Sociological Perspectives on the London Riots

What were the main causes of the 2011 London riots? What sociological perspectives does the evidence support?

The London Riots of August 2011 are a good way of introducing ‘perspectives’ on crime and deviance, as well as the strengths and limitations of studying crime using different methods.

The 2011 London Riots – Background/ Context

Between 6 and 10 August 2011, several London boroughs and other cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson.

london riots

The first night of rioting took place on 7 August 2011 after a peaceful protest in Tottenham, following the death of Mark Duggan, a local man from the area, who was shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. Police failed to notify Duggan’s family of his death and no senior police officer was available to meet the protest, creating anger at perceived disrespect. The protesting crowd outside the police station set light to two police cars, and the pictures of this circulated on social media attracted other people to the area – what started as a relatively peaceful protest quickly descended into a riot involving mass looting.

The following days saw similar scenes in other parts of London with the worst violence taking place in , Brixton, Chingford, Peckham, Enfield, Croydon, Ealing and East Ham. The city centre in Oxford Circus was also attacked. From 8 until 10 August, other cities in England including Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, along with several towns, saw what was described by the media as ‘copycat violence’.

The riots were characterised by rampant looting and arson attacks of unprecedented levels. As a result, David Cameron returned early from his holiday in Italy and other government leaders also ended their holidays to attend to the matter. All police leave was cancelled and Parliament was recalled on 11 August to debate the situation.

There were a total 3,443 crimes across London linked to the disorder, including 5 deaths and at least 16 others injured as a direct result of related violent acts. An estimated £200 million worth of property damage was incurred, and local economic activity was significantly compromised.

The riots have generated significant on-going debate among political, social and academic figures about the causes and context in which they happened.

Biased Media Reporting on the London Riots

This Daily Mail article on the London riots by Melanie Phillips on is a superb example of  a New Right take on the ’causes’ of the event…extracts below…..

‘ The violent anarchy that has taken hold of British cities is the all-too-predictable outcome of a three-decade liberal experiment which tore up virtually every basic social value. What is so notable and distressing is that this mayhem has been carried out in the main by teenagers and children, some as young as eight. These youths feel absolutely entitled to go ‘on the rob’ and steal whatever they want.’

‘What has been fuelling all this is not poverty… what we have been experiencing is a complete breakdown of civilized behavior among children and young people… We are not merely up against feral children, but feral parents… either they are too drunk or drugged or otherwise out of it to care, or else they are helping themselves to the proceeds, too.’

‘As David Cameron observed yesterday, there are clearly pockets of society that are not just broken, but sick. Most of these children come from lone-mother households. And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit. The result is fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them. Such children inhabit what is effectively a different world from the rest of society. It’s a world without any boundaries or rules. A world of emotional and physical chaos.’

‘This breaking of the family was encouraged by the Welfare State… Welfare dependency further created the entitlement culture that the looters so egregiously display. It taught them that the world owed them a living. It taught them that their actions had no consequences.’

Actual evidence on the ’causes’ of the London Riots’

Melanie Philips no doubt enjoys writing for the right wing daily mail, and her readers no doubt enjoy the sense of righteous moral indignation they feel when reading her articles (they are all in pretty much the same vein!). Unfortunately for them, but more unfortunately the impoverished teenage children of the single parents she lambasts, this is an extremely narrow analysis of the causes of the Riots. Moreover, Philip’s analysis is not supported by the rigorous quantitative and qualitative research carried out by the London School of Economics in the year since the riots. This is not to say that irresponsible parenting and the breakdown of social control didn’t have something to do with the riots – but there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered as well.

The findings below are based on the research findings taken from Reading the Riots Researchers spoke to 270 rioters: 185 people in London, 30 in Birmingham, 29 in Manchester, 16 in Liverpool, seven in Salford and three in Nottingham. Thirteen were in prison.

reading london riots

Who were the Rioters?

  • They ranged in age from 13 to 57
  • A third said they had never been found guilty in court or cautioned
  • The overwhelming majority said gangs played little or no part in what happened.
  • About three-quarters were aged 24 or under, only a small minority, people over 40.
  • Around 80% of interviewees were male, although anecdotal evidence from observers of the riots, suggest the proportion was nearer 90%
  • They came from a wide range of ethnic groups but A slightly larger proportion were from an ethnic minority (50% black, 5% Asian) or of mixed race (18%); this also varied by area: the ethnic makeup of interviewees in Salford and Manchester overwhelmingly white.
  • The general attainment levels were lower than those of the population as a whole: of the adults, a third had no qualification higher than GCSE , one-fifth of the rioters claimed to have no educational qualifications at all, one in 20 said they had a degree.
  • Most had prior experience with the Criminal Justice System – only 32% said they had never been found guilty in a court or been cautioned.

What were the main causes of the riots?

Based on the above interviews, the rioters themselves stated the following five main causes (percentages reporting this as a factor in brackets)

  • Poverty (86%)
  • Policing (85%)
  • Government Policy (80%)
  • Unemployment (79%)
  • The shooting of Mark Duggan (75%)

Of course, if you conducted the research again using a broader sample and different methods, then you might get different results. But based on this evidence, there does not appear to be any support for the New Right’s perspective on what caused the riots…

Sociological (/Criminological) Perspectives on the London Riots

Asking about the ‘causes’ of crime is only one aspect among many in the crime and deviance course. Some of the perspectives on crime look at crime much more broadly.

Functionalism – argues that society needs crime. Rather than looking at crime as a purely negative phenomenon, crime also has positive social functions. The riots, for example, lead to a temporary suspension of inter-gang violence, and, as a media event, it gave the rest of us something unite against, thus increasing unity in society more generally.

Bonds of Attachment Theory (Functionalism) – The cause of deviance is the breakdown or weakening of informal agencies of social control such as the family and community. Criminal activity occurs when the individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This theory would blame poor parenting as the main cause of the riots.

Consensus Subcultural Theory – argues crime is a collective response to the above situation of frustration – If you can’t gain status by getting a job, you seek status by some other means within a subculture (possibly a gang) and riots can offer you an opportunity to gain status by ‘going further than the next person’.

Traditional Marxism – Argues that crime is a response to a Capitalist system that breeds materialism, greed and selfishness. They also point out that many members of the Elite classes are criminals themselves, but it is generally only the powerless that get punished for their criminal acts, while elites tend to avoid punishment. The rioters were largely teenage youths living in poor areas and many got disproportionate punishments for their involvement in the riots, while politicians engaging in criminal acts often get away without punishment.

Interactionists – See criminal behaviour as a response to labelling by agents of social control – mainly the police. Focussing on the riots – Interactionists would argue that police racism over the last 3 decades has led to black youths being disproportionately targeted by stop and search – and it was this history of negative attention from the police that sparked the riots.

Right Realists – Argue that the riots were caused because of a basic breakdown of both informal and formal social control – weak communities and too few police on the streets, and society not being tough enough on crime. Rioters had too much freedom and felt like they could get away with their crimes.

Left-Realism – Argues there are two main causes of crime – Marginalisation and Relative Deprivation – largely borne out by the Guardian research above.

Post-modernism – Argues that the riots are a response to a postmodern society characterised by consumerism, an obsession with self-identity and a quest for excitement. For many the riots were a ‘scene’ where they could ‘play a game’ – engaging in vandalism and challenging the police provide both status and excitement – much more than any nightclub could offer.

flawed consumers

 Explore the ’causes’ of the London riots in more depth…

They’re all pretty left wing, so redressing the balance of the right-biased mainstream media…

  1. The Moral decay is as bad at the top of our society as it is at the bottom by Peter Oborne –
  2.  and Zygmunt Bauman – The London Riots – Consumerism coming home to roost as the World’s leading critical sociologist – he’s got to get in somewhere near the top..
  3. ‘ Look whose ruling now’ – London Rioters speak out
  4. David Harvey – Feral Capitalism is to blame!
  5. Another post focussing on consumerism – Let them yearn for Tatt
  6. A nice Balanced view from the JRF – What do we actually know about the riot areas and rioters?
  7. Guardian article – the rioters – young, poor and unemployed
  8. Some Observations on the Riots by Mark Metcalf – a view from someone familiar with the area
  9. It wasn’t just youths involved in the riots
  10. The Guardian data maps – a nice visual resource!

2020 update

A 2019 study from academics at Sussex university compared London boroughs which saw rioting with London boroughs where there was no rioting.

They found that deprivation was the most significant predictor of whether a riot would break our or not. Deprivation levels were also positively correlated with the intensity and length of rioting.

They also found a positive correlation between the number of police stop and searches in the previous two years and the likelihood of rioting occurring and conclude that a combination of deprivation and an ‘anti-police’ identity were the main factors which explain the 2011 London riots.

4 and 6 Mark Outline Questions on Education for the A Level Sociology Paper 1 Exam

Possible questions for the A Level Sociology Education (71912) PAPER 1 exam – the two short answer questions in this paper will ask you to outline two reasons/ ways/ criticisms. You will have one 4 mark question and one 6 mark question in this format (outline 2 and 3 ways/ reasons/ criticisms respectively).

The five examples below are all taken from the Perspectives part of the education topic, but draw on other parts of the module, as you should do.

NB these are my (over qualified) educated guesses about why might come up, and the answers are my best guesses as what will qualify as full markers).

Also the questions may be more obscure, or much nastier – remember, there is a theory that the people who write these exam papers have a burning hatred of teenagers and haven’t seen daylight since 1984.

If you like this sort of thing, why not buy my ‘short answer practice questions and answers for A Level sociology‘ – it’s as much fun as it sounds, actually more because I’ve colour coded the skills. It includes examples of 4,6 and 10 mark questions in the education bit of the A level paper 1 exam.

Anyway, enough wittering – some exemplar questions and answers:

Outline two ways in which education might prepare students for work (4)

 Two developed examples, should get 4/4

  • Teaching specific skills for specific jobs – a complex economy requires lots of people doing different jobs, requiring different skills – school starts off with some people specialising in sciences, other in humanities – later, education splits into more vocational courses and degree courses to offer more specialisation.
  • Motivation by external rewards – at school, pupils learn to put up with boring lessons in order to reap the rewards of exam results at the end, this prepares them to put up with dull work in reward for pay at the end of the month in later life.

Possible additional identifiers (1 mark for each, you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • Teaching soft skills such as team work
  • Role allocation (if developed appropriately)
  • Teaching to accept hierarchy/ authority as normal
  • Exams being competitive

Outline two ways in which the education system might perform ideological functions (4)

Two developed examples, should get 4/4

  • Passive subservience of authority/ hierarchy – in school students learn they should accept the authority of teachers, later at work they have to accept the authority of managers – this makes them passive and obedient, thus easily controlled, according to Marxists
  • Teachers ignoring sexual abuse of female students – according to Radical Feminist analysis this reinforces patriarchal control as it means girls are more likely to grow up learning to say nothing about male violence against women in later life.

 Possible additional identifiers (1 Mark each, add in the plus 1s)

  • Motivation by external rewards
  • Fragmentation of subjects
  • Reinforcing of gender domains in subject choice

Outline two reasons why schools today might fail to create value consensus among pupils (4)

 Possible identifiers (you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • The ethnocentric curriculum
  • The growth of home schooling
  • The existence of private schools
  • Marketisation

Outline two criticisms of the Marxist view of education (4)

 Possible identifiers (you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites
  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority
  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly

 

Marking Practice…

Outline two positive functions which the education system may perform (4)

Mark the 2 examples below (1 mark per point +1 for development of that point). Feel free to comment below, and I’ll respond with my marks/ comments if enough people do. If you can’t wait, you’ll find the marks and comments here

Candidate X

The first positive function is, according to Emile Durkheim, schools might create value consensus among pupils.

The second positive function is that schools teach pupils the same subjects through the national curriculum, thus making them think the same.

Candidate Y

Role Allocation – where pupils are sorted into appropriate jobs based on their qualifications. The idea here is that different pupils have different levels of ability, and the more able/ harder working get higher qualifications, proving they are more suited to the more demanding, professional jobs.

Social solidarity – making people feel as if they are working together towards a shared goal.

 

 

 

Sociological Perspectives: Key Concepts

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

More details on the perspectives below can be found at the relevant links on my sociological theories page, which has been written to specifically cover the AQA A-level sociology syllabus.

Functionalism

Norms and Values

Norms = the normal, typical or expected patterns of behaviour associated with societies or specific contexts or social roles.

Values = major and lasting ideas and beliefs about what is desirable and undesirable. Important sources of values include religion, politics, and one’s family background.

Socialisation

The process of learning the norms and values of a society. Functionalists see this a neutral process, important for the maintenance of social order; Marxists and Feminists see this a process which benefits the powerful as the ideas learnt through socialisation maintain the status quo.

Value Consensus

Agreement around share values. In Functionalist thought is the outcome of effective socialisation and crucial to maintaining social order.

Positive Functions of Institutions

The Functionalist idea that institutions generally benefit society and most people within a society. For example, the nuclear family provides a stable and secure environment in which to raise children and school prepares individuals for work and is necessary for an advanced economy to work effectively.

Anomie

A state of normlessness, arising because of a lack of social regulation. Anomie occurs when there are either too few rules guiding individual behaviour or where there are conflicting sets of rules, which contradict each other (as in Merton’s Strain Theory)

Marxism

Capitalism and Private Property

Capital refers to financial wealth – especially that used to start businesses (rather than emergency savings or the house you live in). Capitalism is a system which gives private individuals with capital the freedom to invest, make money and retain profit.

The opposite of Capitalism is Communism, where the state owns all the property and makes all of the decisions about what to produce.

In Marxist theory, the Capitalist class are known as the Bourgeoisie – these are the minority class, and are those with capital  who make money from profits on investments. The majority make up the Proletariat, the working class, who have no or little capital and have to work for a living.

Private property is crucial to Capitalism, because the protection of private property rights is what makes the system work: the capitalist class are allowed to maintain the wealth from their investments, rather than having their property redistributed by the state, as would happen under communism.

Exploitation

The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the Capitalist pays his workers (their wages) is always below the current selling, or market price of whatever they have produced. The difference between the two is called surplus value.

Ideological Control  

Marx argued that the ruling classes used their control of social institutions to gain ideological dominance, or control over the way people think in society.  Marx argued that the ideas of the ruling classes were presented as common sense and natural and thus unequal, exploitative relationships were accepted by the proletariat as the norm.

Revolution

Marx believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. Eventually, following a revolution, private property would be abolished and with it the profit motive and the desire to exploit. In the communist society, people would be more equal, have greater freedom and be happier.

Feminism

Patriarchy

‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)

Gender Scripts

The learned patterns of behaviour associated with different genders in a society. Gender scripts incorporate a whole range of gender-norms  associated with different ‘being’ male and female – such as typical ways of dressing, speaking and self-expression more generally. The term ‘gender script’ rather than ‘gender norm’ emphasises the fact that individuals actively have to ‘act out’ their gender-identity, but at the same time a script is just a guide, and individuals have considerable freedom to interpret and play around with the suggested normative ways of expressing gender.

Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism

Liberal Feminists tend to emphasise the importance of securing formal legal equality for women, Marxist Feminists focus on how capitalism perpetuates gender equality, and radical feminists focus on how patriarchy operates across many institutions, especially the family.

Deconstruction

Involves critically analysing normative behaviour or truth-claims more generally, exposing the ‘relational nature’ of knowledge. In Feminist theory, this mainly means exposing the binary opposition ‘male-female’ and all of the traditional norms associated with this division as a social construct, rather than something which is rooted in objective biological divisions.. Such critical analysis forms the basis of breaking down such gender norms and opens up the possibility of a living a life free from the restraint of such g norms.

Interactionism

The I and the Me

The ‘I’ is the active aspect of one’s personality, the ‘Me’ is the social aspect – the me is one’s social identity, which the ‘I’ reflects on.

The looking glass self

The idea that and individual’s self-concept is based on their understanding of how others perceive them.

Social identity

One’s social identity is how one sees oneself in relation to others in a society. It is likely to incorporate a number of different social roles, such as one’s role within a family and the workplace, and one’s social status in society more generally based on class, gender, ethnicity etc.

Backstage and Front Stage

Key ideas within Goffman’s dramaturgical theory – frontstage is any arena within society where one has to act out one’s identity, such as the workplace or the street, but it might also be in the home itself on certain occasions. Backstage is where one rehearses and prepares for one’s front stage performances, or just relaxes.

Labelling

‘Labelling’ is where someone judges a person based on the superficial ‘surface’ characteristics such as their apparent social class, sex, and ethnicity.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This is where someone acts according to their label and the label becomes true in reality.

Postmodernism 

Service Sector Economy

The service sector is also referred to as the ‘tertiary’ or third sector economy, in contrast to the first and second sectors – agriculture and industrial manufacturing. A service sector economy is one in which most people work in this third sector, in jobs such as retail, education and financial and informational services rather than manufacturing.

Consumer culture

Consumer society is one in which consumption practices and leisure activities are more important as a source of identity, status and division than work, income and social class background.

Social Fragmentation

The breaking up and splitting apart of communities into smaller groups, which are relatively isolated from each other.

Hyperreality

Jean Baudrillard’s concept to describe a society in which most people cannot distinguish a simulated, media representation of reality, from actual reality.

The Role of the Police in Controlling and Reducing Crime

This post simply applies a few perspectives to the role of the police in society

Consensus Theory and Right Realism

The Consensus Approach views the police as a neutral force who generally do a good job, having a close working relationship with law abiding citizens and responding effectively to the needs of local communities, defending them against the anti-social and criminal behaviour of a minority people. From this point of view most failings of the police are due to lack of funding and there not being enough police on the streets.

Right Realists – believes more emphasis should be put on Zero Tolerance policing – the main role of the police is to work with local communities and businesses to target those areas and individuals who are persistently anti-social and criminal and to clamp down hard on even minor offences. This obviously involves targeting weapon and drugs dealers, but also clamping down on anti-social behaviour, and the police being very visible on the streets to act as a physical deterrent against crime. Obviously Zero Tolerance policies would also involve the police working closely with the courts after offences have taken place.

Zero Tolerance Policing can incorporate ‘military style policing’ where the police act against whole communities.

Left Realism

Left Realists believe that ‘Zero Tolerance’ policies are legitimate but that the police should spend more time getting to know local communities – which involves a less militaristic approach to policing, speaking to and befriending local youths rather than pouring their beer down the drain and constantly ‘moving them on’. This will also involve more referrals to social outreach projects. Policing for Left Realists is more about working with communities and not alienating them through ZT in order to prevent crime in the very long term. Community Support Officers are a good example of ‘community policing’ – they do not have enough powers to engage in Zero Tolerance approaches.

Marxism

According to Marxists the police engage in ‘selective law enforcement’
David Gordon argues that the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.

Marxists argue that the government puts more police on the streets in working class and underclass estates and underfunds the policing of businesses and Corporations engaging in Corporate Crime. Evidence for this lies in Tombs and Whyte’s study which found that The Financial Services authority (which investigates complex financial crimes) and the Health and Safety Executive (which investigate health and safety breaches by Corporations have had their funding cut in recent years.

Interactionism

Howard Becker suggests that police interpret working class and middle class behaviour differently – In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ.

Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals. Eventually, ‘over-policing’ alienates marginalised groups and makes it more likely that they will actually turn to crime (a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy).

Aaron Cicourel also developed a class-based analysis of how agents of social control interact differentially with people from different class backgrounds in ‘The Negotiation of Justice’ – he suggested that middle class parents have more power to ‘negotiate’ effectively with the authorities and are more able to get their children off being given deviant labels – by convincing the police that their kids are really ‘good kids’ and their anti-social behaviour is a ‘one off’.

Sociological Perspectives on Crime and Deviance

A brief overview of some sociological perspectives on crime and deviance – from Functionalism through to Right Realism. 

TheorySummary
FunctionalismArgue that societies need a limited amount of crime, because crime is inevitable (society of saints argument) and that crime performs three positive functions: regulation, integration and change. Also see Durkheim’s work on suicide.
Social Control TheoryThe cause of deviance is the breakdown or weakening of informal agencies of social control such as the family and community. Criminal activity occurs when the individual’s attachment to society is weakened. According to Hirschi there are four types of social bond
Merton’s Strain TheoryCrime and deviance occur in times of anomie when there is a ‘strain’ between society’s socially approved ‘success goals’ and the opportunities available to achieve these goals. Crime occurs when individuals still want to achieve the success goals of society but abandon the socially approved means of obtaining those goals.
Subcultural TheoryExplains deviance in terms of the subculture of certain social groups. Deviance is the result of individuals suffering ‘status frustration’ and conforming to the values and norms of a subculture which rewards them for being deviant. Focuses on crimes of the working class.
Traditional MarxismExplain crime in terms of Capitalism and the class structure – The Ruling classes make the law to benefit them, the law protects private property. Ruling and Middle class crime is more harmful than working class crime but ruling classes are less likely to get caught and punished for crime. Selective law enforcement performs ideological functions. WCs commit crime due to the ‘dog eat dog’ values of capitalist system – selfishness, materialism.
InteractionismFocus on how crime is socially constructed, on how certain acts become defined as criminal or deviant, and how certain people are more likely to be defined as deviant than others. Labelling Theory and Moral Panic Theory are key ideas within Interactionism.
Neo-MarxismFuses Traditional Marxist and Interactionism. Crime is an outgrowth of capitalism, but moral panics over the relatively minor crimes of marginalised groups make the public side with the ruling class against the marginalised, maintaining social order. Believe that criminology should focus on highlighting the injustices of the Capitalist System in order to change society.
Left RealismConcerned with working class crime, believe that we should work with the system in order to improve the lives of the victims of crime, who are mainly working class. Marginalisation, relative deprivation and subcultures are the main causes of crime and we should aim to tackle crime on multiple fronts – more community (less militaristic) policing and tackling poverty and marginalisation within communities are solutions.
Right RealismRight Realism is more concerned with practical solutions to crime. Relatively simple theories such as rational choice and Broken Windows theory explain crime and Zero Tolerance Policing and Situational Crime Prevention are the solutions

Social Policy and Sociology Summary

Social Policy may be defined as actions the government carries out, or actions political parties propose to do,  in order to exert an influence over a specific area of social life, such as education, the family, or society more generally – such as policies concerning taxation and wealth distribution.

This posts consists of a summary of Sociological Perspectives on the relationship between Sociology and Social Policy – covering Positivism, Marxist, Feminist and New Right Perspectives.

  What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research? How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

 

Positivism/ Functionalism  

•           Sociologists should work with governments to uncover objective ‘causes’ of social problems such as crime/ suicide etc.

•           Do this using stats to find trends

•           Help to governments to formulate policies to improve society gradually

 

·         Governments claim to collect data about the social world in a ‘value free’

·         E.G. Office for National Statistics employs over 4000 people to collect and analyse data on everything from family trends (births/ marriages/ deaths are recorded) to crime statistics

·         The UK national census is also a good example (from 2011)

·         Governments use this data to make decisions about how many school places will be needed, how many prison places etc.

Marxism and others on the left! •           Sociology should target research to highlight a) the exploitation by the Bourgeois and b) the oppression of the working classes

·         Research includes looking at the relationship between social class and inequality in education

·         Research into the unfair criminal justice system

·         Research on the harms ‘Corporate elites’ do (Corporate Crimes and Tombs and Whyte)

·         The Spirit Level

 

·         THE UK GOVERNMENT DOES NOT LISTEN TO MARXISTS

·         Marxists argue that governments mainly ignore research done from a Marxist Agenda because governments typically consist of the upper middle classes.

·         UK education policy has allowed private education to continue

·         Looking at Crime Policy – the government does not adequately fund the Health and Safety Executive which prosecutes companies which breach health and safety law, neither does it adequately fund the Financial Services Authority, which prosecutes companies and individuals who engage in financial crimes

·         Finally, despite the findings of the spirit level, taxation policy has tended to favour wealthy individuals and Corporations since the Thatcher years in the early ‘80s Before the Tories came into power, there was a 90% rate of tax on earned income over —– – today the top rate of tax on earned income is 50% (on all income over £150 000).

Feminism ·         Research gender inequalities

·         Liberal Feminism traditionally focussed on achieving political and economic equality for women

·         Contemporary Feminism Focusses on –

·         Patriarchal ideology in the family

·         Domestic Violence

·         Beauty Myth

·         Sex trafficking

·         THE UK GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN FORCED TO LISTEN TO FEMINISM –

·         Policies promoting gender equality include

o   The vote (obviously) (1918 and 28)

o   The divorce act (1969)

o   The equal pay act (1972)

o   Rape in marriage made illegal (1991)

o   The Paternity Act (2011)

·         HOWEVER: The current government seems to want to reverse women’s rights –

o   70% of the government cuts fall on women

o   Prominent MPs such as Nadine Dories want to reduce the time limit for abortion, giving women less control over their bodies.

 

Interactionism ·         Research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions

·         It should aim to achieve Verstehen

·         Traditionally focussed on process such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy

·         Also inspired research on Police racism and labelling

·         Interactionists such as Becker criticise the government as being THE Source of labels – people in government label people not like them as ‘problems’ thus The government doesn’t tend to use interactionist research – it’s too small scale to be of interest.

·         There are some exceptions

o   Research on the extent of police labelling – Prompted compulsory multiculturalism training in the police

o   Ditto for training school teachers and other ‘state workers’.

 

The New Right ·         Kind of like modern day Functionalism

·         Believe the government should interfere less in social life and especially family life

·         The exception to this is through being ‘tough on crime’

THE CURRENT UK GOVERNMENT IS THE NEW RIGHT (More or less) (as was the last one, and the one before that)

 

Examples of New Right policies include…

·         The 1988 Education Act

·         Zero Tolerance Policing

·         Taxing the rich less (increasing inequality)

·         And basically ignoring anything that Marxist or Feminist inspired research says about the harmful effects of inequality on women and the poor.

Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy

Social policy refers to the actions governments take in order to influence society, or to the actions opposition parties and ‘social movements’ (think Marxism and Feminism) propose to do if they were to gain power. This topic basically involves looking at perspectives on government policies

The Positivist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

For both Functionalists and Positivists the role of the researcher is to provide the state with objective, value free data which can be used to uncover the root causes of social problems in society. Social Policy recommendations are seen as ‘cures’ to a whole range of social problems.

Durkheim and Comte (in the 18the and early 19th centuries) both believed that doing research was part of the Enlightenment project – to use science and reason to improve society. Durkheim, and later Parsons both believed that through using cross national and historical comparisons they had started to understand the ‘laws of social evolution’ and so could inform governments of what the appropriate policies were to manage social change. For example, one of the things Durkheim suggested, way before his time, was for governments to establish a meritocratic education system and abolish inherited wealth (yay!) as a way to foster a fairer society and ensure that the most talented people could rise to positions of power and influence in the newly industrialising Europe.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Governments claim to collect data about the social world in a ‘value free’

E.G. Office for National Statistics employs over 4000 people to collect and analyse data on everything from family trends (births/ marriages/ deaths are recorded) to crime statistics

The UK national census is also a good example (from 2011)

Governments use this data to make decisions about how many school places will be needed, how many prison places etc.

The Marxist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Marxists believe that Sociology should target research to highlight a) the exploitation by the Bourgeois and b) the oppression of the working classes

Marxist inspired research includes anything that involves looking at the relationship between social class and inequality in education, research into the unfair criminal justice system, research on the harms ‘Corporate elites’ do (Tombs and Whyte) and The Spirit Level

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Marxists argue that governments mainly ignore research done from a Marxist Agenda because governments typically consist of the upper middle classes.

Marxists argue that Social Policies generally protect the interests of the wealthy – and there are several examples that support this view –

Within Education – the existence of private schools allows the wealthy to get their children a better education – upper middle class children effectively get ‘hot- housed’ so they are more likely to get better A levels and end up in top-end universities when compared to those attending state schools.

Looking at Crime Policy – the government does not adequately fund the Health and Safety Executive which prosecutes companies which breach health and safety law, neither does it adequately fund the Financial Services Authority, which prosecutes companies and individuals who engage in financial crimes – this is despite the fact that (according to Jones 2008) that these crimes together do more economic harm to the economy than all street crime put together.

Finally – taxation policy has tended to favour wealthy individuals and Corporations since the Thatcher years in the early ‘80s (NB – New Labour are effectively the same as the Tories these days) – Before the Tories came into power, there was a 90% rate of tax on earned income over —– – today the top rate of tax on earned income is 50% (on all income over £150 000).

Marxists argue that because of the inherent bias in Social Policy, Sociologists should not aim to work with governments – Sociologists should identify with the ‘underdog’ and focus on ‘critical research’ (which, of course, will be self-funded) to help alert people to the injustices of the Capitalist system and assist in the inevitable revolutionary movement that will bring down the Capitalist system.

Feminism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Feminists generally focus on researching gender inequalities

Liberal Feminism traditionally focussed on achieving political and economic equality for women

Contemporary Feminism focusses on issues of domestic violence, the Pornification of Culture and the Beauty Myth, sex trafficking and the persistence of inequalities in work and politics

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

SUCCESSIVE UK GOVERNMENTS HAVE BEEN FORCED TO LISTEN TO FEMINISM –

Policies promoting gender equality include

  • The vote (obviously) (1918 and 28)

  • The divorce act (1969)

  • The equal pay act (1972)

  • Rape in marriage made illegal (1991)

  • The Paternity Act (2011)

HOWEVER: The current government seems to want to reverse women’s rights –

  • 70% of the government cuts fall on women

  • Prominent MPs such as Nadine Dories want to reduce the time limit for abortion, giving women less control over their bodies.

Interactionism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

According to Interactionists, research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions. It should aim to achieve Verstehen. Traditionally research has focussed on process such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy, often taking the side of underdog (the powerless in society) – a good example of which is Venkatesh’s sympathetic account of Crack dealers in Chicago.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Interactionists such as Becker criticise the government as being THE Source of labels – people in government label people not like them as ‘problems’.

The government doesn’t tend to use interactionist research – It tends to be too critical and too supportive of deviants, and in any case it’s too small scale to be of interest.

However there are some exceptions –

o Research on the extent of police labelling – Prompted compulsory multiculturalism training in the police

o Ditto for training school teachers and other ‘state workers’.

The New Right and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

The New Right believe that the state should have minimal involvement in society. In particular they opposed to using state provision of welfare to deal with social problems. In their view, state intervention in areas such as family life and education robs people of their freedom and undermines their sense of responsibility. This in turn leads to greater problems such as crime and delinquency.

One classic New Right Theory is Charles Murrays’ view of the underclass – Murray argues that overly generous welfare benefits and council housing have encouraged ‘perverse incentives’ and lead to the growth of over a million people in the UK who are now dependent on state hand-outs – This includes hundreds of thousands of lone mothers, abandoned by feckless, irresponsible fathers, all made possible because these people know that if they don’t take responsibility, the state will just pay for them.

The New Right point out that there is a very strong correlation between being long term unemployed and social problems such as binge drinking and crime.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

THE CURRENT UK GOVERNMENT IS THE NEW RIGHT (as was the last one, and the one before that)

Breakdown Britain (2007) – A report by a Conservative think tank proposes a number of social policies designed to tackle these problems – such as

  • Cutting unemployment benefit to make it less attractive

  • Tax incentives for married rather than cohabiting couples as married families are more stable than cohabiting ones.

  • Marriage preparation and parenting classes where required.

In addition to the above, New Right thinking was responsible for ‘Right Realism’ and ‘Broken Windows’ theory – The only exception to their theory that the state should do less is that it should provide strong law and order – to help communities that suffer from low levels of social control and to clamp down heavily on those who break the law with Zero Tolerance Policing techniques.

Related Posts

Social Policy and The Family

Sociological Perspectives on the Family

This is the first of seven* broad topics within the sociology of the family for A-level sociology (*as defined by most A-level text books!)

An overview of the sub-topics, key concepts, and exam questions (short answer and essay questions)

Being able to critically apply different perspectives is the most important skill you can demonstrate in Sociology. You can also apply the perspectives to many of the other topics within the family, most obviously Marriage and Divorce and Social Policies. There are six perspectives you need to be able to apply, which form the six topics within this topic.

Subtopics

  1. Functionalism
  2. Marxism
  3. Feminisms
  4. The New Right
  5. Postmodernism
  6. Late Modernism
  7. The Personal Life Perspective.

Key concepts, research studies and case studies you should be able to apply

Please click here for a post containing brief definitions of many of these key terms.

  • The Nuclear family
  • Stable Satisfaction of the sex drive
  • Primary Socialisation
  • Dual Burden
  • Stabilisation of adult personalities
  • Primitive communism
  • ideological functions
  • family as a unit of consumption
  • Socialisation
  • Parson’s functional fit theory
  • Traditional society
  • Extended family
  • Triple Shift
  • Negotiated Family
  • The Underclass
  • Moral Decline
  • The Pure Relationship
  • Risk Society
  • Consumer culture
  • Globalisation
  • Negotiated family
  • Individualisation
  • ‘The normal chaos of love’       

Possible exam style short answer questions

Please click here for my hub-post on exam advice with links to some of the questions below. 

Outline and briefly explain two positive functions that the nuclear family might perform (10)

Using one example, explain what is meant by the term ‘the stabilisation of adult personalities’ (4)

Using one example explain how the nuclear family’ fits’ industrial society? (4)

Outline and briefly explain two criticisms of the ‘The Functionalist Perspective’ on the family (10)

Outline three ways in which the family might perform ideological functions (6)

Using one example, explain what is meant the phrase ‘the family is a unit of consumption’ (4)

Define the term Patriarchy (2)

Outline and briefly explain the difference between the Liberal and Radical Feminist views of the family (10)

Using one example explain postmodern society has influenced family life in recent years (4)

Possible Essay Questions – You should plan these!

Assess the Contribution of Functionalism to our Understanding of Family Life (20)

Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the contribution of feminist sociologists to an understanding of family roles and relationships

Evaluate the New Right Perspective on the family (20)

Evaluate the postmodernist view of the family and relationships (20)

Assess the view that the main aim of the nuclear family is to meet the needs of Capitalism (20)

Using material from Item 2B and elsewhere, assess the view that, in today’s society, the family is losing its functions (20)

The final question is emboldened because it is more likely you’ll get a question like this rather than a straightforward ‘assess this perspective’ type question.

Sociological Theories of Crime and Deviance – A Very Brief Overview

A brief summary table covering structural and action, consensus and conflict, and modern and post-modern perspectives on crime and deviance. Not sure how well it will cut and paste mind!

Students will obviously need to know more than this, but it’s still important to review the basics from time to time to check your understanding and how all the bits fit together!

Theory

Key Name

Key concepts

Criticism

  1. Functionalism

Durkheim (1895)

  • Social Integration

  • Social Regulation

  • Social chance

C.

Assumes the laws are created through value consensus.

  1. Bonds of Attachment

Hirschi

  • Bonds of attachment

  • Commitment, attachment, involvement, belief

C.

Lack of attachment does not automatically lead to people becoming criminals. There are also ‘pull factors’ such as peer group pressure.

  1. Strain Theory

Merton (1938)

  • There is a strain between the success goals and the legitimate means to achieve those success goals

C.

Exaggerates working class crime – Ignored non-utilitarian crime.

  1. Subcultural Theory –

Albert Cohen (1955)

  • Lack of success leads to Status Frustration

  • Leads to a a Delinquent subculture

  • Deviance is collective not individual response

C.

Willis’ research criticises this – status frustration does not lead to a subculture – boys form a subculture because they think school is irrelevant to their future lives

  1. Subcultural Theory “Delinquency and opportunity”

Cloward & Ohlin (1962)

  • – Illegitimate opportunity structure Criminal, conflict and retreatist subcultures ……

C. TW + Y say this theory still assumes people are committed to achieving wealth. Some, e.g. hippies, aren’t.

  1. New Right / underclass theory

Charles Murray (1989)

  • Long term unemployed, live off benefits

  • High numbers of lone parents.

  • High rates of crime

C.

Marxists would argue that Long term unemployment is a structural failing of the Capitalist system

  1. Interactionism – Labelling Theory

Becker (1963)

  • Agents of Social Control stereotype and marginalise minority groups

C. Blaming authorities absolves criminals of responsibility

  1. Interactionist – Labelling Theory

Becker (1963)

Labelling can lead to crime –

  • Master Status

  • Self fulfilling prophecy

  • Deviant career

  • Deviant subculture

C.

  • Too deterministic

  • Why are some people more likely to be labelled than others?

  1. Trad Marxism

Gordon

  • Capitalism Competition Dog eat Dog society;

  • Prison for W/C neutralises opposition vs system

C.

Crime was still present in communist societies.

  1. Trad Marxism

Chambliss

  • All classes commit crime

  • Inequality in capitalist system is linked to crime

C.

Crime in the UK has been decreasing while inequality has been increasing

  1. Trad Marxism

Snider

Many of the most serious deviant acts are “corporate crime” (M/C)

C.

Left Realists argue that Marxist focus too much on corp. crime; burglaries cause more distress and victims = W/C

  1. Neo Marxism – The New Criminology

Taylor, Walton and Young (1973)

  • Fully Social Theory of Deviance.

  • Criminals are ‘political heroes’

C.

  • LR’s say W/C criminals are romanticised

  • LR’s say victims neglected

  • Fems say that focus is only male crime.

  1. Realism in general

Taylor Walton and Young (LR) and Wilson (RR)

  • We should abandon the grand narratives of previous theories and focus on practical solutions to crime

c.

Marxists argue these are ignoring the root cause of crime

  1. Left Realism

Lea + Young

  • 3 causes of crime – relative deprivation/ subculture and marginalisation

C. Marxists argue these are ignoring the root cause of crime

  1. Left Realism

Lea and Young

  • Solutions to crime include Reducing inequality and more community policing

C. Community policing is really about the state controlling people’s lives.

  1. Right Realism

James Q Wilson

  • Cost/benefit cause of crime

  • Broken windows/

C.

Jones (92) says that lack of investment is more important than Z.T. in preventing crime.

  1. Right Realism

James Q Wilson

  • Solutions to crime include target hardening and situational crime prevention

C.

Crime displacement

  1. Postmodernism

Robert Reiner

  • Increase in consumerism is a fundamental reason behind increasing crime

Can’t explain decrease in crime since the mid-1990s

  1. Late Modernism

Jock Young

  • The vertigo of Late Modernity- Crime today is linked to anomie/ crisis of masculinity

C. Is this any different to Strain Theory?

Sociological Perspectives on Declining Marriage and Increasing Divorce on Society

This post examines the effects of declining in marriage and increasing divorce. Have women benefitted from these changes like some Feminists suggests. Are these trends signs of moral decline like the The New Right suggest, or are these trends just part of the broader process of individualisation and increasing reflexivity and nothing to worry about?

Sociological Perspective on Declining Marriage and Increasing Divorce

What replaces married couples?

  • Probably the most fundamental thing is that people’s attitudes towards marriage have change. The idea that marriage is a necessary tradition or a sacred duty have declined drastically, marriage is now seen as a choice.
  • There is greater family and household diversity as a result.
  • Despite the decline of marriage, most people still ‘couple up’ – cohabitation has increased.
  • Cohabiting couples are more likely to break up, so relationships have become more unstable. A related factor here is that serial monogamy, rather than out and out promiscuity throughout one’s life appears to be the new norm.
  • High levels of divorce create more single parent households and more single person households, as well as more reconstituted families
  • Finally, it is important not to exaggerate the decline of marriage – most households are still headed by a married couple.

Feminism

Feminists would generally see the decline of marriage as a tradition as a good thing, because traditional marriage is a patriarchal institution. Most divorces proceedings are initiated by women which suggests that marriage works less well for women than for men.

However, Radical Feminists would point out that the increase in divorce has not necessarily benefited women – as children go to live with the mother in 90% cases following a divorce, and single parent families (mostly female) suffer higher levels of poverty and stigma.

The New Right/ Functionalists

Would interpret these trends in a negative way, as indicating a decline in morality, and a breakdown of social structure and order – the family is supposed to be the fundamental building block of society, and it is difficult to see what will replace it. Without the family we risk less effective primary socialisation and more problem children as well as more anomie for adults.

Postmodernism

The decline of marriage and increase in divorce reflect the fact that we are part of a consumer society where individual choice is central to life. The end of the ideology of the nuclear family is seen as good, and Postmodernists tend to reject the idea that the traditional married nuclear family is better than other family forms, so these trends are not a significant problem for either the individual or society.

Late modernism

People still value marriage but changes in the social structure make it harder to start and to maintain stable relationships – greater gender equality means it’s harder to please both partners, and the fact that both people have to do paid work doesn’t help with the communication required to keep a relationship going, or help with people getting together in the first place.

People now delay getting married not only because of needing to establish a career first, but also because of the increased cost of mortgages and weddings, and because of the increased fear of getting divorced – with cohabiting the new norm before marriage.

New institutions also emerge to help us cope with the insecurities of modern relationships – marriage guidance and pre-nuptial agreements are two of the most obvious.

In short, marriage is not about to disappear as an institution, but it’s not an easy path to pursue either.

Related Posts 

Explaining the changing patterns of marriage 

Essay Plan – Examine the Reasons for the Long Term Increase in the Divorce Rate

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