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Uol Examiners' Commentary

Topics: Sociology / Pages: 18 (4451 words) / Published: Apr 1st, 2013
Examiners’ commentaries 2011

Examiners’ commentaries 2011
21 Principles of sociology – Zone A Important note
This commentary reflects the examination and assessment arrangements for this course in the academic year 2010–11. The format and structure of the examination may change in future years, and any such changes will be publicised on the virtual learning environment (VLE).

Comments on specific questions
Section A
Answer all parts of question 1 (50 marks in total) Question 1 Sociologists have to approach the analysis of social statistics cautiously; they are not self evident ‘facts’ waiting for researchers to use unquestioningly. Statistics are social constructions that reflect the conceptual categories and bureaucratic procedures through which they are collected. (21 Principles of sociology subject guide). Note: Candidates should read the stimulus passages carefully and think about the style and the content; they should get you thinking and start you off with some ideas for the questions that follow. In this question the material should not have been new to you as it is a direct quotation from the subject guide. a. Sociology as a discipline is concerned with the analysis of sociological problems. Give some examples of these sociological problems and explain why the sociological approach is different from most journalism. (6 marks) Reading for this question The material for this question can be found in Chapter 1 of the subject guide. The question functions to test your understanding of the nature and subject matter of sociology and how it is different from other approaches to studying social life and behaviour. A good response would have been to indicate two sociological problems with examples. Approaching the question Why do societies change (or why they remain stable)? There are many examples of problems that sociologists set themselves: the ‘purpose’ and extent of social inequality, or questions about the nature of ‘identity’ and’ self’. An alternative would have been to give two examples from work that you knew about. For example, Durkheim’s question as to the causes of suicide or Barker’s investigation into why people join the Moonies. Answers to the second part of the question are indicated clearly in the subject guide. Good answers noticed that the question asked about ‘most’ and not all journalism. Section 1.4 of the subject guide provides a starting point. Good answers included some of the following points: • Sociologists ask sociological questions and do not depend on common sense for their answers! They develop and test theories and are therefore ‘grounded in theory’.

21 Principles of sociology

• Sociologists normally work systematically, testing their theories with evidence from primary or secondary data that has been carefully collected and tested. • Journalists normally have to react to a news item quickly and do not have the luxury of testing and checking their theories and findings. • The audience for sociology is made up of academics, students and policy makers, whereas journalists generally write for the general public. Therefore the language they use is often different and more precise, especially when dealing with concepts. b. Outline EITHER Meads’ OR Parsons’ approach to the concept of socialisation. (6 marks) Reading for this question The material for this question is to be found in Chapter 1of the subject guide. Better answers also referred to Chapter 4 (particularly for Parsons) and to the reading in the essential texts. Approaching the question Most candidates were able to indicate that Mead’s approach concentrated on the processes by which individuals developed their understanding of ‘self’ whereas Parsons concentrated on the functions of socialisation for society (i.e. its ends). Good answers used the different ways that Parsons and Mead explained the nature of ‘roles’ and ‘and social identity’ to illustrate their answers. c. Why should sociologists approach the analysis of statistics cautiously? (6 marks) Reading for this question The material for this answer is to be found in Chapter 3 of the subject guide. Better answers would have dealt directly with epistemological concerns and voiced more general concerns from an interpretivist/ phenomenological approach. Approaching the question Candidates should read questions carefully: in this question there were two key words – ‘analysis’ and ‘cautiously’. Examiners were expecting answers which stressed the necessity of caution when using secondary data, for example, ‘How were the statistics collected?’; ‘How did the researchers operationalise the concepts used?’ One mark was given if a candidate was able to refer directly to the stimulus, for example indicating that statistics are social constructions. Here if candidates were able to explain that statistics reflect the conceptual categories of the original researcher then they would have been rewarded. Here a discussion of the ways in which a concept is operationalised and which indicators are chosen would have been useful. In the subject guide the concept of class is given as an example. The way in which a particular concept has been operationalised varies between sociologists and different societies. Governments change the way that disability and unemployment is operationalised and therefore sociologists should be careful when comparing statistical data. This raises issues of standardisation and validity. Where candidates had used the ideas of under- and over-reporting of crime, domestic violence or suicide and demonstrated the ‘funnel effect’ whereby many crimes go undetected, unreported or are not treated seriously by the police and/or the courts to illustrate their answers they were rewarded with high marks.

Examiners’ commentaries 2011

d. You have been asked by a government agency to conduct research on mobile telephone ownership in a large urban area, focusing on the reasons people have for owning such phones, and the ways in which they use them. (12 marks) Reading for this question This question was testing for knowledge and understanding of the material in Chapter 2 of the subject guide. The Examiners expect candidates to answer each part of the question separately but they awarded marks on the quality of each answer rather than allocating specific marks for each part. More marks were generally given for (iii) as this required a good understanding of the methodological problems in doing social research. Approaching the question i. What research design would you use? The subject guide describes different research designs. In this case the most obvious design to choose would have been a survey as the second part of the question asks you to select a sample. Examiners were testing whether candidates knew about the different research designs and their uses by identifying the situations in which each one is used. ii. How would you select your sample? Here we would expect candidates to be able to recognise where the sample frame would be sought from ‘a large urban area’. They should indicate that it might be difficult to find such a ‘population’ or sample frame. Good suggestions included contacting large mobile phone companies (which would obviously involve privacy issues), doing some snowball sampling, etc. iii. What limitations or difficulties would you expect to face in doing such research? Chapter 2 indicates the potential problems in doing research generally and specifically in relation to each of the different methods. Sampling difficulties are an obvious problem (see above). If surveys were chosen as a method, then problems would relate to interviews or questionnaires and issues relating to definitional problems and language should have been cited, leading correspondence effects. This may involve problems of validity, etc. Good answers should cite the fact that an interview is an artificial situation leading to effects such as imposition and ‘interview effects’. e. What are the main assumptions of an ‘interpretivist’ approach in sociology? (4 marks) Reading for this question This was a straightforward question and required candidates to answer directly from their reading of the texts indicated in the subject guide. The material for this is to be found in section 3.3 of the subject guide; better answers used material on Weber from Chapter 4. Approaching the question In dealing with ideas and concepts such as those in this question, it is useful to identify the concept and place it in its universe. For example, interpretivism is a theory of knowledge that emerged in the late nineteenth century. Then candidates should indicate some of its key features and sociologists (Weber particularly) identified with this approach. Interpretivism developed as a criticism of positivism and a good

21 Principles of sociology

answer should indicate how it is different. Key points would include: that ontologically interpretivists believe that the natural and social world are fundamentally different and that the methods of the natural sciences are not applicable to social science. Interpretivists believe that social life is meaningful and the role of the sociologist is to understand the meaning of social action. f. Choose one of the sociologists below and write a description of their theoretical approach to modern society. Marx Weber Mead Parsons (16 marks) Reading for this question This last question is normally associated with the material from Chapter 4 of the subject guide, but candidates should read the set texts in addition to this. Approaching the question Candidates should read the questions carefully and not assume that the questions asked or the sociologists indicated will be the same each year. In this question the Examiners were asking specifically for a description of their chosen sociologists work in relation to ‘modern society’. Although some candidates chose Mead as their example, it would have been difficult to have said much about his work unless candidates had done reading outside the subject guide and texts. This question is marked as an essay and so candidates should not write in note form. First candidates must address the notion of ‘modern society’. As with most concepts in sociology, this is a contested and will reflect the standpoint of the sociologists. How the sociologist defines modern society will of course reflect how s/he has developed their theories about this. The subject guide provides a useful starting point in how the sociologist in question has defined modern society. Sometimes it is related to the development of industrialisation and urbanisation and particularly the effects of these on social institutions and the growth of individualism. However, in many theories, modernity is also a feature of earlier times, for example with the use of sophisticated weaponry and weapons in warfare. The development of capitalism and the market is an area which has been addressed by both Weber and Durkheim. Candidates would have done well if they addressed the issues relating to this process and its effects on individuals and social institutions, particularly changes in social structure and class relationships. Another areas for discussion is the development of and causes of secularisation and/or the role of religion in modern society as well as the development of science and the source of ‘knowledge’ about the social world (i.e. what epistemological standpoints did they have?). A very good answer would have addressed the ontological position of the sociologist and would have explained it in relation to modern society.


Examiners’ commentaries 2011

Section B
Answer the question in this section (25 marks). Reading for this question The reading for both these questions is to be found in Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the subject guide. The Waters text is now online and the subject guide indicates the sections that candidates should read. The videos on the VLE provide useful answers to some of the questions about this topic. Question 2 EITHER What are the key differences between ‘globalization’ and ‘Americanization’ – and which best describes the contemporary world? Approaching the question This question asks candidates to compare two social processes, and has its base in one of the central questions asked by social scientists in relation to the rapid changes that have occurred in the last 40 years. Therefore the debate surrounds the ideas of those sociologists who have suggested that society is undergoing a profound ‘shift’ and that these changes and their effects are different in character from previous social changes. Others suggest that this is not the case and what is occurring is the dominance of the West, particularly the USA. Candidates should spend time ensuring that they cover the differences in these approaches and, of course, provide some examples to support both. The question asks you do indicate what processes you think best describe the changes in the modern world. Here you could indicate which one does, or that neither does. We may be witnessing some deglobalising process and/or the rise of the East. Questions which should be addressed include: is the USA a hegemonic state which has ‘power’ over the rest of the world? Does it have the political and economic influence to dominate the world market? Does it have cultural influence in terms of consumerism and also social practices? Does it dominate political arrangements, particularly since the end of the Cold War? There are references to McDonaldisation, the WTO, etc. that can be used to dispute or support this position in the guide. Those theorists who suggest that globalisation best describes the contemporary world indicate that the changes are different in depth, spread and their effects. Some of these are described by Held as ‘hyperglobalists’ who believe that globalisation is inevitable, and others believe that it is continuing. Candidates should identify some of the areas that social scientists have suggested are globalised and give examples of this, for example Sklair’s work could be used to good effect. Finally, a good answer may dispute both positions. OR Compare two sociological theories of the consequences of globalization. This is a straightforward question which functions to test candidates’ understanding of the theories and their ability to apply these by comparing them. First, candidates must identify the basis and the essential tenets of the theories of each of the two sociologists that they have chosen; here Sklair, Giddens, Castells, Beck or Robertson would be good examples. Weaker answers compared two sets of theories and in some cases disucssed the differences between an idealist or structuralist approach. Candidates should concentrate on the consequences of

21 Principles of sociology

globalisation (i.e.what are the effects of globalisation on the economy; on the nation-state; and on culture, etc.). The subject guide identifies these clearly, particularly the sections on the nation-state and on culture. This is question which requires a comparision so strong essays should identify a set of characteristics of each approach and compare the way that each sociologist has addressed them. For example, how did their chosen sociologist address the effect of globalisation on the nation state? What were the consequences for increasing or decreasing inequalities between and within states? How did the global movements development and, finally, aare these consequences inevitable and is there a possibility them being reversed? Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 each tackle a different aspect of globalisation, and good answers should use material from each of these to address this question. Very good answers would display a good understanding as why the accounts differ: Chapter 1 of the Waters text provides some information about this. If candidates used their knowledge and understanding of theories of the sociologists discussed in Chapter 4, this would have helped them tremendously in explaining why they differ in their explanation of the consequences of globalisation.

Section C
Answer one question from this section (25 marks). Question 3 Are all religions conservative? Refer in your answer to at least two sociological theories of religion. Reading for this question This question requires candidates to have read and absorbed the material from Chapter 12 of the subject guide and have revised the sociological theories learned in Chapter 4. A useful text is Aldridge (2007). Approaching the question This is a direct question, and one which requires a direct answer. Are all religions conservative? Candidates should demonstrate that some religions can be more conservative than others. In Approaching the question, the concept of ‘conservative’ should be addressed directly. What does it mean to suggest that a religion is ‘conservative’? Those sociologists who have a substantive approach would indicate that’ religion’ is a complex concept and understand that it can differ in terms of beliefs, practices, structure, etc. Therefore a religion can said to be conservative if its beliefs discourage modern ideas and values, and its practices are traditional. Both can prevent changes occurring in economic practice and social institutions. Those against this view suggest that the content of some of the religious beliefs and practices enhance and encourage change, for example liberation theologists who believe that ‘orthopraxis’ results in changes in the condition of the oppressed. Other theorists have suggested that the religious beliefs are interpreted by their adherents and so can encourage or suppress change. In the substantive approach the most useful and obvious example for candidates to have chosen to discuss would have been Weber’s work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Here, of course, it was the fact that as a set of beliefs Calvinism allowed usury and the accumulation of capital, whereas Catholicism, as an ‘other worldly’ religion, discouraged both.


Examiners’ commentaries 2011

Those who take a functional approach also differ, and here the work of Marx, Durkheim and Parsons could be used. Again, within Marxism there are differences between the humanistic and structuralist interpretations. Good answers would have identified these differences but also indicated that these theorists share a teleological approach. They would demonstrate that the content and form of a religion is not what is investigated but how religion affects the stability of a society or can encourage change. Durkheim’s work on the functions of religion, and particularly civil religion, could have been used as illustration. Question 4 In what ways are race and ethnicity socially constructed? Reading for this question Chapter 10 of the subject guide and the readings given there provide the basis for Approaching the question. Answers should demonstrate a clear knowledge and understanding of the concept of the ‘social construction of reality’, which is the phenomenological approach introduced in Chapter 4. The introduction to Chapter 10 introduces candidates to the various ways that ‘race’ and ethnicity have been ‘operationalised’ by social scientists, policy makers and political groups. Approaching the question Candidates should state that both these terms are social categorisations, particularly in relation to race. A good answer would address this ideas and then describe the ways that category has been constructed. For example, how do we as individuals make sense of the world by categorising each other and other groups (sections) in terms of race and nation? These meanings will differ across cultures. Those in power have the capacity to use these categorisations to their advantage, for example, in the case of apartheid in South Africa. The guide describes these processes clearly and candidates should illustrate their answers to demonstrate the processes of social construction involved and also the relational nature of these categorisations. Ethnicity relates to identity and culture and, different sociologists have different definitions of this term. In Approaching the question candidates should identify the different ways in which ethnicity has been defined (constructed). Ethnicity relates to ideas of culture and common descent, rather than any ‘biological determinism’. Ethnicity is held to be a category of self-determination and so individuals can be said to perceive or construct their ethnic identities. Paul Gilroy’s work suggests that these differences are more complex, and good answer should demonstrate wider reading and show the problems with defining these terms as well as the advantages gained by those in a position to categorise others in artificial categories. Question 5 ‘Social inequality is functional and therefore necessary.’ Discuss. Reading for this question The material for this answer is introduced in Chapter 11 of the subject guide, especially the areas relating to the classical perspectives on social inequality. Approaching the question As in all essays, the key terms should be explained, and candidates should demonstrate that there are different forms of inequality, which are not

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always based on class. Good answers should also suggest the absolute and relative nature of social divisions in society. They should indicate that this statement is associated with the structural functionalist approach to the topic, and should demonstrate their understanding of this approach by indicating the assumptions of structural functionalism particularly those of Durkheim and Parsons and their influence on the work of Davis and Moore. A good way to approach the question would be discuss the idea of functionality? Of course, the structural functionalist approach would relate to the functioning of society in general and so candidates should explain the ideas behind these assumptions? Why is it thought necessary for there to be inequalities in class, status and power? The link between’ functional’ and ‘necessary’ should be made clearly – in some ways these terms mean the same thing. However, the key to Approaching the question lies in another question: why and how is social inequality functional? Within the structural functional paradigm there is an understanding that gross inequalities are dysfunctional for society. The work of Chalmers Johnson and others on the causes of revolution indicate that some social disturbances may occur because of gross inequalities: the recent upheavals in the Middle East would be a good indication that there was something wrong in those societies and to regain equilibrium there is a need for changes to be made to restore the balance Then candidates could outline a Marxist explanation for this statement (i.e. inequality is functional for the reproduction of capitalism or the survival of the dominant class). Leslie’s Sklair’s work (see the globalisation chapters) could be used to demonstrate how inequalities exist on a global scale and that these are functional for the transnational capitalist classes and for the future of the global capitalism. Question 6 What would managers gain from studying the sociology of organizations? Reading for this question This is the first year that candidates have had new chapters in the subject guide to support this area of the syllabus. Most candidates take this option, but they must read Chapter 14 very carefully and understand the approach taken by the author. The material on the VLE is also very important indeed. Approaching the question This question demonstrates the importance of understanding of sociology for degrees in business and management. Here we asked a direct question on the topic. Good answers should indicate the areas where sociologists can help managers understand how organisations are structured, how they are formed, etc. and how they are affected by the environment in which they operate. First, ask yourself what can sociology help us understand about what an organisation is? Here there are debates as to the nature of organisations which reflect the different ontological approaches of the sociologists. The Scott text provides some useful material here. Some managers and sociologists have a structural perspective, suggesting that an organisation is something fixed and measurable, whereas other theorists suggest that and organisation is more phenomenological and its structure is more dynamic and fluid and is a matter of perception


Examiners’ commentaries 2011

Next, organisations operate within an environment. The subject guide outlines the different approaches to the question of whether organisations are determined by their environments or can operate to change the space in which they operate. These debates would allow the manager to plan strategies knowing that environments are not fixed. The material in the globalisation chapters is particularly useful here demonstrating how some management practices have become globalised. There is a section on power within organisations in the text which would help a manager understand the dilemma that what might be good for organisation in terms of a strategy may not be in the interests of the workers and vice versa. Therefore developing strategy to manage would need a change the culture of the organisation in order to get things done. These are three areas which could have been used to answer this question, but there are many more. These points should be explained and illustrated with reference to the work of the sociologists candidates have studied, but they should also illustrated by examples from organisations that the candidates know about and which should be applied to demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Question 7 Compare and contrast Marx’s and Weber’s theories of power Reading for this question This question specifically asks for a comparison of two theories so candidates should not waste time explaining the various difficulties about operationalising power and other epistemological considerations. The reading for this is to be found in Chapter 13 of the subject guide. As with other questions in Section C, we expect candidates to be very familiar this chapter, and in this case to demonstrate an understanding of both Marx and Weber’s theoretical background. Approaching the question Good answers should compare the sources of power and the different bases of power according to each sociologist. They should indicate that both assume power is a relational concept and is a finite resource (unlike Parsons). However, Marx’s assumption is that the bases of power are economic (in the last instance) as the dominant class own and/or control the means of production in a capitalist society. They have economic power and have control of state power. For Weber power is related to the forms of domination and sources of authority to which individuals and groups are subject to in a society, and are not necessarily related to economic resources. Better answers should compare the different approaches to state power, particularly the nature of the state in society, how the state wields its power, etc. Question 8 What sustains gender inequalities in modern society? Reading for this question See Chapter 9 of the subject guide. Approaching the question Candidates should note the concept of sustainability. Examiners were looking for answers which demonstrated candidates’ awareness of the debates as to why gender inequalities persist, particularly in spite of the

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changes in legislation in so many societies. They should also note that the question does not indicate ‘women’ or ‘men’ so good answers would have addressed both genders in terms of inequalities. A good essay should be based on a set of explanations based on theories listed in the guide. This should of course included the structural functionalist paradigms as well as the feminist theories of the different ‘waves’ of feminism. That ‘what’ should be taken seriously, for example, can the differences be explained, as the liberal feminists do, in terms of culture and cultural attitudes which are reflected in legistion. Candidates could have used a Marxist approach which suggests that it is a result of class society and or a radical feminist perspective suggesting patriarchy. However, better answers would have been illustrated with empirical examples of the ways in which gender bias can operate at work, in education and in the political sphere.


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