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Sociology Revision Days with Dr Steve Taylor

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Crime & Deviance: updated to 21st Century

Dr Steve Taylor, University of London & ShortCutstv

Examiners reward students for writing about contemporary society but there are very few examples of contemporary theory & research on crime in the textbooks. This Workshop aims to fill that gap by linking the ‘familiar’ with the new.

Approaches to Crime & Deviance: Key theories & concepts, consolidated, compared & evaluated.

New Research: clear, easy to understand, up to date research examples to illustrate approaches.

Globalisation & Crime: green, organised & state crime made accessible & illustrated with up to date examples.

Theory & Method: simplified & illustrated.

Handouts: include concise summarises of research examples used.

Exam technique guidance, including introducing newer material into exam questions.

Brand new free video “Sociological Theories of Crime” included.

What Teachers say
Our students came away inspired and were talking about the session for the rest of the year
David Gunn, Camden School
Excellent Day. He brings in contemporary evidence and great links to exam skills
Ann-Marie Taylor, Coleg Cambria
The students loved it. I’d recommend Steve to any teacher wanting to organise a revision day.
Ian Luckhurst, Bridgewater College

Cost (inclusive & regardless of no. of students):
Day: £500
Half Day £300

For more information:
Email: steve@shortcutstv.com
Call: 07771-561521

7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 7: Cards, Cakes and Class

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

sim_cakesThe final offering in what no-one’s calling “The Wonderful Week of Sims” is designed to give students practical experience of social inequality based on the unequal distribution of economic resources (wealth) – the eponymous “cake” of the title. While this can be an end in itself – a central part of the sim is the physical segregation of students within the same classroom – it can also be the building block for an examination of the possible consequences of such inequality.

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7 Sims in 7 Days – Day 6: For My Next Trick…

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

This sim involves a bit of very gentle trickery on your part as you use your little-known ability to mind-read as a way of enlivening some of the “possibly less interesting?” aspects of research methods.

As with some of the other sims in the series this is a building-block resource; while it’s not very useful, in itself, for teaching, it’s possible to integrate it into curriculum content in a number of innovative and, I hope, interesting ways.  

The specific instructions for this version of the sim relate to research methods generally and research design specifically. The background reading that’s included, at no extra cost, relates to Popper’s Hypothetico-Deductive Model of science and you can build the sim around a range of general and / or specific research method issues (replication, variables, hypothesis construction and testing etc.) depending on your own particular needs and preferences. For more advanced levels the sim can be used to illustrate the difference between Positivist and Realist approaches to understanding social phenomena and action. (more…)

Seven Sims in Seven Days – Day 5: Trial by Jury

Saturday, October 1st, 2016

sim_trailAs with some of the others in this series, “Trial by Jury” is a building block sim that gives you a basic template that can be used to organise and run a wide range of possible simulations. In basic terms if there’s an area of the Sociology / Psychology course that involves comparing and contrasting two opposing viewpoints it can be adapted to the Trial by Jury format using this template.

As a way of exampling this the package uses the (sociological) example of “Positivism On Trial” (effectively a debate between Positivism / Interpretivism at As-level).

This is quite a time-consuming simulation and it’s probably best-suited to occasional use (unless you’ve completely flipped your classroom, in which case it’s something you could frequently use).

For example, it could be used at the end of a specific teaching session (such as “secularisation”) as a way of bringing all the different arguments and evaluations together. Alternatively you might find it useful for a series of “end of course” sessions as a way of structuring student revision.

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 about 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_deprivation

Cultural 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.

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

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Background

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.

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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 – there were 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 was an attempt to embed the 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. I’ve since had to retire the original version, but it’s spirit has since been resurrected here if you’re interested.
  1. Crime, Deviance and Methods: The Great Chocolate Bar Theft, also long-since retired, was an online crime and methods sim that I might, at some point in the future, resurrect (but don’t bet on it).

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”.

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“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.

7 days of social science research

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

This ESRC YouTube page contains 7 short (5 – 6 minute) introductory films covering a range of topics that can be used to introduce, highlight and illustrate various aspects of the mainly AS Specification:

  • Image and identity
  • Charity
  • Poverty and inequality
  • Migration
  • Family and relationships
  • Work and employment
  • Happiness and wellbeing

UK Schools: Social Mobility or Cultural Reproduction?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

One of the persistent debates around education is the extent to which it serves as an agency of social mobility, as opposed to one of cultural reproduction:

Mobility proponents, for example, argue education – and the credentials it creates – is one of, if not the, most important sources of social mobility in democratic societies: the sons and daughters of different social classes compete against one another for educational qualifications on a reasonably-level playing field.

Reproduction theorists, on the other hand, argue education systems have the appearance of fairness and equal competition while, in reality, Higher Economic Status (HES) parents are able, through a combination of their higher levels of economic, social and cultural capital, to “play the system” to ensure their sons and daughters are the ultimate winners in the education game.

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New Media, New(s) Values?

Monday, May 18th, 2020

The concept of news values – the basic principles journalists use to guide their decisions about what constitutes “news” – has been a staple of media sociology since Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) taxonomy (classification) identified the various basic requirements “stories must generally satisfy” if they were to qualify as news.

As you might expect, this initial categorisation has been reviewed and refined over the years by different researchers – one of the most-interesting and sociologically-useful being Harcup and O’Neill’s (2001) attempt to test the validity of the original classification.

The outcome was a reduction to 10 categories (from the original 12) to take account of changing economic, political and cultural circumstances – the most-noticeable of which, particularly in a UK-context, is arguably the inclusion of an “Agenda” category, missing from the original, that highlights the significance of “owner views” – individual or organisational – on how the journalists they employ select and report “news” (I’ve left the “Examples” column blank so you can add your own. Either that or I couldn’t be bothered to think of any. I’ll leave you to decide which is the more plausible).

Harcup and O’Neill (2001)

While both of these classifications (and many others, such as Chibnall (1977) or Lanson and Stephens, 2003) are, in their slightly different ways, relevant to any understanding of the historical concept of news values, contemporary media developments such as the growth of the Internet and, more-specifically, the rise of social media such as Facebook (2006) and Twitter (2006), add a different dimension to our understanding of news values. This involves, as Harcup and O’Neill (2017) suggest, the need to:

Examine the extent to which any taxonomy of news values devised in the age before Twitter, Facebook and other interactive platforms, can be taken as read today”.

The main (sociological) reason for this relates to the relationship between news producers and consumers:

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Teaching Techniques: Pre-Questioning

Friday, May 15th, 2020

“Asking questions” of students is pretty-much a staple of any teacher’s toolkit, which is fair enough, because as Jarrett (2107) notes:

The “testing effect” is well-established in psychology: this is the finding that answering questions about what you’ve learned leads to better retention than simply studying the material for longer. Testing is beneficial because the act of recall entrenches learned material in our memories, and when we can’t answer, this helps us make our future revision more targeted”.

Testing, therefore, has a range of educational benefits for both teachers – such as checking how effective their teaching of a particular topic has been – and students in that answering questions appears to encourage better information retention.

This type of practice, for reasons that are somewhat obvious, can be called post-questioning: students attempt to learn something, by viewing a short film, for example, and are then questioned on what they’ve learnt “after the event”.

This, you may be thinking, makes sense and is how it probably should be.

And you wouldn’t be wrong.

There is, however, another way of asking questions that is slightly more counter-intuitive in that it involves asking questions before students have studied something. This is known as pre-questioning and, on the face of things probably sounds a little pointless.

Bear with me however, as I outline two types of pre-questioning and suggest exactly how and why they might be useful to your teaching in different contexts.

Type of Pre-Questioning

Lancaster Lockdown Psychology Seminar Series

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Lancaster University, a place where, coincidentally, I spent 3 years of my life studying, have announced a series of “interactive live talks from experts in the Department of Psychology” that are open to anyone.

All you need is the Microsoft Teams app or you can view – and interact if you want – using a web browser.

The latter allows you to join a seminar anonymously if you so choose.

Which is either a commendable attempt to open everything up to as many people as possible or a hostage to fortune.

I’m hoping it’s the former.

A little weirdly, the advertising for the series is being posted from a Lancaster University WordPress page that seems to have been created in 2011 but never used for anything.

Until now.

So I’m guessing this is something of a mend-and-make-do effort on the part of the Psychology Department, which, if that’s the case, more power to them.

Anyway, the seminars are 30-minute talks about “contemporary areas of psychological research” with, as I’ve suggested, an interactive element in that you can ask the Speaker questions – anonymously or otherwise. The format, in this respect, is a bit like a lecture: a 30-minute talk followed by 30 minutes for participants to ask questions.

The Seminars are being held every Tuesday from 7.30 – 8.30pm, starting 12th May, and have the following talks lined-up:

12th May 2020: Dr Lara Warmelink: Lying: the good, the bad, and the ugly

19th May:  Dr Calum Hartley: Children’s understanding of ownership

26th May: Dr Sally Linkenauger: The Pint Glass Illusion:  Large Distortions in the Perceived Shape of Everyday Objects

2nd June: Prof Charlie Lewis: Developmental Psychology in the Courts: Can we help children provide more convincing evidence?

9th June: Dr Ryan Boyd: How to Talk About Your Feelings: The Peculiar Relationship Between Words and Emotions.

Crime and Deviance: More PowerPoints

Thursday, May 7th, 2020

A few years ago(!) I posted a White Collar Crime PowerPoint with a note to say that it seemed like one of a pair with Corporate Crime (don’t ask me how I knew that, I’ve got no idea).

Green Crime

But the Bad News was I couldn’t find it.

Never one to not persevere, I’ve been hunting night-and-day (not literally) for the missing PowerPoint and the Good News is that I’ve now found it. Corporate Crime is now available for your viewing pleasure alongside its White Collar counterpart.

While some among us might have put their feet up and settled back a little smugly in their comfy chair content in the knowledge of A Job Well Done, others (i.e. me. In case there’s any doubt) kept their sleuthing hat on (not a Deerstalker, sadly) and continued the search.

Which, I’m very pleased to say, has bourne fruit in the shape of three further Presentations, namely:

1. State Crime and Human Rights.

2. Green Crime.

3. Cybercrime.

Each Presentation is relatively short and generally takes the form of “defining the problem” coupled with some examples to illustrate the concept and a few class / exam questions to round things off. Having said that, the State and Human Rights Presentation is more-extensive and offers up a couple of explanations / theories that could be applied to understand the problem.

You need to keep in mind that the Presentations seem to be around 10 years old (and reference material that is consequently a few years older than that) but otherwise all the Presentations represent relatively simple and painless ways to introduce some of the lesser, but nonetheless important, areas of the Crime and Deviance Specification.

Education: 2. Schools, Marketisation and Parentocracy

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Part 1 of this series looked at a range of general ideas about the structure and organisation of education in our society, through a broadly historical overview of educational development over the past 150 years. In part 2 the focus is on the structure and organisation of different types of school within the education system.

Over the past 25 years secondary schooling (broadly, 11 – 18) has seen a range of organisational changes we can illustrate by looking at different types of schools now available to parents in both the private and state-maintained sectors in England and Wales.

A Public School…

Private sector

According to Department of Education data (2018/19) There are around 2,400 Independent schools in the UK (out of a total of around 25,000 primary and secondary schools), funded by parental fees – Harrow, for example, charges nearly £42,000 for the 2020/21 school year  – and investment income. Around half of these schools also claim charitable status which gives them a range of tax reliefs and exemptions.

According to the Independent Schools Council (2015) these schools currently educate around 7% of the total school-age (5 – 16) population and 14% of post-16 students. Independent schools are allowed to set their own admissions policy (the major Public Schools, for example, operate some form of entrance exam selection process in addition to charging fees) and do not have to follow the National Curriculum (although most do, usually in a modified form).

The leading 10% of independent schools – those affiliated to the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference – are usually known as Public Schools, a label that reflects their origins as schools for the poor.

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Of Methods and Methodology 6 | 3: Theoretical Research Considerations

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Theoretical research considerations – from methodological perspective to questions of reliability and validity – form the third part of the P.E.T. (Practical, Ethical, Theoretical) triumvirate of research considerations and they represent an important counterweight to the idea that sociological research simply involves choosing the right tool for the job.

In everyday life, when faced with a problem like hanging a picture on a wall, most of us would reach for a hammer – mainly because we consider this the most appropriate and efficient tool for the job.

When carrying out sociological research, therefore, it would make sense to do something similar: choose a research topic and then select the most appropriate method with which to collect data.

Seeing research methods as tools – what Ackroyd and Hughes (1992) called the “Toolbox Approach” to sociological research – is, on one level, a perfectly sensible approach: if you want to collect quantitative data about some form of behaviour it’s not a great idea to use a method better-suited to collecting qualitative data – and vice-versa.

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The Sociology Teacher

Wednesday, April 15th, 2020

If you’re familiar with the work of the British Sociological Association – and the Discover Sociology section dedicated to A-level-sociology in particular – you’ll probably be aware of The Sociology Teacher journal that was published by the BSA three times a year.

I say was because the Journal is no-more.

It has gone the way of all A-level Sociology Journals that aren’t called “Sociology Review”.

Apparently.

Although its anyone’s guess as to whether the Journal will actually be missed by its target audience – probably because few A-level Sociology teachers actually knew it existed – the Journal lives on in archive form.

And said archive is now free.

There is, at the time of writing, an issue with the site’s security certificate which means users are warned that proceeding to the site is “potentially unsafe”. This looks like a simple technical issue that should be quickly fixed and nothing bad will happen if you continue to access the site.

Probably.

If you don’t want to risk it (or, once things get back to normal, your school / college IT administrators block access to sites with incorrect security certificates) I have, out of the kindness of my heart, made each of the 11 issues available to download.

I’ve even gone through each issue identifying the key articles in order to make your download choices better informed…

Click to get to the archive

Top Teams

Thursday, April 9th, 2020
Who will be in your starting 11?

Sociology Support is a site run by experienced (AQA) examiner that offers a range of support for students and teachers through events, such as lectures and workshops and Continuous Professional Development (from marking and grading student answers, through Revision Days to Zoom webinars).

In addition to the paid stuff, however, they also have a range of free resources that are a little more imaginative than the usual run-of-the-mill materials found online.

One such offering is the idea of “Top Teams” – a simple but effective revision exercise that helps students organise their thoughts on, in this instance, social class and educational achievement.

Tweaked…

The real beauty of this idea, however, is that with a bit of simple tweaking it could be applied in many other contexts – anywhere, in fact, students need to identity and then apply different studies or policies to something.

It could even be used as a means of getting students think about how to apply different theories, concepts or, at a stretch, methods to different scenarios…

Of Methods and Methodology 6 | Practical Research Considerations

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Sociologists do research for a wide range of reasons and in this post we’re looking at a range of practical research considerations relating to, firstly, choice of topic and secondly, choice of method.

As luck would have it (you didn’t seriously think I planned this stuff, did you?), this all fits neatly into my “5 Things You Need To Know” patent-not-pending revision technique…

choice of topic

Decisions about what to study may be influenced by a range of personal and institutional factors:

1. The interests of the researcher, for example, are likely to be a key influence on any decision about what to study., one that reflects their areas of expertise and specialism. To take a slightly extreme example perhaps, the Glasgow Media Group – and Greg Philo in particular – have specialised in research into mass media bias for over 40 years – from “Bad News” (1976) to “Bad News for Labour” (2019).

2. A second area of influence involves things like current debates and intellectual fashions: the popularity of different research topics, for example, wax and wane for a range of reasons, not least being the availability or otherwise of research funding – an issue we’ll address in a moment.

One driver of research choices in this respect, at least in the UK, is that institutional, departmental and personal funding in universities is sensitive to the popularity of a piece of research. An important way this is measured is in terms of how many other researchers around the world cite an individual’s research. The more the citations, the greater the measured popularity and the higher the level of future research funding for a university department.

A research topic that is currently popular and / or intellectually fashionable may stand a greater chance of attracting citations because the pool of interest – among other researchers, the media and general public – will be that much larger than for a much smaller, more niche, research topic  (Southerton et al’s (1998) “Research Note on Recreational Caravanning” being a personal favourite).

Money, money, money…

3.  Funding is one of the more prosaic – but nevertheless hugely important – practical considerations in relation to topic choice. Research, in simple terms, costs money – whether, like Cant et al (2019), you’re emailing a questionnaire to sociology teachers to explore their opinions on the status of sociology in English schools, co-ordinating a group of academics and field researchers in a lengthy study of religion and spirituality (Heelas and Woodhead, 2004) or simply, like Ferrell (2018) or Venkatesh (2009), engaging in extensive and lengthy forms of participant observation.

While finding the money to fund a piece of research that may last anything from a few weeks to, in Venkatesh’s case around 10 years, may dictate the researcher’s choice of topic – if the funding’s not available, it’s unlikely to be studied – a further dimension are the questions:

Who pays?

And why?

Those who commission and pay for sociological research, from universities, through charities and private Think Tanks to government departments, are likely to want – and in some cases demand -an important say in the ultimate choice of topic to be studied. In both the UK and USA, for example, the trend over the past 30 – 40 years has been to commission sociological research designed to help government policymakers make decisions. If your choice of topic (and method…) doesn’t fit with this brief or aid in this process it may be harder to attract funding.

There’s more. A whole load More

Of Methods and Methodology: 5. Triangulation

Friday, March 13th, 2020

methodological pluralism

While it’s necessary, for the sake of illustration, to differentiate between different sociological methodologies, this doesn’t mean positivism and interpretivism simply occupy their own unique social space into which the other cannot enter – an idea reflected in the notion “positivists” would not use qualitative methods for methodological reasons, because such methods “lack reliability”, for example, while “interpretivists” would not use quantitative methods because they “lack validity”.

Rather than see methodologies as being entities whose basic principles are set in stone, it’s more-useful to see them as mental constructs created for theoretical convenience; to help us understand and evaluate, for example, methodological principles such as reliability and validity. In this respect the question of whether we should expect to meet such methodologies in their “pure forms” in the real world of sociological research may be somewhat wide of the mark given that, as Wood and Welch (2010) argue:

There is now increasing awareness that both quantitative and qualitative styles of research may have a contribution to make to a project, which leads to the idea of mixing methods“.

This idea can be expressed as methodological pluralism, something Payne et al (2004) define as “tolerance of a variety of methods”. It refers, in other words, to the idea of combining research methodologies in ways that allow each to complement the other to improve overall research reliability and validity.

The logic of this argument is that different research methods have different methodological strengths and weaknesses; questionnaires, for example, may produce reliable data, but with low validity (although, once again, this relationship is by no-means set in stone – depending on what is being measured, questionnaires are not methodologically incapable of producing valid data), while the reverse may be true for covert participant observation. 

Rather than approach research methodology from the perspective of a “design problem” therefore – how to test a hypothesis (positivism) or answer a research question (interpretivism) we can approach it from a methodological perspective – how to collect data that has the highest possible levels of reliability and validity, regardless of the actual methods or data types used. In this respect, if methodological pluralism represents the theoretical justification for using mixed methods – because no research method or data type is intrinsically “positivist” or “anti-positivist” – triangulation is the means through which this theory is put into practice.

More on Mixed Methods…

Crime as a Cause of Crime? Evaluating Routine Activities

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

Felson and Cohen’s Routine Activities approach (1979) has arguably been one of the most-influential recent theories of crime, one that sits squarely within contemporary New Right / Realist explanations for crime and deviance.

This post looks at a couple of useful ways students can evaluate the approach.

A Quick Outline…

The main objective of this post is to introduce a-level sociology students to some points of evaluation for Routine Activities and in order to do this, students need to be familiar with the basic approach. If they’re not, this quick outline should bring them up-to-speed.

One advantage of the approach is that it’s easy to describe, at least in Felson and Cohen’s (1979) original argument that crime involves three essential elements:

1. A Suitable Target

The Predatory Triangle

2. A Motivated (latterly, a Capable or Likely) Offender

3. The absence of a Capable Guardian.

This formulation has, over the years, seen various additions (see, for example, Clarke and Eck, 2003) although whether these represent an attempt to refine the approach or merely a papering over of the theoretical cracks, I couldn’t possibly say), but one of the most significant refinements has been to express these elements as part of what Felson and Cohen call “the Predatory Triangle”.

While it might not seem much, this visual representation shows how the three elements are linked, such that, as they argue, a “Lack of any one of these elements is sufficient to prevent the successful completion of a direct-contact predatory crime”.

In other words, for a crime to take place a likely offender needs to meet a suitable target in the absence of a capable guardian. Or, as Felson (1998) puts it, by way of an example:

“A burglary needs a capable and motivated offender to find a suitable and accessible target, in the absence of anyone or anything there to keep the two apart”.

There are a couple of points we can note in this respect:

1. A crime occurs (or, in a weaker formulation, “is likely to occur”) when these three elements meet in time and space.

If you want to give Routine Activities an historical context, in common with other Right Realist approaches such as Broken Windows it’s based on Ecological (how behaviour is influenced by social and physical spaces) and Control theories of behaviour. An element of Rational Choice Theory is often thrown into contemporary versions of the approach to “explain” why offenders are motivated or demotivated in relation to criminal intent.

2. “Routine Activity” is an important part of the overall crime equation because it refers to the idea that “motivated offenders” come to identify suitable targets – and the extent to which they are protected by “capable guardians” – through their everyday experiences.

As with most New Right / Right Realist approaches, the main focus is on crime prevention. While there is necessarily some discussion / speculation about “criminal motives” – Felson and Cohen refer, for example, to “structural conditions” that produce “motivated offenders” – there isn’t a great deal of interest in trying to explain why people are motivated towards crime.

Crime, in this respect, is seen as a more-or-less unfortunate by-product of social and / or psychological background (depending on the particular theorist); crime is a “fact of life” and the best a society can do is to control it.

In this respect the basic “Predatory Triangle” has clear implications for the control of crime:

1. Motivated offenders can be deterred.

2. Suitable targets need to be “hardened” or protected in ways that make them seem unsuitable to offenders.

3. Capable Guardians – from the police, through careful and well-informed populations to various forms of technological guardianship (such as CCTV) – need to be extensively deployed.

Evaluating RAT

Of Methods and Methodology: 3. Realism

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

A methodology is a framework for research that focuses on how it is possible to collect reliable and valid data about, in this instance, the social world. It’s shaped by two main considerations:

1. Our beliefs about the fundamental nature of the social world (ontological concerns).

2. How we believe is possible to construct knowledge about the world (epistemology).

In turn, these ideas shape our choice of research methods when we come to actually collect data.

Although an understanding of Realist methodology isn’t essential at a-level, if students can grasp its basics it’s very useful as a source of evaluation for alternative methodological approaches, such as positivism and interpretivism.

 It also adds a slightly different dimension to arguments over whether sociology is a science.

Realism, particularly at a-level, is often portrayed as a kind of methodological hybrid, one that combines a belief in the existence of objective social structures (positivism) with the idea they are subjectively experienced and socially constructed (interpretivism). While this is, in some respects, a valid way of looking at it, realist methodology is perhaps a little more subtle and complex than this simple formulation might suggest – an idea we can explore in the following way:

1. For Realists, societies consist of social structures that can be objectively studied because these structures have an independent existence from the people who move through them. Social structures, therefore, represent ‘real forces’ that act on, shape and in some ways determine our everyday political, economic and cultural lives.

2. While the real features of social systems make it possible to establish causal relationships, Realism breaks with positivism because it adds the proviso causality will be limited in time and space: what is true in one society / social context may not be true in another. This follows because for Realists there is a further dimension to understanding human behaviour – a subjective one that recognises and takes on board the importance of human meaning and interpretation.

(more…)

Ashampoo Office Suite

Friday, February 14th, 2020
Wordprocessor…

A useful Suite of programs – Wordprocessor, Presentation software and, errm, Spreadsheet – that may be just what your students need, particularly if money’s tight…

This free Office Suite consists of 3 programs for precisely no money.

Which is nice if you want, but can’t afford, a Microsoft Word-compatible Wordproceser (Textmaker) and / or PowerPoint-compatible Presentation software (the imaginatively-titled Presentations). There’s also an Excel-compatible Spreadsheet (PlanMaker), but that’s not something anyone really wants to either think or talk about.

Textmaker is a fully-featured Wordprocesser that will do pretty-much whatever teachers or students need to do by way of everyday formatting, checking and saving text, either in its native format or as a Word document. It doesn’t support the latest version of Word so some esoteric features that you rarely, if ever, use (probably stuff like shaded tables) aren’t supported. You can, however, export documents as pdf files. Which is probably more useful than it sounds.

Presentation software…

Presentations: As long as you’re not looking to do anything too sophisticated with this PowerPoint clone it will serve you well. Anything that simply involves putting text and graphics on a screen to create a slideshow is just fine-and-dandy and you can export your finished presentation in a PowerPoint-compatible format – although, again, it doesn’t support the latest features of the latter (good luck trying to import mp4 video…).

Overall, the Suite clearly has some limitations:

  • In terms of functionality it’s around 5 or 6 years behind the (Microsoft) times. In relation to Wordprocessing this isn’t too much of a problem – when you think about it, how many of the latest bells’n’whistles do you ever really use? – but you’ll probably find Presentations a bit more limited and limiting if you want to do anything too sophisticated or cutting-edge (i.e. anything more than combine text with graphics).
  • In terms of look and feel, the Suite is a little more problematic – it has the look and to some extent the feel of Windows software that’s a good 10-years behind the times. Whether or not that’s important to you, I don’t know.
  • On the plus side, it’s free, will probably do just about everything you want a wordprocessor / presentation program to do and without all of the Microsoft bloatware “features” it’s pretty lean: you can put the whole Suite on a USB stick and run it from there if you need portability.

    While it’s not going to win any prizes for either looks or cutting-edge features, Ashampoo Office Suite is something you might like to consider if you’re on a limited – or indeed no – budget.