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Posts Tagged ‘postmodernism’

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…

“Society Is Like”: Simple Sociological Analogies

Monday, May 28th, 2018

This activity uses simple analogies (plus some optional optical illusions…) to introduce students to a variety of sociological perspectives.

Whatever you may think about the notion of “sociological perspectives” (useful categorising concepts that help students get to grips with a range of related ideas? Or a misleading way of grouping writers in an oversimplified attempt to impose to impose a order on largely unrelated phenomena?) if you teach or study a-level sociology they are a key component of the course that has to be confronted: if you don’t teach or learn “the main perspectives” your chances of achieving top grades are likely to be severely diminished.

In other words, to paraphrase Goffman, you can love them or loathe them, but what you can’t do is ignore them.

With this in mind, therefore, I’ve always found a “Socratic Dialogue” technique, to which I was introduced many years ago at an ATSS Conference, a good way of both introducing different perspectives and getting students to work together to solve problems.

As an added bonus, this particular exercise is based on a technique – the use of analogies – often employed in a-level sociology to teach the Functionalist perspective (where “society” is likened to a human body). All this exercise does, in effect, is extend the number of analogies used to different perspectives.

In the “Society Is Like” document I’ve included a number of possible analogies you may want to consider if you’re stuck for ideas (Interactionism, for example, “is like a Play”) but if you want to use your own that’s no problem. The document is basically a series of templates students can use in relation to each perspective you want to introduce. If you want your students to complete each analogy by hand you can print and distribute the relevant page or, if word-processed answers are required you can use the Word template.

As you may or may not be aware, the use of sociological analogies is something I’ve noted before in relation to both Jill Swale’s work and an earlier version of the “Society Is Like” document. This updated version is one I put together a little while ago, forgot about, thought I’d imagined or lost and then rediscovered lurking in a forgotten sub-sub-directory.

How To…

A Young Woman – and an Elderly Woman…

The “Society Is Like” document contains general instructions about how to use the template, but how you actually use it is, of course, up to you. What I’ve tended to do, because this basic introduction to the idea of sociological perspectives is something done very early in an a-level course, is to introduce students to the idea of different ways of looking at and understanding “society” through a series of simple optical illusions. This sensitises students to the notion of people looking at the same thing (“Society”) but seeing it differently. A quick Google search throws up plenty of examples you could use.

Once this has been done, organise your students into small groups and give each group or student a copy of the template. Each group is required to focus on one perspective. The Socratic Dialogue part of the exercise is for each group to discuss among themselves two ideas:

1. Decide on 5 characteristics for their given analogy (e.g. 5 characteristics of a Play if they’re doing Interactionism).

2. Decide how each of their 5 characteristics can be used to describe some aspect of “Society” from their given perspective (e.g. one characteristic of a Play might be a script and this translates into a characteristic of society in the sense that something like gender socialisation is equivalent to a script “society” gives males and females about how to correctly perform gender).

I’ve found it useful to walk students through an initial example with the class: Functionalism is easy and works well in this respect.

Once each group has completed their work you should get them to present it to the whole class so that every student has a basic understanding of a range of perspectives.

If you want to follow this up you can start to look in a little more depth and detail at each perspective. This can include looing briefly at how each might be applied to whatever substantive section of the course you plan to do next: education, for example, is one area where there are plentiful opportunities to look at how different perspectives see this institution.

OCR Topic Exploration Packs

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Four (or possibly five, depending on how you view it) Introductory Packs on Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism and Postmodernism.

If you use OCR for A-Level Sociology you’ll probably be aware of these Packs covering Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism and Postmodernism. For non-OCR users, however, the Packs could still prove useful because they contain the kinds of general “Introductory” information applicable to most UK Exam Boards and general sociology courses elsewhere.

Each Pack uses the same basic format: a series of “Tasks” designed to introduce the “domain assumptions” of each perspective and, in some instances, relate them, with varying levels of effort and success, to an interpretation of different aspects of culture and identity.

The Packs are split into two sections; one has questions with suggested answers, the other has the same questions minus the answers. If you want your students to complete the Tasks digitally (i.e. they can wordprocess their answers) you will need to edit the document to delete the answer section. Oddly, the Marxism Pack just has Tasks minus suggested answers (there is a separate pdf version with suggested answers).

When all’s-said-and-done the Packs are really just a set of simple worksheets trying quite hard to pretend they’re not worksheets – but they’re colourful, nicely put together and most-importantly, free. So, if you ignore all the guff about “formative” and “summative” assessment (I get the impression the authors’, in the main, did just that) what you have are some simple resources that could be easily and effectively introduced into the classroom.

The resources have their faults, both in terms of design and in some instances content (although I couldn’t see anything particularly major – my main gripe is a reference to “Interpretivism” rather than “Interactionism”). The 4 packs also vary quite considerably in quality, with the Feminism Pack probably being the weakest overall. There is also, strangely given the structure / action references throughout, little or nothing on the latter. On balance, however, I’d say the Packs are worth having.

Whether or not OCR have any plans to extend the resources I’ve no idea, but based on past performance they tend to start out with a Big Idea and then signally fail to carry it through. On this basis I’d say get these resources while you can:

Functionalism

Marxism (Student Activity Pack)

Marxism: Although they have different names the only difference between this and the “activity pack” is that this includes “suggested answers” to task questions and is a pdf rather than a Word file (although, having said that, a few of these “answers” are missing for some reason). Otherwise they are identical in terms of content, save for some introductory text that explains how to use the materials. Unfortunately, a conversion error makes one page unreadable in this version, so if you want a pdf version (minus the Introduction) you will need to convert the Word version.

Postmodernism

Feminism

Raised Without Gender

Friday, April 13th, 2018

Culture and Identity is an important part of the a-level sociology specification for a number of Boards and this 30-minute film might be a good way to get your students thinking about both cultural norms generally and gender / sexual identities in particular.

The film looks at the idea of “gender neutrality” through the lens of a series of gentle interviews and observations with families and in kindergartens in Sweden, a society that has arguably gone furthest down the gender neutral route.

Although it mainly focuses on the adults and children who have, by-and-large, embraced the concept of non-binary gender, a contrary view is provided by psychiatrist David Eberhard.

The piece lends itself quite nicely to flipped teaching. Your students can watch it outside the classroom and can then be prepared for any work you decide to do on this area inside the classroom.

Education PowerPoints: Part 2

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

Part 2 of the Education Presentations gives you more of the same, only less of it.

More PowerPoints, in other words, but fewer of them than in Part 1.

Most of these are fairly straightforward “Teaching Presentations” but some contain YouTube videos (again, I’ve converted the links so they will play directly inside the Presentation) and one, the Social Class revision exercise, is a simple “sift-and-sort” activity designed to help students clarify “inside” and “outside” school factors in class differential achievement.

The Presentations, in no particular order:

1. Marketisation (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
2. Social Class – revision exercise
3. Ethnicity and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
4. Material Deprivation (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
5. Anti-School Subcultures (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
6. Feminist / Postmodernist Perspectives (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
7. The Purpose of Education

Education PowerPoints: Part 1

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Alongside the Revision Guides I seem to have collected a large number of Education PowerPoints that, while not explicitly geared towards revision, could be used in this way. Alternatively, they could just be used as part of your normal classroom teaching.

The Presentations are by a mix of authors (where known) but the majority are by Leigh Rust-Ashford, so they have the same “look and feel” and follow a similar format – clear teaching points, a few questions and simple exercises, a couple of illustrative YouTube videos (the only changes I’ve made to the files, apart from deleting dead links, is to format the video links so they use the PowerPoint video player) and so forth.

I’ve split the Presentations into two parts, in no particular order:

1. Meritocracy
2. Functionalism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
3. Interactionism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
4. Organisation of Education
5. Postmodernism4. organisation-of-the-education-system (N Sharmin)
6. Working Class Culture and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
7. Locality and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
8. Gender and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
9. Class and Achievement (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
10. Postmodern education (Leigh Rust-Ashford)
11. Marxism (Leigh Rust-Ashford)

A-Level Revision Booklets: 1. Beliefs in Society

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

A couple of years ago I posted some A-level revision booklets / guides, one from Greenhead College on education  and three from Tudor Grange Academy (Culture and Identity, Education, Research Methods).

On the basis that you can’t have too many revision booklets (although, thinking about it, you probably can) I thought I’d post a few more I’ve somehow managed to collect, starting with three really-quite-comprehensive booklets covering Beliefs in Society (AQA), although they also cover useful stuff on Religion (OCR, Eduqas, CIE etc.).

Beliefs in Society is a comprehensive revision booklet that covers: definitions, theories, class, gender, age and ethnicity, organisations, science, ideology. It’s mainly brief notes with some relatively simple evaluation exercises.

Beliefs in Society too covers much the same ground, albeit in a less-detailed way. I’m guessing this is actually a series of teaching PowerPoints, based on the Webb et al textbook exported to pdf. I could, of course, be wrong (although admittedly I rarely am).

Religion and Ideology is by the same author (the somewhat enigmatic “Joe”) and although it suggests a focus on the “Ideology” section of the AQA Spec. it seems to interpret this brief very widely to look at theories, organisations, globalised religion, fundamentalism and a whole lot more. While it covers a lot of the same ground as the Beliefs in Society 2 booklet it generally does so in less detail. Combine the two and you’re got quite an effective set of revision (and indeed teaching) Notes.

Learning Tables: Beliefs in Society | 1

Monday, December 18th, 2017

For some reason I’ve managed to find rather a lot (20+) of Learning Tables, put together by 5 different authors, on the topic of Beliefs in Society – something that includes both religious beliefs and a range of other types (from politics through to science), although most of the Tables featured here relate to religious beliefs in various ways.

To make things a bit more manageable my end, therefore, I’ve split this post into two: part one presents Tables by what I assume to be a single author (sdale) while the second part (which I’m thinking of calling “part 2” but I’ll need to discuss this further with my agent before making a final decision) contains Tables by a mix of authors.

In this respect the first batch of Tables covers three broad areas:

1. Perspectives on religion (postmodern, neo-marxist etc.)
2. Aspects of religion (such as the relationship to social change)
3. Ideology and belief systems (such as science).

You’ll also find that a couple of the Tables (postmodernism and secularisation) are in two parts with the latter being very similar, for reasons that escape me, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out…

Religion: Key Concepts
Postmodernism 1
Postmodernism 2
Neo-Marxism / Weberian
Social Change
New Religious Movements
Secularisation 1
Secularisation 2
Religion and Social Groups
Science and Ideology

19 | Religion: Part 4

Friday, October 20th, 2017

The “secularisation debate” is one of the perennial themes in the sociology of religion and this chapter examining the strength of religion in society is mainly given-over to an outline and evaluation of the two main sides to the argument:

1. Evidence indicating the secularisation of society examines concepts of institutional, practical and ideological religious decline.

2. Evidence against the secularisation of society examines ideas about the overstatement of decline across different societies, the contemporary strength of religious influence and the notion of religious evolution. This includes ideas about religious pluralism and the resacrilisation of (some) societies.

In addition to the above the chapter considers two further ideas:

Firstly, the concept of post-secularisation – an acknowledgement that while religious influence has clearly declined in some areas, it still makes important cultural and moral contributions to society.

Finally, the idea that rather than see religion and religiosity in terms of pro-or-anti secularisation we need to build on the post-secularisation debate and consider whether we should move “beyond secularisation” to look at changing concepts of religiosity in terms of “competing narratives in postmodern societies”.

13 | Youth: Part 2

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

The notion of “youth” as a fairly recent (i.e. modernist) phenomenon leads to the question of exactly why this type of life-stage geminates in the transition from pre-modernity to modernity and comes into full-flower in late-modern / postmodern societies? In other words, what Is the role played by youth culture / subcultures in society?

The answer, as you’re probably half-expecting, is one that largely depends on your sociological approach – and the first part of this chapter is given-over to an outline and evaluation of four broad sociological approaches to – and explanations of – youth.

1. Functionalist
2. Marxist
3. Feminist
4. Postmodernist

The final two parts look more-specifically at gender and ethnic relationships, partly as a means of redressing the traditional emphasis on the central role of white males in (spectacular) youth subcultures and partly as a way of examining post-subcultural, post-racial and post-feminist approaches to understanding youth behaviour:

1. Issues relating to gender expands and applies feminist and postmodernist views on youth.
2. Issues relating to ethnicity addresses the ethnocentrism inherent in some approaches to explaining youth behaviours.