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Sociology tuition online! From April 2019…

I will be running a series of A-level sociology revision webinars from April to mid-June 2019. The focus will be on maximising marks in the three AQA sociology exams, as well as reviewing basic content across the main sociology options: education, methods, families, beliefs, crime and theories.

These Webinars will be live events, with 30-40 minutes of structured lecture/ Q n A revision supported by a PowerPoint, followed by 20 mins to deal with student questions and popular requests. Webinars will be recorded and accessible if students wish to go back over them, or if they cannot make a particular session.

The online revision sessions will be fully supported with work packs containing revision notes and activities and plenty of practice exam questions and model answers covering all of the short answer questions, the two types of 10-mark questions and the 20- and 30-mark essay questions.

I’m going to be offering access to these via a subscription through Patreon, so there will be tiered access ranging from £20 a month to £40 a month. If you subscribe to the lower tier, you get access to the revision webinars  and resources (NB this is a bargain price!), if you subscribe to the higher level tiers, you get the webinars, resources AND I will provide you with feedback to any practice exam questions you do (basically I’ll mark more essays the higher up the tiers you go).

These Webinars will run on Tuesday evenings at 19.00 GMT, with the exception of the one before the families and beliefs exam, which will be on a Monday, because paper 2 is on a Tuesday!.

There will only be 20 places available* on these webinars. Subscriptions will open on March 1st 2019, but if you want to register your interest early just drop a comment below or email me and I can make sure you get a place.

(*There are more than 30 000 students who study A-level sociology , so these are actually ver rare!)

Quality Guaranteed!

I taught sociology for 16 years between 2001-2018 until I quit recently (because I live frugally I’ve retired from full-time work early) and I’m still an AQA examiner, so I know the content of A-level sociology and the exam rules intimately. I now spend most of my ‘working time’ maintaining this blog and keeping up to date with all things sociology, A-level and exams.

Provisional Timetable

Month/ Week Content
1 April Education
08 April 2 Methods and Methods in Context
15 April 3 Theories (the theories part of theories and methods)
22 April 4 Families
29 April 1 Beliefs
6 May 2 Crime
13 May 3 Education and Theory and Methods (exam on 22nd May)
20 May 4 Education and Theory and Methods
27 May Families and Beliefs
3 June 2 Families and Beliefs (exam on 4th June)
10 June Crime and Deviance and Theory and methods (exam on 12th June)

A reminder of this years exam dates!

A level sociology exam dates 2019.png

NB the above timetable is from the AQA exam board, other boards may have different times! Click here for the AQA’s A-level timetable.

Influence the content of these webinars – Requests!

What do you want covered in these Webinars? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll use the feedback to make sure certain topics are covered…. I know what the real bogeymen of A-level sociology are (selection, the fully social theory of deviance, green crime etc.), but I also know different students struggle with different things, so if you’re thinking of ‘attending’ and want something specific covered let me know and I’ll make sure I go over it!

 

 

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A-level sociology of education summary grids

I’ve been designing some sociology of education summary grids to try and summarise the AQA’s A-level sociology of education specification as briefly as possible. I’ve managed to narrow it down to 7 grids in total covering…..

  • Perspectives on education (Functionalism etc)
  • In-school processes (labelling etc.)
  • social class and differential achievement
  • gender: achievement and subject choice
  • Ethnicity
  • Policies
  • Globalisation and education (I couldn’t fit it in anywhere else!)

Here’s a couple of them… I figure these should be useful for quick card sorts during revision lessons. And let’s face it, there is only ONE thing students love more than filling in grids, and that’s a card sort!

Perspectives on education summary grid:

sociological perspectives education.png

Education policies summary grid:

education policies.png

Of course I couldn’t resist doing fuller versions of these grids too, but more of that laters!

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Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Karl Marx famously argued that religion was the ‘opium of the masses’ and Simone de Beauvoir argued that religion compensated women for their second class status. Both theorists believed that religion was an ideological tool which pacified the oppressed.

These views have, however, been criticized:

Applying material from the item, analyse two criticisms of the view that religion is merely a tool of oppression (10)

Firstly, Marxist and Feminist views tend to downplay the positive functions of religion.

As Functionalists have pointed out, it is quite likely that some form of religious belief and organisation is functional (i.e. beneficial for the individual and society) given that religion is practically universal (i.e found in nearly all societies).

Functionalists have pointed to many positive functions of religion – such as helping people deal with death and societies deal with transition and times of uncertainty. Rather than this being about simply keeping inequality in place, it could be that religion benefits everyone by keeping society stable.

Furthermore, people still practiced religion in secret in communist countries when religion was banned, suggesting that they actively wanted religion for their own comfort, rather than it simply being something forced on them by elites.

You could argue that a similar thing is found with religion today in the form of ‘civil religion’ – where people find comfort in quasi-religious ceremonies such as Football matches and Royal Weddings… again this seems to be a matter of choice, and because attendance is optional, it’s hard to argue that these ‘shallower’ forms of religion have a  sinister social control function like Marxists and Feminists suggest!

Secondly, The above theories assume that people simply passively accept an elitist interpretation of religious doctrines. There is plenty of evidence that this is not always the case.

Liberation theology is a good example of this: where Catholic Church leaders in Latin America took the side of the landless peasants, and argued against the elitist interpretation that inequality was God’s will: instead helping the poor fight back against inequality and elite institutions and attempting to bring about a more equal society.

This is supporting evidence for the Neo-Marxist view that religion is not simply controlled by elites, but is relatively autonomous, thus meaning it can be a tool for social change.

From an Islamic Feminist point of view, Nawal el Sadawi argued that Islam was not inherently patriarchal, but rather that it had been interpreted in a patriarchal way in patriarchal societies (patriarchy comes first, if you like!). She further argued that it was perfectly possible for women to challenge Patriarchal interpretations of Islam, as she herself did, thus meaning it doesn’t have to be a tool of social control and pacification.

A postmodern analysis of religion further supports the ‘active intepretation’ criticisms of Marxism and Feminism – today people are much more likely to pick and mix their religious beliefs, and reject anything they don’t like, and use religion at selected times when they find it useful. This is hardly religion controlling and pacifying the population!

 

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Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations.

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Feminists have criticized many traditional religions such as Christianity and Islam for being patriarchal: positions of power within the traditional institutions of both religions are largely controlled by men, an both tend to support traditional roles for men and women.

Feminists have also suggested that the New Age Movement appeals much more to women because it celebrates many aspects of femininity that traditional institutions seek to repress.

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10)

Suggested answer

Simone de Beauvoir suggested that Christianity offered women spiritual compensation for accepting their inferior roles in society  as housewives and mothers.

However, now that more women are in work, and they place less emphasis on the importance of such traditional gender roles, there is less need for such spiritual compensation, hence why the numbers of women attending church may be declining.

Middle class women especially may find the New Age Movement appealing because it allows them to ‘shop’ for their particular therapy, and demands very low levels of commitment.

the NAM is also less focused on social roles, and allows women (and men) a much greater degree of freedom to express their feminine sides – it celebrates nurturing and caring and emotion in a much more ‘fun’ way than traditional churches tend to, which again might appeal to postmodern women more.

It is also more accepting of diversity and thus much less likely to look down on women who are divorced.

Secondly, traditional religious organisations tend to encourage the repression of female sexuality: Catholicism for example is anti-abortion and anti-contraception.

This does not fit in age of female sexual liberation and greater sexual promiscuity. Since the  contraception and the pill (what Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’), which may explain why women are turning away from the church.

In contrast, the New Age Movement actually celebrates female sexuality. This may also explain why men don’t feel that attracted the the NAM, maybe they are threatened by empowered women, reflecting a crisis of masculinity.

Finally, the New Age Movement, in its pick and mix approach and celebration of diversity, is more likely to appeal to gender diverse individuals, as it is not against homosexuality like more traditional religions tend to be.

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Sociological Perspectives applied to The Apprentice….

Now in its fourteenth season, The Apprentice is one of Britain’s longest running T.V. series and remains one of the most popular, with average weekly viewing figures stable at just over 7 million for the past four years.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 10:00:01 on 25/09/2018 – Programme Name: The Apprentice – TX: n/a – Episode: n/a (No. n/a) – Picture Shows: **IMAGE EMBARGOED FROM PUBLICATION UNTIL 10AM TUESDAY 25TH SEPTEMBER 2018**
Lord Sugar with The Apprentice Candidates of 2018. Lord Sugar – (C) Boundless Taylor Herring – Photographer: Jim Marks

In this post, I’m just going to analyse what its ‘social functions’ might be by applying a few sociological perspectives…

From a Functionalist perspective, which tends to focus on the positive functions which institutions perform in contributing to the maintenance of the whole, then I guess there are several positive functions which the apprentice might perform: we can see it as playing a role in secondary socialisation, reinforcing the ‘work ethic’ that is deemed so fundamental to capitalist society, for example, and even providing additional opportunities for entrepreneurs.

From a Marxist perspective the main function would probably be one of spreading false consciousness. The broad diversity of contestants suggests (As it does on any BBC show that we have equality of opportunity. This is a myth, especially where successful entrepreneurs are concerned. Such people tend to be drawn disproportionately from the middle classes.

It might also perform the function of ideological control: it has a soporific effect as 7 million people tune in to it every week, and it celebrates the values of individualism, selfishness and competition, disguising the many downsides to these traits.

I can’t see that there would be much of a feminist critique of the apprentice…. There are equal numbers of both sexes, and there are plenty of female winners who have been successful because of the apprentice. Possibly the show might be supporting evidence for liberal feminism?

Although, just as with Marxism, it does little to highlight the very real barriers that ‘ordinary women’ face every day in the workplace – such as harassment and the effects of the persistent dual burden/ triple shift.

From a neoliberal point of view, you might see this show as a real celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. From this perspective, society needs innovative individuals to come up new business ideas to drive the economy forward, and the sort of competition we see on the Apprentice is a perfectly healthy means of promoting this.

From a neoliberal point of view, the show ticks a lot of boxes – not only is it providing an opportunity for enterprising individuals to kick-start their businesses (either through winning and getting an investment, or through simply having their profiles raised as a result of being on the show), it also provides two generations of role models – in the form of Alan Sugar himself and the young apprentices. The show is itself is even a profit generating product in its own right as well.

Finally… this is a very postmodern show…. The sphere of production become the sphere of consumption, as entertainment. And the entertainment mainly comes from the extreme individualism of the contestants. It’s also hyperreal, as I argued in this post: how the apprentice really works!

Finally, from a late modernist point of view, while most the individuals think ‘they’ve done it all themselves’ – they are wrong: they need to realise the importance of the structures they’re embedded into, not least of all the competition itself: they need that external support of £250K and Alan Sugar’s business contacts to kick start their businesses, after all!

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Good Sociology Movies: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a soon to be released move that looks like it touches on a lot of sociology themes.

It’s a movie about a girl who gets sent to a Christian Conversion Therapy Camp where she is subjected to various forms of psychological manipulation to avert her from being gay.

It’s definitely time for a movie like this – apparently 700 000 people in the USA have undergone Christian Conversion Therapy, and 50 000 is the base point for those likely to undergo some form of it in the next five years

It’s Illegal in 14 states for America, but only for minors…. For adults, it’s legal in every single state.

The lead actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, discusses the movie on that most excellent sociological resource: The One Show –  (available on iPlayer until mid September!)

In the interview she outlines how the film focuses on the micro interactions between the various ‘inmates’ in the centre, and how they still manage to hold on to their true identities and find their chosen families despite the enormous barriers put in their way by the oppressive system.

The movie has clear relevance to religion, sexuality and identity, as well as to theories of social change.

My concern is that the overall message of the movie might be that all you need to do to ‘fight anti-gay oppression’ is to be yourself, focus on developing your close relationships, and the oppressive institutions will just whither away around you.’

The Movie closes with the main protagonists disappearing on a road trip – which kind of reminds my of Bauman’s concept of the individualized utopia… the never ending journey, with no real thought about where we are going, society abandoned.

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sociology statistics

How many students study A-level sociology in England?

In 2017, there were 32, 269 entries to the A-level sociology exam, up from 26, 321 entries in 2008.

sociology statistics

How does this compare to A-level entries overall?

Sociology has grown in popularity compared to the overall A-level numbers. Overall A-level numbers have increased less rapidly during the same period: from 760 881 in 2008 , to 828355 2017.

It’s probably worth noting that these recent trends actually have a longer history, and are shared by other ‘critical humanities subjects’ such as politics and psychology. Please see this post for a brief summary of some recent research findings from the British Sociological Association on this topic.

What kind of people study A-level sociology?

Research suggests that sociology students are significantly more awesome than students who mistakenly choose not to study sociology. There’s no actual data to back this up, but that’s what the available evidence suggests.

Girls (sorry, ‘young women’) are also more likely to study sociology than boys…. approximately 77% of students studying sociology in 2017 were female, and the proportion of girls to boys has actually increased the last decade.

sociology gender.png

This means that if you’re a straight lad, and you’re relatively nice and mature, then you’ve got more chance of picking up a girlfriend in a sociology class than in pretty much any other subject!

What are my chances of getting an A* in Sociology?

Not great. 

Overall, 4.7% of students achieved an A* in A-level sociology in 2017. 18% 43.8% got an B or above, and 72.9% got a C or above. The pass rate was 97.5%

Sociology A-level results 2017.png

How does this compare to other subjects?

It’s much harder to get an A* or an A in sociology compared to other subjects, a little bit harder to get a B, but your chances of ending up with a C-E grade are about the same as for other subjects.

Boys seem to do much worse than girls in sociology relative to other subjects, perhaps because they’re more distracted (by the girls?)

A level grades 2017

Where does this data come from?

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) publishes all A and AS level results for all subjects. It show the results by cumulative and actual percentage per grade, broken down by gender.

Just in case you came here looking for information on ‘statistics’ you might like to check out my material on research methods – there’s some pretty good material if you follow the links, even if I do say so myself!

 

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Simone de Beauvoir: Religion and the Second Sex

Simone de Beauvoir theorized that religion oppresses women in much the same way as it oppresses the proletariat in Marxist theory.

‘There must be a religion for women as there must be one for the common people, and for exactly the same reason’ (Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1949).

According to de Beauvoir, religion is used by men to oppress women and to compensate for them for the second-class status.

De Beauvoir argued that historically, men, who have traditionally controlled most institutions in society, also control religion. It is men who control religion beliefs, and they use God to justify their control of society.

De Beauvoir writes:

‘For the Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians, among others, men is master by divine right; the fear of God will therefor repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female.’

Religion Simone de Beauvoir.png

However, in modern societies, religion is more of a tool of deception than of direct control. Religion deceives women into thinking that are equal to, or even better than men, despite their inferior status in reality.

For example, the role of mother is given divine status in most religions, and thus encourages women to accept the role of ‘mother’ in society. Religion also provides psychological rewards for women who content themselves with being ‘good mothers’: simply being a ‘good mother’ is ‘divine’, and this effectively carries its own psychological and status rewards for women who accept this role.

However, according to radical feminist theory more generally, the motherhood role is one of the most oppressive for women: it means that women become financially dependent on men and end up doing a lot more work in society, especially in reproducing the next generation.

In fact, de Beauvoir says that those women who accept their religiously sanctioned roles as mother actually benefit religious institutions. This is because they socialise them into religious belief: thus reproducing power inequalities.

Finally, for de Beauvoir, the compensations women receive from traditional religious institutions for accepting their inferior status are not adequate.

Sources

Adapted from Haralambos and Holborne: Sociology Themes and Perspectives, edition 8.

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Explaining the rapid decline in the teen pregnancy rate

There was a 50% decline in the ‘teen pregnancy’ rate in England and Wales between the 6 years 2010 to 2016.

Teenage pregnancy stats England.png

The rate declined from around 40 conceptions per 1000 15-19 year olds to less than 20 per 1000. Similar trends in the 15-19 conception rate occurred in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

This means that the UK’s teen pregnancy rate has gone from being one of the highest in Western Europe, to much closer to the average. This trend has been heralded as one of the most significant public health success stories of our times.

These statistics were highlighted this week in a report published by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). The charity commissioned YouGov to collect a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, using the the following mixed-methods approach:

  1. A diary task in which participants documented their day-to-day lives over the course of 4 days (including one weekend.)
  2. Four online focus groups with 16-18 year olds drawing on the diary notes (inNovember 2016)
  3. The results of the focus groups were then used to inform a demographically weighted quantitative survey of 1,004 16-18 year olds which was conducted online in February 2017.

In this this blog post I selectively summarise some of the findings of this research. I focuses on the reasons why the teenage conception rate has fallen so dramatically in the last six years.

Why is the teen pregnancy rate declining?

The conclusion to  the report highlights the importance of three factors:

  1. importance of good quality sex education
  2. The use of contraception
  3. The rise of what the authors call ‘generation sensible’: today’s teenagers are basically more risk averse and responsible than you may think.

To my mind this final analysis is typical of a charity looking to influence social policy. The first two factors are things the government can control, and the link between them and the decline in teen pregnancy is fairly obvious.

Of far more interest is the significance of social factors which the government cannot control: the social factors which lie behind the rise of so-called ‘generation sensible’…

The rise of ‘generation sensible’ and the decline of teen-pregnancy

Just over half of teenagers feel negative about the state of politics in the UK. The report finds that teenagers are worried about their future prospects. They feel that the current older generation in charge isn’t creating the kind of society in which they can prosper. In this context, teens are more likely to knuckle down and study to improve their future prospects.

Teenage views politics.png

Many of today’s teens have a dim view of those who engage in risky drug-related and sexual behaviors, and such behaviours have declined.

Teenagers are not that promiscuous: only a third of teenagers admitted to having had sex, and half of those had only had sex with one person. Some of the responses in the focus groups were that they were too busy for relationships.

Sexting seems to be replacing body-body sex: nearly 80% believe sexting can be a legitimate part of a relationship. Half of teenagers admitted to having received a sext, with a third admitting to having sent one.

Almost half of 16-18 year olds don’t drink at all, or drink only once a month or less. Only 13% drink more than twice a week. Moreover, many teenagers have a negative view of binge drinking and don’t like the risks associated with being ‘out of control’. Today’s teenagers have even more negative attitudes towards drugs.

Teenage drinking.png

Sociological relevance

This study provides a really interesting insight into how risk society and the perception of lack of opportunities in the future have changed the world-views of today’s youth.

It also seems to suggest support for the view that today’s youth have become ‘responsibilised’. They are taking responsibility for their own futures by not engaging in risky behaviour which might reduce their life chances. Foucault would be nodding his head furiously I imagine.

Despite the ‘policy’ feel of the report, I also think it’s an important reminder that social policies are quite limited in their ability to steer human behaviour. It seems that the other social factors are just as important here.

What’s of further interest is just how rapidly this change has occurred.

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On Sir David Attenborough and Boaty McBoatface: Reinforcing the Social Class Order?

I can’t help but analyse the launching of the Sir David Attenborough polar ship through a social class lens. The whole affair just seems so terribly middle class: possibly even a ritualistic reinforcing of the social class order and a kick in the teeth for the good ole’ working class, as well as for anyone with a sense of humour.

Sir David Attenborough.jpg

My reasoning is as follows:

  1. 124 000 people (most of whom are likely to be working class, because most people are working class) voted to call the ship ‘Boaty Mcboatface‘, however, this democratic decision was overuled by ministers (who are mainly drawn from the upper middle classes) who instead decided that a more appropriate name for a Polar research vessel would be the name ‘Sir David Attenborough’.
  2. I know he’s a national treasure, but he’s a very upper middle class treasure: Sir David Attenborough attended a Grammar School in the early 1940s, before the Tripartite System. As far as I’m aware this basically meant his parents must have paid for him to go there, as at that there were no such thing as as state-funded grammar schools. So a bunch of middle class people decided to over-rule the working class majority’s naming decision and name the boat after a thoroughly middle class person.
  3. I guess all of the above is not surprising: given that this is a polar research ship that’s likely to be chock-full of postgraduate level scientists, most of whom will  no doubt come from Russel Group Universities which are, again, chock full of the middle classes (80% are from the middle classes). Add in the weight of cultural and social capital that will bias the selection to a prestige research vessel, and I’d be amazed if more than 5% of the research-crew would be from working class backgrounds.
  4. There is still a ‘Boaty McBoatface’ – but it’s a robotic submarine which can be programmed to go off and do its own research, later returning to the main boat. Just pause to think about the class-related imagery here: the larger ‘mother’ ship has a middle class name, the visible, the regal, the symbol which is to be revered; while the vessel with the name the majority voted for is a satellite, submerged, invisible, on ‘auto-pilot’, servicing the main ‘good ship middle class’.

Boaty.jpg

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this?

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