Feminism, late-modern and postmodern sociological theoryTraditional society was based on agriculture and craft production.Modernity - urban living, industrial production, social classes, inequality, a diverse range ofoccupations, social mobility, the creation of the nation state, a move to more secular society andtowards scientific solutions and the creation of sociology.Sociology was inspired by the Enlightenment - whose philosophers believed that reason and sciencewould lead to human progress. They saw the great revolutions of 1776 and 1789 in France asevidence of this. [See table page 386 in AQA sociology: Nelson Thornes].This belief in reason and science was the basis of the positivist/quantative approach to sociology. What is the rationale for this method?Max Weber however, believed that it was necessary to explore the meanings which actions have forpeople, which is the basis of the qualitative approach to sociology. Which methods is the basis of this approach?Since the late 1960s postmodernists have argued that changes in society have necessitated a changein the tools of analysis used by sociologists, as we have moved beyond; social classes, mass industrialproduction (Fordism) and nation states. What evidence is there that the nation state is no longer relevant?Postmodernists argue that the old certainties which underpinned industrial society no longer holdtrue. For example; politics is no longer tribal? What does this mean?Modern society was held together by a shared culture, this has now fragmented, people inpostmodern society hold multiple allegiances. Give an example of this?Similarly, Stuart Hall (1992) argues that many people hold ‘hybrid’ ethnic identities by which theydefine themselves.In many ways postmodernism rejects sociology as it says that metanarratives – grand theories suchas Marxism, which attempt to explain and improve society – are redundant. Baudrillard writes of‘the death of the social’. People live isolated lives, only experiencing society through consumptionand the media. He argues that so much of our lives are based on a ‘hyper reality’ based on a world ofimage.
If society is to be studied at all according to the postmodernists, the traditional divides that havebeen used – The Family, Education etc. should be abandoned. We need to ‘transgress’ classificationboundaries , for example, crime and deviance should not be viewed from the perspective ofillegality, but as harm done to others, such as torture, pollution and low wages. What other transgressions can you think of?A similar approach is taken by Lyotard (1984) who believes that science has not lead to humanprogress, but to crimes against humanity, such as nuclear armament and climate change. Lyotardfurther rejects the notionn that by applying the reason to problems there will be continual human progress. In the both thenatural and social sciences there is no such thing as objectivity. What evidence is there of this? Beck has introduced the idea of ‘the risk society’. For the majority of human history societies have has to confront risks which were beyond their control, such as famine, plague and natural disasters. Industrialisation, public services (such as hospitals) and private insurance minimised these risks. Sociology was also an attempt to control risk and improve society. Why do you think that modernity lead to secularisation?Beck argues that we what he calls ‘late modernity’ has led to the re-emergence of risk beyondhuman control. What do you think he means by this?The complexity of these risks has lead people to seek individual ways to minimise these risks, forexample, protecting children from ‘stranger danger’, cars or the internet. Beck argues that there hasbeen little attempt to combat these risks at a macro (government) level, the response has been toindividualise responses, people make identity and lifestyle changes to mitigate risk and plan theirlives. What do you think he meant by this?This analysis has been criticised: Humans have always attempted to minimise risk. Not all responses to risk are individual. Some groups, such as the rich, have always been able to insulate themselves from risk. How would the global response to climate change fit into these criticisms?
Giddens argues that postmodernists overstate the changes that have taken place and that we live ina late modern society, the key feature of which is globalisation, the key features of which are:GIDDENS quote sidebar page 150 An increasingly interconnected world. Weaker nation states. Ideas spread around the world instantaneously. Cosmopolitanism – diversity of culture, ethnic groups and social movements. A break from tradition – reflexivity, by which he means people thinking about their lives and reflecting on their actions. People set their own life projects and defined roles are now much more fluid. Attempt to give some details about any of the above.Are the postmodernist right?Consider the following: In 2009 the UK manufacturing sector generated approximately £140 billionin gross value added and employed around 2.6 million people. Of the approximately £16 billioninvested in R&D by UK businesses in 2008, approximately £12 billion was by manufacturingbusinesses. In 2008, the UK was the sixth-largest manufacturer in the world measured by value ofoutput. How might this undermine the postmodernist argument?Feminism and the critique of ‘malestream’sociology.‘Malestream sociology’ is a term used by feminist sociologists to describe male dominated sociology.Many feminists have argued that early sociology was dominated by men and produced a distortedview of the world as a result. Among their criticisms were: Areas of social life of concern to women were often ignored in research, for example there were no studies of childbirth or housework prior to the 1970s. Women were presented in research in a very distorted way, for example studies of female criminals made the assumption that as women were usually law abiding and passive, there was something very wrong with female criminals. Gender differences were often ignored. In studies on crime and deviance for example, class differences were focused on and gender ignored.Abbott and Wallace: ‘..sociology has been at best sex-blind and at worst sexist.’ ‘Furthermore, theways in which is men subordinate women are either ignored or seen as natural.’
Feminists aim to explore the subordinate position of women in society through the concept ofpatriarchy. What does this concept mean?S. Walby argues that patriarchy is rooted in: - Housework – the majority of which is still done by women and allows men to participate in higher status work. - Paid work – women are still trapped, despite legislation, in low pay and low status work. A ‘glass ceiling’ still exists. - The state – violence against women is still accepted, many policies still benefit men, for example maternity leave. - Cultural institutions – religion, the media, and education still represent women ‘with a patriachical male gaze’ in other words the roles women have in society, like caring for children, are still heavily proscribed. - A double standard in terms of sexuality. Account for any of the above.Walby’s analysis like much of the original feminist approach is grounded in Marxism, as Walbyargues that patriarchy and capitalism interact to oppress women.Other Marxist feminists such as Benson (1972) say that the role of women in capitalist society isensure that the male worker is efficient, women are responsible for the reproduction of labourpower. What does this mean?Other Marxist feminists say that the role of women is to soak up the frustrations of men, thusdomestic violence is accepted, as safety valve for capitalism.Marxists also believe that women are part of the ‘reserve army of labour’ recruited into theworkforce in times of prosperity and sacked during recessions.Radical feminism has the slogan ‘the person is political’ as its starting point. What does this mean?This perspective argues that gender inequality is far more important than class divisions in society,and that the objectification of women by the media and domestic violence are at the heart ofexisting society.Liberal feminists believe gender socialisation has led to a society in which masculinity is dominant.Oakley argues that patriachical ideology demands that women do the majority of housework and
child care and as a result suffer on the labour market. Sue Sharpe (1994) believes that there hasbeen an improvement in the role of women, and that women now have different priorities. From your study of education, give some detail of Sharpe’s work.Liberal feminists are optimistic that changes in legislation are the way forward. What laws would they point to?Black feminists highlight the way that other feminist analyses ignore the particular oppression whichblack and other ethnic minority women suffer.Catherine Hakim (2000) has examined international data on gender and work and argues thatdespite contraception, equal opportunities legislation and the availability of work for women ,theyhave still opted for non-workplace choices, as a result of the continuance of patriarchy. Women stilldo not seek to define themselves through work.Many sociologists now say that a greater concern than the role of women in society is ‘the crisis ofmasculinity’. What does this mean?In terms of methodology, feminists are critical of positivistic methods and have far more faith inethnography/oral history. Why do you think this is?