Archive for September, 2018

Visualising Social Mobility: A Mountain to Climb?

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Broadly-speaking, the underlying idea here is to both make the study of social mobility slightly less dull and to replace a somewhat hackneyed, not-to-say, highly misleading visualisation of mobility (“a ladder”) with something a little more dynamic and visually thought-provoking (“climbing a mountain”).

Although this post could be more accurately described as a “Lesson Suggestion” rather than a “Lesson Plan”, I’ve included some ideas for how you might be able to turn it into the latter.

One of the most common ways to visualise social mobility – movement up or down a class structure – is to think in terms of “a ladder”. It’s an analogy that’s not just embedded in the Sociology classroom but arguably in everyday political discourse too.

And while it’s relatively easy to understand, evocative and in some ways self-explanatory, it’s also deeply flawed, even as a simple visual guide to understanding the mechanics of social mobility, for a number of reasons:

Going nowhere?

• It’s overly-individualistic in the sense of representing mobility as the product of individual effort, grit and determination. While these qualities may (or may not) be important, they present a one-dimensional view, focused solely on the individual that ignores both wider social factors involved in mobility (family, education…) and any sense of a problematic class structure that actively militates against mobility for some social groups.

• The ladder is presented as a neutral tool, one that simply facilitates social mobility.

• The ladder exists independently of those who use it. It is equally available to all and the most able will utilise it most successfully to climb to the higher levels of the class structure.

• The class structure itself is akin to something like a pyramid, smooth and increasingly elevated.

• It encourages students to focus on upward mobility – the ability to climb, rung-by-rung, to “the top”.

There are, of course, many more reasons for rejecting the ladder analogy as a way of visualising and teaching social mobility, but you probably get the idea.


Rational Choice Theory | 1

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

This first of two posts on Rational Choice Theory (RCT) provides an overview of a key New Right theory whose central argument about criminal rationality underpins a range of later Right Realist explanations for crime.

Rational Choice Theory (RCT) is one of a group of theories – including Broken Windows and Routine Activities Theory – that applies ideas developed to explain economic behaviour – in particular the idea individuals are rational and self-interested – to the explanation of criminal behaviour. The theory reflects, as Wilson (1983) puts it, the idea that “some scholars, especially economists, believe that the decision to become a criminal can be explained in much the same way as we explain the decision to become a carpenter or to buy a car”.

Gary Becker

While ideas about individual self-interest and rational choices in economic behaviour are well-established, their application to crime and criminal motivations, initially through the work of economists such as Becker (1968), gives them a contemporary twist that can be outlined in the following way:

1. Offenders are not qualitatively different to non-offenders

There’s nothing in the sociological or psychological background of offenders that either causes or explains their offending. To take a simple example: while many poor, deprived, individuals commit crimes, many more from the same social background do not.

A key concept here is agency: the idea people make choices about their behaviour that are neither determined nor necessarily influenced by their social and / or psychological backgrounds. Rather, choices are made in the context of particular situations – particularly the opportunities that are available for the commission of crimes.


Teaching Timelines

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

A free, easy-to-use online Timeline creator that allows you to incorporate text, images and video.

Back-in-the-day, when I was still classroom teaching, one of the techniques I occasionally used was the Teaching Timeline, something I found particularly useful for Introductory Sociology (back when a “History of Sociological Thought” was mandatory) and, for some reason, Crime and Deviance.

For the latter I always found it useful to create a “Theory Timeline” that helped students understand when different criminological theories first appeared and, more-importantly, how they were connected to and influenced by each other.

A third type of Timeline – “Dead, White, European Men” – was one I used whenever I wanted to be a bit provocative and promote some discussion about whether or not sociology was basically just about the musings of the aforementioned White European Males who Are No-Longer-With-Us.

Usually on a Friday afternoon in the deep mid-winter.

For some reason.


The thinking behind Teaching Timelines was, somewhat unusually for me at this time, tied to the idea of anchorage. That is, an attempt to provide a structure for various ideas through a sense of time and place, such that students could understand how theories of crime, for example, developed, why and how they were criticised and what, if anything, came out of this process.

Back then, Teaching Timelines were created with pen and paper before being stuck to the wall (where they slid slowly and painfully to the floor, were ripped by carelessly passing bags and generally made to look a bit sad and dilapidated after a couple of months wear-and-tear). They were also, if I’m honest, a little-bit-crap in a “felt-tip pen plus a few stuck-on pictures” kind of way.

Right now, things are a little different because with something like Flippity you can create free, web-based, Timelines that incorporate text, graphics, pictures and video (or at least those hosted on YouTube – here’s a Sociology playlist and a Psychology playlist to get you started if you need it).

Creating A Timeline

Creating a Timeline is relatively simple – it’s just a matter of entering text – and any links to pictures and videos you want to incorporate – into a Google Docs template (you can find full instructions about how to access the template, enter data and the like, here if you need them).

To do this you’ll need to have a (free) Google Docs account (you can create one here if you don’t have one already).

While Teaching Timelines can, of course, be your own personal creation it’s also possible to turn them into an active-learning, co-operative, exercise involving your students finding relevant text, images and videos for you to add to the final Timeline.

Or not, as the case may be.

Global Connections Lesson Plans

Monday, September 17th, 2018

Although the focus of these lesson plans and student workbooks is on American culture it’s easy enough to substitute “America” for any other culture you want to cover…

Although I can’t remember exactly where I found these resources, they seem to be linked to some sort of international educational company / program (VIF) and they’re professionally produced to a high standard of both design and competence (there’s a focus – some might say obsession – with meeting various American educational Standards).

If you’re subject to these Standards the mapping of the materials is going to be very useful, but even if you’re not you should find something here that’s useful for your teaching – either because you’re seeking to understand something about “American Culture” or, as I’ve suggested, you want to apply the basic ideas contained in the lesson plans to some other culture of your choice.

Booklet 1: The US American Way

The first booklet “examines the identity and origin of U.S. Americans and how others in the world perceive U.S. Americans” through a range of suggested resources, web links and exercises. In addition, there are 3 specific lesson plans covering:

• The definition of and who is a U.S. American.
• The origin of U.S. culture.
• How Americans perceived globally.

Student Workbook: The US American Way

This contains a variety of exercises and activities related to the lesson plans contained in Booklet 1.

Booklet 2: Pop Culture

The second booklet “investigates the connectedness of the world’s people by examining components of pop culture and its effects on regions of the world” and, as with the first Booklet, begins with suggestions for resources, links and simple exercises.

The 3 lesson plans in this Booklet cover:

• The things, ideas, places and people that define popular culture.
• The impacts of American pop culture on other regions of the world.
• The global source of several American pop culture trends.

Student Workbook: Pop Culture

This has a variety of exercises and activities related to the lesson plans contained in Booklet 2.

Shortcuts to Crime and Deviance: Women and Crime

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

While the first film in the Gender and Crime series looked at the ideas of Gendering Crime (in every society males commit far more crimes than females) and masculinity as an explanation for greater male criminal involvement, this second film – once again built around interviews with Professor Sandra Walklate – focuses on women and crime (hence the title “Women and Crime”).

The first part identifies some reasons for the increase in female crime and criminality over the past 25 years (albeit from a very low base. Historically women commit far fewer crimes than men so even a relatively small increase in female crime results in quite large percentage increases). These include:

• Greater female freedoms
• Binge drinking
• Increased public domain participation

• Changing criminal justice practices
• Less judicial tolerance of female criminality
• Economic and demographic changes.

The second part looks briefly at the impact of 2nd wave feminist perspectives on criminology over the past 50 or so years, particularly in relation to issues of sexual and domestic violence. This part covers:

• Patriarchy
• Male power
• Sexual and domestic violence
• Empowering women
• Hidden deviance
• Expanding the criminological agenda.

Shortcuts to Crime and Deviance: Gendering the Criminal

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Professor Sandra Walklate talks about the relationship between gender and crime and explains how and why masculinity offers a partial, but not necessarily sufficient, explanation for the over-representation of young men in the crime statistics.

• Gender and crime
• Masculinity

• Femininity
• Gender socialisation
• Edgework (Lyng)
• Cultural expectations of masculinity
• Masculinity and the public domain
• Opportunity and opportunity structures
• Social construction of gender
• Female “double punishment”
• Masculinity and crime
• Unpacking masculinity
• Gangs and gang cultures