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Posts Tagged ‘mass media’

Researching Media Inequalities: Beyond Bechdel

Wednesday, June 15th, 2022

While the Bechdel Test – does a film contain two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than men? – is a useful way of highlighting broad gender inequalities in the media, it wasn’t designed to capture anything but the most basic forms of gender inequality, particularly and most-notably in Hollywood films.

Nearly 40 years after its invention, however, things have arguably moved on – not just in the sense that The Test is an exceptionally low bar that a surprisingly large percentage of films still fail miserably to clear – but more that we now recognise many more dimensions of inequality (from CAGE downward…) than in even the recent past.

While not denying the most basic forms of gender inequality are still prevalent in many forms of media – up to and including newer forms of media such as video gamingHickey et al (2017) argue we need to rethink our ideas by introducing a range of tests designed to capture some slightly-different forms of media inequality using the 50 top-grossing films at the North American box office for 2016 as our measuring stick. These cover:

  • Working behind the camera:

Although this includes things like the age, sex and ethnicity of major roles such as director, producer, cinematographer and the like it also involves looking at the composition of those who perform less high-profile roles.

For the Uphold Test, for example, a film passes if at least 50% of the on-set crew are female.

None of the 50 to films in 22016 passed.

More Tests…

Sociology Shortcuts Magazine No.2: The Mass Media Issue

Sunday, May 29th, 2022
Issue No.2

The first proper issue of Sociology Shortcuts Magazine (Issue No.1: Risk Society was basically just me doodling around on a new Desktop Publisher to see if I could produce some sort of “magazine format” document with it. Turns out I could) sees an expansion in pagination (as we Media Publishers say. Apparently) and the introduction of a selection of shorter articles around a theme.

The Mass Media, in case there was any confusion.

I’m not sure if I’m going to adopt this format for any future issues – I’m toying with the idea of having a selection of articles from a range of different areas of the Specification – but it seemed an interesting thing to do for this issue.

The basic idea here was to combine coverage of fairly-conventional media stuff – defining the mass media, identifying its general characteristics, looking at different media research methods – with less-conventional material relating to new media: things like digital optimism and pessimism, digital natives and immigrants, augmented reality and the like.

In other words, it’s a broad mix of the old and the new, most of which is fairly standard A-level stuff, some of which is a little more challenging and, possibly, interesting.

As with Issue 1, this Issue is published as an Online Flipbook because I like this format and it sort-of maintains the illusion that this is a “proper magazine”.

If you prefer a pdf version I’ve added the option to download single pages or the complete magazine from within the Flipbook.

Augmented Reality: A Variable-Sum Game?

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

The distinction between digital optimism and digital pessimism is a well-known one in the sociology of the media and comparisons of their respective positions are a fairly commonplace feature of any discussion of the social impact of different forms of new media.  This is particularly the case in relation to something like social media where the debate is increasingly framed in terms of overly-optimistic claims for it’s innate goodness and equally-pessimistic claims for its innate badness.

“Augmented Reality”

While there’s nothing particularly wrong with examining and evaluating new media in this way, if you want to add a slightly more-nuanced reading of something like social media to the debate, Jurgenson’s (2012) novel reinterpretation / reinvention of the term “augmented reality” might fit the bill.

“Augmented reality”, if you’re not familiar with it, refers to the idea of overlaying the real world with digital layers that enhance or augment what we’re seeing. You could, for example, be in a museum looking at a picture and, by pointing your phone at it you reveal a variety of details about the artist, the picture and so forth on the screen.  

Alternatively, if you’re into less high-cultural pursuits think Pokemon Go – a game that uses a phone’s GPS function to overlay virtual creatures on real-world locations.

(more…)

Media Methods and Representations: The Bechdel Test

Saturday, May 14th, 2022
Alison Bechdel's “The Rule” (1985)
Alison Bechdel’s “The Rule” (1985)

The Bechdel Test is a very simple type of content analysis, created by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 episode (“The Rule”) of her comic-strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”, that tests how women – and by extension men – are historically represented in Hollywood films.

Aside from throwing-up, so to speak, some interesting and frankly-quite-surprising results (the Bechdel test web site has a database of films that passed (or more usually, failed), the Test itself is a simple and efficient way to allow students to “do” some Content Analysis in a context that’s easy to arrange and manage.

In basic terms, ask each student in your class to watch a film of their choice (in their own time…) and, while their watching, record whether or not it satisfies 4 simple criteria:

1. Does it have at least 2 women in it?

2. Do they have names (i.e. are they something more than background extras)?

3. Do they talk to each other?

4. Is their conversation about something other than men?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, the film fails the test.

Applying the Test

Sceptical Sociology: New Media and Digital Nativism

Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Like any scientific endeavour, one of the virtues of sociology is its scepticism – and one area that’s always ripe for a sceptical approach is new media and the various claims made on its behalf.

One such claim is Prensky’s (2001) concept of the “digital native”, something that has become widely used in both press and public to refer to a generational difference between those (natives) who have grown-up in the digital age and those (immigrants) who came to the digital realm later in life.

  • Natives, in this respect, generally refers to those born in the 1980’s (often labelled millennials, because they broadly came of age around the turn of the new millennium) who have effectively lived their whole lives surrounded by and immersed in digital technologies.
  • Immigrants refers to those born before the widespread development of digital technologies. They are in this respect latecomers to the digital party, even though many will have different levels of experience, confidence and facility with digital technology. Immigrants are, nonetheless, generally portrayed as outsiders in this new digital realm. While they may, for example, “understand the language” of digital tech and speak it relatively fluently, they are not, for Prensky among many others, “native speakers” of this language – with all that this may imply.
  • This distinction is not, on the face of things, too outrageous to contemplate, particularly if writers such as Prensky had simply restricted themselves to observing how this generational difference might be akin to the difference between learning a new language and being a native speaker.

    It may seem plausible, for example, that the digital natives who have grown-up with various forms of digital technology are likely to be much more fluent in its use than their elder(ly) peers.

    Equally, the distinction might involve a range of ways of doing (such as finding your news on social media rather than in newspapers or on television) and being (living your life on Instagram or TikTok, perhaps, or maybe in the soon-to-be unleashed multi-dimensional Facebook metaverse that looks and sounds, to me at least, very much like an unironic Matrix reimagining…) that are qualitatively different in some way. As Prensky, for example, argues, digital immigrants:

  • don’t go to the Internet first for information.
  • print things out as opposed to working on screen.
  • read manuals rather than working things out online.
  • The significance of these qualitative differences for writers such as Prensky (presupposing they actually exist) is, however, a desire to extend them, such that they become the basis for a wide-ranging and fundamental critique of contemporary forms of educational teaching and learning.

    Which, when you stop to think about for a moment, is some stretch of the imagination.

    Undeterred, however, Prensky argues that:

    “It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most educators suspect or realize. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures,“ says Dr Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine…it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed.”

    Despite the equivocation about whether or not digital natives “have a different brain structure” to their immigrant peers – although if it’s not “literally true” then it’s literally false – the claim they have a different way of thinking lays the ground for a critique of contemporary education systems based on the idea they were designed by and for the digital immigrants of the distant past.

    The upshot of this is an educational disjunction between those who control the education system (digital immigrants) and those who consume it (digital natives) which has resulted in a type of education that is no-longer fit-for-purpose. Educational systems need, in a nutshell, to be reinvented to bring them into line with how digital natives think and learn. Which according to Prensky means:

    Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work. (Does any of this sound familiar?) But Digital Immigrants typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected through years of interaction and practice. These skills are almost totally foreign to the Immigrants, who themselves learned – and so choose to teach – slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually, and above all, seriously. “My students just don‟t _____ like they used to,” Digital Immigrant educators grouse. I can’t get them to ____ or to ____. They have no appreciation for _____ or _____ . (Fill in the blanks, there are a wide variety of choices”.

    While, as I’ve suggested, the digital natives concept might have some (limited) currency, it’s questionable that it can be extended in the way Prensky claims, for a couple of reasons identified by Helsper and Eynon (2009):

    1. The validity of the generational dimension to digital nativism is open to question. As they argue:

    Those in support of this digital native / immigrant distinction tend to assign broad characteristics (e.g. a specific learning style, amount and type of technology use and / or set of learning preferences) to an entire generation and suggest all young people are expert with technology. Yet, while the proportion of young people who use the Internet and other new technologies is higher than the older population there are significant differences in how and why young people use these new technologies and how effectively they use them”.

    2. The extent to which differences between digital natives and digital immigrants can be explained by age differences rather than differences in class, socialisation, experience and the like is also questionable.

    Moreover, Helsper and Eynon’s research makes a number of observations and draws a range of conclusions about the concept that we can summarise as follows:

    1. “Generation alone does not adequately define if someone is a digital native or not”. There are a range of factors involved here, from class and gender to different levels of learning and experience.

    2. The use of digital technology and media is to some extent age-stratified in the sense younger people:

  • have a greater range of ICTs in their household
  • tend to use the Internet as a first port of call
  • have higher levels of Internet self-efficacy
  • multi-task more
  • use the Internet for fact checking and formal learning activities.
  • use the Internet more
  • are more likely to come from media-rich homes
  • are more confident about their skills
  • are more likely to engage in online learning activities.
  • Despite these differences, however, age alone is neither a sufficient nor necessary explanation. As Helsper and Eynon conclude:

    Generation was not the only significant variable in explaining these activities: gender, education, experience and breadth of use also play a part. Indeed in all cases immersion in a digital environment (i.e. the breadth of activities that people carry out online) tends to be the most important variable in predicting if someone is a digital native in the way they interact with the technology”.

    In this respect they conclude:

    1. While digital natives and immigrants exist in the sense there are notable differences in the extent to which different individuals and social groups are comfortable using digital technology and media they are not “two distinct, dichotomous generations”.

    2. “While there were differences in how generations engaged with the internet there were similarities across generations as well, mainly based on how much experience people had with using technologies”.

    3. Internet use in particular reflects “a continuum of engagement” rather than “a dichotomous divide between users and non-users”. People, in other words, of various ages use the Internet for a wide variety of purposes.

    4. Their research “supports other research that has demonstrated that there are significant differences within cohorts of young people in terms of their preferences, skills and use of new technologies”. Young people are not, in this respect, an “homogeneous generation of digital children”.

    References

    Prensky, Marc (2001) “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” parts 1 and 2.

    Helsper, Ellen and Eynon, Rebecca (2009) “Digital natives: where is the evidence?”

    Media Effects: Althusser and Interpellation

    Friday, November 26th, 2021
    Interpellation: Media ideas are woven into the fabric of our thoughts and lives…

    In a previous post I suggested how it might be possible to breathe new relevance into the classic 2-Step Flow model of Media Effects (A New Digital 2-Step) and this post takes a similar Back to the Future approach to media effects by digging-up and dusting-down an idea – Interpellation – that’s been around since the 1970’s but which, for one reason or another, doesn’t seem to have attracted much attention at High School and A-level.

    This is a little-surprising because it derives from the work of Louis Althusser, the French Structuralist Marxist whose work generally features in these curricula in relation to concepts of Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses (ISAs and RSAs respectively).

    Interpellation is directly related to Ideological State Apparatuses because for Althusser (1972), ideology –  “the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence” – was a key component of (mass) media texts that, in turn, are an integral part of Ideological State Apparatuses in contemporary capitalist societies.

    Prisoners and Jailers

    The conventional way to think about ideology in contemporary societies is that it works on individuals.

    It is, in other words, a force (of ideas about the world) that flows down from institutions like the media onto individuals who are largely powerless to prevent its effects. In contemporary capitalist societies people, in other words, are constantly bombarded with ideas and interpretations supportive of the status quo,  the weight of which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore or escape. We are all, in this respect unwitting and largely unwilling prisoners of our media jailors.

    Individuals, from this perspective, are broadly receptive objects of whatever ideas and interpretations about the world the media propagates. The media, in this respect, tells us what to think and how to think about the social world by presenting it as “normal” and largely unquestionable.  We may or may not like what we see, read and hear but, to coin a phrase, “It is what it is”.

    Somewhat ironically, Althusser’s ISAs are frequently presented as the epitome of this worldview, with a largely-unfavourable contrast drawn between his structural Marxism and the more-humanistic Hegemonic Marxism of writers such as Gramsci and, to a slightly lesser extent, Poulantzas. The concept of interpellation, however, forces us to both soften and reinterpret Althusser’s ideas because it suggests we should constitute individuals in capitalist societies as ideological subjects rather than objects.

    In other words, we should seek to understand media effects in the context of individuals as prisoners who are, in turn, their own jailors. We are all integrated into and intimately involved with the reproduction of the ideas that imprison us…

    (more…)

    Revision Mapping Mass Media

    Tuesday, November 2nd, 2021

    While the recently-posted Research Methods Revision Maps have a certain timeless and transcendental quality(?) when it comes to being reasonably up-to-date and applicable to a wide range of sociology specifications, the same probably can’t be said of this batch of Media Revision Maps. They were created for the AQA Spec around about the time my second AQA textbook was published, around 2006, so be aware that:

    a. They’re rather dated in terms of content (there’s not a massive amount about new media, for example).

    b. The Specification has changed over the years, making some of the stuff covered by the Maps a little redundant. The Maps were also produced when Media was an AS / A1 Unit, as opposed to the A2 Unit it subsequently became…

    Having duly noted this, the actual content of the Maps isn’t necessarily the most important element (although, having said that, it probably helps if it’s reasonably current and relevant…) and it’s not like it was written before the invention of the printing press, television or even the Internet.

    In addition, the majority of the theoretical and conceptual material should be broadly okay – basic stuff on things like media effects and audiences, for example, is still covered in most Specs. and, if nothing else, provides a basic introduction that can be updated as-and-if required – but stuff like statistical data will invariably need to be updated with newer material.

    However, the main takeaway here is the notion of creating the Maps themselves, as a revision aid that focuses student attention on the key ideas and connections in whatever content they’re covering.

    1. Different explanations of the relationship between ownership and control of the mass media

    2. Different explanations of the relationship between the mass media and ideology

    3. Different explanations of the processes of selection and presentation of media content

    4. The role of the mass media in representations of age, social class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and disability

    PowerPoint: Defining Mass Media v2

    Wednesday, August 4th, 2021

    When I posted the previous version of this PowerPoint Presentation I included the rider that I’d have a go at making it “More-Prezi” and “Less-PowerPoint”, by which I meant doing away with the semi-linear structure of the original and replacing it with the kind of open structure characteristic of Prezi Presentations.

    This, I’m happy to say, has now been achieved by creating a new version of the Defining Mass Media Presentation with a “Main Menu” screen from which you can access all slides in the Presentation at any time and in any order you want.

    Defining Mass Media v2

    This, as you might expect, has created a new set of navigation problems because the information in the Presentation was designed as a broadly-hierarchical, rather than flat, structure – by which I mean that in terms of the Presentation structure it’s helpful (and possibly essential) to read and understand one thing (the Major Point) before you examine various aspects of it (the Subsidiary Points).

    To get around this I’ve made Major Point links larger than their Subsidiary Point links. The initial “Start or Introduction” link is, for example, largest of all and gives you a strong hint about where to begin. I’ve also introduced branches linking everything together. In other words, you have strong clues about where to begin by looking at the overall structure map and seeing which branches lead from what to where.

    And if that doesn’t seem totally clear now, once you look at the Start Slide it will become perfectly obvious.

    That, among other things, is my promise to you.

    As with the previous version, this Presentation is only available as a PowerPoint Show (.ppsx) self-running file. This is because if you try to load a .pptx version into a pre-2019 copy of PowerPoint it will strip-out the Zoom animation function on which everything rests.

    And the Presentation will not work as intended.

    Which would be a pity (although not a disaster because it may still work after a fashion).

    Possibly.

    I can’t promise it will, so I’d be inclined not to try.

    Mass Media: Who Owns the UK Media?

    Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
    Click to Download

    Reasonably through and up-to-date information about UK Media Ownership is always a useful resource and this publication, Who Owns the UK Media?, from Media Reform UK (a Pressure Group that promotes reform of UK Media (there’s probably a clue in the name) is something Media Sociology teachers should find helpful for a couple of reasons:

    Firstly,  because it’s only a couple of years old (published in 2019).

    Secondly because it covers a wide range of online and offline media in some detail (including information on things like readership / viewership, income and the like).

    Equally-usefully, this is a revised and updated version of the original 2015 Ownership Report which means it’s possible to track and compare changes in economic ownership over the past 5 or so years in relation to:

  • UK National Newspapers (offline and online versions)
  • UK Local Newspapers
  • The New Digital Journalism
  • New Media Platforms and Intermediaries (e.g. Facebook, Twitter)
  • Share of UK Search
  • Social Media and News Consumption
  • UK Terrestrial TV
  • UK Subscription Video-On-Demand
  • Radio (Analogues and Digital) and Podcasting.
  • (more…)

    Digital Optimism vs Digital Pessimism

    Friday, April 2nd, 2021

    Whatever your views on whether we should be broadly optimistic about the development of digital technologies, such as the Internet and mobile computing, or view them with varying levels of pessimism, it would be helpful, teaching-wise, if someone put together a useful summary of these two opposed schools of thought.

    Digital Optimism or Digital Pessimism?

    Luckily for us that’s just what Adam Thierer did (albeit in 2010 – so you might want to consider if there’s anything that needs adding to the list). To help you out, because I’m nice like that, I’ve appended a few ideas of my own that you might want to consider.

    Alternatively, you might want to add your own ideas, or encourage your students to research possible updates. The choices here are limitless (presupposing your concept of “limitless” extends to “probably one or two”).

    The first table (Table 1) reproduced below is taken from a much longer article that’s worth a read if you have the time and inclination. It develops some of the ideas listed below and puts them into an historical context, starting with the Web 1.0 Granddaddy-of-all-debates between Nicholas Negroponte and Neil Postman in the early 1990’s. It’s fairly student-friendly and there’s a useful section that frames the debate in a general cultural context while summarising some of the main arguments.

    Click here If you’re optimistic about the next bit, otherwise I wouldn’t bother…

    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.

    (more…)

    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…

    Sociological Research Articles

    Thursday, December 17th, 2020

    I found this document lurking on a hard drive and while I’ve absolutely no idea from where it originally came, the metadata says “2008” and since it’s called “Sociological Research articles (since 2000)” it’s a fair bet it contains articles published between those two dates.

    As you can see, very little gets past me.

    Digging a little deeper – i.e. I read the blurb inside the cover – it’s an old Connect Publications err…publication that seems to have once been part of a CD-Rom (remember them? Me neither).

    Anyway, Connect was a company originally created and run by Pete Langley before he moved on to bigger and Even Bigger things so I’m guessing it’s long out of print (if that’s the right way to describe a little piece of shiny plastic filled with digital data?) and no-one’s going to argue the toss.

    The involvement of Janis Griffiths, Jonathon Blundell and Steve Chapman(although the latter only rates a “Thanks”, not a “Name on the Door” credit, so I’ve no idea what his involvement was. I’m sure he’ll probably tell me sometime) suggests, to me at least, some sort of ATSS (RiP) involvement, but I could be wrong.

    The pack is basically a set of articles, drawn from what looks like an early 2000 AQA Spec. that covered stuff that’s still standard on most UK Sociology Specs (Families and Households, Culture and Identity, Poverty and Welfare, Education, Health, Religion and Beliefs, Mass Media, Crime and Deviance, Stratification and Differentiation), each of which is broken-down into a set of easily-digestible chunks running across no-more – and no-less – than 2 x A4 pages:

  • Context
  • Methods
  • Key Findings
  • Evaluation
  • Links to Key Debates
  • Each section has between 3 and 7 articles and these are roughly representative of the general popularity of the Module in question (crime and deviance has quite a few, poverty and welfare not so many…) and while the articles are around 15 years old there’s still some useful information here.

    Plus, if you’re so inclined, the general thinking behind the project is a neat template for presenting more contemporary articles to your students (or, at least, getting them to think in terms of the categories from which each article is constructed).

    Sociology Lesson Elements

    Sunday, December 6th, 2020
    A Lesson Element…

    This set of resources from the OCR Exam Board is, as you might expect, designed to support teaching and learning for their A-Level Specification. While some of the resources may fall outside the remit of other Sociology Specifications this isn’t to say that teachers of the latter won’t, with a little bit of judicious editing, be able to adapt stuff here to their own particular teaching needs.

    Lesson elements are, by-and-large, teaching and learning activities presented in two forms:

    1. PowerPoint Presentations designed for whole class consumption.
    2. Word documents designed for individual and small-group work (most have accompanying teacher instructions packs that include model activity answers).

    As far as I’ve been able to find – and believe me I’ve been led a merry dance around the Internet trying to collect these resources before eventually finding most of them in various nooks and crannies on the OCR site – the Elements only cover two areas of the Spec.

    1. Introducing socialisation, culture and identity covers some basic Introductory ideas and concepts taught by all sociology teachers at the start of a course.

    2. Globalisation and the digital social world covers various aspects of globalisation as it relates to areas like social media, social inequality and education. While I think this is pretty-much an OCR-specific Module there are elements here that teachers of other Specs. will find useful.

    As far as I can tell (and, as noted above, I’ve really tried to find out) these are the only two Lesson Elements that have been created. If you know otherwise, I’d be grateful to be pointed in their direction. It may be that these were intended to be some sort of “starter resource” for teachers and no others were produced.

    Although when I’ve looked at the Psychology Lesson Elements available there seem to be roughly 3 times more.

    Not that I’ve actually counted them.

    That would be a little sad.

    Perhaps they just ran out of money, time, patience, interest or whatever (please delete or add-to as you see fit) when it came to Sociology?

    Either way, there are some interesting resources here that you might want to examine:

    Click to access the resources

    Takeaway Homework Menus: The Basics

    Monday, September 21st, 2020

    Takeaway Homework Menus are based on an original idea by “Twitter phenomenon and outstanding teacher” Ross Morrison McGill (100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers) – webmaster of the inspirational Teacher Toolkit site – and if you’re not familiar with the idea, the basic premise is a simple one:

    Starters and Mains…

    Instead of giving all your students a single “Homework Task” (an essay, a set of questions or whatever is appropriate to the course you’re teaching) you give them a menu of possible choices from which they can choose the homework they want to do.

    This could be as simple as a choice of doing one from a selection of 5 or 6 different essays or, as in the majority of Takeaway Homework Menus, students are required to select from different types of task. This usually involves the Menu being:

    1. Organised into sections, such as Starters, Mains and Desserts to maintain the Menu theme. Students may, for example, be required to do homework tasks selected from each part of the menu in the following ways (examples taken from this Express Crime and Deviance Takeaway homework menu, created by Miss Coleman to “Deliver fresh, hot and delicious homework tasks straight to your doorstep!”).

  • Starters may involve small and simple tasks (Write a tweet or no more than 256 characters explaining a Sociological key term covered in the Crime and Deviance unit).
  • Mains are usually more-involved and take longer to complete (Create a ten-question quiz for your classmates based on one area of the Crime and Deviance unit).
  • Desserts are again relatively straightforward tasks but can be used to test different skills to those included in Starters (Choose one piece of marked work in your book and re-do it, ensuring that you are responding to feedback and making improvements where necessary).
  • Desserts and Specials.

    What to include in each section is, of course, something for you to decide – Starters could include simple small-mark questions, while Mains could be a selection of essays – and the format’s flexible enough to incorporate a wide mix of practical and theoretical activities. If you want a further (sociological) example, the eponymous Miss Coleman has created a similar Takeaway Homework menu for social inequality.

    (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…)

    Mass Media 5 | Effects

    Saturday, May 18th, 2019
    Media Representations

    The final chapter in this series on the Mass Media to accompany the chapters on:
    Defining and Researching the Media,
    The Ownership and Control Debate,
    The Selection and Presentation of News and
    Media Representations

    looks at a range of models of Media Effects: how and in what ways (if any) the mass media affects individual and social behaviour.

    The first – main – section of the chapter covers a number of direct and indirect affects models (from the Hypodermic to Cultural Effects) plus an extensive and updated section on postmodernism / post-effects theory (audience as media, media as audience…).

    The second, much shorter section, moves the focus away from media effects on individuals and groups to look at possible effects – both positive and negative – on society as a whole.

    Update
    This chapter is also now available as an online flipbook.

    Sociology Flipbooks

    Saturday, April 20th, 2019

    A Flipbook is a way of displaying a pdf document online so that it has the look-and-feel of a paper-based magazine, one whose pages you can turn using a mouse (desktop) or finger (mobile).


    A Flipbook.
    Not Actual Size.
    Unless you’re using a mobile.
    Then it might be.

    That’s it, really.

    I could talk about stuff like whether this creates a greater sense of engagement among students than the bog-standard static pages of a pdf file, but since I’ve got no idea (and I don’t know of anyone who’s bothered to try to find out) that would just be me trying to find a deceptively- plausible way to encourage you to try them.

    So, if this Big Build-Up has piqued your curiosity and / or whetted your appetite for Flipbooks you’ll be pleased to know I’ll be adding a variety of the little blighters to this page on what might be charitably termed an ad-hoc basis (translation: whenever I can be bothered or can find the time).

    (more…)

    Mass Media 3 | The Selection and Presentation of News

    Monday, April 1st, 2019
    News Values
    News Values

    Following hot on the heels of Defining and Researching the Media and The Ownership and Control Debate comes a new set of notes looking at The Selection and Presentation of News.

    When I say “new”, the bulk of the text was actually written around 5 years ago but I’ve updated it slightly to take account of newer research on areas like:

  • News Values – more specifically, Harcup and O’Neill’s (2017) recent re-evaluation of their 2001 study that looked not just at possible changes to old media  news values but also news values related to new media – Facebook in particular.
  • Gatekeeping and the impact of computer algorithms on new media sites such as Facebook and YouTube
  • Neo-Marxism – a few statistical updates relating to concept of hegemony and levels of trust in old and new media.
  • New Right: I’ve expanded this section slightly to include new examples of anti-competitive behaviour in new media and I’ve added a short section on the Cairncross Review (2019) in the context of State attempts to regulate old and media to encourage competition and innovation.
  • Postmodernism: This section has seen a fewer minor changes to clarify things like Goffman’s ideas about Frontstage / Backstage applied to new media and how Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and hyperreality relate to news selection and presentation.
  • It’s quite a large file (18 or so pages) and, in places, a little complicated (particularly the postmodernism section). If you use this with your a-level students you may need to check that it’s an appropriate level.

    Otherwise.

    Happy Days!

    Update
    This chapter is also now available as an online flipbook.

    Mass Media 2 | The Ownership and Control Debate

    Tuesday, March 26th, 2019
    Ownership. And Control

    Another set of Notes in the Mass Media series (following the initial Defining and Researching the Media set) that fell-victim to a dispute between the Publisher* who commissioned them and an Exam Board who, for reasons of personal probity shall remained unnamed**, these divide the ownership and control debate into three main sections:

    1. Defining ownership and control – a brief overview of what we mean by these concepts.

    2. Trends and patterns in media ownership is focused around concepts of media concentration and conglomeration. This section also includes an outline a various forms of media integration – horizontal, vertical and diagonal.

    3. Theoretical explanations offers a couple of contrasting interpretations of the significance of media ownership and control: Marxism (considered in terms of its Instrumental and Hegemonic variations) and Pluralism (with a focus on concepts of globalisation and the audience selection model).

    As befits their textbook origins the Notes aren’t hugely-detailed (lack of page space being a prime, if not over-riding, factor in their construction) but they should serve as an introduction to the main themes and arguments in the debate. You might find them useful as a supplement to the other resources (textbook or otherwise) you bring to the table.

    * Philip Allan, in case you were wondering. They were promptly taken-over and banished from the face of literary existence by Hodder in a move that was probably unconnected with my personal trials and tribulations, but I like to think wasn’t. On the plus side, I did get paid.

    ** Ha. Who am I kidding? It was OCR.

    Update
    This chapter is also now available as an online flipbook.

    Mass Media 1 | Defining and Researching

    Friday, March 22nd, 2019
    Second half…

    Kicking my heels between edits I thought I might dig-out some old Notes (they were originally written around 5 years ago for a professional publishing project that, for one reason or another, never came together) and knock them into some sort of shape in the sincere belief that someone might find them useful.

    The “shape knocking” mainly involves slotting the text from a plain Word format into a slightly-more-attractive pdf format (with a few pithy pictures thrown in to prettify things a bit). I haven’t done much actual updating of the basic text – there are a few newer bits-and-pieces where I decided something needed a little more contemporary polish – which is why it doesn’t contain much that’s particularly up-to-the-minute in terms of research studies. Although these tend to be a few years old, I’ve mainly (but not necessarily always…) referenced them when I want to establish a particular point or principle that has contemporary relevance

    I’ve started with Defining and Researching the Mass Media, mainly because I haven’t done a lot in this area over the past few years and it’s a topic I’ve always found reasonably interesting and as far as content goes, this particular set of Notes is something of a game of two halves:

    (more…)

    Sociology in Focus for A2: Media Resources

    Saturday, March 2nd, 2019
    Revision Maps…

    Another set of free resources to complement the Sociology in Focus For A2 textbook, this batch relates to the Mass Media option:

    Overview Map: An introductory map that provides a very general overview of the Module content.

    Revision Maps: These Unit Maps go into much more depth and detail about the content covered throughout the Module and they have a number of uses, not least as a way of introducing the content of each Unit.

    Activity Answers: If you use the activities that have been strategically placed throughout the Module, you’ll probably need some answers. Luckily, I’ve created some so you don’t have to.

    Worksheets: Can be used to set individual and group text-based tasks to consolidate and check learning. These are organised around three activity types:

  • Consolidate, designed for individual work to ensure students have “grasped the basics”.
  • Apply, designed to promote analysis, discussion and application through small-group work.
  • Evaluate, designed for whole-class discussions around arguments / evidence for and against a question.
  • Exam Focus provides Top Tips from a Senior Examiner. Be aware, however, that the specific types of questions asked may have changed in the 10 years since this text was published. There are sufficient generic tips, however, to make this section a worthwhile download.

    Sociology in Focus for A2: Free Textbook

    Sunday, February 10th, 2019

    Sociology in Focus for A2 is, as you may have guessed, the companion volume to the previously-posted AS text and it’s no great surprise that its design and layout perfectly complements its AS counterpart. This includes the by-now standard colour-coded sections, lots of pictures, activities and questions that, at the time, were considered a quite radical design departure that was not, it hardly needs to be said, to everyone’s taste.
    The main concern, particularly but not exclusively among those who were concerned about this kind of thing, was that something had to make way for all the activities, pretty pictures, questions and even prettier pictures.

    And that something was, inevitably, the amount of text that managed to squeeze its way on pages crammed with all kinds of attractive, if sometimes largely superfluous, imagery.

    While it’s relatively easy to get away with this at AS level, it’s somewhat harder to pull-off the same trick at A2 level.

    So does it manage to pull it off?

    Well. Yes and No.

    The text, although limited in length, is generally well-written and informative and sometimes takes students into areas – particularly related to sociological theory – they aren’t usually expected to venture. Unfortunately, by meandering off the beaten track the text runs the risk, at times, of failing to adequately cover the bare essentials.

    Although it’s a moot point as to whether this text alone adequately prepares students for A2, this is where you and your students are quid’s in: you can use bits-and-bobs to supplement the more up-to-date texts you undoubtedly use in your day-to-day teaching.

    Alternatively, it’s a nice, big, bold, colourful text with lots of ideas for activities. And questions.

    (more…)

    Ethnicity in Advertising Report

    Friday, December 14th, 2018
    Download pdf version of the Report
    Download Report pdf

    This short Report, sponsored by the Lloyds Banking Group, asks the question “Does Advertising Reflect Modern Britain in 2018?” and answers it in a way that both GCSE and A-level Sociology teachers and students should find useful.

    In basic terms, it’s a big, colourful, pdf file in three broad sections available for viewing online or offline as a pdf download.  

    1. Key Findings does exactly what you might expect by pulling together a couple of A4 posters worth of information – covering things like ethnic identities and media representations and stereotypes – and presenting it in a clear, informative, way.

    2. Findings goes into more detail about what the research discovered, with a few bits-and-pieces of interpretation thrown into the mix for good measure. There’s also an interesting little section on “ethic identity”, plus a short discussion of the relationship between ethic and gender identities.

    3. Methodology. This adds a further dimension of usefulness as far as sociology teachers are concerned because it provides an opportunity to examine how a piece of research is constructed, particularly in terms of its strengths, weaknesses, reliability and validity.

    (more…)

    Understanding Media and Culture: Free Textbook

    Wednesday, July 11th, 2018

    Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication (to give it its full title) is a textbook, released under a Creative Commons licence by the University of Minnesota, that’s free to read, copy and share – which makes it especially useful for schools / colleges or students on a tight budget.

    Under this particular licence you’re also free to adapt the work in any way you like (“remix, transform, and build upon the material”) and what this will mostly mean is that if you want to chop chapters or sections out of the textbook you’re free to distribute these in any way you like (you just can’t charge anyone for the privilege).

    In terms of content, the main body of the text dates from 2010 but there has been some updating in 2016 (particularly around the impact of new technologies) which makes it pretty up-to-the-moment as far as textbooks go.

    The emphasis on media and culture means that most of the text is given-over to an analysis of the cultural impact of different types of media, both old (books, newspapers, film and television) and new (video games, entertainment, the internet and social media). Each type is given their own discrete chapter which, among other things, looks at their broad development, relationship to culture and, perhaps most-interestingly, how they have been impacted by the development of new technologies.

    The remaining chapters deal more generally with a range of areas: concepts of culture, media effects (there’s coverage of a range of theories dealing with direct and indirect effects), globalisation, the relationship between the media and government and a final section on the future of the mass media.

    Each chapter also has its own learning objectives, brief summary and short exercises. Whether or not you find these useful is, as ever, a moot point. I’m personally not a big fan, but Publisher’s love them so we probably have to learn to live with them.

    Or ignore them.

    It’s your choice.

    Finally, one obvious drawback, as far as UK teachers and students are concerned, is that the cultural focus is largely North American. This means that many of the chapters draw on materials and examples that will be unfamiliar to any but an American audience and UK teachers who decide to use these chapters may want to take advantage of the aforementioned editing privileges afforded by the CC license.

    If you think you might be able to live with this, the textbook’s available to:

    Read online
    • Download in a variety of ebook formats (such as mobi and epub) or as a pdf file.

    Popular Postmodernism and the Crisis of Masculinity…

    Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

    Popular forms of postmodernism are arguably a feature of many forms of current journalistic analysis of social behaviour, in both main stream and social media, with a current “crisis of masculinity” being a firm media narrative. Locating such arguments in their historical context may, however, be a more-sociologically useful way to understand them at a-level.

    There’s an implicit tendency in contemporary journalism (in both mainstream and social media) to explain changing concepts of masculinity and femininity as a product of “postmodern uncertainty”, a condition that develops, it’s frequently argued, through a potent combination of two things:

    1. An overabundance of choice relating to, in this instance, how to perform male and female social roles that leads, in turn, to confusion over both the distinction between – and content of – these gender roles.

    2. A progressive loosening of the moral order, such that male and female identities that were once highly centred – “everyone” knew how they were expected to behave as “men” and “women” – have increasingly become decentred: the disappearance of a clear moral authority dictating “how to be” a man or a woman in contemporary societies leads to different people interpreting their different roles in different ways.

    While there’s nothing particularly wrong in constructing this type of analysis to explain the fragmentation of both gender categories and gender roles (you’d very probably score good marks for it in an exam…) one criticism we can note about journalistic arguments focused around “the postmodern condition” is that they tend towards an ahistorical view of social development in two main ways:

    Firstly, “historical development” is seen as a linear process – a straight line between “the past” and “the present” – that involves an evolutionary progression from “the simple” to “the complex”.

    Secondly, ideas and events are interpreted and reinterpreted in such a way as to remove them from their historical context. Rather than locating “the past” in its own particular and peculiar social context, ideas and events are “ripped from history” to be understood solely in terms of the meanings and motivations of those living in “the present”.

    While both of these ideas arguably represent a form of Functionalism in shiny new shoes, this is not to suggest popular ideas and debates about “a crisis of masculinity”, “toxic masculinity” or, moving further afield, concepts like “post-truth” are imaginary, unimportant or the product of that most-misused of ideas, “moral panics”. Rather, it’s to argue that these conditions need to be explained sociologically, with a clear eye on historical details and contexts.

    As a case in point, you can use the following article by Ellie Cawthorne (“How to be a Man: tips from 1930’s agony aunts”, 2018) to show how ideas about “changing masculinity” can’t be simply and easily explained by reference to the kind of nebulous references to “postmodernity” favoured by contemporary journalists and commentators. The article can be read online at the BBC History Magazine website or offline by downloading it as a Word document I’ve very thoughtfully assembled for your viewing pleasure. Because online documents have a habit of disappearing into the ether.

    The reference is, of course, only illustrative and suggestive (building a picture of masculinity using only a single historical source is not definitive). If you want a more-fully-researched example, you might find Pearson’s “Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears” useful, albeit in relation to a different topic (crime and deviance) and perception of masculinity…

    Globalisation and the Digital World: Revision Stuff

    Saturday, April 21st, 2018

    Colourful PowerPoint Presentation summarising the OCR Globalisation and the Digital World Unit, plus a range of 6 / 9 mark exam practice questions.

    It’s somehow typical that you see nothing about this OCR A-Level Sociology Unit for months and then, just as you’ve posted a “6 week course” guide, you stumble across a couple of PowerPoint Presentations that actually complement this quite well.

    The first is a Big, Bold and Colourful Revision Presentation by Marc Addison that covers:

    • What is the relationship between globalisation and digital forms of communication?
    • Developments in digital forms of communication in a global society
    • The Marxist Perspective
    • The Feminist Perspective
    • The Postmodernist Perspective
    • The Impact of Digital Communications
    • What is the relationship between globalisation and Conflict and Change?
    • Cultural homogenisation, hybridity or resistance?

    The second is neither Big, Bold nor Colourful because it doesn’t aim to be. It just wants to do its job quietly, efficiently and with the minimum of fuss. So, if you want to give your students some practice 6 and 9 mark questions, based around the PEEL mnemonic, this Presentation should fit the bill nicely.

    Sociology Revision Booklets: 3. Mass Media

    Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

    The third in our occasional series covering free revision resources on the web looks at the Mass Media (as you’ve probably guessed from the title).

    The number of resources is substantially less than previous offerings on Theory and Methods and Beliefs in Society but what they lack in number is more than made-up for by the depth of their content.

    Possibly.

    I may just have been making that up.

    Anyway, you can see for yourself by downloading any, or indeed all, of the following:

    1. Media Revision Pack [Word version | Pdf version]: Although I’ve called this a Revision Pack (because that’s what it is…) it wasn’t originally created in that form. Rather, it’s an amalgam I’ve put together of a range of media revision documents, authored by Mark Gill, that cover:

    • Ownership and Control
    • New Media
    • Representations
    • Audiences
    • Social Construction of News

    Part of the reason for making the Pack available in different formats is that if you’d prefer to break the document down into its constituent parts it’s a fairly simple job to do this in Word. It’s possible to do this with a pdf document but that would mean faffing around with software that splits pdf files and you’re probably much too busy to bother with stuff like that.

    The Notes themselves are coherent and competent, with good coverage of the major Specification areas (although it’s aimed at AQA there are parts that apply to other Specifications). (more…)

    More GCSE Sociology Revision Stuff

    Sunday, March 4th, 2018

    While it’s possible to put-together a very reasonable – and reasonably comprehensive – set of revision resources from stuff that teachers have put on the web, there are a couple of things you should do before committing yourself to using these materials:

    1. Check they are for your Specification – you don’t want to be revising the wrong Spec.

    2. Check the Specification year / series to which they refer, particularly if it’s changed recently (over the past year or so). In other words, check the resources cover the newer required material and exclude older, newly-irrelevant material, from your revision.

    Guides

    These comprehensive resources combine things like notes, activities and advice and generally cover a number of different areas of the GCSE Specification. Three I’ve found are worth a look:

    1. Whole Course Revision 2018: This is a serious, 100-page, GCSE Revision Guide, put together by Ian Goddard, that covers:

    • Introducing Sociology
    • Research Methods
    • Family
    • Education
    • Crime and Deviance
    • Social Inequality
    • Power and Politics

    Unlike a lot of the previous GCSE resources I’ve posted [link] this is primarily a revision schedule rather than a simple list of revision notes (although these are also included). In this respect the Guide covers:

    • How to revise
    • Revision schedule
    • Personal Learning Checklist [link]
    • Basic study notes to supplement other reading (the Guide refers to “Collins Revision GCSE Sociology” but if you don’t use this text substituting your usual textbook will be fine)
    • Keywords
    • How to answer questions
    • Past question practice

    2. Sociology Revision Guide: Although not as ambitious or comprehensive as the above – the focus is on key terms and Notes covering Methods, Family and Education, plus a short section in exam advice – this Guide by Debbie McGowan is nicely designed and makes a welcome addition to your revision armoury. Presupposing you have one. If not, you can start one with this.

    3. Revision Guide for Students: A nicely-designed and cleanly laid-out hyperlinked pdf by Jonathan Tridgell that covers:

    • Research Methods
    • Socialisation, Culture and Identity
    • Family
    • Education
    • Mass Media

    While the focus is on brief revision notes the Guide also includes information on:

    • Course structure
    • Exam technique
    • Revision Tips.

    (more…)

    Knowledge Organisers: Media and Methods and Education

    Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

    Back by popular demand and with a brand-spanking new set of Tables covering media, methods and education. Each Unit is by a different author and the quality is, at times, variable.

    Media

    These are pdf files so unless you’ve got a programme that will edit them you’re stuck with the information they have to offer. That said, they’re fairly recent (2015) and so are probably reasonably up-to-date and in line with the latest Specifications. There is, unfortunately, no indication of authorship…

    Ownership of the mass media
    New media, globalisation and popular culture
    Selection and presentation of news and moral panics
    Mass media and audiences
    Representations of the body
    Representations of ethnicity age and class

    Methods

    These are a little older (2009) and again authorship is a little hazy. On the plus side they’re in Word format so they can be easily edited if necessary.

    Experiments and Questionnaires
    Interviews
    Observation and Secondary Sources

    Previous Tables you might find useful:

    Table 1.

    Table 2.

    Table 3.

    Education

    Again, not sure who created these or indeed when they were created. However, they are in Word format if you want to edit them.

    Functionalism and Marxism
    Feminism, New Right, Interactionism
    Cultural and Material Factors

    Previous Tables you might find useful:

    Table 1.

    Table 2.

    Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes

    Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

    The 2017 OfCom Report on “Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes” (2017) covers different types of on-and-offline media use by children in the UK and it’s quite a treasure trove of visual and verbal information that will repay careful analysis – although at around 300 pages it may prove a little hard-going for most students.

    Luckily, there’s a really good Executive Summary that pulls-together a shedload of interesting empirical / opinion data and disgorges them into concise, bite-sized and consumption-friendly chunks. This section is something you or your students can easily browse, taking whatever you want from what is actually a very rich menu.

    If you’re interested in media and methods – and, let’s face it, who is? – there’s extensive details about the overall research methodology. It’s actually quite useful (in a sort-of “you know you should be interested in this stuff, but…” kind of way) because this knowledge lets you assess the likely levels of reliability and validity of some parts of the Report (such as interviews with parents about the media usage of their 3 – 4 year old children).

    If you do decide to take the plunge and swim down into the deep waters of the main section of the Report you’ll find it contains some very useful charts, tables and summaries about all aspects of children’s media use.

    However, if you’re anything like me the main takeaway from the Report is this rather neat little chart summarising “Media lives by age: a snapshot” – perfectly poster-sized for pinning on that pristine wall.

    (more…)

    12 | Youth: Part 1

    Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

    It’s probably fair to say the topic of Youth is one of the roads less travelled when it comes to a-level sociology, but I always found it an interesting area to teach / study, particularly because it also links neatly with a couple of the more popular a-level Units in education and deviance.

    This initial chapter covers key concepts and the social construction of youth and is largely a definitional one that lays the ground for looking at ideas about youth cultures / subcultures in more detail in later chapters (hard to believe, I know, but there was a certain logic at work here) and it covers:

    • The social construction of youth
    • The concept of youth culture
    • The concept of youth subcultures (both spectacular and mundane…).

    The content is aimed specifically at OCR Sociology but there may be bits-and-pieces on areas like education and deviance that apply to other Specifications.

    Experiments in Visual Sociology

    Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

    media_ownAs you might expect from someone who makes films I like to explore visual ways of adding content to what can be fairly plain text information and this particular project is the result of just such an exploration. The objective here was to distil essential course information into a series of simple tableaux that highlight the information without necessarily distracting from it.

    Whether this works or not is probably something for you to decide and you can check-out three examples in terms of the following media modules: 

    Defining The Mass Media: Traditional definitions of “mass media”; Old mass media / old media; New mass media / new media; Characteristics of the new mass media.

    Ownership and Control 1: Key Concepts in the Ownership and Control debate: Media Ownership: State and Private; Owners and Controllers; Concentration: Product and Information Diversity; Conglomeration and Diagonal Integration.

    Ownership and Control 2: Theories of Ownership and Control: Instrumental Marxism; Neo (Hegemonic) Marxism; Pluralism.

     

    GCSE Revision Resources

    Thursday, November 24th, 2016

    While it’s probably fair to say that teacher-created GCSE revision resources are a bit thin on the ground (and take a bit of finding), there are useful resources “out there” if you’re prepared to do a lot of searching. To save you the time and trouble, here’s some I found earlier (the quality’s a bit variable, but needs must etc.):

    gcsemedia

    Unit 1 Revision Guide

    Unit 1: Education

    Unit 2 Topics – keywords / concepts

    Crime and Deviance

    Mass Media Revision Booklet

    Unit B671 (Sociology Basics) Revision: Methods / Culture / Socialisation / Identity

     

     

    Postmodernism and New Media

    Friday, October 14th, 2016

    This set of Notes was originally part of a textbook chapter looking at the impact on audiences of different types of old and new media, something I mention by way of explanation for both the general focus and lack of depth in the Notes.

    Without wishing to bore you with the intimate details of dealing with publishers and exam boards, there’s always a certain tension between the amount of depth and detail demanded by the latter and the number of print pages a publisher is willing to support – and while each has their reasons it’s akin, for an author, to steering an unhappy course between Cilia and Charybdis.

    The point of this little preamble is that textbook chapters are always a compromise between cramming in as much information as possible about a topic and the level of detail with which that topic can be treated. In other words, while these Notes mention quite a few ideas none are developed in any great depth.

    What they should give you, however, is a series of signposts to some of the most significant ideas in this area that, should you see the need, can be pursued and developed with additional Notes of your own. In this respect the Notes cover things like:

  • social identities and social spaces
  • a post-effects approach
  • perverse spectators: immanent and activated meanings.
  • audience as media
  • positive effects of new media
  • negative effects of new media
  • Applying news values to contemporary events

    Monday, September 7th, 2015

    Chibnall (1977) defines news values as “The criteria of relevance which guide reporters’ choice and construction of newsworthy stories, learnt through a process of informal professional socialisation”. They are values determined by organisational needs that translate into the professional codes used by editors and journalists to guide their assessment of media content – and particular news values directly influence how and why certain types of information are selected and presented as news.

    An interesting exercise here is to look at news values and how they can be defined and apply them to a contemporary news story such as, in the UK, something like Ebola.

    Applying news values to contemporary events (Part 2)

    Sunday, September 6th, 2015

    Chibnall (1977) defines news values as “The criteria of relevance which guide reporters’ choice andnewsvalue construction of newsworthy stories, learnt through a process of informal professional socialisation”. They are values determined by organisational needs that translate into the professional codes used by editors and journalists to guide their assessment of media content – and particular news values directly influence how and why certain types of information are selected and presented as news.

    If you’re looking for a recent, very sad, example of personalisation – and the power it can command – look no further than the Syrian Refugee Crisis…

     

    Media Representations: Part 1 – Traditional Marxism

    Thursday, June 25th, 2015

    Continuing the sociology of the media theme that began with moral and amoral panics, this series of posts looks at the idea of media representations from a range of different perspectives.

    For traditional Marxism, economic power is a key variable; those who own the means of physical production are always the most powerful class and economic power brings with it the ownership of mental production – control over how different social groups are represented.

    Cultural institutions such as the media are part of the ideological superstructure and their role is to support the status quo through the creation and maintenance of a worldview that favours the political, ideological and, above all, economic interests of a ruling class. How different social groups are represented within this worldview is a crucial aspect of ruling class domination and control – with the focus of explanation being the various ways a ruling class use their economic dominance to represent less powerful groups in ways that enhance and justify their power. While media representations are not in themselves a means of controlling behaviour, they are a means to an end. By representing different groups in particular ways the media allows a ruling class to act against such groups if and whenever they threaten their political, ideological or economic power.

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    Media Representations: Part 2 – Neo-Marxism

    Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

    This approach addresses the theoretical weaknesses of traditional Marxism by explaining media representations in terms of ruling class cohesion. The role of the media is not necessarily to divide or scapegoat the lower classes as a way of controlling their behaviour; rather, media representations are a way of creating and maintaining an elite’s sense of its own self-cohesion as a class.

    Where traditional Marxism explains class cohesion in terms of common cultural backgrounds, neo-Marxism uses the concept of hegemony to suggest cohesion is maintained through representations of “the Other”; by defining those who are not “part of the ruling class” the media functions to define for the disparate members of the ruling class the thing they have in common that unites them – an opposition to other social classes. This explanation of the role of the media doesn’t rely on a ruling class being a cohesive entity prior to using its economic power to manipulate public opinion. Rather, how and why the media represent different social groups becomes the cohesive factor in ruling class consciousness; by defining itself in terms of what it is not, it comes to see itself in terms of what it is.

    Inclusion – Exclusion

    Hegemonic control operates in the context of inclusion and exclusion:

    Inclusiveness defines the things a society “has in common”; from a sense of nationality, through shared religious beliefs and practices, to a common territorial origin, political and economic values and so forth. The mass media defines and propagates these inclusive characteristics and while their particular properties may shift and change, the basic principle holds; there are some fundamental characteristics that “define Us” (a ruling class) as opposed to “Them” (subject classes).

    Exclusiveness, on the other hand, defines “Them” or “The Other” – people who for whatever reason exclude themselves or have to be excluded – in opposition to a ruling class.

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    Media Representations: Part 3 – Feminism

    Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

    While the focus for all kinds of feminism is on how and why media representations contribute to female inequality, different approaches produce different forms of explanation.

    Liberal feminism generally focuses on how the mass media can be purged of sexist assumptions and representations, such that women in particular are neither stereotyped into a narrow range of roles nor represented in ways that disadvantage them in relation to men. Here, a combination of legal and social changes are the key to changing female representations; strong legal barriers to sexist representations coupled with moral changes in how we view male-female relationships and statuses are the means to ensuring the media represents gender in more-equitable and balanced ways.

    Marxist feminism, drawing on its connections to Marxist economic analysis, focuses on the commodification of women under capitalism; the idea female bodies are represented as objects of desire; Gill (2003), for example, argues women are exploited by displays of naked female flesh because it represents them as consumer objects to be bought and sold by men. Commodification is also expressed in terms of how sexist stereotypes are used to sell a variety of consumer goods, from cars to newspapers.

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    Media Representations: Part 4 – Pluralism

    Monday, June 22nd, 2015

    Pluralist explanations recognise a variety of different media representations of categories such as gender. They also emphasise the importance of the role of the audience in interpreting such representations – ideas that relate to two dominant themes in pluralist explanations – diversity and choice.

    In terms of diversity, contemporary media and audiences are characterised more by their differences than their similarities; wide differences within categories like class, age, gender and ethnicity makes the Marxist approach of reading audience responses from media representations increasingly problematic. Diverse audiences make diverse choices about what, when and how they consume different media – which puts the audience in control, rather than being controlled by that media. These ideas are brought into even sharper focus through contemporary forms of new media that increase the range and diversity of choices available to individual consumers.

    For pluralists, the media follow the market; audiences are given the types of representation they want. For example, the kind of overtly racist, sexist and homophobic representations once found in British sitcoms reflected a society largely tolerant of such things; contemporary audiences are less tolerant and this type of television programme no longer exists because it would be commercial suicide. Media diversity is encouraged by changing audience tastes and higher levels of economic competition for audience share.

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    Media Representations: Part 5 – Postmodernism

    Saturday, June 20th, 2015

    While Marxist and Feminist perspectives generally discuss media representations in terms of how and why they misrepresent particular groups, Baudrillard (1995) argues representations shouldn’t be considered in terms of whether something is fairly or unfairly represented; this follows because, he argues, how something is represented is its reality.

    In this respect conventional approaches to understanding media representations suggest the media re-presents something like ‘news’ in a way that’s somehow different to the original event; ‘something happens’ that is then described (re-presented) to an audience. Conventionally, therefore, sociologists contrast ‘the real’ – the ‘thing’ that ‘happened’ – with its representation and examine the media to see if they can disentangle the real from the not real.

    Baudrillard however argues “reality” is experienced differently depending on who you are, where you are and your source of information. Every audience, therefore, constructs its own version of reality and everything represented in the media is experienced as multiple realities, all of which – and none of which – are real; everything is simply a representation of something seen from different viewpoints. Thus, the ‘reality of anything’ can’t be found in any single definitive account or experience; that which we can “real”, therefore, has no definitive or essential features that distinguish it from how it is represented.

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    New Media: 1. Features

    Friday, April 24th, 2015

    This short series of blog posts looks at various dimensions of new media, beginning with a broad overview of some key distinquishing features:

    As Socha and Eber-Schmid (2012) argue “Part of the difficulty in defining New Media is that there is an elusive quality to the idea of new”. This “elusive quality” can, perhaps, be best captured by thinking about how Crosbie (2002) suggests three features of new media make them qualitatively different to old media:

    • They can’t exist without the appropriate (computer) technology.
    • Information can be personalised; individualised messages tailored to the particular needs of those receiving them can be simultaneously delivered to large numbers of people.
    • Collective control means each person in a network can share, shape and change the content of the information being exchanged.

    As an example Crosbie suggests “Imagine visiting a newspaper website and seeing not just the bulletins and major stories you wouldn’t have known about, but also the rest of that edition customized to your unique needs and interests. Rather than every reader seeing the same edition, each reader sees an edition simultaneously individualized to their interests and generalized to their needs”.

    A further feature of new media is its capacity to be truly global in scope and reach. While older technologies like TV and film have global features – the American and Indian film industries, for example, span the globe – they are fundamentally local technologies; they are designed to be consumed by local audiences that just happen to be in different countries while new media, such as web sites or social networks, are global in intent. They enable global connections through the development of information networks based on the creation and exchange of information. A significant aspect of these global features is the ability to create and share text, images, videos and the like across physical borders through cyberspace.

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    New Media 3: Implications – digital optimism

    Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

    The development of new media has led to a general debate about the implications of changing technologies and their impact on economic, political and cultural life, polarised around two opposing views – the first of which can be characterised as:

    digital optimism

    From this viewpoint the defining characteristic of new media is a form of digital liberation based, for Negroponte (1995), on four processes that impact on society in a range of ways:

    1. In economic terms we see the development of new models of production, distribution and exchange, particularly “free” or “gifting” models where the consumer pays nothing to use a medium. One significant new model is the development of open economic systems where software, for example, is developed collaboratively to take advantage of wide creative pools of talent – an idea Tapscott and Williams (2008) call “Wikinomics” to reflect the pioneering collaborative efforts of Wikipedia.

    2. Producers, especially large corporations, have to be more responsive to consumer demands because the ability to act as a global crowd, passing information swiftly from individual to individual, means corporate behaviour is continually being monitored, evaluated and held to account. Surowiecki (2005) argues digital technology facilitates crowd-sourcing, a process based on “the wisdom of crowds”; if you ask enough people their opinion a basic “crowd truth” will emerge.

    3. Politically, the global flow of information weakens the hold of the State over individuals and ideas. Repressive State actions are much harder to disguise or keep secret when populations have access to instant forms of mass communication, such as Twitter. The Internet also makes it harder for the State to censor or restrict the flow of information and this contributes to political socialisation by way of greater understanding of the meaning of issues and events.

    4. Culturally, behaviour can be both participatory and personalised, processes that in cyberspace can be complementary. The global village combines collectivity with individuality; cooperation flourishes while people simultaneously maintain what Negroponte calls the “Daily Me” – the personalisation of things like news and information focused around the specific interests of each individual. Personalisation contributes to participation through the development of a diverse individuality that leads to the development of new ways of thinking and behaving. The ability to be anonymous on the web encourages both freedom of speech and whistle-blowing.

    Taken from:

    Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (UK)

    ciebook

    Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (USA)

    New Media 4: Implications – digital pessimism

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    An alternative interpretation – digital pessimism – argues the globalising processes on which new media depends are neither wholly beneficial nor unambiguous; while globalisation involves decentralising processes, for example, it also produces greater centralisation across economic, political and cultural behaviours.

    In economic terms “free” business models are only free in the sense they have costs hidden from the consumer. These include:

    • exploiting free labour: The news and opinion site The Huffington Post, for example, was built around the free labour provided by its blogging contributors; the site was, however, sold by its owners for $300m in 2011.
    • driving out quality: companies that can’t rely on cheap or free labour must either cut their costs, thereby potentially undermining quality, or go out of business.
    • privacy: new media that are dependent on free labour, such as social networking sites where consumers create content, make money by selling user data to advertisers.
    • copyright: Some corporate social media sites lay claim to the copyright of user-generated content, such as photographs and videos, that can then be sold to advertisers.

    Conglomeration is a related process that mirrors the behaviour of old media corporations. The highly-concentrated ownership of new media allows global corporations to buy-up competitors or emerging technologies. This leads, for Schecter (2000), to a decrease in digital diversity in areas such as news production. As he argues “The Internet, is not very diverse, even though it appears to be. The concentration in ownership that is restructuring old media has led to conglomeration in news transmission and a narrowing of sourcing in new media. It is cheaper for Web sites to buy someone else’s news than generate their own”. In a related issue, it is also “cheaper” for global corporations to simply take and republish content generated by individual users with little or no prospect of recompense.

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    New Media 5: Building a Better Mousetrap – Digital Incarceration

    Sunday, April 19th, 2015

    In the final part of this short series on new media we can note a significant extension to the idea of digital pessimism.

    While new media ownership is sometimes likened to what Socha and Eber-Schmid call “the growing pains of the American Wild West”, where a diversity of companies compete for market share, the reality is probably closer to its old media counterpart; various forms of vertical, horizontal and diagonal concentrating processes have increasingly come into play, leading to the notion of:

    digital incarceration. This involves the idea producers are able to create digital “prisons” that are entered freely by consumers; once there, however, they are locked in. Someone who puts their life online through social networks such as Facebook or Flickr finds it very difficult to leave. A further similarity between the behaviour of old and new media corporations involves two related processes:

  • locking-out competitors from markets.
  • locking-in consumers to products.
  • A relatively small-scale example of these tendencies is Amazon’s development of an eBook reader (the Kindle) that gave them control over who could publish eBooks for this product and how consumers could use the product (to buy eBooks form Amazon). On a much larger scale Apple has, over the past 30 years, consistently attempted to lock-out market competitors and lock-in product consumers; this corporate strategy failed spectacularly in the 1980s because Apple was not sufficiently powerful to challenge IBM’s strategy of allowing anyone to manufacture a “Personal Computer” (Apple would only allow third-party manufacturing under licensing they controlled). More-recently this strategy has, however, proved spectacularly successful with the development of the iPhone and iPad that allows Apple to control both of these processes.

    The concept of digital incarceration is not only an important concept in itself, because of the way it points to interesting tendencies and developments within new media (many of which are, equally significantly, an extension on a global scale of old media economic and cultural tendencies); it also has applications across other parts of the Media Specification.It can, for example, be applied to evaluate Pluralist arguments about consumer choice and media diversity, particularly in relation to moving the debate away from the significance of “individual choice”. In late capitalist societies, for example, the point is not whether individuals have “consumption choices” in terms of media technology but rather the consequences of exercising such choices.

    To use an analogy: whether a mousetrap is humane or inhumane in terms of how the mouse is treated, ultimately it’s still a mousetrap. For those, such as neo-Marxists, who are critical of pluralist approaches, it doesn’t particularly matter if consumers of both media hardware and software have a wide range of choices if the consequences of exercising such choices are ultimately much the same…

    Applying Cultural Effects theories to race and crime

    Friday, March 20th, 2015

    Some background reading (and an example article):

    From this (neo-Marxist) perspective we’re looking at the media as an agency of social control and, in this particular respect, how the control of ideas – the way people think about the world – can be used to influence behaviour. However, as Newbold suggests, we are not thinking here about direct control, in the sense of forcing people (consciously or unconsciously) to behave in certain ways; rather, the media acts at the institutional (large group) level of culture, not at the level of individual beliefs.

    In other words, the media exercises social control through its actions as a socialising agency, advising and guiding audiences and, by so doing, exercising a hegemonic role. We can, for example, see this idea in terms of George Gerbner’s ideas (‘Communications Technology and Social Policy’, 1973) concerning Cultivation Theory, which argues television cultivates distinctive attitudes in its audience, rather than directly influencing their behaviour. As Daniel Chandler (‘Cultivation Theory’, 1995) puts it: ‘Heavy watching of television is seen as “cultivating” attitudes which are more consistent with the world of television programmes than with the everyday world. Watching television may induce a general mindset about violence in the world, quite apart from any effects it might have in inducing violent behaviour’.

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    Crime, Media and Postmodern Modalities

    Saturday, January 31st, 2015

    911Harari’s “The theatre of terror” article is worth reading because it explicitly sees terrorism as a form of “spectacle” in contemporary Western societies – an idea referenced by Kidd-Hewitt and Osborne (1995) when they argue crime in general can be seen in terms of postmodern spectacle, a general “crime discourse” driven by two main narratives:

    1. Fear, whereby crime and deviance are represented in terms of threat – ‘the criminal’ as a cultural icon of fear (both in personal and more general social terms) – a narrative that involves both warnings about behaviour, the extent of crime and its consequences and risk assessments, in terms of the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime, for example.
    2. Fascination: Crime and deviance represent ‘media staples’ used to sell newspapers, encourage us to watch TV programmes (factual and fictional), visit news sites and so forth.


    These two narratives (fear and fascination) come together when postmodernists discuss deviance in terms of spectacle – crime is interesting (and sells media products) because of the powerful combination of fear and fascination.

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