In the summer of 2011, England erupted with the worst riots for a generation, with violent protests against police, destruction of neighbourhoods and large-scale looting. Academics, politicians and media commentators have written a great deal, trying to explain why the rioting occurred. In Sociology lessons, we have read articles about the riots, book extracts and even attended a play in London to feed into discussions in class. This is because all explanations are, in essence, drawing on sociological ideas.
These explanations range from right-wing ideas about Broken Britain (feral youths with a lack of male role models and weak moral values, the products of a welfare state and the decline of the nuclear family) to left-wing ideas about social exclusion (young people who no longer feel they have a stake in society and are therefore alienated by decades of ill treatment at the hands of the police), with complaints about rampant consumerism thrown into the mix.
They tap into issues about the role of social institutions like the family, education and criminal justice systems and the influence of the media, along with the effects of class, ethnicity and gender on social behaviour and patterns. In short, the riots, while a disturbing series of events, were sociological gold dust!
In Sociology, we study the way people are affected by society and how society is affected by people. Some sociologists see the behaviour of individuals (such as those who rioted) as determined by how they are raised and educated, what media they are exposed to, whether they are rich or poor, men or women, black or white. Others see individuals as powerful in shaping society and look at the power of some people in labelling others as crucial.
What is undeniable is that, as individuals, we spend almost all our time in groups and that in order to understand our behaviour, we have to examine and assess the impact those groups and institutions have upon us. Throughout it all, we use theoretical perspectives that originated with the industrial revolution (which gave birth to Sociology as a discipline) but are equally focused on explanations that take into account the rapid changes wrought by globalisation, new technology and the mass media.
Embracing the whole of society, sociology is, by its nature, an incredibly wide subject, ranging from why Britain’s religious cult movements are growing to why women in Tibet marry more than one man. We have cherry-picked the most interesting aspects from a range of modules available at sixth form.
The riots, the phone-hacking scandal, the Arab Spring, the hunt for Joseph Kony are just some of the big events we have discussed in Sociology over recent years. By taking the subject, you become a much more informed, questioning and critical citizen of society. Furthermore, you will take away from Sociology a completely different way of thinking about the world around you, and here is a promise: you will never look at that world in the same way again.