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Lecture 15. Sociology of Education and the media

1. The subject of the sociology of education.

2. Sociological theories of education.

3. Social functions of the media: information, educational, and others

4. Theories of the media’s influence on society: functionalist, Marxist, cultural and other approaches.


1. This lecture will firstly define education and sociology then it will define what sociology of education is and come up with a suitable definition on sociology of education from various definitions. This suitable definition will be discussed further because it speaks much of what goes on in education system.

Peter Snelson (1974) defines education as a condition of human survival. It is the means where by one generation transmits the wisdom, knowledge and experience which prepares the next generation for life duties and pleasure.

This definition on education helps us to act with more insight and more intelligence in molding the youth in an acceptable manner. We can give a sound academic mission to the youth by teaching them survival skills such as carpentry, pottery, basketry and other survival skills which can better their lives. Human beings not only acquire new skills but also form the society. To this effect parents and teachers should work hand in hand in order to help the youths themselves have knowledge and in coming up with relevant ways it’s a matter of assisting them. By teaching the young ones, knowledge is transmitted from one generation to the next. This simply enlightens us that education is a continuous process. The statement “sky is the limit” helps us to have a wide knowledge about all aspects of education. Education prepares individuals to do things it is their responsibility to do them. For instance parents have the duty to teach children good morals in order to prepare them for the challenges ahead.

Ezewu (1990) defines sociology of education as “a scientific study of human behavior in groups having for its aim the convening of regularities and order in each behavior and expressing these sceneries as theoretical propositions that describe a wide variety of patterns of behavior in learning environment”. This definition shows that there is a very close relationship between the individual and the society. It looks at how children become fully-fledged socialization. Further more, the definition talks about social relations in a learning environment and network of such relations which are known as society.

Peter Harold (1968) defines sociology of education as “the study of origins, organizations, institutions and development of human society”. His definition refers to the study of sociology of education by using the historical approach. It studies initial specific conditions. For any institution, organization or society to develop properly there is needed to trace the origin or background. In other words this approach explains how society and the institution develop. It looks at interactions within the society and also society and other institutions. There are also possible outcomes or achievements of these interactions.

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) who is regarded as the ‘father’ of sociology of education clearly defines sociology of education as “a systematic study of sociological perspective”. This definition of sociology of education is suitable because it speaks much of what goes on in education system. It clearly states that it is important to know sociology before knowing what sociology of education is. This is because sociology is related to sociology of education.

The statement “sociological perspective” stresses the social context in which people live such as society. Society is a group of people who share a certain culture and a territory. Perspective is a view of the world and it is referred to as a sociological preservative or sociological imagination. Durkheim’s statement helps us to understand that sociological perspective opens a window to another world or unfamiliar world. As we look at other world or our own, sociological imagination casts another form of light on us. This in return enables us to gain a new vision of social life. In other words it helps us to find out why people do what they do like eating, talking and many more. Sociological imagination also looks at social locations. A social location is where people are located in a particular society. Sociologists consider jobs, age, race, income, gender and they also look at types of jobs we are doing in order to understand our behavior. Behavior is studied in order to discover the regularities and order in that behavior and expressing these discoveries as theoretic prospective or generalization that describes a wide variety of patterns of behavior. The discovering of these irregularities is due to the fact that man has culture and living in a group demands interaction with one another in that group.

Durkheim further stated that sociology of education is the “study of education”. He applied a sociological approach to the understanding of education system unlike other sociologists who defined the term sociology of education. He also came up with idea that education should be studied from the sociological perspective which helps students to understand sociology of education. To Durkheim school system is the main focus of sociology of education. To this effect he looked at the structure of the school and interactions in the school. He looked at the way individuals interact, that is teachers with fellow teachers, teachers with pupils, administrators with fellow administrators, administrator with teachers and pupils and pupils with fellow pupil. He looked at how discipline can be maintained in schools since in sociology of education; we try to understand the problem of education from a sociological perspective. Durkheim not only looked at interactions within the school but also the relationship between the school and the community. He looked at the outcome of these interactions because individuals have influence on other individuals and society has influence on the education system.

Apart from the structure of the school, Durkheim also looked at the functions of education and society. He believed that it was the duty of education to make responsible and reliable citizens out of school children. To work out this, parents and teachers need to work hand in hand to achieve a common goal. The school can make the behavior of a learner depending on the type of administration in which a learner is found.

Durkheim believed that every society had its own education system which was shaped by the society-cultural needs. He also believed that education was the influence exerted on the young generation by the old generation and this influence was a changing process. He should that changes in education practice have a relationship with changes in societal beliefs and practice. Hence, he believed that education was a social control and transmission of knowledge.

2. Education is a social institution that sociologists are very interested in studying. This includes teaching formal knowledge such as reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as teaching other things such as morals, values, and ethics. Education prepares young people for entry into society and is thus a form of socialization. Sociologists want to know how this form of socialization affects and is affected by other social structures, experiences, and outcomes.

Sociology of education is a field that focuses on two separate levels of analysis. At a macro-level, sociologists work to identify how various social forces, such as politics, economics, culture, etc., creates variation in schools. In other words, what effects do other social institutions have on the educational system? At a micro-level, sociologists look to identify how variation in school practices lead to differences in individual-level student outcomes. That is, when schools have different teaching methods or have different practices, how does that affect the individual students and what are the individual outcomes?

Like any other topic in sociology, the three major theoretical perspectives (functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interaction theory) each have different views on education.

The functionalist perspective argues that education serves many important functions in society. First, it socializes children and prepares them for life in society. This is not only done by teaching “book knowledge,” but also teaching the society’s culture, including moral values, ethics, politics, religious beliefs, habits, and norms. Second, education provides occupational training, especially in industrialized societies such as the United States. Unlike in less complex societies where most jobs and training were passed on from father to son, most jobs today require at least a high school education, and many professions require a college or post-graduate degree. The third function that education serves, according to functionalist theorists, is social control, or the regulation of deviant behavior. By requiring young people to attend school, this keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.

The symbolic interaction view of education focuses on interactions during the schooling process and the outcomes of those interactions. For instance, interactions between students and teachers can create expectations on both parts. The teacher begins to expect certain behaviors from students, which in turn can actually create that very behavior. This is called the “teacher expectancy effect.” For example, if a city teacher expects a student from rural area to perform below average on a math test when compared to students from cities, over time the teacher may act in ways that encourage the students from rural area to get below average math scores.

Conflict theory looks at the disintegrative and disruptive aspects of education. These theorists argue that education is unequally distributed through society and is used to separate groups (based on class, gender, or race). Educational level is therefore a mechanism for producing and reproducing inequality in our society. Educational level, according to conflict theorists, can also be used as a tool for discrimination, such as when potential employers require certain educational credentials that may or may not be important for the job. It discriminates against minorities, working-class people, and women – those who are often less educated and least likely to have credentials because of discriminatory practices within the educational system.

3. Technology and the media are interwoven, and neither can be separated from contemporary society in most developed and developing nations. Media is a term that refers to all print, digital, and electronic means of communication. From the time the printing press was created (and even before), technology has influenced how and where information is shared. Today, it is impossible to discuss media and the ways that societies communicate without addressing the fast-moving pace of technology.Therefore, when we talk about how societies engage with technology we must take media into account, and vice versa.

Technology creates media. The comic book you bought your daughter at the drugstore is a form of media, as is the movie you rented for family night, the internet site you used to order dinner online, the billboard you passed on the way to get that dinner, and the newspaper you read while you were waiting to pick up your order. Without technology, media would not exist; but remember, technology is more than just the media we are exposed to.

Technology, and increasingly media, has always driven globalization. Thomas Friedman (2005), in a landmark study, identified several ways in which technology “flattened” the globe and contributed to our global economy.

Developments Of Theory: Directions of change are occurring in media theory summarised as; radical subjective (based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.), radical objective (not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.), subjective functionalist (Belief in or stress on the practical application of a thing, in particular.), and; objective functionalist (Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.), all of these are characterised by critical thinking, qualitative methods and attention to knowledge and culture rather than to society and behaviour. The objective functionalist view is that Communication can be seen as an integral part of a culture and consciousness, as well as a tool of human activity. The primary question in sociological analysis of communication is ‘does culture (including mass media) influence social structure or does social structure influence culture?’

Media as Organisation and Institution: Viewing the media as a social institution where formally organised work takes place directed toward the production of knowledge and culture, the media share features with other complex institutions. Since most media work is part of show business it is not surprising that ‘illusions’ have to be protected. News is a manufactured version of reality with influences, for example, generated by public or private status. Journalists can be moved by professionalism alone and report the world as they believe it is with the hope of communicating the message that the world is improvable by ‘middle class’ ideals which are perceived as anti-working class and thus tainted. What pleases the public and finally sell newspapers may very well be the primary influence in news reporting.

Media Content and Culture: Systematic analysis of content and media output is subject to statistical research and manipulation. The primary of such research tends to be to shed light on aims of originators and to interpret cause and affect. The tradition of comparing media reality with social reality remains strong. For example, media reportage on legitimate social welfare recipients as being somehow a danger to society is often obvious. The middle class ethos appears under threat by such activity and media will protect such interests while risking weak and disadvantaged people.

The Media Audience: Sociologists are always fascinated by media audiences. Topics looked at include structure and variance and social-demographic factors which relates to cultural background and time availability. Another question for sociologists is whether the audience are ‘passive’ or ‘active’ in assimilating media messages. There are inconsistent answers to this question. The main product of the media is audience and this can be sold to advertisers. Developing audiences by not patronising them is a financial transaction imperative to the success of media outlets. Thus, catering to the demands of the audience is necessary.

Media Effect and influence: this too is an area significant and widely researched field for sociologists. Some research concludes that the media is powerful but homogenised (standardised) in its objective to change long-term public opinion. The media will construct their own definition of reality and sell it to the audience and thus the media plays a part in the unfolding of major social events, especially at times of critical events. Research suggests that the public view is influenced by the creation of this Hyperreality, which can be adapted by audiences as absolute reality.

The sociology of mass communication has always been stimulated by and concerned with issues of wider social relevance and we can see some extension of the range of issues that are raised in relation to mass media. These issues include, for example, the position of women, international media flow, and its consequences; the consequences for society of media change. Technology is moving at a rapid pace but these changes too are worthy of closer sociological analysis. Local community may or may not benefit from rapid change in interactive media and the heralded information society is being greeted at its dawn by social analysts with a mixture of optimism and pessimism comparable to that, which greeted the first age of mass media.


2. Mass media emerged into a capitalization of the leisure industries to eventually become the dominator of mental life in modern society. Adolf Hitler used radio for propaganda sparking concern that mass media could be used for mind control. Early studies of mass media by sociologists proved that media effects were direct and powerful. However, the level of influence on an individual depended on certain factors such as class and emotional state.

C. Wright Mills defines mass media as having two important sociological characteristics: first, very few people can communicate to a great number; and, second, the audience has no effective way of answering back (The Power Elite, 1956). The introduction of the internet into mainstream mass media has changed communication into a bidirectional process. Responding to email advertisements and answering messages in a chat room change Mills’ definition of mass media. The internet reaches a broad audience but has less of an impact on shaping society.

The majority of research in the 1960s was concentrated on television. Television was believed to be the most pervasive medium. The Mass Communication Theory provides research on the cultural quality of media output. D. McQuail identifies cross-media ownership, and the increasing commercialization of programming by a few select large corporations as a pattern of control. The conflict perspective aligns with this theory.

Media output is controlled and regulated by government. History has shown restrictions ranging from complete censorship to a lighter advisory regulation.

Everyone agrees that mass media is a permanent part of modern culture. The extent of the influence mass media has on our society is the cause of much debate. Both legislature and media executives combine efforts and produce reports showing that mass media is not responsible for shaping society. Sociologists and educators debate these findings and provide a more grounded, less financially influenced theory.

Sociologists have three perspectives on the role of mass media in modern culture. The first, limited-effects theory, is based on the premise that people will choose what to watch based on their current beliefs. According to a study by Paul Lazarsfeld, media lacked the ability to influence or change the beliefs of average people (Escote 2008). Individuals living through the early days of mass media were more trusting of news stories. This is evident in the famous radio broadcast, “War of the Worlds.” A startling one out of six people believed we were being invaded by aliens. While the limited-effects theory, also known as the indirect effects theory, was applicable 40 years ago; society is not as naive today. Competing newscasts give us the opportunity to compare stories and accept only what is common between them. Unless the “War of the Worlds” was carried on every major mass media station, society today would recognize it as fiction. Even then, we would be skeptical until our President addressed the nation.

The class-dominant theory argues that the media is controlled by corporations, and the content–especially news content–is dictated by the individuals who own these corporations. Considering that advertising dollars fund the media, the programming is tailored to the largest marketing segment. We would never see a story that draws negative publicity and emotion to a major advertiser. The class-dominant theory in a newsroom extends beyond corporate control. A journalist with a specific agenda can alter or twist a story to suit their own needs.

The third, of the three main sociological perspectives, is the culturalist theory. As the newest theory, the culturalist theory combines both the class-dominant and limited-effects theory to claim that people draw their own conclusions. Specifically, the culturalist theory states that people interact with media and create their own meanings. Technology allows us to watch what we want and control the entire experience. We can choose to skip certain parts of a horror movie and even mute content on live news casts. People interpret the material based on their own knowledge and experience. The discussion forums in an online classroom is one example of the culturalist theory. Although all the students read the same text and study the same content, each student produces a different view based on experiences outside of the classroom. The result is a widely divergent group of posts and many opposite opinions open for discussion.

The Functionalist Perspective. Functionalists believe that mass media contributes to the benefit of society. Charles Wright (1975) identified several ways in which mass media contributes to creating equilibrium in society. He claims the media coordinate and correlate information that is valuable to the culture. The media are powerful agents of socialization. Through the media, culture is communicated to the masses. Serving society through social control, the media act as stress relievers which keep social conflicts to a minimum.

The functionalists idea of equilibrium is evident in news broadcast as well as late night drama programs. In both instances, all human acts lacking morality are reinforced by showing them as unacceptable and wrong. Crimes, such as murder, robberies, and abuse are shown as deviant behavior. Mass media make our world smaller. People gather in groups to watch, they talk about what they see, and they share the sense that they are watching something special (Schudson 1986).

Functionalists view mass media as an important function in society. Mass media can influence social uniformity on scale broader than every before. The internet reaches more individuals in most social groups more often than television or radio. Mass media has been accused of creating dysfunction. Postman (1989) argued that popular media culture undermines the educational system. Claims have been made that there is a link between television viewing and poor physical health among children.

The Conflict Perspective. Conflict theorists believe that mass media is controlled by corporations with the intent of satisfying their own agendas. News casts and sitcoms are not designed to entertain and inform, but rather to keep our interests long enough to deliver a well paid advertisement. The conflict perspective views mass media as a conduit for social coercion. The controllers of mass media use programming and advertising to influence certain social classes. Trends are introduced through mass media and mimicked by the public lending credence to the theory that coercion, domination, and change in our society is partly due to television, radio, print, and the internet. From the conflict perspective, modern mass media are instruments of social control (Sullivan 2007). While functionalists and interactionists agree that mass media is necessary, followers of the conflict perspective view mass media as a necessary evil. As instruments of social control, mass media plays an important role in shaping our society.

The Interactionist Perspective. From the interactionist perspective, mass media is used to define and shape our definitions of a given situation. This perception of reality seems to evolve as our everyday values and cultures change. A definition of the average American family from the 1950s and 1960s is drastically different from what we expect today. The mass media portrayal of family life has always been a benchmark to compare our own lives and successes. Mass media serves as our social acceptance gauge by providing symbols representing what is proper and what is unacceptable. The interactionist perspective shares similarities with the functionalist perspective. Both theories agree that mass media symbolizes a perfect society that individuals strive to emulate. Celebrities, athletes and other role models promote clothing, brands, and behavior while sometimes encouraging values and moral guidelines.

Mass media is defined as “the channels of communication in modern societies that can reach large numbers of people, sometimes instantaneously (Sullivan 2007).” Only recently has technology been advanced enough to realize so many methods of communication. Television, radio, and print were the original members of mass media. The internet brought chat-rooms, email, and the idea of social networking to an already media saturated society. Television and radio represent “push” communication. The consumer has little choice over the content streamed through the cable and onto their television. They can choose to change stations or turn off the television. The internet, specifically web sites, can only be delivered to a consumer if they have made a request to “pull” the content. Mass media has completed a paradigm shift from content and programming we chose to accept, to content designed to shape our society. In the 1960s and 1970s, society controlled mass media. Today, mass media has the single largest impact on our culture. Guidelines for behavior, major beliefs, and values are all influenced by mass media. Every sociological theory concludes that mass media affects modern culture–a mediated culture.

MEDIA GLOBALIZATION Multinational corporations are the primary vehicle of media globalization. These corporations control global mass-media content and distribution (Compaine 2005). It is true, when looking at who controls which media outlets, that there are fewer independent news sources as larger and larger conglomerates develop.

On the surface, there is endless opportunity to find diverse media outlets. But the numbers are misleading. Mass media control and ownership is highly concentrated in Canada. Bell, Telus, and Rogers control over 80 percent of the wireless and internet service provider market; 70 percent of the daily and community newspapers are owned by seven corporations; and 10 companies control over 80 percent of the private sector radio and television market (CMCRP N.d.; Newspapers Canada, 2013). As was pointed out in a Parliamentary report in 2012, an example of increased vertical control is a company that “might own a broadcast distributor (Rogers Cable), conventional television stations, pay and specialty television channels, and even the content for its broadcasters (Rogers owns the Toronto Blue Jays, whose games are shown on conventional and pay and specialty television channels)” (Theckedath and Thomas 2012).


While some social scientists predicted that the increase in media forms would break down geographical barriers and create a global village (McLuhan 1964), current research suggests that the public sphere accessing the global village will tend to be rich, Caucasian, and English-speaking (Jan 2009). As shown by the spring 2011 uprisings throughout the Arab world, technology really does offer a window into the news of the world. For example, here in the West we saw internet updates of Egyptian events in real time, with people tweeting, posting, and blogging on the ground in Tahrir Square.

Still, there is no question that the exchange of technology from core nations to peripheral and semi-peripheral ones leads to a number of complex issues. For instance, someone using a critical sociology approach might focus on how much political ideology and cultural colonialism occurs with technological growth. In theory at least, technological innovations are ideology-free; a fibre optic cable is the same in a Muslim country as a secular one, in a communist country or a capitalist one. But those who bring technology to less developed nations—whether they are nongovernment organizations, businesses, or governments—usually have an agenda. A functionalist, in contrast, might focus on how technology creates new ways to share information about successful crop-growing programs, or on the economic benefits of opening a new market for cell phone use. Interpretive sociologists might emphasize the way in which the global exchange of views creates the possibility of mutual understanding and consensus. In each case, there are cultural and societal assumptions and norms being delivered along with those high-speed connections.

Cultural and ideological biases are not the only risks of media globalization. In addition to the risk of cultural imperialism and the loss of local culture, other problems come with the benefits of a more interconnected globe.


4.STRUCTURAL FUNCTIONALISM. Because functionalism focuses on how media and technology contribute to the smooth functioning of society, a good place to begin understanding this perspective is to write a list of functions you perceive media and technology to perform. Your list might include the ability to find information on the internet, television’s entertainment value, or how advertising and product placement contribute to social norms.

ENTERTAINMENT FUNCTION. An obvious manifest function of media is its entertainment value. Most people, when asked why they watch television or go to the movies, would answer that they enjoy it. Within the 98 percent of households that have a TV, the amount of time spent watching is substantial, with the average adult Canadian viewing time of 30 hours a week (TVB 2014). Clearly, enjoyment is paramount. On the technology side, as well, there is a clear entertainment factor to the use of new innovations. From online gaming to chatting with friends on Facebook, technology offers new and more exciting ways for people to entertain themselves.


Even while the media is selling us goods and entertaining us, it also serves to socialize us, helping us pass along norms, values, and beliefs to the next generation. In fact, we are socialized and resocialized by media throughout our life course. All forms of media teach us what is good and desirable, how we should speak, how we should behave, and how we should react to events. Media also provide us with cultural touchstones during events of national significance.

But debate exists over the extent and impact of media socialization. Krahe and colleagues (2011) demonstrated that violent media content has a desensitizing affect and is correlated with aggressive thoughts. Another group of scholars (Gentile, Mathieson, and Crick 2011) found that among children, exposure to media violence led to an increase in both physical and relational aggression. Yet, a meta-analysis study covering four decades of research (Savage 2003) could not establish a definitive link between viewing violence and committing criminal violence.

It is clear from watching people emulate the styles of dress and talk that appear in media that media has a socializing influence. What is not clear, despite nearly 50 years of empirical research, is how much socializing influence the media has when compared to other agents of socialization, which include any social institution that passes along norms, values, and beliefs (such as peers, family, religious institutions, and the like).


Like media, many forms of technology do indeed entertain us, provide a venue for commercialization, and socialize us. For example, some studies suggest the rising obesity rate is correlated with the decrease in physical activity caused by an increase in use of some forms of technology, a latent function of the prevalence of media in society (Kautiainen et al. 2005). Without a doubt, a manifest function of technology is to change our lives, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Think of how the digital age has improved the ways we communicate. Have you ever used Skype or another webcast to talk to a friend or family member far away? Or maybe you have organized a fund drive, raising thousands of dollars, all from your desk chair.

Of course, the downside to this ongoing information flow is the near impossibility of disconnecting from technology, leading to an expectation of constant convenient access to information and people. Such a fast-paced dynamic is not always to our benefit. Some sociologists assert that this level of media exposure leads to narcotizing dysfunction, a term that describes when people are too overwhelmed with media input to really care about the issue, so their involvement becomes defined by awareness instead of by action about the issue at hand (Lazerfeld and Merton 1948).


In contrast to theories in the functional perspective, the critical perspective focuses on the creation and reproduction of inequality—social processes that tend to disrupt society rather than contribute to its smooth operation. When taking a critical perspective, one major focus is the differential access to media and technology embodied in the digital divide. Critical sociologists also look at who controls the media, and how media promotes the norms of upper-middle-class white demographics while minimizing the presence of the working class, especially people of colour.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 7045

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