Critical Thinking and A Level Sociology by Charlie Masquelier

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Critical Thinking and A Level Sociology by Charlie Masquelier - a presentation from the BSA Teaching Group Regional Conference at the University of Surrey on 31 May 2014.

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  • Idea inspired by positive reaction of first year students – just came out of school, but very happy to call into question what they have been taking for granted

    I would be interested to find out how sociology is concretely taught at a-level – what opporuntities do students get for critical thinking
  • In the current enviornment of increased fees and pressure to get a job, one could easily forget what sociology is also about: critical thinking
  • Critical Thinking and A Level Sociology by Charlie Masquelier

    1. 1. BSA Teaching Group Conference Critical Thinking and A-Level Sociology Charlie Masquelier
    2. 2. Context  Sociology and skills development – key!  Critical thinking taught as separate discipline at A-level  BUT sociology is also a way of thinking – a critical form of thinking essential of a healthy democratic society
    3. 3. Critical thinking: a modernist ideal  Kant, Descartes etc. as precursors of sociology  Strong emphasis on doubt and independent thinking – calling into question pre-existing institutions, norms, values  Rational-critical thinking as motor of progress: from the traditional to the modern Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity. Immaturity is the incapacity to use one's intelligence [through reason] without the guidance of another Kant, ‘What is Enlightenment?’
    4. 4. Two classics and critical thinking  Marx – evident and well-known critical thinker BUT Weber a critical thinker too!  Critical thinking ultimately aimed at de-naturalising pre- existing norms, values and institutions – breaking with common sense ‘A man does not ‘by nature’ wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and earn as much money as is necessary for that purpose.’ (Weber, 2007: 236- 7)
    5. 5. Critical thinking in contemporary social theory  Critical thinking runs through contemporary social theories too!  Bauman (2010) and the call for a sociology that does NOT have ‘conservative impact upon the society it helps people to explain and understand’ (Bauman 2010, 32), but seeks to problematise this social world  BUT also others, e.g. Foucault and Bourdieu
    6. 6. Bourdieu and sociology as ‘martial art’ The construction of scientific objects requires first and foremost a break with common sense, that is, with the representations shared by all, whether they be the mere commonplaces of ordinary existence or official representations, often inscribed in institutions and thus present both in the objectivity of social organizations and in the minds of their participants. The preconstructed is everywhere... The sociologist is thus saddled with the task of knowing an object – the social world – of which he is the product, in a way such that the problems he raises about it and the concepts he uses have every chance of being the product of this object itself. (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992: 235)
    7. 7. Critical thinking in practice  Concepts/ideas can easily be taught separately from the sociological thinking they belong to, e.g. cultural capital, habitus How could they be taught along critical thinking?  Programmes such as ‘From Ladette to Lady’ or ‘Snog, Mary, Avoid’  Watching them without thinking critically: values, tastes, preferences displayed in the programmes NOT called into question, e.g. ‘she looks a lot better now’ – common sense  BUT critical thinking, e.g. Bourdieu’s, encourages us to break with this common sense – what is really happening there?  Bourdieu can help us understand that this is a form of cultural domination – a class antagonism (McRobbie (2004) ‘Notes on What Not To Wear’)
    8. 8. Conclusion  Critical thinking not only serves individuals in their quest for independent thinking – itself a valuable skill…  It can also turn concepts/theory into lived experience BUT what about your own experiences?

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