Tuesday, 23 February 2010

USA Sociology Trip 2010

Sociology in the USA

The California Experience : February 2010

Sociology can be experienced and learnt wherever you are, from having breakfast or dinner to going shopping to visiting a historical monument. The Sociology department took 20 students to Los Angeles and San Francisco to experience American culture, its norms and values as well as the history which shapes it.

10th – 17th February

10th February : Leaving Heathrow Airport & arriving in Los Angeles we experienced the effects of our concerns with terrorism as had our bags x-rayed and searched as well as students interviewed. The threat of terrorism is partly a consequence of the Post-Modernist reality of globalisation as we travel around the world and very differing worlds collide. Our hotel in L.A was in Little Tokyo, so we ate locally in a small Japanese restaurant eating ramen – traditional noodle soup, thus experiencing a small bit of their food culture.

11th February : A tour around L.A and its outskirts in the morning took us to Hollywood to see the Movie stars in the pavement, the Movie actors handprints outside the Chinese theatre as well as the Kodak Theatre. Hollywood exemplifies the USA’s homage to capitalism and wealth as did Rodeo Drive where many expensive shops, such as Jimmy Choo’s shoe shop, co-exist and pamper those in the mansions of Beverly Hills. Karl Marx would turn in his grave if he saw Hollywood as he preached communism and the equal distribution of wealth. Marx believed a Ruling Class existed which controlled the economy and strove to maintain their position of power through ideology, something we experienced here as the students bought into the shopping culture that capitalism so depends upon. It was interesting to see a contrast to this rampant capitalism as we saw a homeless man on the road begging for money in “tinseltown” – this is the other side of capitalism – the “have nots”.

A visit to Venice Beach introduced us to another side of LA and American culture - the obsession with the “body beautiful” , such as a gym on the beach - a homage to the Post-Modernist characteristic of individualism and the self – “me, me, me”.

12th February : Today we visited Universal Studios. Post-Modernist McDonald argues that there has been a blurring between adulthood and childhood exemplified by reading children’s books such as Harry Potter, watching fantasy films & TV programmes such as Buffy : The Vampire Slayer as well as visiting Theme Parks where experiences such as The Simpsons virtual ride seem to have been largely created for adults. The studio tour took us past The Desperate Housewives set as well as the CSI studios. Sociologically speaking CSI helps us to examine crime and deviance and its phenomenon has led juries in the USA to acquit defendants as they expect the forensics to be as good as they see on the programme, which maybe shows evidence for the hypodermic-syringe theory which argues that people are influenced by what they watch.

13th February : The first of our two day journey North to San Francisco. We visited Hearst Castle, the former home of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst whose life was portrayed in Orson Welles’ film “Citizen Kane”. This opulent and extravagant holiday home was one of many Hearst possessed and again is a good example of the life of the Ruling Class, discussed by Marx, who have enormous wealth and power.

14th February : The second day of our coach journey to San Francisco where we visited Stanford University, one of the top elite universities in the USA. In Sociology, we study educational achievement and Marxists argue that the middle class are more likely to achieve as they possess both cultural and economic capital. Cultural capital refers to the norms, values and language possessed by pupils and children which can advantage them in a middle class educational system whilst economic capital refers to the financial wealth which can help the middle class family buy an education for their children The cost of an education at Stanford University amount to about $35,000 per year – outside the financial possibilities of a poorer working class student. This campus university was very different to those in Britain as Stanford was more like a small town with its own church and shopping mall – an interesting cultural experience.

That evening we arrived in San Francisco and dined on Fisherman’s Wharf – the seafood in this restaurant reflected the city’s culture influenced by their position on the coast and multicultural composition. Food is an example of our norms, what we consider normal to eat, and Clam Chowder – a soup inside a bowl of bread was a signature dish here in San Francisco.

15th February : As Wallace & Gromit would say “A Grand Day Out”. The coach tour in the morning displayed the liberal norms and values which characterise San Francisco, such as the famous Castro area which was once the gay centre of the city and portrayed in the film “Milk” about the murdered councillor and gay activist Harvey Milk. In the afternoon, we visited Alcatraz the notorious island prison, home to many criminals including the infamous Al Capone. In Sociology we study crime and deviance and this prison is an example of the harsher attitude to punishment which exists in American culture. Alcatraz was seen as impossible to escape from being surrounded by water and the place criminals were sent to if they broke prison rules – the small and sparse cells seem cruel and inhuman to 21st century culture which is more concerned with everyone’s human rights, even those of criminals. As we moved towards rehabilitation for prisoners rather than retribution, Alcatraz was closed down in 1963 and its’ traditional structure is a stark contrast to the Post-Modernist Foucault’s suggestion of a Panopticon prison where the guards could see the prisoners but the prisoners could not see the guards, which he believed would lead prisoners to become self-monitoring and self-disciplining.

16th February : After a short visit on the famous San Francisco cable car & an exploration of some famous American retailing establishments, it was time to go to the airport and experience Homeland Security ,including a body scan and the plane home.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Left Reaism

New Left Realism is a contemporary form of Social Conflict Theory; a theory that tries to explain crime and it's connections to social class, crime and social control. Left Realism Theory affects mainly the working class and solutions to crime tend to only make crime problems worse. The roots of NLR, how it evolved, and current social implications are important to understanding this theory. NLR's largely reject the view that poverty and unemployment cause crime, preferring Merton's view of 'strain' and 'anomie'.

Left Realism began with the 1984 work of John Lea and Jock Young. In their writing of What Is To Be Done About Law and Order ?, these two authors give birth to the idea that crime is a three way process, the offender, the state and the victim. Jock Young breaks away from traditional structuralism by claiming that criminals must not be seen as 'passive' but active offenders responsible for their own actions.

In What Is To Be Done About Law and Order?, Lea and Young politically present the idea that crime is a real problem for working class people. The left realists have attempted to present a solution to crime (this was to stop the New Right having a monopoly of solutions for crime in regards to their philosophy on 'Zero Tolerance'). One solution the NLR's present is that there needs to be greater cooperation between the police and the public. This is a logical suggestion, but harder in reality as was witnessed during the Rhys Jones murder in Liverpool. When the police pleaded for help from the local community but the community "clammed" up and did not cooperate.

Current social implications NLR's claim is a lack of job creation, social inequality, social fear, political incompetence and failure, gender conflict leading to disenchantment and rioting. Our society has been changed according to Left Realism by the creation of fearful and isolated citizens through relative deprivation, subculture and marginalisation. Lea and Young's concepts of demarginalisation, pre-emptive deterrence and the limited use of prisons for violent offenders can help you understand what Left Realism is all about. There attempt to create connections between social classes and crime and how criminals are punished or sentenced.

In regards to stopping marginalisation NLRs claim that community service orders and widespread release from prison would stop the separation between the criminal and the community currently being witnessed. In relation to pre-emptive deterrence NLR's claim that organisation of the community is of the highest importance. In regards to prison Lea and Young (right) claim that, "Prisons should only be used in those circumstances where there is extreme danger to the community... Life inside should be as free and as 'normal' as possible. Such a demand is not humanitarian idealism - it is based on the simple fact that the result of prison experience is to produce pitiful inadequates or hardened criminals"

NLR claim that social surveys are socially constructed and simple suit 'consumer demand and satisfaction', what is more accurate are localised victim studies. They have conducted large scale studies in Merseyside and Islington. This study will lead us onto the counter argument by the New Right...

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A2 Crime and Deviance: "The New Right"

Guest Blogger: Janine Taylor

When you look at the picture on the right, what do you see? A plus-sized family of four? The girl from the X-Factor who had the awful dress? A dirty cotton bud on the floor? A family, which was forced to live in a car after being evicted for all night karaoke sessions? While all of the former are indeed true, what you are actually looking at the Chawners - a family who weigh 83st between them, claim £22,000 a year in benefits and have chosen not to work for 11 years. They are the embodiment of the underclass, the “scum of the depraved elements of all classes” – Marx.

Before I delve in to the sociology behind the phenomenon of the underclass, I’m sure you are wondering about why they are “entitled” to all the money they receive. Mrs Chawner receives an extra £330 a month, because she has epilepsy and asthma – the latter being caused by her obesity. Mr Chawner receives £71 a month, as he developed type 2 diabetes because of this weight. Samantha – the girl on the right, receives £168 a month in jobseeker’s allowance and the wannabe pop star who has is so elegantly placed herself on the arm of the sofa receives £116 a month as a student, due to the “poverty” of her family.

The New Right seek to reduce the welfare state which have allowed families like these to thrive on benefits as they believe that individuals have a social responsibility, a moral obligation to provide and be responsible for themselves. Because of this, ‘scroungers’ along with young offenders and other ‘undesirable’ social groups, in the eyes of the New Right, are labelled the ‘enemy within’.

Control theory influences the New Right and even thought it is most commonly applied to criminal and deviant behaviour, it can also be applied to the study of the Chawners and the underclass (although I would argue that the behaviour of the Chawners is criminal):
1/The Reasoning Criminal
→ Actions are calculated and rational
o Chawners – We can make more money by staying at home, and watching Jeremy Kyle than if we get a job.
2/Society influences the individual
→ People are influences by those in their neighbourhood
o Chawners -3,924 people are on benefits in Blackburn, why should we have to work?
Lastly, although the Chawners are yet to realise it:
3/People have a moral duty to work
→ Dependence on others decreases happiness and freedom.
→ Marsland – “welfare hand outs create incentives for staying unemployed”

So how does this link to crime and deviance?

Murray, a New Right Realist blamed the welfare state for “sapping moral fibre, eroding Christian ethics and threatening family values” (link to religion - Weber – The protestant ethic – hard work, spending money wisely). He believed that England would be come a nanny state where there was an over dependency on welfare, which has become the case now more than ever due to the recent economic recession. Murray also believed that the result of a nanny state was ‘social sickness’ which is the reduction of the strength of moral values and mechanisms of social control – anomie, which in turn leads to crime.

The New Right believes that crime is not a cause of poverty, but by “selfish and wicked people” – Wilson. The choice to turn to crime is always linked to the ease of committing the act, the opportunities available, the risk involved in the crime and the possibility of being detected. Because of this Wilson concludes that people are less likely to commit crimes if there is surveillance e.g. CCTV and ‘target hardening e.g. marking goods, such as laptops. They also advocate a policy of Zero Tolerance (Wilson and Kelling – Broken Windows, train jumpers), which means that minor crimes should be punished harshly, to stop larger ones from being committed, as the attributed the rise in crime to the lack of fear the criminal had about being caught.

Although the picture I have portrayed of the New Right may lead you to think that they are heartless, they are not. They do believe that the benefit system should be kept in place to help those who genuinely cannot help themselves. Anyway, if your dreams of making it big don’t work, I know how you can make £22,000 a year with minimal effort…

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

USA Trip

Hollywood Baby!!!

Next year (February) the sociology department are in the early stages of planning an excursion of the west coast of America. Included in the trip are a visit to the most famous prison in the world Alcatraz, a tour of Hollywood City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Other sites that we will be visiting are Stanford University, one of the most successful and beautiful universities in the world. Please see your subject teacher to get further details of what is going to be an amazing experience. You can also log your internet on the "comment section" of this post.

AS Education: Grammar School Fails Inspection

Are all Grammar Schools Good? Read Article.

For the first in English history a grammar school has failed an Ofsted inspection. Stretford Grammar School was placed in special measures after inspectors found that it was "inadequate" in its overall effectiveness.
Trafford council has responded by saying that there are enough positives for the future, and the Children's Minister directed her criticism at the management of the school accusing the Conservative leadership of the council of trying to brush the failures if the school "under the carpet". Girls particularly were failing in the school with high ability candidates making "very slow progress".
For AS students this opens the debate of whether students benefit from the state or grammar/public experience. Presumptions are made that with their entrance tests and their "selectivity" grammar schools should rule the roost when it comes to results, compared to national benchmarks. Yet Stretford Grammar school faced a range of problems which don't usually impact on grammar school institutions. Over 30% of their students spoke English as a second language, and a decline in numbers (which meant less funding). The school is currently facing closure and highlights how quickly a school can go on a downward spiral especially when at the mercy of changing social surroundings which they have very little control over. Last year it recorded 92% of it students achieving "good GCSE grades".

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

A2 Synoptic Link: Methods and Deviance

"At shortly after five o'clock on a weekday evening, four men enter a public toilet in the city park..."

The above statement hardly sounds like the beginning of one of the most controversial pieces of sociological reseach ever done, but Laud Humphrey's research has divided researcher for the best part of forty years. During the A2 Sociology course students are asked to make the link between the methods of collecting data and why these particular methods are suitible for the study of crime and deviance. During the course you will hear names such as William Whyte and Eileen Barker, but the case which grabs the attention of the modern sociology student is that of Laud Humphreys. For Humphrey's choice of PhD topic he decided to study the "Tearoom" trade, which was the male-male sexual encounters in public toilets, a term known in US slang as "Tea Rooming", Humphrey's basic hypothesis was that men participating in this activity in such activity came from diverse social backgrounds, they also had a variety of reasons for seeking homosexual contact in such venues.

Humphrey's first method was to observe these men by acting as a "watch queen" at the venues which was to prevent individuals interupting the activity or raising the alarm if the police were present. In the 1960s this activity was illegal. He gathered information from approx. 100 men and then obtained personal information on the individuals, by copying down their license plate. He then interviewed these men under the disguise as someone conducting a "health" survey.

What Humphreys found was that there was very little was different between the men engaging in these activities from typical adult males (Reynolds, 1982). What the Sociology student must address is the ethical issues involved in this research. Did Humphrey's have any right to conduct the research in this manner? Humphrey's defence was that there was no alternative on offer to study this "deviant" group (or criminal). A questionnaire or an interview with the respondents would have revealed no valid information, as subjects would not have admitted their behaviour, especially to a researcher noting down the results! There was a heated debate which followed this research and for many years researchers within Washington University argued that the PhD should not be awarded.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Films to Watch

There are many films on crime to watch and the following are just some of the sociology department favourites. Do check with who you live with before watching any film with a 18 certificate.

  • A touch of evil
  • All the President's Men
  • Bad Day at Black Rock
  • Badlands
  • Boyz n' the Hood
  • Cape Fear
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • Falling Down
  • L.A. Confidential
  • Mean Streets
  • Mississippi Burning
  • Psycho
  • Rear Window
  • Salvador
  • 10 Rillington Place
  • The Accused
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • The Untouchables
  • The Usual Suspects
  • West Side Story

Sociology Exam Dates 2009

Remember the exam season will soon be fast approaching, so here is a reminder of when the sociology exams are taking place...

Unit 1 Family 12th May am / Unit 2 Education/Methods 18th May am / Unit 4 Religion 4th June pm / Unit 6 Crime & Deviance 11th June pm

For A2 students view AQA past papers here. Good Luck!

A2 Crime and Deviance: New Criminology

What is New Criminology?

New Criminology was a popular neo Marxist combination within British Sociology in the 1970's. It seemed like a good idea at the time, after all , interactionism had dominated Liberal American Sociology in the late 1960's whilst Marxism reigned supreme in many British University departments. Taylor, Walton and Young therefore simply combined the two and produced what became known as the 'Robin Hood' theory of Criminology. In other words the criminal had to be understood as a victim of the system who was fighting back and attempting to redistribute wealth. Crime in short was a political act.

However, this was rapidly seen as idealistic - particularly given the fact that these 'outlaws' did not actually give to the poor but rather kept it all for themselves! Taylor et al. also seemed to miss the fact that poor do not rob from the rich, rather they rob from each other. The Chicago School could have told them this fifty years earlier!

However there were positives to the theory; by using Interactionism it enabled the sociologist to investigate the meanings of the act for the individual criminal and it additionally allowed them to thoroughly examine the importance of societal reaction and the consequences of this within the whole labelling process. The idea of mixing both theories was also successfully applied to the example of classroom deviance by Paul Willis in his book 'Learning to Labour' (a useful synoptic link).

Nevertheless the clear problems within New Criminology were demonstrated when Paul Gilroy applied this theory to the example of 'black crime'. Gilroy applied Marxism in suggesting that crime committed by the ethnic minority had to be seen as part of an 'anti-colonial struggle' - the exploited individual fighting back against an unjust system. However he then applied interactionism in suggesting that black crime was nothing more than the racist police stereotyping and labelling the community. In doing this, not only had Gilroy ignored the clear contradiction of suggesting that ethnic minorities do/do not commit crime, he also gave very little evidence in support of the view that crime was seen by the criminal as part of an anti-colonial struggle.

Although New Criminology was a little ahead of its time in trying to encourage sociologists to go beyond the narrow confines of placing themselves and their thoughts within separate theoretical groups, nevertheless the final nail in its coffin came when most its initial proponents- particularly Jock Young - introduced a new neo-Marxist theory in New Left Realism in the mid 1980's. The fact that this represented a dramatic shift to a more functionalist view of crime showed that even these sociologists had realised that perhaps they had originally tried to be a little too radical and had lost an understanding of the basic realities of crime.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

A2 Philip Zimbardo: How ordinary people become monsters ... or heroes

Firstly, I realise Phil Zimbardo is a (Social) Psychologist, but do we as sociologists not have an obligation to address the question of, "what makes people turn evil" even when we are usually looking at such problems more systematically and through social structures. And how do we as sociologists relate this to 'crime and deviance'? Zimbardo looks at whether 'evil' is a fixed or a moving concept. Are we as an individual good or evil - is it as simple as that (or can we simply shift from one to the other)? Zimbardo looks at the 'Lucifer Effect' and how Lucifer went from god’s favourite angel (Lucifer means 'the light') to an occupant of 'hell' (see right illustration). Was he manipulated by the system, or were his flaws more psychological?

What may be more relevant is the unique circumstances that makes people do evil things, and how do we as individuals justify causing harm (think of the harmful impact of a war, regardless of the political reasoning)? In the C&D module, is it worth looking at those few bad apples, or the barrel itself (the barrell being the system)? If people are the actors on a stage, is their behaviour determined by the stage or are they acting independently, as conscious beings - as you can see on the attached video Zimbardo claims that the power is in the system. Obviously individual acts will relate more to Interactionism as a theory, but can sociologists link in the Marxist perspective here, is the system to blame for working class crime? Or maybe more importantly are the criminals those who can't achieve legitimate goals, when the system deprives them of the means.

The more anonymous the criminal is, dressed in face paint, a uniform, whatever, does this make them more likely to commit harm under the banner of a mystical force, under the cloak of invisability? The 'Stanford Prison Experiment' showed us that criminal acts are not beyond any one individual or put more bluntly, Zimbardo claims any one individual can turn to crime or an act of evil if the environment is conducive.