As with much of Akala's work, this is essentially a lecture on the roots of ethnic inequality...
I found a 40 mark ethnicity essay that I wrote about four years ago for G674. Hope it helps. If you get a more general ethnicity question, spend time contrasting between Functionalism (which believes ethnic inequality is temporary e.g. Parsons, Park) and the Marxist views below (with - optionally - a bit of Weberianism and Postmodernism - and maybe even a couple of sentences on Marxist-feminism - for luck, if you like).
Outline and assess Marxist explanations of ethnic inequality 
Marxists recognise that ethnic minorities in capitalist societies experience long-term disadvantage and inequality. They claim that being an ethnic minority in a capitalist society automatically makes a group/individual working-class, because it means being subjected to the same exploitation as the broader proletariat at the hands of the bourgeoisie.
Cox (1948) claimed that capitalist societies require ethnic inequality and are therefore inherently racist. Many Marxists would agree that racism has always served the needs of capitalism, because it has encouraged the treating of some groups as ‘less than human’, which in turn has justified paying them low wages and forcing them to work in appalling conditions. It could be argued that, historically, using ethnic minorities as slave labour was essential for the development of capitalism. In the contemporary UK, slavery is obviously long-abolished, but Marxists would argue the same principles still apply. For example, Castles & Kosack (1973) claim racism is used to justify treating ethnic minorities as a reserve army of labour, supporting the capitalist system by being maintained in a semi-permanent state of unemployment, easily ‘hired and fired’ to suit the needs of the economy.
Further to this, Marxists claim that racism also helps maintain a false-class consciousness by dividing the working class, which in turn makes them easier to rule. If the ruling classes can turn the working classes against each other (e.g. by encouraging racial prejudice), they are less likely to ever unite and revolt against the unfair capitalist system. One way in which they can achieve this is through scapegoating ethnic minorities for the problems that capitalism creates e.g. lack of housing, unemployment. Policing the Crisis by Hall (1995) showed how young black males were depicted as criminals by the media during the moral panic surrounding ‘mugging’ in the 1970s. Hall argues that this was a case of society scapegoating a minority group to conceal the socio-economic problems caused by a failing capitalist system in the UK at the time.
Critics of these views claim that the Marxist perspective is reductionist, attempting to reduce all inequalities to economic factors at the expense of other issues (e.g. cultural differences). Neo-Marxists such as Miles (1980) have taken some of this criticism on board and offer slightly different explanations. For example, they disagree that all ethnic minorities are working-class. Miles used the concept of racialised class factions to show that ethnic minorities are found in all social classes, but they are still treated differently because of their ethnicity, possibly due to a cultural racism in the UK. Gilroy (1987) affirms this, pointing out that black people are still seen as culturally different even if they were born in the UK, and therefore are seen to threaten the cultural unity that has made Britain strong in the past – hence their differential treatment, leading to inequality.
A logical conclusion of the Marxist view is that ethnic inequalities are entirely created by capitalism and would therefore disappear in a communist society. This is questionable – and difficult to test, as communist societies that we have seen around the world to date have not been especially diverse. As described above, Neo-Marxists have moved away from such economically deterministic views and Weberian views have moved further still away from the traditional Marxist arguments, suggesting that inequality is better explained by ethnic differences than economic ones.
Through explaining ethnic inequality in relation to capitalism, Marxists do give some valuable insight into one key source of inequality, but by reducing their explanations to this single factor, they probably do not offer the whole picture, largely ignoring many other potential factors and issues. However, Marxism does recognise the persistence of racism. This is in contrast with Functionalist explanations, which tend to assume the racism and ethnic inequality is a temporary issue that is resolved once immigrant groups assimilate into a host culture and values and attitudes within that culture change accordingly. Racism in the UK – as in most other societies – does not seem to be temporary; it is something experienced by new immigrants to our society and every successive generation thereafter. The Marxist perspective does at least recognise this and offers an explanation for it, demonstrating that the persistence of racism serves the needs of a capitalist society.
In response to overwhelming pressure from students emailing me and making comments on these blogs today, here are two requested sample essays that I have literally just finished writing. I only had a half hour window, so I rushed through these and don't have time to check or edit them, but hopefully they'll help give you an indication.
Outline and evaluate sociological explanations for age inequalities 
Most sociological explanations for age inequalities revolve around the role that such inequalities play in managing and controlling the labour market.
Functionalists such as Parsons have argued that differentiating between age groups is important in the acquiring of social roles (e.g. the expectations of a person by society – and vice versa – can be made clear through the age that person is). Functionalists believe that age inequalities are an inevitable part of modern societies and have a valuable function in ensuring that the best and most able workers get the best jobs and opportunities. Those that are too young are kept out of the labour market through laws restricting the employment of children, while those that are too old are kept out by policies such as mandatory retirement ages and pension plans. Henry expanded on this approach to the treatment of older people, using the concept of disengagement. According to Henry, it is necessary that old people are encouraged to ‘disengage’ from society (through withdrawing from the labour market and other prominent areas of society) in order to provide more opportunities for young people. This can be criticised for appearing to be a cold and heartless view, based on the assumption that old people are less efficient in work. However, a counter-argument would be that it is worse for society to have high levels of young employment among young people, when old people can be maintained through state pensions. Also, Henry argued that disengagement should be a gradual process, giving old people time to adapt and adjust.
Marxists agree that age inequalities serve the purpose of managing the supply of labour in capitalist societies, with the very young and very old often part of a reserve army of labour. Unlike Functionalists, Marxists would not see this as inevitable or positive; to a Marxist, it is another example of how the workers are controlled and exploited by the ruling classes. Townsend argues that capitalist societies feel the need to constantly renew the workforce, on the understanding that young people are more productive. Elderly people therefore experience a reduced status and lack of access to social resources. Kidd adds to this that, in capitalist societies, elderly people are seen as ‘undesirable’, as they are a drain on the economy – they can no longer be exploited for profit, have limited spending power and take from health and welfare services, but no longer able to work or generate wealth themselves. If the Marxists are correct, the growing number of elderly people in Western, capitalist societies will therefore present a huge challenge to capitalism in the years to come. However, some Marxists have also pointed out the benefit to capitalist societies of elderly people being dependant on welfare: When the proletariat are dependent on the ruling State, this legitimises the power of the State. Dependency also creates stability in capitalist societies: Elderly people, for example, usually vote conservatively.
The treatment of the young and elderly in – and by – the workplace has a wider impact on general social attitudes towards these groups and therefore their opportunities and restrictions. The Weberian view points out that the weak work and market situations of the very young and very old grants them a low status. Parkin’s concept of negatively privileged status groups (originally conceived to discuss ethnic inequalities) can be applied to elderly people, whose position in the labour market has been lost and they are permanently kept out by ambitious younger workers. The Weberian concept of the ‘Glass Ceiling’ can also be applied to older workers, who eventually become too old to promote, no matter how skilled they might be.
The idea that age can, should or does have an influence on the status and opportunities of people is disputed by many sociologists. Postmodernists argue that age is a meaningless concept. Everingham points out that it is now so individualised that it impossible to use age as a measure of a person. For example, many 80 years olds still behave as they did in their 30s, while others may better fulfil the traditional stereotype. Interpretivists argue that age is a social construct and the role of the elderly (or young) in a society is part of the social structure, but is not fixed or inevitable: Aries points out that little distinction was made between age groups in medieval times. Finally, many sociologists would argue that it is difficult to consider age inequality in isolation, as the extent to which age influences a person’s opportunities or life chances is dependent on a combination of other features of that person (e.g. ethnicity, gender, social class). To truly understand inequality, one has to understand how these variables interrelate alongside how each operates individually.
Outline the evidence that some ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in the contemporary UK 
The workplace tends to be where disadvantage is most clearly evidenced in any society and this does appear to be case for ethnic disadvantage in the UK. Ethnicity appears to be a decisive factor in the level of employment a person may be likely to achieve in the UK, with the 2000 Labour Force Survey clearly demonstrating that Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men are substantially less likely to be in the highest two social class groupings than white, Chinese or Indian men (similar patterns are identified for women).
Health & Yi Cheung use the concept of an ‘ethnic penalty’ to explain workplace disadvantage for ethnic groups. The ethnic penalty is the additional disadvantage faced by ethnic minorities in gaining and maintaining employment. In the UK, the above data suggests that the ethnic penalty is not felt equally by all minority groups, but is more likely to be faced by Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers. Heath & Yi Cheung argued that the penalty is felt most severely by first-generation migrants and that the key cause of it is discrimination by employers.
Education is the area of society that can potentially help overcome workplace inequalities in the future. Equal education regardless of gender, ethnicity, class etc. should – in theory – ensure equal opportunities. In the contemporary UK, there is however evidence of ethnic inequality in education which mirrors the inequality experienced later in life as Chinese and Indian students consistently outperform Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students (particularly boys) in school. Some sociologists have blamed this on cultural factors (e.g. the cultural importance placed on education) while others have blamed the culture of schools themselves (e.g. ethnocentric curriculums which offer no appeal to minorities). However, Briggs points out that the GCSE results (the most common way of measuring success in schools) conceal the fact that Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi students are improving at faster rates than other ethnicities.
The underperforming of some ethnic minorities in school and work has been blamed on a lack of positive role models. Sewell believed that this lack particularly affects young black males, who are drawn into an aggressive masculinity by the lack of father figures and the available selection of negative, violent black ‘role models’. This is supported by evidence of ethnic inequality in the media. Moore et al identified that black people are commonly stereotyped in negative ways in the media (e.g. as criminals, as threatening, as abnormal, as unimportant or as dependent). Van Dijk found evidence of unconscious racism in the media when reporting on minority ethnic groups (e.g. relying on white ‘experts’ to report on issues affecting minorities). He argued that this, combined with the negative language used in describing some minorities shows that the media tends to come from a ‘white perspective’.
Ethnic disadvantage is evident in many – if not all – areas of society, although there is a clear pattern that it is some – rather than all – minority groups that are affected. Whilst legislation and campaigning may inevitably see this improve, the under-representation of ethnic minorities in politics (only around 5% of MPs being from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to over 10% of the UK population) perhaps indicates how far there is to go.
John Oliver examines the struggles faced by transgender people in the USA today. Some very useful contemporary examples for both Inequality and Socialisation units.
Absolutely essential viewing: Richard Wilkinson uses statistics and examples to show the impact of social inequality on a wide range of areas of social life, using comparisons between different societies. Every sociology student should watch this at least twice!
Outline & Explain how Ethical Issues might affect Sociological Research 
Ethics are moral principles that govern our behaviour and ethical issues in sociological research occur when these principles conflict with the nature of the study or methods used to conduct a study. The British Sociological Association (BSA) provides guidelines for ethical practice during research. In Hebson’s study on how social class shaped women’s lives and identities, ethical issues caused Hebson difficulties in accessing a representative sample of women. The main issues in question were confidentiality, company image and disruption.
The Confidentiality of participants always needs to be considered in sociological research, particularly when the subject matter is of a sensitive nature. The BSA guidelines demand that every participant has a right to confidentiality and privacy and their identities should remain private. Assuring participants confidentiality and anonymity is important because it means people will be more willing to participate and also potentially increases the validity of the data as people are more likely to be honest and truthful if they know their names are not made public.
Company Image may be a consideration for any study taking part in the workplace. Few companies want negative publicity and it would be a risk for companies to be openly associated with the personal views of their employees. The confidentiality guidelines of the BSA could be logically extended to companies as well as individuals to encourage companies to participate.
The BSA guidelines also demand that research should not affect participants in a negative way. This could be applied to protecting company image, and also to minimising disruption in the lives of participants. People are unlikely to willingly take part in research if they know if will be disruptive to their lives – but it is also important for the validity of research to ensure that lives are not disrupted, as research should be focused on the truth and reality of people’s lives, not a disrupted version of those lives.
Outline & Assess the view that Unstructured Interviews are the best way to research Class and women’s career aspirations 
Unstructured Interviews are interviews that are based around conversations. There is no formal structure or set of questions, but the researcher will know the topics and have an outline of the sort of things he/she needs to find out. Unstructured Interviews are used by interpretivists to gain qualitative data. They are rich in depth and detail and enable the researcher to ask further questions of the participant, developing a rapport and enabling true verstehen (empathy and understanding) to be gained.
Hebson used unstructured interviews to find out about women’s experiences of their work, perceptions of their future careers and their views on a range of related issues. She interviewed a sample of 36 women; a fairly small sample which may therefore not be representative of all women – and focused in one area of England, which may reduce the generalizability of the data. Small samples are inevitable when using unstructured interviews, however, as this method is unpredictable and potentially very time-consuming (with no structure, there is no real time-limit on unstructured interviews). The data collected can also be difficult and time-consuming to interpret, as potentially it will entail the researcher(s) going through many hours’ worth of dialogue, making links and identifying patterns. For example, Hebson found links between the aspirations, access to resources and class position of the women she studied. There is a danger here, however, of researcher imposition, meaning that the researcher ends up imposing their own views or ideas onto the words of the respondents, or seeks only the patterns and links that match his/her hypothesis.
Unstructured interviews tend to be low in reliability, because they are essentially ‘conversations’ which are shaped by that particular moment in time. People do not tend to have exactly the same conversation more than once and if another researcher were to visit the same sample of women with the same agenda as Hebson it is still likely the findings would be different, as conversations are also shaped by the personalities of the individuals involved. On the other hand, the method tends to be high in validity as the level of depth and detail available and the power of the interviewer to explore issues further (as well as the freedom of the interviewer to talk about what is most relevant to them) gives a truthful and genuine picture of the social reality of the individual.
Hebson’s aims (to find out about the experiences, perceptions and views of women) made a qualitative approach such as this one logical; a quantitative approach (such as tightly structured interviews, featuring pre-determined questions only and no opportunity for the interviewer to expand on answers) would have been quicker, more reliable and afforded a larger sample but would have had limited validity and possibly not even been fully fit for purpose as it is arguably impossible to reduce people’s views, experiences and perspectives to numbers/statistics.
Although it is not made clear in the case study, Hebson’s research could be classified as feminist research, referring to the collection of studies and research conducted by feminists for the benefit of women and their place in the social structure. Feminist research is usually qualitative as it seeks to listen to women and gain an in-depth understanding of their views and struggles. However, Oakley (1999) has been very critical of this approach, arguing that feminist research should take a more scientific quantitative approach in order to be taken more seriously (thereby gaining more influence – and funding). The use of unstructured interviews is therefore typical of feminist research, but would be criticised by some feminists such as Oakley.
Outline the evidence that Men are advantaged in the contemporary UK 
Gender is considered the main source of social inequality in the contemporary UK, with feminists in particular arguing that British society remains patriarchal and androcentric (male dominated and male-centred), resulting in men having clear and continuous advantages over women in many areas of social, private and working life.
Employment is arguably the area within which gender differences are most clear: In the contemporary UK, men remain more likely than women to be in work. Although this has grown much more equal over the past 30 years, men are significantly more likely to be in full-time work (nearly half of all working women are in part-time employment, compared to 10% of working men) and are better paid than women (the average wage for women is around 82% that of men).
Women are more likely to have unpaid caring responsibilities (particularly to their children), which would go some way towards explaining differences in patterns of employment, but this is also a form of evidence of male advantage: Why is the mother/housewife role still dominant? Why does the expectation remain that women stay at home to look after house and children while men go to work? A study by Dermott (2006) found that men who are fathers work longer hours than women who are mothers. This could suggest male advantage in the workplace, as it would make it likely they would have a higher income and greater human capital, but again, it raises questions about why the female parent is most commonly tasked with the unpaid position of childrearing. In the contemporary UK, it is becoming less unusual for mothers to combine paid work with unpaid domestic work – a dual role – but as well as traditional expectations, there are many factors that make this difficult, not least the cost of childcare (the contemporary UK is one of the most expensive societies in the world for childcare).
The situation for men and women in the workplace is perhaps made more difficult still by the role and visibility of women in powerful influential areas of society. Men are very obviously advantaged in the worlds of big business, politics and the media. For example, there are very few female CEOs. Of the FTSE 100 companies, only 4 CEOs are female. In politics, only 146 out of 650 MPs (23%) were female at the last general election. In the mass media, the ratio of men to women on television has barely changed in the last decade and female television presenters remain unrepresented. When combined with age, this shows considerable disadvantage: A 2013 study, for example, found that of all over-50s presenters on the BBC, only 20% were female. In 1985, Allison Bechdel devised the Bechdel Test, for assessing the role of females in fiction. To past the test, a work of fiction has to feature more than one female character who talk to each other about something other than a man. Passing the test suggests that the work of fiction depicts a female viewpoint. To show how bad the situation is, very few major Hollywood blockbusters pass the test, including the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, the Harry Potter movies and Avatar.
There is evidence of both horizontal and vertical segregation in the UK labour market. Horizontal segregation refers to a situation whereby gender is split into different types of jobs. In the UK, for example, women are significantly more likely to be secretaries, primary school teachers, child-minders and nurses (all of which fit with their traditional nurturing gender role). Vertical segregation refers to a pay gap, and men dominating in highly paid positions, which I have already provided evidence before. The presence of vertical segregation suggests there is a glass ceiling for women; an obstacle that prevents them reaching the highest status positions in society. This seems particularly strange when we consider the fact that females perform significantly better than males at all levels of education in the UK up to (and including) degree level. The fact that females outperform males in education, gaining more vital qualifications and working harder – yet are still unable to compete with males in the primary labour market, where such qualifications are so important, is perhaps the single biggest indicator of male advantage in the contemporary UK.
Outline & Assess Feminist explanations of gender inequalities 
There are many different forms of feminism and, whilst they all tend to agree that society is patriarchal and unequal, they each have different ways of explaining and addressing this. This essay will consider the explanations of Liberal, Marxist and Radical feminists and assess these explanations in relation to each other and in relation to alternative views and perspectives.
Liberal Feminists generally seek to address inequality by identifying the sources of inequality and campaigning for changes in legislation or attitudes to address this. Friedson (1963) claimed that the reason gender inequality existed is because it had gone historically unchallenged. The ‘first wave’ of feminism came with the suffragette movement, which gained influence around 1912, campaigning for the female vote. Prior to this, there had been little in the way of organised campaigning for any form of gender inequality – and even afterwards, nothing much happened until the second wave, sparked by women like Friedson in the 1960s. Oakley (1974) claimed that the source of gender inequality was the dominance of the mother/housewife role, which Oakley considered a product of gender-role socialisation. Each wave of liberal feminism has been geared towards addressing these issues; raising awareness of inequality and trying to change attitudes and laws, bringing society closer to gender equality.
Some feminists use the concept ‘genderquake’ to describe a collection of legislation that – partly as a result of this campaigning – has been introduced to ensure greater equality between genders (e.g. the Equal Pay Act and Sexual Discrimination Act in the 1970s).
Marxist Feminism is an example of a dual-systems theory, meaning that it uses two areas of thought to explain an issue. In this case, ideas around patriarchy and economics are combined to explain gender inequality. Marxist Feminists would tend to agree with the Marxist concept of a reserve army of labour. This refers to the idea that capitalist societies maintain a section of the workforce who can be easily hired and fired to suit the economic needs of the time. Marxist Feminists would argue that women tend to be part of this reserve army because their part-time positions make them more vulnerable to redundancy and they are less likely to be unionised.
Benston (1972) further argued that women have always been used to benefit the development of capitalism by providing free childcare and housework and providing emotional support to male workers. It is in the interests of capitalism that things remain this way, resulting in the mother/housewife stereotype of women continuing to be projected as the norm through the media, religion and other aspects of the ideological state apparatus.
Radical Feminists are interested in exploring the ways in which women are controlled and oppressed in patriarchal societies and in trying to reverse this. Walby (1990) believed that gender inequality is inevitable, because in every society, men will attempt to control and oppress women (though the ways in which they do this are culturally variable). Firestone (1971) believed that the source of oppression/control in patriarchal societies was usually biological; in other words, that men used the biological differences between men and women (the female ability to give birth in particular) as justification for inequality. The suggestion is that, because women can become pregnant and give birth, they should be the primary caregivers to the children and prioritise this over careers and other aspects of life. Patriarchal societies make it seem as though this is normal and inevitable and some support has been offered within Sociological thinking for this view. For example, Functionalists such as Parsons (1955) argued that women and men have different, innate, gender roles. However, various studies have found contradictory evidence, for example Mead (1948) studied tribal cultures in which men stayed home to raise children whilst women when out to ‘work’, demonstrating that gender roles are social constructs, not biological facts.
Whilst different feminist perspectives offer different explanations, they do agree that gender inequality is unfair, disadvantages women and is the result of men being historically dominant in the most influential areas and institutions of society. Hakim (2004) however, disagrees with this. Her Preference Theory suggests that gender inequality is actually caused by the personal preferences of women. She identifies three different ‘types’ of women – Adaptive (balancing work and family), Work-Centred and Home-Centred – and argues that in modern societies, women can choose what type they want to be. According to Hakim, then, gender inequality persists because most women choose an adaptive role. Many feminists may be critical of this theory, arguing that inequality is not a choice and – especially – questioning why males are not put in a position where they have to make a similar choice.
Documentary following the selection process for a fully funded scholarship to Harrow. Essentially, a competition where the prize is a massive leap up the social class scale...Useful for discussing the links between Education, class and social mobility - and the impact of class and education on life chances.
Documentary depicting a UK variant of an experiment to uncover hidden prejudice and discrimination...Essential viewing, but spot the ethical issues!
Here's Charles Murray on Newsnight (a long time ago!) explaining how poor people are biologically different to wealthier people!!!!! What could be the implications of this sort of view?
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