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  1. 1. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.1Ascribed Status – status is determined by birth, ‘birth is destiny’. Usually a feature of non-industrialsociety. Social mobility is limited, but increasing a feature of industrial societies such as the UK.Ascription – a system in which status and therefore occupational, family and political roles aredetermined by circumstances of birth and inheritance such as gender, age ethnic group, religion,wealth etc.Authority – a form of power that is generally accepted as legitimate. Weber noted that authoritycould be rooted in traditions, customs and the charisma of a powerful personality. In modern states,legal-rational authority is the norm - authority is based on the law and written rules.Banding – a form of streaming used in schools. Studies suggest that differential treatment ofstudents by teachers often results in students internalising the negative or positive labels, andcounter school cultures appear amongst students in the lower sets. Marxists view streaming as partof the hidden curriculum, which convinces working class students that they are to blame for theireducational failure.Capitalism – an economic system in which the production of goods is organised for profit and sold ina free market. Marxists view capitalist societies as dominated by conflict, because the wealth andpower of the capitalist class derives from the exploitation of the working class.Case study – a research technique which involves the in-depth study of a single example of whateverthe sociologist is interested in. An example = Paul Willis’s ‘Learning to Labour’, in which he used avariety of methods to build up a case study of twelve working class boys in a Midlands school.Census – a government survey carried out every ten years since 1801, which delivers a questionnaireto every household in the nation. There is a legal requirement that everyone is included. Thecoalition government elected in 2010 are pledged to ending the census.Choice of research method – a decision that is usually made on the basis of practical, ethical andtheoretical considerations. A lot of studies use triangulation for practical reasons; it increases thereliability and validity of the study.Comprehensive school – a secondary school that educates all children regardless of their ability,class, gender or ethnicity. These schools were introduced from 1965 onwards as a response to abelief that the selective tripartite system was not meritocratic.Conservatism – a political philosophy which is generally associated with tradition and slow change.The Conservative Party was radically transformed by Thatcherism (1979-1992), with a focus on freemarket principles and minimal state interference. Such New Right ideas still form the basis of muchthinking today. Mrs Thatcher said her greatest achievement was the creation of ‘New Labour’.Content Analysis – a research method that involves the researcher identifying a set of categories andsystematically counting how many times each category appears with a given areas of the media.This method is popular with the Glasgow Media Group.Correlation – a regular relationship between two or more variables, e.g. the number of students onF.S.M. may correlate with achievement at GCSE. Correlation is not however causation, just becausethe number of umbrellas goes up when it rains, does not mean the umbrellas caused the rain.
  2. 2. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.2Correspondence theory – the view held by the US Marxists Bowels and Gintis that the structure(hierarchy) and relationships in schools corresponds to those in the workplace. School students andworkers are encouraged to passively accept authority/discipline and to gain any satisfaction fromextrinsic rewards rather than the work itself. Paul Willis rejected this theory as he argued thatworking class boys did not passively accept the authority of the school.Counter-school culture – may be formed by students who feel they are not valued by the school.Labelling theory similarly suggests that subcultures within the school are a reaction to negativeteacher expectations and streaming.Covert participant observation – a type of observation that involves researchers immersingthemselves totally in the culture and lifestyle of the group being studied without declaring theiridentity as sociologists. There are ethical issues with this method, but it is a reliable way of gainingan insight into the group being studied.Cultural capital – a concept introduced by Pierre Bourdieu which suggests that middle classindividuals who subscribe to the dominant culture are able to use it as form of capital in theeducation system to ensure success. Bourdieu argues that schools are not neutral institutions – theirorganisational structures and content are defined by the dominant culture. The way pupils arerequired to behave, speak, dress and learn are defined along middle class lines. Middle class parentstransmit various linguistic and cultural experiences/competencies to their children that put them atan advantage over their working class peers.Cultural depravation theory – the view expressed in a range of studies that working class and someethnic minority students cultures are deficient in that they fail to motivate their childreneducationally.Deferential voters – a term used mainly in the 1950 and 1960s to describe some working class voterswho seemed to vote against their class interests by voting Conservative. It was suggested that suchvoters were mainly older and lived in rural areas; they had an exaggerated respect for hierarchy,leaders with high social status.Deviant voter – a working class voter who votes Conservative, or a middle class voter who votesLabour. Neither party can ever win power without attracting a significant number of such voters.Diary – a type of personal document which can be used as a source of data for research. A way ofgaining historical perspective on an event or problem. Such documents carry the risk of bias or self-censorship.Direct action – a form of political action that operates outside the formal political process and mayinclude demonstrations, sit-ins or other obstructive action. As disillusionment with the formalpolitical system has grown such action has become more common.Documents – a source of secondary data that includes personal documents such as letters, diaries.Caution has to be used as a result of questions about reliability and validity.
  3. 3. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.3Education Reform Act (1988) – the most important education policy since 1944; it introduced thenational curriculum, league tables and testing from the age of seven. Above all it introduced themarketization of education, a New Right concept.Elaborated code – a type of language code identified by Basil Bernstein who alleged it was partiallyresponsible for the superior achievement of middle class pupils. Such language is rich in adverbs andadjectives and deals comfortably with concepts.Elite – often referred to by elite theorists as the best and most talented in a society, but by Marxistsas a small minority who dominate society as a result of their wealth. Elite theorists such as Moscaand Pareto believe that it is natural that the few dominate the many and that democracy isdangerous as the masses haven’t the skills to rule effectively.Embourgeoisement – a theory popularised by Zweig in the 1960s that increased affluence had ledmany working class manual workers to adopt the lifestyle and culture of the middle class and as aresult undermining traditional working class identity. This theory was tested by Goldthorpe andLockwood’s Affluent Worker Study, who found that the values of the middle and working class werestill different.Ethics – all social research should be regulated by ethical rules, above all; the idea that peopleshould not be physically socially or psychologically harmed or disadvantaged by research. Anonymityand confidentiality should be guaranteed if required. Observational research and experiments arecriticised for neglecting these guidelines.False consciousness – a Marxist term suggesting that workers do not see the true nature of theirexploitation and the fact they have common interests. Agencies such as the education system andthe mass media and religion are blamed for creating a ruling class ideology and therefore maskingthe true level of exploitation and inequality in capitalist society.Fordism – a system of mass production on assembly lines in big factories, which took control ofproduction away from the workers. Marxists argue that such methods lead to workers alienation.Arguably nations like the UK are post Fordist; Fords at Dagenham in the sixties employed aroundthirty thousand workers – today there are around three thousand.Functionalism – a sociological perspective that sees Western society as ordered and consensual.Functionalists arguethat institutions such as the family, education and the church reproduce cultureby socialising individuals into the key values and roles required for social stability.Going native – the possibility that a researcher undertaking participant observation - especially in itscovert form – will become over-involved with the research subjects and lose the objectivity anddetachment that is a crucial aspect of his or her role.Grammar School – a type of state school created by the 1944 Education Act for the top 20% ofstudents selected as a result of the 11+ examination. However, a disproportionate number of middleclass students passed the examination; which lead to concerns that the 11+ had an inbuilt culturalbias, this lead to the move to comprehensive schools from 1965. Some areas, such as Redbridge,however retain Grammar schools.
  4. 4. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.4Hard Statistics – those statistic usually collected by government (i.e. official agencies), that areregarded by positivists as having been collected in a reliable, objective and scientific manner, e.g.the registration of births, marriages, divorces and deaths.Hawthorne effect – an experimental effect in which the presence of the researcher is found to themajor cause of the behaviour of the research subject. The effect was discovered by Elton Mayo inthe 1920s in the USA, he concluded that whatever their conditions, workers at the Western ElectricCompany in Chicago, produced more when they were being watched.Hegemony – the domination intellectually and culturally of one group over another. The term wasdeveloped by the Italian Marxist Gramsci to explain why the politically and culturally the workingclass generally consented to and supported the ruling class. He suggested this was the result ofpowerful ideological apparatuses such as education and the media which socialised the mass of theworking class into accepting the leadership of the ruling class as natural and normal.Hidden curriculum – the ways in which the organisation of teaching, knowledge and schoolregulations and routines shape pupil attitudes and behaviour to encourage conformity.Hypothesis – an informed guess about what might be happening in society, based on previousresearch or observation. It is the starting point in much research.Ideological state apparatus (ISA) – a Marxist term used to describe state institutions such aseducation, the mass media, religion, the family which are part of the superstructure of society. Themain function of these institutions is to transmit ruling class ideology to convince the working classthat inequality is natural and normal. When the consent of the working class breaks down repressivestate apparatus may be used. Althusser argues that education is the key ISA as the hiddencurriculum successfully transmits the message that society is meritocratic.Institutional racism – the idea that racist assumptions are built into the rules and routines of socialinstitutions such as the police and schools. The McPherson Report into the murder of StephenLawrence in 2003 arrived at the definition: ‘..the collective failure of an organisation to provide anappropriate professional service to people because of their colour, culture and ethnic origin’, e.g.the assumption amongst some police officers that black youth are suspicious or criminal.Instrumental voting – or pocketbook voting. Usually associated with the working class. The idea thatchoice of party to vote for is motivated by choice of the party that will give the best deal, rather thanon ideology. There is some evidence that such motivations, e.g. the sale of council houses, mayhave underpinned the Conservative victories from 1979 and into the 1990s.Interpretive sociology – advocates of this method believe that research tools which emphasiseverstehen and validity and which produce qualitative data are superior. They allow the subjects ofthe research to make meaning of their world.Interview bias – unrepresentative, inaccurate or biased information given by a respondent to aninterviewer. Such bias may be conscious (demand characteristics), but is usually a reaction to thedifferent features of the interviewer; manner, appearance, sex, age, perceived class, accent, tone ofvoice, gestures etc.
  5. 5. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.5Iron law of oligarchy – the view held by the classical elite theorist Robert Michels that power willalways pass into the hands of an oligarchy (the few) regardless of the best intentions of thosecommitted to democracy or communist/socialist principles. Michels argued that even working classpoliticians come to resemble their bourgeois counterparts in terms of lifestyle and attempts to holdonto power.Labelling theory – an approach in the sociology of education, which looks at the way that particulargroups are stereotyped as deviants or underachievers. The central feature of this concept is that ofthe self-fulfilling prophecy. This theory has been criticised for ignoring the capacity of the individualto resist the label and assumes it is an automatic process.Laboratory experiments – the classic method used in the natural sciences, they are seldom used insociology as they present artificial situations and present ethical dilemmas.League tables – introduced by the ERA in 1988, as a way of informing parents about how a school isperforming. Such tables are not contextualised – they do not take into consideration the economicnature of the school’s catchment area.Longitudinal survey – research usually based around interviews that focus on a particular group overa period of years in order to monitor how much change has taken place. Such surveys produce in-depth data about the group. However, such research demands research teams committed to longterm research, members of the sample may drop out, move, die or be hard to find, which increasesthe chances of the survey being unrepresentative. There is also a danger of the research team goingnative or those being researched identifying too closely with the research team (social desirability).Male underachievement – the trend for males to underachieve in education relative to females.Boys’ underachievement has been a feature of the education system since the late 1980s; it has alsocoincided with the decline in Fordist (male) employment opportunities. Studies of classroominteraction have suggested that teachers have low expectations of boys. Mac An Ghaill argues thatworking class boys are experiencing a crisis of masculinity as a result of the feminisation of teachingand a lack of Fordist work opportunities.Marxism–the key concepts associated are class struggle/conflict and revolution. The main argumentis that economics is at the base of social life, and progress is made as a result of a struggle betweendifferent classes. The ruling class in any society is based on the ownership and control of economicresources and land; this also gives the ruling class cultural and political control.Mass Media – those means of communication that reach a large number of people at the same time.Meritocracy – a society in which intelligence, ability and effort, i.e. merit are rewarded by theeducation system. Functionalist sociologists argue that western societies allocate jobs and financialrewards on the basis of talent and skills. Marxists point to gender, class and ethnic inequalities in theallocation of rewards.Metanarrative – a postmodernist term that describes theories such as Marxism and functionalismthat aim to explore how modern societies work. Postmodernists claim that such ‘big stories’ are nolonger relevant, the world is now more fragmented and no one theory is able to explain how itworks.
  6. 6. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.6Methodological pluralism – the use by researchers of more than one method in order to build up afuller picture of social life. The advantages of one method may help to compensate the limitations ofanother. It can be argued that the sociology textbooks exaggerate the degree to which researchersare devoted to positivism or interpretivism, many take a ‘what works best’ position.New Right – a group of ring wing Conservative thinkers who stress the need for much less stateintervention in the field of economic s and social affairs. The New Right argue that the welfare state(the ‘nanny state’) has created a dependency culture amongst the unemployed, which risks creatinga criminal underclass. New Right ideas underpin the Education Reform Act which introduced marketideas into education – ‘parentocracy’.New Social Movements (NSM)– a political movement that is organised around identity politics (e.g.the promotion of gay rights, human rights) or the quality of life in the community above allenvironmental issues. These organisations are less hierarchical and looser knit in terms of structurethan traditional pressure groups or political parties.Objectivity – positivists believe that scientific research should always be objective or value free.Observation – an ethnographic method favoured by interpretivist sociologists, in which subjects areresearched in their natural environments in an attempt to understand social life from their point ofview. Care must be taken to avoid the observer effect ( a problem of validity), the observer mayeffect the behaviour of those being observed.Official documents–documents produced by official bodies such as the government or localauthorities. Such sources can provide a rich source of information for sociologists, but suchdocuments need to be treated with caution, as must all secondary sources.Official statistics – statistics produced by local or central government in order to devise socialpolicies; including registration of births and deaths. Sociologists use such statistics as they are cheap,readily available and based on large samples. However, they are often social constructions not socialfacts, for example the rate of inflation is produced as a result of the ONS imagining a typical basketof products that consumers may buy.Oral history – a type of life history that records the experiences of ordinary people. Such historiesare often combined with letters and diaries t show how ordinary people lived in the past. They giveresearchers an alternative picture to that produced by official history and documents about ‘thegreat and the good’.Parity of esteem – a concept used by supporters of the tripartite system of education established asa result of the 1944 education act, which suggested that each of the three types of school weredifferent but equal.Participant observation – an interpretivist method that involves the sociologist becoming part of acommunity. There are a number of different types; covert involves the researcher not revealing hisor her identity and pretending to be a part of the group. Perhaps the most used in the ‘observer asparticipant’ – the group is told what the researcher is doing. This method produces data, which is
  7. 7. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.7rich in validity. Positivists challenge the representativeness and reliability of this method. There isalso concern about the observer effect and going native.Partisan alignment - the relationship between social class and loyalty to the political party that issupposed to reflect the interests of that classPartisan de-alignment – a concept associated with Ivor Crewe, which argued that the new workingclass did not automatically identify with the Labour Party. Crewe stated that the Labour vote in the1980s remained largely working class but that the working class were no longer largely Labour - theynow voted on the basis of instrumental material interests than that of class loyalty.Patriarchy – broadly defined as male dominance over women. The unequal distribution of powerbetween men and women.Pilot study – a small-scale test of a piece of research in order to evaluate its design.Pluralism–a theory that argues that power is widely distributed in society amongst a plurality ofcompeting pressure groups. The role of the state is to act a neutral referee between competingdemands for power and influence. In terms of the media, pluralism argues that audiences not mediaowners shape media content.Postal questionnaires – questionnaires sent through the post, the advantage of this method is that itis cheap/easy to distribute, but there is a high like hood of a low response rate. It has largely beenreplaced by Internet surveys.Positivism – the view that society should be studied in a scientific manner. This view has beenattacked as science is often not a objective as it claims and that the scientific method is notappropriate for the study of human society, as humans have free will and are not subject to laws.Postmodernity – supporters of this theory state manufacturing in the west has declined and thateconomic life now revolves around branding and processing of information. The postmodern worldit is argued is ‘media saturated’; this has resulted in a global village. Transnational companiesthrough an international divisional of labour control what manufacturing of goods still exists.Power – defined by Weber as being able to impose one’s will on another despite their resistance.Weber identifies two main types of power – coercion or violent force and legitimate authority,which is obtained by consent.Power elite – a concept used by C. Wright Mills to describe a single ruling minority made up of inter-connected groups – the business, political and military elites – who run the USA in their owninterests.Pressure group – such groups exist in order to persuade governments to reform existing policy orintroduce new policy. These groups can be categorised as either as sectional or promotional groups,or insider/outsider groups. Sociologists have now shifted their interest to New Social Movements.Private schools – schools outside the state sector, the most prestigious are called public schools.Such schools provide many of those in elite positions in the UK such as the cabinet. David Cameron isthe nineteenth prime minister to have attended Eton school.
  8. 8. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.8Qualitative data – data collected from unstructured interviews, letters, diaries and observation thatare usually presented in the form of text. They are usually richer and more detailed thanquantitative data. They are naturalistic in that they focus on the respondent’s view of the socialworld.Quantitative data –statistical data derived from methods such as questionnaires and structuredinterviews, favoured by positivists as groups of statistics can be presented in the form of graphs,charts and tables. Such information can also be compared in order to establish cause and effect andas a result uncover social laws.Questionnaire –a set of standardised questions for respondent to complete. They are normallyaimed at large representative samples. Favoured by positivists as all respondents are subjected tothe same stimuli, usually in the form of closed questions, as a result they are regarded as highlyreliable. They are criticised by interpretivists as they claim that such a method is weak in terms ofvalidity, it is an artificial method that attracts artificial responses. Closed questions may result in theresearcher imposing their interpretation of a situation.Re-alignment – a concept used by political scientists to indicate that there has been a change in thepatterns of voting behaviour. In the 1970s and 1980s many analysts claimed that as the workingclass had become more prosperous they were no longer voting Labour; this was especially true ofthe skill working class who had arguably bought into the ideas of Thatcherism.Reliability –a method is said to be reliable if exactly another researcher can repeat the research andprovide the same results, in the same way that natural scientists will aim to check their findings.Representative sample– a sample of the research population that mirrors the larger population, sothat the findings from the sample can be generalised.Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) – a Marxist concept that refers to the forces of coercion, e.g. thearmed forces, secret police, the police etc. Althusser noted that the RSA is rarely used in capitalistsociety as the ISA ensures hegemony and therefore rule by consent.Restrictive code – identified by Basil Bernstein, characterised by short unfinished sentences lackingin adverbs and adjectives, the meaning of which often only understood by those who converse in it.The middle class are able to use both the restrictive code and the elaborated code, as a result oftheir greater cultural capital.Sampling frame – a list of names from for example the electoral register or the school roll, fromwhich a sample is compiled.Secondary data – second hand data that might be used as part of a study. Most sociologistsembarking on research will take care to read previously published research.Self-fulfilling prophecy – situations in which positive or negative behaviour of individuals is shapedby labels imposed by powerful groups such as teachers or police officers. The concepts has beencriticised for being overly deterministic; because it implies that once negatively labelled pupils willalways experience a decline into failure.
  9. 9. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.9Snowball sampling – a sampling method in which a researcher gains access to a group then usesmembers of this said group to make contact with others and so on. This does not result in a randomsample, but is sometimes the only way to gain access to particular kinds of person.Social desirability effect – a methodological problem associated with validity that arises out ofrespondents, especially in interview situations, wanting to please or impress the researcher. It ofteninvolves the over-reporting of desirable things such as voting, going to church or giving to charity,and conversely under-reporting things such as; alcohol use or racist behaviour.Social policy – government ideas, plans and legislation aimed at meeting the social needs of thepopulation. There is a strong connection between sociology and social policy. However, somesociologists argue that they should stay neutral and not work for the government, as this will tainttheir research.Sociology as a science – one of the key theoretical debates in sociology. Positivists believe that thereis enough regularity amongst people to be able to generate laws about them. Anti-positivists arguethat as human beings have free will, universalistic laws can never be generated.Sociology of the underdog – used by Becker to describe his taking the side of the powerless insociety when doing sociology. He argued that value-freedom was impossible; it was therefore vitalthat all sociologists declare their allegiances. To Becker this meant that he looked at social problemsfrom the perspective of those most disadvantaged in society.State – the central political authority that rules over a given territory. Since the Second World Warthe state has assumed responsibility for the management of the economy and the welfare of itscitizens. Pluralists see the role of the state as an honest broker that regulates between competingpressure groups. Marxists see the state as an instrument of the ruling classTriangulation – the use of more that one method of research in order to assess the validity of a pieceof research, usually it involves combining a qualitative and a quantitative method.Tripartite system – a system of education resulting from the 1944 Education Act that aimed toprovide three types of secondary school for different types of children based on an IQ test at the ageof eleven, the 11+.Unstructured interview – an interview in which the researcher asks open-ended questions about thetopic and allows the respondent to reply freely and in depth. Positivists argue that such a method isunreliable, as they are not standardised, quantifiable or replicable.Validity – a genuine or true picture of the problem being studied. Interpretivist sociologists criticisesurvey research based on questionnaires and structured interviews for low validity; as there is oftena gap between what people say and do, due to factors such as the Hawthorne effect.Verstehen–the sill of being able to see the world through the eyes of the group being studied andtherefore place an their interpretation or understanding of the social world at the centre of theresearch. Interpretivists see observation as the most effective method of obtaining verstehen,because its naturalistic approach is more likely to access the social meanings that people give tosocial phenomena.
  10. 10. Key concepts for education, methodology an power and politics – AS and A2 sociology.10KEY CONCEPTS IN SOCIOLOGY.EDUCATION, METHODOLOGY AND POWER ANDPOLITICSWHS sociology department – May 2013