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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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Sociology Crime and Deviance Research Project, Summer Term 2018

This my very simply ‘research’ project task for summer timetable 2018. I’m experimenting with going back to a very open ended project!

Crime Deviance Sociology.jpg

The AQA Sociology specification states that you should be able to cite examples of your own research, hence this summer term research project (which is also useful for introducing theories of crime and deviance.

Task

Select one ‘type’ of crime from the list below and produce a 1500 -2000 word report applying perspectives and incorporating some independent research exploring how and why this crime occurs.

Examples of crimes you might look at

    • Burglary
    • Theft
    • Domestic violence
    • Corporate crime
    • State violence
  • Fraud
    • Knife crime/ gun crime
    • Subcultures
    • Drug dealers
    • Terrorism
  • Any other type of crime or deviance of your choice

Section 1: Introduction

Outline what crime you’ve chose to focus on, define it, and provide a few basic statistics to outline the extent of it.

Section 2: Theoretical context

Summarise how conflict, consensus and action theories would explain this crime. Use the following links or your main text books as necessary:

Section 3: Research summary

Find at least three (ideally more) pieces of contemporary (last 10 years) independent research conducted on this crime – this might be by official government sources, or specialist criminologists.

Summarise these pieces of research and use them to evaluate the above perspectives (which are supported, which are not.)

Section 4: Methods section (optional)

If you find there are significant gaps in your knowledge not covered by available literature, outline what research methods you might employ to find out more.

Timing: you have until the end of summer term timetable to hand in a 1500-2000 word research project.

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Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

Applying material from item C analyse two ways in which the nuclear family might perform ideological functions (10)

  • Hooks

Item C

Marxist sociologists have long argued that the traditional nuclear family performs ideological functions for capitalism, through for example, socializing children into thinking that hierarchy normal and inevitable.  

However, radical Feminist sociologists argue that the main function of the nuclear family lies in maintaining inequalities between men and women through promoting patriarchal ideology.

 A brief model plan…

Point 1: One ideological function = socialising children into thinking inequality is normal, this is done through ‘age patriarchy’ – children are expected to be obedient to parents.

Development – much like the correspondence principle in education this gets children ready to be obedient to their bosses in work and also to accept inequalities in broader society, class inequalities which exist between bourgeois and proletariat for example.

Further development – According to Marxist Feminists, traditional gender roles further encourage obedience to the rules at work – if man thinks he is ‘the provider’ and women are dependent at home, the male worker is less likely to go on strike because it undermines his provider role.

Further development – According to Marxists the family might also passify children by acting as a unit of consumption – they are taught to ‘find their identity’ in the products they consume, not in thinking and questioning, thus this might contribute to ideological control.

Evaluation – a problem with this specifically performing functions for capitalism is that ‘age patriarchy’ within families typically occurs in pre-capitalist societies.

Point 2: Radical Feminists argue the traditional nuclear family normalises gender inequality

Development – women stay at home look after the kids, men go to work, women are thus financially dependent on men in this situation

Further Development – This can also be reinforced by the way dads tend to police daughters more than sons (differential gender socialisation)

Further development – the privatised nuclear family also allows male violence against women to go unnoticed

Evaluation – HOWEVER, liberal fems and postmodernists would point out that gender norms are changing and the above is all much more likely in the age of the negotiated family and the pure relationship.

A Level Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle

Families Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level  Sociology Families and Households Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 50 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within families and households
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering perspectives on the family
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – 3 examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ question.
  4.  9 essays/ essay plans spanning all the topics within the families and households topic.
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Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work

Functionalism

Main post on the functionalist perspective on education.

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

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

 Marxism 

Main post on the marxist perspective on education.

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

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

Paul Willis

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

 Feminism

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

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

 The New Right

Main post on the new right and education

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

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

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Applying Sociological Perspectives to the Decline of Marriage – Revision Notes

Summary revision notes (in diagram form) on sociological perspectives applied to the decline of marriage in society, written to help students revise for the families and households section of the AQA’s A-level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology.

You will probably need to click to enlarge/ save the picture below!

sociological perspectives decline marriage.png

Other sources you might find useful:

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Sociological Perspectives on Veganuary

Launched in the United Kingdom in January 2014, Veganuary is a global campaign that encourages people to try eating a vegan diet for the month of January.

Veganuary is dedicated to changing public attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible.

It is a growing movement, with over 50 000 people committed for January 2018 (1) compared to just over 20 000 in 2016 (2). The report of the impact of 2016 Veganuary (see 1 below) argues that the month long campaign has a positive impact on helping people maintain their veganism and helping some transition from vegetarianism. meat-eating to full-blown veganism.

Comments/ sociological relevance

My optimistic, and vegan-sympathetic self wants to ask ‘Are we seeing an ‘anticipation of the morality of the future’? (following Durkheim’s stance on deviance and social change) – might veganism be the new norm in 50 years?

Or, following postmodernism,  is this just a case which illustrates a new forms of ‘incredibly weak solidarity’ orchestrated through social media. Is this is just yet another faddish lifestyle culture?

From a research methods perspective, you might also want to have a look at that report on the ‘impacts’ of Veganuary… the survey asked people about their diets in the first week of February, in order to measure the impact of going vegan in the previous months… hmmm, can anyone see any problems there???? As always, answers welcome in the comments below!

 

Sources

(1) Veganuary 2016: Participant Research and Impact

(2) The Week, 6 January 2018

 

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A Sociological Analysis of Cruise Ships

Venice is a city of 55.000 inhabitants, which is swamped on some days by more than 40, 000 cruise ship passengers, and many of the residents aren’t impressed at their transient visitors, as many of these ships dwarf the architectural marvels of the ancient city, and spew toxic fumes in their wake.

And Venice is far from the only place affected in this way – the Orkney Islands play host to over a quarter of a million visitors a year, with a population of just over 25 000.

The Cruise ship industry has grown rapidly since the 1960s as prices have come down – Americans and the Chinese are the most avid cruisers, but 2 million Brits are also predicted to go cruising in 2018.

The largest ship is Harmony of the Seas – it is a quarter of a mile long, weighs 227,000 tonnes and carries up to 6780 guests with a crew of 21, 000, and there are scores of ships sailing the oceans which have a capacity of over 3000 passengers.

What can we make of cruise ships sociologically?

As with many current trends Zygmunt Bauman seems to be the best sociologist to go to in order to make sense of their growing popularity:

Bauman argues that what distinguishes social class today is relative mobility – the global super rich have jets and suites in many parts of the world and can afford to be instantly globally mobile. At the other end of the scale are the global poor – who are ‘doomed to be local’ in Bauman’s words, and are effectively stuck in the barrios with no way out.

So where do cruise ships fit in? Basically I see them as somewhere in the middle of this – they allow the relatively well-off in the West as well as in developing countries like China to get a taste of this mobility, so maybe, just maybe, it’s not so much that cruises are a ‘good holiday’* but they allow us to tap into that unconscious desire to join the ultra-rich super-mobile global elite?

*Given that the objective truth about cruises is that, technically speaking, they’re just a bit shit, why people ‘choose’ to go on them needs some deeper level of explanation. 

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

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

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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More to follow…!

Related posts 

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