Fun and Creative Ideas for Studying Sociology:

Creative ideas for learning sociology include making mind maps and using images and metaphors.

Getting creative not only makes learning more fun, it also helps you to better understand complex sociological theories and concepts and remember them more efficiently.

I have selected below some creative strategies which should help you with learning A-level sociology.

Combining Concepts…

Select two concepts, theories, sociologists, research studies, news events, and try to make the links between them!

A chart or two containing such concepts with numbers up and down the sides may help with this!


A metaphor is where you make one thing represent another in order to draw comparisons. Try to come up with metaphors for sociological perspectives, theories and even research studies.

For example, in terms of shapes Marxism can be represented by a triangle, which reflects the class structure. Functionalism is more of a square, which reflects its concern with social order and regulation.

Keep an ideas notebook or videolog

Walk around town and observe people, interactions, adverts, shops, or watch the news or any programme.

Keep a notebook of what you observe and apply sociological theories and concepts to your daily observations.

If writing is too long winded, do a photo diary or video log instead, making it visual may actually help.

Model things

If you have some lego then you might like to spend some time making models to represent different sociological theories and concepts.

This may be a little time consuming, so maybe treat this a break activity which keeps the brain ticking over!

Mind Maps!

It may be obvious from this blog that I am a huge fan of mind maps. They really are a great way of summarising complex ideas which mirror the way the brain works: one central point for each map, and then a few main points coming off the central hub and then further sub branches…

Mind map example:

NB maps can be even more effective if you make them more visual by using pictures where possible rather than just words!

Play the expert sociologist

Think of any social problem, such as a high crime rate or a failing school and either plan a research project to figure out why.

Alternatively, imagine you are a government advisor and think up social policies which may solve the problem. Or make the case for a revolution!

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Social Class and Identity

To what extent do people of different social class backgrounds identify with their objective social class position and feel as if they share anything in common with people of the same class?

According to the Great British Class Survey (GBCS) there are seven objective social classes in Britain today, based on the amount of mainly economic but also cultural and social capital people have, which crucially has accumulated over time and is passed down the generations.

An individual’s objective class position impacts their life-chances but while most people can recognise the existence of social class and may recognise the class they are, most people today DO NOT consciously identify with that class position: they are more likely to be ambivalent about their own social class, and are unlikely to feel any sense of shared identity with those from the same objective class background.

This is especially true for those in the middle of the social class scale: there is widespread uncertainty around working and middle class identities, but the Elite class are more likely to see themselves as ‘elite’ and the precariat more likely to recognise that they have been labelled as such by wider society, but seek to distance themselves from that label.

Only 32% identify with a social class and the proportion rises the higher up the social class ladder you go, which is a sort of inversion of class consciousness.

  • 50% of the elite identify as elite.
  • 25% of the precariat identify as working class.

Of those who do did identify:

  • 25% of people identify as upper middle class
  • 41% identify as Middle Working Class
  • 62% identify as Working Class.

So people shy away from identifying as middle class: People are most likely to identify as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ irrespective of where they fall in the objective class structure.

This post with take a brief look at the history of social class identification in Britain before exploring social class identities in contemporary British society, looking at ‘elite’ identity, working and middle class identities, and the Pecariat.

A Brief History of Class identification in Britain

Historians have shown that class awareness has a long history in Britain. Compared to other nations it is the persistence of working class identities that stands out.

In Britain the early onset of capitalist agriculture in the sixteenth century produced a large group of wage-earning farmers who also moved into part-time handicrafts to supplement their incomes.

Thus even before the industrial revolution there were a lot of independent skilled and unskilled trades people in Britain, and this cross fertilised with the socialist and labour movements in the 19th century, producing a strong shared identity.

In contrast to this was the British upper class which was not shattered through revolution as was the case in France. The British upper classes pursed a form of ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ which was embedded in industrialism and colonialism and they prospered through innovation and free-trade enterprise.

The expanding middle class of businessmen, managers and white collar workers existed in an uncertain position in the middle of the aloof upper classes and proud working classes, and they were in a sort of mediating position between the two.

The franchise being extended in 1832, 1867 and 1885 to gradually incorporate more of the middle classes did something to distinguish the middle classes from the working classes who still could not vote.

Gradually throughout the 19th century the middle classes engaged in conspicuous consumption to differentiate themselves from the working classes below them, but their position remained somewhat uncertain and insecure.

During the 19th century the class position of women was even more ambiguous than that of men. Women’s occupations consisted of mainly domestic work (such as cleaning) for upper-middle class and upper class families, nursing and teaching. They thus occupied either working class positions in closer contact with higher classes compared to men, or lower-middle class positions which didn’t command the same status as men.

For much of the 20th century there was a preoccupation with who was working class and who was middle class, further fuelled by the changing nature of work during that period.

The work of George Orwell is a good indication of the fascination and complexities surrounding understanding class in the early 20th century.

Elite class identity

Britain’s ordinary class elite is the top 6% of society who have the highest levels of economic, cultural and social capital. They are most likely to own their own homes (a crucial source of wealth) and be in high income professional occupations such as law, finance and journalism.

Britain’s ordinary class elite are most likely to positively identify as ‘elite’, although they also tend to ‘play down’ how important their enormous amounts of economic, social and cultural capital have been in providing them with better life chances, preferring to delude themselves that their success is purely down to their hard work and talent.

While Britain’s ordinary class elite makes up only 6% of the population, they made up 25% of the British Class Survey sample. They were queuing up to do this in droves, and Savage (2015) suggests this is because the survey was a self-legitimating activity for them: it was a chance to get quantitative/ scientific/ objective confirmation that they were at the top of British society.

And this class were the most likely to share their class status to social media, suggesting again positive identification with and a sense of pride in their social class status. However, they usually did this with a sense of irony or humour, in an attempt to distract from the bragging aspect.

The elite don’t really identify with everyone from the same class: they tend to identify more with people in similar occupations and in their local neighbourhoods: so those with similar value properties, they also tended to stress that they had some friends outside of the elite too to demonstrate that they weren’t living in an isolated social class bubble.

It is very important to recognise that NOT actively recognising that their elite status is important is the primary means whereby this class maintain their dominance. They benefit from high levels of cultural, economic and social capital, but in playing down the existence of these advantages, they help to keep such advantages hidden, but the GBCS revealed just how obvious such advantages were in keeping this class and their children at the top of British society.

Working and Middle Class Identities

The traditional view of class is that people would identify with their objective class position. This was the view of THOMPSON: the working classes would unite in tight knit working class communities and come together around collective political campaigns for labour interests. However, in the 21st century there is a more muted, individualised and complex set of class identifications.

The GBSC found that people were ambivalent about class, preferring to say that they straddle middle class and working class boundaries.

Class is not important as a badge for most people, but its mention does prompt emotional reactions, especially negative ones. People wanted to avoid the labels of CHAV or as someone who has ‘middle class problems’.

People also felt a sense of shame if they were from a lower social class background but had not climbed the class ladder.

People shy away from identifying as middle class. They were most likely to identify as being ‘somewhere in the middle’ irrespective of where they fall in the objective class structure.

Identity among the Precariat

The Precariat were well aware of the negative labels attached to them by the mainstream media and the widespread dislike of them by many in mainstream society.

They were the most reluctant to take part in the GBSC, probably because they had little to gain from doing it: they didn’t want to take part in what was effectively ritual humiliation the end result of which was receiving a formal label which placed them at the bottom of the social class scale.

In terms of identity, the Precariat didn’t positively identify as Precariat, and had no interest in shouting about their low social status (unlike many members of the elite) and they were reluctant to even talk about social class, preferring instead to identify in other ways, such as with other members of their local community or through using other markers such as gender.


Savage, M (2015) Social Class in the Twenty First Century.

Two ways globalisation has influenced religion’s capacity to change society

The following 10 mark outline and explain question above came up in the AQA’s November 2021 Sociology 7192/2 topics paper, as part of the beliefs in society section.

Outline and explain two ways that globalisation may have influenced the way in which religion acts as a force for change (10)

Probably the safest way to approach this question is to consider one way in which globalisation has reduced the capacity of religion to act as a force for social change and another it has increased it.

The challenge is going to be to keep the question tightly focussed on two ways, and drawing out the links, rather than drifting into discussing several ways in general.

This post on the impact of globalisation on religion more generally would be a good source to draw on for this question.

Globalisation and religion for social change

  • One aspect of globalisation is the increased use of the internet for global communications which makes it easier for people to access information about religion.
  • This means it is easier for fundamentalist groups to gain access to a wide audience via setting up their own websites and through social media, increasing their global reach, meaning that groups such as ISIS have managed to radicalise individuals in countries thousands of miles away from their main base such as England.
  • Fundamentalism may appeal to people living in postmodern society as there is more anomie, and the simple messages which appeal to traditional values offer a sense of certainty and identity to people who may feel lost and without purpose.
  • In some cases radicalised individuals have travelled to countries like Syria in order to become part of fundamentalist movements.
  • The internet has also made it easier for fundamentalist groups to gain funding through cryptocurrency, meaning it is harder for governments to cut off funding for them, giving them more power.
  • Such groups can make use of encrypted apps such as Telegram to discuss strategy and recruit members making it more difficult for governments to prevent terrorist attacks, and this is such a serious matter there is currently an online privacy bill going through parliament that may make Whatsapp illegal in the UK.
  • Another indicator of how serious a threat to social change fundamentalism may be is the PREVENT agenda in schools, designed to protect British Values from radicalisation.

Globalisation undermining religion and social change

  • one aspect of globalisation is increasing amounts of cultural diversity as ideas and people migrate from country to country.
  • This means in the UK for example that we now have several religions rather than one.
  • This undermines the capacity of the Church of England to claim that it has a monopoly on the truth and thus undermines its ability to compel people to act in its name.
  • We saw this in the attitude of religion during the King’s Coronation, with all of the religious aspects looking outdated and a little bit silly which was broadcast to a global audience via the media.
  • State religion now seems like something that is for entertainment and a choice rather than something with the power to change society.
  • When there are many religions competing with each other it becomes more obvious that there are religious truths rather than one truth and the State increasingly focuses on how to create a society in which multiple religions can get along without conflicting rather than the state allying with one religion as a powerful source for social change.
Signposting and Sources

Mark Scheme for AQA Sociology Paper 2 November 2021.

Analyse two ways in which family diversity has been influenced by government policies

This question came up in the AQA’s November 2021 7192/2 topics paper, in the families and households section.

This post includes some advice on how to interpret the item and answer the question.

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which family diversity in the
UK has been influenced by government policies (10)

item for AQA' 10 mark question A-level sociology

Using the item…

The item in this case is very short and also a bit tricky, directing you to ‘aspects of diversity’ rather than policies.

TWO types of increasing diversity…..

  • more divorced families….
  • more same sex couples.

The item then refers to government policies more generally.

So what this seems to be directing you to do is to talk about a range of policies in relation to increasing divorce and the increase in same sex couples.

As with any question it’s probably a good idea to not have too much overlap, so try to apply different policies to both types of diversity.

Policies relating to increasing divorce

  • The divorce act of 1969 led to a rapid increase in divorce, changing the grounds (you should include details of this). However divorce had been increasing before the act and continued to increase after the act so clearly there were social changes contributing rather than just the policy.
  • The 1984 divorce act made divorce possible after a shorter period of marriage, there was an immediate spike in that year, so clearly this made a difference.
  • Benefits for single parents make it easier for women to get divorced in families with children so they are not as financially dependent on men, apply terms such as breadwinner/ role/ carer role and Feminism.
  • The equal pay act of 1975 – women equal pay to men, more financial independence, same logic as above.
  • This is crying out to be evaluated… divorce has been going down for 20 years, one of the reasons is immigration (still a policy), immigrants have lower divorce rates.
  • Maternity and paternity pay may have helped ease (lower) the divorce rate as these take pressure off young families.
  • Final evaluation – it’s probably more about social changes and social policy changes reflect that!

Polices relating to an increase in same sex couples

  • The civil partnerships act 2004 made it legal for same sex couples to get a civil partnership, same basis as marriage, reduced stigma, increases number of formally partnered couples.
  • Same sex marriage act 2013 enabled same sex couples to get married, further reducing stigma.
  • Analysis point: possibly the number hasn’t increased, just the amount of openly gay couples.
  • Adoption Act (2004) made it legal for same sex couples to adopt children on same basis as opposite sex couples, increase in same sex families.
Signposting and related posts

For more information on how to answer exam questions please see my exams and essay writing advice page.

AQA mark scheme for this November 2021 paper.

The online safety bill: get ready for life without WhatsApp!

The online safety bill currently working its way through parliament is set to undermine the privacy of individuals using currently encrypted apps such as WhatsApp.

At the moment if you use WhatAapp or Signal your communications with whoever else via the app are private, they are protected through encryption so third parties cannot easily access them.

However the online safety bill does not include any specific protection for encrypted apps such as WhatAapp and effectively gives government agencies such as OFCOM the right to demand that such companies who are operating the UK monitor their user’s communications.

Because they can’t currently do so, because of the encryption in place, this means WhatAapp and similar communication apps would have to stop encryption in the UK, thus undermining the privacy of all peer to peer communications.

The theory behind the online safety bill is to be more able to track communication related to child abuse, trafficking and terrorism, but to be able to do this you literally have to make everyone’s communications potentially open to government surveillance.

This is an interesting example which reminds us that the Nation State is in some ways still more powerful than global companies, at least sort of….

If the bill goes through then WhatAapp will probably just stop operating in the UK, as the UK only represents 2% of its global user base, it is a global company after all, showing us just how small the UK government is in relation to global forces.

The only other countries which outlaw encryption are China, North Korea, Syria, UAE and Qatar, all countries with not the best human rights record.

So this is what’s becoming of the UK… it is becoming a surveillance state. The real losers are ordinary UK citizens….

Another problem with banning encryption and giving the government more power to store private data is that it makes data breaches more likely. The chances are that if you are surveilling possible criminals, you are probably going to catch some non-criminals in the surveillance net too, exposing their data to potential hacks.

It’s literally another case of the UK government trying to undermine individual human rights, in this case the right to privacy.

Find out More

The Guardian.

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Teaching and learning in schools and the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups

An answer for a 10 mark ‘analyse’ question in A-level sociology (AQA)

This question cam up in the recent 2021 AQA Education and Theory and Methods Exam, as a 10 mark, with item question.

In the 10 mark education question, you get an item which directs you to two specific issues you need to analyse, and it’s good practice to give equal weighting to both issues.

NB there are no marks for evaluating in these questions, it’s all analysis (in-depth logical explanation).

It’s crucial to draw the links between the ’cause’ and the ‘effect’ explicitly!

The question

Read Item A below and answer the question that follows.

Item A
Some sociologists claim that the curriculum taught in schools today prioritises some cultures over others. Research also suggests that teacher expectations can be based on stereotypes.

Teaching and learning in schools may affect the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups

Applying material from Item A, analyse two ways in which teaching and learning in schools may affect the educational experiences of minority ethnic groups. (10 marks)

Possible Answer

The two focuses from the item are:

  • the curriculum prioritising some cultures over others.
  • teacher expectations based on stereotypes

Because this is a question on ethnic minority groups, it makes sense to discuss both of these as they relate to a range of different minority groups, and treat both focuses separately.

The curriculum prioritizing some cultures over others

The school curriculum has been criticised for being ethnocentric, which means it focuses on the experiences the main ethnic group, which in British schools means white British and White Europeans. Examples of this include the school year and holidays being based around a Christian timetable, European languages being the main ones offered, and history having a white-European focus, looking at things from the perspective of the colonising powers rather than the colonised, for exampled.

This can have negative effects on minority ethnic groups: school calendars are not necessarily in sync with Hindu or Muslim festivals for example, so students may take time off to celebrate these, and notoriously Ramadan frequently coincides with the A-level exam period, meaning fasting Muslim students may underperform because of this ‘ethnocentric timetabling’.

Many schools have a huge proportion of ‘minority’ students who speak African, Asian or Middle Eastern languages and yet there is rarely an option to study these as part of language options, these students may not see the point in studying another European language when they are already bilingual and might even feel offended that their own languages are not taught more widely to the majority white students.

The Prevent Agenda, which is part of the formal curriculum has also been criticized for being biased against Muslim students, with Muslim children feeling as if they are being singled out and being watched as potential terrorist threats more so than white children, which can be alienating.

Teacher expectations based on stereotypes

David Gilborn (1990) famously claimed that teachers expect black boys to be more aggressive and so they are more likely to punish them for being disruptive in class compared to white children doing the same. This may explain the higher expulsion rates for black boys compared to white boys. For those who aren’t expelled it might create the experience of the feeling of injustice about why they are being treated unfairly which could lead to less trust in teachers and less willingness to try hard in school.

Gilborn also found that black children are less likely to be put into the top sets by teachers because teachers expect them to be less able to cope due to their having higher poverty and lone parent rates, this means there will more able black students in lower sets getting frustrated because they are not being pushed, and blocked from sitting higher tier exams.

Wright found that teachers expect Asian girls to be passive and so didn’t include them in class room discussions as much, with can lead to them feeling excluded.

Similarly, teachers tend to assume Chinese students will always do well, something which less keen Chinese students don’t enjoy very much!

Relevant posts

There is lots of good material relevant to this question in this post: ethnicity and differential achievement: in school factors.

The above question was taken from the AQA’s November 2021 A-Level Sociology Education with Theory and Methods Paper.

Sociology Exam Dates 2023

Mon 15th May, Friday 9th June and Weds 14 June!

The A-Level Sociology exam dates for spring/ summer 2023 are:

  • Monday 22nd May: Education with Theory and Methods (morning)
  • Friday 9th June: Topics in Sociology (morning)
  • Wednesday 14th June: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods (afternoon).

To make it easier on the head I’ve put these dates into calendar form:

So as of today, Wednesday 3rd of May the first exam is not that far away, so students should be revising in full force RIGHT NOW!

Of course the downer for the first exam is you need to revise both the entire education topic and the entirety of theory and methods!

You’ve then got a nice 2 and a half week break until topics, which is usually families and religion for most centres, but topics will vary depending on what you’ve been taught.

And then a reasonable five days until the final exam!

Overall, not a bad spread of time between exams.

Do double check the above dates using the The AQA Timetable, don’t rely on me, always double and treble check these things for yourself, you as a student are responsible, after all!

Good luck to anyone sitting these exams, and don’t be gutted when you get worse results than students did during lockdown: this is probably going to be the year when the exam boards adjust marks back down so they are much closer to what they were in 2019, to try and wash clear the memory of the suspiciously high teacher predicted grades awarded in 2020 and 2021, and the ‘half way house’ results from 2022 which I think were placed at half way between 2019 and 2021 in order to make those two years of Teacher Results seem more credible.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter too much if your cohort gets worse results than the lockdown students, you are mostly going to be competing against your cohort for university places!

Please see my exam and revision advice page for hints and tips on how to answer the different styles of exam questions on these three papers!

The Tory Spring Budget

The Chancellor’s Spring Budget was a conservative and reactionary mixture of soft-policies which do little for ordinary people and probably won’t help sort out Britain’s economic problems…

The three main priorities of the budget were to

  • reduce inflation
  • Stimulate economic growth
  • Bring down government debt.

Taken together these are very conservative and reactionary goals, nothing at all radical.

The government repeatedly says that current high inflation rates of around 10% are due to Putin’s war in Ukraine increasing energy prices, but many people know this is just a simplification, as there are many other causes of inflation… such as Brexit pushing up the cost of doing business and quite possibly just the failings of the capitalist system in general.

This and bringing down government debt are the government reacting to events that have already happened – the debt in large part being due to the government’s chosen response to the Covid Pandemic and Liz Truss.

This feels like a government catching up rather than driving the country forwards. If we use Anthony Giddens’ ‘steering the juggernaut’ analogy, it feels very much here like the global economy is out of control of the government, and there’s not a lot they can do!

One also has to question whether economic growth is the right strategy. Not only because the growth forecasts are dismal, but also because redistribution seems to be a more sensible goal.

Dismal Economic Growth Figures

There is plenty of money in the form of wealth out there, as the Equality Trust points out, what we need is for the government to tap into that and use it effectively to improve the quality of people’s lives through, for example, massive investment in education and green technologies.

At least one area of policy makes the rich richer: increasing the amount people can put in their pensions tax free from £40K a year to £60K a year: a really nice little perk for very high income earners, but 90% of population see no benefit from this.

The rise in Corporation Tax from 19% to 25% for companies making annual profits of more than £250 000 seems like a fair move to make, and the government have to be commended on this, it seems like a roll back of neoliberalism, but we will still have the lowest rate in Europe, and also remember that we only dropped it to 19% relatively recently, so let’s not get sucked into a false sense of this being radical, it isn’t, it’s just going back to a slightly higher version of a low tax norm!

The extension of childcare

This is a significant move – that 30 hours per week of free childcare will be offered for children aged one and two, rolled out gradually from 2024, extended down from the current age of three.

This should go at least some way to tackling the gender pay gap as it is mainly women who take time off work to look after younger children.

To my mind this is long overdue and should have been tackled many years ago, I know so many people with young children that struggle with childcare costs just because they are working and lack the friend and family network to look after them.

The Budget: Final Thoughts

There’s nothing radical or really big-picture in here, it just feels like a failing State struggling to keep up with global economic forces that are making a life a challenge for British people.

But most of what is being proposed is like a sticking plaster, rather than the government committing to really improving people’s lives in the long term.

Also consider that there’s no mention of funding public sector wages for teachers and nurses, for example, no mention of how to tackle soaring inequality, no real long term vision.

It’s just an epic fail on nearly every level.

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A-Level Sociology Growing in Popularity!

A-level sociology entries increased by 23% between 2018 and 2022.

The number of students studying A-level sociology has increased significantly over the past few years. In summer 2022 there were 43 590 A-level sociology exam entries, compared to only 33, 420 in summer 2018. This represents a 23% increase over four years.

Sociology is now the fifth most popular A-level sociology subject, more popular than history!

Why is sociology growing in popularity?

This isn’t just because there are more people studying A-levels in general. Some other subjects have also been growing in popularity, most notably psychology, but OFQUAL notes that most other high demand subjects have seen stable numbers over the past four years.

So my working theory is that young people are increasingly looking at contemporary society, seeing the many and increasingly urgent amount social problems facing us and they want answers, and these are maybe answers that the regular school curriculum cannot provide.

Over the past four years while in secondary school students have lived through several unforeseen and tumultuous events such as Brexit, the mega-corruption within the Tory part, the covid-19 pandemic and all of this in the context of global warming and climate change and the continued failure of governments around the world to do anything significant about this global crisis.

Also, increasing amounts of teenagers would have lived through declining living standards as their parents’ real term wages have been eaten into because of inflation, which has a much longer history than just the previous year when inflation went into overdrive.

All of this means young people are probably increasingly looking at the world and their future prospects and are worried, and want answers, and sociology really can help with his.

Of course it is also understandable that A-level psychology numbers are increasing more rapidly. Young people today have been socialised into an individualistic world view and they probably think psychology can help them understand their heightened sense of anxiety, which is a totally understandable response to our crisis ridden world and the inaction of practically every adult in power.

The problem is psychology can only go so far in its ability to explain social problems and the mental health ‘pandemic’ among young people. They need good old sociology to understand the material conditions which are the root cause of their declining prospects!


OFQUAL Official Statistics (26 May 2022) Provisional entries for GCSE, AS and A level: summer 2022 exam series.

Herbert Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionism

meaning emerges from interaction and society only seems stable!

Herber Blumer (1900 to 1997) was a symbolic interactionist who argued that society consisted of individuals temporarily agreeing on shared meanings to the extent that they could act together. However, meanings and social situations were constantly being weighed up and negotiated by individuals in different ways and thus society itself was something unstable, and which was contingent upon social interactions.

Bluemer’s main contribution to sociology is that he developed Mead’s Symbolic interactionism in a more sociological direction. He theorised more about how society emerges out of social interaction.

Meaning emerges from social interaction

For Blumer, meaning is a social product which emerges out of individuals actively interpreting the social and natural world.

There are three main aspects to Blumer’s social action theory…

  1. Human beings act on the meanings they give to people, objects and situations, rather than just reacting to external stimuli.
  2. Meanings emerge through the process of interaction rather than being present from the outset. Meanings are created and modified within interaction situations rather than being fixed. Actors do not just slavishly follow pre-existing norms or roles.
  3. Meanings are the result of interpretations by individuals within interaction contexts and meanings develop over time, thus social norms and institutions can change.

Society emerges from groups of people committing to classifying a situations along particular lines to the extent that there is shared meaning, but these shared meanings and interpretations are always potentially open to change.

Blumer’s theory of society

Society is the sum total of all joint actions or social acts taking place at a given moment. Society happens when individuals co-ordinate their interpretations of the social situation and what Blumer calls ‘joint action’ occurs.

The main acting units within society can range from individuals to small groups to large scale institutions.

Every individual in an acting unit has a different interpretation of the situation, but sufficient agreement with others for collective action to take place.

We tend to take meaning for granted when social situations run smoothly, but even when those situations run smoothly, there is still a complex and active process of every actor interpreting the situation – a process of individuals checking meaning, weighing up their options and considering alternatives. Thus at any moment there is the potential that the entire social situation may break down.

Social ‘structures’ only seem stable

Blumer acknowledged for that most part that social reality is experienced as taken for granted, and predictable. Over time individuals learn accepted and legitimate ways of acting associated with specific contexts and roles and so social reality often seems stable to individuals.

Nonetheless situations are continuously being weighed up and are potentially alterable, and thus in reality society is fluid and more unstable than it appears.

Social institutions similarly place restrictions on individuals but even when there are clearly established rules and long standing traditions, individuals still have room for interpretation and creativity.

In Blumer’s own words…

“The common repetitive behaviour of people… should not mislead the student into believing that no process of interpretation is in play…. even though fixed, the actions of the participating people are constructed by them through a process of interpretation.” (Blumer, 1969).

Especially in our global society where people regularly encounter other groups of people with different symbolic systems of meaning it is hard to maintain a position that there is just one set way of seeing the world. The more diversity is, the more it becomes apparent that there are multiple interpretations and thus that society is fluid.

Social action and research methods

Blumer was very involved with developing appropriate social research methods, arguing that research should be empirical and small scale.

Because social reality was constructed by individuals, each of whom had their own slightly different interpretations of social situations, the only appropriate methodologies were those that could get the complexities of these multiple interpretations, namely qualitative research methods such as unstructured interviews and participant observation.

Signposting and relevance to A-level sociology

This material is primarily relevant to the Theory and Methods aspect of second year sociology.

To return to the homepage –


Blumer (1969) Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method.

Inglis, D (2012) An Invitation to Social Theory, Polity.

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