Useful links to quantitative and qualitative research studies, statistics, researchers, and news paper articles relevant to gender and education. These links should be of interest to students studying A-level and degree level sociology, as well as anyone with a general interest in the relationship between gender, gender identity, differential educational achievement and differences in subject choice.
Just a few links to kick-start things for now, to be updated gradually over time…
A link to Professor Becky Francis’ research, which focuses mainly on gender differences in educational achievement – at time of writing (November 2017) her main focus seems to be on girls lack of access to science and banding and streaming (the later not necessarily gender focused)
Specific resources for exploring gender and differential educational achievement
Education as a strategy for international development – despite the fact that girls are outperforming boys in the United Kingdom and most other developed countries, globally girls are underachieving compared to boys in most countries. This link takes you to a general post on education and social development, many of the links explore gender inequality in education.
Specific resources for exploring gender and subject choice
Dolls are for Girls, Lego is for Boys – A Guardian article which summarizes a study by Becky Francis’s on Gender, Toys and Learning, Francis asked the parents of more than 60 three- to five-year-olds what they perceived to be their child’s favourite toy and found that while parental choices for boys were characterised by toys that involved action, construction and machinery, there was a tendency to steer girls towards dolls and perceived “feminine” interests, such as hairdressing.
Girls are Logging Off – A BBC article which briefly alerts our attention to the small number of girls opting to do computer science.
Participant observation is one the main research methods on the A level sociology syllabus, but many of the examples in the main text books are painfully out of date. This post provides some more recent examples of research studies which employed participant observation as their main research method.
Covert Participant Observation
Pearson’s (2009) covert participant observation study of Blackpool Football Club’s supporters
Pearson carried out covert participant observation of supporters of Blackpool Football Club between 1995 and 1998. He was known to other supporters as a student pursuing a degree in law, but his status as an academic researcher was unknown to them. His approach was to meet up with them in the pub before a match or sometimes on entering the stadium, and to meet up with them afterwards for a drink. He attended seventy-eight matches but notes that because he did not live in the area, he was unable to observe the supporters outside of a football context.
He chose Blackpool F.C. because it was close to Lancaster, where he was a student, and because of its reputation as having problems with football hooliganism. He seems to have been able to gradually insinuate himself into the supporters’ world by being recognised as a regular fan. Pearson played up his knowledge of the game and the club and was able to integrate himself into their world.
Pearson says of his research…’ whilst it was possible to avoid committing some individual offences, a refusal to commit crimes on a regular basis would have aroused suspicions and reduced research opportunities. As a result I committed ‘minor’ offences (which I tentatively defined as those would not cause direct physical harm to a research subject). My strategy was to commit only the offences which the majority of the research subjects were committing and that I considered necessary to carry out the research. Furthermore, whilst I would commit lesser offences with regularity, I would, if possible, avoid more serious ones.’ (Pearson, 2009).
Pearson’s research is a good example of covert research in which Pearson participated fully with the activities of the group…he was a ‘covert full member’ of the group he was observing.
Overt Participant Observation
Khan’s (2011, 2014) ethnography of an elite high school in the United States
The majority of ethnographic work seems to have been carried out with (on?) the poor and the marginalised, Khan’s work provides us with a rare ethnographic study of an elite institution.
Khan says: ‘ethnography is a method wherein the scholar embeds himself in the relations under study, spending long periods of time with research subjects. For me, it meant getting a job at St. Paul’s School… I moved into an apartment on campus, and… observed the daily life of the school. After my years at St. Paul’s I returned many times, and I sought out alumni to interview and discuss some of the things I’d learned (Khan 2014).
Similarly to Pearson, Khan is also a full member of the group which he is observing, it’s just that his group knows he is doing research.
In contrast to Pearson’s research, this ethnography by Khan illustrates one of the main advantages overt participant observation has over covert: you can carry on collecting data from the respondents afterwards!
Mears’s (2011) ethnography of the world of the fashion model
‘Two and a half years would be spend in participant observation, or more like ‘observant participation’ (a term borrowed from Wacquant 2004) working for both agencies in the full range of modelling work, including five Fashion Weeks, hundreds of castings, and dozens of jobs in every type of modelling work – catwalk shows, magazine shoots in studios and outdoors…. I sat besides bookers at their table in the office drank with them at their favourite pubs, and hung out with them backstage at fashion shows. As I was nearing the end of the participant observation phase… and withdrawing from modelling work, I formally interviewed a sample of bookers, managers and accountants’ (Mears, 2013).
In contrast to Khan’s research, Mears explicitly puts the observation before the participation, which suggests she is less immersed in the day to day life of her group than Kahn was.
Sampson’s (2013) ethnographic research on international seafarers
In April 1999, Sampson boarded her first cargo ship. ‘Contrary to my fears, the crew of Swedish and Filipino seafarers welcomed me into their lives and for forty-two days I lived and worked alongside them, painting the ship with them, venturing ashore to Seamen’s bars with them, laughing with them, even dancing and singing with them’. (2013)
This final example is what Bryman refers to as a ‘participating’ observer’ rather than a ‘full member’ – Sampson is working for the shipping company with the men on a very temporary basis.
The above four examples of participant observation studies are all taken from Bryman’s (2016) research methods book. Bryman ranges several studies (23 in total) on a scale ranging from ‘full member’ through to ‘partially participating observer’ down to ‘non-participating observer with interaction’.
Students might find it interesting to note that the well known study ‘Gang Leader for a Day’ (Venkatesh, 2008) is in Bryman’s ‘minimally participating observer’ category, 17th out of 23rd on the above scale, which makes it closer to a non-participant study! Actually I’ve read it, and I can see his point.
Anna Lora-Wainwright (2018) Resigned Activism – Living with Pollution in Rural China
Lora-Wainwright spent from 2009-2013 studying how people in rural China cope when they know severe pollution is having a severely detrimental effect on their health.
NB – this isn’t ‘ordinary pollution’ she’s looking at – she studied three villages in total, all of which are coping with the effects of large-scale industrial pollution because of the heavy manufacturing or waste disposal that occurs in those areas. All of these villages have well over the national average of cancer deaths reported, and it’s obvious the pollution is the problem.
One village was dealing with phosphorus pollution, another Zinc and Lead pollution and the third the pollution from electronic waste. The later village has global notoriety – Guiyu is well known as the world’s largest e waste site.
Lora-Wainwright focused on how people responded when they knew they were being subjected to a significant cancer risk from pollution – how they organised and protested, but also how they just coped on a day to day basis -living with things such as polluted water that’s going to give you cancer if you drink it.
She also focused on how this all ties in with the wider Chinese government’s industrialization agenda and the fact that the government would rather keep reports about such pollution quiet.
Identifying media bias through content analysis is a key skill in sociology. The American media is often accused of having a right-wing bias which means they will present a pro-capitalist, pro-business world view as normal and desirable and promote a neoliberal policy agenda. (1)
Below I analyse one newspaper article (about why 66 million Americans have no savings at all) to illustrate how agenda setting, or what and what isn’t included in the article, results in a subtle right-wing, neoliberal bias.
OK – It looks like it might be a lefty topic, because it’s about the precarious financial life of the poorest sections of American society, but there’s no class-based analysis focusing on how it’s mainly low-paid and temporary jobs in the context of 30 years neoliberal economics resulting in productivity gains, but increasingly unequal national income distribution meaning the very rich get richer, while most of the rest of us, especially the poor, get relatively poorer.
Having alerted us to these ‘shocking statistics’ (oh those poor, poor Americans), we are then told that this low-savings rate is spread among all households –
‘the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either’.
The article then goes on to talk about how Gen Y is better at saving than Gen X – the tone of which seems to blame 40 to 60 somethings for having too high consumption levels and not saving enough… (‘if your damn kids can save, then why not you too’?) – here ignoring the following two important contextual facts:
(A) Gen Xrs were encouraged to consume in the context of a growing economy, then the neoliberal crash came in 2007, and here we are: hyper-precarity;
(B) OK Yes – Gen Yrs may appear to be better at saving, rather than avoiding debt, but why are they saving? I bet once you take out all of those saving to go travelling (and hence consuming) or saving for a mortgage (you now need a bigger deposit than your parents), you’d have similar rates of debt being racked up across the generations.
The article ends with the classic neoliberal trick of individualising the whole problem:
“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.”
Ignoring the fact that for the typical person with no savings (mots of them are in low-paid jobs) there simply isn’t enough money left at the end of the week to put something extra by!
In summary: why don’t people save according to the narrow agenda of this right-wing, neoliberal article?
40-60 somethings got into the habit of consuming too much.
It’s a problem which effects all levels of income
20-30 somethings are much better at saving than their parents
Irresponsible parents need to learn from their kids and just save more….
What’s not considered/ emphasised
There are 10-15% of American households which are in no position to save for emergencies
This is because 30 years of neoliberal policies have created precarious and low-paid jobs, which has meant productivity gains, the gains from which have gone disproportionately to the top 1%.
Generation Yrs are shit-scared of their futures and so are more likely to save compared to their parents.
We need state-intervention to redistribute wealth away from the richest 1% and back to the lowest paid workers who actually created this wealth through their labour power.
(1) I didn’t intend to write this today, it just sort of happened, I was actually looking up stats on inequality in America, and I got quite annoyed when I read (and thought) about the content of this article.
Positivists believe society shapes the individual and use quantitative methods, Interpretivists believe individuals shape society and use qualitative methods.
Positivism and Interpretivism are the two basic approaches to research methods in Sociology. Positivist prefer scientific quantitative methods, while Interpretivists prefer humanistic qualitative methods. This post provides a very brief overview of the two.
Positivists see society as shaping the individual and believe that ‘social facts’ shape individual action.
Sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world.
By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
Positivistsprefer quantitative methods such as social surveys, structured questionnaires and official statistics because these have good reliability and representativeness.
The positivist tradition stresses the importance of doing quantitative research such as large scale surveys in order to get an overview of society as a whole and to uncover social trends, such as the relationship between educational achievement and social class. This type of sociology is more interested in trends and patterns rather than individuals.
In positivist research, sociologists tend to look for relationships, or ‘correlations’ between two or more variables. This is known as the comparative method.
Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that individuals are not just puppets who react to external social forces as Positivists believe.
According to Interpretivists individuals are intricate and complex and different people experience and understand the same ‘objective reality’ in very different ways and have their own, often very different, reasons for acting in the world, thus scientific methods are not appropriate.
An Interpretivist approach to social research would be much more qualitative, using methods such as unstructured interviews or participant observation
Interpretivists argue that in order to understand human action we need to achieve ‘Verstehen‘, or empathetic understanding – we need to see the world through the eyes of the actors doing the acting.
Intereptivists actually criticise ‘scientific sociology’ (Positivism) because many of the statistics it relies on are themselves socially constructed.
Positivism and Interpretivism Summary Grid
Positivism and Interpretivism FAQ
What is the difference between Positivism and Interpretivism?
Positivism is a top down macro approach in sociology which uses quantitative methods to find the general laws of society, Interpretivism is a micro approach which uses qualitative methods to gain an empathetic understanding of why people act from their own understanding/ interpretation.
What is Positivism?
Positivism is a scientific approach social research developed by August Comte in the mid-19th century and developed by Emile Durkheim. It involves using quantitative methods to study social facts to uncover the objective laws of society.
What is an example of Positivism?
Durkehims’ study of suicide is a good example of a Positivist research study. He used official statistics and other quantitative data to analyse why the suicide rate varied from country to country.
What is Interpretivism?
Interpretivism is an approach to social research first developed by Max Weber in early 19th century. He believed we needed to understand the motives for people’s actions to fully understand why they acted, aiming for what he called Verstehen, or empathetic understanding. Intepretivists use qualitative research methods as they are best for getting more in-depth information about the way people interpret their own actions.
What is an example of Interpretivist research?
Any study which aims to understand the world from the point of view of the participants, so most participant observation studies are examples, such as Paul Wills’ Learning to Labour and Venkatesh’ Gang Leader for a Day.
Can Positivist and Interpretivist Methods be used together?
Absolutely, yes. In fact many contemporary research studies combine elements of quantitative and qualitative research to achieve greater validity, reliability and representativeness.
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’.
Signposting and Related Posts
Links to more detailed posts on Positivism and Social Action Theory are embedded in the text above. Other posts you might like include: