Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring

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Read the following passage carefully and answer ALL the questions following it in your own words.

Extract from Clarke, J., Newman J. , Smith N, Vidler E., and Westmarland, L. , 2007, Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services, London: Sage, pp. 140-141

We have tried to address the ways in which New Labour connected national or global discourses of modernisation through the repertoire of competition, choice and consumerism. But marking the public dominance of certain discourses – their capacity to organise mediated political framings – is not the same as assessing their popular reach or embeddedness.

There are different sorts of analytical resources that might help with this issue. Here we begin the sketch an account of this process of relational reasoning that draws on Antonio Gramsci’s conception of ‘common-sense’ as a heterogeneous field of ideas – a field with which specific political and ideological strategies attempt to construct connections. This Gramscian view is different from more sociological conceptions of common-sense as the realm of everyday knowledge colonised by dominant understandings. Gramsci was insistent about its multiplicity and the implications for the possibilities of political work and engagement:

“The starting point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is, and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical process to date which has deposited in you an infinity of traces without leaving an inventory… Moreover, common sense is a collective noun, like religion: there is not just one common sense, for that too is a product of history and a part of the historical process.”

( Gramsci, A. 1971 Selections from the Prison Notebooks, London, Lawrence and Wishart, pp 324-5)18

Ideological or discursive work attempts to articulate selected elements from the stock of popular or common-sense ones – and, of course, to de-articulate or de-mobilise other elements less favourable to the would-be dominant way of thinking. Gramsci’s discussion of common sense was allied with a conception of everyday or practical philosophising, implying that people were actively engaged in the work of representing themselves and their conditions. This combination – heterogeneous ‘traces’ of discourses and practical philosophising – points towards the sort of relational reasoning about public services that we explored ….. People drew on a variety of discursive resources as the basis for conceptualising their actual and desired relationships to public services. The persistence of such resources and their perceived relevance provided a strong basis for constructing a sceptical distance from consumerist reforms and their implied relationships.

In particular, collective or solidaristic conceptions of the public remain powerful organising principles for thinking about relationships with public services. Clearly these imply different bases or locations of solidarity – some imply a national public, others a more local collectivity. While our study was not designed to draw out the different forms of solidarity and exclusion that may be at stake in conceptions iof the public, we can see their traces. Collective attachments to local or national bodies expressed through ‘membership’ seemed a more desirable or meaningful attachment than the formal status of citizen. Membership seemed to be derived from different types of connection:

  • entitlement through material contributions (being a tax payer);

  • location (especially in the ‘local community’);

  • reciprocal obligation (to other members); and

  • identity (a localised, nationalised, racialised or ethnicised sense of belonging).


B2a Briefly say what is meant by the phrase “ideological or discursive work.” (5 marks)

B2b How do the authors draw on Gramsci to suggest that “common sense” can actually be a foundation for criticizing dominant ideologies? (15 marks)

B2c (25 marks)


B2ci How typical is this passage of the way in which the academic study of Social Policy in Britain makes use of sociological theory?


B2cii “Identity (a localised, nationalised, racialised or ethnicised sense of belonging)”: Discuss the ommission by the authors of gender, class and disability from their list of sources of identity.

PART C. (45 marks)

EITHER attempt whichever question from PART B you have not attempted.


Answer ONE of the following questions:

C1. Is it still helpful to contemporary sociologists to contemplate the difference between the approaches of Marx and Durkheim to social change?

C2. Discuss the view that feminism has only been able to have an effect on sociology because it first had an effect on society itself.

C3. Discuss the view that although Parsons’ functionalism may have been discredited, his account of the history and origins of sociology is almost unchallenged.

C4. Why does Foucault think that the growth of scientific medicine is crucial for the development of the social scences?

C5. Did Giddens’ theory of structuration solve the age-old problem of the relation between agency and structure?

C6. Critically discuss the role of text books in the teaching of sociological theory, with examples from any area of theory.

C7. How far is the discourse of post-modernism dependent on a reification of modernity ?

C8. Discuss the work of any one sociologist (from any country) whose work you think is unjustly neglected within contemporary sociology in the English language, and say why you think she or he has been neglected, and why they ought to be better known.

1 This is the best version I have of what has been officially validated. Details can be checked against the definitive version in the Humanities School Office, pending official circulation of the outcome of the Programme Review in Sociology of 2005. As an official version, of course, its prime function is not enlightening students, but to satisfy the powers that be that we are doing the right thing, and so blandness and generality are more or less inevitable. For a more specific account of what will happen in the course refer to later sections in the handbook.

2  You may be mystified by the sets of numbers following each of the “outcomes”. These are references to a set of “benchmarks” of what a Sociology Degree is supposed to achieve in terms of giving you generable “transferable skills” to make you a better and more competent person. These are also written in terms of great generality to avoid the disappointment that might result from expectations that are too specific!. But the more benchmark numbers that can be crammed into a set of learning outcomes, then in theory, the more rounded and capable a citizen you will be on completion of the course.

3 Discerning students will realise that this list reflects an original orientation towards the “Cultural Studies” side of current sociological debates. This year’s course leader will argue that one cannot understand these topics without the context provided by classical sociological theory, and therefore, in a strict sense, it can be argued that this list is still a fair representation of what the course will cover.

4 This work will be assessed both formatively, during the year, and summatively at the end of the year. The Summative deadline for all courseworks will be Wed.23rd April 2008. For formative deadlines see the handbook below.

5 While these books all illustrate aspects of the course of sociological debates, please refer to the booklist in the handbook for other works essential to contextualise particular debates within the framework of the discipline of sociology as it emerged in the 20th century.

6 This means DON’T HAND FORMATIVE WORK TO THE REGISTRY, or you’ll freak them out, and mess up the whole point of formative feedback, which is that you get comments, and this helps you to do better work.

7 Check that they are dead – if they are still living you get no marks for them. People may be obscure just because they haven’t had time to get famous yet. A couple of useful websites (thankyou, 2006 students) are: - 299k

8 You don’t get any marks for telling me what they agreed with, or just what they thought themselves – not in this exercise you don’t!.

9 Quetet, L.A.J (originally 1835) 1842, tr. Knox, J. A Treaty on Man and the Development of his Faculties, Edinburgh:/ repre.1969 Gainesville:Scholars Facsimiles

10 This sentence is in mock-Latin, and means “Erotic art, theoretical art, political art”.

11 Scholars who study the relation between signs (eg words, pictures) and the things they represent

12 Celerity: speed

13 Retardation: delay

14 Archaic: old-fashioned, outdated

15 Tutelage: The status of being under the control of someone whose job it is to socialise you, e.g parent, teacher or apprentice-master

16 This refers to the duty of sons in the old Roman Empire to obey their fathers as long as the father was alive.

17 Jurists: lawyers who write books as guides to the law

18 Originally written in prison in Italy between 1926 and 1937.

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