My name is Katya Pudar and I’m the course leader for Sociology A Level. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person in September, but before you formally enrol onto the course, we’d like you to spend some time over the coming months to complete a series of tasks and activities.
Many of you will be new to Sociology as a subject so it’s really important you’re fully prepared before you start the A Level course. The activities below are a great way to find out more about what’s involved in studying Sociology, so please work your way through them and be prepared to discuss what you’ve learnt when we meet in September.
All of the tasks should be completed by Choices Day on 25 August. We hope you enjoy finding out more about Sociology!
The tasks will be released here in three phases:
Explore your Subject – 4 May
Welcome to your first
set of Sociology tasks.
As studying Sociology
will be new to most of you, please start off by watching the ‘Crash Course in
Sociology’ on the following Youtube link:
introduce you to some of the things we study on the A Level course.
Understanding social class
One of the
topics we investigate in Sociology is social class. We look at the wealth gap
in Britain, as well as the global wealth gap and explore how and why the class
divide has grown since the 1970s and how this impacts on the life chances of
some of the questions we address:
How does social class impact on life chances?
How much social mobility is there in Britain?
(Is it easy to move up the social class ladder?)
What are the barriers that might prevent
working-class young people from succeeding?
Have a look
at the first thirty minutes of the BBC documentary ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs’.
This explores the education divide and growing wealth gap.
is a subject that requires in-depth analysis. To be successful, you need to be
able to look at data, as well as detailed explanations and ideas and to write
essays using that information. It’s also an expectation that you can take ideas
from different opposing theories and then apply evidence to them and argue the
case for or against particular theories.
Read the following
BBC article and think about what this suggests about the class divide.
When you study A Level Sociology, you will need
to have a good understanding of data and consider the social causes of various
explore data and try to gain an insight into why particular trends change over
time, such as the growing wealth gap. There are a whole range of reasons for
this, including historical wealth gaps, government policies and changes to the
the below podcast and write down the various explanations given for the growing
you’ve enjoyed this introduction to Sociology. More tasks will be released on 1
You should complete this section of tasks by 1 June.
Get Going – 1 June
You should aim to complete this section of tasks by 1
What do you know about British Society?
For this activity I’d
like you to think about how much you know about British society.
TASK 1: Read
the below questions and have a guess as to what you think the answers might be.
(Please write your answers on a piece of paper as you’ll need to refer to them
later.) The questions all relate to various modules on the A Level Sociology course.
What is the population
of the United Kingdom?
What percentage of
marriage ends in divorce in the UK?
What percentage of
children achieved five GCSEs grades A-C last year?
Is the crime rate in
Britain going up or down?
In 1993 there were
roughly 45,000 people in jail; what is the prison population today?
The world population
is approximately seven billion (7,000,000,000); of these, how many are
malnourished and how many are obese?
In 2010 global
military expenditure was more than $1 trillion dollars ($1000 billion dollars).
How much did the developed world spend on aid to developing countries?
Now use the internet
to look up the actual answers, and write them down next to your answers. (When
you’re searching online, make sure you type in ‘UK’ for some of the questions
to narrow down the search.)
Introducing Structural and Action theories
Sociology is the study of the relationship between society and individual social action. Given that ‘society’ is complex and multi-layered, you’ll need to be able to view society and social action through a number of different sociological perspectives, or lenses, because different sociologists (and different people in general) look at the same society and see different realities.
For example, consider a busy street
such as in the image above, and imagine different people looking at that same
street: a shopkeeper, a thief and a consumer. The shopkeeper sees profit, the
thief victims and the consumer sees products to buy.
Sociology consists of various
different perspectives, all of which look at society in different ways. All
sociological perspectives have something valuable to contribute to our
understanding of society and no one perspective is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It’s up
to you, as an individual student, to present positive and negative criticisms
of sociological perspectives throughout the course.
Social Structure versus Social Action perspectives
Some sociologists, known as structural theorists, emphasise the
importance of institutions such as the media, education system and religion in
providing social stability and regulating the behaviour of individuals. They
argue that such institutions form a structure that shapes human action and
makes it predictable.
Other sociologists, known as social-action theorists, argue that
individuals have more freedom than structural and that society is more fluid,
less predictable and that it is best characterised as a system made up of
billions of interactions at an individual level.
TASK 2: For this task, I’d like you to draw society! Take a pencil/pen and paper and take ten minutes or so to draw society. Don’t rush; think about what society is made up of. You might draw people and individual experiences, or focus more on structures and hierarchies.
Once you’ve done that,
write a brief summary explaining what you drew and why you felt it was
significant. Think about what you think society looks like. How people are
treated differently based on their characteristics? Is it fair, equal and just?
Exploring Social Structure – Class, Gender and Ethnicity
Some structural theorists argue
that people’s life chances are shaped to a very large extent by their social
class and ethnic background, as well as by their gender. Even beyond the
family, our chances of succeeding in education, getting a good job and even of
living to a ripe old age are fundamentally affected by these three factors.
To take just one example, the recent
statistics on educational achievement by social class and genderdemonstrate how social life is
patterned by class background and gender.
TASK 3: Look at the graph below and think about what it suggests about inequality in educational achievement. Then answer the questions beneath, considering why girls may outperform boys in school and how poverty might impact on educational achievement. This should get you thinking a bit about stratification and differences in life chances.
Why might boys do worse than
girls in education?
Why might poorer
pupils do worse in education?
Social Structure and Social Action in Research
Understanding why boys do worse than
girls in school and why poor kids do worse than rich kids (NB those are Michael
Gove’s words not mine!) requires both ‘big scale’ research and ‘micro-level
Some research is quantitative in nature, based on samples of thousands of children and parents, which enables us to see which are the most common factors associated with educational success and failure.
Other research is more in depth, and
looks at how boys and girls experience education differently on a day-to-day
basis. Such research may involve following a handful of children through their
educational careers and ‘getting into their shoes’, trying to understand how
they see their lives and education, and why some of them drift away from
education and end up failing.
Ultimately we need both approaches
to really understand society and social action.
The above tasks will
have introduced you to some of the topics you’ll be learning about in the A
Level course. I hope you’ve found them interesting so far!
Aim High – 1 July
Developing the Sociological Imagination
Sociology is the study of human social life. There are many
different aspects of Sociology to address, so you need to be curious and
attentive to looking at the world in a different way. There is usually another
way of looking at things – and that is what we do as sociologists. We take
normal, taken-for-granted life and turn it upside down, looking for meanings.
And very often we end up seeing things very differently. The important point to grasp is: society doesn’t remain static over time; it constantly changes – through decades and centuries and across countries and societies.
Sociological Imagination – Your surprisingly unusual day so far…
TASK 1: To build on the above, think back to the moment you woke up this
morning and consider your journey through the day to this point in time. Note
down all the things you’ve done that aren’t strictly necessary to your survival
and that could be regarded as slightly odd by people from other cultures.
Now write down three ways that Britain is different from other cultures.
Why do you think this is the case?
Sociologists explore where these differences come from, what
causes them and how they change over time. For example, think of three ways
British Society has changed over the last 100 years.
how social institutions have influenced your actions
TASK 2: Watch the following clip from YouTube:
Write down what is meant by socialisation and the difference
between primary and secondary socialisation.
A key idea within Sociology is that we are not free, but we’re
shaped by social institutions such as:
TASK 3: Think of some of the ways in which the first three of these institutions might have shaped your behaviour without you realising it. Now copy out and complete the table below.
Key Terms and Questions in Sociology
For the A Level course, you will need to know and remember the following
Sociology – The study
of human social life, groups and society.
Society – Refers to the interactions
between human beings and ‘institutions’.
Institutions – Stable
organisations in society; examples include the family, education, work, the media,
and the Government.
Top Ten overall ‘Big Questions’ in Sociology
Probably the easiest way of introducing Sociology is to introduce
you to the ‘big questions’ that Sociology asks. Spend some time reflecting on
the following questions:
To what extent is the individual
shaped by society?
Is there such a thing as a social
structure that constrains individual action, or is society nothing more than a
figment of our imaginations?
To what extent does our social
class background affect our life chances?
To what extent does our gender
affect our life chances?
To what extent does our ethnicity
affect our life chances?
What is the role of institutions
in society – do they perform positive functions, or simply work in the
interests of the powerful and against the powerless? (a related question here
is why do our life chances vary by class, gender and ethnicity)
How and why has British society
changed over the last 50 years?
What are the strengths and
Limitations of macro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
What are the strengths and
limitations of micro-scale research in helping us to understand human action?
Is it possible to do value-free
social research and find out the ‘objective’ knowledge about society and the
motives that lie behind social action?
You won’t be able to answer all the questions at the moment; the
overall aim by the time you sit your exams is for you to be able to ‘take a
position’ on each of these questions, be able to back up your points of view
with research evidence, and be able to critically evaluate the research
evidence you have used to support your point of view.
TASK 4: Read the below text taken from The Sociological Imagination by C. Wright Mills and answer the questions that follow:
often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that
within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this
feeling, they are often quite correct: What ordinary men are directly aware of
and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live;
their visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job,
family, neighbourhood; in other milieu, they move vicariously and remain
spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and
of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem
this sense of being trapped are seemingly impersonal changes in the very
structure of continent-wide societies. The facts of contemporary history are
also facts about the success and the failure of individual men and women. When
a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; when economies rise or
fall, a man is employed or unemployed. When wars happen, an insurance salesman
becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar man; a wife lives alone; a
child grows up without a father. Neither the life of an individual nor the
history of a society can be understood without understanding both.
It is not
only information men need—in this Age of Fact, information often dominates
their attention and overwhelms their capacities to assimilate it….What they
need, and what they feel they need, is a quality of mind that will help them to
use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of
what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves.
It is this quality, I am going to contend, that journalists and scholars,
artists and publics, scientists and editors are coming to expect of what may be
called the sociological imagination.
sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger
historical scene in terms of its meaning for the life of a variety of
individuals. It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter
of their daily experience, often become falsely conscious of their social
marriage. Inside a marriage a man and a woman may experience personal troubles,
but when the divorce rate during the first four years of marriage is 250 out of
every 1,000 attempts, this is an indication of a structural issue having to do
with the institutions of marriage and the family and other institutions that
bear upon them…
fruit of the sociological imagination—and the first lesson of the social
science that embodies it—is the idea that the individual can understand his own
experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within his period,
that he can know his own chances in life only by becoming aware of those of all
individuals in his circumstances. In many ways it is a terrible lesson; in many
ways a magnificent one. We do not know the limits of man’s capacities for
supreme effort or willing degradation, for agony or glee, for pleasurable
brutality or the sweetness of reason.
Sociological Imagination (1959) by C.
What does the above extract
suggest about how we should attempt to understand human behaviour and how we
should use our sociological imagination?
What is the benefit (fruit) of the
Nature and Nurture Explanations of Human Behaviour
Sociology, as in other academic subjects, there is an ongoing debate over the
role of nature and nurture in influencing human behaviour.
TASK 5: Read the following sections of text and
then summarise the difference between the ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ positions in
Nature explanations of behaviour
In Sociology, we are looking at
human behaviour. Human behaviouris the term we use that refers to all the
things that people do. There are many ways of
explaining why certain people do things in particular ways.
Some biologists and psychologists
think that people behave as they do because they are animals who primarily act
according to their instincts. This is known as the ‘nature theory’ of human
behaviour. Other scientists and psychologists are researching whether our behaviour
is ‘genetic’, i.e. certain types of behaviour are passed down from parent to
child. Again, this is a nature theory of human behaviour because it supports
the belief that our behaviour is pre-programmed to a large extent. For example,
it has been debated whether there is a criminal gene which means some people
are more likely to commit crime.
Nurture explanations of behaviour
Nurture arguments focus on the way
people are brought up and how their environment moulds their personality and
behaviour. Sociologists argue that some people are brought up to be kind and
caring, and others are brought up to display very different forms of behaviour.
An individual’s personality and identify are moulded and developed in response
to their social environments and the people they meet. They are taught by
others around them telling them what is right and wrong, including teachers,
siblings and most importantly parents. This is why sociologists study the
family and education (the two topics on the course) amongst other topics
because it allows us to investigate how these institutions affect human
Understanding life chances
person’s gender, ethnicity and class can strongly affect their life chances.
Society, through institutions such as the family, media, education and the police,
affects the behaviour of different groups. This is a fact, because we can very
accurately make generalisations about the expected behaviour of these groups in
society. Your behaviour isn’t as unique and individual as you think!
final tasks, we’d like you to conduct some research focusing on ethnicity and
TASK 6: Find three statistics about ethnic
inequality in the UK. You may want to consider the following:
consider the following question: Why do ethnic minorities have fewer life
chances than white people?
TASK 7: Read the following article about institutional racism and then answer the questions that follow: