Archive for March, 2016

Media Representations: UK TV Tropes

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

The concept of a “media trope” refers to the recurrent use of particular ideas, themes and the like within (and sometimes across) different media and while tropes are often simple stylistic devices used to convey necessary information to an audience in a short space of time (Hollywood films, for example, use various recurring devices to denote “good” and “bad” characters) they can also be a lazy way of stereotyping whole groups of people.

This is something TV drama does a lot – and these are some of my “favourite” UK TV Tropes.


Understanding Crime and Deviance in Postmodernity: Part 2 – Deviance as Harm

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

blog_crime2The Part 1 Workbook looked at some general criticisms of conventional (positivist) approaches to understanding crime and criminals and the Part 2 Workbook builds on this critique by outlining an alternative approach based on the concept of social harm.

This contemporary approach argues we need to widen the way we see “crime” to include various forms of “detrimental activity” visited by “governments and corporations upon the welfare of individuals”. In this respect the Workbook covers four major areas:

• What are social harms?

• Elite culpabilities

• Crimes of the powerful

• A Critique of Risk

As with Part 1, key ideas and concepts are identified and outlined and the Workbook includes space for students to test their knowledge and understanding through a small number of simple critical tasks.

If you want to consolidate ideas about Crimes of the Powerful try our video short, featuring David Whyte’s research, available on-demand to rent or buy.

Understanding Crime and Deviance in Postmodernity: Part 1

Monday, March 21st, 2016

blog_crime1Although the concept of a “postmodern criminology” is, for various reasons, highly problematic this doesn’t mean that newer approaches to understanding and explaining crime don’t have something to offer the a-level sociologist. In this two-part extravaganza, therefore, we can look at two (yes, really) dimensions to this criminological shift through the medium of a couple of lovingly-prepared workbooks.

The first workbook – a critique of conventional criminology – helps students understand some of the points-of-conflict between conventional (positivist) and postmodern criminologies, with the focus on areas like:

• The ontological reality of crime

• The myth of crime

• Criminalisation, punishment and pain

• Crime control

The workbook identifies and explains these ideas and also includes space for students to test their knowledge and understanding through relatively simple critical tasks.

A second workbook, Deviance as Harm, is also available.

Really Simple Series: Five-Minute Feedback Form

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

5mfbformGetting feedback from students can help you:

  1. Check student understanding at an individual level.
  2. Reflect on your teaching in terms of how lesson content is conveyed and understood.

But it can also have practical and theoretical drawbacks:

• In terms of the former, for example, it can be time-consuming to create and interpret.

• In terms of the latter there are potential expectancy problems – students effectively tell you what they think you want to hear.

One way to avoid these problems is to develop a quick and simple way of gathering feedback – and this is where the five-minute feedback form comes into play. The form is given to students to complete at the end of a lesson and allows you to gather evaluation data in a way that focuses on identifying:


Methods in Context: Crime and Official Statistics

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016

blog_policeWhile the validity of Official Crime Statistics has long been questioned, their reliability has tended to be assumed.

Recent pronouncements by the ONS, however, suggest that students should look at the reliability of crime statistics more critically…

“It’s just banter”: Applying Matza’s “techniques of neutralisation” to ‪#‎everydaysexism‬

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Although Matza’s ideas about “Delinquency and Drift” are 50 years old, this doesn’t mean they can’t be applied to contemporary examples in the A-level classroom – as this video with its examples of “Misogyny in British universities” probably attests.

This kind of material also illustrates two further ideas that are worth exploring:

a. The rarity of overt examples of middle-class deviance in the media.

Does this flow from the fact such deviance is actually quite rare?

Or does it stem from a media preoccupation with “crimes of the powerless”?

b. The particular technique of neutralisation employed by the perpetrators (“condemning the condemnators”) is itself interesting for what it tells us about the power of middle3 and upper class deviants to “fight back”. By “accusing the accusers” in this way (by suggesting they’re failing to understand “it’s not misogyny, merely humerous banter”) there is an attempt to shift the balance away from the perpetrator and onto the victim. The perpetrator, in other words, as victim.

The Functions of Crime

Friday, March 11th, 2016


This PowerPoint file combines text, graphics, audio and video to outline four types of Functionalist theory on crime and deviance:

  1. Durkheimian,
  2. Strain (Merton),
  3. General Strain
  4. Subcultural.

A self-selected, unrepresentative of anyone-but-themselves, sample of reviewers have described this resource as:

“Brilliant”; “Utterly amazing” and “Too complicated to follow”.

Is this, as Meatloaf so perceptively once asserted, a case of “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad”?

Judge for yourself…

Introducing Sociology: Video as a visual dimension for teaching about norms

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

If you want to add a visual dimension to your students’ understanding of norms the Can of Worms YouTube Channel has a selection of short films you can use as illustrative material. There are quite a few films from which to choose, so it probably pays to be selective.

The focus, as ever, is on using norm-breaking behaviour (“breeching experiments”) to illustrate the existence, importance and effects of norms on our everyday lives.

Taking things a little further, some of the clips can be used to illustrate concepts like the definition of a situation (how people become confused when they define a situation as one thing but other people define as something else) and Merton’s use of anomie (how people respond to situations in which norms clearly apply but which they can’t, for whatever reason, understand or follow).

If you’re looking for a more-general introduction to sociology and sociological thinking, have a look at our Introducing Sociology films – What is Sociology? is available for digital download or as part of our new Introduction to Sociology DVD

Beyond Milgram: Obedience and Identity

Monday, March 7th, 2016


In the early 1960s two apparently-unrelated events, separated by thousands of miles, took place that, in their own way, shocked the world.

The first, in early 1961, was the Jerusalem trial of Adolph Eichmann. He was accused – and subsequently convicted – of being one of the organisers of the Nazi Concentration Camps in which millions of innocent victims were sent to their deaths.

The second, a few months later, was a series of experiments carried out in and around Yale University, by Stanley Milgram.

What connects these two events is obedience and, more specifically, the idea of “blindly obeying” orders given by those in authority.

  • In Eichmann’s case “blind obedience” was manifested in his defence – both during and after the trial – that he was merely the agent of a higher, more-powerful, will. He was, he claimed, guilty of nothing more than being a loyal soldier; one who simply “obeyed the orders” he was given.
  • In the case of Milgram’s “Teachers”, “blind obedience” was apparently manifested in the willingness of two-thirds (66%) of his volunteers to deliver what they believed were lethal electric shocks to “Learners”. Were Milgram’s Teachers simply “obeying the orders” given to them by Milgram’s experimenters?


Some Notes on Constitutive Criminology

Monday, March 7th, 2016

While the concept of a “postmodern criminology” may be somewhat nebulous, to say the least, the ideas underpinning constitutive criminology may be the closest we have.

The basic idea here is to adopt what Henry and Milovanovic (1999) call a holistic approach, involving a ‘duality of blame’ that moves the debate away from thinking about the ‘causes of crime’ and the ‘obsession with a crime and punishment cycle’, towards a ‘different criminology’ theorised around what Muncie (2000) terms social harm. To understand crime we have to ‘move beyond’ notions centred around ‘legalistic definitions’. We have to include a range of ideas (poverty, pollution, corporate corruption and the like) in any definition of harm and, more importantly, crime (which, as Henry and Milovanovic put it, involves ‘the exercise of the power to deny others their own humanity’)


Visual Sociology: Macro and Micro Perspectives

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Revisiting my YouTube Channel reminded me of this “oldie” (you can tell its age by the 4:3 perspective – widescreen was for those with fancy monitors) that I cobbled together from bits and pieces of film that had been left lying around.

I quite like it and I think it gets the job done. I may have posted it before, but what the heck…

NGfL Cymru: Free eBooks

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

Those helpful people at the Welsh (Cymru) National Grid for Learning produce a range of free sociology and psychology resources to support the WJEC / Eduqas exam board Specification.

For Sociology, you might find these two Sociology texts created for the new 2015 Specification particularly useful:

AS Sociology eBook

A2 Sociology eBook

Psychologists might also find it’s worth downloading the PY3 and PY4 eBooks.

These resources are available in both text and flash versions.

False Memories

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

A lot of work has been done on research into memory – and, in particular, how malleable it can prove to be – since the challenge that developed in the 1990’s to the idea of “recovered memories”; traumatic memories that had apparently lain dormant in certain individuals until they were recovered through psychotherapy.

Elizabeth Loftus’ pioneering work (outlined in the Shortcuts video “False Memory – available as a digital downlaod (to rent or buy) or on DVD – did much to dispel the myths surrounding false memories and, more recently, a range of studies have been carried-out to test the idea put-forward by Loftus that completely false memories can be implanted in a range of different subjects.

To get a flavour for this research two interesting studies are worth looking at – the first deals with the ease with which false memories can be planted and the second questions the extent to which some of our memories may be fake.

Exam check list: do’s and don’ts

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

Another checklist put together for the CIE Sociology textbook. No great revelations, but probably helpful to know.


Practice answering questions under exam conditions. The more you practice the better you become.
Sleep on it Memory functions best when activity, such a revision, is followed by sleep; during sleep the brain consolidates learning and retention.
Read each question carefully Be clear about what each question is asking and how you plan to answer it.
Answer all parts of a question If the question has two parts then each part will carry half the available marks.
Relate your effort to the marks available Don’t waste time chasing one or two marks if it means you run out of time to answer higher mark questions.
Spend time planning your answer to extended questions This will structure your answer and help to ensure you use all the assessment criteria.
Review your answers When you’re writing at speed under pressure you will make mistakes; of spelling, punctuation and grammar as well as content. By taking a few minutes to read through your answers you can rectify these mistakes.
Double space your answers (leave a gap between each line in your answer booklet). When you review your answers in the final few minutes of the exam you will find mistakes; it’s easier and neater to correct mistakes or add missing words on the blank line above your answer.
Present your answers clearly and neatly


Buy new pens for the exam – old pens often leak and make your answers look messy. Only use black or blue ink. Punctuate properly and avoid abbreviations. Check your spelling and grammar when you review your answers.


A-Level and AP Psychology DVDs

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Our new “Revising Psychology” series of short films are now available on DVD.

There are currently 5 DVDs in production and each has 4 short (typically 5 – 8 minutes), self-contained, psychology videos designed to introduce students to key theories, concepts and methods in contemporary contexts.

Each DVD is competitively-priced at just £17.50, including post and packaging.

You can also buy all 5 DVDs at the Special Price of £75.00, including post and packaging.

Series Titles and films

Issues in Psychology [26 minutes: Ethics / Socially Sensitive Research / Usefulness of Research /Ethnocentrism]

Debates in Psychology [25 minutes: Nature-Nurture / Psychology and Science / Situational Psychology / Free Will and Determinism]

Non-Experimental Research Methods [21 minutes: Naturalistic Observation / Cases Studies / Self-Report Methods / Correlations]

Experimental Research Methods [23 minutes: Laboratory / Field / Natural Experiments / Experimental Design]

Core Concepts in Research [24 minutes: Reliability and Validity / Sampling / Reductionism / Variables]

All DVDs are available to order online.


Common Exam Errors and How to Avoid Them…

Friday, March 4th, 2016

This list of common exam errors (and how to avoid them) was put together for a recent CIE Sociology textbook I wrote – although most of them were actually “lost in the edit”. Be that as it may, the majority of these common exam errors are applicable to both sociology and psychology students.

Exams can be difficult social situations to negotiate precisely because they’re unusual; it’s not every day we willingly place ourselves under 1 1/2 – 3 hours of quite extreme, highly concentrated, levels of pressure and stress. The combination of strangeness and stress can mean you make avoidable errors that stop you gaining the overall mark your level of knowledge and understanding deserves. An awareness, therefore, of some common exam errors and what you can do to avoid them is always useful:

Error: Not answering the question: This problem is not so much that a student lacks the knowledge to answer a question correctly but more a problem of focus; the student writes a great deal of information but they lose sight of what the question is asking.

Avoid by: continually and explicitly referring to the question throughout your answer. (more…)