How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology of education exam, June 2017

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology education with theory and methods exam, June 2017… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA – NB – there is a certain level of subjectivity and irrationality within the AQA, and so they may interpret how you answer questions  to my (rational) interpretation below… )

Sociology A-level Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Outline two cultural factors that may effect ethnic differences in educational achievement (2 marks)

Difficulty – very easy

Simply pick any two cultural factors and explain how….

  • language barriers
  • parental attitudes towards education (values)
  • parental educational levels
  • family structure

And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups. 

Q02 – Outline three ways in which factors within schools may shape gender differences in education (6 marks)

Difficulty – if you’ve just wrote-learnt the ancient Anne Colley etc. stuff then easy, if you didn’t then it’s medium because it’s quite a narrow subject (NB I did anticipate this narrowness!)

Select three in-school factors then explain how…

  • subject counsellors/ teachers labels about typical boys and girls subjects
  • male and female peer groups – peer pressure
  • male dominance ‘physical subjects’
  • Gendered subject images/ resources

Then talk it through with ideally three example of different subjects, discussing both boys and girls.

Q03 – Applying material from Item A, analyse two effects of increased parental choice on pupils’ experience of education

Difficulty – it appears hard, because you think ‘WTF’ but if you think about it, and use the item, it’s easy, because you can talk about pretty much anything from across class, gender and/ or ethnicity. So I’m going to call this ‘medium’ level of difficulty, as it’s half way between the two!

NB – There are really only two hooks here – in bold below…

Point one – ‘parental choice has led to a range of school types’ this means a greater diversity of experience….. contrast different experience of school types – succeeding schools/ sink schools, you could contrast and discuss ethos/ hidden curriculum, you could bring in faith schools and ethnicity, you could bring in specialist schools, free schools, no national curriculum, link all this to postmodernism. Criticse by saying there are still general similarities – e.g. testing/ pressure/ narrowing of curriculum.

Point two parents use league tables to choose – schools want to attract pupils this means more emphasis on results, teaching to the test, the school-parent alliance, cream skimming, working class covert exclusion – selection by mortgage.. just be careful to relate all of this to ‘experience of education’.

Q04 Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological explanations of the role of education in transmitting ideas and values (30)

Difficulty – medium – this is basically a perspectives question, but the item demands that you address Feminism and PM

Intro – acknowledge the item

P1 – Functionalism (recognise it’s old) and evaluate with P/M.

P2 – Marxism – the stuff about ideology (‘ideas’) – evaluate using P/M

P3 – Feminism – evaluate with ‘girls are improving’, NB – the subject choice stuff from Q2 could be lifted in here to support the view in the item. (Actually quite bad exam design here , mr AQA!)

p4 – Postmodernism – fragmentation, diversity – evaluate with maybe NC/ teaching to the test (which also overlaps with Q3)

Conclusion – something like, oh my lord yes those old perspectives are really dated and we need to recognise education is diverse and complex…

Q05 – Using material from item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using field experiments to investigate the effects of teachers’ labelling of pupils

Difficulty – Medium, because it’s a fairly obscure method, but then again it’s applied to a very obvious topic – you can use R and J’s 1968 labelling experiment throughout (and the item!)

An obvious ‘easy in’ is that you have to be in the school in some way to conduct a field experiment. Lots of level 4 marks available right here.

I’d start with the Theoretical, practical and ethical strengths of the method, always applying to the topic, then do the limitations, the hooks in the item are asking you look at truancy and misbehaviour… you could also address performance… I’d pick up on the fact that truancy is easier to measure than misbehaviour…

The last point in the item is about people refusing to participate, which is just begging you discuss covert research to avoid this, then a whole load of practical and ethical problems which come from doing this IN SCHOOLS.

06 – Outline and explain two practical advantages of using documents in sociological research

Difficulty – Hard, because your average teenager just couldn’t care less about it!

The strategy I’d use here is to pick two different practical disadvantages and then discuss why they’re problematic for different types of public and private documents…

Practical factors include..

  • Access (the obvious one)
  • Time/ money
  • Funding
  • Personal skills of the researcher

Access should be easy – why you might find it difficult to access private documents – diaries/ letters, emails, link to ethics of using them, contrast to public documents.

Time/ money – there’s so many of them, such a diversity – it’s a never ending (time consuming) process to analyse (for example) newspapers, media reports in any depth – then I’d link to problems of sampling/ length of time it take to analyse and so on…

Not an easy question to discuss through – For both points I’d also bang on about interpretivism and positivism as much as possible, talking about how practical problems can undermine validity, representativness, reliability, and use as many examples as possible…

Anyway, just a few thoughts, the last question is probably the most difficult on reflection…

A-Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

A Level Sociology AQA Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods

Hints and tips for answering the AQA’s Sociology A Level Paper 1 Education with Theory and Methods (7192/1).

This information is derived from 3 separate training course I’ve been on run by the AQA’s representatives, my interpretation of how you should answer these questions is not endorsed by the AQA. I have endeavoured to be as accurate as possible in this advice, and it’s the same advice I use with my own students.

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1 – An Overview

AQA A Level Sociology Paper 1

  • Paper 1 is a  2 hour paper, out of a total of 80 marks.
  • It is a ‘write in’ paper – you get a gapped booklet, and you write your answers after each question.
  • There are a total of 6 questions and you must answer all of them.
    You have 1.5 minutes per mark.

Exam Technique for Paper 1

Some of the exemplar questions on the next few slides are taken from the AQA’s A Level Sociology Specimen Paper 1, 2015.

4 and 6 Mark ‘Outline’ Questions

  • A four mark question will ask you to ‘Outline’ two ways in which/ reasons why/ criticisms of….
  • A six mark question will ask you to outline three ways/ reasons/ criticisms.
  • Think of these as ‘1+1’ question/ answers –  you need to give a reason and explain how.

Example of a 4 mark question

‘Outline two material factors that may affect social class differences in educational achievement.’ (4)

Mark Scheme

  • Two marks for each of two appropriate factors clearly outlined
  • One mark for appropriate factors partially outlined.

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • Overcrowding at home (1 mark) means not having private space in which to study (+1 mark).
  • High family income (1 mark) means parents can pay for private tuition to help with schoolwork (+1 mark).

Example of a 6 mark question

‘Outline three reasons why government education policies aimed at raising educational achievement among disadvantaged groups may not always succeed’. (6)

Example of an answer which would get full marks:

  • It is difficult to implement policies (1 mark), for example if they involve intervening in pupils’ home life to change how parents socialise/motivate children (+1 mark).
  • Educational policies alone cannot overcome poverty as a cause of underachievement (1 mark). This requires far-reaching redistributive economic policies to tackle it (+1 mark).
  • Means tested educational policies such as free school meals may have low uptake by targeted groups (1 mark) because of the stigma attached to them (+1 mark).

10 Mark ‘Applying from the Item and Analyse’ Questions

  • A ten mark question (on papers 1 and 3) will ask you to analyse two reasons (applying material from a very short item).
  • You need to give a reason, develop it and analyse it, and then repeat for the next reason.
  • You should spend about 15 minutes on this question. Each reason MUST come from the item!

Example of a 10 Mark Question

Read item A then answer the question below

Item A

According to the Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, middle class parents possess more cultural capital, than working class children.

Bourdieu argues that the skills and knowledge middle class parents possess, such as themselves having benefited from education, and the fact that they are more comfortable dealing with middle class institutions such as schools, is passed down to their children, which explains why they do better in school.

Applying material from Item A, analyse two ways in which cultural capital might give some children an advantage in education (10)

Hooks in the item:

  • Skills – might be research skills)
  • Knowledge (might be linked to tastes)
  • Better education
  • More comfortable dealing with middle class institutions

Any of these hooks can form the basis of ‘one way’ for each ‘way’…

  • Make a point about cultural capital from the item
  • Explain how it gives children an advantage
  • Develop it once, ideally by using a research study, linking to other sub-topics within education
  • Develop it at least one more time, using perspectives if possible.

30 Mark Essays

Possible 30 Mark Essays on Education

  • Evaluate the contribution of Functionalism to our understanding of the role of education ins society (30).
  • Evaluate the view that differential achievement across social groups is mainly due to in-school factors (30).
  • Evaluate the view that educational policies since 1988 have both raised standards and improved equality of educational opportunity (30).

Writing 30 Mark Essays

  • Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes.
  • Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  • Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/ your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  • Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  • Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  • Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

General Structure for Any Sociology Essay

  • Introduction
  • Point (relate to question)
  • Explain
  • Expand
  • Criticise
  • (repeat 3-5 times)
  • Overall Evaluations
  • Conclusion (refer to item)

20 Mark Methods in Context Questions

  • A ‘methods in context’ (MIC) essay question will ask you to apply a method to a topic within education
  • The easiest way to explain how to write MIC essays by using an example…

Example of a Methods in Context Question

Read item B then answer the question below

Item B

Investigating unauthorised absences from school

There is a close correlation between frequent unauthorised absence from school and educational underachievement. Those pupils who are not doing well at school are more likely to truant. Similarly, those who truant regularly are likely to finish their school career with poor qualifications. Pupils may be absent without authorisation for many reasons, from caring responsibilities at home or dislike of school, to parents arranging family holidays in term time.

Sociologists may use self-completion written questionnaires to study unauthorised absences. These can be distributed easily to large numbers of pupils, parents or teachers. The findings of the questionnaires can also be used to establish patterns and trends in relation to unauthorised absences. However, self-completion questionnaires often have very low response rates, especially when they ask about sensitive issues.

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using self-completion written questionnaires to investigate unauthorised absences from school (20 marks)

A ‘Safe’ Strategy for Answering Methods in Context (‘MIC’) Questions

Planning:

  • Spend about five minutes planning the essay first:
  • Highlight the ‘hooks’ in the question.
  • Jot down the theoretical, ethical and practical strengths/ limitations of the method.

Essay section 1:

  • Write a ‘safe’ three paragraphs on the method, covering the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the method.
  • As you do this, try to discuss the general strengths and limitations of the method relating to researching education in general (pupils, parents, teachers, in schools and classrooms, maybe in pupils’ homes).

Essay section 2:

  • Use the hooks in the item to discuss why this method might be a particular problem, or particularly useful for the topic you are.
  • Just doing this two or three times should be enough to lift you into the top mark band (17-20).

Essay section 3:

  • Write a brief conclusion – state whether this is a sensible method for researching this topic!

Paper 1: Theory and Methods Section

‘Outline and Explain’ something to do with theory and/ or methods (10) marks)

  • There won’t be an item for this question
  • Pick two reasons/ ways which are as different from each other as possible.
  • Try to develop each using different parts of the course – making links….
  • There will probably be two bits to the question – make sure you make the links.
  • There may only be one ‘little’ 10 mark question, but it could be on any aspect of theory and/ or methods:

Examples of possible theory and methods ten markers

  • Theory: ‘Outline and explain two criticisms of the Marxist view of society (10).
    Methods: Outline and explain two practical problems of using Participant Observation in social research’ (10).
  • Theory and Methods: Outline and explain two reasons why Postmodernists are generally critical of quantitative research methods (10).

Video Version of the above advice (for ‘visual’ learners)

Good luck – And don’t panic… Everyone’s in the same boat.

 

A Level Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Theory and Methods Bundle also available at the same link above!

Sociological Perspectives: The Basics

Sociological Perspectives in A Level Sociology

Given that ‘society’ is complex and multi-layered, a key aspect of studying A-Level Sociology is being able to view society and social action through a number of different sociological perspectives, or lenses, because different sociologists (and different people in general) look upon the same society and see different realities.

For example, consider a busy street and imagine different people looking at that same street: a shopkeeper, a thief and a consumer. The shopkeeper sees profit, the thief victims and the consumer sees products to buy.

Sociology consists of various different perspectives, all of which look at society in different ways. All sociological perspectives have something valuable to offer to the individual who wishes to understand society and no one perspective is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It is up to the individual student to present positive and negative criticisms of sociological perspectives throughout the course.

Key Dividing Lines in Sociological Perspectives

1. Social Structure versus Social Action perspectives

Some Sociologists, known as structural theorists, emphasise the importance of institutions in providing social stability and regulating social action. They argue that such institutions form a structure that shapes human action and makes it predictable.

Other Sociologists, known as social-action theorists, argue that individuals have more freedom than structural theorists suggest. They also argue that society is more fluid and some interactionists go as far as saying that there is no such thing as society, just billions of individual level interactions.

2. Consensus versus Conflict Perspectives

Sociological Perspectives are also divided into Consensus perspectives which argue that, generally speaking, society is characterised by harmony and agreement, and Conflict perspectives, which argue that society is better seen as being made up of competing groups, with the powerful controlling institutions in society and oppressing the powerless.

3. Modern versus Post-Modern Perspectives

Modernist perspectives include Functionalism, The New Right, Marxism and Feminism and believe in ‘social progress’. They believe that social research can reveal the truth about which types of societies are best and actively work to construct a better society through social policy and more radical means. Postmodernists and to an extent Interactionists reject the idea of truth and the idea social progress is possible.

Sociological Perspectives very brief summary grid.

Unfortunately it didn’t cut and past very well from the word-processor, it looks much better in (evil) Microsoft Word or (good) Open Source word processor of your preference.  At least the columns lined up properly, that’s the important thing!

Functionalism

Norms and Values

Socialisation

Value Consensus

Positive Functions of Institutions

Anomie

Marxism

Capitalism and Private Property

Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat

Exploitation

Ideological Control

·         Communism

·         Revolution

 

Feminism

·         Patriarchy

·         Sex and Gender

·         Public-Private Divide

·         Gender Scripts

·         Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism

·         Deconstruction

 Interactionism

 

·         The I and the Me

·         The looking glass self

·         Social identity

·         Backstage and Front Stage

·         Labelling

·         The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

 

 

 Postmodernism

 

·         Service Sector Economy

·         Consumer culture

·         Diversity

·         Individual Freedom and identity

·         Social Fragmentation

·         Hyperreality

 Core Themes emphasised by these perspectives

 

Socialisation  Power and stratification

 

Identity Culture and differentiation
Research Methods generally preferred

 

 Quantitative

 

Qualitative

Later on – you’ll need to add in Late Modernism and other perspectives from other modules!

Related Posts 

Sociological Perspectives in Five Shapes

 

 

Subcultural Theories of Deviance

Subcultural Theory: The Basics

A Subculture is a group that has values that are different to the mainstream culture. Subcultural theorists argue that deviance is the result of whole groups breaking off from society who have deviant values (subcultures) and deviance is a result of these individuals conforming to the values and norms of the subculture to which they belong.

In contrast to Social Control theorists, it is the pull of the peer group that encourages individuals to commit crime, rather than the lack of attachment to the family or other mainstream institutions. Subcultural theory also helps explain non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and joy riding which strain theory cannot really explain. Deviance is a collective response to marginalisation.

There are four people you need to know about for Subcultural Theory:

1. Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration Theory
2. Cloward and Ohlin’s three types of subculture
3. Walter Miller – the focal concerns of the working class
4. Charles Murray – the underclass and Crime (links to the New Right)

Albert Cohen: Deviant Subcultures emerge because of Status Frustration

Albert Cohen argues that working class subcultures emerge because they are denied status in society. Just like Merton, Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

Cohen argued that many boys react to this by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there are several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.

This delinquent subculture reverses the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who are the most deviant. Status may be gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.

This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first starts in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gang membership

Subcultural Theory 2: Cloward and Ohlin’s 3 types of subculture

Cloward and Ohlin develop Cohen’s subcultural theory further, expanding on it in order to try and explain why different types of subculture emerge in different regions. They suggest that the ‘illegitimate opportunity structure’ affects what type of subculture emerges in response to status frustration – The varied social circumstances in which working-class youth live give rise to three types of delinquent subculture.

1. Criminal Subcultures are characterised by utilitarian crimes, such as theft. They develop in more stable working class areas where there is an established pattern of crime. This provided a learning opportunity and career structure for aspiring young criminals, and an alternative to the legitimate job market as a means of achieving financial rewards. Adult criminals exercise social control over the young to stop them carrying out non-utilitarian delinquent acts – such as vandalism – which might attract the attention of the police.

2. Conflict subcultures emerge in socially disorganised areas where there is a high rate of population turnover and a consequent lack of social cohesion. These prevent the formation of stable adult criminal subcultures Conflict subcultures are characterised by violence, gang warfare, ‘mugging’ and other street crime. Both approved and illegal means of achieving mainstream goals are blocked or limited, and young people express their frustration at this situation through violence or street crime, and at least obtain status through success in subcultural peer-group values. This is a possible explanation for the gang culture which is increasingly appearing in run down areas of the UK, and possibly explains the UK riots of 2011.

3. Retreatist subcultures emerge among those lower class youth who are ‘double failures’ – they have failed to succeed in both mainstream society and in the crime and gang cultures above. The response is a retreat into drug addiction and alcoholism, paid for by petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution

Alternative Perspectives to Consensus Subcultural Theories of Crime

  1. Paul Willis’ 1977 study of the Counter-School-Culture represents a Marxist critique of consensus subcultural theory. Willis argued that the working class lads formed a subculture in order to ‘have a laff’ in a school system which they had accurately identified as being irrelevant to their futures. Unlike Cohen, these lads never aspired to be middle class, they identified themselves as working class, rejected middle class aspirations, and rejected the middle class system of the school – thus why Willis coined the term ‘counter (against) school culture’.
  2. David Matza has developed what might cautiously be termed an Interactionist approach to understanding subcultures. Matza suggested that there were no distinct subcultures among young people. Rather, all groups in society share a set of subterranean values. These are simply deviant values that encourage us to go against social norms – the urge to party hard, drink too much, swear, stealing, punch the idiots you work with and sleep with your brother’s wife etc. These are usually held under control, but sometimes emerge at peak leisure times – weekends, holidays and so on. The difference between a persistent offender and a law-abiding citizen is simply how often and in what circumstances these subterranean values emerge.
  3. Postmodernists point out that the nature of subcultures today has changed, in that subcultures are much more common today than they were in the 1960s. Today, subcultures are just a normal part of life. Subcultural theory assumes that there are ‘mainstream norms and values’ which subcultures deviate from. This is wrong according to Postmodernism – in society today, deviance and hence subcultures are ‘normal’, which renders the whole of subcultural theory irrelevant in helping us to understand crime and deviance.

Related Posts 

Subcultural theories of deviance are the second group of theories of crime on the A level crime and deviance specification (AQA), normally taught after functionalist and strain theories.

The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

Robert Merton’s Strain Theory 

Sociology and Value Freedom

Can Sociology be value free

Value Freedom in Social Research refers to the ability of the researcher to keep his or her own values (personal, political and religious) from interfering with the research process.

The idea that ‘facts’ should not be influenced by the researcher’s own beliefs is a central aspect of ‘science’ – and so when we say that Sociology can and should be value free this is essentially the same as saying that ‘Sociology can and should be scientific’

Positivism and Value Freedom

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Positivist Sociologists such as August Comte and Emile Durkheim regarded Sociology as a science and thus thought that social research could and should be value free, or scientific.

As illustrated in Durkheim’s study of Suicide (1899) – by doing quantitative research and uncovering macro-level social trends Sociologists can uncover the ‘laws of society’. Durkheim believed that one such law was that too high or too low levels of social integration and regulation would lead to an increasing suicide rate. Positivists believed that further research would be able to uncover how much of what types of integration caused the suicide rate to go up or down. We should be able to find out, for example, if a higher divorce rate has more impact on the suicide rate that the unemployment rate.

So at one level, Positivists believe that Sociology can be value free because they are uncovering the ‘objective’ laws of how social systems work – these laws exist independently of the researchers observing them. All the researcher is doing is uncovering ‘social facts’ that exist ‘out there’ in the world – facts that would exist irrespective of the person doing the observing.

Positivists argued that such value-free social research was crucial because the objective knowledge that scientific sociology revealed could be used to uncover the principles of a good, ordered, integrated society, principles which governments could then apply to improve society. Thus, research should aim to be scientific or value free because otherwise it is unlikely to be taken seriously or have an impact on social policy.

Being “value free” is sometime described as being objective: to uncover truths about the world, one must aspire to eliminate personal biases, a prior beliefs, and emotional and personal involvement, etc.

Questions

  1. Identify the TWO methods you would use to achieve a high degree of objectivity. And explain why?

  1. Is it possible to completely objective/value free?

The ‘New Right’ – Sociology is not value free – it is left wing propaganda!

Value freedom and Sociology: ‘right wing’ perspectives..

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Sociology came under attack for its ‘left-wing’ bias. Originally criticized for its inclusion in teacher training programmes, it was further suggested that teachers were indoctrinating their students with Marxist propaganda. David Marsland is particularly associated with the idea of Sociology as a destructive force in British society, exaggerating the defects of capitalism and ignoring its many benefits:

‘Sociology is the enemy within. It is an enemy that sows the seeds of bankruptcy and influences huge numbers of impressionable people… Sociologists are neglecting their responsibility for accurate, objective description and biasing their analyses of contemporary Britain to an enormous extent… huge numbers of people are being influenced by the biased one-sidedness of contemporary Sociology.’

In ‘Bias against Business’, Marsland suggests that many Sociology textbooks ignore the central features of capitalist economies Concentrating on job dissatisfaction and alienation:

‘Its treatment of work is consistently negative, focussing almost entirely on its pathologies – alienation, exploitation and inequality. It underestimates the high levels of job satisfaction which empirical research has consistently identified. It de-emphasises the enormous value for individual people and for society as a whole, in the way of increased standards of living and enhanced quality of life work provides. It neglects for the most part to inform students about the oppressive direction of labour of all sorts of socialist societies, or to keep them in mind of the multiple benefits of a free competitive labour market. It treats the need for economic incentives with contempt.’

Feminism – Sociology is not value free because it is biased against women

Feminists are critical of the ‘value-free’ scientific claims of ‘malestream’ Sociology, arguing that it is at best sex blind and at worst sexist, serving as an ideological justification for the subordination of women. Anne Oakley (1974) claims that ‘Sociology reduces women to a side issue from the start.’ While Sociology claims to put forward a detached and impartial view of reality, in fact it presents the perspective of men.

Feminist responses to the male bias in Sociology have been varied; on the one hand there are those who think that this bias can be corrected simply by carrying out more studies on women; a more radical view (arguing along the same lines of Becker’s ‘Whose Side are We On’) suggests that what is needed is a Sociology for women by women; that feminists should be concerned with developing a sociological knowledge which is specifically by and about women:

‘A feminist Sociology is one that is for women, not just or necessarily about women, and one that challenges and confronts the male supremacy which institutionalizes women’s inequality. The defining characteristic of feminism is the view that women’s subordination must be questioned and challenged… feminism starts from the view that women are oppressed and that their oppression is primary’. (Abbott & Wallace 1990).

Interpretivism – Sociology Cannot and Should not aim to be value free

There are three main Interpretivist Criticisms of ‘Positivist’ Sociology – from Gomm, Becker and Gouldner:

Gomm argues that ‘a value free Sociology is impossible… the very idea is unsociological’. He argues that Sociologists react to political, economic and social events – and what is seen as a political or social ‘issue’, a social ‘problem’ is dependent on the power of different groups to define and shape reality – to define what is worthy of research. Consequently, it is just as important to look at what sociologists do not investigate as what they do – Sociologists are not necessarily immune to ideological hegemony.

Gomm argues that social research always has social and moral implications. Therefore Sociology inevitably has a political nature. For the sociologists to attempt to divorce him/herself from the consequences of his/her research findings is simply an evasion of responsibility. Gomm further suggests that when the sociologist attempts to divorce himself from his own values to be scientific, to become a ‘professional sociologist’ he is merely adopting another set of values – not miraculously becoming ‘value free’ – what Positivists call value freedom often involves an unwitting-commitment to the values of the establishment.

‘The truth is, of course, not that values have actually disappeared from the social sciences, rather that the social scientist has become so identified with the going values of the establishment that it seems as if values have disappeared.’

Gouldner, along similar lines to Gomm, argues that it is impossible to be free from various forms of value judgment in the social sciences. Those who claim to be value free are merely gutless non-academics with few moral scruples who have sold out to the establishment in return for a pleasant university lifestyle.

Gouldner suggests that the principle of value freedom has dehumanised sociologists: ‘Smugly sure of itself and bereft of a sense of common humanity.’ He claims that sociologists have betrayed themselves and Sociology to gain social and academic respectability; confusing moral neutrality with moral indifference, not caring about the ways in which their research is used.

Howard Becker, in ‘Whose side are we on?’ takes this argument to its logical conclusion arguing that since all knowledge is political, serving some interests at the expense of others, the task for the sociologist is simply to choose sides; to decide which interests sociological knowledge should serve. Becker argues that Sociology should side with the disadvantaged.

Giddens’ Modernity and Self Identity – in 14 bullet points

A brief post covering the relationship between self and society in late-modernity according to Anthony Giddens, covering concepts such as Globalisation, abstract systems, ontological security, manufactured risks, narcissism and fundamentalism.

This is very much my own reading of Giddens’ text – Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age.

Giddens Self Identity and Society

Gidden’s Key Ideas about Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Taken from Modernity and Self Identity – And Against Post Modernism)

  1. There is a global structure – e.g. it’s Capitalist and Nation States remain powerful, but it’s dynamic, constantly changing, and not predictable.

  2. Institutions (political and economic) are ‘reflexive’ – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing and continually updating (imperfect) knowledge.

  3. There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, objectively existing problems, not hyperreal, and they bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this.

  4. The increased pace of change and Uncertainty are a fundamental part of late-modernity.

  5. Globalisation penetrates our lifeworlds through abstract Systems (money, clock time, expert systems, especially science).

  6. The media is more important and influential in late-modern society, but Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

  7. In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is what Giddens calls a ‘duality of structure’ – social structures both empower us and constrain us (differentially, and broadly along the lines of class, gender and ethnicity, although not perfectly) – people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures – think of your typicaly fashion blogger on YouTube for example – you may think of them as ‘free’, but they are fundamentally dependent on global capitalism, a monetary system, and the infrastructure of media technology.

  8. In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given – we no longer have a pre-existing identity based on our gender, class, family or locality, everything is open to questionand we are forced to contunally look at ourselves and continuously ask the question ‘who am I’ – identity becomes a task, something we must do for ourselves, and nearly every aspect of our lives becomes something we need to reflect on as a result.

  9. It is for this reason that we become concerned with constructing a ‘Narrative of Self’ – A coherent life story, so that we can convince ourselves that we have a stable identity through time. Constructing a self-identity takes a lot of time and effort.

  10. Therapy emerges as a new expert system to help people in the process of continual identity reconstruction – especially useful at epochal moments like divorce.

  11. The construction and expression of the self becomes the new norm – there are many ways we can do this – mainly through consumption (buying and doing stuff), through relationships, and through developing bodily regimes (health regimes).

  12. An unfortunate consequence of this focus on the self is the rise of Narcissism, with very few people asking moral and existential questions about existence.

  13. However, this process is dialectical and New Social Movements (e.g. the Green Movement) which do consider moral and existential issues – in which people attempt to incorporate moral and existential questions into the construction of their ‘political’ identities.

  14. Late Modernity produces various ‘Generic’ Types of Identity – The Narcissist, the Fundamentalist, both are extreme expressions of the same social system.

Related Posts

Giddens – Modernity and Self Identity – A summary of the introduction and chapter 1.

What is the purpose of Sociology according to Giddens? – A very brief summary

Eight Reasons Why We Should All be Marxists

The third of three posts on Marxism for A2 Sociological Perspectives – Arguments and evidence for the continued relevance of Marxism 

Contemporary Marxists argues that Marxist analysis is still relevant to an understanding of modern society. A considerable amount of contemporary Marxist thought focuses on how Capitalism has become globalised and emphasises the injustices of the global capitalist system; another strand of contemporary Marxist theory focuses on how the values of capitalism (in the form of ‘neo-liberal hegemony’) have penetrated Western culture to the detriment of us all.

You might like to think about what Marxist concepts are illustrated by these cartoons

  1. Some Sociologists argue that a class based analysis of global society is still relevant.

Leslie Sklaire argues that recent decades have seen the emergence of a ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’. These are the leaders of global corporations, certain politicians and their bureaucrats who control billions of dollars of assets and financial flows. They wield their power through undemocratic international economic institutions such as the World Bank, The International Monetary Fund and the G20. These institutions were established after World War Two to help co-ordinate the expanding global economy and facilitate redevelopment after the war. However, many left wing theorists such as Joseph Stiglitz argue that since the 1970s these institutions have forced dozens of developing countries to adopt neo-liberal economic policies. Neo-Liberal policies include such things as privatising public services, cutting taxes and regulating industry less, thus allowing Transnational Corporations to open sweat shops, pollute local areas, and take all the profits away without giving very much back. The basic idea here is that the global economy is run by Corporations and Politicians for the benefit of Corporations and their high powered political supporters (One of whom is ‘Gideon’ Osborn)

  1. There is considerable evidence that exploitation still lies at the heart of the Capitalist system.

Corporations are frequently criticised for exploiting workers and the environment – through sweatshop labour and pollution, where they can get away with it. Some of the most obvious examples include Shell and oil pollution in Nigeria; Coke’s legacy of draining water local water supplies in India to produce Coke, which results in drought in local areas and Apple’s use of sweatshops in China to produce the ipad.

  1. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

Marxist Theory is still relevant because…. There is some evidence that those with economic power still have disproportionate influence over the superstructure.

I should just point out that the point of this post is to provide soundbites that you can use in an exam (or an arguement with a Tory supporter of the neo-liberal state apparatus) rather than a comprehensive or balanced account of evidence for or against (the variety of) Marxist theory.

Evidence of Elite control over the government

By far the best example of state putting the interests of Capital before the interests of the majority of people is how the government has responded to the present ‘economic crisis’. 

Simply put, the state is making the poor pay for the economic problems caused by the Transnational Capitalist Class. The average guy on the street is getting poorer while the rich are still getting richer! Consider also the recent case of Ireland, where the minimum wage is being cut by one euro, VAT is being increase, and public sector jobs axed, while Corporation Tax remains at an incredibly low 12.5%  

Getting back to the cuts in Britain, this is no surprise if you actually look at the characteristics of those who make up the cabinet and the wider Tory Party; you actually find that many of them are themselves extremely wealthy. The prime minister, deputy prime minister and Chancellor are all millionaires – They are the Transnational Capitalist Class – and they are hardly likely to hurt themselves.

Evidence of Elite control over the Criminal Justice System

Another example of the elite class having control over the superstructure lies in the differential treatment of white collar crime and street crime. Even though White Collar Crime costs more to the economy than street crime, White Collar Criminals are still less likely to get punished. According to Tombs and Whyte, this is partly because the government invests fewer resources into investigating fraud and health and safety crimes (the types of crime Corporations are most likely to be guilty of) than it does into working class street crime.

Evidence of Elite Control over the mainstream Media

Greg Philo argues that it is simply crazy it is that the agenda in the media is about ‘what services should the government cut’ rather than ’should we tax the wealthy or make cuts.[1] Philo points[2] out that there are other solutions to the current economic crisis – there is enough property wealth in the country – we could just take it off them, but the government is making the average man on the street pay instead. In his film, 

Evidence of Elite Control of the Education system

Evidence for elite control of the education system lies in the fact that if you are wealthy, you can buy your children a private education, which gives them a much greater chance of getting into a top university and high getting a highly paid, prestigious job.  The statistics make for extremely uncomfortable reading… Intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’.Looked at another way, of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.[3]

People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools.’[4]

  1. There is evidence that we are still under ideological control – but we don’t realise it.

Antonio Gramsci, A humanist Marxist writing in the early twentieth century first pointed out that what he called ‘Hegemonic Control’ plays an ever important role in advanced Capitalist societies. Hegemonic control occurs when the intellectual and moral leadership provided by the dominant class provides the fundamental outlook for the whole of society.

Greg Philo points to one very good recent example of this in recent years – the fact that we are so willing to accept cuts to public services when the richest ten percent of the country own so much wealth that if we just took one fifth of their wealth we would clear the national deficit, yet this idea doesn’t not even appear in the media. Agenda Setting has removed it and so we do not even consider it.

  1. Capitalism is kept going by creating ‘false needs’

Successful companies today spend billions on advertising campaigns to convince us that we need the products that they make. Looked at objectively much of what we buy we don’t need, yet the Capitalist class invests billions convincing us to buy things that we do not need.

Worse that ideological control – More generally, numerous Sociologists such as Richard Wilkinson and David Garland point out that the more unequal a country, and the more a country has adopted neo-liberal policies – the higher the prison population. It would appear that the closer a country is to ‘pure capitalism’ the more punitive the elite class is.

  1. Alienation and Commodity Fetishism

We in west have become so obsessed with consumer culture that we end up defining ourselves through the products we consume, and how we ‘pick and mix them’ (this means fashion, holidays, houses, cars, mobile phones). From a Marxist point of view this is incredibly shallow – Marx believed that we are only fully human when we are fully engaged with the political and economic processes of our society. From the Marxist point of view, Capitalism just encourages us to be childlike and define ourselves through our styles and our hobbies and to forget about politics and economics. In the truest sense we are alienated from our productive base while our identities become more and more dependent on material goods.

  1. David Harvey argues that economic crises are inherent to the Capitalist system and that in recent years these crises have become more severe and more frequent.

Harvey argues that any sane person should join an anti-capitalist movement because the root problems of Capitalism are the same as they were in Marx’s day – click here for his analysis of the problems of Modern Capitalism

  1. Capitalist exploitation is so bad in some parts of the world that there is vehement resistance to it – especially in Latin America – President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, for example, perceives himself as an anti-Capitalist, as do many people of Latin America. The Zapatistas in Mexico is another good example and the World Development Movement also has Marxist undertones.

  • See the first 20 mins or so of John Pilger’s ‘War on Democracy’ to here Hugo Chavez talk in Marxist terms – on stream

  1. Although you don’t see it in the media there are tens of thousands of people who call themselves Communists and who sympathise with Marxism and the wider anti-capitalist movement. Left Wing criticisms and the anti-capitalist movement are still very much alive today.

Related Posts

The Traditional Marxist Perspective on Society – Eight Key Ideas

Eight Criticisms of Traditional Marxism