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Archive for June, 2017

BBC “Analysis” Podcasts

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Over the past 10 years BBC Radio 4’s Analysis series has created a range of podcasts “examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics”.

There are over 200 podcasts to trawl through, many of which won’t be of any interest or use to sociology teachers and students, but a relatively smaller number just might. To save you a lot of time and trouble (there’s no need to thank me, I’m nice like like) I’ve had a quick look through the list to select what I think might be the sociological highlights.

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Gay Best Friends as Consumers and Commodities

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

If you’re looking for something slightly different to incorporate into your Culture and Identity / Media Sociology teaching this book chapter on “Effeminacy and Expertise, Excess and Equality: Gay Best Friends as Consumers and Commodities in Contemporary Television” by Susie Khamis and Anthony Lambert might well fit the bill.

Of particular interest here might be the way it links identity to consumerism and consumption by focusing on “the gay male best friend as a possessable, commodified identity”.

It’s probably not something you’d necessarily give to students to read – it’s quite long and complex in places – but it’s definitely something teachers might find useful to precis or draw examples from to illustrate some interesting ideas about gender, identity and consumption.

Given A-level Sociology has a largely female demographic it’s also something this particular audience may find both easy to relate to and the basis for discussion based on their own ideas and experiences.

Methods, Mobiles and Media

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Research Methods can be a little abstract and dry (teacher-speak for dull), particularly when opportunities to experience and apply what’s being taught are limited by things like time and a lack of easy access to suitable research subjects.

This is where Steven Thomas’ “Patterns of Mobile Phone Use” article might help. The research example it suggests takes advantage of a ubiquitous resource – student ownership of mobile phones – to promote a relatively simple and straightforward way of applying and evaluating a range of methods, from questionnaires to participant observation.

It does this by suggesting students (loosely) replicate Maenpaa’s (2001) examination of the impact of mobile phones on social interaction through a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods designed to monitor mobile phone use in a small case study scenario. The article suggests a set of general areas to study – from the simple quantitative, like the length of time people spend on their phones each day, to more qualitative questions relating to how people behave when using their mobiles.

Media: Context / Background

Although the article is mainly designed to help students get to grips with research methods, if you’re teaching media there is an additional aspect to the research you might find interesting: evaluating the social impact of new media.

The concept of “New Media” appears somewhere on all Sociology a-level Specifications, frequently in conjunction with an instruction to examine its role / impact / significance in contemporary societies, both local and global:

AQA: New media and their significance for an understanding of the role of the media in contemporary Society

OCR: The impact of digital forms of communication in a global context

WJEC: New media and globalisation

CIE: The impact of the ‘new media’ on society.

In Thomas’ article the student research is based around a contrast between Negreponte’s slightly gung-ho and highly-individualistic “digital optimism” and Maenpaa’s more-nuanced approach to communication and interaction.

One interesting aspect of Negreponte’s work is the claim that in a digital society of “email, fax and answering machines” (the fact he only said this in 1995 shows how rapidly the technology has changed) the world will become asynchronous. That is, in order to participate or communicate people do not need to be interacting at the same time. As he predicted (Wired, 1998):

“We’ll all live very asynchronous lives, in far less lockstep obedience to each other. Any store that is not open 24 hours will be noncompetitive. The idea that we collectively rush off to watch a television program at 9:00 p.m. will be nothing less than goofy. The true luxury in life is to not set an alarm clock and to stay in pajamas as long as you like. From this follows a complete renaissance of rural living. In the distant future, the need for cities will disappear”.

One way in which new media has become increasingly ubiquitous is through the exponential growth of mobile / cell phone ownership and you would think that if any technological development has created or expanded asynchronous interaction it would be this one: technology that even a few years ago could be used to symbolise wealth and social status is now pretty-much everywhere.

While Negreponte’s arguments have a ring of truth about them – a certain face validity as it were – others have not been so sure. Maenpaa’s (2001) examination of the impact of mobile phones on interaction is a case (study) in point, with his key findings summarised by Thomas.

Methods

If you just want to use the activity as a way of teaching research methods, researching mobile use could be used to devise and apply methods such as:

  • Questionnaires / Structured interviews
  • Unstructured interviews
  • Observation – non-participant
  • Participant – overt and covert

  • Equally you could use a combination of quantitative / qualitative methods if you wanted to illustrate concepts of triangulation.

    If you don’t have the time, opportunity or inclination to do this as a practical exercise, try doing a thought experiment where students have to imagine what it would be like to do the research. This particular route can be instructive if students already have a good grounding in different methods, their strengths, weaknesses, uses and limitations and you want to explore a range of more-theoretical issues (different research methodologies, different aspects of triangulation and so forth).

    What’s in the Envelope?

    Friday, June 16th, 2017

    This activity from Sharon Martin is relatively simple to set-up and run and, as an added bonus, can be used with any area of the Specification (both Psychology and Sociology): this example is based on the Sociology of Crime and Deviance.

    The activity is mainly for revision / recap sessions, although there’s probably no reason why it couldn’t be adapted to areas of the course the students are about to study as a form of exploratory activity.

    Instead of asking students to display knowledge and understanding of concepts and theories with which they are already familiar they can be encouraged to research and report on these in some way.

    The instructions for the activity are straightforward and self-explanatory, but the activity does leave teachers a lot of scope to introduce their own variations.

    Sociology and Issues in the News

    Saturday, June 10th, 2017

    This simple activity, culled once more from the ATSS archive, has a dual purpose in terms of helping students:

    1.     Develop a critical and sociological understanding of “news” and how it is socially constructed and presented.

    2.     Interpret and apply sociological knowledge to real social situations.

    The activity requires no great preparation and involves students examining a story currently in the news from a sociological perspective. Stories can be chosen individually by you or your students or you can assign the class the same story. The objective here is to encourage students to:

  • identify the underlying assumptions and perspectives used to frame and present “news”.
  • explore alternative sociological explanations and evidence.

  • While the “news angle” is a bonus for those studying media, this is an exercise that can be used from time to time to help students sharpen and apply their sociological knowledge and understanding right across the a-level specification.

    If, for example, students are studying crime and deviance, stories relating to this area can be used to examine alternative sociological explanations.

    Making the Sociology of Crime and Deviance 10 Years Younger: Steve Taylor

    Thursday, June 8th, 2017

    Let’s face it the A2 Crime and Deviance syllabus is looking old. The years of blocked aspiration, anomie, unjust labelling and misplaced radicalism have taken their toll. A recent shopping mall poll put most the major theories at pensionable age, and even the dynamic ‘young’ radical ones were seen as ‘pushing 40’!

    But we have to teach them no matter how old and run down they look and so we should because underneath those theoretical wrinkles and conceptual decay, there’s a good body of ideas that still have some life in them.

    So what these ageing theories need is a make-over to see if we can make them look at least ten years younger. One of the best ways of doing this is to import some newer developments that reduce some of those wrinkles and surplus bulges. Examiners will also appreciate students trying to link the old with new, or at least with the newer.

    A useful class exercise, therefore, is to help students give these “classic explanations” a new coat of paint through the use of contemporary connections and examples – here’s a few to get you started:

    Ecological theory may date back to the Chicago School and the 1930’s, but the idea of socially disorganised areas, where formal and informal social control has broken down, was a key idea in Wilson and Kelling’s famous ‘Broken Windows’ theory which was the basis for more recent environmental control theory and a number of policy initiatives, including zero tolerance policing. So don’t leave ecological theory in the 1930s.

    Robert Merton’s Strain Theory may be pre-war but its key idea of rising crime and relative deprivation was not only incorporated into radical crime theory, but was also one of the pillars of ‘left realism’. It also continues to be the key finding of contemporary comparative studies of crime in affluent societies – the greater the inequalities in the distribution of wealth the higher the crime rate. 

    Labelling theory dates back to the 1960’s but we don’t have to stay in the 60’s with Jazz musicians, Mods and Rockers and Notting Hill bohemians to illustrate it. Many of its key concepts, such as stigma, secondary deviance and deviant careers are fundamental to more recent work, such as John Braithwaite’s study of crime and reintegration and the pioneering of restorative justice. So you can get interactionism out of those dated 60’s fashions.

    So there’s life in the old theories yet and with this kind of make-over they can be applied to the more recent, rather than the distant, past and made to look at least 10 years younger.

    Situational Crime Prevention Video

    Thursday, June 8th, 2017

    This is a video version of the Cornish and Clarke Situational Crime Prevention PowerPoint presentation.

    The film runs for around 3 minutes.

    Categorising SCP: Techniques and Examples

    Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

    The first post in this short series outlined what Cornish and Clarke (2003) called 5 Situational Crime Prevention strategies and this PowerPoint Presentation develops this to include what they argued were “25 crime prevention techniques” associated with these strategies. In the presentation each technique is both briefly explained and illustrated.

    This material is presented as a PowerPoint because this format allows you to control how much – or how little – information to give your students.

    It may be that for some purposes it’s enough for students just to understand that grouping Situational Crime Prevention into 5 broad strategy categories (from Increasing the Effort to Reducing the Reward) will help them organise their thoughts about this general area.

    For others it might be helpful to illustrate each strategy with 5 crime prevention techniques and, if necessary, further illustrate each technique with examples.

    Categorising Situational Crime Prevention Strategies

    Thursday, June 1st, 2017

    Situational crime prevention is an area that has grown in significance over the past 30 years, both in terms of social policies towards crime and sociological / criminological solutions to “the problem of crime”; it involves, according to Clarke (1997), a range of measures designed to reduce or eliminate “opportunities for crime” in three main ways:

  • The measures are “directed at highly specific forms of crime”.
  • They involve “the management, design or manipulation of the immediate environment in a systematic and permanent way”.
  • They “make crime more difficult and risky, or less rewarding and excusable”.

  • One potential difficulty for a-level students new to the concept, however, is the number and variety of different examples of situational crime prevention – from spatial and environmental controls (Designing Out Crime), through different forms of target hardening, to various types of formal and informal population surveillance and beyond.

    To help students organize and make sense of this material, therefore, it can be useful to categorise it in terms of different situational crime prevention:

    Strategies – the primary level of organisation and
    Techniques associated with these strategies – the secondary level of organisation.

    In this respect the work of Cornish and Clarke (2003) is instructive here because they identity 5 strategies that can be used as a primary level of organisation for ideas about situational crime prevention:

    1. Increase the effort required to commit a crime: This deters a wide range of opportunistic crimes if the time and effort to commit them is increased.
    2. Increase the risks associated with the crime: Increasing the likelihood of apprehension lowers the likelihood of a crime being committed.
    3. Reduce the rewards of crime: If the value gained from offending can be lowered there is less incentive for crime.
    4. Reduce stimulus that provokes crime: Careful management of the social and physical environment reduces incentives for criminal behaviour
    5. Remove excuses: Clearly signposting behavioural rules and laws removes the argument that people did not know they were behaving deviantly or illegally.


    The secondary level of organisation identified by Cornish and Clarke involves 25 different crime prevention techniques (5 associated with each strategy) that can be introduced to students if you want them to dig deeper into situational crime prevention. These ideas will be introduced and explained in a subsequent post (probably, but not necessarily, called “Part 2″).