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The Marxist Perspective on the News

Marxists suggest the news agenda is heavily interests by those with power in capitalist societies and that the content of the news reflects the worldview and interests of the elite and middle classes.

Those working for mainstream news media may claim that the news they construct is objective and unbiased, but this is a myth according to Marxists, and the news primarily serves to legitimate capitalism and maintain the status quo.

This post is really an application of a combination of Instrumentalist Marxist Theory and Neo-Marxist (‘hegemonic’) theory.

Owners influence content

Owners may not be able to shape the day to day content of the news, especially live 24 hour news, but they can shape the broader context by setting the policies of their companies and influencing the general approach to selecting and editing news.

Owners the power to hire and fire Chief Executive Officers and other high-ranking officials, and they can exercise direct control over such decisions because they do not have to be made that often.

According to Marxist theory, owners will generally appoint senior officials who share their ideology and then lower ranking media professionals will avoid publishing content that might annoy them for fear of their jobs.

The news agenda legitimates a capitalist, neoliberal view of the world

News companies rely on advertisers for their income and so it should be no surprise that the news does not generally critique the capitalist system, in fact it does quite the opposite.

Most news programmes and papers have large sections devoted to business news and economics, where Corporate leaders and business experts are generally deferred to and are favourably presented.

These sections of the news rarely challenge the concept of economic growth, it is taken for granted as a universal ‘good’, and elsewhere the news rarely focuses on issues of poverty and inequality.

The Hierarchy of credibility

Journalists rank people in elite and professional positions as being more credible sources of authority than those lower down the social class order.

Heads of companies, government officials, the police and academic experts are all more likely to be invited to comment on news items than those from pressure groups, less popular political parties, or just ordinary members of the general public.

The elite thus end up becoming the ‘primary definers’ of the news agenda.

The news often reports on what such people think of events, rather than the events themselves, so we end up with an elite/ middle class frame of the world through the news.

The social class class background of journalists

GUMG argue that media professional tend to side with the elite because they share a middle class background with them, and thus a worldview.

News items thus tend to represent the elite and middle classes more favourably than the working classes.

Fiske (1987) for example found that news reports on industrial disputes tended to report on managers as ‘asking’ whereas trades unionists tended to reported as ‘making demands’, presenting the former as more reasonable.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2
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Organisational Routines and News Content

Organisational routines may affect what items are selected for presentation in the news. These include factors such as financial costs, time and space available, deadlines, immediacy and accuracy, the audience and journalistic ethics.

Organisational routines are sometimes known as bureaucratic routines.

This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the media option within the sociology of the media.

Financial costs

News gathering can be an expensive business, and investigative journalism and overseas reporting are two of the most expensive types of news to produce, because they former involves sustained long-term investigation and the later involves overseas expenses.

Financial pressures have led to news companies changing the type of news they produced, with two major consequences:

Firstly, investigative journalism has declined, and that which remains has become more about digging up dirt on celebrities rather than in-depth exposés on corrupt politicians or corporations.

Secondly, the news has become more about infotainment – that is entertainment has become increasingly important as a factor in the selection of news items. Entertaining items achieve larger audiences which means more advertising revenue and more income.

Even the BBC isn’t immune from these pressures. OFCOM recently said of BBC News that it is ‘More Madonna than Mugabe’.

Time and space available

News has to be tailored to fit the time and space available in the newspaper or on the television show.

For example, A typical 6 O clock BBC news show consist of around 15 items in 25 minutes, usually with each item taking up 5 minutes or less. If an item can’t be covered in less than 5 minutes, it is more likely that it will not be included in the news agenda.

These small time slots also limit the number of perspectives which can be given on a news item – often restraining commentary to 2 people, and contributing to biased Agenda Setting (according to Neo-Marxists)

Longer news programmes allow for more in-depth coverage of news items.

Deadlines

This only really affects newspapers: the deadline for something to reach tomorrow’s newspaper is around 10PM the previous evening.

Immediacy and Accuracy

An item is more likely to be included in the news if it can be accompanied by live footage and if relevant people can be found to comment on the issue or offer soundbites.

The audience

The content of the news may change because of the perceived characteristics of the audience.

For example The Sun is aimed at less well educated people while The Guardian is aimed at people with a higher level of education.

The content of day time news may change to reflect the interests of stay at home parents.

Journalistic ethics

Ethics should constrain the type of news which is reported, and the way in which news is reported.

All UK newspapers sign up to the Press Complaints Commission’s voluntary code of conduct which stipulates that journalists should avoid publishing inaccurate information and misrepresenting people and should respect people’s privacy and dignity.

However, there is some evidence that journalists do not always act ethically. For example, the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the early 2000s – the paper hacked various celebrities and royals’ phones as well as those of victims of the July 2005 London bombings.

The Leveson report (2012) found that news stories frequently relied on misrepresentation and embellishment, and it seems that press watchdogs have little power to enforce journalistic ethics today.

 

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Exam Advice from the AQA’s 2018 Examiner Report – Paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods)

Below I summarise the 2018 AQA’s examiner report for crime and deviance with theory and methods and add in the questions, which aren’t in the report. You can get both the report and the question paper here!

General Advice 

  • Most students seem to have managed their time appropriately, with few signs that they were unable to complete the paper.
  • Some students showed detailed sociological knowledge and sophisticated understanding that they applied successfully to the set questions, and in general students seemed reasonably well versed in relevant material.
  • However, fewer found success in evaluating the issues raised by the questions.

Question 1

Outline Two ways in which gender may influence the risk of being a victim of crime

  • Most students successfully identified two ways in which gender may influence being a victim of crime.
  • Most answers referred to the vulnerability of women or the influence of patriarchy; many linked this with domestic abuse or sexual crimes.
  • References to male victims usually referred to socialisation and/or to violence related to masculinity, leading to men becoming victims of the violence of other men when they became gang members or spent time in the wrong places.
  • The main reason for failing to score marks was to write about committing crime rather than about being a victim.
  • Some gained partial reward for identifying a particular type of crime of which men or women are likely to be victims but without going on to elaborate on this.

Question 2

Outline three criticisms of the labelling theory of crime and deviance

  • The most frequently cited criticism was that labelling theory is deterministic; this was usually explained correctly.
  • Other frequently cited criticisms included the theory’s failure to explain primary deviance, its romanticised view of deviants or its neglect of structural factors.
  • A significant minority of answers outlined criticisms of the labelling process (for example that labelling is discriminatory or unfair), rather than of the theory.
  • Some students tended to recycle the same criticism in different guises.
  • A few wrote excessively long answers to this question.

Question 3

Sociology examiner report 2018.png

Applying material from Item A, analyse two reasons for social class differences in official crime statistics

  • Most students were able to draw on one or two appropriate points from the Item.
  • More effective answers then developed these points appropriately by employing relevant sociological concepts and studies.
  • For example, ‘agencies of the criminal justice system, such as the police’ was linked to how the police use typifications in activities such as stop and search, how justice may be negotiated etc.
  • ‘some individuals may also have greater… pressure to offend’ was applied to utilitarian crime via relative deprivation or blocked opportunities faced by the working class.
  • In less effective answers, the connection between the potential point from the Item and the material presented was less clearly made.
  • In a minority of cases, students simply offered various sociological explanations of class differences in the statistics but with no application of material from the Item.

Question 4

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological contributions to our understanding of the relationship between crime and the media (30)

Screenshot 2019-06-09 at 08.29.08.png

Good answers included…

  • the social construction of crime news;
  • media representations of crime,
  • criminals and victims; t
  • he role of the media in creating crime (for example, relative deprivation, moral panics and the deviance amplification spiral)
  • the role of new media in contributing both to crime and to its policing.
  • Good answers also had evaluation which was explicit and well linked to the specific issues raised in the answer.

Some answers took a ‘perspectives’ approach, including Marxist, functionalist, feminist or other views. Unfortunately, this approach led many to focus on tangential material, with detailed accounts of the general sociological perspectives that quickly lost sight of the media, crime, or both. However, there were a few very good answers of this type that did succeed in applying such perspectives to the set question.

Question 5

Outline and explain two disadvantages of using laboratory experiments in sociological research (10)

  • Most students could offer two disadvantages of laboratory experiments.
  • Most often these included the artificiality of the setting (often conflated with the Hawthorne effect)
  • other disadvantages included difficulties in identifying and controlling variables, a lack of representativeness or ethical problems.
  • However, many answers failed to explain or develop these points successfully; some simply described an example of an experiment that experienced such problems. Some students did not know the difference between reliability and validity.
  • A minority of students included evaluation, for which no marks were available on this question.

Question 6

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the advantages of using  structured interviews in sociological research [ 20 marks]

Screenshot 2019-06-09 at 08.30.17.png

  • This question proved to be quite challenging for some students.
  • Most were able to put together a list of positivist characteristics as advantages, such as objectivity, reliability, quantification and generalisability.
  • However, most could not evaluate these advantages.
  • Instead a typical response, having provided a paragraph or two on the advantages, gave a list of disadvantages, or a list of reasons why interpretivist sociologists would not like the method.
  • The result was an essay of two halves with little to link them into a coherent answer to the set question.

 

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A-level sociology exams: hints for paper 2 from the 2018 examiner report

This advice is taken straight from the AQA’s examiner report on the sociology A-level exam 2018. It is relevant to both the families and households and beliefs sections of paper 2.

General advice

Get your timings right and make sure you spend enough time on the final 20 mark question in section B

The report notes that most students answered the questions in the order they appeared in the question paper, answering the last question they attempted was the 20 mark question in section B.

Some students messed the timings up and wrote a very brief answer to this question!

Advice on 10 mark questions

Don’t write introductory paragraphs or conclusions

These are unlikely to gain extra marks, they just take up time

Write two distinct points in your answers 

The report notes that some students made only one point, others made more than two, you need to make two points (as it says in the question!)

The report also notes that ‘sometimes it was unclear how many points were being made’ – you should make your two points distinct by leaving a blank line between them, or starting each of them with ‘one way is…’, and later on ‘a second way is…’

Don’t evaluate in the 10 mark ‘Outline and explain’ question (the one with NO item)

Evaluation is not a requirement for answers to 10 mark “outline and explain” questions, there are no marks for evaluation here.

You can get evaluation marks for the the ‘with item’ 10 mark questions.

Develop each point by using sociological concepts, theory and evidence

The best answers to 10 mark questions were focused, clearly stating a point and then developing it, using sociological concepts, evidence and theory where appropriate.

Make sure you link the two aspects of the question together 

For example, both of the questions below have two aspects (highlighted for emphasis)

‘Outline and explain two ways in which government policies may affect family structure‘ (10)

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which demographic trends since 1900 may have affected the nature of childhood in the United Kingdom today (10)

What you need to do (ideally) is link the red to the blue in each question, using appropriate concepts, theories and evidence.

Furthermore, you want to pick different aspects for each point – for example, in the first question above start with two different policies and link them to two (or more) different aspects of family structure. (And don’t forget that you must use the item for your ‘aspects’ in the Item question)

NB – both of those questions were in the 2018 Sociology A level paper 2.

Advice on 20 mark questions 

‘It may be more effective to cover a limited number of views or theories in some depth rather than to include every possible theory’

I’ve always said ‘3-5 points’ for an essay – this report confirms that you can get a decent mark with 3 points/ theories.

Stay focused on the question 

The report notes that there was a tendency for answers to progressively lose sight of the question and to become a list of different views’.

This ties in with the above point – it might be that the item only directs you to two or three theories, stay focused on them!

Link evaluations to your points and theories

The report notes that ‘evaluation which meets the demands of the questions is better than points which have been learned and included’.

The report also notes that evaluation means strengths as well as limitations – there is a tendency for students to just focus on criticisms.

Plan your essays in advance 

This will help you select appropriate material, stay focused on the question and evaluate effectively!

Sociology Revision Webinars for the 2019 exams!

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my revision webinars. We’re focusing on families and beliefs this coming Sunday!

For more information on Revision Webinars, please click the above gif, or check out this blog post.

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Contemporary sociology – religion in the news

Three very recent examples of news events relevant to the sociology of religion.

  • Austria recently joined the list of European countries banning the wearing of face veils in public – the headscarf is now banned in primary schools, but not Jewish or Sikh head coverings. Other EU countries to have done similar recently include France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. This could be interpreted as a moral panic over Islam, differential treatment for women maybe?
  • Hindu agains Muslim violence in India – this documentary is a useful, and shocking example of religiously inspired violence, evidence for religion as a source of conflict. The ruling party in India is the ‘Hindu-first Bharatiya Janata party (BJP)’, so there’s an argument that the state is actually supporting violence against Muslims, who are a religious minority in India.
  • Several states in the US are introducing bans on abortion – the religious right supported Trump in 2016, and now he is an outspoken supporter of anti-abortion policies.
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Exam advice from the AQA’s Examiner Reports from 2018

The AQA produces an examiner report after every exam, and it’s very good advice to look at these reports to see common mistakes students made last year, so you can avoid making the same mistakes this year!

AQA sociology examiner report 2018.png

Below I’ve selected FIVE choice pieces of advice based on the two most common errors from the 2018 Education with Theory and Methods paper.

  1. For the short answer questions, make sure you get your ID and Development the right way round – for example, last year’s 4 mark question was on ‘two reasons why marketisation policies may create social class differences in educational achievement’ – many students started with a policy rather than a reason, they should have started with a reason and then illustrated with a policy.
  2. The six marker was ‘outline three reasons for gender differences in educational achievement – the report says that many students did not get a second mark because they failed to be specific enough in their application to gender or educational achievement, so be specific!
  3. For question 5 – the methods in context question – the best answers used the hooks in the item, so use the item!
  4. At the other end of the paper – the final 10 mark theory and methods and question, a lot of students seemed to run out time to answer this, so make sure you get your timing right. Remember that it’s almost certainly going to be easier to get 4/10 for a 10 mark question than to go from 12/20 to 16/20 on a methods in context question – the bar’s lower after all!
  5. Focussing on the final 10 marker – if you get another ‘criticise a theory’ type question’ then the best answers simply used other perspectives to develop their criticisms.

It seems that the 10 marker with item and 30 mark essay question were OK!

Sources 

All information taken from the AQA’s 7192/1 examiner report.

You can read the full report here.

You can view the 2018 paper here.

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A level sociology exam dates 2019!

Just a reminder of the upcoming exam dates for the three A-level sociology exams!

  • 7192/1 Education with theory and methods 2h 22 May 2019 am
  • 7192/2 Topics in Sociology 2h 04 June 2019 pm
  • 7192/3 Crime and deviance with theory and methods 2h 12 June 2019 am

Do please make sure to check the dates for yourself!

Source – cut and paste directly from the AQA’s confirmed exam timetable!

Revision Webinars

I’m offering three revision webinars on the Sundays before each of the above exams.

For anyone signing up in the next week (before May 10th, I’ll also throw in access to eight pre-recorded revision Webinars covering the entire A-level sociology syllabus, available at this blog post (password protected: if you sign up for the three Webinars, I’ll email you the password!). NB six are currently available, 2 to be uploaded next week! 

Countdown to the first exam!

Just in case you weren’t panicked enough already…

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A Level Sociology Revision Webinars

I will be running three A-level sociology revision webinars to cover both the core content and exam technique for the three A-level sociology exam papers: Education with Theory and Methods (paper 7192/1), Topics, focussing on the families and beliefs options (paper 7192/2), and Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods (7192/3).

EDIT (June 17th 2019) – These have now ended! 

NB – I will also throw in access to 6 hours of recorded Webinars covering exam technique for the three exam papers!

The webinars are 90 minutes long and scheduled for the following dates, on the Sundays before the relevant exams:

  1. 11.00 A.M. Sunday 19th May – Education with Theory and Method
  2. 11.00 A.M. Sunday 2nd June – Families and Belief
  3. 11.00 A.M. Sunday 9th June – Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods

All of these webinars will last 90 minutes during which I will provide a (necessarily) brief overview of the content within each topic, and a discussion of several specific exam practice questions. The main focus will be on exam technique.

Students will be able to ask questions during the Webinar, via text, and there will also be time for students to ask questions at the end.

Attendees will be able to download support materials in advance of the webinars, ask questions during the seminars via ‘chat’, and students will also be able to review the seminar afterwards as they will be recorded and stored on the site. Recordings will be available until the 16th of June (several days after the final A-level sociology exam).

Downloadable resources

The one off £29.99 registration fee not only gives you access to all of the Webinars scheduled below, the price also includes downloadable hand-outs with exemplar question and answers for all of the question types on the three exam papers. The documents included in this bundle include:

  • Exemplars of 4,6,10 and 30 mark essay questions for Education.
  • A hand-out on how to answer methods in context questions, with examples.
  • Exemplars of the two types of 10 mark questions and 20 mark essay questions for families and beliefs
  • Exemplars of 4,6,10 and 30 mark essay questions for Crime and Deviance.
  • Exemplars of 10 mark research methods questions
  • Exemplars of 20 mark ‘theory and methods’ questions.

NB – if you are already enrolled on my more extensive 12 week revision webinar series, you don’t need to sign up for this, we cover everything in these three webinars in the 12 webinar series, just in more detail.

For further details of my resources and work please see my blog – revisesociology.com

NB – I will also throw in access to 6 hours of recorded Webinars covering exam technique for the three exam papers!

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Revising core themes in A-level sociology

There are six ‘core themes‘ in the AQA’ A-level sociology specification: 

  • Socialisation
  • culture
  • identity
  • Social differentiation
  • power
  • stratification

These six core themes cut across every compulsory topic and every optional topic (usually families and beliefs), and they can form the basis of any 10 mark or any essay question. Students should not be at all surprised if they see any of the words cropping up in one of the 30 mark essay questions.

NB – these themes should look familiar, as they are basically some of the core concerns of the perspectives: Functionalism and postmodernism tend to focus on the top three, Marxism and Feminism the bottom three, with interactionism sitting somewhere in between them.

Where 10 mark questions are concerned, I recommend trying to use these two sets of core themes to develop points you find in the item – ‘one way’ focussing on a Functionalist/ postmodern analysis, the other focusing on developing a marxist/ feminist/ postmodern analysis. To my mind, it’s easy to develop Postmodernism from Functionalism and Labelling theory from Marxism/ Feminism.

Where essays are concerned, the 4 boxes above might be used as a suitable structure for four paragraphs, again, in relation to the item.

Quite a useful revision task is to place different questions in the middle of the above slide and just talk through how you might relate the different core themes/ perspectives/ concepts to the question.

In future posts this month I’ll outline how I use this analysis structure in mainly 10 mark questions!