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Sociology Revision Blasts

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Having girded my loins, as you do, for this set of Tutur2U GCSE and A-level Revision videos I was quite prepared to be met with a series of “worthy-but-a-little-dull” screencasts that used a “Podcasts with Pictures” format to talk students through a range of sociological topics.

Chatty. And Definitely Not Dull.

In other words, someone talking over and around a series of static screens that, by-and-large, mirror whatever the narrator is saying.

Some see this as reinforcement.

Some see this as redundancy.

You pays your money. Or not, in this case, because the screencasts are free (but you probably get the drift).

Anyway, I digress.

What we actually have here are a set of recorded webinars, featuring between 2 and 4 presenters, that run for around 40 – 45 minutes. Being a webinar, there’s also an (unseen) audience of students whose main role is to answer a wide range of different types of “revision-style questions” (multiple-choice, connecting walls, 30-second challenges and so forth) set by the presenters.

Against all my, admittedly quite low, initial expectations I found the whole thing great fun, engaging and informative.

This was helped, in no small measure, by the personable and chatty presenters who chivvied the unseen students into answering the on-screen questions and then provided a useful commentary on why they were (mostly) right and how this all connected to answering different types of exam question.

While you’ll probably have to look through the webinars to see if the information tested fits with your current teaching – it’s mostly fairly generic stuff you’ll find in most GCSE / A-level textbooks, but there may be examples and references you’ve not taught or used alternatives for with your students – I think you’ll find them a really engaging way to mix-up revision sessions with your students, particularly if you’re teaching on-line.

Webinars

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orphaned sociology textbooks – as in texts published sometime this century that have either gone out of print or been superseded by later, bigger, more-colourful, All-Singing-All-Dancing versions – for the benefit of teachers and students in these straitened economic times.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…

Hate crime

Saturday, December 19th, 2020

In the UK, hate crime is defined by the criminal justice system in terms of 5 broad categories:

  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or beliefs
  • sexual orientation
  • disability
  • transgender identity.
  • and police recorded hate crime statistics are released annually by the Home Office.

    While these are an important and useful source of information for students and teachers they can be a little dry and dusty, so if you can’t be bothered to trawl through the Report looking for the key results, selected lowlights are as follows:

  • Over 100,000 hate crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2018/19 – an increase of 10% over the previous year.
  • Increases in hate crime over the past 5 years have mainly been driven by improvements in police crime recording (i.e. they are increasingly likely to recognise and define certain actions as hate crimes). Spikes in hate crime do, however, occur in response to specific events (e.g. the EU (“Brexit”) Referendum in 2016 and terrorist attacks in 2017).
  • Race hate crimes account for around 75% of such offences.
  • There were increases in all categories of hate crime:
  • religious hate crimes increased by 3%
  • sexual orientation hate crimes increased 25%
  • disability hate crimes increased by 14%
  • transgender identity hate crimes increased by 37%
  • Half (54%) of all hate crimes recorded by the police were for public order offences (such as public alarm or fear of distress).
  • One-third (36%) of all hate crimes recorded by the police involved violence against the person.
  • The most serious forms of hate crime (5% of all offences) involved criminal damage and arson.
  • And if your students need a little more background information about the concept of hate crime:

    Podcasts with Pictures: Esher Sociology

    Thursday, October 15th, 2020

    For some reason I keep stumbling across teacher-created YouTube accounts and the latest I’ve tripped-over is from Esher Sociology – a Channel that currently consists of 50+ films posted over the past 4 years, although the last was 7 months ago.

    Whether this represents a final roll of the dice or just a (summer-long) hiatus, only time will tell.

    Be that as it may, this decidedly no-frills approach to film-making offers a wide range of online lectures across a number of topics – Religion, Crime, Theory, Family and Education – the majority of which sit in the 15 – 30-minute time slot.

    The exception to this general rule is a series of “One Minute Key Concepts” slides focused on a single concept (meritocracy, anomie, social solidarity – there are currently 6 in all) that come-in at around 60 seconds. It’s an interesting idea that I wish we’d thought of (Oh. Hang on a Just A Minute…) and it generally works quite well for something that consists of a single screen of text.

    The main films themselves are fairly standard for the “podcasts with pictures” genre insofar as they consist of a series of narrated PowerPoint slides with bits of extra commentary on the side. The narration is either “a bit shouty” or “satisfyingly authoritative” depending on how you view (hear?) these things.

    One-Minute Anomie…

    Although the films are perfectly serviceable as online lectures students can dip into and out of at their leisure, some run to over 30 minutes and seemed, to me at least, a little heavy-going for a single-sitting: half-an-hour can seem a Very Long Time when you’re basically just listening to a teacher talk about something like Marxist and Functionalist Theories of the Family with very little visual stimulation to lighten the load.

    Technically the films are a little rough around the edges with some annoying sound glitches at times and while they arguably contain a lot of text / information to take on board, some might say that too-much is better than too-little – particularly if students are watching in their own time or as part of a flipped teaching process.

    More Podcasts with Pictures: Ms Sugden’s Online Classroom

    Saturday, October 3rd, 2020

    If you’re looking for video resources for online teaching or flipped learning (or possibly even a combination of the two) Alexandra Sugden’s YouTube Channel is worth checking-out if you’re teaching any or all of the following:

  • Crime and Deviance
  • Research Methods
  • Theory
  • Education
  • Religion and Beliefs
  • The Channel’s aimed at the AQA Spec. but some, if not necessarily all, of the films will be useful for other Specs (Research Methods, for example, is fairly uniform across most College / A-level Specifications).

    The format is a familiar “podcasts with pictures” one with Ms. Sugden narrating a series of static slides in a lecture-style format, with individual films ranging from 3 – 30 minutes, depending on the topic and what’s being discussed.

    This covers everything from general topic teaching to applying the PERVERT method to Research Methods exam questions or constructing example paragraphs when answering essay-type questions (although, personally, I’m not convinced by the claim students can apply strain theory to white collar crime using the concept of relative deprivation. It’s an innovative argument, perhaps, but one that stretches things just a little too far…).

    SHS Sociology Resources

    Friday, May 22nd, 2020

    Padlet, in case you don’t know it, is a file-sharing site that lets you organise files into Boards, the contents of which can then be shared with anyone who happens to want them.

    Topic Sheets…

    You can upload all kinds of files (such as documents or videos), or link to files on other web sites. It’s a very visual and a very handy way to organise files and would probably be my go-to site for sharing stuff if it hadn’t decided to charge for the privilege.

    While there is a free version, last time I looked it was limited to 3 Boards for new users – which sounds okay(ish), but for teachers who want to organise information into Specification categories for their students it’s not really much cop (the Padlet I’m about to feature here, for example, consists of 66 Boards…).

    And there are alternatives, such as Wakelet, that do much the same sort of thing for free.

    Nor do they display anoying and somewhat baffling messages like “Don’t forget to drink water” when I log-in.

    Like breathing, this is not something I regularly forget to do.

    Go figure.

    Just some of the Boards…

    Anyway, the purpose of this rambling preamble is simply to draw your attention to this very useful set of Padlet Sociology Boards from shs_sociology (Laura Lakin).

    The aforementioned 66 Boards are broadly organised into half-a-dozen (or “6” as it’s sometimes known) Specification-friendly categories:

  • Education
  • Family
  • Methods
  • Theory
  • Beliefs
  • Crime and Deviance
  • These, in turn, contain all kinds of resources and links that are well worth exploring, although one of the most interesting, for my money, is to the different Topic Sheets available. These are a bit like a Knowledge Organiser / Learning Table in the sense they include key concepts and their definitions, but they also expand this a little more to include stuff like links to other topics, practice questions and the like.

    If you’ve got a bit of time to spare and enjoy nosing around other people’s files these Boards are worth the effort.

    Sociological Dinner Parties

    Thursday, April 16th, 2020

    This general lesson plan, created by Molly Scott and delivered in the form of a simple PowerPoint Presentation, requires students to imagine they’re organising and hosting a dinner party to which, in this particular instance, a range of sociologists of religion have been invited.

    To this end you can either use the ready-made guest list provided (from old favourites like Durkheim and Marx to newer names like Woodhead and El Saadawi) or devise your own based on the sociologists that have been introduced and discussed with your students in relation to perspectives on the role of religion.

    The Presentation is pretty self-explanatory and doesn’t demand much in the way of resources, although you can supply a few white paper plates for note-taking purposes if you want to add a little atmosphere to the party.

    Although this particular example has been designed round different perspectives on the role of religion, once you’ve grasped the basics it shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange further dinner parties around any topic that involves the application of sociological perspectives…

    Update

    I don’t remember how I chanced upon this set of Google docs, created by Claire Wells, but the important thing is they take the Sociological Dinner Party idea outlined above and apply it to global development.

    The resource is also intended to help students develop their essay-writing skills, with a particular focus on AO3 – analysis and evaluation.

    Types of New Age (Religious) Movement

    Thursday, February 27th, 2020
    New Age Religious Movements PowerPoint.
Click to download.

    A previous post looked at New Age Religious Movements (NAMs) in terms of the idea of different “streams” – a way of broadly classifying NAMs according to the different types of transformation they promise (such as intellectual and lifestyle) the individual and / or society.

    This PowerPoint Presentation complements this idea by looking at a broader typology of New Age Movements that classifies them in terms of three types:

    1. Explicitly Religious: These types, examples of which include Krishna Consciousness and the Divine Light Mission, demonstrate a much stronger and more-overt religiosity than some of their New Age counterparts. The focus of these well-organised groups is spiritual / religious-type experiences that can be applied in various ways to the individual’s life and work.

    2. Human Potential types focus more-specifically on various forms of individual, organisational and societal transformations, with the emphasis on releasing “inner spirituality” rather than worshiping an external religious form. Stark and Bainbridge (1987) called these “client movements” because they focused on providing a “service” to members / practitioners based around a “provider-client” relationship. The services provided, in the form of things like teachings, practices and tests, are frequently sold to practitioners – the latter often quite literally “buy-into” the spiritual services on offer.

    3. Mystical types tend to adopt what Stark and Bainbridge classify as an “audience” (or leisure) approach to spirituality and they tend to embody what we traditionally perceive, somewhat stereotypically perhaps, “New Age” forms of spirituality to take. This type is invariably syncretic: spiritual movements embodying beliefs drawn from a mix of “ancient” religious, secular and philosophical teachings that can be picked up, modified and discarded almost at will.  

    The Presentation identifies a range of significant features of each type and offers an example or two, illustrated by short (30 – 40 seconds) video clips.

    New Age (Religious) Movements (NAMs)

    Wednesday, February 26th, 2020

    A short – but critical – piece on New Age Religious Movements and some possible reasons for their emergence and popularity in postmodernity…

    Melton (2001) suggests “the term New Age refers to a wave of religious enthusiasm that emerged in the 1970s” which, for Cowan (2003), have two defining characteristics:

    1. NAMs represent new ways of “doing religion” and “being religious”, with the focus on finding solutions to individual and social problems through “personal transformations”; the individual must change their life in some way. In this respect Brown (2004) notes NAMs focused specifically around “transformations of the self and society”, include:

  • astrology.
  • channelling (direct communication with spirits).
  • work with one’s “inner child”.
  • “a laundry list of unconventional healing techniques”.
  • Langone (1993) identifies four main “streams” within NAMs involving different ways to “transform the self” through personal lifestyle changes.

    These categories may at times overlap – occult practices might involve beliefs about lifestyle changes – but one feature common to all NAMs is the belief “spiritual knowledge and power can be achieved through the discovery of the proper techniques”.

    (more…)

    The D.O.V.E. Protocol: 4 Functions of Religion

    Friday, February 21st, 2020
    Four Functions of Religion PowerPoint: Click to download
    Four Functions of Religion…

    Classical functionalist theories of religion, associated with the work of writers like Durkheim (1912), Malinowski (1926), Alpert (1937), Parsons (1937) and more-latterly Luhmann (1977), generally see religion as a cultural institution: one mainly concerned with the creation and promotion of cultural values that function to support and maintain social order.  Underpinning the notion of order, in this respect, are two ideas:

    1. Religion serves a structural or collective role in bringing people together “as a society”.

    2. Religion serves an action or individual role in giving meaning and purpose to people’s lives.

    The Functions of Religion Presentation is designed to introduce students to these general ideas by encouraging them to think about “the functions of religion” in terms of four broad categories:

    1. Discipline involves the idea a sense of shared beliefs and values is created by following a set of religious moral rules and codes.

    2. Organisation reflects the idea of people being brought together as a society through shared rituals, ceremonies and meanings.

    3. Vitalisation reflects the idea common values and beliefs represent vital dimensions of culture, socialisation and control.

    4. Euphony recognises there are times of pain and crisis in life that require individual or collective efforts to re-establish harmony.

    Each category contains a few pointers to examples of each, 30 seconds of video clips that illustrate some aspects of these ideas and a simple question you might want to use to stimulate a bit of further debate (which you can obviously edit / change if you want to add a question or two of your own).

    Attending Church at the Turn of the (20th) Century

    Saturday, October 19th, 2019
    Leaving Church: England c.1900
    Leaving Church: England c.1900

    One of the things about teaching the sociology of religion is that, at various points – from its function and role in society to secularisation theory – you’ll find yourself referring to “religion in the past”.

    And if you want to anchor your observations in something slightly more-solid than an airy wave of the hand behind your shoulder, this bit of film I’ve stumbled across might help.

    It’s around 4 minutes of “people leaving church”; the first 2 minutes focus on a single (unnamed) Church while the final couple of minutes feature people leaving a Church in Hanley, Staffordshire and a parish Church in Sheffield.

    While this, in itself, isn’t particularly interesting, the fact the films date from 1901-1902 should give them a little more resonance – particularly if you use them to illustrate a range of sociological ideas, observations and discussion points about “religion in the past”.

    I’ve noted a few to get you started:

    1. What do the very large numbers of people leaving each Church service tell us about “religious attendance” in the past?

    2. The people leaving the services are, in the main, very well dressed for the time. What does this tell us about both the process of “attending Church” and the class of people for whom Church attendance was important?

    3. Why was Church attendance important to the urban middles classes around the turn of the 20th century?

    4. How do the films provide evidence that an integral part of “Churchgoing” was “to see and be seen” – not just in terms of displaying “religious piety”, but also social status? How might this – and also the film of large numbers of children in a Church parade – be related to Durkheim’s ideas about the function of religion?

    6. Is there any evidence in the films that suggest Churchgoing was as much a social as a religious occasion?

    These questions are, of course, merely indicative – the kinds of questions that popped into my head as I watched the films.

    If you think of any better ones, feel free to let me know.

    Leaving Church: England 1901-1902

    Agencies of Socialisation

    Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019
    Agencies of Socialisation PowerPoint: Click to download.
    Before…

    Another day, another PowerPoint Presentation.

    And this time its “All About The Agencies”

    The Presentation identifies a range of primary and secondary socialising agencies (family, peers, education, workplace, media and religion to be precise) and provides some simple information / examples for each in five categories:

  • Behaviour
  • Roles
  • Norms
  • Values
  • Sanctions.
  • If this sounds a bit complicated, it’s really not.

    The complicated bit was designing and compiling the slides, but since you’re unlikely to be very interested in the trials and tribulations involved in creating a monstrous, vaguely-interactive, PowerPoint Presentation with sliding menu, it’s probably best to move on.

    There’s more if you want it…

    Belonging Without Believing

    Friday, July 26th, 2019

    I seem to have got into a habit of writing stuff about secularisation recently, whether it be the more-or-less straightforward stuff about the intergenerational decline in religious beliefs to accompany the long-term decline in religious practices in countries like Britain or the rather more left-field increase in paranormal beliefs recently seen in countries like the United States.  

    Sunday Assembly

    While the two are probably not unconnected – Routledge (2017) argues that as societies become less overtly religious they witness a concomitant increase in supernatural / paranormal beliefs – I happened to stumble across another religion-related idea that could be usefully thrown into the secular(isation) mix – the idea of Belonging without Believing, as reflected in the American-based Oasis Network, founded in 2012, and it’s English equivalent the “Sunday Assembly” that first saw the light of day in 2013.

    Popularly dubbed secular churches, the basic idea is that just as various groups gather on a Sunday to participate in a religious service of some description, Sunday Assemblies serve much the same sort of purpose for the non-religious; they represent small communities where secular congregations come together to “sing songs, hear inspiring talks, and create community together” – without the need for any religious trappings or content.

    While the idea of secular congregations that ape what Durkheim called the function, if not necessarily the form, of religious congregationalism is hardly new (think football matches and pop festivals, for example), what marks something like the Sunday Assemblies or Oasis Network apart as far as a-level sociology is concerned is the fact they explicitly copy a religious congregationalist form, albeit in a secular context.

    Or maybe not?

    While this general idea is sociologically interesting, it’s important not to overstate the significance of the expansion of the Sunday Assemblies / Oasis Networks, across America and the UK in particular, in terms of both numbers – worldwide congregationalists can be counted in the thousands rather than millions – and social need: as Woodhead (2019) argues, while “communities can be hugely important to people, you can’t just meet for the sake of community itself. You need a very powerful motivating element to keep people coming, something that attendees have in common” – an idea reflected by a recent worldwide decline in both the number of Sunday Assembly / Oasis chapters and the number of people attending such meetings.

    Whether this decline reflects the difficulties involved in creating, maintaining and growing this type of secular community organisation in late modernity or something, as Woodhead suggests, more-fundamental about these types of quasi-religious organisations is an interesting question…

    Losing Their Religion? Using Statistical Evidence to Evaluate Secularisation

    Thursday, July 18th, 2019

    The secularisation debate in A-level Sociology, encompassing a wide diversity of ideas around pro, anti and post-secularisation positions, is an increasingly complex area for students to cover. Although this can make it a somewhat daunting topic, it also provides significant opportunities for students to critique these different positions (and gain solid marks for knowledge, application and evaluation into the bargain).

    Given the argumentative nature of a debate that so often seems to turn on interpretations of different opinions, this, somewhat perversely perhaps, opens-up interesting opportunities for students to apply statistical data to different aspects of the debate and, by so doing, introduce highly-effective forms of evaluation into exam answers.

    In this respect the latest British Social Attitudes Survey (2019) covering religious beliefs, attitudes and practices is a useful teaching resource in the sense it provides some interesting empirical evidence students can apply to evaluate two areas of the secularisation debate:

    (more…)

    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…)

    Sociology Revision Cards

    Monday, November 26th, 2018

    Back in the day, before the invention of Learning Tables / Knowledge Organisers, students had to make do with Revision Cards – lists of all the key ideas and concepts you might need to know for an exam (you’ll find a selection here if you want to take a trip back to a time before mobile phones ).

    Anyway, I chanced upon a mix of PowerPoint and Pdf Revision Cards (dating from around 2014 so they may require a bit of editing to bring them into line with the latest Specifications) on Chris Deakin’s SociologyHeaven website. I’m guessing the PowerPoints were designed for whole-class revision but if you want to give your students the slides as Revision Cards just use the Export function to create pdf files.

    If you find the Kristen ITC font used in the files a bit too racy for your taste, just convert the text to something like Arial.

    (more…)

    The Sociological Detectives: Ch-Ch-Changing NRMs

    Friday, August 24th, 2018

    Another in the New Religious Movements series of PowerPoint Presentations, this uses the Sociological Detective format to investigate a “crime scene” to unearth various clues based on Eileen Barker’s observations about why NRM’s change over time.

    The basic idea is that as each clue is unveiled it contributes towards an understanding of Movement change and once all the clues are revealed it should then be possible to link them to arrive at a general explanation for such changes.

    While there’s nothing too sophisticated here, the Sociological Detective format plus the ability to reveal, focus on and discuss a single idea at a time might prove an interesting way to encourage students to reflect on and discuss changes in New Religious Movements.

    If you need it, the Presentation contains a short video (about 90 seconds) of Barker talking about the recent development of NRM’s. You can use this clip as a piece of background information to sensitise your students to some of the ideas identified in the main Presentation. The clip is linked from YouTube (so you will need an active Internet connection to play it) rather than embedded in the Presentation to keep the PowerPoint file down to a reasonable size (around 6mb as opposed to around 125…).

    Although I haven’t included one here, if you have a favourite NRM case study (from the Moonies through Scientology to Heaven’s Gate…) it could be easily integrated into the Presentation to provide an empirical background to Barker’s observations.

    Religion: Why do people join cults?

    Thursday, July 26th, 2018

    We’re currently researching and scripting a couple of films on secularisation and New Religious Movements and a spin-off from this, as you may have noticed, is a range of religion resources either based on stuff we’ve found – NRM Pathways and NRM Characteristics – or stuff other people have already produced.

    This post falls into the latter category: a 6-minute animation in the TED-ED series of films, written by American Professor of Sociology Janja Lalich and focused on an overview of religious cults that grew out of her own research in this area.

    In this respect you could use the film as a simple introduction to the main features of cults, because it covers some familiar themes:

    • A basic definition of a cult

    • An overview of cult characteristics

    • An outline of why people join cults.

    The film also references a couple of the most notorious religious cults in recent times:

    • The People’s Temple and Jonestown involving mass “involuntary suicide”.

    • Heaven’s Gate involving an apparent voluntary mass suicide (whose website – not all of it’s members “passed over” – is still active if you want to illustrate and investigate the cult further).

    New Religious Movements: 6 Characteristics

    Saturday, July 21st, 2018

    Basic PowerPoint Presentation, designed for whole-class use, that identifies Barker’s 6 characteristics of New Religious Movements.

    The concept of New Religious Movements was initially developed, by writers such as Eileen Barker (1999), to reflect a general unease and dissatisfaction with the contemporary usefulness of the “sect – cult” distinction.

    More-specifically, the argument in favour of a looser way of categorising a variety of new religious groupings is based on the claim that their increasing diversity of what are conventionally labelled “sects” or “cults” makes it difficult to maintain both a clear theoretical and empirical separation between the two:

    • Theoretically, such is the overlap between sects and cults the distinction “on the ground”, when studying their activities, is less than useful. Woodhead et al. (2005), for example, in their ground-breaking study of religion and spirituality in Kendal, identified “two domains”: the Congregational, consisting of a range of churches and denominations and the Holistic – a wide variety of spiritual practices and beliefs they categorised in terms of their ease of access for potential practitioners: from the low access requirements of yoga (you can simply turn up to class and practice it, with or without any accompanying spiritual content) to the high access requirements of something like Paganism that involves a certain level of commitment in terms of its beliefs and practices. In this sense, therefore, “New Religious Movement” simply becomes a kind of generic term for a range of religious organisations that don’t fit easily into the church or denomination category.

    • Empirically, evidence derived from the study of different religious groups and movements suggests they are both increasingly sophisticated in the way they recruit and retain members and internally diverse in terms of how they operate. One reason for this is that globalisation – particularly but not exclusively in the form of the Internet and social media – has allowed new religious movements to diversify in terms of both what they offer to potential and actual converts and how they offer it. Scientology, for example, has been particularly sophisticated in this respect, marketing itself by forging many different types of relationship with members through a wide range of media, old and new.

    In addition, there are huge organisational and behavioural differences within categories like ‘sect’ and ‘cult’: they’re not simple, homogeneous, classifications and it may be more useful to reflect their multi-layered diversity by being more selective in how we categorise them.

    As well as questioning what the categories “sect” and “cult” denote – the supposedly essential features by which they can be differentiated – Barker also suggests we need to consider how these labels have increasingly acquired particular, frequently pejorative, connotations in both the media and wider society: the term “cult”, for example, has, she argues, come to have almost a wholly-negative meaning, “often implying bizarre beliefs, sinister and deceptive practices, mind control or psychological coercion and, perhaps, sexual abuse and violent tendencies”.

    In this respect, Barker argues the sect – cult distinction should be replaced by a much-looser form of categorisation, namely New Religious Movements, “defined as groups which have become visible in their present form since the Second World War, and which are religious in so far as they offer an answer to some of the ultimate questions traditionally addressed by mainstream religions: Is there a God? What is the purpose of life? What happens to us after death?”.

    To help students get to grips with what Barker identifies as 6 major characteristics of New Religious Movements I’ve bundled them together in a simple PowerPoint Presentation.
    (more…)

    Paranormal Activity: Another Dimension to the Secularisation Debate?

    Monday, May 14th, 2018

    Although the secularisation debate in sociology has a number of different dimensions, involving arguments over issues like sacralisation, desacralisation, resacralisation, post-secularisation, religious fundamentalism and the like, one key assumption in the debate is rarely, if ever, questioned: the idea that “secularisation” is effectively a zero-sum game that consists of two, fundamentally-opposed, sides:

    1. The Religious, defined in a variety of ways from the very narrow – adherence to what we might call conventional forms of religious practice (such as attendance at religious services) and belief (such as prayer) – to the very wide, which includes things like a range of New Age spiritual beliefs and practices. An even wider interpretation of “individual religiosity” might include something like Davie’s “believing without belonging” argument which, at it’s most elastic, can be used to argue that even within widely-secularised societies there is a fundamental core of religious belief. As a leading article in the conservative Spectator magazine put it (2017): “While fewer of us in Britain call ourselves Christian, we remain a country steeped in Christian values”.

    Whatever the merits – or otherwise – of this particular argument, there’s little doubt the evidence relating to conventional religious practice and belief points in a quite specific direction. In the UK, for example, the 2017 British Social Attitudes survey notes:

    • 50% of the UK population say they have no religion
    • 75% of young people (18- to 24) say they have no religion
    • Just under 1 million people attend church services each week. Depending how you count the UK population, a maximum of around 5% are regular worshippers.
    • Around 6% of the UK population are “practising Christians” – defined as “people who read or listen to the Bible at least once a week, pray at least once a week and attend a church service at least once a month”.

    In the USA, often cited as a “more religicised” or “resacralised” population, Routledge (2017) notes:

    • 75% of the population reported “belonging to a religious group” (down from 95% 25 years ago). This “belonging” is, however, likely to be very weak (akin to people in the UK identifying with the “Church of England” rather than having any active engagement in that Church).
    • Around 15 – 20% of the population are ”active churchgoers”
    • Over the past 25 years “the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71% to 63%”.

    2. The Secular defined in terms of a lack of religious practice, organisation or belief. In other words, everything that is not explicitly “religious”.

    When this debate is conceived in zero-sum terms it follows that for one of these “sides” to win, the other must lose: in simple terms, either contemporary societies are becoming increasingly secularised or they are reinventing different forms of religious beliefs and behaviours that defies the idea of “simple secularisation”.

    While both sides have, of course, a place in the evaluation of secularisation at a-level (it is arguably more-important to critically reflect on the journey rather than the eventual destination) it’s possible to add a further dimension to your students’ ability to successfully debate the issue by questioning the assumption that any decrease in religious organisation, practice or belief automatically means an increase in secular beliefs and behaviours.

    And one way to do this is to introduce the concept of a belief in the paranormal.
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    Sociology and You. Too

    Friday, May 4th, 2018

    A later (circa 2008) version of this American High School textbook that has a clean, attractive, design and some interesting content. Might well be worth considering as supplementary material to your existing resources, particularly because it is free…

    I’ve previously posted an earlier version of this American High School textbook that seems to have gone through a number of different editions, the latest of which may have been around 2014 before being “retired” (as they say in Contract Killer circles and also, apparently, American Publishing).

    This version dates from around 2008 and uses the same chapter categories as its predecessor. There are however design changes, although these are fairly cosmetic (a new picture here, a different typeface there) and, more importantly, changes to the text that brings it a little more up-to-date. Given it was originally published around 10 years ago, it’s never going to completely replace your current textbook / resources. Where it covers all the “standard stuff” (research methods, classic studies and theories…) this isn’t really a problem and I’d consider using it to supplement existing resources. There are, for example, opportunities for discussion, self-assessment and the like sprinkled liberally through the book.

    One thing you’ll probably note is that, by-and-large, there isn’t a great deal of depth or breadth to the coverage of different topics. This is partly a consequence of the design – the liberal use of pictures, graphics and tables allied to the “Creative Use of White Space” ethos leaves a lot less space for text – and partly, I assume, the level at which it’s aimed. On the other hand, some ideas / topics are dealt with in rather more depth than you might expect. A section on Ritzer and McDonaldisation in one of the Focus on Research sections, for example, goes into some depth and detail about the concept and it’s application to developments in Higher Education – something you’re not likely to see in the majority of UK textbooks.

    The sections I’ve read (admittedly not that many – I’m a Very Busy Person and I have “people” do that sort of thing for me) strike me as both interesting and very readable. Although most of the examples and illustrations have, understandably given the target audience, an American focus this might be turned to your advantage at times by providing students with a comparative edge to their studies. Alternatively just ignore them or replace them with UK alternatives… (more…)

    Sociology and You: A Free Textbook

    Monday, April 30th, 2018

    This American High School textbook just scrapes into the “published in the 21st century” criterion I set myself for finding free, out-of-print sociology texts, but I’ve included it because although it’s obviously a little dated – at least in terms of content if not necessarily design – Sociology and You (2001) was probably one of the first to push at the boundaries of textbook design for “Grades 9 – 12”. This, by my calculations, means 15-18 year olds and if you’re wondering, as we probably all are, how this fits into the UK grading system I’d say the text equates to “high GCSE” / AS-level. But this is only a rough guess – there are bits that could fit into A2 – so if you want to use it with your students it’s probably a case of suck-it-and-see before you let them have copies.

    The book itself exhibits most of the features we now take for granted in contemporary textbooks: short bursts of text, lots of big colourful pictures, key terms identified and defined, tables, boxouts, short readings, simple assessments and white space.

    Lots and lots of white space.

    In other words, anyone familiar with UK A-level texts over the past few years will see this as very familiar territory.

    Except, of course, most of the examples and illustrations are drawn from North America. Which is okay if you’re North American (or are really into comparative sociology / North Americana) but not quite so brilliant if you live and study elsewhere.

    Keeping this in mind, if you decide to have a look at the text I’ve made it available it as either a complete textbook or by chapter. I’ve provided the latter option because there are some chapters, such as those on “Sport” or “Political and Economic Institutions”, you may not need or want: put bluntly, you’re probably not going to teach stuff that’s not on the A-level Spec.

    You can also use the chapter option to see if or how the text might fit with your teaching because, as I’ve noted, judging the level is a little problematic given differences in both the US and UK grade system and the skill levels each requires of its students at different ages.

    (more…)

    More Free Sociology Texts

    Saturday, April 28th, 2018

    This post continues the Great Sociology Textbook Giveaway by stretching the definition of “textbook” to breaking-point with a dictionary, encyclopaedia and, in an SCTV first, an actual text published by a real UK publisher.

    Following hard on the heals of the first set of textbooks comes another batch of free Sociology texts I’d like you to think I discovered by digging diligently through the detritus of an untold number of obscure web sites, but actually found by Just Googling Stuff.

    This time, while there are some textbooks on offer, notably one from the UK, the net has been widened a bit to include a dictionary, encyclopaedia and a couple of texts devoted to family life and religion.

    Texts

    1. Sociology: 6th edition (2009): This is a slightly-ageing edition of Giddens’ long-running text, currently in its 8th edition (the latter has a website, if you’re interested, that could best be described as “satisfyingly-retro” in both design and content if you were being…errm…charitable). Despite it’s relative age, it’s still a text packed with all kinds of useful information. Some of it may be a step too far for some a-level students, particularly at AS level, so discretion is required over how you use the text. In terms of current Specification coverage most of the usual suspects (Family, Education, Crime, Media…) are included, but so too are areas (such as Nations, War and Terrorism) that decidedly don’t need to be studied.

    If you don’t fancy the pdf version there’s also an online flipbook version which is quite fun in a flipbook kind of way.
    (more…)

    An Open-Source Sociology Textbook

    Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

    A free (open-source) Sociology textbook (plus resources) that could be used to supplement your existing textbooks and classroom resources.

    While the idea of “open-source software” – programs created, modified and freely distributed to users who also contribute in various ways to their subsequent development – has long-been a feature of digital technology, it seems a little odd the concept hasn’t been applied to other areas, such as textbook publishing, given how easy it is to collaborate, design, publish and distribute books largely indistinguishable from those produced by professional publishers.

    Whatever the reason, the free textbook “Introduction to Sociology” – created and distributed by the OpenStax College and now in its 2nd edition – is the first sociology textbook I’ve come across organised around open-source principles (as opposed to simply being freely distributed by its author).

    What this means is that not only can you use the text as you would any other textbook (giving students individual digital or paper copies, for example, or integrating it into Canvas if you use this free LMS) you also have a wide range of format options, most of which (reading online, downloading to desktop, viewing on mobile devices) are free. If you really must have a properly bound copy this can be purchased for around £16 / $30.

    Once you get past the various viewing options you’ll find a textbook created by a number of different authors (all, I assume, employed by Rice University?) designed primarily as a primer for American undergraduates taking an introductory module in Sociology (“Sociology 101”). This level, from what I’ve read of the text, seems perfectly acceptable for A-level Sociology (which probably says something about either the American or the British education system).

    While you need to take into account both its target audience (most of the text, illustrations, examples and so forth reference American society – it is, in other words, pretty ethnocentric) and some of the preoccupations of American Sociology (a focus on areas like race and ethnicity, for example, that isn’t given such a central focus by A-level Sociology) the textbook covers areas that will be very familiar and useful to a-level sociologists. These include:

    • Culture and Socialisation
    • Family
    • Education
    • Health
    • Inequality
    • Religion
    • Deviance
    • Media

    Although most of these aren’t covered in any great depth – and you’ll find significant parts of UK Sociology Specifications aren’t addressed – there’s plenty of useful material here for a-level students and teachers. While it’s probably not going to replace your main sociology textbook it could be worth considering as an additional text to supplement the existing resources you use – particularly because of its portability across different devices.

    In addition, there are a number of Instructor and Student resources you can sign-up for. To access some – such as PowerPoint Presentations and the Test Bank – you need to register with a school / college email account, but the resources are free once you’ve registered.

    It’s also possible, even if you don’t want to contribute suggestions for future updates, to add “community resources” to support the text. While there’s not much available at the moment, one example of these resources is a series of short video lectures you may or may not find helpful.

    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.

    SociologySaviour Blog

    Monday, December 25th, 2017

    I was looking for pictures of Arron Cicoural for a new film we’re editing on Labelling Theory when I stumbled across the rather interesting SociologySaviour Blog,  that unfortunately now looks as though it hasn’t been updated since mid-2016. This is something of a shame because the material it contains seems well-written and useful – although this isn’t something the navigation system could be accused of being. It’s all a bit minimalist and confusing until you scroll to the bottom of the page where you’ll find links to four categories:

    Crime and Deviance: extensive notes on wide range of topics
    Beliefs in Society: notes on a smaller range of topics
    Sociological Theory: brief notes on a small range of perspectives
    Research Methods: doesn’t seem to have ever been developed.

    Basically, the site has a lot of notes on Crime, a lesser range on Beliefs and Theory and a short indication of notes that would have appeared under Research Methods but which, for whatever reason, never seem to have been added.

    Be that as it may – and we can only guess the reasons for the project’s apparent abandonment – the notes included are really quite good: short, to-the-point and, as far as I’ve read, accurate.

    Spaced Study: What It Is (and How To Do It)

    Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

    Spaced Study or Spaced Practice is a theory of learning that argues, in a nutshell, that students study more effectively and retain more of the information they learn if the study period is “spaced” – or spread out over a number of hours / days – than if studying is “crammed” into short intensive blocks.

    Interestingly, unlike so many “contemporary study techniques” this technique not only sounds like it should be effective, there’s also a lot of scientific research both historic and contemporary, that actually supports the basic idea.

    If you can’t be bothered to read this document (or, as I prefer to think, you’ll take my word for it…) the Very Wonderful Learning Scientists have helpfully distilled the basics into a teacher / student friendly form.

    While this is all-well-good-and-worth-a-try, you might be thinking, do you have the time – spaced or otherwise – and, more-importantly, resources to convince your students that Spaced Study is more effective than something like Cramming?

    If you don’t – and I’ve a feeling you’re probably not alone in this – the equally-wonderful Hectic Teacher has come riding to your rescue because she’s produced a neat Spaced Study Guide (including PowerPoint and Teacher Notes).

    There’s also a Families and Households Spaced Study booklet that might give you some further pointers.

    Which is nice.

    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”.

    18 | Religion: Part 3

    Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

    The third chapter in our trawl through the murky waters of organised (and disorganised, come to that) religion looks at the relationship between religion and social position in two broad ways:

    Firstly terms of the so-called (by me at least) “CAGE” variables: class, age, gender and ethnicity. This section both outlines the relationship between each of these variables and religious beliefs / practices and evaluates a range of possible explanations for the relationships uncovered.

    Secondly, the chapter looks at the appeal of modern religious movements to different social groups, with the focus here on two types:

    a. New religious movements, based on Daschke and Ashcraft’s (2005) idea of ‘interrelated pathways’ that examines a broad typology of five different groupings (Perception, Identity, Community or ‘Family’, Society and Earth).

    b. New Age movements, based on a typology of Explicitly religious, Human potential and Mystical movements.

    Those of you who like your religion with pictures will be saddened to learn that there’s only one (and since this is the “pre-permission” version of the chapter, the spiritual purity of a group of Transcendental Meditation practitioners is somewhat sullied by a dirty great watermark that takes up most of the frame). The disappointment both of these facts might engender may be dispelled by the inclusion of a few tables and a lot of mnemonics.

    Or possibly not.

    17 | Religion: Part 2

    Saturday, October 14th, 2017

    No sociological analysis of religion would be complete without looking at the role it plays in society and, as luck would have it, this particular chapter examines the role of religion from a number of different perspectives – both inclusive and exclusive – whose main ideas are outlined and briefly evaluated:

    • Functionalist
    • Neo-Functionalist
    • Marxist
    • Neo-Marxist
    • Weberian
    • Neo-Weberian
    • Postmodern

    Once again this chapter was written (a word I use loosely) for the OCR AS Sociology Specification-but-one, but since just about every other A-level(ish) Sociology Specification worth the name covers this particular area it should be applicable to them in some way.

    As ever I can take no responsibility for either the pictures or their captions, for the deceptively-simple reason that They Were Nothing To Do With Me.

     

    16 | Religion: Part 1

    Sunday, October 8th, 2017

    The opening chapter in this series on religion looks at “Key Concepts and the Changing Nature of Religious Movements in Society” – something that lends itself neatly to two broad sections:

    1. Key Concepts – an “introduction to the sociology of religion” that covers two important areas:

    • how we define religion, considered in terms of inclusive and exclusive approaches
    • how we measure religious belief (religiosity).

    2. Religious Movements looks at their changing nature in terms of identifying and explaining:

    • Different types of religious institution and movement (church, sect, denomination and cult).
    • New Religious Movements
    • New Age Movements
    • Religious Fundamentalism.

    As ever there are a few distracting printer’s marks and, mercifully, only a couple of (at that point uncleared) pictures with captions written by the “Self-Evident Caption Company”. Probably.

    BBC “Analysis” Podcasts

    Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

    Over the past 10 years BBC Radio 4’s Analysis series has created a range of podcasts “examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics”.

    There are over 200 podcasts to trawl through, many of which won’t be of any interest or use to sociology teachers and students, but a relatively smaller number just might. To save you a lot of time and trouble (there’s no need to thank me, I’m nice like like) I’ve had a quick look through the list to select what I think might be the sociological highlights.

    (more…)

    Lesson Plans: Family | Class | Religion

    Monday, November 14th, 2016

    Whatever your teaching situation or level of experience, Other People’s Lesson Plans can sometimes be a bit of a god-send – particularly when they come from the pen of practising teachers: whether you’re looking for a different way to teach a familiar topic, a set of basic ideas you can adapt to your own working style or just something quick’n’easy for a Monday morning when inspiration has temporarily gone AWOL, you might find something helpful in these 3 lesson plans.

    As an added bonus the Plans are designed to be delivered either with the teacher present or as stand-alone lessons that can be completed by students in the absence of a teacher.

    As far as I can tell they come from a book published by Philip Allan Updates, probably around 2006/7, but I haven’t been able to track down the exact title.

    1. Investigating domestic roles within the family The reference in the document to “more up-to-date statistics” at   www.sociology.org.uk/as4aqa.htm still works, but it’s probably easier to download the file here (although keep in mind these are around 10 years old and you probably have more recent stats).
    2. The relevance of class in the modern UK
    3. Religion in modern society