Sociology on TV – Free schools

Watched an interesting documentary about a journalist and his middle class associate’s attempt to establish a ‘free school’ in West London. Their plans have been agreed by the Department for Education and theirs will be one of the first 16 Free Schools to be established in the UK – to be up and running by September 2011. 

 Their hearts seemed to be in the right place – they wanted an open access school where children of all backgrounds and abilities could go – but there was signigificant opposition to this group of middle class parents setting up their own school – mainly focussing around the concern that  this school will turn into a mainly white middle class enclave.

Personally I think that the strength of reaction against free schools are because these people see how unfair it is – the middle classes have always managed to make the system work in their interests – they did it with grammar schools, and marketisation – andnow  this free school system gives parents, who will typically be middle class becuase of their greater cultural capital, even more power to shape the system in their interests to an even greater extent.

However, the  West London Free School defends itself against these claims and you might like to watch Michael Gove, the education secretary outlinng the case case for free schools and you can find out more about free schools at the government’s web site

Personally, my judgement thus far is as follows

– I believe that some of the founder members of the West London Free School genuinly believe in setting up an open access school to children of all class backgrounds – but this won’t actually end up happenning – their self interest will get the better of them – and self interest will mean keeping the school middle class.

As to the Micheal Gove – he is both a Tory and a politician – two very good reasons to not believe anything he says.  The only reason I recommend you listen to his speach is so you can analyse how far Tory education practise strays from this vision (which is a lie – we may as well say it like it is).

Our uncritical acceptance of the budget cuts….

Another nice quote from Polly Toynbee’s blog about how we are accepting the need for budget cuts so uncritically…..In my mind this is a good example of neo-liberal hegemony.  

“It has become the grown-up, rational, received opinion that there is no alternative to budget cuts of unthinkable proportions. People believe that Labour spending, not global finance, caused the deficit. So strong is the stranglehold on most media, a brainwashed nation has most people blindly repeating the mantra that deficit reduction, fast and furious, is the only medicine. Any other course is Red poison. If Labour tries to talk of its own values, its convictions, its alternative view of the world, it is attacked for indulging in ideology, not practical economics.”

Some research on gender Socialisation – 2010

In this article –  –– Cordilia Fine argues that biological differences only account for 3% of the difference between boys and girls, gender stereotypes held by parents are far more important in shaping a child’s gender identity.

Where gender is not emphasised the differences between boys and girls are minimal…

Social Control Essay Plan

Assess the Contribution of Social Control Theory to an understanding of Crime and Deviance (21)

Social Control Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. This is associated with the Functionalist point of view, fist being expounded by Emile Durkheim who argued that when social institutions such as the family, education, and work, lose control over people, they effectively miss out on socialisation and suffer from anomie, a state of normlesseness, which can lead to criminal and deviant behaviour.

This idea was developed by Hirshchi who argued that when an individual’s bonds of attachment to institutions weaken, when, for example, they do not feel as if they belong to institutions, or when they are not involved with institutions, they are more likely to commit crime.

The blame for crime lies with weak institutions and their agents. For example, single parent families and ‘absent dads’ are accused of lacking control over their children, as are unstable families. This theory would also predict that children with a history or truancy and exclusion would be more likely to turn to crime and those who are long term unemployed could also be a problem.

This is also the point of view emphasised by both the present labour government and the conservative opposition. Jack Straw has recently argued that ‘Dads need Lads’ sound bite, and David Cameron’s[1] recent speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers of the problems faced by lone mothers and the underclass.

Initially, it seams that there is a lot of evidence to support Social Control Theory. For example,  The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Faring ton and West 1991).  This Study of 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s.The study found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.

The daily telegraph recently reported that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; and children from broken homes are 70 per cent more likely to become drug addicts.’

Criminologist Martin Glyn who works closely with young offenders has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.

Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that ‘Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home.

One take on ‘SCT’ is Charle’s Murray’s theory of the underclass. Recent government statistics suggest that there is a relationship between the long term unemployed and youth crime. Those known as NEETS are much more likely to commit crime. In this sense it is a whole group rather than individuals who socialise their children into anti-social values.

There are many Criminologists who argue that SCT is too simplistic…

For a start, it could be regarded as deterministic. Not all broken families’ children commit crime, and there is no immediate causal link between the two variables.

Other factors often influence whether a child from a broken home to turn to crime.  Albert Cohen’s status frustration theory reminds us that the pressure to attain status within a deviant group may lead an individual to get involved in violent crime to gain a reputation. Many recent documentaries on the problem of gang crime suggest there is some truth in this.

In addition to these pull factors, poverty and the area one lives in are both correlated with criminal behaviour.

Also, Merton’s strain theory reminds us that much economic crime is a result of a strain between the success goals of material wealth and the lack of opportunities for many among the lower classes to commit crime. He argued that some crime was a result of effective socialisation into the success goals (so no ‘lack of control’ here) and lack of legitimated opportunities such as high paid jobs to achieve these goals. Many sociologists who have carried out qualitative research with gangs have found evidence to back this theory up: Nightingale, Bourgeois, and Venkatesh.

Strain theory suggests that it is the fault of the system for encouraging us to want more than we can get, which creates the conditions that makes crime rational. More radical Marxists take there analysis further, arguing that it is the fault of the Capitalist system that breeds selfish individualism, inequality and poverty, all of which can lead to crime. A similar view was offered by Willis who argued that lack of control was less to blame than a system that did not meet the needs of the Lads who he studied.

Much of the evidence cited for SCT is quantitative, and even if 70% of criminals come from broken homes, it will still be a minority of families whose children commit crime. If we look at those minority of cases who do commit crim in more depth, we realise that many of them face multiple problems such as living in deprived areas and drug and alcohol abuse.

SCT theory is thus problematic because it stereotypes all ‘broken families’ as potentially problematic. It could even be seen as ideological because it blames a minority group for societies problems, rather than looking at the problems of the system.

It could be that SCT is a popular theory because lone parent families and NEETs are a minority and an easy target. In addition, such a simplistic theory is easy for the mass population to understand, as it fits populist discourse. SCT is also the kind of theory that can be summarised in ‘sound bite’ media, and wins politicians votes.

In conclusion, while there may be some truth in SCT, we need to be careful of adopting lack of social control and weak institutions as the main cause of crime, it is only one factor amongst many, and alone, it provides us with a very limited understanding of the causes of crime.


Latest stats on class inequality in oxbridge admissions

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.

Talk of class is not exactly guaranteed to put Oxford and Cambridge’s admissions people at their ease. For 2008-9, their government target for state-schools intake was almost 70%. Oxford came in at 54.7%, while Cambridge managed 59.4%.


The wealth of the richest 1000 grew by £77bn last year

According to this article the richest 1000 people in the UK saw their wealth increase by a third last year-  an increase of £77bn – If I were in power I would give these people the opportunity to  donate these profits to socially useful public services – (no one can actually earn this much money after all), if they chose not to, I would jail them and forcibly take their assets for the benefit of all. It really is morally unnaccetable that we are facing cuts of billions of pounds from our public services while the rich just go on getting richer.

The government’s response to this situation is of course to put in place budgets that make the poor even poorer!

Sociopops – Dose One – As for Bias


You have to wait ’til the very last lines to get the ‘anomie’ reference –
‘Adrift in a sea of normless-ness
Anomie shifts all dormant sets’

(At least I think that’s what the lines are!)

Interestingly Lyrics mania has the lyrics down as
‘upset a drift in a sea of normless-ness
And a knee-shift of dormant sets’

This clearly doesn’t make any sense. I would have left a comment informing them of the error, but I didn’t have time or the desire to register with the site.

To be honest I don’t know what the song’s about – listen to it – Dose is clearly pretty intelligent – I just wanted to win the prize for the most obscure reference to a sociology concept in a song.

Dose isn’t political – a true child of post-modernism – just commenting on how he gets through life in a fragmented world –

“I don’t have a message, a political decree. There’s no grail. All art is really about ‘How do I make it through these days?’ That’s why my writing is so fragmented. My style is very collage-oriented, junk-collector. What I love about poetry is when you can isolate a moment and hit the nail on the head. But I’m a TV baby and a lot of the voices I choose to use are from that medium. The way I hear writing and recording is like some exploding television program or a budget dream with special effects.”

You might like this too – Dose in action


Check out this for some history – it refers to his sexuality, which I’m sure you’ll all wondering about…

Should we ban the world cup for the sake of women?

Two interesting articles – the first outlines police concerens over domestic violence increasing during previous world cup tournaments and announces measures to tackle it in the June 2010 one, the second is West Yorkshire police claiming success because there was less of an increase in DV during the 2010 tournament compared to the 2006 tournament, even if there was still significantly higher incidents compared to the same days in 2009 when there was no football.

West Yorkshire Police seam to think that their campaign was successful because they only got 284 reports of DV on the day Germany defeated England!

This is an interesting post about the history of England team members treating women badly –

Perhaps banning the world cup is an option to prevent DV against women? In my view the tournament is almost as overated as the England team.

23 things they don’t tell you about Capitalism

A brief summary of some of the key themes in a talk by Ha-Joon Chang based on his book ’23 things they don’t tell you about Capitalism’ – relevant to the A2 Module on Global Development – He is basically critiquing neo-liberalism.

He claims that 95% of economics is common sense deliberately made complicated and that ordinary people can understand most of economics fairly easily. He wants to help ordinary people engage in ‘active economic citizenship’ and demand the right decisions from their leaders…. I imagine he would say a big fat ‘NO’ to the Tory cuts!

This is very much along the same lines as Joseph Stiglitz and David Harvey btw…!

His basic point seams to be that Capitalism is the best economic system in world history, yet our present form of Western Capitalism (there are many types) – ie neo-liberalism – has served us very badly. We have been told that things have been going very well – what with post-industrialism and the new knowledge economy – but things have not been going well since the 1970s. Neo-Liberal policies have been very bad at generating economic growth – the world economy has slowed down massively over the last three decades. What has also happened is that the rich have got richer and many economies have become less stable.

He also points out that in those countries where neo-liberal policies have been applied the most rigourously have often seen the lowest levels of growth – such as in much of sub-sharahan Africa. Those countries that have grown the quickest – China and India did not apply neo-liberal policies to the extent that countries in Africa did.  

Anyway – just some of the points he makes – some of the things neo-liberal idealogues do not tell us about Capitalism are as follows (he is destroying the myths of free market, neo-liberal ideology)….

1. There is no such thing as a ‘free market’ – ‘freedom of the market is in the eyes of the beholder. The very definition of the ‘free market’ – who can participate, what can be bought and sold for example – is political.

2. Under neo-liberalism… Companies are not run in the interests of the owners – these days companies are owned by free floating shareholders who are primarily interested in short term profit (high dividends) which can harm the long term interests of the company – which requires investment in infrastructure and training of the workers. The shareholders can always move onto another company.

3. The market is not just – he gives two examples of two bus drivers – one in India who gets paid less than one in Germany – the chances are that the driver in India is more skilled as he drives on more dangerous roads….

4. We are still living in planned economies, despite the collapse of communism

5. Making rich people richer does not make the rest of us rich

7. People in poor countries are more entrepeneurial than people in wealthier companies…


NB – DEFINITION – Neo- liberalism is an economic and political ideology that believes state control over the economy is undesirable and seeks to transfer control of the economy from the state to the private sector. It gained popularity amongst politicians and influential economists following the economic crisis of the late 1970s. It involves three main policies –


  • Deregulation – Nation States placing less restraint on private industry. In practise this means fewer laws that restrict companies making a profit – making it easier for companies to fire workers, pay them less, and allowing them to pollute.
  • Privatisation – where possible public services such as transport and education should be handed over to private interests for them to run for a profit.
  • Cut backs in public spending – taxes should be low and so investment in public services would be cut back.