What does Sociology do?

Marketing GCSE Sociology

Sociology offers an insight into the world in which we live: where we are, what we do, where we have come from and where we are going in terms of people in groups and people in society.

GCSE Sociology looks at some interesting topics:

  • Stratification or Classes of people
    • Who are they and why they exist
  • Power and Authority in politics but also in the economy
    • Being told what to do and by whom
  • The Family
    • How we organise reproduction and upbringing - it is not as obvious as you may at first think
  • Education
    • What really goes on in education - some underlying motives
  • Employment
    • What you get to do varies so much, and not just in the huge differences in pay and wealth
  • Crime and Deviance
    • Some people just have to be different
  • Youth Subculture
    • An example of deviance that can lead to behaviour issues and crime
  • Religion
    • Its support for and any criticism of the world we live in
  • Population
    • Too many? Where too many? Who is dying?
  • The Media
    • Telling us how some people and institutions want us to see things and why
So, Sociology for GCSE gives you a new academic subject and advantageous preparation for the more in-depth work of a popular subject in sixth form at AS and A2 levels.

Let's look at one of these topics, something of which nearly all (in the Western world) have experience:


What is education actually for? It's not as simple as educating people. So what functions does education perform?
Put it like this instead: what is its role in society? Does it support the status quo, of making people go to work and behave themselves, or can it offer criticism of the way we do things - should it teach people to be better economic units or to think critically?
Some people do better at school than others, and it might have something to do with what your parents do, how they think about the future, what social groups they are in. The question is, then, what kinds of people get the best exam results? Why do some people fail to achieve in school?
Schools perform to league tables. Why is that important (and not just about who does best, but why this measure and that view of best?) What kind of schools do best in the league tables and what is that all about compared with any alternatives?

Let's think sociologically:

School teaches children to respect and obey authority. It is to learn to fall in with and obey fundamental rules of wider society? So what then is discipline?
People start to learn to fit in with society in the home. Parents do society's job, having lived in society all their lives. From the very moment of birth, babies and toddlers learn what we call culture, how we shape understanding of our lives together - what is valued, what we should do, how we should behave. This process carries on in school. School helps us to fit in, not just with the whole of society but with a part of society in which we are placed, and fitting in may be of advantage to someone else in society and to the disadvantage of the person subjected to this fitting in and learning how they should think and what they should do.
Around these basic social functions are the learning of skills and acquiring qualifications: how we cope and demonstrate achievement. Do you know that decades after you have achieved a GCSE you will still need to quote it to an employer and demonstrate you achieved it all those tens of years earlier? What's that about then?
What about schools teaching the differences between right and wrong? Who decides what is right and wrong, and, more to the point, how are the messages of right and wrong delivered within the school?

So what about sanctions including punishment - in the home, the school and in employment? What do they achieve?
What about the failures from school? Who exactly fails and when someone fails, what do they fail at? Schools are subject based, and academic - do pupils who apparently fail at academic subjects become directed towards something else, and what else? Does this serve a social function?
Do schools offer equal opportunities towards success, whatever their pupils' personal or family background?

Or are schools unable to overcome backgrounds that may hold some pupils back and project others forward?
There is so much to think about in Sociology that is new and different with all these why questions. We do, however, look at such issues practically as well as theoretically in Sociology. Sociologists keep close to the real world. It helps.

Let's compare this with another not unrelated subject, to underline the point:

Crime and Deviance

What about Crime? Lock 'em up?

Hang on - who commits crime: is it often the same kinds of people from similar backgrounds? If so, how did they get into those backgrounds and what are those backgrounds doing to them before crime is committed?
Sociologists are back at the who and why questions again: who commits crime and why?
It looks like education again, doesn't it: where people are coming from, membership of social groups, motivations.
Here is a question that arises with crime and deviance: is crime a statement that, "We do not respect society as it is?" Is it rejection? Is it even resistance to all that gets taught in the school?
Interestingly, whilst society says we should organise ourselves and behave in one general way, called a culture, some people organise themselves in another way, or a subculture. Criminals, for example, organise themselves into a subculture. One important aspect of the criminal world is the rule of secrecy: do not grass. They each know who they are, and they do not tell. Anyone who does tell the authorities is in fear of their lives.

Subcultures actually are everywhere. Deviance is marked difference but not necessarily criminal. One of the most common situations of deviance is youth subculture. There are gangs and groups, made up of some young people at some distance from their parents and school for a short period of time, who organise their own activities when amongst their own, and are showing distance from ordinary society.

Sociology asks who they are, what do they do and why. This may even tie in with questions about qualifications and some students resisting qualifications. Perhaps society likes a few deviant people from itself; after all, not everyone can be a success can they?

Why can't everyone be a success? That is a Sociology question.

Sociology DIY

What makes sociology interesting is the amount of finding out you have to do for yourselves. Sociology is a research based subject. In GCSE you do the first stages of finding out for yourselves. You can do this looking in books, newspapers and on the Internet. But you cannot just rely on other publications. You have to address the questions directly yourself, in your own controlled research.

Doing it directly yourself is very important in sociology. It means you can report on what you did and how it was done. This allows other sociologists to look at this and criticise it, and build upon it. They can then do their own research. It adds up the sum of knowledge.
Research is presented in your own work. It really is up to you to provide an interesting presentation that justifies its findings. It has to be robust and both open to and capable of dealing with criticism from others. It needs writing, possibly graphs, possibly diagrams, well laid out.

It is all about looking at those who and why questions.


Adrian Worsfold