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Posts Tagged ‘postmodernity’

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…

3 | Socialisation and Identity

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

The third chapter in what’s rapidly becoming something of a legendary giveaway (in my mind at least) is one that applies the concept of socialisation to the development of a range of social and personal identities in contemporary societies (or as contemporary as things get, given this was first published in 2012).

This chapter on socialisation and identity covers a range of interesting and not-so-interesting topics that, in no particular order, include:

• Social and personal identities
• Consensus, Conflict and Action approaches to understanding identity
• Postmodernity and the development of new identities (green, cyber and transformative)
• Agencies of identity socialisation and their role in the development of:
• Gender identities
• Class identities
• Ethnic identities
• Age identities

Although the text was written to support (in a very loose sense of the word) OCR Sociology, I like to think it probably has a much greater utility across a wider range of Specifications (it might, for example, come in handy for the Culture and Identity section of AQA Sociology. Then again, it  might not).

As with previous chapters this is pre-production version that still contains printer marks (I could remove them if I could be bothered, but I can’t. Be bothered, that is).

I’d also like to make it clear that neither the pictures dotted throughout the chapters, nor the captions that accompany them, had anything to do with me. Granted, it’s taken me 5 years to notice them, but in mitigation I don’t actually look at print versions of my books on what I think is the very reasonable basis that I’ve read the words so many times I just can’t face reading them again…

Simulacra and Hyperreality

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

sim_coverI’ve called this a “Lesson Outline” (rather than Plan) because it’s designed to introduce and to some extent explain the related concepts of simulacra and hyperreality using practical examples to illustrate the processes.

What the Outline does is treat Baudrillard’s concepts of simulacra and hyperreality in much greater depth than is usually the case with most Sociology A-Level textbooks; this isn’t a criticism of these books, but rather an observation that there’s rarely enough space available in textbooks to treat the concepts with the depth I think they deserve (trust me, I know this from bitter experience).

In this respect the Outline details 1st, 2nd and 3rd order simulacra and, in relation to the latter, hyperreality. Although it’s quite theoretical for A-level I’ve tried to include quite a bit of “practical stuff” you can use to illustrate the ideas. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go into too much depth you can just pick-and-choose (now, there’s an idea…) the bits you want to use.

Whether or not you go with the practical stuff is really up to you – it’s indicative rather than prescriptive – and there are no fancy timings or whatever to restrict your use of the materials.

I’ve also included a short (3 minute) video resource  you can use alongside the printed resource – again, nothing too fancy or prescriptive, just 6 short (around 30 seconds) clips you can integrate into your lesson if you so choose.

Postmodernity and Sociological Theory

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

This is the second of a two-part series looking at the relationship between modernitypostmod_cover, postmodernity and the development of sociological theory and in this set of Teaching Notes the focus is on two main areas:

1 Identifying the basic economic, political and cultural characteristics of postmodernity.

2, Outlining a range of sociological theories we can loosely associate with postmodernity.

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Understanding Crime and Deviance in Postmodernity: Part 2 – Deviance as Harm

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

blog_crime2The Part 1 Workbook looked at some general criticisms of conventional (positivist) approaches to understanding crime and criminals and the Part 2 Workbook builds on this critique by outlining an alternative approach based on the concept of social harm.

This contemporary approach argues we need to widen the way we see “crime” to include various forms of “detrimental activity” visited by “governments and corporations upon the welfare of individuals”. In this respect the Workbook covers four major areas:

• What are social harms?

• Elite culpabilities

• Crimes of the powerful

• A Critique of Risk

As with Part 1, key ideas and concepts are identified and outlined and the Workbook includes space for students to test their knowledge and understanding through a small number of simple critical tasks.

If you want to consolidate ideas about Crimes of the Powerful try our video short, featuring David Whyte’s research, available on-demand to rent or buy.

 

Understanding Crime and Deviance in Postmodernity: Part 1

Monday, March 21st, 2016

blog_crime1Although the concept of a “postmodern criminology” is, for various reasons, highly problematic this doesn’t mean that newer approaches to understanding and explaining crime don’t have something to offer the a-level sociologist. In this two-part extravaganza, therefore, we can look at two (yes, really) dimensions to this criminological shift through the medium of a couple of lovingly-prepared workbooks.

The first workbook – a critique of conventional criminology – helps students understand some of the points-of-conflict between conventional (positivist) and postmodern criminologies, with the focus on areas like:

• The ontological reality of crime

• The myth of crime

• Criminalisation, punishment and pain

• Crime control

The workbook identifies and explains these ideas and also includes space for students to test their knowledge and understanding through relatively simple critical tasks.

Some Notes on Constitutive Criminology

Monday, March 7th, 2016

While the concept of a “postmodern criminology” may be somewhat nebulous, to say the least, the ideas underpinning constitutive criminology may be the closest we have.

The basic idea here is to adopt what Henry and Milovanovic (1999) call a holistic approach, involving a ‘duality of blame’ that moves the debate away from thinking about the ‘causes of crime’ and the ‘obsession with a crime and punishment cycle’, towards a ‘different criminology’ theorised around what Muncie (2000) terms social harm. To understand crime we have to ‘move beyond’ notions centred around ‘legalistic definitions’. We have to include a range of ideas (poverty, pollution, corporate corruption and the like) in any definition of harm and, more importantly, crime (which, as Henry and Milovanovic put it, involves ‘the exercise of the power to deny others their own humanity’)

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Amoral Panics: Part 3

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

While the two previous posts looked at moral panics from two different perspectives (“from below” in the case of interpretivist approaches and “from above” in the case of hegemonic neo-Marxist positions) a different way of looking at the concept, developed by Waiton (2008), is to consider contemporary forms of panic in the context of a changing moral order; one where the “moral certainties” of modern society is replaced by the “moral uncertainties” of late/postmodern society.

Amoral Panics

Waiton argues, in this respect, that late/postmodern societies are characterised by amoral panics. Moral panics are increasingly rare because there is no-longer a clear and coherent sense of moral order to protect – something he attributes to “a collapse in the ‘faiths’ of the right and left, that cohered society in the past”. If there is no clear sense of a moral order, just a number of competing moral interpretations, there can be no sense of moral panics being engineered.

This doesn’t mean panics no-longer occur, merely that their quality is amoral “a form of moralising without any wider system of meaning”. In other words, while panics have a moral dimension – they involve ideas about what is good or bad for society – they are not specifically related to any sense of an overriding moral order. (more…)

Modernity and Postmodernity

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Don’t know your Foundationalism from your anti-essentialism, your agile corporation from your Post-Fordist or, indeed your simulacra from your elbow?

If reality causes you confusion (but you’ve got a sneaking suspicion that “the Truth” is out there, somewhere) then this free book chapter (taken from A2 Sociology for AQA), is probably just what you need to start bluffing your way through the highways and the byways of PoMo with the best of them…

Using Analogies in A-level Sociology

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Analogies are a useful teaching tool in sociology for a number of reasons:

  1. They can help students to understand something complex and unfamiliar by using ideas that are relatively simple and familiar.
  2. They can be used to engage students in collaborative work, the outcome of which is an expansion of their knowledge and understanding through the connections they are able to make.
  3. They encourage students to generate their own ideas, arguments and understanding in a relatively gentle and supportive context.
  4. The role of the teacher changes from simple didacticism to one of questioning, guidance, engagement and synthesis.

For these reasons analogies can be used as both collaborative classroom exercises and for flipped teaching (students prepare their work outside the classroom and enter the classroom prepared to discuss their understanding).

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