During the first few weeks of Sociology courses, it is important to understand some of the key ideas that sociologists look at. Below are some of the resources that students can use to understand some of the key ideas in Sociology.
Some of the key terms that you need to know in the first weeks of sociology are described in the gallery below.
Sociology looks at the differences between a range of social groups. In the galleries below are some of the differences between social groups based on their gender, their ethnicity and their social class.
Students need to know the differences between the biological definition of sex and the sociological concept of gender. This becomes more important as students progress through the course, with applications to gender roles in the family, gender differences in education, gender differences in criminal behaviour and victimisation and the stratification of society based upon gender stereotypes.
Social Class is another important area the sociologists investigate. While most GCSE texts refer to the traditional social class system of upper, middle and working class, it is important for students to understand that in contemporary society the social class system is far more diverse and that being ‘working class’ is not a fixed label that is attached to all students who are not from the upper or traditional middle classes. Parents can be educated, work in non-manual labour and still have working class ideologies in the 21st century. However, most texts refer to differences between the traditional classes, particularly with reference to education and crime.
You can download both the gender and social class by clicking on the links below:
It is common for students to confuse race and ethnicity. Sociologists talk almost exclusively about ethnicity rather than race, which is an outdated term that suggests the physical characteristics of different groups define their abilities in wider society. Sadly, some racial theories are re-emerging, but sociologists prefer to focus on the social characteristics of ethnicity. This is evident in the study of the family, education, crime and stratification. This can be downloaded on a PDF below
One of the big debates in researching society is whether to collect quantitative data or qualitative data. The decision often rests on a number of factors, including the sociologists methodological preference, the choice of topic and the availability of different research methods. A brief overview of quantitative vs qualitative is available for download below, but this is explored in more depth in the Research Methods section of the course.
One of the more confusing debates is how different theories view society. The idea that society is in agreement on the norms and values (Consensus Theory) or divided into competing groups (Conflict Theory) is present throughout the course. In the family, consensus would suggest that there is an ‘ideal family’, whilst conflict theories would suggest that family benefits some more than others. Similarly in education, the idea of meritocracy would be a consensus view, whereas conflict views would see differences in educational achievement as being a result of these conflicts. In crime and stratification there are similar arguments.
Download the overview on PDF by clicking the link below.
Another complex topic to discuss in the early weeks is the debate between behaviour being guided by forces that are structural or by individual agency (social action). This debate is focused on the idea of how much control an individual has over their behaviour. Structural theories such as Marxism, Functionalism and Feminism suggest that social forces make people act in different ways. For example, structures such as gender suggest males will act one way and females another. Similarly, if you are middle class you may read different types of books to the working class (who may not read at all). Social Action theories on the other hand, suggest we have agency and can choose how to behave. Social class, gender and ethnicity do not determine your behaviour. In modern sociology, most people are influenced by social factors which may limited their choice, but they are still relatively free to choose. This debate is important as it shows the differences between generalisations or class, gender and ethnicity and the ability to be an individual in society. It also demonstrates that in sociology there is neither black nor white, but an infinite number of shades of grey.
Structure and Social Action Agency
A new feature of the GCSE Specification is student’s familiarity with some of the founding fathers of sociology. Whilst the specification only mentions Durkheim, Marx and Weber by name, for greater inclusivity and for those wanting to go beyond the specification I will include Harriet Martineu and W.E.B. Dubois below. There is also a great set of videos on all five of these on Crash Course Sociology which can be found below.
Understanding the different theoretical perspectives that students will face over the two years of studying sociology at GCSE is also important. These theories will form a large part of student’s study across the different modules: family, education, Crime and stratification. Understanding the key ideas of how these theories view society is a good step towards being able to apply theory to some of the issues posed on the specification. The Key theories to consider are: Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionism, Feminism and New Right. Students may also want to consider Postmodern approaches if they are pushing towards the higher levels of study.