Below are a few quantitative and qualitative sources (case studies and statistics) that can be used to illustrate aspects of the main perspectives within A-level sociology – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Post and Late Modernism
Bruce Parry: participant observation with ‘The Tribe’
Official statistics show declining family Size
Cross national statistics – positive correlation between economic development and social development
Official statistics – the positive correlation between truancy and crime
The Cambridge study in delinquency and development
The correlation between increasing neoliberal policies and increasing global inequality
Official statistics show a positive correlation between material deprivation and underachievement in education
Official Statistics show an increase in childhood obesity, suggesting a link between advertising, pester power and poor child health
Case studies of the huge economic and social costs of corporate crime: Enron, Bhopal
Case studies of exploitation in the developing world. E.g. Ship breaking in Bangladesh
Case studies of elite criminals not being punished for their crimes – e.g. Mark Ashley of Sports Direct
Official Statistics on gender equality and empowerment – no country on earth has gender equality
Statistics on the Domestic Division of Labour show that women spend twice as long on domestic chores as men
Official statistics on domestic violence show that ¼ women are victims in their lifetimes, more than men
A range of qualitative evidence from the Everyday Sexism Project
Statistics on gender and subject choice – 97% of hairdressing apprenticeships = female….
The prevalence of pornography and prostitution and their links with sex trafficking
Social Action Theory
Life-histories and Facebook profiles reveal complex and diverse family structures
Rosenthal and Jacobsen’s field experiment showing the self- fulfilling prophecy
Jock Young’s research on the drug takers
Self-report studies demonstrating that official crime stats are socially constructed
The fact that Gok Wan is famous
Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Judith Stacey: The Divorce Extended Family: show complex family structures
Research studies on the importance of identity in education – e.g. Carolyn Jackson and the Ladettes
Stan Cohen’s research on the Mods and Rockers
The happy pierced prostitute who has a client who shoves golf-balls up his ass
Vanilla vloggers such as Zoella
Official Statistics on growing global problems such as climate change, global crime and migration
The increase in New Social Movements such as the Green Movement
Jock Young – The Vertigo of Late Modernity
The fact that many nation states have nuclear weapons
The high global expenditure on the military
The positive correlation between educational achievement and income – nationally and globally
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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)
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.
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.
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.
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’ 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.
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 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.
The breaking up and splitting apart of communities into smaller groups, which are relatively isolated from each other.
Jean Baudrillard’s concept to describe a society in which most people cannot distinguish a simulated, media representation of reality, from actual reality.
Sociological Perspectives are a key component of the social theories aspect of the Sociology A-level Theory and Methods compulsory module, usually studied in the second year.
If the modern problem of identity was how to construct an identity, the postmodern problem of identity is how to avoid fixation and keep the options open. If the catchword of modernity was creation, the catchword of postmodernity is recycling.
The main identity-bound anxiety of modern times was the worry about durability; it is concern with commitment-avoidance today.
The photograph was the medium of modernity, all set in bound books with yellowing pages, the video-tape the medium of postmodernity – today’s recording only exists until something deemed more significant emerges to replace it.
Modernity built in steel and concrete, postmodernity in biodegradable plastic.
Identity as such is a modern invention – it is the name given to the escape sought from uncertainty, from the modern ‘problem’ of freedom of choice which arises with social change, and of not knowing for certain where one fits in to the order of things; the modern ‘quest’ for identity is a response to the inability of people to clearly project who they are to others so that we may all ‘go on’.
Identity is always a process, a critical projection (typically?) into the future – it is an assertive attempt to escape from the experience of under-determination, or free-floatingness , of disembeddnsess, which is the ‘natural’ condition of modernity.
Identity in modernity is presented as an individual task, but there are experts to guide us as to what identities are possible to achieve – experts such as teachers and counsellors, who are supposed to be more knowledgeable about the task of identity construction.
Modern life as pilgrimage
Modernity gave the pilgrim a new prominence and a novel twist.
For pilgrims through time, the truth is elsewhere, always some distance away. Wherever the pilgrim is now is not where he ought to be, not where he dreams of being. The glory of the future debases the present.
The pilgrim is not interested in the city, the houses tempt him to rest, he is happier on the streets, for they lead him to his destination. However, even these are perceived as a series of traps which may lead him from his path. The pilgrim feels homeless in the city.
The desert is the place for the pilgrim, who seeks a hermetic way of life away from the distractions of city life, away from duties and obligations. The desert, unlike the city, was a land not yet sliced into places, a place of self-creation, which is not possible when one is ‘in place’ in the city, which calls upon the individual to be certain ways (through the commitments of family and polis).
You do not go into the desert to find identity, but to lose it, to become ‘god like’.
The Protestants changed this by becoming ‘inner-worldly pilgrims’ – they invented the way of embarking on pilgrimage without leaving home and of leaving home without becoming homeless. In the post-Reformation city of modernity, the desert started on the other side of the door.
The protestant worked hard to make the dessert come to him – through impersonality, coldness, emptiness – protestants expressed a desire to see the outside world as null, lacking in value, of nothingness waiting to become something.
In such a land, commonly called modern society, pilgrimage is no longer a choice, pilgrimage is no longer heroic or saintly, it is what one does of necessity, to avoid being lost in the desert; to invest in walking with a purpose while wandering the land with no destination.
The desert world of modernity is meaningless, the bringing-in of meaning is ‘identity builiding’ – the pilgrim and the dessert-like world he walks acquire their meaning together. Both processes must go on because there is a distance between the goal (the meaning of the world and the future identity of the pilgrim) and the present moment (the station of the walking and the identity of the wanderer.)
Both meaning and identity can exist only as projects. Dissatisfaction with the present compared to the ideal-future and delaying gratification to realise greater pleasure in that future are fundamental features of the modern-identity building project, as is marking and measuring one’s progress towards one’s goal through time.
Time is generally perceived as something through which one progress, in a linear fashion, and modern pilgrims generally had trust in a clearly identified future state (however fantastical) – and saving for the future was a central strategy of future oriented identity-building.
Pilgrims had a stake in the solidity of the world they walked, a kind of world in which one can tell life as a continuous story – moving towards fulfilment – The world of pilgrims, of identity-builders must be orderly, determined, predictable, but most of all it must be one in which one can make engravings in the sand so that past travels are kept and preserved.
The world inhospitable to pilgrims
The world is not hospitable to pilgrims any more. The pilgrims lost their battle by winning it: by turning the social into a dessert, ultimately a windy place where it is as easy to erase footprints as it is to make them.
It soon transpired that the real problem was not how to make identity, but how to preserve it – in a dessert, it is easy to blaze a trail, but difficult to make it stick.
As Cristopher Lasch points out identity refers to both persons and to things, and we now live in a world of disposable objects, and in such a world identities can be adopted and discarded like a change of clothes.
In the life-game of postmodern consumers the rules of the game keep changing in the course of playing. The sensible strategy is to keep each game short, and ‘live one day at a time’, depicting each day as a series of emergencies.
To keep the game short means to be wary of long term commitments, not to control the future, but to refuse to mortgage it. In short, to cut the present off at both ends, to abolish time and live in a continuous present. Fitness takes over from health – the capacity to move where the action is rather than coming up to a standard and remaining ‘unscathed’; and the snag is to no longer construct an identity, but to stop it from becoming fixed.
The hub of postmodern life strategy is not identity building, but avoidance of fixation.
There are no hooks on which we can hang our identity – jobs for life have gone, and we live in the era of personal relationships. Values become cherished for maximal impact, and this means short and sharp, because attention has become a scarce commodity.
The overall result is the fragmentation of time into episodes. In this world, saving and delaying gratification make no sense, getting pleasure now is rational.
In this world, the stroller, the tourist, the vagabond and the player become the key identities, all of these have their origins before postmodernity, but each comes to be practiced by the mainstream rather than being marginal in postmodernity.
In the postmodern chorus they all sing, sometimes in harmony, but more often with cacophony the result.
In modernity this is Walter Benjamin’s flaneur – strolling among crowds of strangers in a city, and being in the crowd, but not of the crowd, taking in those strangers as ‘surfaces’ so that what one sees exhausts what they are, and above all seeing and knowing them episodically – each episode having no past and no consequence. The distinction between appearance and reality matter not. The stroller had all the pleasures of modern life, without all the torments.
In the postmodern world, the stroller is the playful consumer, who doesn’t need to deal with ‘reality’. Shopping malls are the domain of the stroller – while you can shop while you stroll. Here people believe they are making decisions, but in fact they are being manipulated by the mall-designers. Malls are also safe-spaces, where undesirables are screened out.
Originally malls were merely physical, now all of this is intensified in teleshopping, in the private domain.
The vagabond was the bane of early modernity, being master-less, out of control. Modernity could not bear the vagabond because he had no set destination, each place he stops, he knows not how long he will stay. It is easy to control the pilgrim because of his self-determination, but not the vagabond.
Wherever the vagabond goes he is a stranger, he can never be native, he is always out of place.
In modernity the settled were many, the vagabonds few, postmodernity reverses the ratio as now there are few ‘settled places’ left – jobs, skills, relationships, all offer no chance of being rooted.
Like the vagabond, the tourist is always on the move and always in the place but never of it, but there are seminal differences.
Firstly, the tourist moves on purpose, to seek new experiences. They want to immerse themselves in the strange and the bizarre, but they do so in a safe way, in a package-deal sort of way. The tourists world is structured by aesthetic criteria. Unlike the vagabond, who has a rougher ride.
Secondly, the tourist has a home, the vagabond does not. The problem, however, for the tourist, is that as the touristic mode of life becomes dominant, it becomes less and less clear where home actually is, and homesickness sets in – home lingers both as an uncanny mix of shelter and prison.
In play there is neither inevitability nor accident, nothing is fully predictable or controllable, and yet nothing is totally immutable or irrevocable either.
In play there is nothing but a series of moves, and time in the world-as-play is divided into a succession of games, each self-enclosed. For the player, each game must have an end, it must be possible to leave it with no consequences once it has been completed, leave no mental scars.
The point of the game is to win, and this leaves no room for compassion, commiseration .or cooperation.
The mark of a postmodern adult is to embrace the game wholeheartedly, like children do.
Modernism and Postmodernism – What’s the difference?
The table below is taken from David Harvey’s Condition of Postmodernity (in turn taken from Hassan 1985). Harvey suggests that its a useful tool which helps us to see how postmodernity is, in some ways, a reaction to modernity. I cut out a few of the more hectic comparisons and left in the easier to understand ones (having said that, it’s still pretty hectic!)
An overview of theory and methods for second year A level sociology – a very brief overview covering the bare-bones of (1) Positivism and Interpretivism, (2) Is sociology a science?, (3) Sociology and value freedom, (4) Functionalism, (5) Marxism, (6) Feminism, (7) Social action theory, (8) Post and late modernism, (9) Sociology and social policy.
The notes below are deliberately designed to be very brief and ‘distraction free’ (and so I have kept the links below to a minimum), if you want more detailed information, much more in depth, you will find links to these on my ‘Social Theories Page‘ which follows the same structure as what is below!
1. Positivism and Interpretivism
Positivist approaches to social research are quantitative, ‘scientific’, objective.
Durkheim’s suicide is an example of a positivist study
Interpretivists criticise Positivist’s reliance on statistics (they are socially constructed)
Interpretivist approaches to social research = qualitative, empathetic, micro
Key example = Douglas’ study of the multiple meanings of suicide.
Positivists criticise Interpretivist research because it’s too subjective, not authoritative.
2. Is Sociology a science?
Key features of the scientific method = the experiment, objectivity, cause and effect relationships, making predictions.
Positivism = a scientific approach applied to society – Durkheim’s suicide as an example.
Interpretivist criticisms of the scientific method applied to society – humans are conscious actors, they cannot be understood using detached, quantitative methods
Criticisms of the ‘objectivity’ of science and the scientific method – Kuhn’s paradigm critique is especially important.
Realism – we can still usefully study society as an open system, rather than just focussing on individuals – for example we can still make general predictions about social behaviour based on statistical trends, even if we can’t predict exactly what that action will be or who, specifically will do what.
Postmodern views of science – the idea that ‘truth’ is no longer possible.
3. Can Sociology be value free?
Values = people’s own subjective beliefs and opinions. If social research is value free then it means that it is free of the personal biases of the researcher.
Positivism – Claimed that sociology could be value free using scientific methods which meant the researcher was as detached as possible.
Interpretivists criticise this – values creep into the quantitative research process – through the social construction of statistics for example.
Moreover – Interpretivists say we need to understand people’s values to understand how they act! However, it is harder to remain value free when doing qualitative research.
Weber argued that we could collect objective date on people’s values but we needed to be explicit about our own values all the way through the research process.
Some sociologists criticise ‘institutional sociology’ for being limited in scope, and argue we need a political, explicitly value laden sociology to counter-balance this.
For example Howard Becker argued sociologists should take the side of the underdog and give them a voice – this is an explicitly value-laden sociology
Marxist and Feminist sociology is also value laden in its choice of research topic – Sociology should be aimed at achieving political
Postmodernists believe objective knowledge is not possible, so all we can do is deconstruct knowledge, and criticise people who claim to have value-free, objective knowledge.
Late Modernists such as Giddens criticise at least one aspect of postmodernism – there are still objective social problems, such as global warming, migration, global inequality, which sociology needs to focus on.
However, constructing objective knowledge is a problem in contemporary sociology because knowledge is reflexive – it is part of the society it comes from – thus we need to careful to make our own value and opinions clear throughout the research process so that others can make an informed judgement about the usefulness of our research. That’s just the way it is!
Durkheim’s functionalism – social facts and anomie
Parson’s systems theory – the organic analogy and social evolution
Merton’s internal critique of functionalism – latent and manifest functions
Functionalism applied to the family – Murdock’s four universal functions, Parson’s functional fit theory and the two irreducible functions of the family – socialisation and the stabilisation of adult personalities
Functionalism applied to education – meritocracy, social solidarity, school as a bridge between home and society (particularistic and universalistic values)
Functionalism applied to Crime and Deviance – Durkheim’s three positive functions of crime, strain theory, consensus subcultural theories.
Functionalism and Modernisation Theory – Parson’s traditional and modern values and the evolutionary model of society
Functionalism and research methods – Durkheim’s Positivist approach to suicide
Karl Marx – the basics: bourgeoisie and proletariat, exploitation, alienation, false consciousness, revolution.
Gramsci’s humanistic Marxism – hegemony, dual consciousness and organic intellectuals
Althusser’s structuralist Marxism – the repressive state apparatus.
Marxism applied to the Family – capitalism, private property and the family, The family as a safe haven, ideological functions, also see Marxist Feminism
Marxism applied to education – the ideological state apparatus, reproduction of class inequality, legitimation of class inequality, correspondence principle
Marxism applied to Crime and Deviance – • Private Property and Crime, The costs of Corporate Crime, Selective Law Enforcement, Criminogenic Capitalism (“Dog Eat Dog” Society)
Marxism applied to Global Development – Colonialism and Slavery, The Modern World System, Unfair trade rules, TNC exploitation
Marxism and Research Methods – Social Class, Comparative Analysis, Objectivity/ Critical Research.
Liberal Feminism – does not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure; the creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act
Marxist Feminism – capitalism rather than patriarchy is the principal source of women’s oppression, and capitalists as the main beneficiaries, through the housewife role for example; overthrowing capitalism remains the main objective.
Radical Feminism – Society is patriarchal, dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class, and women the subject class. Rape, violence and pornography some of the key tools through which men control women; separatism can be part of the solution.
Difference Feminism – women are not a homogenous group, they experience disadvantage in different ways.
Postmodern Feminism – critiqued preceding Feminist theory as being part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project; concerned with language (discourses) and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities‘.
7. Social Action Theory
Max Weber: Verstehen, and Social Change – observation alone is not enough to understand human action, we need empathetic understanding. Gaining Verstehen is the main point of Sociology, e.g. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).
Symbolic Interactionism – people’s self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self); need to understand meanings to understanding actions; social roles are not specific or fixed; they can be interpreted in various different ways.
Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory – People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves
Labelling Theory – the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)
8. Post Modernism and Late Modernism
Economy and Politics = Industrial economies, jobs for life; Nation State, most people vote and are in trades unions; Organised/ Heavy Capitalism and the Welfare State
Society/ Culture reflects the underlying class and patriarchal structures; Nuclear family the norm, marriage for life; Identities shaped/ constrained by class position/ sex; Media – one way communication, reflects ‘reality’
Knowledge – The Enlightenment – Science/ Objective Knowledge/ Truth and Progress
Sociology – Positivism/ Functionalism – doing research to find how societies function and gradually building a better world; Marxism/ Feminism –emancipation.
Economy/ Politics = Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central; Declining power of the Nation State; Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)
Society/ Culture – Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented ; Relationships more diverse; More Individual Freedom to shape identities; Media – more global, two- way, hyperreality (Baudrillard)
Knowledge – Critique of the Enlightenment; Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)
Sociology – Narrative histories; Deconstruction (Lyotard) and Destabilising Theory.
9. Sociology and social policy
Intro – Social policy = things the government does to steer society in some way. Examples include taxation which affects wealth distribution, various education policies and policies about how to tackle crime
There are several reasons why governments may ignore certain findings of research – e.g. lack of money; Marxists and Feminists believe governments generally have an ideological bias which mean they ignore certain research findings.
Positivists believe researchers should collect objective knowledge to assess the impact of social policies and to help introduce new policies
Social Democratic Perspectives generally agree with the above.
The New Right and Neoliberals – have had most influence on social policy recently – e.g. The education system/ crime policy and in International Development
Marxist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which favour the redistribution of wealth and promote equality of opportunity, such as the abolition of private schools.
Feminist approaches to social policy – prefer policies which emphasis gender equality, such as the Paternity Act.
Postmodernists focus on deconstruction rather than social policies
Late Modernists emphasise the importance and challenges of developing and evaluating social policies in an age of globalisation.
Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle
If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of A level sociology papers 1 and 3.
74 pages of revision notes
15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
Five theory and methods essays
‘How to write methods in context essays’.
Related Posts/ Find out More
Please see my ‘Social Theories Page‘ For more links to a whole range of posts – both summary and in depth on various social theories relevant to both A level sociology and beyond!
I’m presently enjoying re-reading Bauman’s major works – I thought offering up my summaries might be useful to some students. I will eventually further summarise/ comment/ critique, but in the meantime.. the raw summary of chapter two of Liquid Modernity….
Bauman begins by pointing out that Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias were very much products of their time. Although they clearly had their differences, what they both shared in common was a fear of individual freedom being reduced to a sham ; both felt the world was heading in the direction of an ever increasing split between remote controllers and the controlled. Just like Plato’s inability to imagine a utopia without slaves, Huxley and Orwell could not imagine a world without a supreme controller’s office. Today’s Liquid Modern society, the type of dystopia imagined by Orwell and Huxley makes no sense.
Capitalism Heavy and Light
In this section, Bauman introduces his by now classic concepts of heavy and light (or liquid) modernity.
He casts ‘heavy capitalism’ as being a like Nigel Swift’s notion of the ‘Joshua discourse’ – centrally organized and rigidly bounded. In heavy Capitalism, order is all important, and to be seen as having legitimate existence, something must serve a purpose that fits the overall end. In such a ‘modern’ system – the system is like God, it is the reason for its existence, and its perpetuation is the goal. Under such a discourse, it was the capitalist managers of business who controlled things – who decided what was rational and what was not, thus determining the range of viable alternatives available to actors.
The world sustaining the Joshua discourse was the Fordist world, which in its heyday was simultaneously a model of industrialisation, of accumulation and of regulation. At a deeper level, the Fordist model was also an epistemological building site – It was about binary oppositions such as manager and managed, design and execution, freedom and obedience.
Heavy Capitalism was fixed to the ground , tied to one place (as in the Fordist factory), it seemed set to stay and it seemed as if there was no alternative to it. Despite the seemingly oppressive nature of this heavy period of history, this at least gave people a sense certainty, predictability and rootedness, and people generally had jobs for life, they knew where they stood, labour could ‘dig in’ and make deals.
All of this solidity is gone under Light Capitalism. NB Bauman here doesn’t actually say much about this concept, possibly in an attempt to mirror the ‘ambiguous nature’ of this current mode?
He limits himself to saying that nowadays capital travels light, it can stop-over almost anywhere, and is no longer has to stay put. Labour, on the other hand, remains as immobilised as it was in the past – but the place it was once fixed to has lost its solidity. Bauman characterises the passengers of ‘Light Capitalism’ as being on an aircraft who have discovered that….
‘to their horror the pilot’s cabin is empty and that there is no way to extract from the mysterious black box.. any information about where the plane is flying, where it is going to land, who is to choose the airport, and whether there are any rules which would allow the passengers to contribute to the safety of their arrival.’
(p59) Have car, can travel
In Heavy Modernity, we new what the ends were, although there may have been some level of uncertainty over the means whereby we should achieve those ends. However Liquid Modernity introduces a new level of uncertainty as we no longer know what the ends are. Furthermore, in the absence of a supreme office, it is now up to the individual to decide what these ends should be.
Since there are now more life experiences than we can experience in a lifetime, even when we achieve something, there is still more to be achieved, and thus in the Liquid Modern society, are always becoming something but never finally arriving finally.
On this note, Bauman offers up a nice quote by Zbyszko Melosik and Tomasz Szudlarek:
‘living amidst apparently infinite chances offers the sweet taste of ‘freedom to become anybody’. This sweetness has a bitter after-taste, though, since while the ‘becoming’ bit suggests that nothing is over yet and everything lies ahead, the condition of ‘being somebody’ which that becoming is meant to secure, portends the umpire’s final end of game whistle: ‘you are no more free when the end has been reached; you are not yourself when you have become somebody’.
This state of unfinishedness, incompletenesss and underdetermination is full of anxiety and risk, but its opposite brings no unadulterated pleasure either, since it forecloses what freedom needs to stay open.
Bauman uses a Buffet Table analogy to describe this world of possibilities….
‘the world full of possibilities is like a buffet table set with mouth-watering dishes, too numerous for the keenest of eaters to hope to taste them all. The diners are consumers and the most taxing and irritating of the challenges consumers confront is the need to establish priorities’ – which dishes to forgo that have never yet been experienced… the means are obvious, but the question of ‘have I used my means to the best advantage’ remains.’
Bauman rounds off this section by pointing out that (or this might be inferring it!) Liquid Modern Capitalism requires consumers…. and there is no objective function of the consumer other than to carry on making choices. To make the choice between what to consume is the telos, the purpose the end goal. This means the consumer can never be wrong. If we accept this role of consumer, this means consigning ourselves to a life of perpetual choice and uncertainty.
(63) Stop Telling Me Show Me
Heavy Fordism had clear authority figures. However, in the new capitalism, these don’t disappear, it’s just there are more of them and none of them hold their power for long.
Bauman now makes the distinction between Heavy Modernity’s authorities as ‘leaders’ and Liquid Modernity’s authorities as ‘counsellors –
A by-product and necessary supplement to the world which aimed at the ‘good society’.
Are to be followed, demanding and expecting discipline.
Act as two way translators between individual good and the ‘good of us all’ (between Mill’s private worries and public issues).
Politics with a capital P.
Use the word ‘we’ – offers the possibility of collective solutions to social problems.
Exist in a Liquid Modern World in which there is not only no commitment to the hope of agreeing on the ‘characteristics of the good society’, but where people generally believe that there is no such thing as society.
Are to be hired and fired. Need to earn the right to be heard by currying favor with would-be listeners.
Are wary of stepping beyond the closed doors of the private, and so offer only therapeutic means to fight off private worries – life-politics
politics with a small ‘p’.
After counseling, the private individual is as alone as when he started.
The crucial thing about advice offered by counsellors is that the counselled is always referred to things he can do himself to put him in the right situation. The source of one’s unhappiness is always diffuse, never rooted in society. Solutions offered to personal worries typically come in the form of individual examples…
What people today want is a living example of how they can solve their own problems, rather than a leader to tell them. Bauman provides the case of Jane Fonda as an example of one of these ‘examples’. Fonda took responsibility for her own body, treated it like a project, and made her own way, through her own efforts. The message here is ‘I am to blame and to shame if I err.’
Other examples of popular examples are celebrities and Bauman also casts the chat show in a similar light – On chat shows, it is people ‘like me’ who explain their stories. He explains the popularity of chat shows because they are closer to me, and there are more examples to be learnt from. Ultimately, however, chat shows legitimise filling public space with private concerns (that never become public issues).
The current definition of the public sphere seems to be the right of the public to play out their private dramas and the right of the rest of us to watch. As an example of this Bauman reminds us of how we are interested in the private lives of politicians, and much less interested in their political careers and policies.
(p72) Compulsion turned into addiction
Looking for counsel, guidance and examples becomes an addiction, because no matter how much of these we receive, none ever deliver on their promise of fulfilling us, they all have their use by date, and so we must move onto the next fix. This is similar to the short-lived satisfactions gained through the consumption of products, the satisfaction gained through each materialistic attachment eventually fades, and so we move on to the next one. As a result, we become ‘content’ that we can simply ‘stay in the race’, and abandon any attempt to reach the finish line.
The archetype of staying in the race is shopping – and today this doesn’t just mean going to the mall – pretty much anything we do today takes the form of shopping if, by shopping, we mean scanning the assortment of possibilities, testing, touching, comparing and finally choosing.
To quote Bauman directly…
‘ the avid and never ending search for new and improved examples and recipes for life is also a variety of shopping, and a most important variety, in the twin lessons that our happiness depends on our competence but that we are personally incompetent, or not as competent as we could or should be if we only tried harder.
(On a personal note this sounds like the message we give out to our students on a daily basis at our sixth form college!)
There are so many areas of life in which we now need to be more competent and Bauman now lists the type of things we can shop around for such as job skills; numerous aspects of advice to do with relationships; how to save money; how to cook (cheer’s Jamie); and how to use our time more efficiently (the discourse of time-management is probably the one I find the most irritating.)
Bauman now distinguishes between ‘need’, ‘desire’ and ‘the wish’ to describe how the nature of consumption has changed. He suggests that consumerism has for a long time been more than about just satisfying needs, but has been (for many decades) about satisfying consumers’ self-generated desires. Bauman casts needs as having some kind of objective basis, while desire is subjective, and required considerable resources to be employed by producers to generate. Desire, however, although flightier and shorter-lived than needs had specific objects as its focus, and it was at least rooted in something, but today consumerism has moved beyond this – it is now focused on what Bauman calls ‘the wish’ – which is much more gaseous and spontaneous and rooted in fantasy rather than reality.
To ‘elucidate’ the difference between the desire and the wish –
Desire – is fluid and expandable, based on half-illicit liaisons with fickle and plastic dreams of the authenticity of an ‘inner self’ waiting to be expressed. The facilitation of desire is founded upon comparison, vanity, envy and the ‘need’ for self-approbation.
The Wish – completes the liberation of of the pleasure principle, purging and disposing of the last residues of the ‘reality principle’ impediments… Nothing underlies the immediacy of the wish. The purpose is casual, unexpected and spontaneous. It has a dream like quality of both expressing and fulfilling a wish, and like all wishes, is insincere and childish.
(p76) The Consumer’s Body
The seminal difference between post-modern and modern society is that post-modern society engages its members primarily as consumers rather than producers.
Life organised around the producer’s role tends to be normatively regulated… There are bottoms lines outlining what one needs to survive as a producer, and there are realistic upper limits to ambition which one ‘s peers will make sure are kept within. The major concern in a society of producers is then that of conformity, of settling securely between the upper and lower limits.
‘Life organised around consumption, on the other hand, must do without norms: it is guided by seduction, ever rising desires and volatile wishes – no longer by normative regulation’ – Luxuries make little sense in the society of consumers because the point is to turn today’s luxuries into tomorrows necessities, and to take the waiting out wanting. There is no norm to transform luxuries into needs, and thus the major concern in a consumer society is that of adequacy, or being ever ready to rise to the opportunity as it comes, to be able to respond to new desires as they arise, and get more out of new consumer experiences.
Health was the standard of modern society, while fitness is the standard in the society of consumers.
Health implies coming up to a normative standard that is required to do the work required of you in a society. Being fit, on the other hand requires having a flexible, adaptable body, it means being ready for new, testing experiences. Whereas health is about sticking to the norms, fitness is about smashing through those norms to set (temporarily) new ones.
‘Life organised around fitness. promises a lot of victorious skirmishes but never the final victory. There is no final goal in the pursuit of health. The pursuit of fitness is the state of perpetual self-scrutiny, self-reproach and also self-deprivation, and so continuous anxiety.
The consequences of a society organised around ‘fitness’
Ever new states of the body become the target for medical intervention
second the idea of disease (dis ease) becomes blurred. It is no longer a one off by a perpetual fight.
Finally the meaning of a healthy life never stands still!
(p80) Shopping as a rite of exorcism
This never ending quest calls upon the consumer to be active in their pursuit of maintaining their health. Being healthy does not require abstinence, rather it requires ever more shopping around and staying on top of the latest ‘health trends’.
Common interpretations of shopping around are that this activity is a manifestation of dormant materialistic and hedonistic instincts, but another part, and a necessary complement of all such explanations is that the shopping compulsion-turned-into-addiction is an uphill struggle against acute, nerve-breaking uncertainty and the annoying, stultifying feeling of insecurity.
People shop because they want security, they want certainty, but it is not in the final product they seek security, it is in the very act of shopping, of picking and choosing itself.
(p82) Free to shop – Or so it seems
People think they cannot own the world fully enough, but it appears to them that other people’s lives are fuller than theirs. Distance blurs reality, and other people’s lives seems like works of art, and so we try to make our lives appear as works of art too.
That work of art which we want to mould out of the friable stuff of life is called ‘identity’. Whenever we speak of identity, there is at the back of our minds a faint image of harmony, logic, consistency, all those things which the flow of our experience seems – to our perpetual despair – so grossly and abominably to lack. The search for identity is the ongoing struggle to arrest or slow down the flow, to solidify the fluid, to give form to the formless. We struggle to deny or at least to cover up the awesome fluidity just below the thin wrapping of the form; we try to avert our eyes from sights which they cannot pierce or take in. Yet far from slowing the flow, let alone stopping it, identities are more like the spots of crust hardening time and again before they have time to cool and set. So there is need for another trial, and another – and they can be attempted only by clinging desperately to things solid and tangible and thus promising duration…. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari: ‘Desire constantly couples continuous flow and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented.’
Today our identities are volatile, and because of this we increasingly see the ability to shop around in the supermarket of identities and hold it as long as I desire as desirable.
The experienced, lived identity can only be held together with the adhesive of fantasy… and fashion fits the bill here especially well… just the right stuff, at it provides ways of exploring limits without commitment to action. The ultimate freedom is the freedom to have an identity, to be different, with a nod and wink to the idea that we are all playing the game, but because this game requires us to buy into things, we need stuff to express our identities, we are not really free.
And in today’s world the fashions we use to identify ourselves have built in obsolescence, and so we are required to keep on top of things- more effort. (Lasch) As a result we have moved from a Panotopicon to a Synopticon – where spectacles take the place of observers without losing any of the disciplinary power of their predecessor. NB the few used to watch the many, now the many watch the few. This appears in the guise of freewill but it is really not!
In society we and celebrities and experts, we all construct and present fake identities – but sometimes we see interviews (possible on chat shows) which aim to get to the ‘real person’ – this is equally as nonsense, this is a myth…..
In our society notions of authenticity and inauthenticity are moot, because what is more important is the ability to choose, to be on the move, and in such a society.
There are consequences of living in such a society – on the one had there is the uncertainty and anxiety, on the other your ability to shop around depends on your local in society, which is especially bad for the poor, because in a synoptic society of shopping/watching addicts, the poor cannot avert their eyes.
(89) Divided we shop
In a consumer society with an ever faster turnaround of products -each product’s appeal is shorter-lived, this is more of a problem for the poor who cannot afford to keep up with consumer trends, less of a problem for the wealthy. Being wealthy also means you are more able to avoid the negative consequences of your consumption.
He now uses Gidden’s concepts of plastic sexuality, confluent love and the pure relationship to illustrate this – these fluid forms of relationships, when they come to an end, are clearly going to have some who come out of them better than than others, especially where children are involved.
To sum up – the mobility and flexibility of identification which characterises the shopping around type of life are not so much vehicles of emancipation as the instruments of the redistribution of freedom. They are for that reason mixed blessings.
So what is this postmodernism of which many now speak?
No one agrees as to what is meant by the term except that ‘postmodernism’ represents some kind of reaction to or departure from ‘modernism’. Since the meaning of modernism is also very confused, the reaction or departure known as postmodernism is doubly so.
Terry Eagleton (a literary critic) defined postmodernism thus in 1987:
The typical postmodernist artefact is playful, self-ironizing and even schizoid; and that it reacts to the austere autonomy of high modernism by impudently embracing the language of commerce and the commodity. Its stance towards cultural tradition is one of irreverent pastiche, and its contrived depthlessness undermines all metaphysical solemnities, sometimes by a brutal aesthetics of squalor and shock.’
The editors of the architectural journal PRECIS (1987) see postmodernism as a legitimate reaction to the monotony of universal modernism’s vision of the world.
‘Generally perceived as positivistic, technocentric, and rationalistic, being about linear progress, absolute truths, rational planning of ideal social orders and the standardisation of knowledge and production. Postmodernism by way of contrast privileges heterogeneity and differences as liberative force in the redefinition of cultural discourse. Fragmentation, indeterminacy and intense distrust of all universal or totalising discourses are the hallmark of postmodernist thought.’
Examples of postmodernism include:
– The rediscovery of pragmatism in philosophy – Rorty (1979)
– New ideas about the philosophy of science – Kuhn (1962) and Feyerbrand (1975)
– Foucault’s focus on polymporhous correlations in place of simple or complex causality in history.
– New developments in maths emphasising indeterminacy – chaos theory a fractal geometry.
– the conercn for ‘the other’ in anthropology and politics.
What all of the above have in common is the a rejection of metanarratives (large scale theoretical interpretations purportedly of universal application.
Eagleton’s full description of postmodernism…
‘Post-modernism signals the death of such ‘metanarratives’ whose secretly terroristic function was to ground and legitimate the illusion of a ‘universal’ human history. We are now in the process of wakening from the nightmare of modernity, with it manipulative reason and fetish of the totality, into the laid-back pluralism of the post-modern, that heterogeneous rnage of life-styles and language games which has renounced the nostalgic urge to totalise and legitimate itself… Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives’.
Source – David Harvey – The Condition of Postmodernity
NB – The above is simply paraphrased from David Harvey’s excellent book ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’.
Cultural Criminologists argue the exact opposite of Right Realism who focus on the ordinary motivations and repetitiveness of much crime. Instead, they stress the highly emotional nature of crime – instead of what the criminals will gain, these researchers are interested in how committing the crime actually makes people feel. The focus of cultural criminologists is on the thrill of the act – it can offer a brief escape from an otherwise grey emotional existence. They argue there is an intoxicating mix of fear and pleasure that often accompanies risk taking.
According to these theorists, crime is not a rational mundane activity, where costs and benefits are weighed up. Rather it is a reaction against the mundane. It is a time when those involved momentarily experience status, excitement and even some control over their own lives, which are otherwise characterised by feelings of worthlessness and insecurity.
Two Postmodern thinkers associated with this point of view are Katz and Lyng. Katz (1988) argues that people get drawn into crime because it is seductive, because it is thrilling. Postmodernists interpret this simply as part of a postmodern society which calls on us to enjoy our leisure time – crime is one means whereby some people do just that – this is very much the feeling of many people who took part in the London Riots in 2011.
Lyng (1990) developed the concept of ‘edgework’ – by this he meant that crime was a means whereby people could get a thrill by engaging in risk-taking behaviour – going right to the edge of acceptable behaviour, and challenging the rules of what is acceptable. Again, we can see this very much as an outgrowth of a postmodern society which encourages and rewards risk-taking behaviour.
The risks involved in law breaking act as a challenge, and crime is carried out precisely because the rules are in place. Cultural criminologists argue that most young offenders do not set out on their escapades assessing the chances that they will be arrested, and this is why the steady increase in control in culture over our lives (CCTV, ASBOs, anti-terrorist legislation and creation of new offences) does nothing to deter, but actually creates more law breaking as they are faced with more ‘thrilling’ challenges.
A Summary sheet covering post and late modern theories of crime – focusing on Jock Young’s ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’, the cultural criminology of Katz and Lyng (edgework), and Foucault’s concept of discplinary power and the shift to control through surveillance.
Post and Late Modern Theories of Crime
(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 1)
Introduction – Post/ Late Modern Society and changing crime
Post-Modern society refers to society since about the 1970s
Numerous social changes mean that both the nature of crime and the causes of crime are more complex
Some of the key social changes which influence criminal behaviour (and crime control) include
The rise of the consumer society – the norm of high consumption
globalisation, de-industrialisation and increasing instability and uncertainty
The fact that we live in a media-saturated society which celebrates celebrity-culture
The increase in individual-freedom (individualisation) and cultural diversity
Various technological changes, especially the increasing centrality of ICT.
This revision sheet (and the main class-notes) only look at sociologists who have developed new theories about the relationship between changes in post/ late modernity and changing crime.
Other areas of the course which could be included under postmodernism include gloablisation and crime, and aspects of the media and crime.
Jock Young – Late Modernity, Exclusion and Crime
The 1950s was a ‘golden age’ of full employment, cultural inclusion and low crime
Today, de-industrialisation has resulted in low-employment, instability, insecurity, uncertainty, social-fragmentation and high crime rates
Economic exclusion combined with the pressure to consume and be a celebrity result in anomie
Crime is a means of coping with this anomie – it offers us a ways not necessarily to get rich (like Merton says), but to ‘be somebody’, vent our frustrations, or simply escape.
As a result, crime gets more diverse, more spread out in society, and nastier (more extreme).
Cultural Criminology – Edgework
Developed by Katz and Lyng in the 1980s and 1990s
Criticises Rational Choice Theory – crime is not always rational, it is done for emotional reasons
Crime is increasingly about ‘edgework’ – flirting with the boundaries of the acceptable because it’s exciting, or thrilling.
This is very much part of living in a risk-society (Ulrich Beck)
Simon Winlow – Violent Night
Researched young working class men in Northern cities who regularly engaged in binge-drinking and violence at the weekends.
Found that their jobs were low-status and insecure, they offered them no sense of identity
Binge-drinking was a way to escape the boredom and low-status of work.
Fighting meant numerous things – it was about status, but also simply thrilling and exciting.
Offers broad support for both the theories above.
Surveillance and Crime Control
(PM/ LM Theories of Crime Control PART 2)
Michel Foucault – The Birth of the Prison and the rise of Surveillance
Punishment used to be violent, carried out on the body and it used to be done in public, now punishment is psychological, it expects people to change the way they think, and it is carried out in prisons, behind closed doors.
This reflects a shift from sovereign power to disciplinary power.
Sovereign power involved controlling people through the threat of force – people were punished severely and other people obeyed because they were afraid of the same punishment.
Disciplinary power now involves controlling people through surveillance and expecting people to change their own behaviour – prisoners are locked away and monitored, and change their own behaviour because they know they are being watched.
This logic of control now extends to everyone – even non-criminals – surveillance is now everywhere in society – it is not just criminals who are under surveillance by agents of social control, we are under surveillance from cradle to grave – school, work, pregnancy, child-birth, on the streets and roads, our health data.
Most people now obey the rules because they know they are being watched – they regulate their own behaviour for fear of becoming the wrong kind of person – a failing student, an unproductive worker, a bad mother, an obese-person, for example.
NB – This is quintessentially sociological – it is only in very recent human history that we have become so obsessed with monitoring every aspect of our daily-lives, and one of Foucault’s points is that this constant surveillance doesn’t necessarily improve our lives – there are both winners and losers.
An essay plan on Post/ Late Modern perspectives on crime and deviance covering the relationship between consumerism and crime (Robert Reiner), The Vertigo of Late Modernity (Jock Young), the consequences of globalisation for crime, and the rise of cyber crime, all followed by some evaluations and a conclusion.
Brief intro outlining the key ideas of Post/ Late Modernism
Postmodern society is different to modern society – It is more consumerist, and individuals have more freedom of choice than ever before.
Late Modernists argue that crime has changed in some fundamental ways in the age of postmodernity
Point One – Consumer society is a high crime society (Robert Reiner)
Crime started to rise in the 1950s with the birth of consumerism
80% of crime is property crime, suggesting a link between the increase in materialism and the rise of crime
Rapid crime increase became especially pronounced with the neoliberal policies of Thatcher
Point Two – The ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ (uncertainty) explains crime and deviance today (Jock Young)
Postmodern life is insecure – neither jobs nor relationships are for life. These instabilities create a constant state of ‘anomie’ or meaninglessness.
Thus people no longer find security in their jobs/ relationships, and they thus look for thrills at weekends to give their life meaning – risk taking behaviour is the norm (‘edgework’) and much crime is an outcome of this.
Winlow’s study of night-time violence supports this, as does Katz’s work on ‘Edgework’.
Point Three – Globalisation has resulted in many new types of crime
Postmodern culture is global – there are many new flows of money, goods, technologies and ideas which open up new opportunities for crime.
Some of the most significant types of global crime are drug-crime, people trafficking, cybercrime and the global terrorist threat.
One thing fuelling this is global inequality (demand and supply).
One major consequence is the increase awareness of ‘risk consciousness’ and the increase in fear, especially because of the perceived terrorist threat.
Point Four – New Technologies open up new opportunities for crime, especially cyber-crime
Cybercrime is one of the fastest growth areas of crime and this is global in nature.
Fraud is one type of crime – such as the Nigerian Romance Scam.
Cyber-stalking and harassment also seems to be more common than face to face crimes of this nature.
Governments are also under threat from ‘cyber attacks’ from foreign powers.
+ Society and the nature of crime do seem to have changed in recent years, so it’s worth revisiting the ‘underlying causes’
+ Better than Marxism and Feminism as these theories look at crime more generally, rather than just focussing on issues of power.
– On closer inspection there doesn’t seem to be much new in many late-modern theories of crime – much of it just seems to be Strain Theory updated.
– These theories may be too general to be useful to anyone. If there are multiple causes of crime, which are complex and global, we have no clue what to do to control crime?!?
Conclusion – How useful are post (late) modern theories in helping us understand crime and deviance
On the plus side it is clear that the nature of crime has changed with the onset of a global, hyper-connected postmodern society.
However, we might not need a completely new batch of theories to understand these changes. Marxists, for example, would say that we can understand much global crime, and even much ‘local crime’ because of the increase in economic inequalities which are part of globalisation.
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