the House of Lords in the U.K.)
  • Islamic Fundamentalist movements, such as the Islamic State, aim to take society back to a more religious era
  • The New Christian Right in America support conservative values: traditional family structures, for example.

Arguments and evidence against the view that religion acts as a conservative force

  • Liberation Theology – a movement for the oppressed in Latin America stood against the powerful elites. However, it didn’t seem to have much success in changing anything.
  • The Baptist Church and the Civil Rights movement in the USA, much more successful.
  • The Nation of Islam promoted radical social change in the USA in the 1960s.
  • The New Age Movement promotes acceptance and diversity, so is not ‘conservative’ – in the sense that the New Right tend to support family values, for example.
  • Feminist forms of spirituality are not conservative.

More ambiguous arguments and evidence and analytical points

  • Max Weber’s ‘Protestant Ethic’ – Calvinism was a religion which was very ‘conservative’ and yet it unintentionally brought about Capitalism which ultimately undermined the role of religion in society.
  • As a general rule, churches and denominations tend to be more conservative.

 

Sociological Perspectives applied to The Apprentice….

Now in its fourteenth season, The Apprentice is one of Britain’s longest running T.V. series and remains one of the most popular, with average weekly viewing figures stable at just over 7 million for the past four years.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10:00:01 on 25/09/2018 – Programme Name: The Apprentice – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: **IMAGE EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 10AM TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER 2018**
Lord Sugar with The Apprentice Candidates of 2018. Lord Sugar – (C) Boundless Taylor Herring – Photographer: Jim Marks

In this post, I’m just going to analyse what its ‘social functions’ might be by applying a few sociological perspectives…

From a Functionalist perspective, which tends to focus on the positive functions which institutions perform in contributing to the maintenance of the whole, then I guess there are several positive functions which the apprentice might perform: we can see it as playing a role in secondary socialisation, reinforcing the ‘work ethic’ that is deemed so fundamental to capitalist society, for example, and even providing additional opportunities for entrepreneurs.

From a Marxist perspective the main function would probably be one of spreading false consciousness. The broad diversity of contestants suggests (As it does on any BBC show that we have equality of opportunity. This is a myth, especially where successful entrepreneurs are concerned. Such people tend to be drawn disproportionately from the middle classes.

It might also perform the function of ideological control: it has a soporific effect as 7 million people tune in to it every week, and it celebrates the values of individualism, selfishness and competition, disguising the many downsides to these traits.

I can’t see that there would be much of a feminist critique of the apprentice…. There are equal numbers of both sexes, and there are plenty of female winners who have been successful because of the apprentice. Possibly the show might be supporting evidence for liberal feminism?

Although, just as with Marxism, it does little to highlight the very real barriers that ‘ordinary women’ face every day in the workplace – such as harassment and the effects of the persistent dual burden/ triple shift.

From a neoliberal point of view, you might see this show as a real celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. From this perspective, society needs innovative individuals to come up new business ideas to drive the economy forward, and the sort of competition we see on the Apprentice is a perfectly healthy means of promoting this.

From a neoliberal point of view, the show ticks a lot of boxes – not only is it providing an opportunity for enterprising individuals to kick-start their businesses (either through winning and getting an investment, or through simply having their profiles raised as a result of being on the show), it also provides two generations of role models – in the form of Alan Sugar himself and the young apprentices. The show is itself is even a profit generating product in its own right as well.

Finally… this is a very postmodern show…. The sphere of production become the sphere of consumption, as entertainment. And the entertainment mainly comes from the extreme individualism of the contestants. It’s also hyperreal, as I argued in this post: how the apprentice really works!

Finally, from a late modernist point of view, while most the individuals think ‘they’ve done it all themselves’ – they are wrong: they need to realise the importance of the structures they’re embedded into, not least of all the competition itself: they need that external support of £250K and Alan Sugar’s business contacts to kick start their businesses, after all!