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Archive for June, 2018

New Media: WeChat and the Chinese New Year.

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

One of the nice things about running Dorset’s Most Popular Sociology Blog (*) is that from time-to-time we get to feature the work of Richard Driscoll’s students at the Shenzhen College of International Education in China.

Previous posts have, for example, examined ideas as diverse as Cultural Capital, Parental Involvement in Education, Social Identity and Matriarchy as these relate specifically to Chinese society.

This particular piece of research, by Adelaide Han, is a qualitative examination of the impact new media, in the form of WeChat,  a hugely-popular Chinese social media messaging app (used by an estimated 900 million people each day), has on traditional forms of behaviour in the shape of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

As ever, you need to keep in mind the research was carried-out by an A-level student so you should see it as suggestive rather than definitive; it’s useful, nevertheless, for the way it looks at the relationship between new technology, in the shape of social media apps, and highly-structured traditional forms of behaviour.

Disclaimer

* While there’s no actual evidence to support this Proud Boast, we’re making it on the entirely-ridiculous basis that since there are no other Dorset-based Sociology Blogs (probably) we are, by default, the “most popular”. QED.

The Dark Side of Family Life: Domestic Abuse

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

The issue of domestic abuse has hit the headlines recently with the start of both the 2018 World Cup and not-uncoincidentally, a “Give Domestic Abuse the Red Card” campaign promoted by a range of police forces and widely-reported in both old and new media.

The campaign highlights the relationship between domestic violence (defined in terms of some form of physical assault) and the outcome of England football matches and is intended to draw attention to the social problem of domestic violence by connecting it to an event on which the eyes of the nation are currently fixed.

While the intention to may be laudable – domestic violence was arguably, until very recently, an “invisible crime” rarely perceived or investigated by the authorities as anything more than a “domestic dispute” – the campaign is, intentionally or otherwise, being a little disingenuous with its selection and presentation of evidence.

While the campaign claim that “Domestic Abuse rates rise 38% when England lose” is demonstrably true, the implication this is a nationwide increase is rather more open to question. The claim seems to be based on research by Kirby, Francis and O’Flahery (2014) who analysed police reports of “domestic abuse” (which they defined in terms of physical violence) during the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

While the analysis did indeed show “violent incidents increased by 38% when England lost” we need to note a couple of qualifications:

1. In what they acknowledge was “a relatively small study”, the rise was recorded in the one police force (Lancashire) they analysed. While it’s possible to speculate similar rises may have been recorded in other areas of the country this is not something supported by the evidence from this particular study.

2. The implied casual relationship between “England losing” and an increase in male violence towards their partner is somewhat clouded by Kirby et al’s observation that male domestic abuse “also rose by 26% when England won”.

Two further problematic areas in the campaign are also worth noting:

1. The focus on male domestic abuse and the implication domestic violence is not only a “problem of masculinity” but a very particular form of working-class masculinity ignores the increasing evidence of female domestic abuse. The Office for National Statistics (2018) for example estimates a roughly 66% female – 33% male ratio of victimisation (1.2 million female and 713,000 male reported victims) and while this imbalance is clearly important it also suggests that abuse causality is more-complex than it might, at first sight, appear.

2. The implication “abuse” is has only one dimension (physical violence). Again, the ONS (2018) suggests this is only one – albeit immediate and important – dimension of domestic abuse and we need to be aware of other, perhaps less immediate – dimensions.

In this respect, while the campaign and its relationship to the study on which it seems to be based raise interesting questions about how and to what end sociological research is used, a more-nuanced way to develop student understanding of the issues and debates surrounding domestic abuse and the darker side of family life is to use the recent Office for National Statistics’ Research Bulletin on “Domestic Abuse in England and Wales” (2018).

While this offers a comprehensive overview and analysis of the debate (in addition to useful observations about the reliability and validity of domestic abuse data that can be linked to the crime and deviance module – “Domestic abuse is often a hidden crime that is not reported to the police, which is why the estimated number of victims is much higher than the number of incidents and crimes recorded by the police. Of the cases which do come to the attention of the police, many, although still recorded as incidents and dealt with as required, will fall short of notifiable offences and are therefore not recorded as crimes.”) most students (and teachers come to that) will probably find the summary of its main points most accessible and memorable.

Youth Subcultures: The Changing Face of Gangs

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Unlike in the USA, where the study of “gangs” and “gang culture” – from “Street Corner Society” to “Gang Leader for A Day” – is firmly embedded in the sociological mainstream, the empirical study of UK gangs is fairly limited.

This makes it all the more interesting that, over the past 10 years, Waltham Forest Council in London has been responsible for commissioning two major Reports into gang behaviour in the Borough (and beyond) that give a valuable insight into the sociological background to both gang origins (including definitions and typologies) and development: the claim gangs are moving away from relatively simple “status models” that focus on the idea of “surrogate families” to a more-complex economic model that sees gangs as part of an illegal network economy that both shadows and, at some points intersects with, legal economic behaviour.

If you have the time the two Reports are worth reading for the different insights they give into gangs and gang behaviour:

The first, John Pitts’ “Reluctant Gangsters: Youth Gangs in Waltham Forest (2007), has a lot of useful information on areas like:

• Defining Gangs
• Explaining how and why gangs emerge
• Youth Gangs and the Drugs Market
• Gang Members, Culture and Violence
• The Social Impact of Gangs

Throughout the Report Pitts’ references a wide range of sociological studies that will be familiar to students studying crime and deviance, something that should help them make connections between wider sociological theories of deviance and the specific development of gang-based youth subcultures.

The second – Whittaker et. al’s “From Postcodes to Profit: How gangs have changed in Waltham Forest” (2018) – is equally worth a read because although it covers a lot of similar ground to Pitt’s initial work, its focus is less on the sociological origins of gangs and more on locating them in the social and economic structure of the area, in this case Waltham Forest, in which they arise and are embedded.

Although Whittaker et al necessarily look at ideas about gang structures and membership, from definitions, through typologies to an important and interesting section on a relatively-neglected area, the role of girls in gangs, this material is largely a scene-setter for a wider debate about the evolution of gangs in this area of London. More-specifically, the author’s central argument is one that sees contemporary gangs, at least in London, developing into what are primarily economic entities: the section on “Gangs, technology and social media”, which looks at things like “brand development and promotion” is particularly interesting and demonstrates how various forms of new technology – from mobile hardware to platform software – have been rapidly adopted and integrated into gang cultures and structures. An interesting measure of this rapid integration is that Pitts’ said nothing about the gang use of social media a little over 10 years ago.

While both Reports contain a lot of useful information relating to both wider areas like Crime and Deviance and more-specific areas like Youth Subcultures (and, as an added bonus, are both written in language that’s very accessible to A-level students), if you don’t have the time or inclination to read them, the recent publication of “From Postcodes to Profits” has spawned some useful media coverage that captures some of the major ideas contained within the Report. In this respect, it’s worth looking at:

1. Waltham Forest Council publishes ground breaking report that shows how gangs are more money than territory orientated compared to a decade ago.

2. London gangs driven by desire to profit from drug trade.

3. Gangs: More violent, ruthless and organised than ever.

Get Back The Heartbeat: A Film about Social Control

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Around 10 years ago I was contacted by a French film student asking permission to use something I’d written about social control as the basis for a Sociology lecture to be featured in a short film they were producing and directing.

I’d forgotten all about it until I was rooting around in a bookcase looking for something I’d lost and came across the DVD.

I remember being both taken aback and impressed by the film at the time and, on viewing it again after a gap of a few years, I still like what the director has done, both overall in terms of the look and feel of the film and, more specifically, in turning some simple a-level Sociology notes into something more brooding and menacing than anything I ever achieved during my 15 or so years in the classroom.

Although this is a film about “social control”, I’m still not entirely sure about its actual meaning – although that, of course, could be the point if you subscribe to a Barthesean view of the world.

The postmodernic layer of meaning-upon-meaning vibe is also enhanced by the fact that while, quantitatively, I wrote the spoken script, qualitatively, it was nothing to do with me: I played no part in its production save to provide the text that was then shaped and sculpted by the actual writer into the film you’re about to watch.

Overall, the film’s a bit weird (and then some), but I like it for its striking visuals, black-and-white visualisation and the odd sensation of hearing what were essentially some rather dull lecture notes given a new and rather wonderful sense of being.

Or something.

Maybe I’m getting a little bit carried away by the whole French auteur thing?