Archive for September, 2016

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 4: The Anomie Within

Friday, September 30th, 2016

sim_anomieThis short (5 – 10 minute) sim can be used whenever you want to introduce the concept of anomie, such as if you’re introducing Merton’s Strain Theory or looking at Garfinkel’s breaching experiments.

The package includes a little bit of background on breaching experiments and a couple of different anomie variations – mild and strong – depending on the type of short, sharp, dose of anomie you want to impart to your students.

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 3: Window Shopping / The Art of Walking

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

sim_shoppingAlthough these are two different sims I’ve included them together because both involve thinking and the “rules of everyday social interaction”, albeit in different ways:

Window shopping is designed to encourage students to think systematically about the “underlying rules” of relatively mundane behavior. It can be used to simulate sociological research (such as field experiments and naturalistic observation) and introduces what some teachers might feel is a practical element into research methods.

The Art of Walking relates to Berger’s argument that sociology involves making “the everyday seem strange” in that it involves looking at something students take for granted (how to walk in public) to see if they can work out “the rules” by which it is underpinned. It’s a simple sim that can be used at different points in a course but can be very effective right at the start as a way for students to “do sociology” in a relative safe environment.

Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 2: Cultural Deprivation

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

sim_deprivationCultural deprivation, as an explanation for differences in educational achievement (particularly those of class and ethnicity), is something of a Vampire Theory in the sense that no matter how many times sociologists have tried to kill it off it refuses to die. It is, for example, an explanation that continues to have currency among UK political parties, particularly in terms of ideas about the “differential aspirations” of middle and working class children.


Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 1: The Urinal Game

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016


We can illustrate the idea of cultural learning (and show how the concepts of roles, values and norms are inter-related into the bargain) using Proxemic theory – the study of how people understand and use space in a cultural context – originally developed by Hall (1966).

sctv_hallAlthough we are born with the ability to understand notions of space (our eyes, for example, are positioned in such a way as to create three-dimensional images that our brains have the ability to process accurately) Hall argued different cultures create different ways of “seeing space” – the most familiar example, for our current purpose perhaps, being the idea of personal space (although it’s possible to look beyond the individual to understand how whole societies organise and utilise space in culturally-specific ways – in terms of things like urban development, housing, transport and so forth).

Personal space can be defined in terms of an area (or “bubble”) that surrounds each of us which has a couple of important characteristics:

Firstly, the extent of our personal space varies both between cultures (in countries like England or the United States, for example, people generally like to maintain a greater sense of personal distance from others than they do in countries like France or Brazil) and within cultures – such as gender differences in our society (two women talking to each other, for example, tend to maintain less personal space between them than two men in the same situation).

Secondly, the space that surrounds us is considered to be “our property” and entry into it is regulated in various ways – something we can relate to different roles, values and norms using Hall’s (1996) classic example of “strangers waiting for a train”.

When waiting for a train at a railway station we are (for the sake of illustration) playing the role of “stranger” to the people who are also waiting for the train. In this situation the role, as with any other role we play, is surrounded by certain values (beliefs about how we should play this role). In our culture there are a range of values that apply (we should not behave towards strangers as if they were our closest friend in the world, for example) and in this particular example one of the values we bring to bear is that of privacy and, more specifically, the notion of personal space as a way of maintaining privacy. In other words, when playing the role of stranger we value the cultural concept of privacy, both for our own purposes and those of others.

In this respect we understand that privacy is an important concept in our culture and we should not act in ways that invade – uninvited – the privacy of others (just as we expect them not to invade our privacy). One way this value (or general behavioural guideline) is expressed is through various norms (or specific behavioural guidelines) that apply in particular situations.

In this instance, one norm that reflects the role of stranger and the value of privacy is that we do not sit too close to strangers; we do not, in short, invade their personal space. There are, of course, additional norms we could identify in this situation; we do not, for example, deliberately touch the people we are sitting next to, nor do we generally interact with them – although this may depend on things like the amount of time we are forced to spend sitting next to someone. We may, for example, make “general conversation” (to complain about having to wait, for example) although, once again, we need to avoid becoming too intimate or personal – a stranger doesn’t want to hear your life story. Such “conversational gambits” also have an important normative function here because they establish a “common ground” between strangers forced to sit together – we observe, for example, the norms of conversation and recognition in a way that is generally neutral (“how much longer are we going to have to wait”?) and which establishes clear behavioural boundaries.

If you want to simulate the cultural significance of personal space, it’s relatively quick and easy to do in a couple of ways:

  1. Pair off your students and ask them to stand next to or facing each other much as they would if they were in some outside location. If you make a rough note of the distance between them you should find a consistent distance across all pairs.
  2. A variation here is to pair girls and boys separately to test if there are gendered special distances (you should find there are).

If you want to do this in a more-structured way use these instructions (sorry but I don’t know the source):

“Using masking tape, place an X on the floor. Attach measuring tapes to the floor around 6 inches away from the X so that the increasing measurements go away from X. Ask one student volunteer to stand on the X. Following the measuring tape, have another student volunteer walk slowly toward the student in the centre. Instruct the student in the centre to say “stop” when the approaching person is close enough that they start to feel uncomfortable.

Record the distance. Then do the activity again from the sides and back.

Ask students: What is the standard shape of the individual’s personal space requirements? What factors may influence the amount of personal space we need? Will there be cultural differences? How does personal space affect interpersonal relationships?

The Simulation

A more-structured way to achieve a similar end is to play Paul’s “Urinal Game”, the basic rules of which are outlined below.


Seven Sims in Seven Days: The Introduction

Monday, September 26th, 2016

I’ve long been interested in the idea of using simulations (and games – see Disclaimer below) as teaching tools – see, for example, a couple of online efforts I created many moons ago when the Internet was still young and frames seemed such a good idea:

  1. Education and Differential Achievement: The Sociological Detective

Although the game is incomplete it should convey the overall idea that “studying sociology” at A-level can be a bit like being a detective – you identify “suspects”, develop theories to explain social phenomena and collect / evaluate different types of evidence.

  1. Crime, Deviance and Methods: The Great Chocolate Bar Theft (be aware the email answers part of the sim will not work for technical reasons that are just too boring to bother explaining)

One of the problems, aside from having the time and ability to think them up, has always been the difficulty of finding materials that not only delight, surprise and occasionally befuddle students but which also have teaching content that repays all the time and effort required to set-up and use them effectively in the classroom.

The Internet has, to some extent, made this easier in terms of finding stuff and it has to be noted that just about everything that’s presented here has been invented by someone other than myself. Where I know who created the materials they’re given appropriate credit but in some instances I don’t have the first idea about the identity of their creator, so if you are that person I’d just like to say “Sorry”, “Thank You” and “I’ve hidden all my money in off-shore trusts, so don’t bother suing”.


Word Clouds

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

wordcloud-1I’ve always been a big fan of Key Words as a revision memory tool for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, because it’s easier to remember half-a-dozen powerful ideas (culture, socialisation, roles, values, norms, social control…) than the page of text in which they’re embedded.

Secondly, if you choose powerful Key Words, by bringing them to mind you can use them to unlock a massive amount of associated stored information. A simple way to demonstrate this is to write the Key Word “Family” (or “Education”, “Deviance” or whatever) in the centre of a whiteboard and ask your students to add further connected key ideas – you’ll quickly build-up a hugely-impressive Key Word Map of whatever topic they’re familiar with.


Sociology ShortCuts: Labelling Theory

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Labelling is a staple theory in the sociology of crime – both in its own right (Becker’s concept of the Outsider, for example) and in terms of its incorporation into other theoretical explanations (Radical Criminology, for example) – and in this ShortCut Professor Sandra Walklate outlines some of the theory’s key ideas:

  • Outsiders
  • Social interaction and shared understandings
  • Labelling process
  • Social contexts
  • Social reaction
  • Primary and secondary deviation
  • Tolerance levels
  • Deviant labels
  • Self-worth and self-identity


Visualising Class Structures

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

class_coverThis PowerPoint Presentation, designed for whole-class teaching, features visual representations of nine different class structures / variations,  accompanied by some of the key ideas involved in each classification. Brief background Notes for teachers are also included with each slide.

The slides are intended to be a visual backdrop teachers can use to introduce / discuss different class structures.

If you prefer a self-running PowerPoint Show format (without Notes), use this link.

Modernity and Sociological Theory

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

modernity_coverThis is the first part of a two-part series looking at the relationship between modernity, postmodernity and the development of sociological theory.

This set of Notes focuses on:

  1. Identifying the basic economic, political and cultural characteristics of modernity
  2. Relating these characteristics to the development of Consensus and Conflict Structuralism.

Download pdf version of Modernity and Sociological Theory


Global Culture Teaching Notes

Monday, September 12th, 2016

global-culture-coverNature and Extent

Although the idea of global influences on local and national cultural behaviours is not particularly new (different cultural practices and products have influenced “British culture” for many hundreds of years) what is new is the scope and speed of cultural diversity and change – processes hastened by technological developments such as cheap air travel in the mid-20th century and the Internet in the 21st century.

Download of Global Culture to cut-out-and-keep


Sociology ShortCuts: Crime, Consumption and Harm

Friday, September 9th, 2016

In this ShortCut Dr Matt Follet briefly explains how consumption patterns in contemporary societies link into ideas about environmental / green crime and the concept of harm. It’s available in two flavours and while it’s usual to say that “you pays your money and you takes your choice” this would be a bit superfluous because both versions are free.


Sociology ShortCuts: Crime as a Social Construct

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

In this ShortCut Dr Matt Follet, Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, briefly explains why crime is a social construct using a simple example.

Mapping Differential Educational Achievement

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Differences in UK educational achievement are normally categorised across three main dimensions – class, gender and ethnicity – of which the former is generally seen by sociologists of education as the primary determinant of achievement differences (as measured by exam grades), while gender and in some instances ethnicity is generally preferred by politicians and media commentators – Our schools are failing boys, which is bad news for Britain – for reasons that shouldn’t be too difficult to understand (although that, perhaps, is a story for another time).

Ken Browne (Sociology for AQA, Vol. 1: AS and 1st-Year A Level), for example, captures this often-complex hierarchy by structuring achievement in terms of class (the primary determinant), with gender and ethnicity as secondary determinants. As can be seen from this graphic the argument here is that differences in educational achievement are primarily class-based (upper class children achieve more than working class children) with gender / ethnic gradations within each class.

This graphic is helpful because it provides a simple visual representation that allows students to understand not just within-class differences, (between for example boys and girls) but also cross-class differences; upper class boys, for example, generally achieve more than working class girls. By understanding this students should be able to construct more-nuanced answers to questions about differential achievement.

Taking It Further? (more…)

Sociology ShortCuts: Reflexive Modernisation

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

In this ShortCut Professor Brian Wynne (Lancaster University) extends his introduction to Beck’s concept of Risk Society by developing the idea of reflexive modernisation.

While this film will be a bit more “difficult” for a-level students the ideas Wynne discusses can be made more-accessible by relating them to various contemporary real-world examples – these range from examples of environmentalist activism and protest, through the recent referendum on Britain’s EU membership (“Brexit”) to the Donald Trump presidential campaign in America.