The resources below have been selected to help A-level sociology students and teachers studying (and teaching) an introduction to the concepts of sex and gender in the very first weeks of the two year course.
However the material below should also be useful across the entire two year sociology specification, and especially in the Theory and Methods aspect of the second year of study where Feminism and gender equality is one of the main themes.
The majority of couples in longer term relationships use their smart phones primarily to ‘keep base’ with the partners during periods when they are not together, and manage to successfully negotiate rules to minimise the use of their phones when they are together.
However, for a minority of couples excessive Smart Phone usage when together can drive the couple apart due to jealously with one partner not knowing what the other person is doing when they are on their phone.
This is according to Mark McCormack, Professor of Sociology at the University of Roehampton, who recently completed some research on this topic based on In-depth interviews with 30 people all of whom had been in heterosexual relationships for at least one year.
The sample included a wide range of ages, social class backgrounds and ethnicities.
Keeping Couples Together when Apart and Driving them Apart when Together
Smartphones are an integral part of contemporary relationships – especially at the start of relationships.
Private messaging on apps such as WhatsApp was especially important in the early stages of relationships (the ‘dating phase’) when someone’s chat skills were one of the factors that determined whether or not there would be a second, third, or fourth (and so on) date…
Later on in relationships smartphones were essential for ’keeping base’ with couples who either weren’t living together or who just had long work days.
The idea that smart phones prevent intimate couple conversations because both partners are hunched independently over their phones when in at home or in a restaurant (for example) emerged as something of a myth…
Rather, one participant said that she didn’t know what couples used to talk about before SmartPhones seeing them as essential to keeping conversations going by checking in on what was going on elsewhere (keeping up with the gossip, maybe, for example).
One third of respondents had done flirtatious texting, fewer had sent over more explicit material such as videos – but a significant minority said their phones helped them keep intimate when apart and helped them view sex in a different (enhancing) way.
For a minority of participants phones had the potential for undermining trust, especially among younger females.
Some felt that the the phone sometimes got in the way of face to face conversations with their partners and there was some feelings of jealousy and worrying about what partners were doing online when they weren’t speaking to them.
A few of these respondents expressed concern about the fact that the delete button is so easy, easy to hide one’s tracks online, but very few people spoke of their partners actually cheating as a result of being online.
McCormac developed the concept of ‘Technoference’ to describe one further negative impact of phones on relationships – when phones disrupt face to face intimate conversations.
One respondent talked of being so into Candy Crush at times that she wasn’t following conversations properly. Another talked of playing games on hist phone behind his girlfriend’s heads while giving her a hug.
A further downside was the experience of sitting in bed together but living in different worlds – her on FaceBook and him on a Sports App.
Over time messages got less exciting in nature, and less frequent, and more about mundane things such as reminders about what to pick up from the supermarket, but ‘checking-in’ quickly remained constant.
One respondent saw these quick and infrequent check-ins as sad given that in the early days of the relationship her and her partner had been exchanging a lot more texts and images
Some respondents also talked of sex having been interrupted to answer a phone call – or using their smartphones as a strategy to delay or avoid sex.
Many respondents had developed strategies to manage their smartphone use when together. A couple of examples of rules included buying alarms for the bedroom so phones couldn’t come up less drastic was the no phones at candle lit dinners rule.
A minority of respondents felt the conversation about management had itself caused tensions – with one partner feeling the other was trying to be more controlling.
Ultimately, communication was seen as they key for successfully negotiating smartphone usage in intimate relationships.
However you can listen to a summary of the research on this excellent Thinking Allowed Podcast, which I listened to and summarised in the form of this blog post.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is most relevant to the families and households module, and is a good example of how relationships are changing in a postmodern world due to technology.
This is also a good example of in-depth micro-level research and the results demonstrate how we can’t understand the impact of technology on couples and relationships without asking people.
It also shows how couples are active agents I their lives – most seem to have been able to use smartphones to positively enhance their relationships, and to have negotiated strategies to avoid the potential negative impacts.
So this study is a good-fit with perspectives which argue that postmodern family life is complex, diverse, negotiated – such as the late modernist Ulrich Beck and his idea of the negotiated family as the norm, and also the Personal Life Perspective.
How might Interactionists, Functionalists, Marxists and Postmodernists interpret the death of The Queen..?
The Queen died on Thursday 8th September 2022, ending her reign as the longest serving monarch in British history.
Events like this are rare and the offer sociology students a good opportunity to practice applying perspectives and concepts to the event itself and the societal reaction to the event.
NB to be honest we are probably considering below the societal reaction to the event for the most part – both on the part of the media and the people themselves. This isn’t unusual as the Monarchy is a social construction and kept alive by people recognising its significance.
How would the main sociological perspectives understand the death of The Queen…
A good starting point for thinking about the Monarchy could well be Interactionism – the Queen, after all, is a symbol, rather than an individual that we know, even if millions of people may have convinced themselves they know the ‘person’ rather than the symbol.
In terms of symbolism The Queen, as the media have been very keen to point out, represents a ‘point of stability and continuity’ over the last 70 years, really THE ONLY person in all that time to have always been there in the public eye, an ever ‘reassuring presence’.
And of course she does represent (as a symbol) ‘Britain’ and ‘British Identity’ itself – so many symbols of the nation are linked to the Queen – obviously Buckingham Palace and her other residences, but also the Grenadier Guards specifically and the armed forces more generally, but also pretty much ANYTHNG you can point to as being British – because her role over the last 70 years has been to attend various national events, and to give awards (such as Knighthoods) to those deemed to be worthy, such as Captain Tom Moore.
Not to mention the fact that she’s on our bank notes, coins and stamps as well!
And of course The Queen as (as far as I know) always been police, apolitical (in public engagements) and attended a diverse range of events and met it could well be as many as millions of people over the last 70 years, so it’s very difficult not to ‘like the presentation of herself’ because she has come across as extremely, well ‘nice’
And she has been the most visible outward facing symbol of British National Identity – when people abroad think of Britain they probably think of The Queen as one of the most pre-eminent symbols of the nation.
So I’m not going to criticise anyone for feeling a sense of loss at The Queen’s death, we have lost our most important National Symbol, our longest serving, most continuous symbol of national unity – and even if the idea of national unity is a myth, even if people are mistakenly mourning the person rathe than the symbol (thinking they know here when they don’t) all of that doesn’t really matter – from the Interactionist point of view our society is constructed of symbols, and that’s what matters.
And it is highly unlikely that Charles can replace The Queen – he’s been too political over the years, too ‘odd’ with his views, Dianna is dead, Camilla is somehow a bit fake, and most importantly he hasn’t got youth on his side.
We could well be witnessing, with the death of The Queen, the death of the British Monarchy, effectively, something lost, never to be replaced.
One final word on Interactionism – about Impression Management – it’s worth remembering just how much backstage work has gone into prepping The Queen for her outward facing public visits – dozens of servants, hundreds of millions of pounds – and yes she has worked every day for 70 years more or less but there has been a lot of backstage prepping going on too!
The Mainstream Media seem to be interpreting the death of The Queen in classical Functionalist terms from the 1950s, but personally I think this is inaccurate.
For a start there is a TOTAL lack of criticism of the monarchy as an institution in the mainstream media in general, and especially now, and the ‘discourse’ is very much one of treating the Monarchy as if it has played a vital function in British society over the last 70 years under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
And the main ‘function’ that The Queen has performed is that of being a symbol of national unity, helping maintain a sense of national identity and a sense of social solidarity, especially during The Pandemic, when in a now famous line she said ‘we will meet again’.
And now that the Queen is Dead it’s as if we are about to plunge into a time of radical uncertainty, of anomie, of rootlessness in a time when all in the world is chaos – political change in the UK, the cost of living crisis, the war in the Ukraine, AND NOW THE QUEEN!
HOWEVER, it might be better to view the monarchy as something of a ‘defunct institution’ – something based on ascribed status which harkers back to pre-modernity, and, in its postmodern incarnation is increasingly dysfunctional with it’s Divorced and Paedophile Princes.
One thing the monarchy isn’t is meritocratic, that’s for sure, and the one recent opinion poll from YouGov reported that only 6/10 Britons want the Monarchy to continue, so the idea that the symbol of the monarchy promotes social solidarity simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny…
It is more likely that the media reporting on the death of the Queen and what a great loss this is for the nation is ideological – it reflects the views of the conservative and older people who set the media agenda, this doesn’t reflect the views of younger people or Labour supporters.
The Marxist Perspective on the Monarchy
One of the key concepts of Marxism is social class, and one of their key aims is develop a class-based analysis of society.
And the monarchy is just about as elite as you can get. They are among the largest landowners in Britain with a crown estate worth £14 billion and the Queen is (or was) personally one of the wealthiest individuals in the country.
The children always go to Elite schools and the boys become men do a stint as officers in the army, navy or air force, and as the Queen’s 96 years of age are testimony to, the royals are very long lived – and the higher social classes to tend to live longer overall!
And despite their huge wealth, the monarchy still receives a state subsidy from the British taxpayer, which is, for them, completely unnecessary.
The media, however, NEVER comment on this old-school-elite-class fact of life, but we have got to see this in effect with the old restored images of the Queen’s Jubilee back in the 1950s – with all the gilded pomp and ceremony.
One wonders whether there will be a toning down of this when Charles is coronated, this kind of upper-class parade seems extremely distasteful in our modern/ post-modern meritocratic society.
A final word on Marxism – you might want to think how far the Queen’s death preforms an ideological function – in that it distracts us from other MASSIVE political issues – we have a new even more neoliberal government in power, and there is a cost of living crisis that is now slipped down the agenda for a few days at least.
Post and Late Modernism
I have already considered some of these concepts above – but one additional concept worth considering in relation to The Monarchy is that of hyperreality – the media seem intent on making The Queen’s death into more than it is, ‘milking it for all it is worth’ – this is the best profit-making event newspapers are likely to see this century, for example, and they’ve probably had their ‘memorial supplements’ ready to go for years.
The Newspapers were late being delivered on 9th of September 2022, obviously because of last minute modifications being made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the reporting is going to be any more accurate, it probably just means adding to the hyperreal construction of the event, making it more than what it is.
That isn’t to say The Queen’s death isn’t real, of course it happened, but think about it – there is a LOT of constructing the narrative around the event, creating its significance, THAT is what is hyperreal.
Individualisation is another highly relevant concept when it comes to the way the media treat The Queen – focusing on HER as an individual rather than the institution of the monarchy as a whole – thus simplifying the narrative and preventing critical discourse around the wider institution.
Finally, this is certainly a ‘reflexive event’ with the media calling on the nation to reflect on what the passing of The Queen means and where we go from here…
You can read this post on Postmodernism for a more in-depth look!
Signposting and how to use this material…
Teachers of A-level Sociology might like to use this as a refresher with their Second Year students – you could get students working in small groups each focussing on one of the perspectives above and then get them to feed back their findings to the class.
It would probably fit best with the Theory and Methods part of the course, the theory part especially.
New research from the Office for National Statistics suggests more support for the long term impact of material deprivation on the educational outcomes and future earnings potential of poorer students compared to richer students.
Analysis of long term data trends by the ONS shows that students who have been in receipt of free school meals are less likely to go onto university and less likely to go onto higher paid graduate jobs as a result, compared to students who have not been in receipt of free school meals.
The researchers compared the earnings of people who were aged 30 between April 2016 and April 2019 (but not published until August 2022), and found that the median income of independently schooled children was twice that of Free School Meals children in state schools…
Free School Meals (FSM) pupils had a median income of £17 000
Non FSM (State school) pupils had a median income of around £20 000
Independently schooled pupils (where there are no Free School Meals) had a median income of around £35 000.
They also looked at what the top 1% of earners were earning….
The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £63 000
The top 1% of non FSM pupils earned £85 000
The top 1% of independently schooled children earned £180 000.
So ‘class differences’ in earnings are large in the middle (median) and get larger when you get towards the top of income earners, at least at age 30.
This is a useful update for A-level sociology students studying the education module, typically as part of their first year.
Why do Free School Meal Students earn less than Independently Schooled Students?
This longitudinal analysis was able to look at several factors together to try to explain why FSM students earn less at age 30 that non-FSM and independently school students and concluded that the two main factors were:
FSM students were much less likely to go to university than their non FSM and independently schooled peers.
FSM students had accrued less labour market experience by age 30 than their peers.
5% of the differences in earnings at age 30 remained unexplained.
NB the study also noted that it didn’t have the data to explore the role which social and cultural capital and direct class discrimination may have played in the above.
Selected Data from the Study….
IMO this data belongs firmly in the ‘punishingly depressing’ category. For starters FSM kids are around 3 times less likely to go to university than their independently schooled peers…
Only 16.2% of FSM kids go onto university compared to 57.2% of privately educated kids. The differences get larger when we go up to Masters and PhD level…
Possibly even more depressing is the data below….
Graduates from independent schools at age 30 earn twice as much as graduates who had been in receipt of free school meals.
However the differences are smaller once we get beyond degree level…
Limitations of this research study
The primary limitation is that this study uses historical data from 2016-2019 and thus may not be relevant to our current post-16 educational landscape.
The introduction of tuition fees for University and the rapid increase in Apprenticeships over the last five years could mean this situation is already changing.
And as the researchers say they are limited to a relatively narrow set of quantitative data – there is no ‘rich data’ that enables us to measure factors such as the role of cultural or social capital.
But despite these limitations this is another important, if punishingly depressing reminder that by age 30 average independent school pupils are earning as much as bright FSM pupils, so maybe this is yet more support for the continued relevance of the Marxist perspective on education…?
good resources for teaching wealth, poverty, income inequality and social class. Useful further reading for students studying A-level sociology!
Here you will find links to some contemporary sources for further reading organised into the following categories
Annually published statistics and reports
News articles from the last five years (often based on the above)
Videos and Documentary resources
Committed organisations dedicated to studying this specific topic.
I will endeavour to update this list at least every three years, but with so much material already on ReviseSociology.com this might be a challenge!
These resources are intended for students studying an introduction to A-level Sociology – for the main blog posts introducing the topic of social class and inequalities please see the relevant links on the introduction to sociology page.
Annual research studies on income and wealth inequalities in the UK
The Heat or Eat Diaries from The Guardian – a varied series written from a mixture of people living in poverty, academics and journalists.
Working class people feel like they ‘don’t’ fit in’ to middle class working cultures – An excellent article from The Conversation based on research into how middle class cultural capital makes working class people feel like they don’t belong in middle class jobs – because of cultural differences rather than their ability.
The Made in Britain Series from The Guardian gives video cameras to those who are themselves living with the cost of living crises and supports them to make videos of their own lives. I’m not sure what research method you could call this – video diaries I guess, with technological assistance from professional film editors?!?
Panorama – Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis (2022)
Why are so many people living in Poverty? News Night (2021)
How does student debt affect life-chances? – Links to education and social class inequalities – and yes, as you may have thought, being in debt because of having to pay fees does have a detrimental affect on your future life-chances.
Shock Horror – groups of older children have been ‘descending’ on cinemas recently to ‘disruptively watch’ the latest Despicable Me Movie – Minions: The Rise of Gru.
These children have been meeting up at cinemas in groups as large as 50, dressed in suits and calling themselves ‘Gentleminions’ and filming themselves getting up to various antics such as walking in slow motion through cinema lobbies with hands held in a particular ‘pointy finger’ despicable me pose and being rowdy during viewings of the movie – doing things such as cheering when Gru appears on screen…
Some of these children filmed these antics and uploaded them to TikTok where some videos received hundreds of thousands of views, some into the millions.
Cinema staff and management weren’t so amused by the actions of the ‘gentleminions’ with some cinemas banning groups of older children in suits from buying tickets for the movie, and with some parents of younger children saying they were scared by these antics.
These acts of minor deviance by young people should be of interest to anybody studying the Crime and Deviance aspect of sociology – as such disruptive and rowdy behaviour is clearly deviant in the context of a cinema where the social norms are that viewers keep themselves to themselves in the lobby are and are quiet during screenings.
But there’s a lot more Sociology we can apply to this contemporary event!
Sociology Applied to the #GentleMinions
First off – I call them older children because I can’t quite bring myself to call them young men, which in terms of their biological age at least some of them are. (At least I think most of them are 16-20 judging by their physical appearance, it’s hard to tell – the older I get the younger the young seem to be!).
So the first sociological concept this event reminds me of is the ‘social construction of childhood‘ – it reminds me that childhood is something flexible, and in this case we have young adults actively choosing to regress into a state of childhood for an evening.
Think about it – these people would have grown up with the ‘Despicable Me’ Franchise, being actual biological children when most of the movies were screened – and now, once the five year wait is over for the next instalment they want to regress back into that time that was probably more comforting for most of them!
So this is an illustration of the blurring of the boundaries between adulthood and childhood and in this case of adults choosing to act like children for a short while.
A Thoroughly Postmodern Event!
Obviously (hopefully) Despicable Me and the Minions are not real, they are a media construction, a cartoon.
This event couldn’t have happened without the media – and probably wouldn’t have happened without TikTok.
These kind of stunts are much more appealing to get involved in if your going to feature in a video that gets hundreds of thousands of views, after all!
An attempt at Belonging…?
Becoming a #GentleMinion, engaging in minor disruptive stunts in the cinema, filming them and uploading to TikTok is a pretty accessible way of feeling like you’re part of of something larger.
Think about it – the Minions ‘belong’ – they are like a very large community that work together, for the most part, for shared purpose, something that it is somewhat lacking in our real world postmodern society that is increasingly divisive and fractured.
But just by wearing a suit and pranking in the cinema for an evening and being part of a TikTok upload you get to be part of a global ‘movement’ that for a fleeting moment share their love of this movie.
It may be a fleeting and desperate attempt at belonging, but I kind of get it – and it’s harmless enough.
A minor moral panic….?
They’re hardly the mods and rockers but these cinema antics were/ are deviant and they did upset people and this did cause a response from the cinema-authorities, who banned some youths in suits from watching the Despicable Me movie…
However, in terms of degree of deviance these events are clearly not that harmful, and more interestingly it’s the youths themselves sharing their antics on TikTok – not the mainstream media exaggerating how deviant or disruptive they were.
#GentleMinions – Final Thoughts…
Personally I see this as relatively harmless youthful antics, not great for young kinds watching the movie with their parents, but in the grand scheme of things this is on the low end of social harm!
And this is hardly a challenge to the social order – if anything it reinforces it – it’s young people saying how much they like to consume mainstream media – I mean if any of these people were a threat to existing power structures they’d be out campaigning with a real social movement and probably wouldn’t spend so much time identifying with a cartoon!
It was one of the 10 mark questions which linked to an item, as follows:
‘People have more choice today than in the past over who they can be in a personal relationship with. They also have more choice when a relationship ends.
This increased choice in personal life has affected family structures in the UK today’.
Then the question: Applying material from Item C, analyse two effects the increased choice in personal life has had on family structures in the UK today.
How to answer this question
It should be quite easy to spot the two hooks in the item:
choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with.
choice over when the relationship ends.
So these are going to form the basis of your two points and the fact that the question refers to ‘family structures’ in the plural gives you plenty of options to develop each point.
Although be careful not to repeat yourself too much!
AND REMEMBER – THERE ARE NO MARKS FOR EVALUATION IN THESE 10 MARK WITH THE ITEM QUESTIONS!
The answer below should get 10/10.
The fact that there is more personal choice over WHO one can be in a relationship with (as it says in the item) means there is more diversity in partnerships today.
In the 1950s the vast majority of couples were heterosexual leading to the norm of the cereal packet family, one man, one women and their children.
With the increasing acceptance that sexuality is a matter of personal choice, however, there are now a higher proportion of openly gay couples, however despite the law changing so that adoption agencies cannot discriminate against non-heterosexual couples, gay couples are still much less likely to have children than heterosexual couples, which is a change in family structure.
It’s not just sexuality over which people have more choice – people are more free today to get involved intimately with people from other ethnic backgrounds, meaning there are more ethnically mixed families today.
And people can also choose more long distant relationships with people in other countries, meaning families are more stretched globally.
It’s not just about partners either, people have more choice over whether or when to have children, meaning there are more childless families.
A second way people have more choice in relationships is ‘when to end them’ as it says in item C. This ties into Ulrich Beck’s concept of the negotiated family – because relationships are now a choice, people have to spend more time negotiating the rules of family life, such as whether they should get married and what ‘structure’ that family might take (how many kids to have, or whether to have them at all, for example, which has resulted in more diversity of family structures with increasing amounts of co-habitation, and childless families for example, but also still many families having children.
It also ties into Giddens concept of the pure relationship – people are in a relationship for the sake of the relationship, not because of tradition or a sense of duty – this means, because being in a relationship is now a choice, that they can end if just one person isn’t happy.
This in turn can lead to more relationship breakdowns and there are more step-families today and complex relationships such as the Divorce Extended Family identified by Judith Stacey – where it is mainly women who make the effort to keep in touch which ex-partners and children.
Life expectancy in England and Wales has risen dramatically over the last 100 years, increasing from around 55 in 1920 to 80 today for men and from 60 to 83 today for women. …
This means that children who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s would, on average, not have had the experience of being around many people over the age 60, whereas today, on average, children will experience the company of people aged 60-85 as ‘the norm’.
I am talking here of course just about ‘averages’ – experiences will vary from family to family.
For those parents who have children at a younger age, say in their 20s, their children stand much more chance of experiencing a four generation family, something which would have been almost unheard of in the 1920s.
However, three generation families would still have been common 100 years ago because people typically had babies much earlier, meaning children would still have experienced grandparents, but those grandparents would have been younger, in their 50s rather than in their 70s which would be the case in the typical three generation family today.
I think with the increase in family diversity, the increase in life expectancy would mean different experiences with grandparents for children depending on the type of family… for those parents who have children young then children are far more likely to experience grandparents in good health for their entire childhood and maybe only have to deal with their death as older teenagers, whereas experiencing the death of a grandparent during childhood would have been much more common 100 years ago.
HOWEVER, for those parents who have children later, in their 40s, probably dealing with the death of a grandparent would be more likely.
A possible negative affect of the ageing population on the experience of childhood is that parents who have to care for their ageing parents may not have as much time for their children, especially if end of life care is dragged out for several months or years as can be the case with degenerative diseases which are more common in old age.
The experience of childhood may also have been indirectly affected by wider social changes brought about by the ageing population – as society has refocussed its resources towards caring for the old (some might even say pandering to the old) there are relatively fewer resources left for children, so funding in education suffers as does Higher Education with students now having to pay for it themselves.
So as children get older they may start to feel like society is set up for the old and they get very little back in return – other than facing a life of working for 50 years as young adults in order to pay for the ever increasing ratio of old to young (the ‘dependency ratio’).
We kind of saw this with the Covid-19 pandemic – society was focused on protecting the very old while schools just closed – the children suffered for the sake of the old – the experience of childhood here was one of blocked opportunities and increased fear and uncertainty caused, effectively by the government’s choice to put the over 70s first – had the Pandemic happened in the 1920s when there were hardly any over 60s alive anyway society wouldn’t have had to shut down to protect them, because the risk of dying from covid for the under 60s was significantly lower.
This is a response I free wrote in around 15 minutes to give students some ideas about how they might have answered it. NB it’s not formatted like an answer to a 10 mark question should be, but there is enough information in here to top band I would have thought – there are certainly TWO ways fleshed out!
The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.
For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.
This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.
Research Methods Implications
Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)
Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.
For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.
The Advance Information for the 2022 Sociology A-levels specifies that students WILL be assessed on the area of consensus, conflict, structural and/ or action theories.
The easiest way to revise these topics at A2 level is to briefly cover the key ideas of each theory AND ALSO revise how each of these theories applies to the topic areas you have studied – usually families, education, crime and deviance and research methods, and then to evaluate.
This post is a summary revision post of the key ideas of social action theory. Before reviewing it you might like to look at these posts:
We need Verstehen to understand human action, because the same actions can mean different things to different people. Statistical methods and observation alone are not enough to understand human action (Weber)
We need to understand action in terms of shared meanings within a group (Mead) and how the members of that group see themselves (their identity) and how the individuals and the group understand society.
We need to understand whether an individual is just putting on an act (manipulating props and just managing an impression)
We need to understand whether a person has been labelled by agents of social control, whether they have been stigmatised by society.
Research Methods Implications
Getting to people’s own motives for action requires in-depth qualitative methods
In order to understand shared meanings we need at the very least to use unstructured interviews.
In order to assess whether the extent to which people are ‘acting out’ identities we need to use Participant Observation, which in many cases will not be possible.
How Social Action Theorists understand family life
The Personal Life Perspective argues that we need to start by abandoning standard definitions of the family and focus instead on what ‘family’ means to them – when we do this, we find that many people see a whole load of unusual relationships as being more significant to their intimate lives (pets and dead relatives for example) than their actual ‘family members’. This critics the Functionalist idea that families are necessary parts of society – families are much more fluid than ever before, and friends can perform many of the functions as formal family members.
How they understand achievement in education
(Following Mead) – In depth research of anti-school subcultures has revealed a wide variety of meanings and identities which different students bring to the school…which conflict with the school’s value system. For example, Paul Willis’ study found that the lads saw school work as irrelevant to their future lives, while Tony Sewel argues that being a ‘swot’ may compromise young black boys’ ideas about masculinity. We thus cannot truly understand underachievement without understanding these boys’ identities and why school doesn’t fit in with their identities.
Labelling theory however explains underachievement in terms of middle class white teachers labelling students not like them as problem students, which creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Goffman’s dramaturgical theory is useful – ‘good’ students may just be better at putting on an act – better at ‘impression manageme
How Social Action Theorists understand Crime and Deviance
Following Mead – Research on gangs has shown that being in a gang doesn’t necessarily mean ‘being bad” – gang membership is typically casual and fluid, it does not mean that much at all to many members, and is about protection for many, rather than criminality. There are several different types of gang, several different meanings. This criticise structural subcultural theories of deviance.
Following Becker’s labelling theory – The Police act in terms of stereotypes when it comes to stop and search, as do the courts, this goes some way to explaining why there are more EM’s in jail.
Following Goffman’s dramaturgical theory – elites may be just as criminal as non-elites, they are just better at acting in ways which mean they avoid attention from the police.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
The ‘action’ bit of Paul Willis’ study of the lads.
John Heale’s One blood – gangs as self-defence, gangs as fluid;
Gok Wan – People dressing up
Howard Becker – The Ideal Pupil
David Gilborn – Teachers labelling African Caribbean boys
Social Action Theory: Evaluations
It doesn’t pay sufficient attention to how social structures constrain action – for example, material deprivation can have a real, objective impact on your ability to well at school, thus failure is not just all about labelling.
It tends to ignore power-distribution in society – it can’t explain patterns in class, gender, ethnicity.
If people are so active, then why do so many people choose to be so normal?
Labelling theory can also be criticised for being deterministic
The small-scale methods associated with this theory can equally be criticised for lacking reliability and representativeness
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