Sociology on TV – Women, the BBC Documentary

This BBC documentary is in three episodes – the first charts the rise of the Feminist movement in  the 1970s ,and includes interviews with radical Feminists such as Susan Brownmiller, Kate Millet and Germain Greeer. The second episode focusses on interviews with families and looks at the variety of domestic roles today while the final episode looks at the views and activities of the London Feminist Network, which provides an interesting insight into the issues that concern contemporary Feminists (mainly the objectification of women’s bodies, and its relationship to violence against women being indicative of gender inequality. )

All documentaries are available to college students on estream – just type in ‘women’ to the search engine

Web site of the Week – RSA videos

 

I just wanted to flag up these RSA videos as an excellent way of introducing some very complex ideas – the ideas covered in these videos go beyond sociology – there are typically about theories that draw on many different academic disciplines, but for those of you that like thinking about sociology/ politics/ philosophy and want to push your understanding beyond the A level syllabus these are excellent. The link below is to many of the videos they’ve done and they’re also on youtube – http://comment.rsablogs.org.uk/videos/

As to the The RSA web sit e it says  “For over 250 years the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.”

The RSA offer a number of pamphlets and a good events (mainly lectures) series that focus on a wide range of political issues – althogether very interesting stuff – OK this is way beyond A level stuff but this is a good example of how Sociology can be relevant to real life.

So here we have it – 300 years after the Enlightenment spawned Sociology – so the Enlightenment tradition continues – Note that all decent sociologists and all decent academics draw on material from many disciplines and this is something I would encourage you do do as you develope – BUT – when it comes to the exam, narrow you foucs and try not to be too clever – or you may fail! When you finish the exams you can get back to being properly clever again!

Tory cuts – Britain’s Shock Doctrine

Hey kiddos – my predictions about the toryscum shafting people and planet for the sake of corporate profits have come true –

Check out this item  in which George Monbiot outlines how Giddeon’s cuts benefit his corporate chums.

A brief extract – ‘Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.’

Interestingly Monbit draws on Naomic Klein’s shock doctrine - one of the most important leftist books of this century – read it!

So if you think Marxism (well OK left-libertarianism) isn’t relevant – think again!

Summary of Runaway World by Anthony Giddens

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There has been a considerable amount of research and theorising into globalisation and its consequences over the past decade, yet little of this has filtered down to students of A level Sociology. This article aims to address this by summarizing Anthony Giddens’ views on globalisation and its consequences for culture and identity in the West, focusing on the two core themes of risk and detraditionalisation. This article is written with the new AQA AS module in Culture and Identity in mind, and should be useful to any student who wishes to better understand how Globalisation affects daily life.

 

Giddens illustrates how  two consequences of Globalisation, namely the rise of a ‘risk consciousness’ and detraditionalisation,  undermine the ability of institutions such as the Nation State, the family and religion, to provide us with a sense of security and stability. These institutions are no longer able to offer us a clearly defined norms and values that tell us how we should act in society. This situation has far reaching consequences for how individuals experience daily life and for how they go about constructing their identities.

Globalisation, manufactured risks and risk consciousness

The title of Giddens’ accessible modern classic ‘Runaway World’ immediately suggests to the reader that he perceives globalisation as an unpredictable, destabilsing process. In Giddens’ own words: “We are the first generation to live in global society, whose contours we can as yet only dimly see. It is shaking up our existing ways of life, no matter where we happen to be. This is…. emerging in an anarchic, haphazard, fashion… it is not settled or secure, but fraught with anxieties, as well as scarred by deep divisions. Many of us feel in the grip of forces over which we have no control” (Giddens 2002).

One aspect of globalisation is the emergence of ‘manufactured risks’ which are man made, having arisen as a result of new technologies developed through advances in scientific knowledge. Many of these new technologies, such as nuclear and biotechnologies bring about risks which are truly global in scope. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, for example, resulted in nuclear fall out spreading thousands of miles to several countries, while the burning of fossil fuels in the United States may lead to flooding in Bangladesh.

According to Giddens, we have little experience of how to deal with these new threats as they have only been in existence for the last half a century. He argues that there is a “new riskiness to risk” in that these new technologies could have catastrophic consequences for humanity, yet we do not yet know all of the consequences associated with them. We cannot be certain, for example, of the possible effects that modifying the genetic structure of our basic food stuffs will have, and we do not know exactly how much of global warming is due to human influence.

Many of the above problems require international action, as well as co-coordinated local action; and in this context, Nation States appear ill equipped to deal with such global problems. In addition, in the context of imperfect knowledge, competing expert voices emerge, such as with the debate over whether Britain should build more nuclear power stations, or whether or not we should support Genetically Modified crops. As a result, the experts employed by politicians become just one voice amidst a field of experts citing different evidence that point to different courses of action.

Globalisation, Risk and Identity  

So what are the consequences of this situation for self identity? On the one hand, we have identity politics and on the other, we have apolitical apathy. Those who are concerned about the global problems mentioned above and who perceive the government as being ill equipped to deal with these new global risks, have gravitated towards New Social Movements such as the green movement. At the more radical end of these movements, one’s whole lifestyle, one’s whole being and identity is oriented towards addressing global problems, at the local and international level, through protesting globally and acting locally.

However, such radical action is only undertaken by the relative few, and many remain apathetic towards global risks. Political apathy can also be easily justified in the context of imperfect knowledge, in which no one can ever be certain of the full extent of these global risks.

Detraditionalisation

A second major theme of Giddens’ work is that of detraditionalisation. Giddens argues that “For someone following a traditional practice, questions don’t have to be asked about alternatives. Tradition provides a framework for action that can go largely unquestioned… tradition gives stability, and the ability to construct a self identity against a stable background.

Globalisation brings this to an end as local cultures and traditions are exposed to new cultures and ideas, which often means that traditional ways of acting come to be questioned. As a result of globalisation, societies and cultures go through a process of detraditionalisation, where day to day life becomes less and less informed by ‘tradition for the sake of tradition’.

A good example of an institution undergoing this process is marriage. Although the tradition of marriage remains, a couple is much less likely to get married simply for the sake of marriage, either  because it is ‘what people do, or what their parents did’. A typical couple today will discuss whether they should get married or not; they will think about whether it is right for them, and if they do decide to get married, they will then discuss where they should get married, and a whole range of other aspects associated with the marriage ceremony itself.

This theme of Detraditionalisation is to be found in many other areas of life. If we think back to the example of identity politics as expressed through New Social Movements, this tells us that traditional ways of political engagement are changing. Giddens also argues that globalisation has even lead to religions becoming detraditionalised, and there is plenty of evidence that he is right, as practices such as church attendance in Christianity and veiling in Islam appear to be more a matter of personal choice than of unquestioning adherence to tradition.

Cosmopolitanism and Democratisation

The positive side of detraditionalisation is the spread of what Giddens refers to as cosmopolitanism in which the individual is much less constrained by arbitrary tradition than in ‘traditional’ or pre-global societies. In a cosmopolitan society, the individual has much more freedom to reflect on already existing cultural practices such as those associated with marriage, religion and politics, and to choose which aspects of these cultural practices suit him or her.

As a result of this, culture becomes something that is more fluid, more open to debate and more open to adaptations by individuals than ever before in human history. Culture, according to Giddens, becomes more democratic as more people have more of a say in how culture will inform their lives.

Detraditionalisation and self identity

Detraditionalisation also has consequences for self-identity. According to Giddens “Where tradition lapses, and life-style choice prevails, self-identity has to be created and recreated on a more active basis than before.” Giddens further argues that individuals must engage in an ongoing process of reflecting upon their lives and adapting them in the light of new knowledge that arises in a rapidly changing, globalising world. This whole process of ongoing reflecting on one’s life and changing accordingly is known as reflexivity.

Reflexivity is necessary because many of our institutions no longer provide us with a clear set of pre-given norms and values. Modern relationships, including marriages, no longer come with a set of clear norms and values, duties and responsibilities, instead, these need to be negotiated. Similarly, for those that are religious, the ‘meaning of ‘being Christian’ or ‘being ‘Muslim’ is much more open to debate than ever before, and for those who want to get political, this is no longer limited to union membership, or party membership and voting in general and local elections, one has to choose between a whole range of political activism. The individual is faced today with a situation in which modern institutions no longer simply tell the individual how to act, or how to ‘be’, they no longer act as stabilizing forces that anchor individuals to society in clearly defined ways. Instead, we have to choose which aspects of tradition suit us, and be able to justify to others why we have made these choices.

Even once we have decided on what the rules of a relationship are, on what our religion means to us, or what kind of political action we should engage in, the rapid pace of social change, brought on by globalization means that we may well have to redefine our relationships and our religious and political identities over an over again. To give examples, a foreign firm relocating outside the United Kingdom may mean a career change, which could mean a renegotiation of the terms of a relationship; The recent decision of the government to build more nuclear power stations will lead many green activists to shift their political attentions to this issue, and the ongoing ‘threat of Islamic extremism’, exaggerated or not, has lead to a debate over the meaning of what it means to be British and Muslim.

Reflexivity, expert systems and therapy

Giddens argues that this constant need to adapt our identities in line with global changes has lead to the emergence of ‘expert systems’. These are found everywhere in British society, from the careers advisor, helping us to choose which degree is best suited to us, to the therapist and counselor, providing us assistance in the necessary task of continually reconstructing our identities.

The negative consequences of Globalisation and detraditionalisation

While Giddens is cautiously optimistic about the changes brought about by globalisation, in that he believes that global risks are something we can work together to deal with, and detraditionalisation opens up the possibility of a radical democratization of daily life, he does also point to two major problems.

The first of these is the increase in addiction in modern society. Today, people can develop recognized addictions to sex, food, gambling and even shopping. Giddens perceives this increase in addictions as being linked to detraditionalisation. In pre-global societies, stable traditions provided individuals with a link to the past, now this is gone, addiction is seen as an attempt by individuals to construct a coherent ‘narrative of the self’ through repetitive actions that provide comfort, thus linking actions today with actions to the past.

The second negative consequence of detraditionalisation is the rise of Fundamentalism, which Giddens sees as traditional practices that are defended by a blinkered commitment to ideologies and beliefs, and a resistance to engaging in dialogue about those views.

Evaluating  Giddens

Many contemporary critics, argue that Giddens’ view of contemporary societies is too optimistic.

Zygmunt Bauman essentially agrees with the fact that uncertainty in society requires most individuals to constantly engage in ‘identity construction’, but he also points out that the wealthy and powerful are the ones both creating and benefiting from an unstable, rapidly changing world, and that these people are much more able to defend themselves against the negative consequences of living in a runaway world.

Frank Furedi, who draws on Bauman,  argues that the expert systems that have emerged to assist us in the construction of our identities are not neutral institutions. He argues, amongst other things, that far from allowing individuals to be more autonomous actors, they actually encourage individuals to be dependent on expert advice.

I will summarise the work of these two contemporary critics of Giddens in a future article. Suffice to say for now that all three agree that Globalisation has far reaching consequences for the British society, culture and the ways in which we construct our identities.

You might also like…

A summary of Liquid Times by Zygmunt Bauman

Giddens’ Critique of Postmodernism – an uber-brief summary.

 

Bibliography

Giddens, Anthony (2002) Runaway World

Giddens, Anthony (1991) Modernity and Self Identity

Bauman, Zymunt (2007) Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty

Furedi, Frank (2004) Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age.

Web site of the Week – The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is an excellent site for keeping up to date with Criminological research – They say of themselves ‘Our mission is to promote just and effective responses to crime and related harms by informing and educating through critical analysis, research and public debate.’

You can subscribe to a monthly bulletin and they do a number of critical reseach papers.

To give you an idea of their kind of approach a few years back they ran a photography competition – exploring the question ‘what is crime’ through photography. The results can be viewed by clicking here

My particular favourite is the entry below – which struck a chord because I’ve been reading a lot about gang crime and media coverage of gang crime recently.

1193_181503s‘gemma’ – By Laura Pannack. ‘Society has a tendency to enforce blame on the younger generation for crime and violence. These negative stereo-types encourage further rebellion and prevent young people from gaining self confidence and aspiration; they fuel a lack of self worth and anger. I have intentionally left it unclear whether my subjects are offenders on probation, pupils with special needs, private school attendants or other young people I have encountered. Titled with the forename of each young person, gives the viewer a hint as to their identity without attaching stigma ? and emphasising the fact that each of my subjects is unique.’

Toxic Childhood

You may remember watching this video in class – with that psychopathic woman with the disturbing resemblence to Bruce Forsythe –

 

I used this to illustrate the Marxist view that ‘the family is a unit of consumption’ – What I didn’t mention is that it also serves as a good example of the ‘Toxic Childhood’ arguement – the idea that modern social changes are harmful to children.

Along the same lines, but in much more depth this is an interesting video from the institute of ideas that is relevant to the ‘toxic childhood’ debate.

The format is basically this – 2 people argue that we live in an age of ‘Toxic Childhood’ and secondly two people, one of whom is Niel Davenport, who writes for spiked (the same place I got that Frank Furedi article on ‘adultesence’ from) criticise thier points of view and ask them questions…

sleepykinsThe general gist seems to be that the first two have done lots of research into toxic childhood and make informed points backed up with evidence while the later two critics wave wafty overly intellectual and largely insubstantial statements at them to criticise them.

The Toxic Childhood camp wins the day in my view!

The video is divided into chapters and the best sections are the first few –

In the first section Agnes Nairn points out that whether we think advertising to children is acceptable depends on the way we view children – if you think children are in the process of becoming adults you will probably think they need protecting from advertising; if you think children are ‘beings who are already like adults’ then you will think advertising to them is fine.

In the second section she argues that children, and even teenagers (even 15 year olds) are emotionally immature, suffer higher levels of insecurity and lack the cognitive ability to realise they are being manipulated – and on this level advertising is wrong.

The next few sections talk about the reach of internet advertising – very much building on what the corporation DVD at the top of this post is talking about.

It goes on from there – with questions at the end!

The best books I ever read…..

Books – Ah books – If only students would read them!

My top five books with sociological content

At some point I will do a detailed analysis of why these books are in my top five – but for the most part it’s because they are typically based on rigorous research and move theoretical debates forward.   At some later point in time I will sort these by topic and add more in.

  1. Klein, N. (2008) The Shock Doctrine. London: Penguin (reprint edition).  
  2. Harvey D. (1991) The Condition of Postmodernity: An enquiry into the conditions of social change. Wiley- Blackwell.  
  3. Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion – Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  4. Chomsky, N. (2004) Hegemony or Survival: America’s quest for global dominance. London: Penguin Books.  
  5. Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K. (2009) The spirit level – Why more equal societies almost always do better. London: Penguin books.   

 And some other good ones I’ve read over the years… in alphabetical order by author….

Banyard, K. (2010) The equality illusion : The truth about men and women today. London: Faber and Faber.

Bauman, Z. (2000) Liquid Modernity. London: Polity Press.

Dowden, R. (2008) Africa: Altered states, ordinary miracles. London: Portobello books.  

Furedi, F. (2005) Culture of Fear. Continuum international publishing group Ltd (Revised edition).

Giddens, G. (1999) Runaway World: How globalisation is reshaping our lives. London: Profile books.  

Goldacre, B. (2008) Bad Science. London: Harper Collins.

Harvey D. (2004) The New Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford university press.  

Heale, J. (2008) One Blood: Inside Britain’s new street gangs. Simon & Schuster Ltd; First edition First Printing edition.

Levitt, S and Dubner, S. (2005)  Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything. London: London: Penguin books.

Monbiot, G. (2000) Captive State: The corporate takeover of Britain. London: Macmillan.

Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalisation and its discontents. London: Penguin

Toynbee, P and Walker D. (2008) Unjust Rewards: Exposing greed and inequality in Britain today. London: Granta Publications.

Venkatesh, S. (2008) Gang leader for a day: A rouge sociologist crosses the line. London: Penguin books.

Sociopops – Fortress Europe – Asian Dub Foundation

Clearly reflexive! –

Basically commenting on the hypocrisy of the west’s role in instigating wars abroad, adding to the problems of refugees and the amount of people in need of asylum, and then tightening boarder controls to prevent people getting into Britain – the song is a clear statement that asylum is a right – and comes from the perspective of those who identify with ‘global civil society’ rather than the British nation state.

A sample of some of the lyrics – check the full lyrics out on one of those free lyrics sites

“We’re the children of globalisation
No borders only true connection
Light the fuse of the insurrection
This generation has no nation

Break out of the detention centres
Cut the wires and tear up the vouchers
People get ready it’s time to wake up
Tear down the walls of Fortress Europe”

Kat Banyard – Violence against women

book-equality-illusionA few quotes adapated from Banyard’s ‘The equality illussion’

Amnesty International has declared violence against women as the gratest human rights scandal of our times.

One in four women in the UK will experience violence at the hand of a current or former partner

One in three women in the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused at some point in her life.

Domestic Violence causes more death and disability among women aged between 16-44 than than cancer or traffic accidents.

Pepertrators of domestic violence are portrayed as monsters, as abnormal. This is a lie.

Women are expected to take precautions against male violence and attempts to rape them (rape alarms, covering drinks in bars, getting taxis, always going out in twos, restricting their movements)

100 00 women are raped each year – 2000 every week – and yet only 6.5% are reported to the police.

If a rapist comes to trial, the vicitm is often viewed as partly sharing the blame for the rape.

Two women are murdered each week as a direct result of Intimate Partner Violence (100 a year, roughly 1/7 of all murders)

IPV has the highest rate of repeat victimisation of any crime

40-50% of female accident and emergency visits in the US are due to violence done by intimate partners.

The total cost of DV for the state, victims and employers is £23 billion a year.

Only 17 percent of rapes take place by strangers and only 13% in a public place, but analysis of newspaper reports show that 55% of them are about stranger rapes – Domestic rapes by partners (the overwhelming norm) is not seen as newsworthy.

60% of women who have had an experience that fits the legal definition of rape don’t define the act as rape because it doesn’t fit the ‘typical stranger scenario’ that they are taught is the norm.

It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million women in the world have undergone female genital mutilation – 66000 in the uk.

It is estimated that 5000 women are murdered each year in ‘honour killings’ – honour killings can take place because the woman has brought shame on the family – through wearing make up, losing her virginity outside of marriage or having an unapproved of boyfriend. Banyard sees this as an organised crime.

Banyard also tries to argue that plastic surgery etc. should be seen as a ‘harmful cultural practise stemming from gender equality.’

In western culture – millions have their flesh sucked, foreign bodies inserted under their skin and, increasingly, parts of their labia minora cut off for non medical purposes. We don’t name this a harmful cultural practise stemming from gender inequality, we call it plastic surgery.