A hyperreflexive blog focussing on critical sociology, infographics, Buddhism and extreme early retirement

Archive for the 'Essay Plans' Category

Social class and educational achievement essay plan

Posted by Realsociology on 30th March 2011

Assess the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (20)

Let this post stand as a monument to how much I hate marking essays – I just spent 20 minutes writing it – the unconscious motivation obviously being to avoid marking four dozen with same title, and then all the other essays whose return is so overdue! Sorry students!

Of course in the true spirit of not-quite-sharing-my best A-level= resources (I am in competition after all!) this is not perfect and only a first draft….

Focussing on home background initially, we can look at how material and cultural factors might affect a child’s education.

The lower classes are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold children back in education because of a lack access to resources such as computers, or living in a smaller house means they would be less likely to have a quiet, personal study space. In extreme situations, children may have a worse diet and a colder house, which could mean  illness and time off school. According to Gibson and Asthana, the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation.  This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education.

Also, the amount of money one has and the type of area one lives in affects the type of school a child can get to. Richer parents have more choice of school because they are more likely to have two cars or be able to afford public transport to get their children to a wider range of schools. Also, house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools can be up to 20% higher than similar houses in other areas – richer parents are more able to afford to move to these better schools. At the other end of the social class spectrum, those going to school in the most deprived areas may suffer disruptions in school due to gang related violence. All of this suggests that location, which is clearly part of your ‘home background’ in the broader sense of the word, is a major factor in educational achievement.

Cultural deprivation also has a negative effect on children at home. Bernstein pointed out that working class children are more likely to be socialised into the restricted speech code and so are less able to understand teachers at school compared to their middle class peers who speak in the elaborated speech code. The classes are also taught the value of immediate rather than deferred gratification, and so are less likely to see the value of higher education. In these theories, home background influences children all the way through school.

Although the concept of cultural deprivation is decasdes old, more recent research suggests it is still of relevance. Fenstein’s (2003) research found that lower income is strongly correlated with a lack of ability to communicate, while research by Conor et al (2001) found that being socialised into poverty means working class students are less likely to want to go to university than middle class students because they are more ‘debt conscious’.

Cultural Capital Theory also suggests that home background matters to an extent – this theory argues that middle class parents have the skills to research the best schools and the ability to help children with homework – and to intervene in schools if a child falls behind (as Diana’s research into the role of mothers in primary school education suggested). However, cultural capital only advantages a child because it gets them into a good school –suggesting that it is the school that matters at least as much as home background. There wouldn’t be such a fuss over, and such competition between parents over schools if the school a child went to didn’t have a major impact on a child’s education!

In fact, one could argue that probably the most significant advantage a parent can give to their child is getting them into a private school. To take an extreme case, Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire costs £16000/ year – a boarding school which confers enormous advantage on these children and provides personalised access via private trips to elite secondary schools Eton and Harrow. In such examples, it is not really home background that is advantaging such children – it is simply access to wealth that allows some parents to get their children into these elite boarding schools and the schools that then ‘hothouse’ their children through a ‘high ethos of expectation’ smaller class sizes and superb resources.

Similarly, the case of Mossborn Academy and Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius programme show that schools can overcome disadvantage at home – if they provide strict discipline and high expectation.

Although all of the above are just case studies and thus of limited use in generating a universal theory of what the ‘major cause’ of differences in educational achievement by social class might be, many similar studies have suggested that schools in poorer areas have a lower ethos of expectation (from Willis’ classic 1977 research on the lads to Swain’s research in 2006). It is thus reasonable to hypothesis that the type of school and in school factors such as teacher labelling and peer groups might work to disadvantage the lower classes as Becker’s theory of the ideal pupil being middle class and Willis’ work on working class counter school cultures would suggest, although in this later case, Willis argues that the lads brought with them an anti-educational working class masculinity, so home factors still matter here.

Finally – Social Capital theory also suggests that home background is not the only factor influencing a child’s education – rather it is the contacts parents have with schools – and later on schools with universities and business – that are crucial to getting children a good education, and making that education translate into a good job.

So is it home background or school factors that matter? The research above suggests home background does have a role to play, however, you certainly cannot disregard in school factors in explaining class differences in educational achievement either – in my final analysis, I would have to say that the two work together – middle class advantage at home translating into better schooling, and vice versa for the working classes.

Related Posts

A Longitudinal Study by the JRF focussing on the importance of parental aspirations in explaining educational achievement

The main ’causes’ of class differences in educational achievement (another JRF study)

A summary of four pieces of research on home factors and educational achievement

Video Animation explaining cultural deprivation

Video Animation explaining cultural capital

Posted in Education, Essay Plans | 3 Comments »

Examine sociological perspectives on Prison as a form of Punishment in society (21)

Posted by Realsociology on 11th January 2011

1. Functionalists would point to the positive functions prison might perform in society –Prison could act as a deterrent – thus reinforcing social regulation; and it should also work to maintain equilibrium and balance in our society – making up for the failings of other institutions such as the family and the education system – restoring order through incapacitating those who break the law.

Ultimately however, one might criticize the effectiveness of prison – given that there is a 60% reoffending rate it isn’t really effective in restoring equilibrium in the first place – what prison does most of the time is resocialise people into criminal norms, in the extreme people become institutionalized and unable to reintegrate into society once released.

2. Marxists argue that by relying on prison, we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty which lead to crime. Furthermore, the imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system; the imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it; and we may also add a fourth benefit, that all of the police, court and media focus on working class street crime means that our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.

Supporting evidence for the Marxist view comes from the fact that there are higher rates of imprisonment in more unequal countries.

Left realists criticise Marxists for absolving criminals from blame – people in jail mostly deserve to be there and their victims are most likely to be working class themselves.
3. Michel Foucault sees the growth of prison as a means of punishment as reflecting the move from sovereign power to disciplinary power – in traditional societies power was exercised on people’s physical bodies – punishment was harsh – it was a spectacle – today power is exercised through surveillance – the state no longer beats criminals – it just subjects them to increased surveillance – the theory is that people change their behavior because they know they are being monitored constantly. Prison seams more humane than physical punishment but in reality it is much more invasive as a means of social control.
One criticism of Foucault is that he fails to recognize that many prisoners do not change their behavior even though they are being watched!

4. Since the 1980s there has been a significant increase in the use of imprisonment in the United Kingdom – numbers have roughly doubled since 1990 with the total prison population now standing at about 84000 and we have one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the western world.

This increase has gone hand in hand with the implementation of Right Realist policies that emphasize rational choice theory as the cause of crime and zero tolerance as the solution to crime. The state claims that tougher penalties are one of the major causes of declining crime rates.

5. However David Garland points out that the crime rate has fallen in many countries over the last two decades, even in those that do not imprison as many people as the UK.

David Garland’s view the increasing use of imprisonment in the United States is that we now live in a era of mass incarceration – the United States locks up a massive proportion of the unemployed (Garland estimates as many as one third of all unemployed people are actually in jail in the USA) – and many of these become locked in a cycle of ‘transcarceration’ – where they shift between different agencies of state control and never fully reintegrate into society once having been in jail.

Garland actually argues that the reason the US and the UK lock up so many people is because of neo-liberalism – neo-liberal policies have made these societies more unequal and more individualistic – life has become harsher – and thus it is easier for the state to justify harsher penalties.

6. Critics of the ‘overuse of prison’ argue that we should employ alternatives – by using curfews, community service and treatment orders – because these have a lower reoffending rate – mainly because they do not remove an offender from society.

It is also worth noting that the characteristics of the prison population are very different to the characteristics of the population as a whole. People who are over-represented include ethnic minority groups, men, the underclass and the young. It is also worth noting that many female prisoners are likely to have suffered physical and emotional abuse and many claim they are in jail because of pressure to do criminal acts coming from their male partners.

7. To conclude, given the massive reoffending rate – and thus failure of prison to rehabilitate offenders – critical perspectives such as Garland’s remind us not to fall into the simplistic analysis of Functionalism and Right Realism who see prison as an effective means of social control.

The critical approaches of Marxism, Foucault and Garland are probably the most useful here as these remind us that it is the rise of neo-liberal hegemony since the 1970s and right realism since the 1990s that have lead to an increasing crime rate, and then to the increases in prison populations experienced in neo-liberal countries such as the UK and the USA.

Related Posts

The Spirit Level – how inequality effects the crime rate

Also check out my other blog – ReviseSociology

Posted in Controlling Crime, Crime and Deviance, Essay Plans | No Comments »

A2 Crime and Deviance – Methods in context essay plan

Posted by Realsociology on 6th December 2010

Examine the strengths and limitations of using Covert Participant Observation to research the extent to which Racism exists in the Police Force (15)

Research is needed on this topic is because it would help us to answer the question of whether ethnic minorities are over represented in the prison population due to their having higher underlying rates of offending or whether this is because the police over-policing minority groups.

As things stand at the moment – we cannot be sure of the extent to which police racism exists – the police themselves claim they are not racist, and direct observations such as those carried out by Waddington et al (2004) suggest that police stop and searches are proportionate to the visibility of ethnic minorities. However, self-report studies suggest that underlying rates of offending are very similar across ethnic groups and the idea that black people are seven times more criminal than white people doesn’t seem right at an intuitive level, so there is still a very big question mark over whether the police actually are Racist. Given that official statistics and previous research tell us different things, there is urgent need for further, valid research on this topic, and covert PO is typically regarded as yielding data that is high in validity.  

Covert Participant observation is one of the few methods, if not the only method, whereby we would get a valid insight into the extent of police racism because the police should act naturally because they do not know they are being observed. If you were to use any kind of overt method – be it overt observation, questionnaires or interviews, to investigate Racism, you would not get valid data because not only are Racist practices socially undesirable, any policeman found to be discriminatory would be dismissed, so even if they were racist, they would not act racist when researched. 

One problem of using this method for this topic is gaining access to the police force in the first place – this would either involve gaining permission from the police authorities to pose as a police officer for the duration of the research or to apply to the police force and go through the training process as one documentary maker did for the BBC in 2004. The problem with the former route is that you would probably not be allowed access by the police because they might argue that this could harm the public; the police may also be worried about your findings – in the wake of Stephen Lawrence and the McPherson enquiry the police are very sensitive about their public image over Race Relations and would probably not invite any research that might undermine this. A problem with the second methods, of covertly accessing the police is that it is both unethical in that you are deceiving everyone, and posing a as police officer is illegal.

Whatever way you did this research it would also be time consuming – in the case of the BBC documentary the researcher spent more than a year gaining access and his cover was blown after only a few months ‘on the beat’. A second limitation is that you can only do this method with a very limited sample of police officers would negatively affect the representativeness of the research – even over the course of a year you are only likely to become intimate enough with a handful of officers for them to ‘come out’ as Racists. One could thus in no way generalise one’s findings to the whole of the police force across the country, or even to the police force one conducts one’s research within.

Furthermore, while one may find evidence of racist attitudes, or hear tales of racist practices, you would have little or no control over the sample of police officers who you came into direct contact with are only ever likely to be ‘on the beat’ with one other officer at a time, and you would have no choice in who that officer was, so you would not be able to verify any reports of racism first hand. This would be a problem as racist officers may exaggerate their racist behaviour to others they think are racist to gain status, meaning that the data gained here is no more valid than that gained through interviews or questionnaires.

Covert Observation is also unreliable – given that one could not record data easily we are totally dependent on the researcher’s own definitions and interpretations of what constitutes racist attitudes and practises and these interpretations would, practically speaking, be unverifiable.

Finally, because racism is such an emotive issue, and this type of research is extremely draining, one would assume that any individual doing this research would have strong feelings about it, thus there would be a danger of researcher bias exaggerating any slight act that could be interpreted as racist. This fact, combined with the extreme unrepresentativeness of this method means that any evidence of Racism uncovered should be treated with extreme caution.  Given the problems of researching this topic it would appear that one may not gain a valid picture of the nature and extent of police racism by using this method after all!

This is just one possible essay!

Posted in Crime and Deviance, Essay Plans | No Comments »

Examine Sociological Perspectives on State Crime

Posted by Realsociology on 11th November 2010

Given that committing crime involves breaking the law and given that the state is the origin of the law, it would initially appear that the concept of the state committing crime is an oxymoron.

 As one would expect, this would appear to be the line taken by the government – politicians sometimes seem to be queuing up to condemn street crime, benefit fraud, anti-social behaviour, and violent students trashing their party headquarters,  implying threat the government and its representatives are the upholders of the law.

 The idea that the state does not commit crime is also the line take by Marxist Criminologists – but these argue that the state uses its power to define its own acts of aggression (war) and theft (the history of colonialism) as legal.

However, the United Nations Charter, developed after WWII, which most nations have signed up to and which is legally binding, makes it possible for states to commit crimes against new International Laws.

 For example, the UN charter expresses that countries can only go to war either if they are invaded by another country, or if the UN Security Council sanctions it, and thus this makes it theoretically possible for states to commit crimes by going to war illegally.

 Something else which makes the concept of state crime possible is The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights – which declares that humans have a number of rights which cannot be breached by states – the right to not be slaves, the right to democratic representation, the right to not be persecuted on the basis of religion or ethnicity, the right to a fair trial, and the right to not be tortured for example.

 Numerous states since WWII have been found guilty of Human Rights Abuses and ‘Crimes against humanity’- most obviously Nazi Germany’s acts against the Jews in the holocaust, but more recently the Rwandan government has been found guilty of genocide against the Tutsis. Notably, the Chinese government has also been accused of stifling freedom of speech because of its tendency to lock up dissident journalists. Amnesty International records hundreds of cases of such state crimes each year.

 Such state crimes are usually associated with ‘Rogue states’, however, it is not only ‘rogue states’ that have been accused of war crimes. Kofi Anan, the then secretary general of the UN, said in 2004 that the US/ UK invasion of Iraq was illegal as it had not been done in self-defence and it had not been sanctioned by the UN – moreover there is considerable evidence that US/ UK soldiers were involved in torturing captured Iraqis during that war.

 Some commentators such as Noam Chomsky go even further, arguing that the invasion of Iraq is simply the culmination of a long history of the American government using force illegally (by UN standards) to remove anti-American governments and to install new regimes that are pro- American (pro- big business) – meaning that the spread of global capitalism has been facilitated by illegal acts of aggression on the part of the US government.

 Of course these claims are hard to assess because, due to the official secrets act, criminologists do not gain full access to government records until decades after these events have taken place. However, there are enough leaked official documents to suggest that the planned use of non UN sanctioned force has been part of US foreign policy since WW2.

 If the above point is true this means that ‘war crimes’ done by the US far outweigh the costs of all violent street crime committed in the UK since crime records began in 1981.

 Moving away from these obvious forms of state crime, it is also possible for states, or agents of the state, to breach national laws – this has been the case with Police Racism – following the Stephen Lawrence case in the 1990s the McPherson enquiry found that the MET police were institutionally racist for example. Another example is the recent Tory budget cuts – these disproportionately disadvantage women and so the Fawcett society is challenging the legality their legality as the government are legally obliged to ensure that its polices to not discriminate on the grounds of gender or  ethnicity (but not class!), which in this case they do. 

 The recent ‘expenses scandal’ also shows how MPs can fiddle their expenses, thus committing crimes against society, although most of these have avoided criminal prosecution because these matters are dealt with in- house, again demonstrating the power of those in the state to define their own immoral acts as legal while still condemning benefit fraudsters. 

 By way of a brief conclusion – whether states engage in criminal acts or not depends on what legal standards you are judging them by – by internal national standards, many immoral acts that governments engaged in will of course be deemed to be legal by those in power that make the law, however, by UN standards, much of what ‘rogue states’ and even democratic states do can be deemed to be illegal. The challenge that remains for the globalising 21st century, and a challenge not yet met, is that of how to actually hold those more powerful states to account when they engage in acts of aggression to further their interests against the dictates of International Law.

Posted in Crime and Deviance, Essay Plans | No Comments »

Social Control Essay Plan

Posted by Realsociology on 20th September 2010

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.


Posted in Crime and Deviance, Essay Plans | No Comments »