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Groundhog Day and the Psychology of Happiness

Friday, February 19th, 2021
Cheer up. It might never…
Oh.

Over what seems like the interminable days, weeks and months of the past Year of the Pandemic we’ve watched an awful lot of TV.

Because we’re Old School and can’t always be dealing with modern tech.

And one of the things we’ve watched quite a few times is Groundhog Day.

And since we couldn’t get out and about filming our usual educational stuff, we thought it might be an interesting – and perhaps a little thought-provoking – exercise to build a commentary around the film and its take on the psychology of happiness.

So we did.

Even though it took many months to put together, we’ve eventually managed to construct a 10-minute film based around the events of GHD (as we’ve come to know and love it) that poses the question:

“Could a film really help you make changes to your life that could make you happier?”.

And one of the answers we came up with is that Groundhog Day seems to have touched on a common human experience; feeling trapped in a repeating cycle of daily life that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere (sound familiar?).

And while the solution to Lockdown Life seems obvious – get a new life, get what you think you want – there’s a problem.

Decades of psychological research have shown how little changes in life circumstances affect our long-term happiness, something psychologists call the hedonic treadmill: running very fast to stay in exactly the same place.

 And this is where Groundhog Day comes in.

We see someone finally finding happiness and fulfilment, even though everything around them stays exactly the same.

And so Groundhog Day and the Psychology of Happiness uses extensive footage from the Bill Murray classic as the background for an exploration of both the psychology of happiness and our understanding of how we might achieve some form of personal happiness in these difficult times.

Or something.

Hate Crime in Everyday Life

Monday, August 17th, 2020

While spectacular Hate Crimes involving mass murders and indiscriminate destruction invariably grab the newspaper, tv and social media headlines, a wide range of more mundane and pedestrian forms of hate are largely ignored.

These relatively low-level forms of hate – from casual bullying to wider forms of sexual or racial harassment – rarely explode into the headlines with the visceral intensity of their spectacular counterparts but these “everyday forms of hate” may have significantly greater impacts on the lives of many more people.

This short film, featuring Professor Neil Chakraborti, outlines some of the less-studied aspects of hate crime by way of providing teachers and students with a general introduction to this area of crime and deviance.

Hate Crime in Everyday Life from ShortCutstv on Vimeo.

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: free films

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Although they’re now a few years old (made around 2012) these short (5 – 6 minute) films from the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) are loosely based around an interesting conceit – a children’s nursery rhyme – that’s used as brief introductions to a range of topics:

Monday’s child is fair of face: image and identity

Tuesday’s child is full of grace: charity

Wednesday’s child is full of woe: poverty and inequality

Thursday’s child has far to go: migration

Friday’s child is loving and giving: family and relationships

Saturday’s child works hard for a living: work and employment

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay (“gay”, in this context, refers to the original meaning of the word: “happy” – hence happiness and wellbeing.

Reflective Revision Diaries

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

A Reflective Revision Diary is a way to organise student revision: to make it more manageable and, with a bit of effort and dedication, easier, less boring and consequently more effective.

Diary Templates

Although ideas about revision – what it involves and how to do it – have generally moved-on over the past 25 years or so, one idea that has tended to persist is when to revise.

For most students (and probably teachers too) “revision” is something that’s (reluctantly) done between the end of a course and the start of their exams. For A-level students this optimistically means 9 – 12 weeks to revise 3 subjects that have been studied for 2 years. In Sociology, for example, this may come down to 3 weeks to revise 6 modules.

This, by any stretch, is a lot of work.

And too much work + too little time leads to the adoption of revision techniques – such as passively reading through folders of Notes – that take the path of least resistance. They give the impression of covering the required work while not being particularly effective as a way of actually remembering stuff. Which, when all’s-said-and-done, is probably the point.

One way to resolve this problem is that rather than condensing a large amount of work into a small amount of time is to spread revision out over the duration of the course. In other words, to encourage students to start their revision at the start of their course and carry it through until the end of the course. At this point they’ll already have done two year’s worth of revision for A-level and they can use the time until the start of the exam much more productively polishing-up on what they already (mostly) know rather than trying to relearn something they did 18 months ago and haven’t looked-at since.

In a nutshell, the idea here is that when it comes to revision “little and often” pays much higher dividends than “a lot all at once”.

To understand this involves grasping a couple of important ideas:

Firstly, the need to change how teachers and students perceive the status of revision: to see it as an integral part of day-to-day teaching and learning rather than something discrete tacked-on at the end of the course once official teaching is over.

Secondly, the need to operationalise this idea through a coherent and consistent approach to the place of revision in the curriculum. In other words, just as general teaching is organised in particular ways to help students grasp key ideas, revision needs to be integrated into the teaching programme as part of the daily routine.

Both of these ideas involve teachers and students working together to develop an organised approach to revision.

And this is where a Revision Diary could help.

Revision Diaries…

Media Effects: A New Digital 2-Step?

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

Of the four main models of media effects that developed predominantly in the latter part of the 20th century and are conventionally taught in a-level sociology, three have in their different ways managed to carve-out varying degrees of theoretical relevance in the 21st century:

  • The Hypodermic Syringe model has, for example, swivelled to focus on the idea of “vulnerable individuals and groups”, particularly children and the elderly, and the damages caused by exposure to various forms of digital media.
  • Uses and gratifications has focused on how the explosion of digital – particularly but not exclusively social – media has led to a new emphasis on understanding both how people use media for individual and cultural ends and the various gratifications they receive through such media (such as new friendships, access to much wider pools of news, information and the like.
  • Cultural effects has evolved to look at the development of different forms of media narrative and how different groups switch into and out of these narratives to fashion their own particular understanding of the world through, for example, social media.
  • The 2-Step Flow model, however, seems irredeemably trapped in a media and cultural landscape – late 20th century modernity – that seems to have consigned it to the scarp-heap of irrelevancy in the 21st century digital world.

    New research into how information can originate and spread across social media, however, may just have given the general model a new lease of life for a-level sociologists…

    Going with the (2-Step) Flow…

    The conventional way of seeing the 2-Step Flow model is as an example of a diffusion theory of media, one that broadly argues messages that originate in the media are received by audiences in two main ways:

  • Directly, by personally viewing a TV broadcast or a newspaper report, for example.
  • Indirectly, through various means, such as interaction with those who received the message directly, through other media sources reporting the original message and the like.
  • In this respect, Katz and Lazarfield (1955) argued media messages flowed in two distinct steps:

    1. From the media to opinion formers: people who directly received a message, were interested enough to want to relay it to others and influential enough for others to take the message on board.

    2. From opinion formers to a mass audience: most people, in other words, received the original media message in a form mediated through influential people in the primary groups to which they belonged (such as family, friends and co-workers).

    While the broad ideas underpinning 2-Step Flow – a theory of communication that stressed the significance of active audiences, allied to a recognition of the “importance of informal, interpersonal relations” in understanding media effects – still had some basic resonance at the end of the last century, significant cultural shifts in the early 21st century seemingly served to render the basic model somewhat redundant.

    Although the theory was interesting for its time, it was also of its time: a theoretical representation of a media and wider-cultural landscape that was broadly unchanging, hierarchical and closed to all but a relatively small, wealthy and privileged, elite.

    In other words, the theory made some sense when both access to and control over the media was tightly-controlled and hugely-restricted – in Britain in the 1950’s, for example, there were two national TV stations, one owned by the State, that broadcast for a few hours each evening, a small number of radio stations operated by the State-run BBC, a dozen or so newspapers that broadly reflected a similar, consensual, view of British society and so forth – but made much less sense in a contemporary mediascape where media access was both loosely-controlled and widely-available thanks to the development and growth of the Internet and various forms of social media.

    Second Life?

    Somewhat ironically perhaps, more-recent shifts in the political and cultural landscape – particularly in countries like America and, to a slightly-lesser extent, Britain – may have given the 2-Step Flow model a new lease of critical life as far as a-level media sociology is concerned.

    In the face of contemporary developments in media technology, one line of criticism of the 4 traditional models of media effects has been their tendency to rest on an over-differentiation between “the media” and “the audience”, such that the two are both separate and distinct in terms of structure and role. The media, for example, broadcasts messages and the audience receive and interpret them passively or, in some cases, actively. Critics of these conventional models argue this no-longer holds true for a mediascape dominated by social media where broadcaster and receiver are frequently interchangeable.

    The basic argument here is that because modern social media platforms, such as Facebook or Twitter, provide free and open access to all content generators this creates flat user spaces that are broadly “democratic”, in the sense that no one user-voice is unduly privileged over any other; each user-voice, in other words, competes in a democratic market place to be heard.

    This does, however, beg the question of the extent to which such characterisations are themselves guilty of under-differentiating media and audience, in the sense of arguing they are one and the same. If social media, for example, is reconceptualised as a hierarchical rather than flat space it follows that some users will be able to generate and spread content in ways that mimic more-traditional forms of media / audience differentiation. If this is the case it’s possible to theorise how a broad modification of the basic 2-Step Flow model can be applied to understand a particular, distinctive and contemporary form of media effect.

    In their original characterisation, Katz and Lazerfield argued the key element in the concept of a 2-Step Flow of mediated information was an audience’s involvement in primary social groups where media messages were discussed.

    The key difference between a traditional 2-Step Flow and a modified version is that “the media organisation” (such as a newspaper) is replaced by a “new media agent” – an influential originator of media messages on, say, a social media platform, that are then disseminated to a highly-receptive audience of followers. Receptive followers, in turn, disseminate such messages to a less-involved, but still broadly receptive, wider audience and to understand how and why this works, consider the following example:

    Dwoskin (2021) details a study undertaken by Facebook looking at the prevalence and spread of “vaccine hesitant beliefs” among users on the platform. It involved “dividing users, groups and pages into 638 ‘population segments’”, where each could potentially cover 3 million users. This meant “the study could examine the activity of more than 1 billion people” – a huge sample size by any measure.

    The platform could accurately follow how information was published and republished (“shared”) by specific users / groups because of the way it tracks user behaviour (both on and off the platform – Facebook likes to know where users go once they leave): each and every “like” or “share” made by any given user is, for example, recorded and tracked which means it was possible to understand how information about, in this instance, Covid-19 vaccines, was liked and shared.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the research was the finding that 50% of the “vaccine hesitant” content (a euphemism for varying degrees of vaccine-antagonism, from conspiracy theories about mind control to simply being unsure if the vaccine had been properly tested) shared on the platform originated from “just 10 of the 600+ population segments”.

    Within this small subset “just over 100 users contributed 50% of all vaccine hesitant content”.

    The significance of this research is that it suggests a process very similar to the conventional 2-Step Flow of media information, albeit one modified to take account of the fact that those originating / initially sharing content were platform users themselves, rather than media organisations:

  • Step 1: A relatively small number of users (“opinion formers”) create the vast majority of information – either by parcelling-up and promoting existing information or by simply providing an opinion –  that is then:
  • Step 2: Picked-up and shared by-and-to a very large number of (highly-receptive) users who, in turn, dissipate such information across a wide range of less-receptive users.
  • In this instance, therefore, the process involves Step 1 influencers / opinion formers selecting information about covid-19 vaccines from the vast amount – both true and false – generated around the world and presenting it to their followers as “factual” (even where it is objectively false).

    Step 2 involves followers taking and generally accepting this (highly-partial) information and then passing it on to others by sharing the information.

    While Facebook is just one of a number of platforms (albeit the largest), the Election Integrity Project found a similar process at work across a range of other social media (such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok).

    As Dwoskin notes: “The results from Facebook’s research track with findings from disinformation researchers, who have pointed that a small minority of people, particularly influencers and people who post frequently…can have an outsize impact on the conversation and act as super-spreaders of…information.”

    What this research tentatively suggests, therefore, is that although the traditional 2-Step Flow model, as elaborated by writers such as Katz and Lazerfield, may have had its day, a similar 2-Step (Digital) Flow may have some limited (exam) currency in highly-specific media contexts. This is particularly true for hierarchical social media platforms such as Twitter, that allow verified users (so-called “blue tick” users) to display the fact they “are who they say they are” to others on the platform, thereby increasing their status as opinion formers in the eyes of different types of follower.

    The (Social) Magic of Sport?

    Friday, March 19th, 2021

    This Lesson Outline uses the analogy of top-level sporting achievement – and the economic, cultural and social resources needed to reach this level – to encourage students to understand and apply concepts of economic, cultural and social capital to explain how and why apparently “individualistic explanations” of behaviour can be more-coherently explained sociologically.

    This is particularly useful to demonstrate how apparently “natural” individual attributes – such as sporting ability – invariably involve underlying social inequalities.

    As a bonus, the Outline can also be used to introduce Bourdieu’s concept of social magic.

    For many Modules in Sociology you will, at some point, invariably find yourself contrasting “naturalistic” explanations of behaviour with socio-cultural explanations:

  • family life – domestic labour as “natural” to women.
  • education – some children are just “naturally” more intelligent than others
  • social inequality – some people are born to be more successful than others
  • crime – some people are naturally predisposed to break the rules.
  • While contemporary sociologists are probably not as wedded to the kind of cultural determinism you find in some textbooks – there is clearly some interplay between the physical (biological, genetic) and social environments across a range of behaviours – it’s useful to be able to demonstrate how and why cultural factors have a massive part to play in explaining people’s behaviour.

    In this respect it makes sense to encourage students to explore how and why social factors underpin and influence apparently natural behaviours – and to do this in a way that can be repeatedly applied whenever they’re confronted by the claim that this-or-that behaviour is explicable by purely “natural” factors.

    In order to do this, this Lesson Outline uses an example of behaviour that appears to be wholly-natural – playing top-level (international) professional sport – to demonstrate how a variety of social factors have crucial roles to play in explaining how and why people come to play sport at this level.

    Lesson Outline…

    One-Minute Marxism and Crime | An Animated Film

    Saturday, March 6th, 2021
    Marxism. In a minute.

    While the main focus of our collective energies is on the day-to-day production of psychology and sociology films for the A-level / High School market across the globe, we like, from time-to-time, to have a little play around with different ideas and formats – one of which was the “Just-A-Minute”

    Crime films that you can find on my YouTube Channel, along with a whole lot more free films and trailers.

    Trailers mostly, if I’m being honest.

    But also free films:

  • Strain Theory
  • Interactionism
  • Realism
  • Marxism
  • These, as you probably won’t be too surprised to learn, aimed to provide a quick, if understandably basic, overview of these four ideas in-or-around 60 seconds. I then got to thinking about how these films might look animated. As you do.

    Anyway, one injudicious application of an animation filter later, I came-up with cartoonised versions of the Strain and Interactionism films and exhausted from my labours (or I just forgot about them. One of the two) I neglected to cartoonise the others.

    Until now – or at least when you can now marvel (pun sort-of intended) at Marxism and Crime: The Animated Version.

    Realism, as is so often the case where I’m concerned, will have to wait.

    Sociology Podcasts: Theory for 10@10

    Friday, March 5th, 2021
    PowerPoint Activity

    This is a set of podcasts, plus associated supporting material (such as PowerPoint Presentations that summarise key ideas and throw-in a few student activities for good measure), created by Liz Beaven and Andy Leach from Sociology Support that are being given-away for absolutely no money (although you do have to go through a fairly-painless Checkout process to get them).

    Podcasts…

    Sociological Insights: A Curated Collection of ASA Videos

    Thursday, February 18th, 2021

    The American Sociological Association seems to take a genuine interest in the study of sociology at all levels – from the humble High School classroom to the rarefied strata of postgraduate specialisms – and their latest initiative is the creation of what they’ve called Sociological Insights:

    A curated collection of short videos, featuring sociologists sharing their expertise on some of the most pressing topics today”.

    Sociological Insights…

    And while these sociologists are, as you might expect, uniformly drawn from the ranks of American Academia and the “pressing topics” are resolutely focused on those most-pertinent to Americans and American Society – from privatised Health Care, through Evangelical Christianity, to gun crime and Black experiences of discrimination – this doesn’t mean the films don’t have value for Non-North American’s (as the rest of the world is known. Probably. I haven’t actually checked).

    On the contrary, there’s enough sociological content within each film to enable those outside the American purview to look past the specific-specifics in order to embrace and apply the more general principles involved across 6 broad categories of film:

    1. Criminal Justice encompasses illegal drug markets, the police and racism, racialised police misconduct and mass incarceration.

    2. Poverty touches on areas like food insecurity and the working poor.

    3. Environment covers areas like poverty and environmental harm and the politics of climate change.

    4. Gender – probably the most-accessible for non-American audiences – looks at gender inequality in the home, the complexity of gender identity and how “women are challenging traditional gender norms in the craft beer scene”.

    5. Technology and Aging involves online dating amongst the elderly and social networks for seniors.

    6. Miscellaneous includes the gun control debate, religiosity in America, Hate Crime, Health Care and immigration.

    The format is pretty standardised across all of the films: American sociologist talking to camera about their research interspersed with film to illustrate their ideas and arguments.

    And all in under 3 minutes.

    Sociology Texts: Another Big Bundle of Free

    Sunday, February 14th, 2021

    One of the things we like to do on this blog is discover and post orphaned sociology textbooks – as in texts published sometime this century that have either gone out of print or been superseded by later, bigger, more-colourful, All-Singing-All-Dancing versions – for the benefit of teachers and students in these straitened economic times.

    I like to think we’re giving these texts something of a new lease of life because even though they’ve been replaced by a newer version, much of the information they contain doesn’t suddenly become irrelevant or worthless – you just need to be aware that using slightly older texts can have a few potential downsides:

    1. Specifications change, both in terms of the Modules they cover and their content. Twenty years ago, for example, AQA included a Module on Power and Politics that has long-since disappeared from exams and textbooks.

    2. Statistical data does go quickly out-of-date and is likely to be more current in tater versions of texts. Against this, keep in mind that statistical data in even the latest versions of textbooks is likely to be 2 – 3 years out-of-date by the time a text is authored and published. Against this, textbooks aren’t a particularly great statistical resource anymore when all the most up-to-the-minute stats are freely available at the press of a few mouse clicks…

    3. Research cited in older texts may have been questioned or disproved by the time later texts are published and this is clearly a drawback as far as teaching is concerned. The extent to which this is actually a problem, given the texts republished here are, at most, 20 years old (i.e. they just about squeeze into contemporary definitions of, well, “contemporary”) is something you need to consider before using them.

    Free the texts…

    Research Methods: Triangulation

    Thursday, January 7th, 2021

    Over the past few years the concept of triangulation has become increasingly central to an understanding of both research methodology and methods – their strengths, weaknesses and limitations in particular – at High School and A level and it’s a topic I’ve already addressed a few times in one form or another.

    Download the Abridged version…

    If you want to check out these resources, you’ll find both textbook chapters (Of Methods and Methodology: 5. Triangulation, The Research Process: Part 4) and Factsheets dealing with different aspects of the general concept – and if these aren’t enough to satisfy your hunger for “Quality Triangulation Resources” (it says here, admittedly because I wrote it) it’s your lucky day because I’ve chanced across an interesting document from the UNAIDS Monitoring and Evaluation Unit you might find useful.

    The pdf document – An Introduction to Triangulation – broadly follows Denzin’s (1970) triangulation typography as it looks at four general questions:

  • What is triangulation?
  • What are the different types of triangulation?
  • What are the strengths and weakness of the four types of triangulation?
  • Why do triangulation?
  • As an added bonus there are short sections on different types of data you might find helpful, either in the context of triangulation or research methods generally:

  • The differences between quantitative and qualitative data
  • Quantitative and qualitative data sources
  • Determining the usefulness of data
  • As you’ll notice if you decide to download the document, this is an abridged version that just focuses on the topics listed above.

    The full document is available as an online flipbook if you want it but unless you’re after a very short quiz and a quick glossary of key terms there’s not a lot extra to be had.

    Update

    If you want a visual complement to the above our latest (2021) short film introduces students to Denzin’s four types of triangulation:

    • data
    • researcher
    • theoretical
    • methodological.

    The film – previewed below – outlines and illustrates each type using an example drawn from real-world sociological research and concludes with a brief outline and assessment of the broad benefits and limitations of each of these different types.

    Psychology: Delivery Guides

    Wednesday, December 9th, 2020

    In keeping with the precedent established all of two days ago with the Sociology Lesson Elements and Delivery Guides, I thought it might be useful to add a range of Delivery Guides to complement to rather large number of Psychology Lesson Elements previously posted (and if you’ve kept up with all of that, you’re a better person than I).

    A bit like a workscheme…

    So what, you might be thinking (I know I would be) is the difference between a “Lesson Element” and a “Delivery Guide”? Well, the simple answer is:

    • Guides resemble Schemes of Work in that they break-down a general Specification component, such as Criminal psychology, into “Topics” (“What Makes a Criminal?”) and then suggest a range of tasks and activities to help you teach that topic.
    • Elements, on the other hand, are specific tasks, activities and the like designed to illustrate a concept, theory or whatever.

    While it doesn’t take much imagination to see that the latter may be incorporated into the former, the Delivery Guides are, as you might expect, a little more structured in terms of what they offer:

    1. Curriculum content: an introductory overview of what’s covered in the Module.

    2. Thinking conceptually identifies some of the key concepts involved in the Module in greater or lesser detail.

    3. Thinking contextually offers a series of teaching activities designed to get students thinking about the content being studied in terms of the various topics involved. The pdf document includes two types of Resource Link: external to stuff like YouTube and internal to Learner Resources for completing tasks / activities (the latter are included at the end of the document).

    While this is all geared towards a specific Exam Board, teachers of other Specs. will doubtless find a lot of what’s provided relevant, even though it might take to little looking around for…

    Click here to go to the guides…

    Online Classroom: Family Study Packs

    Thursday, November 5th, 2020

    Back in the day, when I was working for a company called Online Classroom, we produced a range of booklets, for both GCSE and A-level, that were sold online (hence the name…).

    To cut a long story short, when Online Classroom was sold to a video distribution company called Clickview in around 2009 they weren’t in the market for ebooks and a number of proto-projects went into abeyance – or, if you prefer, into a black hole from which they were destined never to emerge.

    Until now, as I was searching through a load of Family resources to see if there was anything worth posting. And found these that, to be perfectly honest, I’d forgotten about.

    The Packs were written by Craig Chester and designed around 4 key areas:

    1. Key Theorists

    2. Summary of Key Research

    3. Evaluation

    4. 20 Questions (based on and around the information in the Pack)

    As far as I can tell the Packs covered 2 main areas, Family Diversity and Childhood. There may have been more but if there were, I can’t find them.

    Anyway, the Packs are short, colourful and hopefully informative – although, as I’ve suggested, they are around 10 years old so the information they contain may be a little bit dated.

    The Packs…

    Family Diversity: Marriage and Cohabitation

    Family Diversity: Divorce

    Family Diversity: Alternative Structures

    Family Diversity: Other Household Structures

    Family Diversity: Ethnicity

    Childhood: Social Construction

    Contemporary Childhood

    New Media: The Rise of the Selfie

    Sunday, November 1st, 2020

    Sociology Media Specifications have, in recent years, started to focus a little more on the rise of new forms of media, particularly social media like Facebook and Twitter, but one area that’s not particularly well-covered is the idea of Selfie culture – either as a personally-shareable form or, increasingly, as an integral aspect of something like Instagram-culture (which is, as they say, a whole other story that’s probably better left to another day).

    If you want to explore Selfie-culture in a little more detail this set of 22 slides on the Sociological impact of Selfies is a useful place to start.

    Once you’re done with that, if you want to take things a little further, you can use incorporate selfies into a lesson plan as a tool through which to explore areas like Simulacra and Hyperreality.

    Broken Windows Revisited | 2

    Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

    Part 1 of this planned 3-part reassessment of Wilson and Kelling’s “Broken Windows” thesis outlined a selection of its general strengths and weaknesses and suggested we need to understand Broken Windows in the context of its origins in the ecological theories of crime initially developed in the early 20th century.

    Broken Windows: The Original Article

    Part 2 examines a key ecological strength of the thesis – that social disorder causes crime – through a re-examination of Zimbardo’s “Anonymity of Place” experiment. It then looks at the elephant in the room when talking about Broken Windows and crime: what causes social disorder?

    While Broken Windows has some distinctive breaks with the general ecological tradition on which it broadly rests, it’s important to understand the thesis in this context because it’s only by understanding the theoretical origins of Broken Windows that we can begin to question some of its central claims: that ecological factors are a sufficient explanation of crime development in this Part and the claim that small forms of disorder invariably lead to larger disorders in Part 3).

    THERE’S MORE. A LOT MORE.

    Not Just Another Sociology Book

    Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

    A text that’s well-worth adding to your collection, even if it’s something you’re only likely to use infrequently when you want to give your students a bit of extended reading around a writer or topic.

    Baudrillard…

    From time-to-time I’ve posted links to a variety of Sociology and Psychology textbooks that, for one reason or another (because they’ve gone out-of-print, been superceded by newer versions and so forth) are no-longer current.

    The latest edition to the list is The Sociology Book, now in its 2nd edition if you’re interested in buying it,  that’s part of an extensive and diverse series themed around a basic, but attractive conceit:

    Take the “Big Ideas” that characterise a particular subject,  in this case Sociology, (but also Psychology, Religion and Feminism among many others) and explain them clearly and concisely – or as the Publisher’s blurb puts it:

    “The Big Ideas Simply Explained series uses creative design and innovative graphics, along with straightforward and engaging writing, to make complex subjects easier to understand.”

    As luck and an extensive search of the Internet would have it, you are now in a position to evaluate this bold claim using this free version of the 1st edition, published in 2015.

    The general format of the book involves:

  • dividing it into discrete categories – social inequalities, culture and identity, families, globalisation (plus a few more that are unlikely to interest a-level sociology students or teachers).
  • select a range of well-known writers (such as Parsons, Foucault, Stacey and Beck on Families, Mead, Baudrillard, Goffman and Anderson on Culture) and write some nicely-illustrated pages about their work in a way that’s generally accessible to a-level students.
  • Durkheim…

    The way each writer and their ideas is covered seems a little arbitrary – some, such as Weber, get 6 pages while others, such as Urry, get a single (not, it has to be said, very enlightening for such a deep and complex theorist) page – but overall the standard of writing and presentation is pleasingly good.

    While I’m not sure about the “creative design” (think Sociology Review) and “innovative graphics” (unless short, boxed, “Timelines” and a few colour pictures count as cutting-edge) I’m generally on-board with the “straightforward and engaging writing”.

    And while it’s not a text you’re likely to use everyday, I’d still argue it’s a useful one to add to your collection.

    Durkheim and the Functions of Crime

    Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

    We’ve been busy on the film front these past few months making a range of crime and deviance films on Hate Crime, Crime and Gender, Situational Crime Prevention and Criminal Profiling (although the latter will probably have greater appeal to psychologists than sociologists) and a final offering in what people would probably be calling a “Festival of Crime” if there were such things as festivals anymore, is an 8-minute (give-or-take) film looking at Durkheim’s ideas about how crime may be functional for society.

    To this end the film is constructed around an overview of three basic functions:

  • The clarification of moral boundaries
  • Social change and law reform
  • The reinforcement of social cohesion
  • These ideas are variously illustrated by :

  • Zero-Tolerance Policing in New York.
  • the imprisonment of Dr Jack Kevorkian for helping terminally-ill patients to die.
  • the UK murder of James Bulger.
  • As ever, the film is short, to-the-point and, I would suggest, a useful way to introduce some of Durkheim’s key, counter-intuitive and somewhat controversial ideas about crime to students.

    Hate Crime

    Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

    Historically, Hate Crime isn’t something that’s featured prominently in most sociology specifications and this lack of prominence has meant that resources for teaching it have generally been a little lacking – so anything that helps to fill-in some of the many gaps is probably to be welcomed.

    The Report-it web site is one such general resource UK teachers and students might find helpful because it contains a range of relatively-simple – but accessible – materials. These have been created under the guidance of The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), a body responsible for the national coordination of UK law enforcement that broadly reflects the views of Chief Constables and Police Crime Commissioners across the UK.

    The materials range from legal definitions of different types of hate crime in relation to different social groups characterised by things like disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender to Reports and Resources that include a range of downloadable materials students could be encouraged to explore as part of their wider reading.

    One of the useful things about this section is that it contains a number of relatively-recent Reports – such as “Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the UK (2016)”, “Attitudes to LGBT+ people in the UK (2019)” and data relating to Hate Crime prosecutions (2010-2015) – that goes a little way beyond what you’re likely to find in textbooks.

    If you’re into classroom decoration (presupposing there’s a return to classroom teaching any time soon…) you’ll also find a range of A4 posters to cut-out-and-keep.

    Alternatively, you can print them.

    And you might be interested to know some of these are available in Welsh and Polish.

    Research Methods Bonus!

    I came across this short (4 minute) film called “Homophobia Social Experiment” that you might find helpful in relation to Crime with Theory and Methods because it uses a simple observational method to carry-out an equally-simple field experiment.

    (more…)

    GCSE Sociology Freebies

    Wednesday, July 8th, 2020

    The Sociology Support web site has some new and interesting freebies available for GCSE Sociology, the first of which is the Spec Check Pack.

    This consists of neat, one-page, summaries of the AQA Specification content (including an indication of Key Studies) that students (and teachers…) should find useful for both tracking progress through the course and for revision.

    The Pack has four pdf documents covering Social Stratification, Education, Family and Deviance.

    It might also be worth your while picking-up their free “Introducing Structural Theories” resource, again for AQA GCSE, that’s described as:

    A lesson for GCSE Sociology students introducing the main principles of structural perspectives”.

    This can be downloaded as both a PowerPoint Presentation and pdf file.

    As if that’s not enough, there’s also a free CPD “Introduction to teaching excellent sociology for non-specialists” Webinar on Thursday 27th August 4:45-5:45pm.

    You’ll find registration details on the web site (plus details of their new online CPD courses if you’re interested).

    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.

    (more…)

    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:

    (more…)

    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.

    (more…)

    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.

    (more…)

    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
    Click to download pdf version

    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:

    The Predatory Triangle

    1. A Suitable Target

    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.

    Has the position of children within the family and society changed?

    Wednesday, February 12th, 2020
    Changing Childhood?
Click to download PowerPoint presentation.

    Following from – and in some ways complementing – the Family and Household Revision Guide I posted yesterday comes this Childhood PowerPoint Presentation, authored by Lisa Wrigglesworth, that provides an overview of some of the key ideas and concepts in the sociology of childhood. These include:

  • march of progress thesis
  • child-centred families
  • toxic childhood
  • conflict: inequality and control
  • age patriarchy
  • the new sociology of childhood.
  • The objective is to examine the question of whether or not the position of children within the family and society has changed and, if so, to what extent?

    Although the Presentation was created in 2017 a lot of the references are slightly-dated – and while this doesn’t invalidate the observations made you might want to add one or two more contemporary pieces of research to bring things up-to-date.

    Free Sociology Textbooks: A New Chapter

    Wednesday, January 29th, 2020
    One of the texts looks like this.

    Over the past two or three years I’ve occasionally posted links to free, orphaned, sociology textbooks (by which I mean texts that have either been superseded by later editions or which a publisher has allowed to go out-of-print), mainly in small batches (Free Sociology Textbooks, Sociology Textbooks for Free (quite a clever twist I thought) and the imaginatively-titled More Free Sociology Texts) but also as one-off publications (such as Sociology in Focus for AS  and for A2, or the mega-popular Sociology and You textbook.

    It has, however, been a few months since I last posted anything useful on the Textbook Front, mainly because I’ve been doing other things, but where I come across them from time-to-time I save them up until there’s enough for a decent-length post.

    And also because by listing a few texts at the same time I don’t have to say as much about each.

    But mainly because hunting out orphaned texts isn’t my number-one priority.

    What follows, therefore, is a quick trawl through some of the least-lit areas of the Internet (not really) to shine a light on a few sadly-neglected texts in the hope they might, once more, burn brightly in the eyes of budding sociologists.

    Back to reality, what follows is a list of general textbooks and dictionaries a-level students and teachers might find useful.

    Click here to see the textbooks

    On Being Sane in Insane Places

    Friday, January 24th, 2020
    Rosenhan's Experiment: A new film
    David Rosenhan

    David Rosenhan’s “pseudopatient experiment” is a classic study for both sociologists and psychologists, that raises a range of interesting questions relating to areas like mental illness, labelling theory and ethics.

    Rosenhan’s research was designed to discover if doctors could correctly diagnose mental illness. If they couldn’t, this would tell us something very important about the relationship between mental illness and labelling – that mental illness is not an objective category but a subjective condition; it is, in other words, whatever medical professionals claim it to be – a situation that has hugely-important ramifications for contemporary ideas about crime and deviance, for example.

    (more…)

    Criminal Profiling: The Movie

    Friday, January 10th, 2020
    Click to view buy or rent on Vimeo
    The Movie…

    While you might be surprised to learn that some forms of criminal (or offender) profiling have been around for a very long time – from profiles of witches in the Middle Ages to “Jack the Ripper” in the late 19th century – criminal profiling really developed into a systematic attempt to identify key features of individual criminal behaviour with the establishment of the FBI’s Behavioral (sic) Science Unit in 1972.

    Under the initial guidance of John Douglas (whose fictionalised representation in the character of Holden Ford appears in Netflix’s Mindhunter series) the BSU pioneered an approach to understanding the means and motivations of American serial killers through the deceptively-simple method of interviewing them.

    The information gained from a variety of America’s most-notorious and prolific killers was used to develop a range of criminal categorisations – the most well-known probably being the idea of organised and disorganised crime scenes and offenders – that could be applied to understand and apprehend “unknown suspects” (or “unsubs” as the phenomenally-successful Criminal Minds TV series, based loosely on the BSU, would have it).

    While a range of TV shows – such as Mindhunter and Criminal Minds in America, Cracker and Wire in the Blood in the UK – have developed fictionalised accounts of Criminal Profiling (and Profilers…) how realistic are these representations?

    Is Criminal Profiling, as many of the more-sensational TV shows suggest, an almost “magical formula” for identifying and capturing the most serious criminal offenders?

    Or do profilers simply provide a “fresh pair of eyes” on evidence and possible offenders that can be used to supplement – and in some cases enhance – conventional police procedures?

    Read all about the content…

    Sampling Selection

    Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

    Continuing the clear-out of stuff-I’ve-found-but-never-posted, today’s offering covers sampling techniques (plus a bit on questionnaire design if you’re interested).

    Sampling Jelly Babies
    Sweet.

    The 4 Presentations are from “various authors” (one of whom must remain anonymous for the deceptively-simple, but hopefully-plausible, reason that I’ve no idea who they are) and contain a variety of ideas and information – from time-saving Notes and Diagrams to practical ways to teach sampling (using everyone’s favourite jelly-like sweets).

    Click For the Presentations

    Family Death Rates: The Grandmother Problem

    Friday, November 29th, 2019
    Click to download the Shocking "Grandmother Problem" research.

    While the study of Family Death Rates (FDR) is probably not Number 1 on most people’s list of “Favourite Sociology Topics”,* research by Mike Adams, a biologist at Eastern Connecticut State University, Connecticut, has injected a certain frisson of excitement – and, it must be said, controversy – into a rather dull and theoretically-moribund corner of the Family Specification through his identification of a peculiar and perplexing phenomenon amongst American college students. As he puts it:

    It has long been theorized that the week prior to an exam is an extremely dangerous time for the relatives of college students. Ever since I began my teaching career, I heard vague comments, incomplete references and unfinished remarks, all alluding to the “Dead Grandmother Problem.” Few colleagues would ever be explicit in their description of what they knew, but I quickly discovered that anyone who was involved in teaching at the college level would react to any mention of the concept”.

    Sensing he may have chanced upon a way of getting a hefty grant from his University authorities significant and hitherto-unstudied field of research – one with serious implications for the health, safety and, not-to-put-too-fine-a-point-on-things, longevity of vulnerable family members – Adams did what any self-respecting scientist would do: he reformulated the suspicion into a hypothesis he could test:

    A student’s grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year.”

    And test it he did.

    In an equally scientific kind of way.

    And what he found broke a lot of ground.

    Click Here for more Shocking Stuff

    Gone in 60 Seconds: video explainers

    Saturday, November 9th, 2019
    Helen Barnard on Debt
    Although this looks just like a WordPress ad for a pay-day money lender, it’s actually not. It’s a 44-second film about debt.

    Helen Barnard, currently Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has created a Vimeo Channel (an up-market version of YouTube that we like so much we have our own dedicated ShortCutstv Channel) filled with a number of very short films on and around the topics of poverty and welfare.

    Most of the films (there are currently around 25+) are less than 45 seconds long – although a couple, such as Poverty and Mental Health, run to between two and five minutes – and consist of Barnard speaking directly into her smartphone.

    Although this means the films basically have zero production values – no fancy sets, sounds or graphics – this is actually part of their charm: they’re simply short, pithy, commentaries on key concepts in poverty and welfare delivered by someone who knows what she’s talking about and can speak clearly and confidently to camera.

    As such, they’re both ideal as discussion starters and inspirational as lesson content.

    Students can, for example, finally be encouraged to use their smartphones constructively in the sociology classroom to create similar levels of content: Gone in 60 Seconds video explainers on a range of key concepts, ideas, methods, theories and perspectives they can share using their preferred media of choice.