As a part of our A'level
exam we have to write two timed essays taking about 45 minutes each....
We seem to have difficulties knowing where to include what and how to
include relevent names to support our answers. Any help would be much
appreciated. ( writes J from the UK)
Finally managed to get back to you -- sorry for any delay. Now I am a
bit rusty with A-level Sociology to say the least, and so is my wife
(who used to teach it as well). Your best bet is always to go to your
actual local tutor and ask for advice. What I have included for you is
some material from a piece (Marcus M and Ducklin A (1996) 'A-level
Sociology 50 sample examination essays, Birkenhead: Richard Ball
Publishing), widely used in the trade I gather -- but note they are
also a little out of date (1996). If you wanted more recent material
like this, you could consider (collectively?) contacting the
publishers, Richard Ball Publishing, Brassey Street Birkenhead, on tel
0151 653 3321.
Other useful A-level sites, incidentally, are listed under
ATSS -- and try Chris Livesey's page ( you can find that listed in
SOSIG) Both ATSS and SOSIG are listed on the external
links page on my website. Anyway -- here is the material, some
general advice and then two specimen essays.
Now I don't know what you and your group will make of these
specimen essays. I thought they were pretty awful really, thin and
bluffy. I would like a bit more detail about the various accounts. I
hope very much you will want to go on and read some of my stuff on,
say, Bowles and Gintis, or Gramsci.
But even so, I can see that they might help get the 'style' right at
least. I must say, I don't really like the style either, personally --
but these blokes used to be examiners so I suppose they know what they
are doing. You may find your university lecturers urging you to undo a
lot of this advice when you get there!!
By the way, could I put this correspondence on the website
under the questions and answers section, in case some other students
might be struggling? I won't identify you, of course.
Sorry if it looks a bit odd, by the way, but my scanner is an
old one. I have tried to preserve the original layout and emphasis,
even though I got terribly bored finding every incidence of 'Merton'
and making it bold. I must get my own notes on Merton loaded on
the website -- the poor chap deserves MUCH better than this.
All the best with it
‘A’ LEVEL ASSESSMENT CRITERIA
It is important to ensure that you are fully
aware of the criteria being used by Examiners when they are assessing
your submitted work, be that by written examination or coursework. The
major Examining Board syllabuses will spell these out for you, so you
should attempt to look very carefully at the assessment criteria for
the particular Board whose syllabus you are following. In general
terms, however, the criteria used by the AEB [who have by far the
largest number of examination candidates for ‘A’ Level Sociology] would
stand you in good stead.
Examiners will be looking to see how well
you address three key aspects of questions when marking your work,
KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING
INTERPRETATION AND APPLICATION
If you are undertaking the AEB (664)
Syllabus with Coursework, these criteria will be used to mark that
work, and you can obtain detailed samples and ways of working on the
criteria on your own coursework by obtaining from Richard Ball
Publishing a copy of ‘A’ Level Sociology Coursework by Alan Ducklin
As you work through your ‘A’ Level Course
you should bear in mind the need to build up your Sociological skills
and you can be assisted in this if you use your awareness of the
various levels of sophistication required, of the linkages between the
content of the course, the range of theories and methods which are used
by Sociologists and the debates which inevitably inform sociological
What then does a student have to know in
order to make effective use of the assessment criteria? It might be
useful for you to access two very recent books which both address the
issue of Sociological skills, the first is by Tony Lawson, John Scott,
Hal Westergaard and John Williams entitled “Sociology Reviewed” (1993),
Collins Educational, whilst the second clearly and directly takes you
through the location points for each of the criteria and offers both
clear guidance and useful examples which illustrate directly what
examiners will be looking for in your work, this book is by Tony Lawson
and is entitled “Sociology for A Level - A Skills-Based Approach”
(1993), Collins Educational.
It is worth briefly noting the focal
points being looked for in each of these skill areas (see next page).
KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING
This requires you to be able to provide
the relevant studies which relate to particular areas covered on the
course, to evidence awareness of key debates and to make relevant
linkages between the topic area and the key thinkers. You would be
expected, for example, when discussing the proletarianisation of
clerical work, to link such a debate to the work of Harry Braverman
with an awareness that he was writing twenty or so years ago. For the
highest marks in this area you would also be expected to reference more
recent work from the 1980’s or, preferably, the 1990’s, be these from
academic text books or journals such as the British Journal of
INTERPRETATION AND APPLICATION
This refers to your ability to utilise
material in a clear way to flexibly and relevantly apply ideas,
concepts and theoretical debates to the specifics of an examination
question or, in the case of coursework, directly to the theme, aims and
hypothesis of your work. In Paper 1 of the AEB syllabus, or in the
London and Oxford Syllabuses, you are required to answer compulsory
data response questions, i.e. interpreting statistics and applying this
interpretation to the question, which for the higher mark elements will
mean you have to apply relevant evidence in support of the information
extracted, e.g. in responding to a question on Unemployment Statistics
it may be interesting to know that the figures have been altered by the
Government 25 times since 1980, but unless that is relevant to the
specifics of the question its application will gain you no marks. You
could, usefully, practice your skills here in conjunction with Martin
Marcus’s “Data Response Questions” from Richard Ball Publishing.
This aspect requires you to engage
critically and thoughtfully with the questions being posed or the work
you are undertaking for the coursework option, i.e. not just writing
down ‘all you know’ but being prepared to consider the strengths and
weaknesses of an expressed sociological viewpoint, i.e. how comprehensive, coherent, consistent is the view of Marx in respect to the concept
of class as opposed to the view of Weber. It is also critically
important that you subject any coursework undertaken and any
sociological theories delivered, to this critical scrutiny. There is no
doubt that most students will find this particular skill the most
difficult to apply at a high level, but the top grades cannot be
achieved unless you really work hard at this skill in all your assessed
You need here to weigh up the respective
merits and demerits of at least two different views, methods, theories
which come from an appropriate and recognised sociological source,
before offering an evaluative conclusion which is not just a statement
of personal preference but which justifies clearly and fully the choice
of one over the other. In this way, you will be clearly exhibiting to
the Examiners that you have fully understood, relevantly interpreted,
applied and evaluated the question being addressed.
WRITING SOCIOLOGICAL ESSAYS
1. Read the question carefully, fully and a number of times. The
secret of producing a relevant essay lies in reading the question
carefully several times, Find the action words, e.g. Assess, Discuss.
Some words may need to be defined. Can you disagree or quarrel with the
question? If the question is hinting at particular points of view, what
other points of view would need to be considered?
2. Do the research for the essay:- read notes, textbooks, library
books, articles such as the Sociology Review, note references.
ASK A SERIES OF QUESTIONS
Do the Functionalists, Marxists, Interactionists or Feminists have a
relevant view on this?
Does class, race, gender or age have any bearing on the subject?
Does sociological methodology have any relevance?
Which sociology concepts can I use?
Which sociology studies can I quote?
Are there any topical references that I can make?
What criticisms can I include?
3. Plan the essay:- find a logical order and map out a route
through the answer. Each new paragraph must be relevant.
4. Introductions:- can explain the question, explain the way
the answer will develop, define terms or occasionally challenge the
5. Good essays start boldly, develop a theme
or several themes, and conclude confidently. Conclusions often include evaluation although
evaluative points should be raised throughout the essay. Do not be
tempted to waffle, saying the same thing three different ways does not
impress. Using bland meaningless phrases may use up paper - it doesn’t
6. Offer some examples - application often means using examples to
show you can apply the theory or concept to a new situation, film, TV
current affairs programmes, as well as sociological research. Personal
experience can also illustrate a point but do be careful that you are
using it to make a sociological point. E.g. “When doing my research I
found...“is O.K., “Marriage is no longer important, because I don’t
want to get married” is not!
Include quotations and refer to particular
sociologists, e.g. Becker claims that “Deviance is in the
eye of the beholder”. If you do use something ‘word for word’ you must
put it in quotation marks and acknowledge the source. Plagiarism is not
Some example essays to follow....
'A' LEVEL SOCIOLOGY: Essay
ARE THE MAIN SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THOSE SOCIOLOGICAL
THEORIES WHICH EMPHASISE SOCIAL STRUCTURE AND THOSE WHICH EMPHASISE
There are two major types of structuralist
theory, functionalism and Marxism. These structuralist theories are
similar in that they look at the whole of society. They are concerned
with the influence of society on individuals, as well as the
relationships between different parts of society, emphasising the ways
in which individuals conform to social order. However, they are
different because functionalists see order as being based on the
acceptance of a consensus, that is a general agreement about the norms
and values in society. On the other hand, Marxists see the acceptance
of a consensus as a form of false consciousness, which benefits those
with economic power. Individuals are born into particular social
structures and learn the existing beliefs and values of their
societies. Functionalists see this process as socialisation whereas
Marxists and feminists see it as a form of indoctrination.
Functionalists see society as constituting a
system of inter-related parts. These parts are linked by their
functions which make for the smooth running of society. Thus, education
acts as a mechanism which sorts out the most talented from the less
talented, in order that the most talented achieve the functionally most
important positions within society. However, Marxists Bowles and Gintis show that there is no relationship between
academic qualifications and income. According to this view, if the most
talented in society achieved the functionally most important jobs, then
parliament would be filled with university professors. In addition, it
is difficult to measure which jobs are the most important in society.
Refuse collectors play a vital role in preventing the spread of disease
and illness by taking rubbish away from peoples’ homes, yet their jobs
are considered to have low status which is reflected in low pay. In
contrast to the functionalist view of society, Marxists see the
different elements of society as serving the interests of the ruling
class, i.e. the bourgeoisie. For Marxists, education reproduces ruling
class ideology, and the class divisions within society.
Structuralist theories are frequently
associated with a positivist approach to research and the use of the
logic and procedures of the natural sciences. However, many Marxists
adopt a realist view of science, this means that they look at the
underlying mechanisms and structures of society which govern human
behaviour. In complete contrast, sociological theories which emphasise
social action believe that human behaviour cannot be explained by
looking at society as a whole, nor can it be researched by using any
type of scientific method. Interactionists examine the ways in which
individuals interact through the meanings which individuals put on
their own or others’ behaviour. An individual’s self concept is partly
gained from the meaning that the individual gains from others, e.g. in
education if a child believes that the teacher sees him or her as a
‘failure’ then that child may start to behave as if he or she is a
failure. Interactionists are concerned with how individuals make sense
of the social world. Unlike structuralists interactionists see humans
as constructing their own social reality, rather than merely responding
to external social forces. In other words individuals are not born into
a world in which their behaviour is shaped by existing social
structures, rather individuals interpret the social world in different
ways and respond accordingly. Individuals are not like puppets which
respond to the string pulling of society as structuralists would have
However, Marxists would see interactionist
theories as incomplete because they ignore the influence of power on
individual behaviour. Some Marxists have attempted to overcome the
short comings of both Marxism and interactionism by combining the two
perspectives. Willis did this in his study of the experience of
twelve working class boys in a Midlands school. Willis showed how the boys’ interpretation of school
life as a ‘laff' prepared them for the semi-skilled and unskilled work,
which was their future role under capitalism. Hall et al, also combine elements of Marxism,
particularly those found in the work of Gramsci, and interactionism to explain the 1970s
phenomenon of mugging. They show how a social reaction to muggings
created a moral panic about crime and that this helped to disguise the
problems of British capitalism in the 1970s. Perhaps the most
influential recent attempt to unify the two apparently conflicting
paradigms has come from Giddens. He has synthesised action and structural
approaches. Like interactionists, he sees humans as constructing their
own social reality, but not in isolation from the external influences
resulting from the structures produced by the interaction of others.
In conclusion, functionalist theory seems
to have been rejected by the majority of contemporary sociologists. It
has too many weaknesses to be of any real value. Whereas, Marxists and
social action theorists seem to have converged at least in some
instances. Therefore although there are differences between the two
approaches, they seem to be compatible in that one can be used to iron
out the other one’s weakness.
'A' LEVEL SOCIOLOGY: Essay
FAR CAN THE CONCEPT OF ‘ANOMIE’ BE USED TO EXPLAIN FORMS OF DEVIANCE
OTHER THAN SUICIDE?
The notion of anomie was first introduced in
the discipline of sociology by Durkheim. Anomie means that there is uncertainty about
the norms and values within society. Merton adapted Durkheim’s idea of anomie in order to explain deviant
behaviour in modern American society. According to Merton, all members of American society share the
major success goals which in this case are mainly geared towards
materialism. For Merton, there are acceptable legitimate means of
achieving these goals, e.g. hard work and talent. However, within
American society more emphasis is placed on achieving the goals than on
the ways the goals are achieved. This means coming out on top at all
costs, therefore the rules which govern the route to success are often
abandoned, and anomie or normlessness is the result.
According to Merton, individuals can respond to the pressure of
social goals in a number of ways. Firstly, where individuals conform
and accept both the goals of society and the legitimate ways of
achieving these goals. Secondly, innovation, where the individual
accepts the goals of society, but rejects the institutionalised means
of achieving these goals. For Merton, this explains much deviance. It offers an
explanation of theft, and even cheating to win in the Olympic games.
Thirdly, ritualists, where an individual conforms to the norms of
society, but has given up on the success goals of society. Such people
are often considered deviant, not by breaking the law but by rejecting
the goals of society which the majority adhere to. They are often seen
as deviant for abandoning the rat race. Fourthly, retreatists who have
given up both the goals of society, and the ways of achieving these
goals of society. This explains forms of deviance such as extreme
alcoholism and drug abuse. Fifthly, rebellion, where individuals reject
both the goals of society and the means of achieving them, but wish to
replace them with new ones in a new type of society. This explains
political deviance such as the work of the IRA.
Merton’s theory uses the notion of blocked
opportunities to explain deviance. An individual who cannot succeed in
society can respond in a number of different ways. However, this does
not explain collective responses such as gang activities, nor does Merton explain non-utilitarian deviance, that is
deviance which has no economic gain. Merton’s theory cannot explain deviance such as
vandalism and football hooliganism. A. Cohen has modified Merton’s theory in order to explain the kind of
juvenile delinquency which does not result in economic gain. According
to Cohen, lower working class youth experience status
frustration because they have difficulty in achieving status in the
eyes of teachers in the education system. In addition, they are unable
to successfully compete with pupils from other social classes.
Therefore, they tend to reverse society’s norms and award each other
status for delinquent acts such as fighting and smoking.
Another problem with Merton’s theory is that it fails to explain why
individuals should respond in one way or another. In other words, why
innovate instead of rebelling? Cloward and Ohlin argue that there are legitimate opportunity
structures, and illegitimate opportunity structures, and that an
individual’s response will depend upon what type of opportunities are
Finally, it can be argued that Merton [sic -- should be Merton's] concept of anomie fails to look at the power
relationships within society. Interactionists would argue that Merton’s explanation of deviance ignores the fact that
some groups label others as deviant. Marxists would claim that Merton fails to consider who makes the laws, and who
do these laws benefit most of all [sic again]. In addition, it can be argued that
those in the top positions of society have better opportunities to
commit crime than those in the working class. Nevertheless, Merton’s adaptation of anomie provides a useful insight
to deviancy, which might have otherwise been ignored.
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