Uploaded by Liv in Life

Sociology for CAPE® Examinations

Sociology for CAPE®
Jeniffer Mohammed
CAPE® is a registered trade mark of the Caribbean
Examinations Council (CXC). SOCIOLOGY for
CAPE® EXAMINATIONS 2nd Edition is an independent
publication and has not been authorized, sponsored,
or otherwise approved by CXC.
Macmillan Education
4 Crinan Street, London, N1 9XW
A division of Macmillan Publishers Limited
Companies and representatives throughout the world
ISBN 978-0-230-03786-1 AER
Text © copyright Jeniffer Mohammed 2014
Design and illustration © copyright Macmillan Publishers Limited
First published 2014
All rights reserved; no part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form, or by any
means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or
otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers.
Designed by J&D Glover Ltd
Illustrated by Julian Baker, J&D Glover Ltd, TechType, Gary Wing
Cover design by Macmillan Education
Cover photograph by Getty Images/Danita Delimont
Picture research by Lorraine Beck
The author and publisher would like to thank the following for
permission to reproduce the following material.
Extract from ‘The autonomous, the universal and the future of
sociology’ by Syed Hussein Alatas from Current Sociology 54(1),
2006 © International Sociological Association. Reprinted with
Extract from ‘60 years of praxis’ by Annie Paul © Annie Paul,
2008. Reprinted with permission. http://anniepaul.net/
Extract from ‘Reflections on the reflections’ by L. Best and extract
from ‘The Best-Levitt Plantation Hypothesis in Contemporary
Trinidad & Tobago’ by S. Nicholls & E. Boodoo from Independent
Thought and Caribbean Freedom edited by S. Ryan © Sir Arthur
Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, 2003.
Extract from ‘Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study
of Burma and Netherlands India’ by John Sydenham Furnivall,
© John Sydenham Furnivall. Published by New York University
Press, 1956. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Rex Nettleford-Guardian of Our Crossroads’ by
Honor Ford-Smith, published in The Gleaner, 10 February 2010
and extract from ‘Clamp Down on Noise Nuisance’ by Mark
Harris, published in The Gleaner, 13 November 2012 © The
Gleaner Company Limited 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘The Carriacou Mas’ as “Syncretic Artifact” by Fayer,
J.M., & McMurray, J.F © The Journal of American Folklore, 1999.
Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘The Midnight Robber Speaks’ by R. Bolai,
published by the Bookman, 27 June 2007 © R. Bolai, 2010. http://
Extract from ‘Prevalence of Child sexual abuse among adolescents
in Geneva: results of a cross sectional survey’ from British Medical
Journal May 25, 1996 © British Medical Journal Publishing Group.
Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Student’s perceptions of indiscipline at three primary
schools in one educational district in Central Trinidad’ by Deaukee
Lochan © Deaukee Lochan, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Internet Use Among Young People in the Kingston
Metropolitan Area’ by Richard Kelly ©Richard Kelly. Published
by Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2007. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Social Structure’ by G.P. Murdock © G.P. Murdock,
1965. Published by Simon and Schuster.
Extract from ‘Sociology of Family Life’ by David Cheal © David
Cheal, 2002. Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
Extract from ‘Welfare and Planning in the West Indies’ by T.S
Simey © T.S Simey, 1946. Reproduced by permission of Oxford
University Press.
Extract from ‘Culture and Social Structure in the Caribbean: Some
Recent Work on Family and Kinship Studies’ Comparative Studies
from Society and History by R.T Smith © R.T Smith. Published by
Cambridge University Press, 1963.
Extract from ‘East Indians in Trinidad: A Study in Cultural
Persistence’ by M. Klass © M. Klass, 1969. Published by New York:
Waveley Press.
Extract from ‘The Gender Divide: Capitalizing on women’s
work’ by Carmen Pagés and Claudia Piras © Inter-American
Development Bank, 2010.
Extract from ‘Domestic, sexual violence rates soaring in the
Caribbean – Wiltshire’ published in Stabroek News, 28 September
2010 © Stabroek News http://stabroeknews.com
Extract from ‘Families: A Sociological Perspective’ by David
Newman © McGraw-Hill Education, 2009. Published by
McGraw-Hill Education. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Regional assessment: Violence against children in the
Caribbean’ © UNICEF, 2005 and Extract from ‘Break the Silence:
End Child Sexual Abuse’ © UNICEF,2011 and Extract from
‘Juvenile Justice in the Caribbean: A rights approach to children in
the juvenile justice system – An overview’ by Hazel ThompsonAhye © UNICEF, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Eye on the Future- Investing in Youth Now for
Tomorrow’s Community’ © Caricom Commission on Youth
Development, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
Data excerpts from ‘Table of Statistics on Religious Affiliation in
the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula’ by Clifton L. Holland ©
Clifton L. Holland. Published by PROLADES, 2013. Reprinted
with permission. http://prolades.com
Extract from ‘Rastafari: Roots and ideology’ by Barry Chevannes
© Barry Chevannes, 1995. Published by Syracuse University Press.
Reprinted with permission.
Extracts from World Fact Book ©Central Intelligence Agency
Pew Research Center, “The Future of the Global Muslim
Population,” ©January, 2011. http://www.pewforum.
Extract from ‘In the castle of my skin’ by George Lamming ©
George Lamming, 1991. Published by Ann Arbor: The University
of Michigan Press. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Duke and Duchess of Kent’ by Attila the Hun, from
Battle for Emergent Independence: Calypsos of Decolonisation by Ray
Funk © Scholarly Repository Journal, 2005.
Extract from: ‘Alternative education: global perspectives relevant
to the Asia-Pacific Region’ by Yoshiyuki Nagata © Yoshiyuki
Nagata, 2006. Published by Springer. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from: http://www.caribexams.org/m_pass_rates ©
Caribexams, 2008. http://caribexams.org
Extract from ‘Sex or gender equity? The organization of schooling in
Trinidad & Tobago’ in E. Page & J. Jha (Eds.) Exploring the bias: Gender
and stereotyping in secondary schools by J. Mohammed © Commonwealth
Secretariat and Commonwealth of Learning, 2009 and extract from
‘Boys underachievement in education: An exploration in selected
Caribbean countries’ by Jha, J. & Kelleher, F © Commonwealth
Secretariat and Commonwealth of Learning, 2006.
Extract from ‘Female to male enrolment , secondary (%) – for all
countries’ © Factfish, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘CSEC May/June Entry and Performance Data’ from
Annual Report 2011 © Caribbean Examinations Council. Reprinted
with permission.
Extract from ‘Men at Risk’ by Errol Miller © Errol Miller, 1991.
Extract from: ‘School Reform: The flatworm in a flat world; from
entropy to renewal through indigenous invention’ by P. Heckman
and V. Montera © Teachers College Record, 2009. Reprinted with
Extract from: ‘Metamagical themas: Questing for essence of mind
and pattern’ by Douglas Hofstadter © Douglas Hofstadter, 1986.
Published by Bantam Books. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘John Goldthorpe and Class Analysis’ from A
Dictionary of Sociology by Gordon Marshall © Oxford University
Press, 1990. Published by Oxford University Press.
Extract from: ‘Trinidad & Tobago, Draft National Strategic Plan
Vision 20/20, 2010’ © Ministry of Planning and Sustainable
Development, 2010.
Extract from ‘Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the
European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century’ from The
Modern World System by Immanuel Wallerstein, Page 230 Copyright
© Elsevier, 1976. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Race and Socioeconomic Factors Affect
Opportunities for Better Health’ © Robert Wood Johnson
Foundation, 2009.
Extracts ‘Crude Birth Rates for Selected Countries’ ‘Total Fertility
Rates for Selected Countries’ and ‘Comparison of Crude Death
rates across Developed and Developing Countries’ from World
Statistics and Country Comparisons © Nationmaster, 2011. Reprinted
with permission.
Extract from: ‘Teenage motherhood in Latin America and the
Caribbean’ from Challenges-newsletter in progress towards the Millenium
Development Goals from a child’s rights perspectives © United Nations,
2007. Reprinted with permission.
Highlights from the ‘Jamaica Reproductive Health Survey 20022003’ © National Family Planning Board, 2003.
Data from ‘World Population Prospects’ © United Nations, 2008.
Reprinted with Permission.
Extract from ‘US Census Bureau International Database’ © United
States Census Bureau, 2013. www.census.gov
Extract from ‘Major World Religions populations pie chart
statistics list’ © age-of-the-sage, 2002. Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘World Population Data Sheet’ © Population
Reference Bureau, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
The World Bank: Age Dependency Ratio – Statistics for 20072011: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.DPND
Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Summary. Human Development Indices:
Sustainability and equity – A better future for all’ © United
Nations Development Programme, 2011. Reprinted with
permission. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/
Extract from ‘2000 Round of Population and Housing Census
Data Analysis sub-project , National Census Report, Jamaica’ ©
Caricom Capacity Development Programme, 2009. Reprinted
with permission.
Extract from ‘Exploring Policy Linkages Between Poverty, Crime
and Violence: A Look at Three Caribbean States’ © Economic
Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2008.
Extract from ‘A General Theory of Crime’ by Michael Gottfredson
and Travis Hirschi © Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford
Junior University, 1990. Published by Stanford University Press.
Extract from ‘The Caribbean and the Cartels’ published in
Trinidad Express, 5 March 2013 © Trinidad Express Newspapers,
2014. Reprinted with permission. http://trinidadexpress.com
Extract from ‘Barbados: Domestic Violence, including legislation,
state protection and support services’ © Service Alliance for
Violent Encounters (SAVE) Foundation, 2012.
Extract from ‘Dirty Money, Real Pain’ by Paul Ashin from Finance
and Development © The International Monetary Fund, 2012.
Reprinted with permission.
Extract from ‘Police Service Serious Crimes Statistics’ © Trinidad
and Tobago Police Service, 2012.
Extracts from ‘Health Report Card for Trinidad & Tobago, 2011’
© Ministry of Health for Trinidad and Tobago, 2012.
Extract from ‘Population and Housing Census 2002: Marginality –
poverty status by region’ © Bureau of Statistics Guyana, 2014. All
Rights Reserved.
Extract from ‘Women’s burden of care. Advocacy brief:
Strengthening women’s economic security and rights’ © UN
Extract from ‘National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan 2013-2018’
© Ministry of Health for Trinidad and Tobago, 2013.
Extract from ‘Noise’ from Information for the pubic © American
Speech-Language –Hearing Association, 2014.
These materials may contain links for third party websites. We
have no control over, and are not responsible for, the contents of
such third party websites. Please use care when accessing them.
The author and publishers would like to thank the following for
permission to reproduce their photographs:
Alamy/antiguarob pp300, 303, Alamy/The Art Gallery Collection
pp20(l), 21(r), Alamy/GL Archive pp20(cr), 22, Alamy/Tony
Boydon p110, Alamy/Caribbean Photo Archive p245, Alamy/
Everett Collection Historical p25(b), Alamy/Image Asset
Management Ltd p67, Alamy/Keystone Pictures USA pp20(r), 23,
Alamy/Georgios Kollidas p25(t), Alamy/Jenny Matthews p336,
Alamy/Pictorial Press Ltd pp20 (cl), 21(l), 102, Alamy/Richard
Wareham Fotografie p402; CartoonStock.com/Bob Eckstein
p152; Corbis/Bob Adelman p61, Corbis/Carlos Cazalis pp192,
219, Corbis/Olivier Coret p410, Corbis/Bruno Morandi p103,
Corbis/Underwood & Underwood p86; Christopher Cozier
p107; Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images p215; Getty
Images/AFP, 383, Getty Images/LightRocket/Frank Bienewald
p194; The Gleaner Company Limited pp31, 34(l,r), 35(b),
162, 339; Macmillan Publishers Ltd/Corbis pp80, 89, 236,
274, Macmillan Publishers Ltd/Getty Images p270, Macmillan
Publishers Ltd/Image Source p403, Macmillan Publishers Ltd/
Macmillan Education/Rob Judges pp230, 258, 291, Macmillan
Publishers Ltd/Macmillan Mexico/Anna Godwin (Beehive
Illustration) p253, Macmillan Publishers Ltd/Photoalto pp268, 290,
Macmillan Publishers Ltd/Photodisc pp44, 60, 363, Macmillan
Publishers Ltd/PhotoDisc/Getty Images pp2, 234, 350, 355,
Macmillan Publishers Ltd/Stockbyte p232, Macmillan Publishers
Ltd/Thinkstock pp6 (l,m,r), 64, 85, 118, 129, 150, 153, 157, 210,
392, 398, 424; Jackie Mintz p35(t); The National Collection
of Barbados/Stanley Greaves p108; The Rex Nettleford
Foundation p106; The University of the West Indies/Cave Hill
Campus/David Marshall p36(t), The University of the West
Indies/Arthur Sukhbir p36(b)
Although we have tried to trace and contact copyright holders
before publication, in some cases this has not been possible. If
contacted we will be pleased to rectify any errors or omissions at
the earliest opportunity.
This book is dedicated to Sylvia, Curt, Mikhail, Nikolai and Isabel.
Unit / Chapter
CAPE syllabus section
Part I Introduction to Sociology
Chapter 1 Understanding the Sociological Perspective
1.1 The Social World
1.2 The Sociological Perspective
1.3 The Sociological Imagination
1.4 The Dimensions of Sociological Thinking
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 2 The Discipline of Sociology
2.1 The Origins of Sociology
2.2 Is Sociology a Science?
2.3 Sociology in the Caribbean
2.4 The Founders of Caribbean Sociology
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 3 Sociological Perspectives, Principles and Concepts
3.1 The Sociological Perspectives and Social Theory
3.2 The Basic Principles of Sociology
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 4 Culture and the Social Order
4.1 The Study of Culture
4.2 Sociological Perspectives on Culture
4.3. Theories of Culture and Society in the Caribbean
4.4 Caribbean Popular Culture
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 5 Sociological Research
5.1 Principles of Scientific Research
5.2 Research Methods
5.3 Conducting Your Own Research
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Unit 1 The Sociological Perspective
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 1 Sociological Concepts, Perspectives and
Specific Objective:
2 discuss the fundamental concepts of sociology
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 1 Sociological Concepts, Perspectives and
Specific Objectives:
1 trace the development of sociology from the classical
to the contemporary period in mainstream and
Caribbean sociology
2 discuss the fundamental concepts of sociology
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 1 Sociological Concepts, Perspectives and
Specific Objectives:
2 discuss the fundamental concepts of sociology
3 evaluate the theoretical perspectives of sociology
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 1 Sociological Concepts, Perspectives and
Specific Objectives:
2 discuss the fundamental concepts of sociology
3 evaluate the theoretical perspectives of sociology
4 discuss the fundamental concepts of sociology
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 1,
Module 1
Sociological Concepts, Perspectives and Methods
Specific Objectives:
5 explain the principles and practices of scientific
6 distinguish among the various research methods
7 apply the research methods to a sociological issue
8 apply the ethical principles in research
Part II Introduction to Social Institutions
Chapter 6 Social Institutions: The Family
6.1 Ideas about the Family
6.2 Theoretical Perspectives on the Family
6.3 Ethnic Diversity and Caribbean Kinship
6.4 Gender and the Family
6.5 Social Problems and the Family
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 7 Social Institutions: Religion
7.1 Religion, Spirituality and Belief Systems
7.2 Sociological Perspectives on Religion
7.3 Caribbean Faiths
7.4 Secularisation
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 8 Social Institutions: Education
8.1 Education as a Social Institution
8.2 Sociological Perspectives on Education
8.3 Caribbean Education Systems
8.4 Sociological Theorising: Issues in Education
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 9 Social Stratification
9.1 Concepts of Social Stratification
9.2 Types of Stratification Systems
9.3 Sociological Perspectives on Social Stratification
9.4 Evolution of Caribbean Stratification
9.5 Impact of Stratification on Caribbean Societies
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Unit 1 The Sociological Perspective
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 1,
Module 2
Social Institutions: Family, Religion and Education
Specific Objectives:
1 explain
transformations of the family in the Caribbean
2 evaluate the main theoretical perspectives commonly
used for the analysis of the family
3 discuss the issues associated with the Caribbean
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 2 Social Institutions: Family, Religion and
Specific Objectives:
4 explain
transformation of selected religions in the Caribbean
5 evaluate the main theoretical perspectives commonly
used for the analysis of religion
6 discuss the issues associated with religion in the
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit
1, Module 2 Social Institutions: Family, Religion and
Specific Objectives:
7 explain
transformations of educational systems in the
8 evaluate the main theoretical perspectives commonly
used for the analysis of education
9 discuss the issues associated with education in the
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 1,
Module 3 Social Stratification
Specific Objectives:
1 explain the concepts associated with stratification
2 identify types of stratification systems
3 assess theoretical perspectives on stratification in
the Caribbean
4 discuss the evolution of Caribbean social stratification
from slavery to present day
5 analyse the impact of stratification systems on
Caribbean societies
Part III Introduction to Development Issues
Chapter 10 Population Issues and Development
10.1 Conceptions of Development
10.2 Sociological Perspectives on Development
10.3 Demography: The Study of Population
10.4 Sociological Perspectives on Population
10.5 Population Policies
10.6 Population and Development: Relationships
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 11 The Sociology of Crime and Deviance
11.1 Concepts related to Crime and Deviance
11.2 Sociological Perspectives on Crime and Deviance
11.3 Issues Related to Crime and Deviance
11.4 Effects of Crime and Deviance
11.5 The Effectiveness of Institutions of Social Control
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Chapter 12 Caribbean Social Issues: Poverty, Health
and the Environment
12.1 Terms and Concepts Related to Poverty, Health and the
12.2 Sociological Perspectives on Poverty, Health and the
12.3 Causes and Effects of Major Caribbean Social Issues
12.4 Measures to Address Major Social Issues
Chapter Summary
Exercises and Test Questions
Answer pages
Unit 2 Development and Social Change
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 2,
Module 1 Population and Development
Specific Objectives:
1 explain the concepts used in population studies
2 explain population trends using quantitative and
qualitative measures
3 assess the sociological perspectives of population
4 evaluate population policies in developed and
developing countries
5 explain the concepts of development
6 explain the indicators of development
7 assess the sociological perspectives of development
8 explain the relationship between population and
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 2,
Module 2 Crime and Deviance
Specific Objectives:
1 discuss the concepts related to crime and deviance
2 evaluate different perspectives on crime and deviance
3 analyse available crime statistics and issues related
to crime and deviance in the Caribbean
4 discuss the effects of crime and deviance on
Caribbean society
5 assess the effectiveness of the institutions of social
The skills you learn in this chapter pertain to Unit 2,
Module 3 Caribbean Social Issues: Poverty, Health and
Specific Objectives:
1 discuss the key concepts related to major social
2 apply the main sociological perspectives to
understand the major Caribbean social issues
3 analyse the major Caribbean social issues
5 evaluate the measures employed to address these
major Caribbean social issues
This text is written with the understanding that anyone who comes to the discipline of Sociology for the first
time, whether as a 6th form or university student, needs curriculum materials that recognize this ‘newness’.
You will find therefore that the needs of the learner are foremost in the language used as well as in its
structural features.
While the jargon of sociology must be employed, the meanings of terms are either given directly or
embedded in the related text. This is important because most introductory sociology texts are written
with university students in mind and the student is expected to move with ease through rather ‘dense’
passages. The transition from 5th to 6th form is formidable enough without having to negotiate texts
targeting university students. Using a variety of examples not only from the Caribbean but also from
other societies, the text errs on the side of ‘thick description’ rather than summary presentations.
The structural features serve to enhance the readability of the text. Boxes are used to give greater detail
to ideas and practices related to what is being discussed. Activities punctuate the text from time to
time and are themed to represent some aspect of sociology, for example applying social theory, critical
reflection, inquiry skills, the comparative element in sociology, and others. There are also quotes and
brief statements teasing out sociological thinking on a number of issues. Photographs, diagrams and tables
also convey sociological information. A glossary is given at the end of the book for key terms.
At the end of each chapter, an answer critique is given for one of the essay questions set with
annotations. In the Answers Pages at the end of the book, there are answers to multiple choice
questions and structured questions.
The Content
The intent of this sociology text is to lead learners into a way of thinking that allows them to stand back
and observe themselves as social beings and at the same time observe other social beings going about their
lives within a framework known as society. The challenge with sociology is that you are expected to examine
your own lives, your own reactions, prejudices, even your own socialization. This could be daunting but also
exciting. Sociology opens up the possibility for students to penetrate social issues with more clarity and to
garner insights about controversies and happenings in their societies, guided by the sociological perspectives.
It is these kinds of competencies that the Caribbean Region needs as it confronts the social changes and
continuities of the 21st century. Sociology gives the student the unique opportunity to ‘make the familiar
strange’, which is something to treasure because for many society is merely the taken-for-granted backdrop
of their lives.
to Sociology
Welcome to the beginning of your journey
into the discipline of sociology. Part I
highlights what you will need to know so that
you can more fully engage with sociological
knowledge in Parts II and III. It traces the
beginnings of the discipline and its founders as
well as the sociological concepts, perspectives,
and methods that you must become familiar
with because it is these ‘tools’ which you will
eventually use to ‘unlock’ the sociological
meanings, hidden and otherwise, in social life.
Examples are drawn from the Caribbean and
the wider world.
Chapters 1 to 5 focus on the fundamental concepts of the discipline, the main
sociological perspectives and research methods. The intent is to gradually
build your knowledge and awareness of how sociology undertakes the study
of society. By the end of this section you would realise that all these concepts,
perspectives and research methods come together to construct what is known
as the sociological perspective – the unique ways sociologists set about to examine
and explain the social world.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise that:
sociology is not just about groups, or even individuals, but about unearthing how we relate
and interrelate;
we relate to others through social contexts – groups, institutions, history, the future, norms,
values, organisations and structures;
the sociological perspective, while having commonalities with the economic or the historic,
represents the unique point of view of sociology;
to study sociology meaningfully you have to develop your sociological imagination;
actively engaging in sociological thinking helps you to be more critical and analytical about
the social world.
refers to the
nature of the
bonds or ties
in different
contexts that
encourage or
or living
Understanding the
Sociological Perspective
Compared to the long-established disciplines such as mathematics, physics and
philosophy, sociology is a relative newcomer. Although philosophers and other thinkers
pondered the nature of the social world for ages, it took the upheaval brought about by
the Industrial Revolution and violence in the form of the French Revolution of 1789 to
make it clear that society was a worthy object of systematic inquiry. Concerns focused on
the problem of order and human progress – how could society be made more harmonious
for all and at the same time continue to evolve and improve? And like their colleagues
in the world of physical science, social scientists felt that they could uncover the laws
by which society operated and so be in a position to intervene and restore order. Whilst
those ‘laws’ cannot be treated as scientific laws, sociology has made great strides in
unlocking how individuals relate to the social world and how that world is structured.
Individuals relate through membership in groups and it is this membership that sociology
has taken as its major focus. In other words, the object of inquiry, society, is studied
through the interactions of groups (individuals interacting, their interactions within
groups and interactions among groups). An important aspect of sociology is the study
of the interaction of social institutions – cherished ideas we have (for example, family
forms or religion) that influence the behaviour of groups.
Even so, grasping the scope of sociology sometimes proves elusive. It is possible to complete
a course in sociology without fully coming to grips with human sociality.
Some students come away versed in the structures that pervade social life or the sociological
perspectives (major theories about society such as Functionalism and Marxism) – yet
the crucial piece of the puzzle, relationships, is somehow not fully grasped. This chapter
outlines important aspects of the sociological point of view – the sociological perspective.
The Social World
As you begin the study of sociology, there are two
important ideas to note. One is that what sociologists
focus on in their study of the social world may vary
according to their approach. Different approaches
focus on different aspects of the social. For example,
in a study of street children in a Caribbean city, one
approach may impose conditions about who should be
included, limiting the children by age, how long they
have been on the streets, and whether they have been
there continually or have been in and out of homes and
institutions. Another approach may just focus on the
experience of life on the streets for children the researcher
encounters. Yet another approach may emphasise ways of
overcoming and resistance among street children. The
different approaches (or perspectives) are fully described
in Chapter 3.
The second idea is that much of what you will be
studying is actually familiar to you – the social world.
But, your familiar, common-sense understandings may
be at odds with the ways in which sociologists use a term.
For example, a popular definition of sociology is the study
of society but there are a variety of meanings that the term
‘society’ enjoys and the meanings most familiar to us
are not the ones important in sociology. More on this
later, but note that our pre-knowledge about the most
fundamental concept in sociology (society) is something
we have to be careful about.
When we speak about society we normally conjure up
images of people (though animals have social life too
– think of bees and their highly organised existence).
We often limit this image to the nation state so that a
society is located within national borders (though we
acknowledge that it could be applied internationally as
in the term ‘Caribbean society’). At the same time we
can adjust this image to accept specialised uses of the
term such as ‘high society’, meaning the world of the
upper classes or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals, a specific organisation. Sometimes we see it
as an ideal, something to which we are aspiring as in ‘the
good society’.
However, the idea of ‘society’ in sociology is not
primarily one about people. Neither is it about individuals.
All the uses of the term described above are found in
sociology because they are part of the social world but
the discipline itself has a specialised meaning for the
term. In sociology society refers to the interaction of social
groups based on their systems of beliefs, values and behaviours.
These systems of beliefs are carried or borne by members of
these groups and in their lives and in their relationships
these beliefs and values are enacted to a greater or lesser
BOX 1.1
extent resulting in a wide range of behaviours. If there
were a focus on the individual we would not see clearly
how beliefs, values and behaviours are shared and made
meaningful through interaction. That is why there is an
emphasis on the collective and the individual fades into
the background. However, the individual is not ignored
– as a bearer of beliefs and values and as an actor of
behaviours in relation to others he or she continues to be of
interest to the sociologist. Box 1.1 explores belief systems
in two different societies.
So far we have said that in sociology the term society
refers to intangibles such as group interactions based
on their belief system or systems. To become a system
of beliefs these beliefs (comprising values and resulting
in behaviours) must be shared or there must be some
form of participation on the part of groups for the system
to evolve. Thus, society is not just the sum of people
but how their living together, making rules and sharing
meaning (developing a culture) influence members.
At this point then the meaning of ‘society’ deepens.
It is not just the beliefs and values that are of interest to
the sociologist but how groups participate in building
or opposing this system of beliefs and how it influences
their behaviours. To examine this, the sociologist must
focus on the relationships existing between individuals in
groups and between one group and another. To share a
American vs. Caribbean Societies
Some societies have different beliefs and value
systems and because of that their societies differ
remarkably. For example, societies such as the
United States, Canada, Britain and Australia
have been described as ‘individualist’ meaning
that there are dominant beliefs which value
the individual (‘I’) over others, and personal
independence and initiative in making one’s way
in the world. Other societies emphasise more
explicitly collective values – group solidarity,
communal or shared organisation of resources and
living arrangements, and a dependence on others
for happiness and well being.
And because each society is made up of different
groups some groups (within Caribbean society for
example) act from more individualist orientations
than others. Those who embrace the modernising
influences of higher education, professional career
paths, and urban lifestyles are more likely to have
beliefs valuing an individualist consciousness. Those
living in rural areas, in large extended families,
employed in family businesses, or who are deeply
religious tend to value the collective identity.
The statement ‘society would not permit that’
alerts us to how we may be influenced by group
beliefs and values. The assumption is that we all
share in an understanding of society as some sort
of moral police controlling our behaviours, that
there are ‘laws’ (and it is the largely unwritten
ones we are concerned with here) which govern
our interactions and our behaviours. When we say
that ‘society is greater than the sum of its parts’ we
also acknowledge this. Box 1.2 opposite touches on
the power of society over us – in this case, gender
relations. We may think we understand growing
up and relating to the opposite sex – but do we …?
BOX 1.2
Gender and Society
Below, a male author describes the complex
relationships between males and females
as they grow up in society. He outlines
a contradictory set of behaviours and
expectations. While this cannot be said to be
the experience of all men, it gives a flavour
of some of the values that young men have
to negotiate in society as they interact with
the opposite sex.
But all men, including myself, do not just love
women. We do not only see them as colleagues,
friends, lovers; as sexually desirable, physically
attractive, mentally stimulating. We fear them,
hate them, marginalise them, denigrate them
and categorise them. And we continually strive
to control and dominate them.
(Clare 2000, p. 194)
The quote above shows how our grasp of
social situations (in this case gender
relations) may be coloured by our familiarity
with them. It is difficult to suspend familiar
ways of understanding society (or gender
relations). However, it is important to persist
as you will continue to meet concepts later
on where there appears to be a disconnect
between the familiar and the sociological
use of the term. This is because we already
know many of the terms – institution,
organisation, culture, society – but in the
study of sociology they have precise
meanings. Persisting in using even the term
‘society’ in the familiar way, may lead you
into sometimes believing that the subject
eludes you, that you don’t quite get it.
belief or value persons must interact and develop some
sort of relationship. To remain aloof and not share in
some practice, for example to be vegetarian in a family of
meat lovers, means that that person is operating according
to an alternative belief system about food, nutrition and
even spirituality. And this is how that individual relates
to the rest of the group – it is not a case of not relating, it
is a case of relating in a different and oppositional, even
resistant, way.
Thus, relationships comprise the core of sociology.
How groups form relationships, the relatedness between,
say, the family and religion (two social institutions)
and how the downturn in the economy relates to the
elderly as a group are all sociologically sound questions.
They all refer to relationships though that may be an
unfamiliar way for you to think of relating to others.
In each case the object of inquiry is the relationship
between the beliefs, values and behaviour of one group
and another or the ways in which groups interrelate
based on their beliefs and values.
We have grown up in society and been encouraged
to think of ourselves as individuals, which sometimes
develops into a competitive and individualistic world
view. But, from the standpoint of sociology there is
really nothing but relationships. Even being competitive
means you are fashioning a relationship with others – you
can’t be individualistic by yourself, it must be in relation
to others. There is no individual as such – there is an
individual in society. This is difficult to come to grips
with as we tend to think of our internal, private selves as
apart from the world. (Yet, this too is social – what do
we think about in our private thoughts and reflections if
not about ourselves in the world?)
Detecting relationships in a sociological way is not
always easy. We know of obvious connections such
as our family and circle of relatives. Having parents,
grandparents, aunts and uncles also means that there
is a common pool of property that provides a focus
for memories as in an old family home. Yet in these
relationships there are differences – think of how the
younger generation interacts with older members. And
for those who have moved to towns or metropolitan
countries contact may be sporadic or in this age of
telecommunications it may be intense. There may also
be members of your family with whom you have never
or seldom interacted. Sociology views these relationships
as networks in which we are embedded and which did
not just arise or become so for no apparent reason.
Looking at the different ways in which we interrelate
we may find for example that the younger generation
does not believe in the value of family land which the
older heads have tried to preserve. Members who have
migrated may keep close ties even if they cannot visit
often and may send foreign goods on a regular basis.
That constitutes a relationship where the migrant is
operating out of a belief system which values home,
family and the ‘Caribbean connection’. There may be
minimal contact if the migrant has taken strongly to
the metropolitan ways of life and feels that back home
is a place fraught with problems and inefficiencies. So,
from a sociological standpoint everything is related to
something. We are always in relationship to something.
For those new to sociology this is an important idea
to grasp. It discourages a focus on the individual
or on uniqueness.
Ways of relating are based on some beliefs, values and
assumptions we have about each other and this operates
at the ‘micro level’ of individuals and their families as
well as at the ‘macro-level’ of social institutions. The
latter constitute systemic patterns created through well
established rules we follow and which thereby influence
our beliefs, values and behaviours. For example:
■ The social institution of the economy may have
policies discriminating in favour of ‘productive’
citizens, thus sidelining the elderly. This ‘relationship’
is based on prevailing beliefs about the aged and their
value to society.
■ The social institution of religion in Caribbean
societies shows a relationship with socio-economic
class. Most members of Afro-centric religions (such
as Kumina) belong to lower socio-economic classes.
Suggest why that may be.
■ When we look at academic achievement for all
socio-economic classes we see a distinct relationship
between the social institution of education and the
economy – the children of the well to do persistently
achieve at higher levels. What do you think are the
important relationships that sustain this picture?
We are all embedded in relationships. Persons new
to sociology are sometimes disturbed by the assumption
that we are less individual than we think we are. This
is because the popular notion of society in everyday life
Look at the photos below and for
each describe the possible social
relationships that you think are
is that it is a synonym for ‘people’ and we get lost in
the crowd. If we didn’t do sociology we would never
really come to grips with the idea that society is a ’force’
(of beliefs and values), something in process, that greatly
influences us, sometimes seeming beyond our control. It
is likened to living in a fish bowl. Now try Activity 1.1
Sociological Thinking
Let us put into practice some of what we have
been learning by employing sociological thinking
(Box 1.3). Sociological thinking as outlined above tries
to uncover how this group of men is ‘located’ – their
social positioning and relationships. It may show that
they live in environments and are involved in relationships
that lead, with very few restraints, to a life of crime.
Their family members may be involved; they may have
left school without credentials so that only manual or
lowly paid work is available to them; their schooling
experience may have put them off trying again to secure
qualifications; and they may live in communities where
the local ‘don’ ( Jamaican term for local drug lord) or
gangsters are the role models.In short, they may get more
messages that their way of life is ‘normal’ and accepted by
their group than otherwise.
Box 1.3 also shows that sociologists, in order
to be faithful to how we are as human beings in the
world, also see as relevant that we must go beyond
the criminal behaviour of a person to look at if, and
BOX 1.3
Sociological Thinking
In analysing the situation described below, the
sociologist must keep the following in mind:
1. Social groups develop relationships that
influence how they see the world.
2. Overarching beliefs, values and behaviours
may not be shared to the same extent by some
3. Understanding these relationships gives us a
clearer sense of the nature of social problems
and possible solutions.
Today in Caribbean societies, particularly in
Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, young men more
than any other group are involved in violent
crimes. Concerned citizens tend to focus on the age
of offenders, their ethnicity, the kinds of crimes
they commit and the areas where they live. Based
on a mixture of such facts and a consensus that
these persons should be conforming to society’s
beliefs, values and behaviours, they then proceed
to label certain categories of youth, their parents,
and their communities as troubled and dangerous.
From here, they go on to suggest remedies for the
problem. While this may be the basic stuff of news
reports and call-in talk programmes, it certainly is
not sociological.
how, that person is involved in family, school, the
church and community. This gives sociologists more
explanatory power – they do not only develop a onesided view of a person (the criminal side) but try to see
the person as not necessarily ‘abnormal’ but as someone
who may be quite ‘normal’ in some of their interactions.
This helps us, when thinking of interventions, because
it does not ‘demonise’ the person – demonizing leads
to interventions such as ‘hunting down’, ‘elimination’,
‘torture’ and ‘weeding out’. In sociology, whether we
study crime, the world of work or students, the focus is
always on trying to see ourselves or others as social beings.
Beginning with a view of only the ‘criminal’ or a ‘poor
worker’, or ‘a student from a single parent home’ begins
to skew our understanding of social life and we may end
up with mono-causal theories of our own making that
cannot go far in helping us to solve social problems.
‘Being sociological’ would mean that
investigators have to look at the young men
engaged in criminal activity according to their
membership in groups and the relationships
between and among themselves and the wider
society. This includes specific attention to how
their system(s) of beliefs, values and behaviours
develop and how they differ from other groups.
Certain questions would be useful:
• What groups do they belong to? (The list might
include ethnic, community, socio-economic
status (SES), age or generational groups, highest
level of education, family, employment.)
• How is membership in these groups affecting
them? What are the relationships they have in
those groups? (Are they being empowered by
membership in these groups? How did school or
the family impact on what they are doing now?
Do the groups they belong to, for example
gangs, communities or families, engage in
violence among members? How are they
recruited into these gangs?)
• What is the relationship like between those
groups and the state, the police, families and
To sum up:
This section of the chapter attempted to describe
the nature of society as it is studied in sociology.
The term ‘society’ has a more systemic meaning
in sociology than just ‘a collection of people’. It
refers to how groups interact and behave based on
their belief and value systems. These interactions
constitute relationships, some of which have
become established enough to form the social
structure (organised patterns) of the society.
However, the sociologist is always alert to see
groups as comprising social beings, meaning that
no one’s life (interactions and behaviours) can be
easily explained – people have to be seen in all their
variety so that we can better grasp how they live
their lives.
The Sociological
Once you are clear about how sociology studies and
characterises society you should next work on acquiring
the sociological perspective. This is the major goal of
anyone enrolled in a sociological course. Sociologists such
as Peter Berger, C. Wright Mills, Émile Durkheim,
and John Macionis, among others, outlined ways to
help us grasp the sociological dimensions of everyday
situations. Again, our common-sense understandings of
daily life may not stress those aspects that are sociologically
important. So we may need to bring about some degree
of shift in our thinking. Collectively their contributions
are referred to as the sociological perspective.
The Personal, the Social
and the Anti-Social
One way in which popular thinking assigns great
significance to the personal without considering the
wider social networks of relationships is often seen in
politics. In response to the rising levels of crime in the
society someone might say: ‘Fire the Minister of National
Security’. The notion that one person (and his or her
colleagues) is standing in the way of solving a deepseated problem such as the escalation of serious criminal
activities would not be thinking about the issue in a
sociological way. It may well be a political solution to fire
the minister but it is not sociological in that all the
relationships between and among the criminals and the
police and the wider society remain intact.
If you know a left-handed person who is unemployed
you may think that that was unfortunate. However,
if a survey showed that most left-handed persons
were unemployed then that would constitute a
sociological relationship worthy of examination.
On the other hand you may be surprised that it is
entirely possible to study one person in a sociological way.
A hermit living in the desert, say, or a Rastafarian living
on a mountain top are representative of a group of people
who have made firm decisions about not participating
in the mainstream life of a society. Their way of life
and their beliefs stand in opposition to the values of the
majority. This is how they relate to the rest of society – by
keeping apart, by offering an alternative lifestyle – in fact
their lives are understandable only because mainstream
society exists. So, it is possible to study one person in a
‘social’ way (as representative of a group’s beliefs, values
and behaviours).
On a similar note, what is ‘anti-social’ cannot
qualify as sociological. For example, men cannot be
studied without reference to women. The existence of
a group known as ‘men’ only makes sense if there is
acknowledgement that another group exists, ‘women’,
with whom they are closely associated and often
compared, and vice versa. To study men as if women
didn’t exist would be to ignore significant things about
the social group, men, for example, that their ‘masculine’
traits can only be seen as ‘masculine’ in relation to another
group designated as ‘feminine’.
Over time in the society we are seeing a gradual
acknowledgement that some of the ways we have of
regarding others are anti-social. Now in history texts
for instance we see a sensitivity to calling our ancestors
‘slaves’ – we now say ‘the enslaved’. In the future we will
probably change ‘prisoners’ to ‘the imprisoned’.
A subject that many of you have done is ‘social studies’.
Reflect on ways in which the teaching of this subject is
sometimes ‘anti-social’.
Seeing the Strange in the Familiar
Peter Berger suggested that the social would become
much clearer to us if we vigilantly looked for the ‘strange’
in the ‘familiar’. The familiar would be the everyday
world of personal experience - our daily lives and
routines. The strange would be the impact and influence
of social patterns (the arrangements of groups such as
social institutions) on our familiar world. In other words,
in our personal or familiar world we should be able when
we have developed the sociological perspective to detect
how ‘social’ forces (the strange) are impacting on us. One
implication of this is that when we think we are making
our own decisions about how our life should unfold
chances are we are being constrained by how the social
world is organised.
As you may be becoming aware, it is not at all easy
to see (uncover) the strange in the familiar. We don’t
normally think of our lives and our affairs as permeated
by society (group behaviours and interactions based on
beliefs and values). But for us to be able to think critically
and reflectively about social issues or problems (or even
Let us consider the options of a sixth form student. In
choosing what to do after school. To what extent is this
student influenced by beliefs, values and behaviours
already in place? For example:
• Is it really a ‘personal’ desire to want to attend a
• If there was the possibility that you could do
anything you wished on leaving school, what would
you choose?
• If you still say, ‘attend university’, or for whatever
you do say, consider whether what is ‘personal’ is
still being influenced by what is ‘social’.
our own lives) we have to be able to analyse ours or
another group’s or individual’s social location – how we are
or they are positioned in a network of relationships (their
contexts). The difficulty arises because we are trying
to study phenomena from inside those phenomena –
meaning that familiarity often clouds our judgement.
Box 1.4 provides some examples of relationships that
are easy to misjudge – meaning we may look at these ‘social
actors’ as making their decisions with clear ideas about
their intentions – because it is happening in their familiar
world. In addition, we may by judging them not realizing
BOX 1.4
that they may be acting out beliefs and values relevant to
their social location (the strange). These examples serve to
alert us that what we think of as ‘familiar’ – meaning we
are accustomed to seeing it and judging it and think we
understand it – may not be so at all when we recognise
how ‘the strange’ is interweaved in it.
As is developed in Box 1.4, the strange refers to how
the wider social system impacts on everyday life. Poverty
and disadvantage perhaps are two issues that one never
would have brought to bear before in discussing why
some people throw rubbish into the river. Similarly,
the introduction of computers in schools or any other
innovation is not normally viewed as relating to the
hierarchical relationships that exist between principal
and teachers or between teachers and students or whether
teachers find the school to be enabling or coercive.
In proceeding to make the familiar strange or to see
the strange in the familiar, what Berger is urging us to
do is to see how society is shaping our beliefs, values
and behaviours in our everyday familiar world. We can
only do this through a process of unmasking reality
by looking beyond what is obvious and deliberately
questioning what we have usually taken for granted. To
do so we must try to introduce into our observations and
analyses of everyday life (the familiar) the admission that
society (the strange) does impact on us and our task is to
assess to what extent that is happening.
What’s Strange and What’s Familiar
1. Sometimes people throw large items like tyres,
stoves and mattresses into a river even though
they know that it could lead to flooding. Their
defense is more or less that they are poor
people with no organised garbage disposal
facilities as occurs in affluent areas.
A snap judgement here based on it being
a ‘familiar’ issue would be to castigate
such a person as uncaring of sustainable
environmental practices. The judgement could
be true but a closer understanding of the
relationships operating here would show that
such a judgement is unmindful of people’s
lives. Poor people who feel oppressed by their
location in the social system often do not have
the ‘futuristic’ (and optimistic) perspective that
others have who are not so bogged down in a
daily struggle to survive. Throwing things into the
river might also be their way of getting back at
society for the marginalisation they experience.
2. There tend to be positive feelings associated
with putting computers in schools as there is
much conviction that computers would boost
It is seldom acknowledged that computers
alone cannot do the trick. It requires teachers
who are computer literate and technology
savvy as well as the provision of infrastructure
and internet connections on the part of the
school. For many teachers the move from
traditional ways of operating to embracing an
approach calling for consistently integrating
technology with instruction is not just a
matter of personal choice and capability. If
the school battles with discipline problems, if
teachers are at loggerheads with the principal,
if teacher absenteeism and poor achievement
are common, then the motivation may not
be there to change accustomed ways. School
culture plays a major role in whether innovation
would be successful – it is seldom just about the
hardware or the personal strengths of teachers.
It is more difficult for some persons to acquire the
sociological perspective. If you are socially located in the
mainstream of society – that is, you are not very different
in terms of what beliefs and values you hold from the
majority of people – then it would take some effort to
‘see’ the strange in the familiar. However, if you belong to
groups on the margins of society – the very poor, people
living with HIV/AIDS, the homeless, the disabled, and
those practicing minority religions, even being a low
achiever at school, you would have long been involved in
critiquing and examining the taken-for-granted nature of
social life. The section below continues with developing
this theme of the sociological perspective.
Seeing the General in the Particular
This is another way that Berger (1963) has chosen to speak
about the influence of the social system in an individual’s
life. It refers to a search for general social patterns in the
lives of particular individuals and so emphasises the role
of social groups and social institutions in a person’s life.
For example, we may believe that in choosing someone
to marry we are responding to what we ardently desire
in a mate – for example, someone with the following
qualities: good-looking, having a pleasant disposition
and a winning personality, being gainfully employed and
possessing similar values to ourselves. If a sociologist said
that you chose a mate according to the prevailing social
norms for someone of your socio-economic status and
ethnicity you might respond that this was absurd. That it
was too impersonal. That choosing a mate had to do with
making a connection with someone and surely that was a
very personal matter. Chances are however (though there
will be exceptions) that you chose just as the majority
of people choose according to certain patterns of race,
religion and social class (i.e. your social location).
It may be disturbing to find out that you didn’t really
‘choose’ from a level playing field. If you are of a middle
income family then there is the very real likelihood that
much higher income persons do not move in your circle.
The same could be said for the very poor. Choice of a
mate is constrained by whom you meet on a regular basis
and that is dictated by the social patterns or structures
operating in mainstream society. If society brings you
together on a regular basis (attend the same school, live in
the same neighbourhood, work in the same area) then it
is likely that your choice of a mate will come from these
networks. If you got past all these social patterns and
structures that obstruct one social class from interacting
fully with another and really did meet someone you liked
from a high income bracket the probability is that you
would not be welcomed with open arms by the family.
Wealthy families tend to practice exclusion and act as
gatekeepers to secure their fortune.
The ‘general’ in this case points to how the wealthy
obstruct and prevent those whom they do not approve
of from accessing social mobility. It refers to social
stratification (Chapter 9). Whilst marriage is of
enormous significance to everyone, to those of high
status and income it is viewed as a potential loophole that
may allow ‘unsuitable’ persons into their family. How
does ‘the particular’ come into play? If you know persons
belonging to high income groups you may notice aspects
of the general in their ‘particular’ lives – for example, that
they go to schools with students of similar background,
that they party with the same clique and that they tend
to live in similar neighbourhoods. On a daily basis then
persons of different social strata seldom interact closely
with each other.
We also see the ‘general’ operating in the ‘particular’
in other ways related to marriage and the choice of a
mate. Put yourself to the test. Which of the following
do you believe?
that people fall in love?
in love at first sight?
that love is blind?
that true love is forever?
that everyone has one true love?
These ideas about love and marriage are fairly well
solidified in the array of beliefs about courtship, love
and marriage in our society. They all point to a deep
belief in romantic love (something that is ‘general’).
However, personally you may be skeptical about what
true romance involves (mystery, wonder, and fulfillment
with another). It is not easy in today’s world to totally
accept a vision of one’s future life with a significant
other as steeped in romance. (This is an example of
‘the particular’ operating within a generalised, idealised
picture.) As a result romantic love in the society is taking
a beating from the mounting incidence of divorce,
domestic abuse, and the fluidity of relationships. But,
we continue to see it as a prevailing belief even though
there are counter-beliefs. When we see persons ‘in love’
we understand that that is an example of the general in
the particular. And when we see persons deciding to
remain single or unmarried whilst still being involved
in relationships we are aware that counter-beliefs can
exist and be growing even whilst the ‘grand narrative’ of
romantic love and conjugal bliss remains vibrant. If you
are able to ‘see’ the general but also particular instances
of contradiction then you are employing the sociological
To sum up:
Consider marriage. Inside a marriage a man and a
woman may experience personal troubles, but when
the divorce rate during the first four years of marriage
is 250 out of 1,000 attempts, this is an indication of
a structural issue having to do with the institutions
of marriage and the family and other institutions that
bear upon them.
(Mills, 1959, p.9)
In this section the sociological perspective was
explored – ways of viewing what is sociological.
It is key to the development of the sociological
imagination which is our next topic. Looking for the
general in the particular and looking for the strange
in the familiar are just different ways of capturing
our relationship with our society. Interestingly, we
also saw that having the sociological perspective
meant that we are able to detect the contradictions
and counter-beliefs in what appear to be general
society-wide beliefs.
The Sociological
The sociological perspective as outlined in the section
above comprises an orientation or a way of looking at
things sociologically. They represent important building
blocks in helping us to develop our sociological imagination.
C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist (1916–62),
described the sociological imagination as the ability to see
how our lives and our problems are related to historical events
and social forces in the world. In 1959 Mills wrote a book
called The Sociological Imagination where he described
how an individual’s life (biography) is linked or related
to the history of his or her society. Mills began his book
by saying:
Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a
series of traps. They sense that within their everyday
worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in
this feeling they are often quite correct: What ordinary
men are directly aware of and what they try to do are
bounded by the private orbits in which they live…
(Mills, 1959, p.3)
Not being able to see your troubles as linked to
the structure of society may drive someone to try to
personally resolve them. However, if the problem is
indeed social in nature and impact, then it is hardly likely
that one individual could free himself or herself from the
‘trap’. Mills goes on:
Mills is saying that developing the sociological
imagination would show us more realistically the nature
of the problems we face. For instance, individuals must
grasp the connections between their lives now and the
history of their society which has structured the society
as it is today. If we do not, then we may continue to feel
that our personal trouble is somehow limited to ourselves
and we may be helpless in ever solving it. If we can see
clearly, for example, that the values which undergird
traditional marriage are being swept away by secular
lifestyles, feminism, educational opportunities and the
media then it is likely that in a marriage partners would
be more receptive to taking on non-traditional roles and
responsibilities thereby heading off potential conflict. For
problems like unemployment and crime the sociological
imagination may enable a person to move beyond
personal experiences and take part in societal movements
for improving social life generally.
A well-developed sociological imagination enables us
to view the world more intelligently and thus be in a
better position to improve our circumstances. Box 1.5
focuses on ourselves and how we can better understand
the world of work through our sociological imaginations.
Developing the sociological imagination then is an
important task set for a sociology student. In the above
section, the contribution of Mills is emphasised who
suggested that in observing what is going on in social life
we should also seek connections and relationships with
history, biography, and culture.
The Dimensions of
Sociological Thinking
The sections above give some ideas about how to grasp
what the study of society and sociology are all about. This
way of beginning a course on sociology was deliberately
chosen because often sociology is portrayed in textbooks
as ‘the study of society’ and little concious effort is made
to show the reader that he or she is personally involved
or that the object of inquiry is quite elusive or that we
already have notions of society which may interfere
BOX 1.5
The Individual, the Society and Work
We are connected in our daily lives to the history
of our society - biography and history connect.
For example, we are often asked by our national
leaders to buy into a particular concept of
‘development’. Tangible signs of prosperity or
progress as in the construction of big buildings,
huge road works such as bridges and flyovers
and industrial complexes emphasise that
concept of development. Less often do we hear
about ‘development’ as constituting enabling
relationships between altogether different
sectors of society – the affluent and the poor,
ethnic groups, the abled and the disabled, and
government and its citizens.
This dominant understanding of development
links us to the world economy and values that
emphasise profit making, science, technology,
bureaucracy, corporations, and impersonal work
relations. According to Mills, we can guage the
impact of history on our lives if we reflect on
how we hold such mainstream values. While
we may be stressed by the pressures of modern
living, do we feel that we have no choice but to
go to work, take orders, and strive to achieve
more and more success by seeking better jobs or
with our developing sociological understandings. We
go on now to summarise what a sociological study
should involve – in other words how do you know that
you are doing good sociology or that you are thinking
sociologically? The dimensions of sociological thinking
are outlined below and vary from one writer to the next
but this list of characteristics receives widespread support
about what gives the discipline its distinctive character.
Historical Dimension
The discipline of sociology has an explicit historical
dimension. We already saw that in relation to Mills
who showed the importance of history and biography
in explaining how a person’s life is influenced by societal
(historical) forces. So, when we say that sociology has an
explicit historical dimension we mean that if we set out
to study any aspect of social life in a sociological way we
must acknowledge the impact that history has had on
it. A study done without reference to history would be
anti-social and therefore not good sociology. Anti-social,
because context is an important factor in describing social
more responsibilities with higher pay? If we do
then we have bought into a particular view of
Mills would advocate that if we seek to develop
our sociological imaginations we will be clearer
about our personal lives and see that it is not
necessarily our own ambitions that are driving us.
We are embedded in a social world where certain
values and paths are recognised and applauded
and others are not. To reduce our working hours
so that we spend more time with our families is
not likely to make us popular at work because
it will be introducing beliefs and values that
compete with the dominant idea of development.
It would also mean reduced pay and therefore
less ability to purchase the consumer goods that
tend to characterise a lifestyle where people say
‘he’s doing well’. How many of us are likely to opt
for such choices amidst work pressures urging us
towards more overtime? In fact, which companies
or businesses are likely to take the view that the
impersonal relationships that characterise work are
a serious ‘development problem’ contributing to
resentment, alienation, backbiting and in-fighting
… and take measures to humanise the workplace?
relations, and history situates and locates a phenomenon
in time. For instance, to understand religion today in the
Caribbean we have to be aware of how religions and social
affairs have been connected and (re)structured over time.
This may be somewhat confusing because the question
that next arises is – how does sociology differ from the
discipline of history and vice versa? Undoubtedly, the
greatest area of difference is that history focuses on
time, chronology and the unfolding of events. That is
the specific focus of history although it is studying social
phenomena. Sociology on the other hand turns its
attention to the society at the time – group interactions
based on systems of beliefs, values and behaviours which
influence interrelationships between social units such
as government, education, the economy, and religion.
And those would have been shaped by historical forces.
The discipline of history also recognises the significance
of sociology in a historical account, as ‘social history’
has developed which analyses events in time from the
perspectives of the people involved. Sociological thought
then is historical.
with that of the United Kingdom but in collecting
demographic data on persons who are incarcerated – the
majority being young, black males – commonalities,
differences and unique aspects are revealed. It is good
sociology to include comparisons especially if the study
targets the social system as a whole in one country. For
example, if one is studying the education system in
Barbados the study would not be meaningful if Barbados
was not compared in some way with another country.
That could be one with a similar history of colonialism
and a small island developing state but it could also be quite
different. The point is that it is only in the comparison (for
example, of the achievement scores of students at certain
key levels of the system) that we will get a good sense of
how the system in Barbados is functioning (see Table 1.1
for an example from 2004).
Sociology then as a discipline is comparative because
all societies have organised ways of accomplishing
certain purposes and sociology has evolved common
terms and jargon for examining and describing these
ways. Studying an aspect of the social system in one
country becomes more meaningful if it is compared to
how another country or society has done so.
Conduct library/internet research to determine the
differences between sociology and the following social
science disciplines – anthropology, political science,
geography and economics.
Comparative Dimension
Societies generate social processes and create social
institutions that become part of the social structure.
The social structure refers to the components of the social
system – the patterns and arrangements of groups in a
society which influence the interactions, beliefs, values
and behaviours of members. This way of describing and
analysing a society is relevant to the simplest society and
the most complex. Whilst details may vary considerably
from one society to the next, all societies, now and in
the past, have developed basic patterns of social life that
we refer to as family, the economy, justice, religion,
education, governance and so on. All societies then can
be studied in a systematic way through the terms and
concepts used in sociology that examine social life.
For example, in the study of religion sociologists have
developed terms and concepts such as ‘denominational
religions’, ‘cults’ and ‘sects’ as well as ‘symbols’ and
‘rituals’ which they can then apply to any society as
appropriate. In this way the discipline has an inherent
comparative dimension.
It might not be the intention of a sociologist to
deliberately compare the justice system in Jamaica, say,
The object of inquiry in sociology (i.e. society) shows
1 Social change is a natural part of all social systems. Social
institutions such as the economy were once organised for
hunting and gathering which then became agrarian and
today we have different kinds of industrial systems. At the
Table 1.1 Percentage of students achieving Grade I in selected Caribbean territories for May – June 2004
Percentage of students achieving Grade I at General Proficiency in CSec® examinations
English A
Caribbean History
Social Studies
St Lucia
St Vincent & the
Trinidad & Tobago
Source: CXC, Statistical Bulletin. January and May–June CSEC sittings and May-June CAPE sitting (2004), pp. 46–78.
St Michael’s, Barbados: Caribbean Examinations Council.
same time, all these early economic forms are still found in
various parts of the world. As the economic arrangements
changed so too did family life and family types. Hunting
and gathering economies tended to be characterised by
communal ways of living whilst agrarian ones were
characterised by extended families. The Industrial Age
brought with it great urban centres where the nuclear
family became dominant. In sociology then the actual
aspect of social life that you are studying is undergoing
change as you study it.
2 The discipline itself – not only what it studies – is
undergoing change. In Chapter 2 we will study the
development of the discipline more fully but let us just
note here that its emergence in the 18th and 19th centuries
was steeped in a scientific understanding of social study.
That has changed somewhat today. Additionally, the object
of inquiry for early sociologists tended to be solely trained
on the social system (macrosociology) and while that
emphasis has continued, study of the world of individual
interaction (microsociology) has expanded. Consequently,
methodologies are quite diverse – narratives, life
Methodology describes the methods we use for
sociological research
histories, and portfolios investigate social processes at the
micro-level of society. At the macro-level the study of
general trends in society, for example the spending patterns
of the various socio-economic classes is enhanced by the
use of advanced statistics and computer applications.
3 Since all of human interaction and human behaviour
is social then the situations and scenarios that a sociologist
could study are legion. Today sociologists are engaged in
the study of an ever-expanding array of subject matter:
■ Sociology of the Environment – how social
factors, processes or contexts impact on the
environment. For example, the study of capitalist
growth as in modern corporations, which are
premised on continued profits and increased
consumption, but invariably exploit the environment
(see Chapter 12).
■ Sociology of the Body – how the body is portrayed
in society, the beliefs and social processes associated
with how the body is regarded across time and for
different races and age groups and for men and women.
■ Demography – the statistical study of the structure
of populations and how they change over time with
respect to social processes e.g. economic, historical,
cultural and biological processes (see Chapter 10).
■ Postcolonial Studies – the history of and the
contemporary relations between European nations
and the countries they colonised and how the colonial
encounter has shaped social and cultural life.
Queer Theory – the critique of conventional
perspectives that define the ‘norm’ as heterosexual.
Queer theory focuses on a range of sexualities –
e.g. gay, lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, hermaphrodites,
transsexuals, cross dressers, and groups such the
Fa’afafine found in Hawaii, Samoa and parts of
the Pacific.
Mathematical Sociology – the use of models and
other applications to simulate social issues which
are tested using empirical data drawn from social
groups. For example, the likely diffusion of a disease
based on populations with different characteristics:
homogeneity, socio-economic status, location, size,
and composition.
The Unit of Analysis
When you begin to read sociological studies or you
have to carry out research yourself it is essential for you
to pinpoint exactly what about the social world is being
studied. Although we live our lives in the midst of society
we do not really think of it as a possible object of study.
So, the first thing you have to clarify for yourself when
reading or engaging in sociological study is what is the unit
of analysis being studied – where is the focus and emphasis?
■ The macro- or systemic level would involve the
study of a social issue from a broad national, regional
or international viewpoint. If we take education
as an example, a study which seeks to raise literacy
levels in primary schools would be at the systemic
level. A study seeking to find out if mothers’ level of
education impacts on the nutritional status of their
families would also be a systemic or macro-level study.
■ The meso-level of sociological inquiry is an
intermediate location best described as the study of
organisations. The boundaries between the macro
and meso or the micro and meso are not as well
differentiated as that between the macro and the
micro. An example of a meso-level study would be
to examine businesses in a particular field such as
insurance or advertising to determine how they can
enhance their interface with the public.
■ The micro-level of sociological study is familiarly
known as the world of individual interaction
involving mainly face-to-face, informal
communication. In schools a micro-level study may
involve a teacher and his or her class, interactions on
corridors and playing fields, or interactions between
teachers or between teachers and the principal.
Depending on who the actors are there may be
formal relationships involved.
The emphasis on clarifying the unit of analysis signals
something that is of major and on-going concern in
the discipline of sociology. The questions that interest
sociologists differ markedly at the macro- and microlevels and so the methods of research differ. The unit of
analysis changes then as you move from one level to the
next so that findings cannot be easily generalised.
Systematic Dimension
The discipline is described as ‘systematic’ – its research
procedures are orderly, careful, methodical, logical and
unbiased. This tends to be typical of research carried out
according to the scientific method and so ‘systematic’ is often
meant to be the same thing as ‘scientific’. The early founding
fathers of sociology saw it as a social science not very different
from the natural or physical sciences (see Chapter 2). That
understanding of the nature of sociology has persisted to
this day although there are some approaches to the subject
which now try to emphasise more of its social side.
However, the scientific method is still thought of
today as the major research approach through which new
knowledge is added to the discipline. The same steps are
followed by scientists conducting research in the natural
sciences (physics, biology) and the applied sciences
(medicine, engineering). The sequence of steps and the
procedures of the scientific method ensure that empirical
data are collected and the findings can be generalised –
applied to others who were not actually involved in the
research – and this is its great strength.
Improvement in Social Life
The central reason for engaging in sociological inquiry at
all is a concern with improving social life – a desire for
more enabling and empowering group relationships and
interactions based on more enlightened beliefs, values and
behaviours. In order to do this the discipline focuses on
social problems and issues and unearths ways of relating
that do not violate principles of equity and equality, or
intensify contradictions and tensions, striving to achieve
some vision of the ideal society. Here are some examples
of possible investigations:
■ The eating and sleeping habits of the aged raise issues
about the health risks involved in living alone on
low incomes. Such an investigation will indicate to
government and other agencies that the quality of life
for this group needs to be improved.
■ All-inclusive hotels and resorts indicate that they do
not rely enough on local small businesses for supply or
support services (e.g. taxis, restaurants, local crafts, and
guides). Rural poverty can be reduced if governments
intervene and set up mutually rewarding contractual
agreements with hotel chains.
■ How banks facilitate access to loans or promote
saving by low-income persons may reveal a lack
of understanding of the various categories of lowincome persons and the degree to which they can
withstand financial emergencies.
Chapter Summary
The discipline of sociology takes as its object of inquiry all the relationships of groups making up
the social system. It therefore runs through all aspects of social life and overlaps with other social
sciences. ‘Society’ in sociology refers to how groups ‘carry’ belief and value systems (and not to actual
people) and these systems of interaction shape the structure of society. The sociological perspective
helps the student to clarify how members relate in social groups and contributes to the development
of the sociological imagination – understanding how our lives are influenced by history (or society) and
world events. All sociological inquiry involves the systematic investigation of an aspect of social life
where the unit of analysis is clearly defined, as well as its historical and comparative dimensions and
the dynamism involved in social change. Although sometimes sociologists are criticised for studying
the obvious and focusing on controversial issues, the ultimate project of sociology is to improve the
world and that calls for an attitude that persists in critically appraising how we relate in social life.
Berger, P. (1963). Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective. Broadway, New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell.
Clare, A. (2000). On Men: Masculinity in crisis. London: Chatto & Windus.
Mills, C. W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. London: Oxford University Press.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. In sociology, the term ‘society’ refers to
(a) a collection of people who have lived in
the same place for a long time
(b) systems of beliefs and values borne by
groups which influence interaction
(c) a collective or organisation such as
associations and social institutions
(d) individuals and groups who live within
national borders
2. Identify the object of inquiry in sociology.
relationships of groups
behaviours of individuals
the unit of analysis
the ‘good society’
3. All of the following are examples of the
statement: ‘Society is greater than the sum of
its parts’ EXCEPT
(a) society acts as a moral police
(b) groups create rules for social living
(c) society accepts and does not accept
certain behaviours
(d) groups comprise individuals who are
social actors
4. The family, religion, and education are
examples of
(a) social organisations
(b) social structure
(c) social institutions
(d) social life
5. Which of the following best illustrates the
sociological perspective? The
I longevity of individuals who subsist on fish
as a staple in the diet
II causes of student indiscipline at the
primary and secondary levels
III relations between the unemployed and the
downturn in the economy
I and II
II and III
I and III
I, II and III
6. Which one of the following refers to a person’s
social location? Their
(a) socio-economic status
(b) habits and dispositions
(c) family type
(d) emotions, feelings, and fears
7. All of the following are ways of collecting
empirical data EXCEPT
(a) questionnaires administered to juvenile
delinquents about their treatment by the
(b) house to house collection of census data
every 5 years
(c) documenting one’s own experiences and
insights in an autobiography
(d) interviews of newly qualified teachers
about their first-year teaching experiences
8. The sociological imagination can best be
described as
(a) the ways in which our individual lives are
shaped by the social context
(b) the ways in which the social context is
shaped by our individual lives
(c) relationships between individuals at the
micro-level of interaction
(d) relationships between groups at the macro
or systemic level
9. The unit of analysis in sociology refers to
the aspect of social life under investigation
groups, associations and individuals
social institutions and social organisations
the social system of beliefs and values
10. Which of the following refers to the
comparative element in sociology?
(a) choosing the unit of analysis for a study
(b) applying the scientific method in the study
of migration in the Caribbean
(c) using sociological data from one country
and assessing it against that of another
(d) being mindful that sociological study
includes the historical dimension.
(B) Structured Response Questions
(C) Essay Questions
Each response should be about two or three lines.
Each item carries 4 marks.
(2) Describe what is meant in sociology by the
term ‘society’.
In this section some essay questions are given and
guidelines on how to answer them. The questions
may involve further research building on what
the chapter offers. A specimen answer to the first
of these essays is provided for critique on pages
21–22, with critical annotations.
(3) Describe TWO examples of ‘relationships’ in
The essay should be at least three pages long
(three sides of paper), and show:
(1) Create your own definition of sociology.
(4) Explain what ‘seeing the general in the
particular’ means.
(5) What sociological commonalities are
there between diverse subject areas such
as the sociology of the environment and
not only descriptive skill but analytical skills as
well – i.e. critical and reflective thinking boosted
by examples and counter-examples;
evidence of reading sociological literature
and using that as a base to pull quotes and
summarise the views and theories of the field;
a strong grasp of the discipline so that
the jargon and object of inquiry is clearly
sociological and not based on everyday or
common sense notions;
basic skills in essay writing, including
developing an argument and organising it
efficiently, and crafting it so that the logic is
clear; and
treating the ‘Introduction’ and ‘Conclusion’ as
valid parts of the essay each with a function to
(6) How is biography important in a sociological
(7) Describe an example from your own
experience that relates to the sociological
(8) Using examples show the differences between
‘the social’, ‘the personal’ and ‘the anti-social’.
(9) Distinguish between the ‘object of inquiry’
and the ‘unit of analysis’ in sociological study.
(10) Explain what is ‘systematic’ in the study of
sociology as a discipline.
(1) Explain what is meant by this statement: ‘In
sociology society can be viewed as a process.’
(2) Examine the differences (and the
commonalities) between the disciplines of
sociology and history.
(3) ‘Sociology is the systematic study of the social
behaviour of human beings focusing on how
social relationships shape behaviour and
attitudes.’ Examine this statement showing
whether it is an adequate summation of the
discipline of sociology.
(4) Explain why it is important that someone
new to the discipline of sociology should
thoroughly understand what is meant by ‘the
unit of analysis’.
(5) Discuss FOUR (4) benefits of learning or doing
Sample Answer and Critique
Explain what is meant by this statement: ‘In sociology society is a process.’
The discipline of sociology continually suffers from the common sense notions we learn about
society from living in society. The typical ideas about society that we have developed by growing up
in society tend to regard it as a thing whereas in how sociology approaches the study of any aspect
of social life there are more indications that processes are involved than otherwise. This essay will
show that sociology is a discipline with a particular view of society that is very different from the
common beliefs we have learned and that if we examine this view we can see clearly that society is
indeed a process.
An argument is
being developed
carved out of a
simple strategy
of putting
ideas of society
against those of
the discipline.
The simplest belief we all share is that society is a collection of people living in one place over time.
This view sees society as a specific entity that is limited geographically or confined to national
borders. Undoubtedly, it is a thing contained in a space and not only is this the way it is spoken of
in everyday affairs but other disciplines tend to employ this notion of society. For example, when
we study history we learn about how, let’s say Arawak or Taino society, was organized. That usually
involved how the economic, religious, and political affairs were conducted. It was conceived as
something static and contained in time. Only if something drastic happened, like the coming of
the Europeans, was change acknowledged.
However, there are notions of society which are also found in everyday life that attribute to society
more than it being just a static entity. The popular sayings that ‘society would not allow that
behaviour’ or that ‘society acts as a moral police’ address the idea of society as a force that controls
and organizes our beliefs, values and behaviours. These ideas co-exist with those that regard it as
a thing, and even while it is being acknowledged as a force – there is still the tendency to think of
it as a thing that is a force rather than a process that is a force. Thus, the readiness with which
persons accept the sociological view that society is a process tends to be obstructed by their
everyday experience.
Sociology conceptualizes society as groups or associations who relate in different ways based on
their beliefs and values which shape behaviours and in so doing develop or create the social structure
of the society. The social structure can be described in different ways but essentially it relates to
society as a system with an organized and characteristic pattern of relationships. One of these
patterns is our membership in different socio-economic classes (our family background) and how we
interrelate with other classes as well as within our own social class. An example of interaction or
inter-relationships could be seen in how the different social groups are located in schools and eventually
what jobs they access on the labour market. Here we see inter relationships involving the social
To make the
argument clear,
examples and
expansion are
given of everyday
here a critical
component –
complexity and
confusion about
society as a
After setting
the stage or the
context, sociology
as a discipline is
now fully fleshed
out using one
extended example
about social
institutions of the family, education and the economy. The groups each have to undergo socialization
processes at home and at school, as well as experience the curriculum over a period of years to obtain
credentials for further education or the world of work. As they go through these varied processes
they take up their place (or social location) relative to each other and so continue to develop the
social system (or, society). By simply discussing the inter relationships between any groups we are
able to expose the processes at work in shaping their beliefs, values and behaviours and so we see
society as being in process, always developing.
This stance of sociology – that society is a process – is at the heart of how it views the social world
namely that social life is dynamic and that its historical element must be stressed. The dynamism
of social life means that attention must be devoted to social change in the study of any issue in a
sociological way. (One perspective, Marxism actually emphasizes the role of change in how social
classes are created throughout history.) If sociology places this emphasis on social change and history
then it must view society as more fluid or diffuse than just a thing and always in the grip of
immanent change. If this is so then society has more attributes of being a process than a thing.
Finally, according to Sztompka (1994) the idea of society as a process makes the best sense because
of the endless and continuing ways that society constructs and re-constructs itself over time. Groups
and individuals construct society which (acting as a moral police) in turn constructs groups and
Reflecting and
critically thinking
about an idea or
issue can lead
to insights – e.g.
of analytical
Re-stating the
argument for
the reader to
maintain the logic
of the paper.
Evidence from the
That the term ‘society’ poses so much uncertainty for sociology students could also be due to the
actual terms that are used – ‘structure’, ‘system’, ‘organization’. (This could be because of the influence
of the oldest and most dominant perspective in sociology, functionalism, which tends to stress order
and stability.) Thus, the confusion does not just emanate from the everyday grasp of society as an
entity but within sociology itself there is a view of society which retains elements of it being looked
upon as an object. As is the case with many aspects of social life clear definitions are elusive. As a
result, in sociology society is conceptualized mainly as a process but there are perspectives which
continue to view it as also being a thing in itself.
A conclusion does
not always have
to be a summary.
It could also put a
different spin and
at the same time
draw the main
ideas together.
Sztompka, P. (1994). The Sociology of Social Change. Oxford: Blackwell.
A little short on
the literature.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise that:
accounts of the origins and development of sociology tend to have an Eurocentric bias;
sociology as a discipline is continuing to develop and so today many branches or subdivisions occur within each of the major sociological perspectives;
the idea of sociology as a science began with the origins of the discipline and continues
today especially in the dominant sociological perspectives;
the sociological study of Caribbean societies owes much to our own indigenous theorists
and those debates have enriched sociological theorising in the wider world;
colour, class, race, ethnicity, and education among other factors are deeply embedded in the
study of sociological issues in the Caribbean;
students of Caribbean sociology must also appreciate Caribbean history which provides
links to the present context(s); and
sociology as it evolved in the Caribbean was very much an inter-disciplinary area of inquiry,
integrating insights especially from anthropology, political economy, economics and history.
The Discipline
of Sociology
The story of sociology begins for the most part in Europe, from where it crossed the
Atlantic and flourished in North America, and from where in turn it was imported into
the Caribbean. This chapter outlines the origins of sociology and the major theorists in
the field, known popularly as the Founding Fathers of the discipline. Each one is linked to
a sociological perspective – a well-defined approach to understanding the social world – that
each theorist helped to develop. The chapter then moves on to consider whether sociology
is a science, because in the early origins of the discipline it was clearly thought of in this
way and this question continues to preoccupy us. Finally, we examine the development
of sociology in the Caribbean looking particularly at how it has been influenced by the
nature of its origins overseas and how the local context has added to the discipline.
The Origins of Sociology
The Founding Fathers of the Discipline
Sociology is an academic discipline like chemistry or
history. Academic knowledge on the whole tends to be
A discipline is an organised body of knowledge with its
own concepts (e.g. social change and socialisation) and
typical research methods which add new knowledge.
classified into the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences with some disciplines overlapping, such as
psychology (social science and natural science) and geography (which straddles all three). Sociology is classified as
a social science and compared to other disciplines it is of
relatively recent origin. The Fathers of Sociology (or at
least mainstream sociology) were Auguste Comte and
Émile Durkheim.
Auguste Comte (1798–1857) is hailed as the founder
of sociology. He and Durkheim developed different
versions of a philosophy known as positivism. Comte’s
theory, a science of society, focused on the role and function
of science in the development of society. For him sociology
was ‘the queen of the sciences‘. Sociology therefore had
to have a scientific basis, and this was judged as reliance
on empirical data (see Box 2.1) to discover the laws of
Empirical data is based on experience, observations and
Auguste Comte
Émile Durkeim
human social action. To discover these laws was the
ultimate project of sociology and underlies the quest of
Comte and others for the bases of social order.
Like Comte, Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) lived
in France at a time of rapid social change marked by the
growth of business and industry, wars and the expanding
colonial empires of European countries. Social change
encourages those who study the society to try to explain
what is happening. Durkheim, building on the work of
Comte, developed the Functionalist Perspective ( Chapter 3)
in sociology which likened society to an organism with
parts (social institutions and customs) that contributed
to the maintenance of social solidarity. Durkheim believed
that achieving social solidarity (known in sociology as
consensus) was the goal or purpose of a society and thus
what a sociologist should study. For example, he did not
see religion as only something personal but rather with
strong implications for social solidarity and cohesion.
Durkheim developed the discipline of sociology so
that it was studied for the first time at university. In the
spirit of Comte, it was taught as the science of society. One of
Durkheim’s main contributions was to demonstrate the
existence of social facts independent of human beings. In his
empirical study of suicide he argued that whether people
changed religions, emigrated or became prosperous,
suicide would still occur. It was therefore an objective
social fact. He was equally renowned for the rigour with
which he conducted research. In 1895 he published the
Rules of the Sociological Method outlining the application
of what was called ‘the scientific method’ to sociology.
His empirical studies of religion, crime, education, and
the law demonstrated how sociology could be studied –
analyzing social facts through experimental, quantitative
methods that relied on statistics.
Both Comte and Durkheim were concerned with
the problem of social order. Social order is one of the
principles of sociology (like socialisation) and refers to
the processes in a society which tend to keep relationships
steady and stable so that certain behaviours, attitudes and
values become ‘normalised’. Durkheim, largely because
of his empirical work (Box 2.1), which emphasised the
usefulness of quantitative data in generalizing findings
BOX 2.1
and conclusions to large social groups, continues to be a
major figure in sociology.
Critical thinking
‘Comte is hailed as the founder of sociology.’ Is this a
realistic claim? Can any one person be regarded as the
founder of a discipline? (The study of social life goes
back to at least the Greeks and Egyptians. And in Europe
there were earlier thinkers on whose work Comte built.)
Conduct your own research to determine which thinkers
influenced the development of Comte’s sociology.
Mainstream sociology today is squarely based on the
contributions of Durkheim in configuring the discipline
as a science, adhering to empirical data and ‘the scientific
method’, emphasizing order in society and focusing
research on the social system. His work is rooted in
positivism, understood as the philosophy undergirding the
natural sciences and views reality as lying in the outside
world, an objective reality (Box 2.2).
BOX 2.2
Positivism is closely aligned with empiricism.
It is a philosophical position that says that
the only true reality is that which lies outside
of us which we can observe, measure,
experience and test. It is the view of reality
or philosophy underlying the natural
sciences. The methods used by scientists are
therefore empirical in nature.
Empiricism refers to a way of knowing that
it is claimed gives rise to true and valid
knowledge. This way of knowing comes
from our senses and is known as sensory
knowledge or data. If we can hear, touch,
taste, see or smell something we agree that
it exists and is real. We can experience it
and we have evidence against which we can
test those experiences. This position rejects
dreams, visions, intuition, imagination, and
the emotion as sources of valid knowledge
– all cannot experience them in the same
way, nor are they available to double-check
as evidence. Empirical data represents
knowledge at the heart of what has come to
be known as the ‘scientific method’.
Karl Marx
Karl Marx (1818–83),
another giant in the development of the discipline, was a
German philosopher who
devoted his life to studying
political economy – the study
of politics, economics and
sociology. Marx examined
the range of social institutions to discover how power
and influence developed and
how that impacted different
groups of people over time
in different countries. He
too lived at a time of great social stress (the Industrial
Revolution in Great Britain) and witnessed first hand the
exploitation of the poorer classes by the new industrialists and capitalists.
Marx’s contribution to sociology differed from that of
Comte and Durkheim – he felt that conflict and contradiction
more readily explained social conditions than order
and consensus – and so set in motion the development
of another kind of sociology that was not based on
positivism but on dialectics (see Chapter 3). Marx
differed too in how he thought of ‘society’. He spoke of
it as the ‘social formation’, underscoring that it was not
complete and fully developed but always in the process of
change. In his critique of social development over time
he showed that the search for order was misguided, that
what needed to be studied was the dynamic of conflict.
In studying both of these sociological perspectives –
Functionalism and Marxism – we will discover that they
conceive of key terms differently, for example, ‘society’,
‘conflict’, ‘contradiction’, and ‘labour’, and so these terms
have to be used carefully.
Marx (together with Engels) developed a theory of
how societies change over time and thus became the cofounder of the Conflict/Marxist Perspective in sociology.
He focused the study of society on social change rather
than social order. The main idea in Marx’s work is that
the history of all societies is the history of class struggle.
That is a Marxist principle and he looked for and wrote
about how class is structured in any era, for example early,
feudal and capitalist societies. According to Marx, class
struggle develops out of conflict and contradiction within
the economy and relations between the social classes and
will reach a point where one class will become dominant
(and the process continues until the state withers away).
The philosophy undergirding Marx’s thought is
known as dialectical materialism (Chapter 3). This has
its origins in the philosophy of the German philosopher
Georg Hegel who elaborated a comprehensive system
showing that all philosophies over time were overtaken
by other ideas in continuous struggle or conflict (the
dialectic). But the process of engaging with the other ideas,
mediating them, resolving them or otherwise, did not
necessarily diminish the original ideas or reduce one to
another. They were all part of the evolution or progress
of human existence.
Max Weber (1864–1920), a German sociologist
and historian, pursued studies in law, politics, history,
economics and sociology. He was a contemporary of
Durkheim’s and put sociology on yet another path by
rejecting positivism and its exclusive reliance on objective knowledge and instead made a case for embracing
subjectivity. He felt that a
‘social’ science which investigated social processes
should be more concerned
with the values and behaviours of individuals rather than only ‘objective’ data.
Sociology was now recognizing the possibilities of
the micro-level of human
interaction and the contexts
in which people lived in an
attempt to explain society.
Functionalism and Marxism
Max Weber
tended to focus only on the
system or the macro-level. Studying something as complex as society in this way, was more far-reaching than
the methods of Comte and Durkheim, who did not admit the significance of the subjective aspects of individual behaviour, and of Marx, who focused mainly on the
institution of the economy.
Using an Index
Weber, like Marx and Durkheim, has made a
monumental contribution to the discipline of sociology.
Use the index at the back of the book to find details on
all of the sociologists discussed here – each chapter will
describe how their thought has influenced sociological
theorising on many different topics.
Today we study Comte, Durkheim, Marx and Weber
as founders of different sociologies. Their work developed
into at least three different and competing theories of
society, called sociological perspectives: Functionalism
(Comte and Durkheim), Conflict Theory or Marxism
(Engels and Marx) and Interactionism (Weber), all of
which are discussed in Chapter 3.
Developments within the Discipline
Sociology as a discipline was mainly concerned with
improvements in social conditions, including the necessity
for order in society. This concern was reflected from time
to time in the writings of European philosophers predating Comte. In periods of extreme violence and misery
those who studied social life – philosophers, political
scientists, historians, lawyers, and theologians – sought
theoretical understandings of how conditions could be
changed so that people could live in freedom and safety.
Sociology eventually moved across the Atlantic and
was taught at universities in the United States where the
dominant perspective was Functionalism. Caribbean
sociology began with a strong Functionalist orientation
largely because university lecturers had been schooled
in the United States and influenced by such persons as
Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton. Later scholars
continued to develop the ideas of the original theorists,
sometimes into approaches having different emphases so
that there is variety within any one perspective.
A discipline becomes established normally through
the work of universities – through the research conducted
by faculty, the courses they teach, the textbooks they
write and the journals they establish. In this way a
mainstream approach to the discipline develops which
defines its main concepts and methods. When there are
enough faculty members interested in other approaches
to the subject, and only then, are additional concepts
and diverse methods recognised. Sociology was first
taught at universities in the United States around the
1920s and in the Caribbean around the 1960s and it was
the Functionalist approach which was dominant (based
on the philosophy of positivism). Today it continues to
be dominant but other perspectives namely Marxist/
Conflict perspectives and Interpretive theory also receive
a great deal of attention (see Figure 2.1).
Functionalism /
Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
In Chapter 1 we learned a specialised meaning for the
term ‘society’ in sociology – the interaction of social groups
based on their systems of beliefs, values and behaviours. However,
there is another understanding of society that has become
prominent over time not only in the discipline but in
layman’s use as well. That is, equating the society with
the state. In the late 19th and 20th centuries sociology
began to take on a narrower focus researching events
and processes important to the nation state. National
sociologies developed such as British sociology or French
sociology which continued the process of differentiation
within the discipline.
■ British sociology emphasised empiricism, quantitative
and statistical studies and facts rather than on
explanatory theory.
■ French sociology – possibly because of the
enormous upheaval caused by the French Revolution
– emphasised rationalism and social order.
■ German sociology was informed by idealism which
maintained that there was no objective world without
the knowing subject. This is a tenet today of interactive
sociology – namely that the nature and organisation
of society is not a thing in itself but a product of
the mind. And the human mind in turn is informed
by society.
Émile Durkheim (1858-1917)
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)
Robert Merton (1910-2003)
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979)
Marxism /
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Germany, Britain
Antonio Gramsci
(1891-1927) Italy
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)
Nicos Poulantzas
(1936-1979) Greece
Louis Althusser (1918-1990)
Ralf Dahrendorf (1929-2009)
Germany, Britain
C.Wright Mills
(1916-1962) USA
Interactionism /
Max Weber (1864-1920)
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929)
Alfred Schutz (1899-1959)
Harold Garfinkel, (born 1917
Figure 2.1 The sociological perspectives
Researching Sociology as a Discipline
Research the ideas of the following thinkers and answer the question embedded in
each short biography.
1. Ibn Khaldùn,an Arab thinker living in the 14th century, developed a theory of
society that is quite highly regarded though typical accounts of the growth and
development of sociology usually leave out his contribution. His ideas only became
available in the West in the 19th century.
Q. Research his ideas and discuss why you think he is excluded from standard accounts
of the origin of the discipline.
2. Harriet Martineau (1802–76) published a sociological study of the United States and
translated Comte’s work into English before Durkheim, Marx or Weber had begun
to establish their presence.
Q. Suggest why in this age of more enlightened views about women, she remains
marginalised in courses and textbooks of sociology.
3. Jane Addams (1860–1935), born in Illinois, USA, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.
She pioneered social work services for poor children and women in the 1890s and
her efforts spawned a huge social reform movement. There were prejudices afoot
then in the academy that routed women towards social work and men to sociology.
Harriet Martineau
Q. Suggest why even today she is not widely known for such achievements.
4. W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) was a black American academic who wrote extensively
on the plight of black people in the USA. His most famous work is The Souls of
Black Folks, published in 1903. He was active in the civil rights movement and
became a communist, looking for equality in society.
Q. While he is better known than the above three thinkers, he is rarely mentioned in
sociology texts. Suggest why.
W.E.B. DuBois
When ‘society’ became equated with the state
in certain countries this promoted the rise of the
state as a major player in social thought. It then
became necessary to distinguish ‘civil society’ as
separate from national society. Civil society refers to
all those organisations such as non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and social movements which
are found in a country but which are not directly
related to the state or the market.
In the 21st century when globalisation is blurring the
distinctions across countries, there is a call for sociology
to re-tool its major concept, society, and to recognise
…processes that somehow operate ‘beyond’ and
‘across’ national borders, undercutting the power of
the governments of particular nation-states fully to
control activities within their designated territories.
(Inglis & Robertson, 2004, p. 169)
When recounting the history of sociology, the charge
is sometimes made that the story has a bias that is largely
Eurocentric. It supposes that what happened in Western
Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries – industrialisation,
modernisation, urbanisation – is the blueprint for
progress that other nations had yet to experience. For
example, it was felt that colonialism would encourage
the growth of modern economies and a better quality of
life incountries on the periphery. Today, however the
The periphery is the ‘outskirts’ or the colonies
surrounding the metropole or mother/imperial country.
counter-charge is made that we are so grounded in a
Western style of life that whilst we may have been
powerless to control Eurocentric values in the past, now
they pervade the world and so cannot only be described
as ‘Eurocentric’ (McLennan, 2000). A related charge is
that in
To overcome these biases, ex-colonies (including in the
Caribbean) are seeking to develop sociologies that resist
and deconstruct the values inherent in mainstream
sociology. Examples include postcolonial theorising
and critical theory. Moreover, methodologies are
increasingly diverse moving away from the dominance of
the ‘scientific method’.
Many are sceptical of the sociologist’s claim that the
methodologies of the chemist or physicist could just as
easily be employed in studying the social world. We
should note here that scientists (and thus sociologists)
tended to regard the ‘scientific method’, based on
induction, as the methodology of science and the criterion
whereby something was judged worthy of being called
‘science’. Induction assumes that in the study of natural
or social phenomena observations are essential. If there is
evidence of many identical observations recurring over
and over then a conclusion is made and publicised as a
law or a generalisation. The researcher then moves from
many ‘particular’ instances or observations to a ‘general’
statement or conclusion. In sociology, Durkheim
discovered through the use of induction that suicide was
an objective social fact.
Today, however, scientists themselves use different
methods and there is no longer only one scientific
method. We have to dig deeper to find adequate reasons
to describe sociology as a science. One way is to look at
what science aims to do and what characteristics we can
describe to see if sociology closely resembles it.
Postcolonial theorising is literature or thinking which
opposes relationships developed under colonialism or
imperialism. Generally such writings address the problems
and conflicts brought on by whites in the societies they
colonized and reflect on-going attempts by Third World
peoples to develop an authentic identity uncontaminated
by their colonial heritage.
1 Science attempts to explain the world so that any
hypotheses or laws are not just abstract statements
describing nature but genuine attempts to develop more
knowledge about the world. Not too long ago scientists
were portrayed as disinterested observers producing
knowledge for knowledge’s sake.
Critical theory, begun in Germany at the University of
Frankfurt, is a movement in social theory which seeks to
critique traditional understandings and go beyond the
development of social theory to implementing policies to
enact social change.
2 The scientist follows systematic procedures or rules
based on logic (for example, inductive or deductive
reasoning) and evidence in coming to conclusions.
The knowledge produced is ‘objective’ and ‘impartial’,
distinguishing it from knowledge based only on opinions
or beliefs.
It is not difficult using these two criteria to agree that
sociology is a science. From its earliest origins, sociology
was always about solving social problems, although the
slant was then on maintaining social order. If science
is focused on explaining and predicting phenomena in
our environment so as to discover new knowledge and
address problems then by this criterion sociology is a
science. The second criterion proposes methodologies
that are systematic and rigorous and follow rules of
logic. Sociological methods, whether quantitative or
qualitative approaches, follow systematic procedures in
research. Research can follow the inductive, deductive
or some other logic and still be regarded as scientific.
… sociological theory textbooks or works on the
history of social theory, the subject–object dichotomy
is a pervasive theme. Europeans are the knowing
subjects, i.e. the social theorists and social thinkers.
To the extent that non-Europeans figure in these
accounts, they are objects of the observations and
analyses of the European theorists.
(Alatas, 2006, p. 790)
Is Sociology a Science?
The Founding Fathers of the discipline (Comte,
Durkheim, Marx and Weber) laid the foundations for
three different sociological theories. To a greater or lesser
extent, they all thought of sociology as the science of society.
The problem for many people is that while sociology is a
social science, Comte and Durkheim and their followers
claimed that it could be studied just like a natural science.
Is Sociology a Science?
Fill in the blanks in the following passage using words listed below.
While it is true that sociology is very different in terms of content to a natural science subject like
, the debate
about whether it is a science does not turn on content but on
. In other words, is there some close
between what the scientist does and what the sociologist does in finding out new knowledge (
brings an objective stance to observations, relies on
such as thermometers, and
records measurements and observations derived from these instruments. Many
will have to be done so
that a confident
can be made that ‘all gases, at standard temperature and pressure, …etc, etc’. It is not just
what a scientist does that makes this scientific but how s/he goes about the work – using rigorous and systematic procedures, and using
to repeatedly determine if the findings are falsifiable.
There are enough differences between what the scientist does and what the sociologist does to introduce
as to whether
they are both doing the same thing. However, there are similarities. For example, the scientist uses induction,
and other
methods of inquiry. The different
(Functionalist, Marxist and
) also use different methods.
The methods of the first two perspectives actually resemble quite closely that of the scientist. But, whether the actual methods resemble or differ,
the deciding factor is whether they both operate according to the standards of
research – is the study or the
research conducted in a systematic manner, is the conceptual framework and the procedures
, are the methods
and strategies used rigorous (meaning are they applied in ways that emphasise being thorough, precise, and meticulous?
The correctly filled in passage can be found in the answer pages (p. 436).
Sociology in the
The discipline of sociology came to our shores in the
20th century and was first taught by foreign lecturers and
then by Caribbean scholars educated in the United States
of America and the United Kingdom. As an academic
discipline, sociology was first offered at the University of
the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, in the latter half
of the 20th century and whilst its beginnings are deeply
influenced by the perspective of Structural Functionalism
(Chapter 3), Caribbean sociologists went on to develop
a vibrant and strongly contextual Caribbean sociology.
This brought our indigenous history, culture and society
to extend the concepts and theories of the ‘First World’.
For example, contesting models of Caribbean society
developed by Caribbean sociologists continue to engage
the international community in critique and discussion.
Early Developments
Long before any university came to offer the academic
discipline of sociology, there were people describing and
recording their observations of the society, in an official
and sometimes a personal capacity. The literate tended to
be European and so we have much in the way of official
dispatches, census and tax data, together with some books
and articles, but very little from the enslaved population.
This body of largely historical documents provides an
important sociological data base showing how people
interpreted the times based on their social location.
During the colonial era, data about social life and
issues in the Caribbean were compiled by the authorities
and mainly concerned the administration of the colony.
A vast array of statistics, official communication, and
letters are stored at the Archive of the Indies, Seville,
Spain, and British colonial documents at the National
Archives, Kew, in Surrey, United Kingdom. Locally,
similar documents are found in museums and government
archives. This body of information provides archival and
documentary data for historical and sociological analysis.
From time to time these records were supplemented
by microsociological or interpretive data (see Chapter 3)
from persons attempting to describe and document their
lives and the nature of the times. They wrote journals,
memoirs, family letters, autobiographies, newspaper
articles and critiques of existing circumstances. Personal
and literary narratives from the past, written by Caribbean
people or about the Caribbean, are sociological in that
they portray social life. They detail the interaction of
groups (e.g. between the planter class and the enslaved)
and how the society was structured at different points
in time (e.g. before and after slavery and during and
BOX 2.3
after colonialism). However, we must keep in mind
that they are hardly likely to follow the sociologist’s
rules for evidence and depend a great deal on subjective
experience and opinion. As a result, they highlight
bias and the factors constraining relations between the
different ethnic groups – and this is instructive and
important for us to know (Table.2.1).
Note that biographies and autobiographies can
contain sociological insights such as commentary on
social class as well as gender relationships in courting
and mating practices (see Box 2.3). This kind of data is
important in qualitative research where the focus is on
trying to understand a group by attention to the detailed
contexts of their lives. The information cannot be taken
only at face value by the qualitative researcher but also
as an indicator of how the storyteller is located, what
his or her biases and world views are as s/he comments
on others. Note that this is not empirical data – it was
captured by observation but it cannot be captured again
(there is no external referent) so that it is the stuff of
memory, reflection and analysis. This therefore is very
different from Functionalist or Marxist research because
it relies wholly on subjective data.
Excerpts from the Autobiography of a Runaway Slave
Below are three quotations from
The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave
(Montejo, 1993).
One of the funny things about those days was
courting. When a young man had his eye on a girl
he would use thousands of tricks. They didn’t set
about these things the way they do now, quite
openly. There was more mystery; and tricks, all
sorts of tricks. If I wanted to make a respectable
woman fall for me, I dressed myself in white and
walked right by her without looking at her. I did
this several days running until the time came when
I decided to ask her something. The women liked
seeing men dressed in white. A black man like me
in white was something which caught the eye. A
hat was an essential piece of equipment, because
you could do a thousand and one things with it:
put it on, take it off, raise it to a woman and ask,
“Well, how are you then?
(p. 121)
The priest might call round too, although they
were more concerned about visiting the rich
people. All those saintly types were after cash.
When people were married they had to pay six
or seven pesos, rich and poor alike. Poor people,
plantation workers, were married in the chapel,
which was at the back of the church. Rich people
were married right in the middle, in front of the
main altar, and they had benches with cushions on
them, whereas the poor sat on wooden stools in the
chapel or sacristy, as it was sometimes called.
(p. 122)
If I count up all the women I had at Ariosa it
seems that I must have had any number of children,
but the strange thing is I never knew of a single one.
At least, none of the women who lived with me in
the barracoon ever had any. The others, the women
I took into the woods, used to come and say, “This
boy is yours”, but how could you ever be certain
with them? Besides, children were a big problem
in those days. You couldn’t educate them because
there weren’t any schools like there are now.
(p. 125)
Table 2.1 Sources of early Caribbean history/sociology
Early writers, historians and sociologists
Thomas Thistlewood (1721–86)
A slave owner in Jamaica, who wrote 37 volumes
detailing his life and relationships.
Burnard, 2004
Mary Prince (b.1788)
Born in Bermuda, Prince wrote her
autobiography as an enslaved person.
Prince, 1831
Lady Maria Nugent (1771–1834)
The wife of the governor of Jamaica, who kept
a diary (1801–5) giving insights on slavery and
colonial relationships from the perspective of a
traditional white woman
Wright, 2002
John Jacob Thomas (1841–89)
A village school master in Trinidad, who wrote
Froudacity: West Indian Fables Explained, in
which he contested the views of James Froude,
Professor of History at Oxford University who had
published The English in the West Indies (1888).
Froude’s account insulted Africans saying that
their bid for decolonisation would inevitably
result in a chaos similar to that of Haiti. Thomas
vigorously challenged Froude’s views, the title
of his book being a masterpiece of Caribbean
humour. Here we see two polarised views: one
the English ‘monarch’ of all he surveyed, the
other daring to resist and ‘talk back’ to the
Thomas, 1888
Edward Underhill (1813–1901)
His book The West Indies: Their Social and
Religious Condition (1863) came out of
Underhill’s journeys across Jamaica gathering
data about the living conditions of the peasantry.
He was able to give a reasonably substantiated
account of the development of two classes: the
estate labourers and the independent peasantry.
His description is detailed, for example showing
that the labourers had a supplementary means
of income through small, scattered plots in the
mountains. Although empirical, it did not use
any kind of theory to explain the findings.
Robotham, 2002
Miguel Barnet (b.1940)
A Cuban researcher who in 1963 recorded the
story of Esteban Montejo, then 103 years old,
giving his experiences as a runaway in Cuba
where slavery ended in 1886 (see extract in Box
2.3). It is a book of memories, commentaries
and analyses and shows a high level of detail
in recounting the social life of the enslaved
population in Cuba.
Montejo, 1993
However, Caribbean sociologists and other social
scientists disagreed and felt that much could be learnt
from this ‘variation’.
Sociological Research
1. Research one or more of the writers in the table and
read some of their work. Explain how the document
can help the sociologist to develop theories about
the society of that time.
2. Research a historical Caribbean document from an
archive in your territory or a neighbouring territory.
Describe how the document can be used for
sociological research and analyse the information
contained in it. What instances of bias or of the
writer’s own situation must be watched for?
Sociology Comes of Age
The story of the establishment of sociology as a
discipline in the English-speaking Caribbean began in
1948, when with a grant from the British Government
the Institute of Social and Economic Research
(ISER) was founded at the University College of
the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. The Institute was
established because local research was needed to support
teaching and learning in the social science disciplines of
political science, economics, government and sociology.
These disciplines gradually came on board as separate
departments within the Faculty of Social Sciences, and
the Department of Sociology opened in 1961. Faculty
members were mainly British at first but by the mid1960s Caribbean scholars were taking their place as
lecturers and researchers and whilst they mainly reflected
the orientation to the discipline they had been taught
abroad (Functionalism), they brought about a Caribbean
contextualisation to the different social sciences.
They ran headlong, however, into resistance and
hostility from the British researchers who formed the
core of the teaching departments who felt that there
were no social and economic problems specific to
the Caribbean and that the creation of a Caribbeanoriented economics, sociology or political science
would lead to a dangerous parochialism.
(Paul, 2008, para 5)
The charge of parochialism indicated that Caribbean
researchers were engaging in work that others felt was
too narrow in scope and that important dimensions in
the study of social issues were being neglected. Foreign
social scientists thought that an autonomous or selfdirected tradition in sociology in the Caribbean did not
make sense because the concepts of the discipline would
be the same as in Britain – there would just be variation
in how they were ‘lived’ in this context.
An autonomous social science tradition [is] generated
and developed by local scholars, guided by the
selection of problems from within the society.
(Alatas, 2006, p. 7)
The Plantation Model
Beginning in the 1960s and continuing, Caribbean
theorists have produced a body of research and sociological
thought that was substantial enough to refine and
question traditional social theory. Within the Faculty of
Social Sciences at Mona a group of scholars known as the
New World Group sought to revolutionise Old World
theorising by seeking to make it relevant to Caribbean
realities. Both Lloyd Best (1934–2007) and George
Beckford (1934–1990) were foundation members of this
group and offered the Plantation Model as a theory of
Caribbean society and development.
In the Caribbean we are all introduced and transplanted
populations. … There were no households; there
was no production for domestic consumption. There
were no families. There were slaves and there were
indentured workers. We brought them as individuals.
So we had to construct a society out of that.
(Best, 2003, p. 427)
The model was proposed in works written by Best
(1968), Beckford (1972) and Levitt (Best & Levitt, 1975)
who all shared a perspective based in political economy.
They analysed the social and economic institutions of
Caribbean society to demonstrate that the ‘plantation
society’ was a society in a historic, dependent relationship
with metropolitan countries. Their views are based on
the Conflict perspective (Chapter 3) and are broadly
similar to the Dependency Theories coming out of
Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Some of the work
on the Plantation Model is Marxist in orientation whilst
some is Structural Functionalist. This Plantation Model
had several variants.
The term ‘plantation’ is used to describe Caribbean
society then, and now. It is used as a metaphor in referring to the society today. In the past it was very much
a reality. The metaphor is useful because although in
many countries the estates and plantations of yesteryear
have given way to tourism, mining, and light manufacturing, while the system of social stratification has been
modified by upward social mobility for many, Caribbean
society remains fundamentally tied to a plantation model. This means that (a) in Caribbean countries the social
relations of production are very similar to life on the
plantations in the past and
(b) our economies continue
to be based on dependent
relationships with metropolitan countries.
George Beckford’s (1972)
analysis begins historically
to show how the interaction
of the social, economic and
political institutions of the
colonial era produced (and
re-produced) plantation sociGeorge Beckford
ety. He characterised plantation societies as places where:
■ During slavery, on the plantations a large group or
groups of people were held in an organisation closely
supervised by a small number of persons, of a different
race. All aspects of the lives of persons held in total
institutions (boarding schools, prisons, asylums) are
controlled by those in authority. The plantation was a
total institution.
■ Different racial and cultural groups were brought
as labour and intermixing was discouraged. Social
integration was therefore weak so that today there
continues to be polarisation of the different groups. In
this respect, Beckford seemed to have accepted Smith’s
view of a plural society.
■ Authority and power lay with the white groups and
their allies and so, on the plantation itself, and in the
society at large, a hierarchy developed where race
was institutionalised in the social and occupational
structure. Authority and power today lie in white,
coloured, or black groups which have more or less
continued the practices of the white groups of the
past who once were the colonial powers.
Too often we view our problems through the ideas
of metropolitan man; and our analyses of these
problems depend too inordinately on analytical
constructs developed for, and appropriate to, North
Atlantic society but which may be inappropriate for
the Third World.
(Beckford, 1972, p. vi)
But Beckford goes beyond the social and political
aspects to provide an analysis of plantation society that
emphasises its economic relationships.
■ The economy of plantation society is deeply rooted in
the markets of metropolitan centres (this is a historical
link to the mercantilist system of the colonial era when
Caribbean countries were forced to produce only raw
materials for Europe, fuelling their Industrial Revolution).
Today, these economies still produce largely primary
goods for export and suffer from an imbalance in
the terms of trade because manufacturing, industrial
development and services are at a minimal level
of development (Europeans discouraged industrial
production in the colonies through the
Mercantilist Laws).
■ There is continued dependency on metropolitan
countries because Caribbean societies maintain the
emphasis on monoculture (cash crops or one main export,
be it tourism or oil and bauxite), largely ignore food
production and import much in the way of food,
consumer durables and technology.
■ There is psychological dependence (or a colonial
mentality) where ‘things foreign’ are revered in an
uncritical way.
■ All the above factors result in continued
underdevelopment (or dependency) and chronic or
persistent poverty.
Beckford argued that plantation economies today are
severely hampered in their quest for sustained growth
and development because of this ingrained legacy of
foreign domination. A simple example will show how
inherited ways of thinking have stymied development:
The colonial authorities sought to create and develop
ports and access roads in the Caribbean so that the raw
materials produced in the hinterlands could be easily
transported to Britain. Processed, and manufactured
goods from Britain could just as easily be imported.
There was no question of independent ‘development’ for
Caribbean colonies – these arrangements were for the
good of the mother country.
Unfortunately, the black élite that came to
power in the 1960s and 1970s seemed to uphold
the values and interests of the descendants of the
planter class. There has been little attempt to develop
and empower local communities in the hinterland
which remain weak and fragmented. Most development
initiatives occur on the coast where the old ports are now
big capital cities. These cities are the sites of capitalist
enterprise with strong ties to cities in the metropole. Today
in all Caribbean countries there is an ‘over-developed’
coastal strip and the rural areas are underdeveloped. This
works to the advantage of the political groups in power
in that local government is highly dependent on the
central government. Plantation characteristics are then
perpetuated in uneven development and an urban bias in
development planning. For Beckford, what is important
in all this is that plantation societies (and economies)
perpetuate the persistent poverty of the masses of the
people in the Caribbean.
Although Beckford did focus on plural groups
and the problems of social integration in the plantation
society, he and colleagues Best and Levitt placed their
main emphasis on the economies of plantation societies
which they saw as existing under foreign domination.
Moreover, the legacy of the past is maintained through
dependent relationships with metropolitan countries.
Thus plantation economies lack internal dynamism
needed to make a successful transition to more sustainable
economies. Best and Levitt describe how, in the plantation
model, the structural patterns under slavery and the
plantation society of the past are perpetuated by the
influence of foreign tastes, and foreign ideas (including
racial stereotypes); the demands of multinational
corporations (MNCs); and international institutions such
as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World
Bank or International Bank for Reconstruction and
Development (IBRD) and the World Trade Organisation
(WTO) in pursuing growth and development.
Best and Beckford both also alluded to the place of
our thinking. Best sought to show that in the world of
ideas we have been always trying to understand ourselves
through the theorising of others (namely, metropolitan
countries). For example, economic theory in vogue in
the 1960s tended to treat with economic development
as if our economies were similar in structure to that of
developed countries – that the engine of growth lay in
supply and demand, that we had indigenous industries
and that our governments could operate independently
to stimulate growth through fiscal and monetary policies.
Rather the reality was that our economies were
export-oriented meaning that someone overseas called
the tune about demand, we had not developed a strong
indigenous industrial base with what we produced for our
own market and, the means of production lay for the most
part in the hands of foreign corporations. We thus were
in a vulnerable position very much dependent on foreign
ownership and the vagaries of international markets
and because of this our governments had little power to
control and direct a course of development. Therefore it
was nonsensical to rely wholly on development theory
that had originated in the West to chart a way forward
for Caribbean societies.
To Best the problem lay in epistemology. The
knowledge we accept as true, the ideas we value,
the scholars we learn from – all originated in the West.
We have internalised the values and our understanding
of what is valued knowledge from our colonisers without
question. The black élite who now ruled in Caribbean
societies were thoroughly saturated with First World
ideologies of development.
Lloyd Best has pointed out, in several of his now
familiar utterances, that significant development
of the natural gas sector in Trinidad and Tobago is
likely to reinforce dependence (on external demand
and price changes) and to contribute to hardly any
significant change in the structure of the economy.
Best has suggested that what is really needed is not
just diversification but a plan for transformation of
the economy that will ensure sustainable economic
(Nicholls & Boodoo, 2003, p. 267)
A number of criticisms have been made of the Plantation
1 Best and Levitt did not treat with much significance
many of the changes that had occurred in Caribbean
societies from Emancipation to the present: the
development of the peasantry, the growth of towns,
industrialisation, the rise in the standard of living and
diversification in the economy. The concept of the
Plantation Society emphasised continuity and played
down the importance of change.
2 The theory was overly deterministic and saw all
Caribbean societies in one light. For example, Best
and Levitt relied too much on historical circumstance
to explain the present situation and did not include
the varieties of ways that each society had changed
since independence.
3 The theory sought to describe and explain Caribbean
societies as they had evolved but there was no
empirical data or attempt made to test the theory.
4 There is a limit to how ‘independent’ Caribbean
countries can be in devising solutions to their
economic predicament especially in this age of
The 1960s and 1970s saw vigorous debate and counterdebate in Caribbean sociology. Sir Arthur Lewis, a St
Lucian, had won the Nobel Prize in 1979 for his Theory
of Economic Growth, relevant to the economic problems
of developing countries. Best and Beckford critiqued
his assumption that foreign capital was the solution
to the problem of development. They regarded this
strategy as increasing foreign control and dependency
in the Caribbean. Furthermore, the theory of economic
growth was based on classical economic theory whereas
Best and Beckford felt that the nature of Caribbean
society, its colonial history and continued psychological,
economic and cultural dependence on the West, had to
be included.
When we study ‘society’ according to Durkheim,
Marx or Weber we get the sense that European society
had been established so long that laws, norms, social
classes and the like had a mature and full-blown existence.
Compare the Caribbean with a written record of only
some 500 years of history. If we apply Marxist concepts
such as social class, for example, to Caribbean society we
are assuming that on the whole European and Caribbean
social structure are similar. Sociologists are divided about
how closely we resemble metropolitan societies. Lloyd
Best for one was adamant that in the Caribbean we did
not have social classes as envisaged by Marx. Those who
see more of a resemblance use classical social theory to
explain Caribbean society. Those who feel that these
theories and concepts should be modified in some way to
BOX 2.4
Gender and Society
Paying attention to the genesis of the
society, firstly, as an economic outpost of a
colonial empire, made an interdisciplinary
focus possible for Caribbean sociology. The
Caribbean economy developed first and
around it a society and culture was formed.
Initially society reflected the rigid social
stratification of slavery (Chapter 9). Then this
began to blur in the post-Emancipation era
when peasantries became established and
the former enslaved population had access
to education. At the same time the society
was becoming more finely differentiated
according to race, colour, class, ethnicity,
occupation and education.
Even today education, politics, the
economy and other social institutions
reflect these kinds of fragmentations.
The development of sociological theory,
then – the concepts and relationships
sociologists use to study society – had to be
of a more interdisciplinary nature than the
classical theorising of European sociologists.
Caribbean social theory combines historical,
economic, political and cultural dimensions
because as societies under European
influence (politics) they were organised
according to the demands of production and
labour (economic) and the various ethnic
groups brought as labour forged unique
relationships (culture) in this context.
allow for the salience of race, colour, ethnicity, culture
and class in the development of the society call for a
sociology that is more interdisciplinary in nature than
European sociology (Box 2.4).
‘Caribbean sociology’ and ‘the sociology of the
Caribbean’ are not the same thing. The former
refers to the origins of the discipline in the region,
how it evolved, its main theorists and how it relates
to mainstream sociological theorising. The latter
refers to the study of Caribbean societies using the
concepts and tools that sociology has to offer.
To sum up:
The above section described how sociology in the
Caribbean pulled away from its origins and began to
develop ways of analyzing the society that were more
faithful to the growth and development of Caribbean
society as one forged in colonial oppression and
ethnic divisions. To do so it had to rely on the
contributions of other social science disciplines.
The Founders of
Caribbean Sociology
An ‘Autonomous Tradition’
The Sociology Department at UWI, Mona, began to
produce empirical works to establish an autonomous
tradition in the discipline. Early research by Lloyd
Braithwaite and Raymond Thomas (R.T.) Smith
were in the Structural-Functionalist tradition and this
proved to be the dominant approach in how sociology
was studied for a long time. They were influenced by
Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton in the United
States. These researchers agreed that Caribbean societies
were plural societies but understood that concept
differently from Michael Garfield Smith (see §2.4.2).
Lloyd Braithwaite (1919–95)
was a sociologist whose major work, Social Stratification in Trinidad (1953) was a
comprehensive study of the
nature of stratification in
Trinidad’s society. We will
examine social stratification
in more depth later (Chapter
9.) The fieldwork was done
between 1950 and 1952,
beginning at the community level of villages, towns
and cities comparing the
Lloyd Braithwaite
dynamics of social class in
different locales, including families, courtship and marriage, occupation, sports, club memberships, and religion. He showed that the society was stratified according
to a number of factors: race, skin colour, ethnicity, religion and occupation.
R.T. Smith (b.1925) is a British anthropologist who
took up a research post at the ISER, UWI, Jamaica in
the 1950s. He carried out extensive fieldwork in Jamaica,
British Guiana and Ghana and taught briefly at the
University of California at Berkeley and the University of
Ghana, before returning to the Department of Sociology,
Mona, UWI. He went to the University of Chicago in
1966 and retired in 1995. He corresponded with Talcott
Parsons in the United States, whose Functionalism was
similar to his own. His first major work was The Negro
Family in British Guiana: Family structure and social status
in the village (1956). This and his other works are held
in high esteem because of the rigour with which the
fieldwork was carried out.
Most of his studies are ethnographies. The
An ethnography is an in-depth investigation of a cultural
ethnographic model is often used in anthropology (early
anthropologists used to live in small isolated societies, for
example, in Samoa, in order to study the whole society).
Smith’s theories are based directly on this extended
fieldwork. He examined the family life of the villagers
not through the conventional lens of ‘family types’ but
through the family life cycle showing the dynamism
within families and the nature of relationships.
Smith’s work followed the ideas of Functionalism,
where ethnographies made cross-cultural links and links
to the social system and sought to explain social action,
emphasizing the structural aspects of society. He felt that
it was wrong for researchers to study a small segment
of the system such as a village and then generalise their
findings to the wider society. (Later on other sociologists
in the Caribbean carried out ethnographies in the
interpretive tradition where the micro-level is the focus
and where the meanings people have for their actions are
deemed more important than links to other societies or
to the social system).
Like Lloyd Braithwaite, Smith saw social stratification
as resulting from pluralism (M.G. Smith disagreed, as we
shall see below) and that the society was moving towards
value consensus. These values were those of the British
colonial masters, what he called, ‘things English’.
M.G. Smith’s Plural Societies
Sociology as an academic discipline was further established
in the region when the St Augustine (in 1962) and Cave
Hill (in 1963) campuses of the UWI began to offer it
for undergraduate degrees. The University of Guyana
(Turkeyen campus) also began to offer sociology in 1963.
Quickly following Lloyd Braithwaite’s (1953) pioneering
work was a number of Structural-Functionalist studies
of Caribbean societies. This approach was modified
by later Caribbean sociologists who opted for more
interpretive studies.
M.G. Smith (1921–93) – the Honourable Michael
Garfield Smith, OM ( Jamaica) – taught at Yale University, the University of California (Los Angeles), and
University College (London) as well as at the ISER,
UWI, Mona campus. He
was an anthropologist who
strongly upheld the idea of
Caribbean societies as plural
societies but disagreed with
Lloyd Braithwaite and R.T.
Smith about the nature of
plural societies as they exist
Michael Garfield Smith
in the Caribbean. It is interesting to note that many of the researchers who contributed to the founding of sociology as a discipline in the
Caribbean were trained in anthropology (Box 2.5).
M.G. Smith felt that a plural society was more
extreme in its differences, that it was different enough
to comprise different societies, each with its own internal
structures and institutions. He therefore disagreed
with both Lloyd Braithwaite and R.T. Smith who felt
that there were spaces and possibilities for the disparate
groups to come together and begin to share common
values. M.G. Smith discounted this and saw the necessity
BOX 2.5
Sociology and Anthropology
Sociology as it evolved in the Caribbean benefited from the contribution
of many social science disciplines and history. It is therefore very much an
inter-disciplinary area of study and this may differentiate it from sociology
in other parts of the world. Particularly, it has had a very close relationship
with anthropology.
Traditionally, anthropology was characterised as the study of the origins
and development of human culture. It took a very wide view of human
development looking at
• human evolution and culture (physical anthropology);
• the social and cultural constructions of human groups, for example,
language and culture (cultural anthropology).
Long before sociology began to be studied in the Caribbean,
Sidney Mintz
foreign anthropologists found the cultures of the region fascinating
to study (e.g. Melville Herskovits, Sidney Mintz).Later, Caribbean anthropologists studied small villages,
religious groups, families, and kinship networks, and went on to draw conclusions about the nature of the
society. They proposed models of Caribbean society, namely, the Plural Society.
The main methodological tool of the anthropologist is ethnography (Chapter 5). Note that many of
these ethnographies were influenced by Structural-Functionalism within anthropology. Lloyd Braithwaite
was a sociologist but conducted ethnographies according to the tenets of Structural Functionalism in
sociology. Today, sociologists routinely use ethnographies in microsociology, and culture is regarded as an
important theme by which to analyse group interaction. Anthropology therefore is more likely to overlap
with microsociology than macrosociology.
for a strong ruling power, such as the colonial power,
to manage the tensions between the groups.
Pluralism is a condition in which members of a
common society are internally distinguished by
fundamental differences in their institutional practice
…(as) … distinct aggregates or groups …
(M.G. Smith, 2001, p. 125)
He carried out extensive fieldwork and published a
number of important works, including Plural Society in
the British West Indies and Stratification in Grenada (both
The Theory of a Creole Society
Later, Lawson Edward Kamau Brathwaite (b.1930),
whose major discipline is not sociology, and others,
challenged these ideas with that of a Creole Society.
The Creole Society model focuses on the constant
mixing of cultures, ideas and people as the basis for
Caribbean society.
Kamau Brathwaite, a Barbadian, is well-established in
the literary field as a poet and playwright but is equally
known for his work in the
study of Caribbean history
and culture, such as The Folk
Culture of Jamaican Slaves
(1969, revised 1981) and The
Development of Creole Society
in Jamaica, 1770–1820 (1971).
His Creole Society thesis
(§4.3.2) is the third model of
Caribbean society to emerge
from Caribbean theorists.
Brathwaite’s scholarship is L.E. Kamau Brathwaite
mainly historical and cultural.
The creolisation model rejects Western views of
acculturation and introduces us to the complexity of
cultural mixing in the Caribbean.
Christine Barrow was Deputy Principal at the Cave
Hill Campus, UWI, Barbados, from 2002 to 2005, then
Professor of Social Development at the Sir Arthur Lewis
Institute of Social and Economic Research (SALISES).
Her research spans both sociology and anthropology and
focuses on family systems, child rights, gender issues, and
sexuality in the Caribbean, and she has championed a shift
in methodology towards
more qualitative type of
studies. She believes that the
early sociological theorising
about Caribbean families
which regarded them as
‘corrupt’ or ‘disorganised’
represents a misreading of
the situation. We will be
studying her work in greater
detail when we look at the
family in Chapter 6.
Her many publications
Christine Barrow
■ The Plantation Heritage in Barbados: Implications for Food
Security, Nutrition and Employment (1995);
■ Family in the Caribbean: Themes and Perspectives (1996).
Susan Craig-James is a sociologist and historian
from Tobago who lectured in the Sociology Department,
UWI, St Augustine, from 1971 to 1993. Since then
she has been conducting research on the Caribbean
with grants from various foundations in Canada and
the United Kingdom. Two of her published works
include the highly acclaimed Contemporary Caribbean: A
Sociological Reader (1981–2) and The Changing Society of
Tobago 1838–1938: A Fractured Whole (2008). She does
not place as much emphasis as earlier sociologists did
on constructing models to explain Caribbean society.
She looks at the factors and forces involved over the
long term in Caribbean development. Her work is
therefore macrosociological but includes input from
microsociological studies that help to flesh out internal
contexts. The interdisciplinary focus addresses the
close relationship between sociology, history, politics,
economics and culture in analysing Caribbean societies.
Rhoda Reddock is presently Vice-Principal of
the St Augustine Campus,
UWI. Previously she was
Head of the Centre for Gender and Development Studies in St Augustine. Her research is inter-disciplinary
and examines gender, ethnic minorities, women in
the labour market and the
trade union movement, and
the history of Caribbean
women’s political struggles.
Mainly through her continued advocacy, Gender and
Rhoda Reddock
Development Studies have come to be seen as an
important area of scholarship. She has a distinguished
record of publications focusing on social justice,
conceived of as an important component of Caribbean
development. Her methods of analysis often involve
deconstruction of taken-for-granted meanings.
Deconstruction is an approach to analysis that is used in
some form across qualitative research but most often in
postmodern and critical theory. It focuses on a text (or a
term, for example, patriarchy) and seeks to uncover and
discover the different meanings and assumptions that are
held about it.
Several questions suggest themselves in relation to
the study of masculinity in the Caribbean. What is
Caribbean masculinity, if such a thing exists? … How
do we move away from the stereotypes which have
been associated with manhood in the Caribbean and
which themselves create the psychological barriers, in
my view to change in gender relations? Are women
in the Caribbean really antagonistic to men, or is it
towards the ideas of masculinity which inform group
male behaviour? Do Caribbean men fully understand
the additional burdens which women bear by being
labeled independent and strong? These are the
questions to which the on-going deconstruction
of masculinity must respond. The unmasking of
masculinity also requires a parallel deconstructing of
patriarchy. In my view the ideologies and practice of
male dominance, while privileging some men, also
keep masculinity imprisoned behind invisible bars.
(Reddock, 2004, p. 57)
Questions like these recognize that the experiences
of women and men in everyday life are complex and
that social actors construct their own meanings, which
may be multiple and even contradictory. If this notion
of reality is valid then people can change the meanings
they have for things and this represents the possibility
of emancipation, self-actualisation and improvement in
social life. This speaks to the concern for social justice as
a development issue.
Theory Building or Theorising
Sociology, as an academic discipline, has now been
firmly established in the Caribbean for more than 60
years. During that time Caribbean researchers and others
have sought to make sociological concepts produced
in Western countries more relevant to the Caribbean
context and have created new concepts that help to
deepen a sociological understanding of the Caribbean.
In doing so they have built new theories or extended
BOX 2.6
Sociological Theorising and Research
Different kinds of research used in the Caribbean
can lead to the development of theory.
• M.G. Smith’s ethnographic research entailed
participant observation and in-depth study of
a context (including conversational interviews),
which is an example of qualitative research
(Chapter 5). The detailed field reports provided
the data for the elaboration of a theory.
• Scientific research based on the posing of
hypotheses and the collection of empirical
(survey) data to test the hypotheses are largely
quantitative studies and their findings are
expressed as a generalisation (or ‘law’) (Chapter 5).
• Historical analysis of documents, artefacts, and
oral histories give rise to theories such as the
existing theories. Box 2.6 gives some examples of the
relationship between sociological research studies and
the theories that arose from them.
In examining sociological theorising in the Caribbean
we should first be clear about a few terms, such as
research and theory.
Research is the process through which theory is usually
developed because research can provide the evidence and
justification to support the theory. Research, however, can
be of different kinds, meaning that there are different
routes to theory.
Plantation Model. The group of researchers
who developed the model based it on historical
analysis of the structures of dependence in
Caribbean societies as well as on economic
concepts that could be illustrated quantitatively
(Chapter 9).
• Kamau Brathwaite’s theorising was based
almost solely on the socio-historical analysis of
Jamaican society during the period 1770–1820
(Chapter 9).
In each case – plural, plantation and creole
models of society – the theory advanced was an
explanatory framework that attempted to describe
and explain the main features of Caribbean society.
Theory refers to statements which show relationships
between two or more variables or concepts in an attempt
to explain and predict those relationships. An example is
M.G. Smith’s statements about the plural society.
There are also different types of theory. In the
1950s and 1960s Lloyd Braithwaite and R.T. Smith
emphasised the in-depth ethnographic study of
communities in one territory. Their purpose was to
build up an understanding of a particular Caribbean
society. They did not generalise their findings to
societies other than the one where they had conducted
The Development of Sociology in the Caribbean
Investigate further the work of non-Caribbean researchers from the 1950s and 1960s and match the statements below with
the correct name from this list: David Lowenthal, George Cumper, David Edwards, Sidney Mintz and Melville Herskovits.
1. A British economist who worked at the ISER, Mona,
Jamaica in close collaboration with William Demas
and George Cumper. He wrote The Economic Study
of Small Farming in Jamaica (1961) outlining the basic
differences between plantation and small farming.
2. American anthropologist who used a historical
approach in studying society in Puerto Rico, Haiti and
Jamaica, showing the unique origins of the Caribbean
peasantry, and in The Caribbean as a Socio-Cultural
Area (1966) analysed the cultural similarities and
commonalities across the Caribbean.
3. American geographer and historian who worked at
the UWI in the 1950s and wrote: West Indian Societies
(1972), Consequences of Class and Colour: West Indian
Perspectives (1973) and The Past is a Foreign Country
4. Born in England an economist, lived and worked in
Jamaica in the 1950s and 1960s, considered to be
conservative in outlook in that he did not belong to
the Plantation School. However, he saw history as
important in studying economy in the Caribbean.
5. An American anthropologist studying the Caribbean
as early as 1928, famous for his thesis of African
cultural retentions and survivals in maintaining African
identity throughout slavery and afterwards.
their research. In some ways, these ethnographies
were similar to those of Western anthropologists who
lived among small tribal societies in order to describe
their lives.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the scholars who formulated
the Plural, Plantation and Creole models of Caribbean
society were more interested in generating grand theory.
Their theories involved complex concepts and numerous
inter-relationships and claimed to explain features of
Caribbean social life across the length and breadth of the
region. Each theory was broad in scope, analysing major
trends in an interdisciplinary way: for example, all are
anchored in a historical understanding of the Caribbean,
and seek to create an indigenous theoretical framework.
In the 1950s and 1960s non-Caribbean theorists
and researchers also produced works that contributed
to understanding Caribbean societies. As sociologists,
anthropologists, historians and economists they all
demonstrated how Caribbean sociology has benefited
from an interdisciplinary input.
To sum up:
oyd B
a te
te, R.T.
T Smith
miith and
and M.G.
G. Smith,
i h,
c olo
t a
h op
ts, worked
ed largely
ly in
in the
a isst tr
n st
triiviing tto
o in
e Ca
s or
al a
nd ssocial
o ia
al re
i s in
to m
e m th
n ttheir
heirr work
o k largely
e y on
on ethnographies.
g ap
es. Sociology
c ol
v go
r te
d by iintense
e th
at threw
ew up
p at
wass in
ast th
ree contesting
t ng m
e s of C
an society
– th
the Plantation,
on,, Plural
P ur
al Society
ty and
and Creole
e Society
s Th
ese th
es were
e the
the main
n contributions
of the
the autonomous
ouss tradition
on in C
an sociology
to tthe
he sstudy
dy o
c et
etyy an
d ha
ve ssince
ce b
n ap
ed by
off so
nall scholars
arss to
to so
iess they
they deem
m similar.
e mo
e ccontemporary
t mp
m or
orarr y so
c al
a ttheorists
ts ssuch
h as
ne Ba
ow a
nd R
h da
ck w
k largely
elyy in
e tradition
n of Critical
call Th
ry w
h the
the goal
goal of
of social
justice. They focus on
on gender,
nder, sexuality, ethnic, and
family issues showi
ing how
w attempts to study these
phenomena throu
ugh ma
acrosociology mask important
dimensions which
h are crucial
crrucial in bringing about a more
equitable society
y. Susan
n Craig-James differs since she
attempts to und
nd the social system but departs
from Functionalist-type
pe studies in that she incorporates
cal insights.
The concerns of soci
ial scientists have shifted today to
the investigation
ation off social justice issues though smallscale qualitat
pe studies. Consequently, one criticism
of contemporary
orary Ca
Caribbean sociology is that it has not
produced m
uch theoretical
heoretical work to challenge or extend
the three fundamental
mental conceptions of Caribbean society,
ng in the
he 1960s.
Chapter Summary
In this chapter we have traced the origins of the discipline and the contribution of Comte, Durkheim,
Marx and Weber as the founders of three different sociologies. We noted their preoccupation with
recognising sociology as a science and the fact that today the question of whether or not sociology is
a science still lingers. We considered the main arguments in that debate. The chapter ended with an
in-depth examination of the growth of sociology as an academic discipline in the Caribbean and the
major theorists who have emerged. Sociology in the Caribbean was deeply influenced by the regional
context and its history of oppression and so began to diverge from the emphases of how the discipline
matured in the West. Caribbean sociologists and social scientists devised three competing models
of society which received worldwide attention, especially from developing countries with a similar
historical experience.
Nicholls, S. & Boodoo, E. (2003). The Best-Levitt Plantation Hypothesis in Contemporary Trinidad & Tobago. In S. Ryan (ed.), Independent
Thought and Caribbean Freedom, pp. 265–308. St. Augustine: SALISES.
Smith, M.G. (2001). Pluralism and Social Stratification. In C. Barrow & R. Reddock (eds). Caribbean Sociology: Introductory Readings, pp.
118–138. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. The theorist who considered sociology to be
the ‘queen of the sciences’ was
(a) Émile Durkheim
(b) Harold Garfinkel
(c) Auguste Comte
(d) Jane Addams
2. The view of society as something that is not
fixed or stable but always being formed was
held by
(a) Karl Marx
(b) Émile Durkheim
(c) Auguste Comte
(d) Alfred Schütz
3. Early sociology in the Caribbean was strongly
influenced by the sociological perspective of
(a) Structural Functionalism
(b) Conflict theory
(c) Marxism
(d) Interpretive Theory
4. Those who regard sociology as a science
describe it in all of the following ways EXCEPT
(a) rigorous
(b) empirical
(c) subjective
(d) logical
5. The sociology of the Caribbean refers to the
study of
(a) Caribbean societies using the concepts
and tools that sociology has to offer
(b) the origins of the discipline in the
(c) the main theorists who contributed to the
development of the discipline in the region
(d) how sociology as a academic discipline
relates to mainstream theorising
6. Caribbean societies developed differently
to societies in Europe because of all of the
following EXCEPT:
(a) Caribbean societies did not have social
classes as envisaged by Marx
(b) the motive in developing the society was
to form settler communities
(c) Caribbean societies developed first as
economic outposts of an empire
(d) the motive in developing the society was
exploitation of resources
7. Which sociologist pioneered the idea that
sociology should focus on the meanings
people had for their actions?
(a) Max Weber
(b) Karl Marx
(c) Auguste Comte
(d) Émile Durkheim
8. The study of the origins and development of
human culture is known as
(a) ethnography
(b) anthropology
(c) sociology
(d) political economy
9. Issues of social justice are most likely to be
found in the work of
(a) Christine Barrow
(b) George Cumper
(c) Melville Herskovits
(d) David Edwards
10. The Plantation Model of Caribbean society is
closely associated with the work of
(a) Kamau Brathwaite
(b) Best and Levitt
(c) R.T. Smith
(d) M.G. Smith
(B) Structured Response Questions
(C) Essay Questions
Each response should be about three or four lines.
Each item carries 4 marks.
In this section some essay questions are given
below. The questions may involve further
research building on what the chapter offers.
A specimen answer to critique is provided,
with annotations. Refer back to Chapter 1 for
guidelines of how to critique a sociological essay.
(1) Briefly outline the Plural Model of Caribbean
(2) What is Comte’s idea of positivism and how
does it differ from Durkheim’s?
(3) Explain the relationship between positivism
and the use of empirical data.
(4) What are the relationships between the
disciplines of sociology and history?
(5) Outline TWO arguments for describing
sociology as a science and TWO arguments
(6) How would you rebut the arguments
maintaining that sociology is not a science?
(7) How do ethnographies of today differ
from ethnographies conducted by early
sociologists in the Caribbean?
(8) What does Durkheim mean by ‘social facts’?
(9) Explain what is meant by ‘accounts of the
origins and development of sociology tend to
have an Eurocentric bias’.
(10) Briefly describe why Caribbean sociology
developed in a more interdisciplinary
manner than sociology in the developed
(1) Examine the differences and the similarities
between Caribbean sociology and European
(2) Discuss the main contributions of EITHER
Lloyd Braithwaite OR M.G. Smith to
Caribbean sociology.
(3) Analyse the research of TWO of the main
Caribbean social theorists engaged in
microsociological study of the Caribbean.
(4) Discuss the main features of the Creole
Model of Caribbean society and suggest two
(5) Describe the discipline of knowledge known
as sociology. Assess TWO criticisms of this
body of knowledge.
Sample Answer and Critique
Examine the differences and the similarities between Caribbean sociology and European sociology.
The discipline of sociology had its origins in France in the 18th century and gradually spread to other
countries in Europe, then to the US and world wide. The study of society according to the principles
of structural-functionalism was the major sociological perspective that influenced sociology in all
these many varied places. Some countries however, placed more emphasis on Marxism where it
became a political ideology. The Interpretive Perspective seemed to be on the fringes of what came to
be called, mainstream sociology. However, sociology as a discipline as it traveled across the globe and
was ‘owned’ by non-Europeans came to reflect the society or contexts it studied. While identical in
terms of the principles and perspectives of the discipline it inherited from Europeans, a more
autonomous tradition developed in these countries. The story of sociology in the Caribbean is one of
establishing the discipline then trying to find ways to deploy the concepts and tools of the discipline
so that Caribbean realities could be studied more meaningfully.
The main point
is that the
principles and
perspectives are
preserved but it is
in contextualising
the discipline that
differences arise.
In examining the similarities and differences between European and Caribbean sociology, it must
first be noted that the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the discipline – Comte, Durkheim, Marx and Weber – were
each in their own way trying to describe and explain ‘society’. That society had to be their own. An
important point to consider is whether their theories and ideas could explain society in all times and
in all places or to what extent they could do so. Caribbean social scientists have since pointed out
that there are many differences between the notion of ‘society’ in Europe and in the Caribbean.
‘Society’ as studied in Europe did not see its members as living in a diaspora but for Caribbean
people, except for the Amerindians, the African, Indian, White, Chinese and so on had a homeland
elsewhere. The bringing together of all these different ethnicities in one place ensured that the ethnic
factor would loom large in Caribbean society. This was not the case in Europe where to a large extent
there were fewer ethnic minorities and many could assimilate over time, because of physical
similarities, into the dominant groups. The Caribbean scholar, M.G. Smith, began to develop a theory of
our society as ‘plural’.
Europe also did not begin their societies under a system of slavery where an overseas power held
people of one racial group under bondage for centuries. Slavery did exist in Europe over time but
race was seldom a factor. In the Caribbean however, the fact that the enslaved came from one distinct
racial group (African), meant that immediately the society became socially stratified according to
race, with the Africans at the bottom. The fact that the enslaved far outnumbered their white masters
meant that a rigid system of social stratification had to be enforced because of fear of reprisals. It
was never the case in Europe that the majority of the population was ‘locked down’ and denied social
Emphasises the
idea that ‘society’
is what is being
studied – and that
can differ from
place to place.
Role of history
viz. slavery and
the issue of race
Role of ethnicity
in the Caribbean
mobility because of their race. In Europe especially in the Industrial Age it was social class differences
that led to social stratification, not race. To study social stratification in the Caribbean according to
the main principles of European sociology would mean that the most important elements would be
downplayed – race, ethnicity and colour.
A study of Caribbean sociology shows that those three elements have evolved into much deeper
discussions and reflections than a European context would have elicited. Sociology then, as a whole,
stands to benefit from the work being done by Caribbean sociologists in examining race, ethnicity
and colour as important elements in the study of society. Thus, the experience of slavery cannot be
factored out in a study of Caribbean society and this does not figure in European traditions.
The history of the Caribbean shows us being embroiled in colonial relationships with a European
country. Such a relationship was violent and exploitative, seeking to enshrine Europeans and
Euro-Creoles at the pinnacle of the society and to promote the culture of the ‘mother country’. Once
slavery ended, social stratification remained firmly in place during the colonial era and the main
determiners of social class status were race, colour, ethnicity and more recently, education. Growing
up in a colonial society meant that there was always a tension between the culture and values of the
dominant elites and the culture and values of various groups of Caribbean people. It is no surprise
then that students of Caribbean societies are preoccupied with issues of identity which is not the
case with the study of European societies.
the colonial
encounter e.g.
social, economic
and identity
The Plantation Society model, developed by Beckford, Best and Levitt, focuses on the social and
economic structures that continue to keep the society in bondage and this model has been widely
debated worldwide. The concept, creolisation, first put forward by Kamau Brathwaite attempted
to take on board the meeting and mingling of different cultures to realistically describe the variety of
processes and outcomes that could arise from such a union, particularly under a system where one
was regarded as subordinate to another. This was a more in-depth approach to the study of social and
cultural change, one that was more nuanced than the Western concept of acculturation where the
culture of the dominant groups absorbs that of other groups. Other postcolonial societies have taken
up this construct, developed in the Caribbean, and applied it to their own contexts.
History then (like in Europe) plays a major role in the development of the society. Our history is
very different from the history of European societies. Therefore, our sociology would call for more
attention and emphasis on certain issues that are underdeveloped in European sociology. For
example, Caribbean sociology is strongly interdisciplinary because of the heavy elements of economy,
political economy, culture and history needed to interrogate and explain Caribbean realities. The
methodologies that we prefer seem to have swung to microsociological, interpretive work, and
the main purpose our researchers appear to have is that of social justice, not just describing and
explaining the society. Hence, the European emphasis on building generalisations and theory from
large-scale studies is not at present being replicated in the Caribbean.
social justice
European and Caribbean sociology are similar in that the foundation principles of the discipline are
the same. The ‘founding fathers’ continue in both traditions as the main theorists of the various
perspectives and sub-perspectives. The concepts are the same because in all societies education,
culture, norms, stratification, family and economy are found. However, differences in history and
culture alert us to the fact that a society may be constructed differently to others. The task of
Caribbean sociologists then was to extend the concepts of First World sociology in applying them to
Caribbean life and in so doing devise new concepts that describe that reality more adequately. The
struggle for Caribbean sociology is to forge a path where independent thought is mirrored in
developing more contextualised research methods and concepts and that cannot be something
inherited from Europe but something that is borne out of resistance to Europe.
The essay
differences. Here
some wrapping up
is done including
But perhaps,
more could have
been said about
similarities in the
body of the essay?
Ends on an
interesting note
– nationalism forcing a critique
of European ideas
and knowledge.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise that:
each sociological perspective represents a different lens or way of understanding social
phenomena, and so sociology is characterised by competing views of society or different
the different sociological perspectives or theoretical positions add to the critical element
of sociology because they emphasise that there is no one way of understanding the social
the basic principles of sociology are also known as principles of constraint which operate
in all societies;
the six principles of constraint are institutions, socialisation, stratification, organisation,
social control and social change;
typical introductions to the study of society do not make clear that sociology is the study
of the extent to which we are constrained by living in the social world;
the study of sociology is fundamentally about how others influence (or constrain) us;
these principles represent the conceptual knowledge base of the discipline;
the principles give rise to the specific theories, perspectives and concepts of the discipline
of sociology;
another way of understanding these principles is to think of them as the rules of
relationships in the social world.
Sociological Perspectives,
Principles and Concepts
The discipline of sociology has its own set of concepts, largely derived from the work of
the social theorists we studied in the last chapter. Each theorist tends to work within a
particular sociological perspective, thereby giving rise to different sociologies. We learnt that
the Founding Fathers of the discipline bequeathed three distinct sociological perspectives
to us – Functionalism or Structural Functionalism, the Conflict or Marxist Perspective and
Interactionism or Interpretive Theory. We will study these in the present chapter as well as
the more recent Feminist Theory. In addition we will study six sociological principles. The
basic principles in sociology are the fundamental building blocks of the discipline and are
important for you to master.
The Sociological
Perspectives and
Social Theory
Sociological perspectives represent the different ways
that social theorists understand society. Each perspective
puts forward a view that the theorist believes can best
explain society or social phenomena. In the 1950s Harley
(2008) tells us that sociology textbooks only presented a
Functionalist version of social theory which was called
‘the’ sociological perspective. However, today most
sociologists recognise that there are multiple social
perspectives and in this book we study what has come to
be the classic three-way grouping of theories into
‘Theory’, ‘model’ and ‘perspective’ all tend to
be used in the same way. However, a theory is a
statement which describes a proposed relationship
between two or more concepts. This means an
explanation is offered about why something
happens in society. Perspectives such as Marxism
and Functionalism are examples of grand theory.
They propose to explain society wherever it occurs.
The Caribbean models can be thought of in a similar
way as they each propose to explain society in the
Caribbean (and wherever similar conditions exist).
Interactionism. A newer perspective, Feminist Theory,
is also outlined here, and throughout the text more
recent theoretical positions or approaches, such as Critical
Theory and Postmodernism, are introduced. They have
each developed from one or more of the basic three-way
classification of perspectives.
You will find though that information on all the
perspectives will tend to crop up in subsequent chapters
– because you cannot study any social issue or social
institution without having a good sense of how each is
treated by the sociological perspectives.
This is the oldest and most dominant perspective in
sociology and is sometimes referred to as Structural
Functionalism or the role of consensus. In this view society
is seen as a whole entity (the social system) that is
made up of different parts (social organisations, social
institutions) which integrate smoothly with each other
to create and re-create an orderly society. This is termed
a structural understanding of society (Box 3.1, page 47),
because it is based on the idea of inter-relationships
between different parts of a system. It resembles a
biological model where all organs contribute to a healthy
person or entity. In this view it is believed that when
all components in society are functioning in an efficient
manner, order, harmony and equilibrium result. The
purpose of the Functionalist perspective is to understand
how to maintain social order.
The most important characteristics of the sociological
perspective of Functionalism are summarised below.
Functionalism is based on the idea of consensus.
Consensus develops out of the traditions of a society
which are passed on through the processes of
socialisation via norms and values.
Consensus means that amongst most of the people
in a society there is substantial agreement on how the
society should be organised. For example, we largely
agree that a democratic government is best for the
kind of society that we wish and material wealth
continues to be a major goal for many.
Norms are the established rules (written and
unwritten) in a society which govern expected
Values are at the root of norms. What is valued tends
to become expected and established, e.g. we place
value on personal hygiene and so norms develop
about having daily baths.
The macro-level of society (the social system and its
social institutions) is the focus of the functionalist
perspective. Understanding how these structures
articulate with each other, functionalists believe, is
important in maintaining a stable society. For example,
smooth collaboration between the social institution
of education and the social institution of the family
contributes to social cohesion and harmony – not
only in schooling but throughout the social system
because there will be a reduction in the number of
dropouts and failures leading to more potentially
productive workers for the economy.
Individuals play their part in the functioning of social
institutions. They are assigned a status, for example,
‘father’ which carries with it a role (fatherhood) that
has to be performed if the social institution of the
family is to function properly. ‘Status’ and ‘role’ are
Status refers to what you are, your position, in a
particular setting, e.g. student. Your role refers to
what you do - i.e. the norms, values and behaviours
associated with such a status – going to classes, taking
notes, being respectful of teachers.
examples of how relationships are structured in a
society. (Note that how the parts of the system relate
to each other is important in this structural approach
to understanding how society works). All institutions
are interdependent so that change in one institution
affects the others. For example, if the economy needs
technicians and persons with construction skills,
education (the curriculum) changes to accommodate
this need – less emphasis on abstract disciplines and
more on technical-vocational subjects. We have seen
evidence of this in Caribbean schools over the past
two or three decades.
Comte and Durkheim contributed to developing the
Functionalist Perspective of society. Since they viewed
sociology as ‘the science of society’ the ways they
investigated society were based on what they called, ‘the
scientific method’. To a large extent Functionalist studies
can also be described as positivist (positivism being the
philosophy underlying the sciences; see Box 2.4)
■ though that is not always the case. There is persistent
criticism of Functionalism from the Interpretive
Perspective - that a positivist outlook only recognises
a tangible reality and social life is influenced by many
intangibles. In this respect, functionalism sees individuals
as passive actors influenced by social structures.
In addition, the deep belief that order and consensus
are the hall marks of a peaceful society means that this
perspective tends to be less interested in social change and
may even see change and conflict as dysfunctional. As a
result, it is said to have a ‘static’ conception of society and
is concerned to maintain the status quo, which gives it
a conservative outlook. Activity 3.1 encourages you to
work out more criticisms of this perspective.
Social Theory
The following are two criticisms of the Functionalist
perspective – one is a teleological explanation and
the other is a tautological explanation. Define the
terms teleological and tautological and identify which
one is which.
1. Functionalism explains social structures in terms of
their end-purposes. So, social stratification exists
in a society because it is beneficial for the society.
There is no adequate justification for this claim of
being beneficial, it is something that functionalists
2. Functionalism employs circular arguments – that is,
saying the same thing over in different words. For
example, Functionalists say that if crime exists then
it must be functional for the society. And we know
that crime is beneficial to the society, because … it
Social stratification refers to a system operating in
a particular society which ranks the population into
social classes or groups arranged in a hierarchy.
BOX 3.1
Structure or social structure is a term used
in sociology to refer to enduring patterns or
relationships that guide our behaviour. We
inherit them and they become embedded in
our lives, e.g.norms, roles, values, marriage,
socio-economic status, and the labour
market, among many others. The social
institutions are the largest structures and
indeed are the framework for the overall
structure of society. Both Functionalism and
Conflict Theory/Marxism have a structural
foundation although they differ in how they
conceive of many other aspects of society.
Interactionism on the other hand downplays
the deterministic influence of structures in
our lives.
Conflict Theory/Marxism
Conflict Theory is based on the idea that inter-group
differences, disputes, struggles and tensions are endemic
BOX 3.2
in society because of disparities in power, interests
and attitudes (the role of conflict). For example, we
self-identify with many categories such as age, race,
sex, religion, occupation, socio-economic status and
nationality which become the basis for the formation
of groups. Often the conflict that results between
groups encourages stereotyping and prejudice. In the
Caribbean we see this clearly in how we brand those
from the different islands and territories.
Marxism is a specific example of Conflict Theory
though they are often regarded as the same thing. Conflict
Theory has influenced studies in Critical Theory,
Feminist Theory and Postmodern Theory. Compared
to other conflict theories, Marxism has a more limited
range of interests. It is focused on the institution of the
economy (known as the substructure or base). Karl Marx
(Chapter 2) saw the fundamental conflict in society
as social class conflict. This was on-going and inevitable
because capitalists and workers comprised a unity within
which there were contradictions (see Box 3.2) leading to
the potential for immanent conflict and change. The
dialectic between or interplay of the forces and counterforces develops and continues through mediation and
resolution of conflicts and the development of new
forms and relationships within the unit. It is not a case
of two “opposing” forces locked in conflict, it is more
Some Marxist Terms
• In Marxist thought contradictions occur within
a unit and this produces strains and conflicts
which eventually lead to change and the
creation of a new formation. Marx described
the mutual struggle of opposing forces within
a unit as the dialectic. He viewed capitalism
as having inherent contradictions as the social
relations of production become progressively
alienated and affect the forces of production.
• Dialectical materialism is the philosophy
on which Marx based his theory of society.
Marx felt that the material world dictated the
nature of reality for society. If it changed then
the entire structure of society would have to
change. Social change arises in the constant
interplay of ideas about the material base of
the society which contain inherent conflicts and
contradictions that propel change.
• Forces of production describes the resources
necessary for production – tools, processes,
materials, labour, skills and knowledge.
• The term social relations of production
describes the interconnections between people
involved in production.
• In Marxist thought the adjective bourgeois is
applied to the capitalists or middle class and
their values that were anchored in material
wealth and social class stratification. The term
proletariat refers to the mass of ordinary
• The term false consciousness was used
by Marx to describe the predicament of the
proletariat who do not know they are being
duped by the bourgeois class to accept values
which are not in their best interests but serve
the capitalists quite well
subtle than that. There are two opposing forces but the
contradiction is that they are fundamentally tied to each
other in that one cannot exist without the other.
Marx saw such dialectical relationships in the world
of work (known as production). He introduced various
terms (see Box 3.2), including forces of production and social
relations of production. In the case of capitalism one group
or class of people, few in number, controls the ownership
and assets of the production enterprise. These persons
own a great deal of capital be it in land, property or
money and are known as the bourgeois class. The other
social class, the workers (also known as the proletariat),
only have their labour power to sell. The philosophy
underlying this perspective is called dialectical materialism,
and depicts the on-going struggles between these two
The social relations of production describe how the
different groups or classes created by capitalism interact
and relate to each other and provides us today with a
useful analysis of society. For example, which group or
groups wield more power in our society? Do they live
side by side or are there exclusive neighbourhoods and
gated communities to maintain the barriers between the
affluent and the working class? Do they inter-marry or
attend the same schools? These are some ways in which
we can see the social relationships that accompany how
the economy is organised. It also shows that the other
institutions of society (the superstructure) reinforce
the power differentials for example, political parties rely
on the wealthier classes to fund their campaigns and
when in power they in turn facilitate the concerns of
big business. The state in Marxist thought is oppressive
because it controls and reinforces the system of social
stratification and class relations.
According to Marx, social change occurs when the
dialectical relationships operating in society become
extremely oppressive for one group. Capitalism operates
within a contradictory context: for example, capitalists
want to make as much profits as they can and so wages
are kept as low as possible. Workers on the other hand
want to maximise reward for their labour. These are two
opposed intentions but for much of the time their different
interests are held in check. However, if the proletariat
decides to withhold their labour another contradiction is
exposed – the workers are a collective who could unite
for their common good, while the capitalists are few in
They of course can use their power in government
and the armed forces to bring back ‘order’ but the
proletariat can also be awakened from their sleep of
false consciousness to understand how they have been
exploited. Periodic ‘crises’ like this develop in capitalism
according to Marx and will eventually lead to revolution
and a new world order where all would own the means of
production – a communist society. This could only happen
when the state withers away – meaning that the oppressive
rule of the state as in capitalist societies will gradually
become more humane under socialist principles so
that by the time a communist society is established there
would be no need for ‘a state’.
Marxists then differ from the Functionalists who
understand society in terms of consensus, shared values,
norms, order, cohesion and integration. However, both
groups have a macrosociological focus – they attempt to
explain society at the level of the system, whole societies
and how they develop over time. As a result, both groups
understand society in terms of social structure.
Functionalism sees the social system as comprising
social institutions and organisations, and norms, values
and other established practices as influencing and guiding
human behaviour. Marxists do not dispute this structural
framework except to say that the institution of the
economy plays the fundamental role in structuring the
society and all other institutions mirror the relations of
production evident in the economy – relations
characterised by conflict, contradiction, alienation,
social control, coercion, power, and oppression. Often,
when scholars use a Marxist analysis of crime or schooling
they are not necessarily followers of the political ideas of
communism but find the tools of Marxism useful in
exposing injustice and inequity.
This account simplifies Marxism because it brings
together different ideas that Marx had and puts
them in a coherent way. Marx is quoted as saying
that he was definitely not a Marxist because of the
ways in which his works were interpreted. In early
works Marx tends to be more philosophical and
ideas are discussed. Middle Marx focuses on the
economic base. Late Marx is much more dialectical
– showing how the base and superstructure
are not just two different entities but how the
superstructure expresses the base.
Marxism acts as a critique of the main arguments of
Functionalism. It argues that the Functionalist idea of
society is an optimistic one that takes no account of the
inequalities that occur through social and economic
marginalisation. It assumes that all persons in the society
want the same goals and believes that social order comes
about because of this consensus. Marxists, however, point
out that if social order exists it is because of the social control
exerted on less powerful groups by the more powerful.
Whilst functionalists see social institutions interacting to
support a thriving society, Marxists see the elites in the
society dominating each social institution and interacting
in ways to ensure that they continue to thrive.
microsociological perspective, sees the individual as a
knowing person who exercises agency in choosing his
or her actions whilst macrosociology (Functionalism
and Conflict Theory/Marxism) analyses society from a
structural point of view and the individual is largely seen
as passive. Hermeneutics is the philosophy undergirding
the Interactionist Perspective. It sees reality as what people
construct for themselves based on the meanings and
interpretations they share about the world.
Social Action
Social Theory
Identify from the list below those statements that you
consider to be criticisms of the Marxist Perspective.
(The other statements may be TRUE but are not
criticisms or they may be FALSE.)
1. Over-determinism of the economy in social life does
not take account of conflicts having other causes.
2. The Marxist Perspective is macrosociological and
does not give a good structural explanation of the
3. The criticism of the Functionalist Perspective that
it has a passive notion of people is also directed at
4. Marxism is an ideology (and therefore cannot
be tested), e.g. its belief that communism will
eventually replace capitalism.
5. Marxism did not value the importance of the social
consensus in its explanation of society.
6. Thinking about conflict as the basis of social
relationships may not be a true representation of
social life.
7. A focus on agency (where the agent chooses his
or her own actions) minimises the contribution of
structural elements to an understanding of social life.
8. Critics of Marx’s theory of history say that
industrialised countries have not moved closer to
revolution as he predicted.
Max Weber’s thought led to the development of the
Interactive or Interactionist perspective (the role of
agency) in sociology which sought to bring more of the
individual into theorising about social life. Social Action
theory is the Interactionist perspective largely associated
with his name; other Interactionist perspectives are
Symbolic Interaction (see §7.2.3), Phenomenology
and Ethnomethodology. Interactionism, which is a
Weber devised a comprehensive theory to explain the
social actions of individuals. He wanted to understand the
connectedness between how individuals made meaning
and acted on those meanings (subjective knowledge) and
the eventual macro-level processes that resulted. In other
words, he was interested in learning about the motivation
that people had for their actions not only the end result
of those actions.
One of his main influences was Ferdinand Tönnies
(1855–1936) who in studying human relationships showed
that they were of two basic kinds:
a those in which people engaged for the relationship
itself, such as friendship, marriage and other personal
interactions, and
b those where people saw that they could gain
something such as from a teacher or in employment.
Weber in his study of societies realised that people in
modern society with its large-scale industrial and urban
complexes were destined to develop more of the second
type, rational and instrumental relationships, because
of the nature of modern social life. To Weber ‘rational’
meant that there was a calculated, premeditated goal
behind the behaviour of a person as opposed to ‘nonrational’ where one participated for the enjoyment or
feelings of belonging.
An instrumental relationship describes one where the
person is only interested in a particular goal or interest.
This is rational and may be self-serving.
This kind of thinking led Weber to develop
his theory of bureaucracy and his formulation of
ideal types – an analysis based on refining some aspect of
social life to focus only on its essential characteristics. The
increasing dominance of rational relationships he saw as
being an inevitable part of modern society leading to the
dominance of bureaucracy. His ideal type of a bureaucracy
sought to clarify its main characteristics:
■ a clearly defined and specialised division of labour
employing only those who were technically qualified;
a top–down authority structure, an impersonal
and impartial way of interacting through rules and
regulations that maintained a rigid distance between
the public sphere of a person’s life and the private
sphere of home and family.
The growth and development of bureaucracies in each
country in the civil service, the military and in economic,
political and religious institutions demonstrates Weber’s
concern that bureaucracies would rule individuals, taking
away their decision-making power, depersonalising their
lives and leading to alienation.
In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,
Weber regards both ‘protestantism’ and ‘capitalism’ as
ideal types. The former (in this instance, Calvinism)
imbues persons with a spiritual and moral purpose and
the latter is embodied as the desire to amass money –
an instrumental goal. He showed that the motivation to
amass wealth for Protestants lay in their religious doctrines
(see further discussion in Chapter 7).
Mead stated that society was made up of symbols or
things and as we grew up we also grew to share in the
meanings others had for those symbols. Mead felt that
without the symbols we would not have the opportunity
to develop a self. Symbols made thought, communication
and interpretation possible. Language itself is made up
of symbols which can be used for communication only
because we agree on what the words mean. For example,
in the Caribbean we speak of ‘electricity’ whereas in the
United States the word ‘power’ is more widely used.
Symbolic Interactionists therefore describe and explain
our actions/identities based on this theory of the self that
is only constructed because of the symbols about which
we share meanings.
The Puritan’s almost fanatical devotion to a
principled, unrelenting work ethic and the disciplined
accumulation of wealth in the service of a calling helped
launch capitalism on its path of global domination.
Consider the idea that you can only develop a ‘self’
because you and others in society share understandings
about ‘symbols’. For example, if you lived somehow out
of society, how would you even ‘know’ what to think
of anything in your environment?
(Maley, 2004, p.70)
In formulating the theory of Social Action, Weber
was mostly interested in understanding the actions of
individuals. The approach was to study how macroor systemic social phenomena (religion, bureaucracy,
capitalism) developed from the motivation and
behaviours of individuals and small groups (agency). The
other Interactionist perspectives are primarily devoted to
the study of individuals and subjective knowledge and do
not attempt to explain any processes at the macro-level.
Symbolic Interaction
This is a branch of Interpretive theory that is based in
the work of Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert
Mead. George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) and his
followers built on the ideas of Charles Horton Cooley
(1864–1929) to develop this perspective, known popularly
as the Theory of Mind, Self and Society. The main point
is that much of our ‘self ’ and our mind (our thoughts)
is influenced by the social processes and interactions in
which we are enmeshed. In other words, we are not the
‘individuals’ we sometimes think we are - the individual
is closely linked to society and symbolic interactionists
study that relationship. They see individuals as constantly
engaged in constructing their ‘selves’ taking their cues
from others about how to act.
Social Theory
Put the assumptions of Symbolic Interaction to the test
for yourself.
Alfred Schütz (1899–1959) based his work on the
philosophy of Edmund Husserl and offered an
understanding of the social world that clearly differentiates
it from the natural sciences and the positivist method.
His ideas are based on the notion that human beings
have consciousness (awareness, being able to perceive) and
so they have experiences in which they actively construct
their own meanings and interpretations. The world as
individuals see it is what they have constructed. These
constructions depend to a large extent on the socially
derived meanings that people have from their stock
of experiences. Phenomenological study in sociology
therefore focuses on human experience – what is called
the lifeworld – for example, ‘motherhood’ or ‘being
a student’. The sociologist has to bracket or suspend
his or her own everyday ways of thinking or beliefs in
order to focus on the phenomenon in itself, unadorned
by any of its symbolic meanings. Attention is paid to
the subjective meanings (beliefs, intentions, interests,
and interpretations) that individuals and others have for
Harold Garfinkel is the main thinker associated with
this perspective, which tends to focus on the minutiae of
everyday life – that is, our interactions from moment to
moment – to show that there are ‘rules’ that we tend to
follow. It asserts there is an ‘order’ in the way we conduct
our social relationships that is largely invisible to us and so
must be examined. For example, we observe turn-taking
in our conversations but we may not be aware of how we
do it. We may have no scruples in breaking into what
our close friends are saying to give our own views but
that seldom happens with our teachers and almost never
when speaking with the principal. However, we seldom
hold these processes up for scrutiny, we just live them.
Ethnomethodologists would say that power and status
seem to determine who we allow to interrupt us while we
are speaking but we are largely unaware that we follow
this ‘order’. This perspective assumes that everyday life has
a characteristic order because we all conform and agree
about producing that order. We therefore have methods
we use in daily interaction to reinforce that order. The
work of the ethnomethodologist is to uncover and bring
to awareness these shared methods and procedures that
we employ as the basis of our interactions.
Identify some of the general criticisms of the
Interpretive or the Interactionist Perspective.
Feminist Theory
This theory is rooted in the Conflict and Marxist
Perspective and its central construct is that society
has historically been influenced by patriarchy (see
further discussion in Chapter 6). Feminists also work
in the Interpretive perspective and so carry out both
macrosociological and microsociological research.
Both Marxist and Feminist thought is deterministic
in that the former understands oppression in terms of
class conflict and the latter in terms of the oppression of
women by men.
Feminists criticise the discipline of sociology for
being dominated by men – note the prominence given to
the Founding Fathers, whilst Harriet Martineau and Jane
Addams were sidelined (Chapter 2). In addition, to a large
extent research has been focused on the experiences of
males – Kohlberg’s theory of moral development was built
up based on only males as subjects, for example. Evident
in such work is the idea that what males experience can
be generalised to females. Thus, sociology has ignored
women and the main area of women’s work – the home
and family and issues related to domestic relationships.
Feminists are attempting to correct this malestream view
of the social world.
Feminist thought developed in a series of waves from
the 20th century onwards and is still being refined and
re-worked. The suffragette movement of the early
20th century, when women made a bid for equality in
the area of political rights, brought feminist thought to
the forefront of the public domain. In time, the women’s
movement recognised that voting rights did not confer
on them other forms of equality. So they began to
study and research the nature of the inequality they
experienced relative to men. Over time feminist thought
developed into a wide-ranging theoretical framework
that accommodates different positions on the nature
of equality in society. In fact, some of the theoretical
positions are sometimes at odds with each other, and
feminist theorists often do not belong exclusively to one
school of thought but work in overlapping traditions (see
Figure 3.1).
While the field is dominated by women and the
substance of women’s lives there are feminists who are
males and feminists (both male and female) now extend
their scholarship to include men who are oppressed by
other men. Whatever the particular feminist framework
though, feminist thought is directed to one end, the
emancipation of women and men from unequal and
oppressive relationships. The different approaches to
Feminist Theory include cultural feminism, liberal
feminism, radical feminism, Marxist/Socialist feminism,
black feminism, gender feminism, postmodern feminism,
and other, more minority approaches such as existentialist
feminism, eco-feminism, anarcha-feminism, postcolonial feminism, post-feminism and cyber-feminism
in Figure 3.1 and on page 51.
Criticisms of Feminist Theory
It is a biased approach to understanding social
relations because it begins with patriarchy as a given.
Feminist studies tend to be conducted within the
Interpretive Perspective and relies on oral testimony
and personal experiences which make it a subjective
body or research. Those who value empirical data
and objectivity find that this is a biased approach
to research.
Feminists claim that gender is the basic and most
significant construct in social relationships but
according to critics this is just one variable in
human interaction.
North America
Betty Frieden. (1921-2006)
The Feminine Mystique (1963).
US Liberal Feminist.
Simone de Beauvoir. (1908-1986).
The Second Sex (1949).
French Existentialist Feminist.
Amy Bailey. Black Feminist.
Garveyite Pan-Africanist
bell hooks. Ain’t l a woman
Black Woman and Feminism (1981).
US Black Feminist.
Germaine Greer. The Female Eunuch.
(1970). Australian Marxist Feminist.
Eudine Barriteau. Theorising the Shift
from Women to Gender, Confronting
Power, Theorising Gender (2003).
Postmodern Feminist.
Dorothy E. Smith. The Everyday World as
Canadian Marxist Feminist.
Ann Oakley Women Confined: Towards a
Sociology of Childbirth (1980). British
Liberal Feminist.
Rawidda Baksh-Soodeen. Issues of
Difference in Contemporary Caribbean
Feminism (1998).
Indian-Caribbean Feminist.
Sandra Harding. Whose Science, Whose
Knowledge: Thinking from Women’s
Lives. (1991).
US Radical Feminist.
Claire Wallace. An introduction to
Sociology: Feminist Perspectives (1990).
British Marxist Feminist
Red Thread. Women’s Development
Organisation. www.redthreadwomen.org
Guyanese Anti-racist Feminist.
Patricia Hill Collins. Black Feminist
Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness,and
the Politics of Empowerment (1990).
US Black Black Feminist
David Morgan. Men, Masculinities and Social
Theory (1990)
(with Jeff Hearn, eds.).
British Men’s Feminism.
Patricia Mohammed. Towards Indigenous
Feminist Theorising in the Caribbean (1998).
Postmodern Feminist.
Carol Gilligan. In a Different Voice:
Psychological Theory and Women’s
Development (1982).
US Gender Feminist.
Bob Connell. (Also known as R.W.
Connell.) Masculinities (1995).
A transsexual woman.
Australian Men’s Feminism.
Rhoda Reddock. Women, Labour and Politics
in Trinidad and Tobago: A History (1994).
Postcolonial Feminist.
Judith Butler. Gender Trouble: Feminism
and the Subversion of Identity (1990).
US Postmodern Feminist.
Heidi Safia Mirza. Black British
Feminism: A Reader (1997).
British Black Feminist.
CAFRA. The Caribbean Association for
Feminist Research and Action. Activist group.
Figure 3.1 Some major feminist theorists/activists and organisations
Feminists tend to ignore the social changes taking
place today where more men are involved in the
caring and emotional work in families.
The arguments put forward by feminists tend to
portray women as a passive group (victims) which
is at odds with the research framework they usually
adopt, the Interpretive Perspective, and its emphasis
on agency.
Research some of the different types of feminism listed
in Figure 3.1 and on page 51.
1. Write brief notes on each of the types you have
2. Use Figure 3.1 to identify feminist theorists, activists
and/or organisations associated with each type.
3. Describe the influence these individuals and
organisations have had on the area of feminism
with which they are concerned.
To sum up:
Sociological perspectives represent different views
of society. Functionalism and Conflict Theory/
Marxism are macrosociological perspectives which
are based on a structural view of society. Positivism
is the philosophy underlying Functionalism and
Dialectical Materialism is the philosophy which
underlies Marxist thought. Functionalism has a
consensus approach and Conflict Theory/Marxism
a conflict approach to how societies develop – the
dynamic to be considered in each case is whatever
brings about consensus or conflict, respectively. The
Interactionist Perspective is an umbrella term under
which there are several related microsociological
perspectives – Social Action, Symbolic Interaction,
Phenomenology and Ethnomethodology. The
philosophy underlying Interactionism is hermeneutics
which sees the individual as a meaning-maker who
has agency. Feminist thought is a conflict perspective
which emphasises the impact of patriarchy on society
and seeks the empowerment of both genders to
build a better society.
No one perspective therefore can explain society in
its entirety. A student of sociology should keep in
mind that each perspective may be more useful for
answering certain questions about social life than
others. That being said, the Functionalist perspective
has come to dominate the other perspectives, and we
should understand this domination as a social process
and not in terms of it being the best or the most
relevant (see Box 3.3 below).
BOX 3.3
Why is Functionalism the Dominant
Equating the watchwords of peace, stability
and harmony with social progress makes
Functionalism a more attractive view of
society than the Marxists’ view where
inherent conflict and constant change
are seen as the hall marks of the social
formation. The strong bias towards science
and technology from the Enlightenment
through to modern times also predisposes
people to revere the methods of the sciences
based on the philosophy of positivism. This
means that interpretive sociology with its
emphasis on subjective data is still regarded
by many in a dubious light.
The Basic Principles of
The basic principles in sociology are the fundamental
building blocks of the discipline. They are termed
principles of constraint because each in some way describes
how our lives and interactions are controlled simply by
virtue of living in society. Studying sociology means that
we are learning about how others influence our behaviour
and how much say we have about it. The principles of
constraint guide this investigation.
The Principles of Constraint
Perhaps the best way of thinking about these principles is
to imagine a group of castaways, say about 100 persons, on
an island with no hope of discovery for some time. They
have few options but to start to build a society because it
is only as an entity (even if there is disagreement) they are
likely to survive. Before they can decide on specifics such
as where to build shelter and what kinds may be needed,
they have to establish rules for interaction, rules for social
living. It is these rules we refer to as the basic principles of
constraint in society.
■ Institutions: One constraint we all live with is
that we are born into a society where there are
already rules, norms and values laid out. The fact
that they exist indicates that our ancestors saw the
need for collaboration to achieve some basic goals.
The castaways would have brought with them this
knowledge of institutions as a principle of constraint
and would use it to set about making shared rules
and agreements to provide for human needs.
■ Socialisation: On the island, a division of labour
has to be established. Survival depends on persons
acknowledging that behaviours such as co-operation,
sharing, collaboration and partnerships are likely to
stand them in better stead than competition, rivalry
and individualism, for example. While the institutions
of the family and education were the main socialising
influences at home, here a system of sanctions and
punishments has to be enforced to encourage or
discourage certain behaviours.
■ Organisation: The principle of organisation
includes the methods, procedures and arrangements
the castaways put in place for accomplishing some
task, e.g.. some persons are selected to establish a
viable food supply. The group has to develop ways of
decision making and communication.
Erle, if you tell me once
more how you did this in
the Boy Scouts, I’m going
to lay you out.
Stratification: Leaders have to emerge, whether
by democratic means or the grasping of power by a
dictator or a cabal (group or faction). If there are people
with knowledge and expertise in agriculture and fishing
they will be more valued than, say, computer technicians
or entertainers. Similarly, those skilled in construction
(houses, boats) or, cooking will be more important
than those who are knowledgeable in languages or
banking. This will only change if the society comes
to value other qualities, knowledge and expertise and
that could happen if circumstances change.
An’ don’t you give me no
more excuses for being late
for work. Traffic indeed!
Social control: Coming together in groups to create
and develop processes and structures that will help
the group to survive depends on a certain amount
of consensus about the absolutely essential things. A
system of rules and punishments is set up to ensure
social control or social order. This is based on the
idea of being fair to others.
Social change: This principle of constraint relates
to the fact that in all societies there are ways of
organising to change the rules. Some people join
together to bring about change, others resist, and still
others acquiesce. Change may be peaceful, violent
or characterised by continuous tensions. In the new
society some groups may actually grow to prefer their
new life while others may press for more resources
to be diverted to build a boat large enough to escape
from the island.
Box 3.4 explains how the basic sociological principles
of constraint relate to sociological perspectives, theories,
and concepts. Traditional approaches to the study
of sociology place emphasis on definitions and the
sociological perspectives followed by the specific study of
social institutions. Here the basic principles of constraint
are given equal attention because they underlie the
perspectives and all other sociological knowledge. In
the following sections each of these principles will be
described in detail, particularly how they influence us.
Institutions can be thought of as the social force that compels
us to plan and make arrangements to achieve human needs based
on our ideas and values. If we are the dominant group in
society, perhaps because we outnumber the others or we
control them, it will be our ideas and values which will
form the general expectations of how things should be
organised to accomplish tasks. It does not mean that other
ideas and values would not be there, they would be, but
for the most part they would be marginal, practised by
only some persons.
When we see values and norms result in the
arrangement of individuals into groups to accomplish
goals and basic life needs, we are observing the
principle of institutions.
(Mulkey, 1993, p. 68)
In Box 3.4 we saw that principles of constraint are
interpreted in different ways by the social theorists of
BOX 3.4
The Conceptual Structure of Sociology
The Conceptual Structure of Sociology refers to
how the discipline is organised: for example, there
are foundational principles and the major theories,
perspectives and concepts spring from those
principles (Figure 3.3, page 56).
• The purpose of sociology is to understand
society, ‘the social’ or social life – these terms
describe the same thing but with different
Society refers to the social world of living in
groups and how the interactions between groups
influence us.
The social refers to how living in groups influence
our behaviours and is regarded as a force
configuring our lives.
Social life refers to the interactions of the social
by accepting and deepening the hold of these
constraints on him or her.
• Sociology outlines six basic principles of living
together which are found in all societies
• They are called the sociological principles of
constraint because they all indicate in some way
how society influences individuals and groups.
• The sociological perspectives are three (at least)
different views about how these principles
affect social life.
• Each sociological perspective describes social
life through the social institutions and each
perspective does that differently. Consequently,
there are many ‘sociologies’.
The knowledge gained from the study of social
life is put to practical use by attempting to develop
social policies to solve social problems (top of the
institutions, for example, it describes the relationships
between education, the family and religion.
Theories and Concepts
Theories are ways of explaining concepts /
principles. Concepts and theories relevant
to the study of the family, for example, are
narrower in scope than, say, the perspectives
or the principles.
• The most fundamental idea about society which
sociology teaches is that society is a force which
influences and constrains the individual.
• That the individual also influences society does
not mean that the constraints disappear – for
the most part, the individual influences society
Functionalism, Marxist/Conflict Theory and Interpretive
Theory. Here we look briefly at how the concept of
‘institutions’ is interpreted by the sociological perspectives.
■ Functionalism sees the principle of institutions as
organising to accomplish tasks that the whole society
needs, which arises out of general agreement or
consensus on the part of members. In this perspective,
constraints are minimised and an optimistic view
is taken that the arrangements put in place to solve
society’s problems are helpful for all.
■ Marxism/Conflict Theory sees institutions as ways
of organising to promote the interests of the wealthy
and the powerful, so that inequalities result. Each
socio-economic or interest group has different ideas
on how the society should be organised. Conflict they
see as a ‘normal’ feature of society.
Interpretive/ Interactionist Theory views the
arrangements which regulate social life as coming out
of the need for people to make meaning and exert
their agency in the social world. People interpret the
arrangements and relate to them in complex and
sometimes contradictory ways.
Feminism examines social institutions in terms
of sexism and unequal gender relations. It seeks to
address the prevailing arrangements in society which
facilitate the progress of men but not women.
Socialisation is a principle of constraint because it
influences us to adopt the norms, values and beliefs of the
group or groups to which we belong. Their rules become
ours. Socialisation is the specific process whereby we
More specific Theories / Concepts
Study/ Research of Social Problems
Social Policy
Concepts and theories relevant to the
study of e.g. the family are narrower in
scope than, say, the perspectives or
the principles.
Specific Social Institutions
Feminist Theory
Conflict / Marxist Theory
Interactionist Theory
Sociological Perspectives (Social Theory)
3. Stratification
General Principles & Theories
4. Organisation
2. Socialisation
5. Social Control
The Principles of Constraint
1. Institutions
6 Social Change
SOCIETY – the social realm
Figure 3.2 The conceptual structure of sociology
learn the rules of the society about how to collaborate,
who to associate with and generally, how to get along in
society. The purpose of socialisation is to ensure a stable
society and so new members are always being initiated
and coached about ‘how we do things around here’.
As we are socialised into a particular culture, we begin
forming our personalities in relation to the group. In
society, young members learn through reasoning and
discussion or through scolding, reprimanding, sarcasm,
ridicule, ostracism, withdrawal of privileges, and
physical punishments. They learn that it may be better to
conform to society’s expectations because there may be
good reasons for those rules, or to conform because they
want to avoid punishment. Socialisation is an imperfect
process because we cannot be sure that conforming
behaviours come out of a conviction that the rules have
a sound basis. Someone may just be complying for the
moment because it is expedient to do so. That is why it is
on-going and never stops until we leave the planet.
Let us now look at the different types of socialisation
Primary Socialisation
The family is an agent of socialisation. Primary
socialisation takes place in families from birth to about
five years when the individual starts formal schooling.
The baby or new member of society learns the culture
of the society through his or her initiation at home – for
example, what is the expected behaviour of a boy, how
to speak the language of the group, and how to behave
in every possible social situation. The individual learns
everything, including negative attitudes towards others,
if those are entrenched in the family.
Secondary Socialisation
Education is also an agent of socialisation. As we leave
home and begin to spend most of our days in formal
groups, secondary socialisation processes work on us.
Learning rules is not an automatic thing. Often rules
prevent us from getting at our heart’s desire, such as
hitting the other person or taking away his lunch. One
of the main aims of education is to socialise the young
into the norms, values and beliefs of the society and that
is accomplished through acquiring the knowledge and
skills that the society values. At school there are many
rules and if we think about the reasoning behind the rules
we will see the need to ensure order, loyalty towards the
school and respect for traditions and teachers. But some
rules are questionable.
Critical Thinking
Look at a copy of your school rules.
Identify what may be the underlying purpose(s) for
some of them.
Identify any rule which you think encourages values
with which you may disagree.
Specify how you might re-phrase or replace such a
How easy would it be to change this school rule?
Anticipatory Socialisation
At times we may feel the need to consciously prepare
for a role that we are about to take on. In such a case
we deliberately seek a teacher or information to socialise
us into those behaviours expected of us. Primary and
secondary socialisation ‘happen’ to us; in anticipatory
socialisation we make a conscious decision to learn and
rehearse our future role so that our transition will be
easier. Examples include:
■ becoming a parent (parenting programmes to help
new parents);
■ preparing for a new profession or job;
■ learning the language, geography and customs of a
country where you are going to stay for a period of
■ preparing for growing old, by deciding to co-operate
with or reject norms that sideline older people.
This is a process of socialisation where an individual
consciously rejects former behaviours, norms and
values and actively takes up an alternative mode
of life. This happens all through our life course
but in some instances may be quite dramatic.
We are familiar with the idea that getting married and
starting life with another person demands a certain
amount of adjustment and re-socialising oneself to
compromise on various aspects of day to day life. More
radical change will come about if you adopt a different
religion with a very strict code of conduct or enter a
convent or the military. ‘Reforms’ are really about resocialising people. In education, health, and the justice
system, reforms focus on re-socialising individuals into
more enabling behaviours.
Agents of Socialisation
We learn our culture and acquire our personality through
agents of socialisation. (Important agents of socialisation
are in bold type in the section below.)
An agent of socialisation is a group or a social
institution that influences our attitudes, beliefs, and
values and consequently our actions or behaviours.
In our early life the family is very important in
shaping our ideas, beliefs and behaviour. Once we
begin to attend secondary school and stay away from
home for longer periods we meet many different groups
of people and continue to expand our ideas about the
world. For those who are deeply involved in their
church or religion, youth meetings and activities
largely limit the individual to friends who share in his
or her beliefs. Our peers and friendship groups may
serve to expose us to a variety of young people from
widely diverse backgrounds or they may be more
narrowly chosen from our neighbourhoods, or share
our own ethnic background or the same sex.
Throughout our lives the mass media play an
increasingly important role as an agent of socialisation,
shaping our attitudes and behaviours. When we go to
work, the values and attitudes that are needed to get
ahead also influence us – in one way or the other. The
different expectations of the family or religion as opposed
to the media or peer group result in tensions about which
values are most important.
These are the major agents/influences of socialisation
in which every member of society participates. For
example, even if you are unemployed you are still bound
by the ideals of hard work and independence with which
you are judged and which may therefore impact on your
self esteem.
Critical Thinking
1. Describe the socialising impact that the widespread
use of computers may be having, not only among
young people, but also among others in the society.
2. The different expectations of the family or religion
as opposed to the media or peer group results in
tensions about which values are most important.
Discuss this statement in an essay, or orally in your
class or a small group.
Sociological Perspectives on Socialisation
Functionalism – passive theories of socialisation
This view of socialisation is dominant and says that
primary and secondary processes of socialisation
influence individuals to act in conformist ways to take
up the roles assigned to them – student, friend, parent,
teacher, brother. These theories are ‘deterministic’ and
focus on whole groups of people being influenced in
uniform ways. For example, the school is believed to
inculcate respect for punctuality and regular attendance
among students which are valued dispositions needed in
any aspect of public life, namely the world of work. This
happens, it is believed, through passive absorption of the
norms underlying school rules. Similarly, children are
seen as absorbing the values and beliefs of their parents.
Functionalism emphasises the function of social
institutions (education, family) in helping to establish
a stable set of values, roles, norms and statuses through
the agents of socialisation. This perspective conceives of
socialisation as essentially a top-down process functioning
to preserve the status quo. While it is undoubted that
socialisation happens in a passive way, this perspective
does not fully explain those who resist the roles, norms
and behaviours that are expected of them, those who do
not conform despite the constraints of negative sanctions
and punishments.
Marxist/Conflict Perspective – radical theories of
Like Functionalism, these views also have a macro-level
focus and therefore tend to emphasise social structure - the
patterned relationships that exist in and between social
institutions. They differ from Functionalism however in
that they do not believe socialisation to be a uniform
process influencing members in the same ways. The
Marxist view is that groups are socialised according to
the norms and values of the socio-economic group to
which they belong. Thus, a child living in a lower socio-
economic neighbourhood will be socialised into a culture
where poverty, marginalisation and oppression are part
of everyday life. While this perspective is concerned
about social equity, it tends to be deterministic, seeing
economic circumstances as the major factor in the
socialising experience.
Interpretive perspective – active theories of socialisation
This microsociological view of society examines
encounters between specific individuals and groups for
example, the children in a family interacting with their
parents. Socialisation is studied as a process that may
impact individuals in multiple ways because individuals
are seen as meaning makers who interpret their role.
Hence, in the family one child may conform and the
other resist family norms and values. This theory then
is not deterministic because its view of the individual is
someone who has agency, who can actively negotiate
and redefine a situation.
Gender socialisation is a key area of interest for feminist
scholars. While there is evidence from biology to show
that the brains of males and females are wired differently,
there is also much evidence to show that we take on
gender identities and gender roles in accordance with
how we have been socialised since birth. Gender theorists
also want to point out that popular images of masculinity
tend to be coercive to those males who are different and
who would prefer other forms of masculinity but they
are constrained by peer pressure to conform.
To sum up:
t on iiss de
r be
b d as ‘‘the
e ru
es fo
forr le
he rules’
ss’’ and
and influences
nces everyone.
e. It
It affects
ctss us at
a internal
nall le
vell wh
e th
e rules
less an
d ex
of the
e society
ety become
e our
our own
own individual
dual rules and
ns. Our
Our personalities
a it
iess ar
e co
on a ssolid
id b
e of tthe
he n
ds o
e society
off th
e ve
d as
a our
our own
own needs
ds as
as human
val b
ng the
the most
ostt basic.
c. Socialisation
Socialisation is never
d or
o ccomplete.
p et
ete.. Rules
es are
are constraining and
e or
e socialisation
n mu
must be on-going during an
d al
al’ss lifetime.
As well as being a principle of constraint, stratification
is a major sociological concept (see Chapter 9 for more
detail, especially on Caribbean contexts).
The sociological principle of constraint stratification is
widespread in almost all societies and social groups. It
reflects the urge to sort people according to how much
they have of what the society values – scarce resources
such as wealth, power and prestige become very valuable.
The stratified layers in society are referred to as social
classes. In the very earliest societies of small clans or
nomadic groups each person was valued more or less the
same as another, although elders had more prestige, and
women had distinct roles to play – indicating some forms
of inequality, but not necessarily social stratification.
Social stratification refers to the organisation of society
into social classes or castes or some other system where
each one possesses more or less of the desirable things
in life. It therefore indicates the unequal distribution of
Over time though society became more differentiated and
a hierarchy developed with hardly any social mixing
between the levels. Today people spend their lives either
striving to attain what is desirable or to hold on to it
whilst others are trying to prevent them from doing so.
When the society is organised as a hierarchy it means
that some have more and some less and it is thus based on
That the society does not crumble or self-destruct
when people on the bottom rungs of the ladder find
wealth, power or prestige elusive means that they have
been socialised to accept the basic organising principles of
their society. The principles of institutions and socialisation
come together to support the principle of stratification, that
it is necessary for the society to survive. The principle is
described as one of constraint because everyone seems to
agree about what is desired and so even those who do not
have it are bound by these values.
The sociological principle of constraint known as
organisation refers to how members of society arrange
themselves into small and large groups to accomplish
tasks. Members of society in coming together to develop
rules and agreements find it necessary to organise
themselves into groups. It is this group-aspect of social
life that is described as the principle of organisation.
Social Groups
Within social groups members meet each other regularly
and have a sense of identity or belonging to the group.
They cannot behave in ways that are totally free and
unmindful of others. They abide by the rules, procedures
and arrangements (i.e. the principle of organisation at
work) which are put in place to accomplish tasks and are
based on the norms and beliefs valued by members of a
group. Usually there are dominant and marginal beliefs
which mean that there will be some variety within each
group and even conflict. For example, some students
conform to the behaviours prescribed by norms while
others flout the rules. This is possible because students
form a very large and therefore diffuse group where
there is a range of dissenting views. The more unified
the members of a group are the more likely it is seen
as distinct and tightly knit by outsiders, for example
compare ‘students’ and ‘church youth group’.
This section examines the varieties of groups and how
they are classified in sociology. One issue in classifying
groups is that a social group is not just any collective. A
distinction needs to be made between a group and an
aggregate. Whereas the former refers to people who have
some relationship over time and goals to accomplish,
the latter refers to those persons who come together
by happenstance (accident or coincidence). Examples
include people at a party, or on the bus. These do not
constitute a social group. Another difficulty in classifying
groups is that there is such a wide array of groups that
any classification cannot accommodate them all; keep
this in mind as you read the following section.
Formal and informal groups
Formal groups have the following characteristics:
■ They are established for a specific purpose, such as a
Ministry of Finance or the Girl Guides.
■ Members each have a role to play with clear functions
and responsibilities within a hierarchy of authority.
■ Relationships between members are based on the task
to be accomplished and are prescribed by the rules of
the organisation.
■ There is a constitution to guide meetings and
■ Members are elected or appointed.
■ The group has a public identity so that they may wear
a uniform or some form of insignia such as a ring, a
tie, or a blazer.
■ They are voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary formal
groups include prisoners, inmates in an asylum, and
students who are compelled by law, until a certain age,
to attend school.
■ They may be large or small. Large groups include the
Girl Guides, a university, a multinational corporation,
and a sports body such as FIFA (Fédération
Internationale de Football Associations). Examples of small
groups include a school Parent-Teacher Association,
an environmental group established to clean up a river
valley, or the workers in a grocery.
Informal groups have the following characteristics:
■ They tend to be small rather than large.
■ They are either voluntary or involuntary. A family
constitutes a small, informal group that is largely
involuntary; friendship groups amongst children,
adolescents or adults usually represent a small circle of
individuals and are voluntary.
■ Members have common interests and meet each other
■ They are not directed towards the achievement of
narrow, specific goals. For example, a family has a
wide range of tasks to complete such as organising
for the education of children, meeting their health
and emotional needs as well as providing a stable
and secure home environment. The tasks that friends
undertake to maintain their friendship vary widely
from one day to the next.
There is some difficulty posed by this classification
scheme. It is not easy to pinpoint a large informal group
that has similar characteristics to a small, informal group.
It is also difficult to identify informal groups that are
involuntary, other than the family.
Primary and secondary groups
Primary and secondary groups differ in the nature
of the relationships between members. Primary groups
tend to be mainly informal groups. Members often meet
face to face and have close connections because they have
mutual goals, or they are friends.
Feelings of love, compassion, and concern for each
other normally characterise members of a primary
group. These groups are small, such as friendship
groups, families, a hobby group and colleagues
who work together and develop close bonds. However,
because members feel so ‘close’ to each other it is not
uncommon that feelings of anger, hostility, and distrust
can flare into quarrels, squabbles and conflicts.
In a secondary group the relationships are more formal
and distant. Interactions are based on performance to
achieve some goal and so relationships between members
reflect obedience, co-operation, and efficiency. Each
member at the same time is concerned with his or her
own ends and so competition permeates the attempt at
teamwork. Conflict is dealt with via rules and regulations
and official committees. Members only come together to
accomplish a task, so that if a business fails, members
drift away. Generally, formal organisations tend to have
secondary group relationships and informal groups have
primary relationships.
Research into group dynamics suggest that secondary
groups could become more productive if some measure
of primary relationships are established. These include
increased opportunities for social interaction such
as birthday clubs, celebration of milestones such as
retirement functions, worker of the month awards, and
family days. These together with a more caring ethic from
management could serve to transform the impersonal
nature of formal groups. The principle of organisation
is at work when a company changes traditional group
norms and practices so that workers and management
can bond more easily.
In-groups and out-groups
In-groups are those to which we belong (our families,
religious groups, ethnic groups, our neighbourhoods).
We feel a strong sense of belonging and identify with
them. Out-groups, on the other hand, are people who
differ considerably from us, whom we may regard as ‘the
Other’, and to whom we bear no loyalty. It is very easy to
make jokes about and disparage people who are different
to us and this is how labeling comes about. Creating
stereotypes, holding prejudices and committing acts of
discrimination against those who are different are some
of the ways in-groups treat out-groups (see Figure 3.2 for a
striking example). Out-groups include those who differ in
terms of social class, gender, race, colour, ethnicity, creed,
political affiliation, language group, ability, and so on.
Sociological Perspectives on the Principle
of Organisation
Functionalism views the principle of organisation as
an ordinary and habitual aspect of daily life. Society
is understood to be a system of interrelated parts or
A primary group of friends
Figure 3.2 A couple sits in the segregated section of a ferry on the Mississippi River in 1964
groups which come together to make arrangements to
accomplish tasks and this has always been so. These parts,
from social institutions to a class in a school, make up an
integrated network of social organisations comprised of
social groups. Groups, in their commitment to achieving
the aims and purposes they see as important, make
arrangements to ensure that the society survives.
For example, the economic system in a country
consists of hundreds of groups, including large formal
organisations such as the Ministries of Agriculture,
Finance and Labour, equally large and complex banking
operations, medium-sized business firms and corporations,
and small co-operatives, family farms, cottage industries
and the self-employed. These incorporate both formal and
informal groups. However, they have to be committed to
a particular economic system, such as capitalism (which
can also be seen as a set of beliefs or an ideology), in order
that the entire structure continues. The laws governing
the operations of the economy cement these norms
and values and contribute to ensuring a stable system.
Variations and change tend to precipitate alterations and
transformations within the system throwing it out of
kilter and destroying the harmony between all the groups
and their arrangements to accomplish a task. Thus,
Functionalism sees groups making arrangements to carry
out the tasks of social institutions as mechanisms that
are necessary to ensure the survival of the society. This
emphasis on stability is a prime concern of Functionalism.
Conflict Theory
This perspective largely agrees with Functionalism that
society is a system of related parts, but theorists do not
see it working to maintain equilibrium and harmony.
Rather, they see society as a site of competition between
groups with opposing interests. Social institutions and
organisations reflect the inequality brought about
by competition for scarce resources (money, power,
influence). Consequently, Conflict theorists say the
principle of organisation is about groups coming
together to accomplish tasks but competition rather than
consensus is their motivation. Groups which benefit
from the arrangements strive to maintain their advantage
and therefore the arrangements themselves are open to
question – they may be based on beliefs, values and
ideologies which encourage social stratification rather
than equality among members of society.
The Interpretive Perspective sees human beings as having
will and making choices rather than being acted upon
by various forces as in the macro-perspectives described
above. For example, Symbolic Interactionists say that social
life is a series of negotiated transactions between persons.
Because individuals negotiate their reality rather than
accept an imposed definition of the situation, they may
try to bend the rules and arrangements that bind them.
The Interpretive or Interactionist Perspective then shows
how the arrangements put in place by groups are subject
to individual interpretation, alteration and even sabotage.
Critics of Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracies (Box
3.5) point to how the very characteristics that are
supposed to encourage efficiency and productivity
serve to destabilise the organisation. Write down three
characteristics that you think would fit these criteria.
Feminist theory
Feminism looks on the principle of organisation in terms
of uncovering the practices that tend to shunt women
towards low-end jobs or, the glass ceiling, so that even
though they may have credentials they do not attain the
heights of the economy, or other institutions.
To sum up:
he p
e of
of constraint
nt k
w a
ass organisation
rs to
to how
h w members
ers of society
ty arrange
ge to
to carry
ut ta
skss in llarge
ge and
and small
ll g
upss bo
d by
les, relationships
h pss and
and procedures.
c du
s. Members
rs a
off th
d by ttheir
heirr rroles
es a
nd tthe
he n
ms o
g ni
on.. Whilst
illst tthe
h org
ion ma
mayy at
to iimpose
m os
e a un
itty of
of p
se a
nd cclear
ar cchannels
of ccommunication,
on, as iin
n bu
s, the
the groups
es may
mayy be
be internally
e and
and ccompete
th each
eacch other.
r From
m the
the beginning
g of human
ncce mankind
nd has
has gravitated
ed ttowards
ds groups
off su
as a m
n o
al. Th
at ttrend
nd has
has continued
d re
ed perhaps
ps its
its ma
m de
in tthe
he form
m of the
the large
ge bureaucracy.
racy. Weber felt
at the
the bureaucracy
cy had
had the
he potential
potential to bring
outt ma
m ef
ncy for
fo social and economic
v lo
nt but
but it also
lso could
result in the loss of
n freedom
m and
and cr
eativity. The sociological
c pl
e of constraint
int known as organisation refers
nott only
only to
to how
how members
members organise to accomplish
skss bu
butt also
also tto
o the nature of the society that
vess fr
om such arrangements.
Social Control
The sociological principle of constraint known as social
control involves two related ideas: social order and social
deviance (see Chapter 10 for an in-depth treatment of
social control as it relates to crime and deviance).
Social Order
Think about what you witness in society every morning
on your way to school or work. Reflect on the inherent
order that we follow so that there is a predictable
sameness to everyday interaction. One day is very much
like another. People obey traffic lights, pedestrians
wait till the road is clear before they cross, and buses
refuse to take passengers when they are full. At school
or work there is a definite starting time and certain
procedures to indicate how the day will unfold. There
is a certainty as to who does what and who is in charge.
Social order describes this predictable and stable pattern
of behaviours and interactions that we as members of
BOX 3.5
Max Weber and Bureaucracy
One of the many contributions of Weber to
sociology is the theoretical construct known as
the ideal type. It refers to the purest form of
some entity or its most essential characteristics
which outlines a model of it. This idea of the
ideal type of something does not include all its
possible features but only those that define it as
what it is. The ideal type is therefore useful in
clarifying the characteristics of something (for
example, ‘authority’ or ‘capitalism’) and facilitating
comparisons in different societies over time.
Note that the term ‘ideal’ does not refer to what
something should look like but to its absolutely
necessary characteristics. Here we will examine
Weber’s ideal types of bureaucracy and authority.
Popular perceptions tend to paint the term
bureaucracy in a negative light, indicating large
organisations where there is a lot of red tape
and officialdom so that business gets bogged
down in an unnecessary volume of paperwork.
We need to remember though that it is also a
sociological concept first studied by Max Weber
who felt that bureaucracies as social organisations
would increasingly come to dominate society.
Unlike earlier societies, industrial and urban
societies needed a wide variety of specialised
tasks to be performed on a daily basis and the
social organisation known as bureaucracy was an
efficient means of getting things done.
Weber studied bureaucracies past and present
to come up with his ideal type. He was especially
interested in the forms of authority developed
by such organisations, seeing them as having
repercussions on society. Whilst large bureaucratic
organisations did exist in the past, such as the
imperial civil service in China, ancient Rome and
India under the British Raj, he felt that modern-day
bureaucracies were fundamentally different. For
example, the authority structure in bureaucracies
of the past rested on tradition (such as the
Emperor and mandarins in China) or was based on
charisma, religion or superstition. Weber observed
that modern-day bureaucracies which paralleled
the growth of industrialisation, urbanisation and
a capitalist monetary economy had an authority
structure that could best be termed rational-legal
(i.e. goal-directed, operating logically to promote
efficiency and regulated through rules with a
legal basis).
Weber’s ideal types of authority or leadership are:
• traditional authority – the structure of
command and respect in early societies where
power resided in established elite groups and
was based on customary practices;
• charismatic authority – the power and
respect accorded a leader who because of force
of personality or outstanding personal appeal
commands a following;
• rational-legal authority – the power and
influence wielded by an office (rather than
a person) having the right and obligation to
perform certain tasks. Persons in these offices
function on the basis of legally drawn up rules
for interaction and the exercise of authority.
From this typology, Weber showed that
traditional and charismatic authority changed into
rational-legal authority as the organisation grew
into a more complex entity. In fact, one of Weber’s
major points was that modern life over time has
come to be based more and more on rational,
formal structures.
Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy (its essential
characteristics) includes the following:
• a hierarchical structure or top-down chain of
• division of labour where each job or task is
specialised and well-defined;
• credentials and merit determine who will be
selected for office;
• written rules govern procedures and
• secondary group relationships characterise
interaction and official communication.
These characteristics together give us an
overall description of formal organisations as
places governed by impersonal, secondary-group
While he was able to appreciate the efficiency
and order that could result from such an
organisation, Weber was wary of the negative
effects that could develop with so much emphasis
on rational tasks, formal rules, regulations and
routines. In fact, he predicted we would come to
be dominated by bureaucracies and likened it to
living in an ‘iron cage’.
society demonstrate every day usually without giving it
a second thought. (If more of these things occur in one
society and not another then one is not as ‘ordered’ or
regulated as the other).
The ‘little’ informal rules we follow in daily
interaction as well as the laws of the land are designed to
influence and constrain our every action because there
hardly is a thought or an act that is not social.
Identify a number of everyday situations where our
responses are constrained by these informal rules.
What happens if we choose to deviate from the
conventional response?
In almost all the cases you have listed above there will
be deviants – people who break the rules. In fact, many
of us are tempted to break rules but something holds
us back. That ‘something’ has to do with social control
– the influence exerted on us by society that constrains
us suffiently to make us conform to norms. Before we
examine the various methods of social control we will
look in some depth at social deviance. It is impossible
to study and discuss social order without bringing in
deviance as you can see in the section above where order
can only be truly grasped by contrasting it with disorder.
Social Deviance
Interestingly enough, social deviance is not always
associated with negative behaviour. If someone is
extraordinarily brilliant, or fantastically wealthy, or
displays any quality that the average person does not have
– for example, a couple with three sets of twins – these
conditions are thought to stray far enough from the norm
to be considered ‘deviant’. This sense of deviance though
is merely a statistical one and of little sociological
When a few discerning individuals are able to see
through the conventions of society and its many rules,
their behaviours and values are considered deviant and are
of sociological importance. They may not be explicitly
involved in ‘negative’ behaviours but they represent a
potential threat to the existing order. These persons may
realise that ‘order’ could just be a disguise for carrying
out tasks in the same old ways because of custom and not
necessarily because they are the most effective. Those
who challenged the conventional order because it was
oppressive such as revolutionaries and freedom fighters
were thought of as deviants and some today are regarded as
heroes – Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Toussaint
L’Ouverture, and others. In fact, society needs those farseeing and clear-thinking individuals who are able to ‘think
out of the box’ and bring new solutions to old problems.
There are however competing definitions about what
social deviance is. Those who define it as persons whose
behaviour violates social norms regard deviance in a traditional
and normative way. Those who are more mindful of the
relative nature of acts of deviance prefer to define it as
persons and behaviour defined as deviant by the society. This
latter definition takes into account the subjective nature
of labelling something or someone as deviant. It also raises
the issue that it is a specific group who defines something
or someone as deviant and that group usually has the power
to do so. Nothing as we have seen above is universally
deviant. Nonetheless, there is much consensus (on the part
of quite different groups in society) that murderers, child
molesters, terrorists, rapists, arsonists, and those engaged
in human and drug-trafficking pose major threats to
society and are ‘truly’ deviant.
Social Control
Throughout history societies have found it necessary to
exert influence and control over its members so that social
order is maintained and social deviance contained. In most
Western societies, members seem willing to comply with
certain restrictions and constraints so that the majority
of the people could enjoy a peaceful and harmonious
existence. At its very core then society seems to operate
with a great deal of consensus as to what is acceptable and
what is not in preserving social order.
1 Socialisation instils in us at the level of our
personalities a preference for the rules, norms, values
and expectations of our society and this ‘training’
continues throughout our lives. Primary and
secondary socialisation processes are carried out
via the agents of socialisation, namely the family,
peers, school, community, religion, the world of work,
media, and the government.
2 Sanctions are socially approved measures and
expectations that society use to enforce social control.
They can be either positive (to reinforce acceptable
behaviours) or, negative (to punish and discourage
unacceptable behaviours). They are also formal
and informal. Socialisation plays a major role in
influencing us to ‘prefer’ positive sanctions and to fear
or reject negative sanctions.
Formal social controls which become laws are the
legal representation of norms. They are written down
and constitute the rules for behaviour in society. These
laws are enforced through the social institution of the
criminal justice system involving agencies such as
the courts, the police and the armed forces. Laws are
universal in a society and so apply to everyone.
Informal social controls differ from group to group.
In some families a threatening look on the part of a
parent may be enough to quell disorderly conduct
whereas in another family a spanking is more likely.
Amongst informal groups – friends, families, relatives,
neighbourhoods – whether it is a severe tongue lashing
or ostracism from the group, the aim of social control is
to change behaviour: reward acceptable behaviour and
punish unacceptable behaviour.
Make a list of negative sanctions (punishments) given
for social deviance and positive sanctions (rewards)
given for social compliance in the following situations:
a. at school;
b. in the family;
c. in your peer group;
d. in the community;
e. in the workplace;
f. nationally via the justice system;
g. in a voluntary group such as church,
choir or Girl Guides;
h. in international trade blocs, military alliances or
regional organisations.
Sociological Perspectives on Social Control
The sociological principle of constraint known as social
control represents one of the most widely researched and
theorised areas of study in sociology. Sociologists and
others have been preoccupied with the issue of how to
preserve social order or how to prevent society from
ripping itself apart. The very discipline of sociology came
into existence as its founders, namely Comte, Durkheim,
Marx and Weber, sought to examine society in times of
rapid social change.
Since Functionalism emphasises society as a system, it is
also a structural theory (and is sometimes called structural
functionalism). As a system, society is portrayed as an
entity with a number of interlocking parts (institutions,
organisations or groups) which must work in harmony
with each other. This is described as being ‘functional’
for the society. Having all children in school is functional
for the society because schooling is regarded as an
efficient means of training young members in the beliefs,
values and behaviours of the society and so serves to
maintain social order and social cohesion. Truancy is
therefore dysfunctional for the education system and
ultimately for society and represents a breakdown in the
partnership between the family and education. Truants
and their families are regarded as deviants and sanctions
are applied to return them to ‘normalcy’. Underlying the
interventions by the police, social workers and guidance
counselors, which a charge of truancy would merit, is
the purpose of bringing back all dysfunctional elements
to the shared values of the society (value consensus).
Émile Durkheim believed that it was the organisation
of society that influenced a person to commit a crime or
deviant acts rather than solely personal factors (Chapter
2). He observed that the dysfunctional elements of
society increased with the growth of the modern, urban,
industrial complex. In smaller, more rural societies, the
internal bonds (norms and values) people shared were
stronger because sanctions tended to be very effective in
constraining behaviours. You often hear how everybody
in a small village knows everybody else and their
personal relationships. Larger societies are less cohesive
and incorporate diverse groups who perform an array of
specialised tasks requiring people to travel or migrate to
work and interact with many strangers in an impersonal
and formal way. The strong moral ties that influenced
individual behaviour in a smaller society break down in
the big city where a person may feel disconnected from
others, even alienated. This condition is known as anomie.
Formal codes and laws therefore become necessary to
ensure social order.
Durkheim invented the term collective conscience to
refer to the overall will or purpose of the society rooted
in values consensus. He likened society to an organism
with a conscience (where its values and beliefs lie) and
society sees its role as operationalising these values.
When informal sanctions cannot regulate behaviour
effectively, the laws of a country become necessary as a
source of constraint. These laws are public expressions
of the collective conscience transforming it into
a tangible force.
Conflict theory
To a large extent Functionalism interprets social
deviance as the violation of norms. Conflict theorists do
not define social deviance in this way. They emphasise
the relative aspect of deviance, acknowledging the fact
that behaviour does not become deviant unless an audience
says that it is. For example, in wartime killing is expected
behaviour. Whilst flunking out of school violates a
norm, if this is characteristic of one’s family and friends,
then in their eyes this is not deviant behaviour. Conflict
theorists bring attention to groups who wield power in
the society who seem to have legitimate authority to
deem something or someone as deviant. Functionalists
study deviants and their behaviour, conflict theorists
study the audience and their reactions to the alleged
‘deviant’ behaviour.
Conflict theorists therefore focus on the distribution
of power among different interest groups in the society.
Marxists, particularly, train their attention on the
economic structure of society and the polarisation of
social classes resulting in class conflict. In this view, the
elites through the law, the police, the media and the
various agencies and arms of government, secure and
legitimise their power at the expense of the lower socioeconomic groups. In society the norms and values of the
elites are the most desired and therefore widely adopted.
BOX 3.6
For the most part, those committing ‘deviant’ behaviour
belong to lower socio-economic groups.
Round up the usual
suspects. Must be
one of them.
Interpretive perspective
At the micro-level of social analysis, Symbolic
Interactionists also hold both normative and relative
theories of social deviance. These include the theory of
differential association (normative); and labelling theory (Box
3.6 and Chapter 10).
Feminist theory
Feminists examine the principle of social control in
various ways. One way is to look at the social control of
gender itself. For example, in the justice system women
Goffman and Social Stigma
Erving Goffman (1963) is a symbolic interaction
theorist who took the idea of labelling and applied
it to instances of social stigma. Stigma describes
mainstream society’s reaction to a non-normative
condition, characteristic, attribute or behaviour
that someone exhibits which is regarded in a
negative light by society. The person may not take
part in criminal or negative behaviours but because
of the condition he or she has is stereotyped
(labelled) as ‘deviant’. Usually the stigma is very
apparent so that the person cannot hide it from
society’s glare. Having a harelip, Down’s Syndrome
or being physically handicapped in some way
brings a reaction from society that denies such
persons full social acceptance. Ethnic minorities
as well as those who are obese, alcoholics or drug
addicts are also stigmatised.
Goffman examined social life from the perspective
of those stigmatised, studying their encounters
with persons regarding themselves as ‘normal’
members of society. He concluded that the efforts
to celebrate ‘normalcy’ points to life in a society
characterized by modern organisations which is
based on treating everyone equally. Consequently,
members find themselves at a loss in how to treat
those who are patently different. They elaborate
all sorts of interaction manoeuvres to deal with
those displaying stigma including ignoring and
demonising them. Goffman’s point was that society
places us in this predicament about how to treat
those who are different because its institutions and
organisations, norms and values are all premised on
a pattern of sameness.
have to comply with a legal system that is based on
patriarchy, largely staffed by men, and discriminates
against the ‘Other’. As a result, feminists see the need to
focus on intersectionality bringing different forms of
oppression together for study.
Intersectionality refers to the study of overlapping
characteristics that may reinforce a certain condition, such
as disadvantage or marginalisation.
The War On Terror: An Example of Social Control
The term War on Terror refers to the armed conflict
between the United States and its allies and Muslim
terrorist organisations based in Afghanistan, Iraq,
Pakistan, Iran and other countries.
Terrorist organisations carry out indiscriminate acts
of extreme violence against civilians in an attempt to
increase the sense of insecurity in a society by disrupting
the functional integration of its social institutions.
The War on Terror began when the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon were attacked on the morning of
September 11, 2001 (9/11) by terrorists owing allegiance
to a fundamentalist Muslim group known as al Qaeda,
which sought to highlight the plight of Palestinians who
had suffered as a result of the creation of the State of
Israel in 1948. The attack caused the deaths of thousands
of civilians. In retaliation, the United States invaded
Afghanistan where intelligence sources said that Osama
bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, had his headquarters.
The Taliban, a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim group that
took control of Afghanistan when the Russians left in
1989, had imposed a very strict form of Islam banning
music and dancing and enacting heavy restrictions on
women. These forms of social control were backed by
harsh and immediate punishments.
The War on Terror also goes on within the USA
itself. Surveillance and intelligence operations include
rigorous checks on the domestic population and visitors
through the Department of Homeland Security and
the enactment of the USA Patriot Act. This gives the
authorities wide-ranging powers to monitor peoples’
e-mails and internet usage, access their financial and
medical records, maintain profiles on ethnic minorities
and, detain anyone whom they
deem suspicious. These are all
forms of social control which in
times of security alerts become
invasive and penalising to law
abiding citizens who find their
freedoms greatly restricted.
The Twin Towers, New York, were destroyed by al-Qaeda on September 11,
2001, setting in motion the ‘War on Terror’
Functionalism adopts a conservative
stance in analysing the War on
Terror. From the US perspective,
it claims that the intense media
coverage which keeps the struggle
uppermost in people’s minds,
and which tends to paint Islam
and most Muslims as ‘deviants’, is
functional for the society because it
draws them closer in the face of a
common ‘enemy’. The Us vs. Them
syndrome is necessary especially
in times of war when there are
sympathisers, relatives, and people
with strong ties to the Middle East,
actually living in the United States.
The label terrorist makes more sense
in Functionalism than in other
perspectives because it paints a
consensus view, promoted through
the media and government officials, that any group
threatening harm to innocent people must be crazed
Structural strain theory
This theory examines the issue differently. Living in
camps on the Gaza Strip (Figure 3.4), denied access
to a reasonable standard of living, suffering under the
persistent oppression of the Israelis, the Palestinian people
could not develop the institutions, infrastructure and
ways of life they wanted being forced to live as refugees
in their own land, as they saw it. The means they sought
to bring about better conditions – killing Israeli guards,
attacking Israeli settlements and then taking the conflict
worldwide bombing embassies and airports – were
regarded as ‘deviant’ by others (and some of their own
people). In the context of Gaza though, social control is
more about nurturing an ideological stance against the
enemy rather than maintaining law and order.
Conflict and Critical theory
Conflict and Critical theorists are less inclined to see
only the Palestinians as ‘deviant’ because countries
such as the United States and Israel have also employed
‘terrorist tactics’ to maintain the inequality and
(West Bank & Gaza)
Palestinian authority
Israeli control
50 kilometers
Tel Aviv
Interpretive perspectives, for example Symbolic
Interaction, take a closer look at these labels. The person
50 miles
1949 Armistice
Symbolic Interactionism is a branch of Interpretive
theory that is based in the work of Charles Horton Cooley
and George Herbert Mead.
Qiryat Gat
Figure 3.4 Location of Palestine and Israel
labelled a ‘terrorist’ in the West looks on himself or
herself in the Muslim world as a freedom fighter and a
revolutionary. Supported by their religious leaders, some
of whom incorporate a philosophy of Islam that celebrates
jihad and martyrdom, they see it as their religious duty
Jihad signifies a Muslim ‘holy war’ against those they
oppression suffered by the Palestinians. US support has
continued for Israel’s expansion of housing in the West
Bank and the building of a 436-mile wall as a separation
barrier, even though the latter has been condemned by
the United Nations because it takes away water resources
and traditional lands from the Palestinians. Also, the
reprisals exacted by Israeli forces in ‘counter-terrorism’
activities have incurred many civilian deaths among
Palestinians (Ganor, 2005). Functionalists respond to
these arguments by saying that terrorism because of its
threat of extreme violence to ordinary citizens calls forth
from the state extraordinary measures such as the Patriot
Act which goes beyond the normal provisions for social
control and has to employ tactics similar to, and even
more extreme, than that of the terrorist.
The media representation of this conflict is skewed
towards the US perspective because the major media
networks are American-owned. Power is the category
that both Conflict and Critical theorists isolate as having
explanatory value in deeming something ‘deviant’ or
not. The American press, which is dominant worldwide,
does not portray US tactics as deviant and there is little
press coverage from the Muslim world available to the
typical Westerner for comparisons to be made, so that
it is relatively easy for US media to cast the adversary
as capable of heinous acts, especially if they belong
to a different faith, speak a foreign language and are
ethnically distinct from Americans. Thus the powerful
have the means to intensify the Us vs. Them syndrome
and label others as deviant.
identify as ‘infidel’ or non-believers.
enabling them to make the ultimate sacrifice. Their
mullahs have plausible explanations to justify the killing
of innocent bystanders – that if they die in the cause of
exposing the enemies of Islam they will have died a
hero’s death and be so rewarded in heaven. Interpretive
theorists also point out that at the root of this wave of
Muslim violence is the grievance at the norms of Western
culture itself. That this particular issue cannot be won
makes it likely that terrorism will be a perpetual feature
of life in the 21st century.
Goffman’s ideas about social stigma (Box 3.6) can be
used to examine Muslims in the West who have felt a
distinct backlash from society since 9/11. A stigmatised
group is likely to grow even closer to its own members as
the wider society marginalises them and this may grow
into hardline resistance with the formation of activist
cells and the birth of homegrown terrorists.
To Interactionists the media is a form of social
control in the War on Terror. Whilst its most important
function is to disseminate information that may be subtly
or blatantly infused with bias, half-truths and lies, in a
‘war’ it is well-nigh impossible to be ‘objective’. The
average viewer tends not to be versed in media literacy
so the media functions as an all-powerful socialisation
tool shaping their understanding of the conflict. But
the media is also a business controlled by corporations
having vested interests in maintaining the status quo.
While some networks in the United States may criticise
the President or his administration, they do not go so far
as to be overtly sympathetic to the Palestinian point of
view. The media is employed to drum up support against
the enemy – often loosely portrayed as the Muslim World
– and to underscore the vast difference in values between
the East and West.
In Muslim countries the same is true. Hatred for the
West and all it represents is nurtured by the media and
other institutions. To the various groups in the Middle
East who engage in worldwide terrorism as a crusade or
holy war ( jihad), any alternative views supporting a truce
or peace treaty with the Jews and the Americans is seen
as betrayal. They refer to the enemy as infidels and their
leader as the Great Satan. Both religion and the media
then are powerful forms of social control and Muslims
who want to toe a more moderate line or who disagree
with the current ideology are considered ‘deviant’ and
negative sanctions applied (similar to a Patriot Act, in
reverse). Many Muslims denounce suicide bombings and
other acts of terrorism whilst they generally support
the Palestinian cause. By the same token, efforts at
establishing peace are derailed by those holding more
radical views. Social order and thus, social control, are
always being negotiated and re-worked.
We see here that social order does not necessarily
mean peace and stability but is defined by the values of
the groups in control of a social space. But, whilst the
media, the government, or, religion may encourage a
uniform concept of what that order should be, there are
always groups who hold different views. While small in
number or not very powerful, their very existence means
that in a war a country also has to police its own people.
The War on Terror has overtaken the Palestinian
issue and now the conflict is virtually worldwide. The
many diplomatic initiatives have met with limited
success. Terrorist action is followed by counter-terrorist
reprisals. It is highly likely that the future will continue
to be dominated by this unfolding drama. Sociology
has its part to play in moving away from the dominant
image of society as a stable entity whose order has to
be maintained to a deeper examination of societies
where there are multiple groups who do not subscribe to
Western norms.
To sum up:
he p
e of
of constraint
t ai
nt known
wn as
as social
al ccontrol
is, an
and ha
ass always
a wa
y been,
n a major
or concern
rn of
of all
s. This
his is because
se the
he question
n of how
how to
n social
iall or
derr an
d mi
se social
iall de
i very
eryy obviously
sly re
d to tthe
he ccontinuance
ce o
off th
ett y as
a tthe
he d
o in
antt groups
ps have
ave created
d it.
e so
o og
ogyy sh
owss us tthat
hatt there
e are
are different
r pe
e with
h which
icch to vview
ew issues
es of
of social
r l, ccritics
c point
nt to
to sociology
o og
ogyy itself
lf ass having
oo gr
eatt a We
n bi
as, me
g th
at its
its basic
dell of
of society
o ie
ty derives
i es from
m its
its Functionalist
Functtionalist roots
at emphasise
se consensus,
us, peace
e and
an harmony. The
ltyy in
n applying
g theories
es of
of social order and
e to
to th
e on
ng crisis
siss in the Middle East
d it
itss sp
ad to
to other
herr co
untries, alerts us to the
ctt tthat
hatt contemporary
ry ssociology
ociology has tended to pay
t tle
l att
t on tto
o ev
eryday social realities such as
d instability
ityy and uncertainty. Postmodern
es attempt
empt to address this shortcoming
but su
ch theorising
i ing remains out of the mainstream.
Social Change
The principle of constraint known as social change refers
to the rules and ways of operating that society uses to
alter the existing rules and usher in change. It is therefore
about how we organise changes to the rules of society
and not only what the changes are. To qualify as ‘social
change’, a phenomenon must involve a change in the
relationships in a society and ultimately its social structure.
It is called a principle of constraint because we are not
free to make changes to social structures willy-nilly. If
we want to change something in society, we must take
into account that that thing is already embedded in a
system of vested interests, laws, regulations, expectations,
norms, agreements and/or established practices. In
the following sections some of the factors leading to
social change are outlined as well as the sociological
perspectives which attempt to explain social change.
The last section treats with social change specifically as a
principle of constraint, meaning that change is described
as the human arrangements which change the rules for
living together (Mulkey, 1993).
Factors Driving Social Change
In most societies over time some degree of change
occurs. It may be gradual so that members are not
aware that they are living in ‘changing times’ or it
may be sudden. Computers and ICTs have swept us
up into an ever-intensifying technological revolution
which is relatively ‘sudden’ because there are at least
two generations alive today who grew up without
any knowledge of such things. In addition, social
change could be small scale or global in impact. An
example of small-scale social change is the decision
of traffic authorities to reduce traffic congestion by
instituting penalties for using the fast lanes on the
highway when there is only one person in the car. In
response to new traffic laws families may co-operate by
using car pools on a rotating basis and this may bring
people in a neighbourhood closer together and build
Social change seems to be inevitable – whether slow,
sudden, micro or macro – and there are many factors
which are likely to precipitate change. We need to
keep in mind though that change is context dependent.
The rules of relationships vary from society to society
so that changes may vary depending on how the
society is organised. For example, older persons in
‘developing’ countries lag far behind their counterparts
in the ‘developed world’ in their abilities to harness the
computer to complete tasks in their own interests. And
there is rarely smooth adoption of change in a society so
that conflict is very much a part of any scenario involving
social change.
Factors that stimulate social change include the
physical environment, cultural innovation, population
change, technology, and social movements.
The physical environment
The landscape that we often take for granted
influences our social and cultural life. If a change
occurs in the natural world it will reverberate in
our interactions and established social relationships.
The sustained volcanic eruptions in Montserrat
from 1995 to 1998, for example, resulted in
evacuations and relocation of almost all the population.
Many have gone abroad and not returned. The evacuees
in the north have had to rebuild an economy and
society with British aid (Montserrat is a British Overseas
Territory), which may create an unhealthy dependence.
Cultural innovation
New products and ideas often result in innovations.
Adoption of an innovation depends on many factors
including whether people can see how it will be useful
or enhance their lives, and whether it is taken up by
opinion leaders and high-status individuals. Diffusion of
the innovation throughout society and from one society
to another takes place if many people are persuaded to
adopt. For example, the consensus now in many societies
is that cigarette smoking impacts negatively on health
and it is no longer allowed in numerous public spaces,
including bars and restaurants.
While not a new idea, the emphasis is new – primary
health care, wellness, the Green Movement with its
concern for the environment, and, the implacable
clamping down on smokers in Europe. These trends have
motivated Caribbean societies to follow suit and take
steps to minimise the numbers of persons who smoke.
This process of adoption and diffusion of an innovation
has influenced social interactions in countless ways
resulting in social change: some smokers reduce their
consumption or quit altogether, many now congregate
regularly outside buildings to take a ‘nicotine break’,
or take advantage of a ‘smoking room’ found in some
airports for those distressed by long-haul flights, and
increasingly now non-smokers are breaking politeness
norms to inform smokers that they do in fact mind if they
smoke. However, social change is uneven, for example
within groups such as military personnel, artistes, and
adolescents there are strong cultural norms which still
encourage smoking.
How can the characteristics of a population bring about
social change? If natural increase is high then it is likely,
if resources are not growing at an equal or higher
rate, that poverty, unemployment and emigration will
increase. If population growth is minimal, it could also
mean the same thing, especially if the resource base is
stagnant. Population movement, especially emigration,
results in many social changes in both the donor and host
countries. Rural–urban migration is another movement
of people that has been going on for decades bringing
about rapid urbanisation in Caribbean countries.
Emigration and rural–urban migration have, among
other things, altered the relationships between social
groups and social institutions. Emigration has helped to
increase the socio-economic standing of many migrants
who if they had remained in the Caribbean would not
have been so well off. The opportunities and motivation
provided by the ‘developed’ country for study and work
(often holding down two or even three jobs), enabled the
migrant to send remittances back home and even sponsor
relatives and assist them in settling down. Rural–urban
migration has served a similar purpose bringing persons
from a relatively underdeveloped periphery to a core
area of growth and development. These social changes
have however been accompanied by a significant loss of
the values instilled by small, closely knit communities
and the adoption of more secondary relationships and
an approach to life based on materialistic values. On the
whole, the desire for ‘modernisation’ has influenced the
whole society but the emphasis on economic progress
and impersonal relationships also results in crime and
high levels of anomie.
Innovations and processes that serve to make human life
more efficient, comfortable and effective are referred
to as ‘technologies’. The social changes that defined
one historical era from another were largely due to
technological change. We may not think of them as
such but the bow and arrow, the gun, the wheel, the
plough, the zip, the bra, the eraser and the ballpoint pen
are examples of technologies that ‘changed the world’
meaning that they changed social relationships (Usborne,
Today, in both glaring and subtle ways computer
technologies and digital communication gadgets are
significantly changing how we relate to others. For
instance, the cell phone enables us to stay out longer and
go unchaperoned to places our parents would not have
agreed to before. The reality of having an immediate
source of help should anything go wrong has also meant
that women feel safer when driving at night or over long
distances. However, the pagers, cell phones, blackberries,
tablets and palm pilots now in use also cut down on
the face-to-face time that families spend together and
even at home we may use our cell phones to call or text
the person in the next room. Whilst the computer has
increased efficiency at the office, it also seems to mean
that parents, who are now accessible all the time through
e-mail and voice mail, continue to work when they are
at home. The boundaries between work-related and
home-related matters are permanently blurred. Today,
the media and micro-computer technologies play major
roles as agents of primary and secondary socialisation.
Social movements
These are challenges to the existing social order posed by
groups of people with a common purpose. More often
than not their purpose is to bring about social change by
organising dissent over social or political issues. Activists
promote the cause of the movement through peaceful
means or through violence and other socially unacceptable
ways. Examples of social movements that have resulted in
changes in social relationships are:
■ the Suffragette movement of the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, the forerunner of today’s
women’s movement;
■ the American Civil Rights movement of the
1960s which no doubt paved the way for Obama,
who is partly of African parentage, to occupy the
White House in 2009;
■ the environmental movement which helped to cut
down on the hunting of endangered animals, raised
awareness about oil exploitation in wetland ecosystems, and sponsored a green movement that promotes
organic products produced under humane conditions;
■ the labour movement, inspired by Marx’s theory
of social change , which seeks better conditions of
work and pay for workers through trade unions and
lobbying for laws that protect workers’ rights; and
■ fundamentalist religious movements which
reject the secular nature of modern society and want
to re-instate a strict interpretation of religious texts,
represented by Orthodox Judaism, in Christianity by
the conservative wing of the evangelical movement, and
in Islam by Wahhabism and many different groups
most of whom are peaceable.
Sociological Perspectives on Social Change
Generally speaking, when theorists discuss social change
there are certain assumptions they make, namely that
(a) change means change for the better, that is, human
progress; (b) societies ‘develop’ in an evolutionary
manner of progressive social change, from simple to
complex; (c) change is imperceptible, it happens slowly
and does not destabilise the society; and (d) change
involves the whole society – it occurs at the macro-level.
Biological analogies are almost always used to depict
the ‘growth’ of society and the interdependence of its
‘organs’ (social institutions). These are dominant ideas
about social change and stem largely from a Functionalist
Conflict theory
Auguste Comte (Chapter 2) sought to explain society
and social change through the concepts of social statics
In this perspective change is also seen as systemic,
existing at the macro-level of society. But society is not
believed to be in harmony or in equilibrium in the midst
of social change. Therefore, Conflict theorists do not
rely on biological analogies to depict their view of social
change. They say that competition for scarce resources
between groups suffering from inequalities is at the
core of social relationships and therefore conflict is the
main trigger for social change. Conflict is a normal aspect
of social life especially as groups which control power
and resources try to keep others out, increasing the
levels of discontent and the tendency towards
disorganisation in the society. Conflict theorists do
not regard the ‘social formation’ as ever being ‘stable’
but always in the grip of struggle between those of
opposing interests. Society is changeful, change is always
immanent, and more often than not, change is abrupt
and may be violent.
Karl Marx put forward a well-elaborated theory
of historical materialism, which is a conflict theory of
social change. It is also an evolutionary theory because
it describes the path of human progress through a
linear progression from early clans and bands to feudal,
capitalist, socialist and then communist societies – each
having a different type of economic and therefore, social
organisation. Violence and revolution are deemed to be
necessary in changing from one social order to the next
because of vested economic interests. Marx saw society as
a dynamic entity unlike the Functionalists who preferred
to emphasise its static and stable elements.
Social statics refers to the social order, that is, the mutual
harmonious existing relations based on consensus between
the institutions of society. While they are undergoing
change (through social dynamics) there is always a balance
of social processes resulting in social equilibrium.
and social dynamics. His general theory of evolutionary
social change saw society progressing through three
stages: the theological, the metaphysical and the positive.
It depicted a move from simple to more complex ways of
thinking and social organisation.
Durkheim theorised that societies evolved from
primitive systems having mechanical solidarity to
more complex social systems having organic solidarity.
Mechanical solidarity describes a situation where
the bonds that made the society stable were based on
common occupations and routines, because in early
societies there were fewer tasks to perform and many
people performed the same tasks
Organic solidarity describes the situation in a
more modern society where there is a great deal of
differentiation based on specialist functions, but at the
same time members are highly dependent on each other.
This division of labour creates social stability
Durkheim, like other functionalists, depicts society as a
body where all the organs perform different functions
but must all depend on each other for the ‘health’ of the
entire unit. Durkheim, like Comte, held a consensus
view of society emphasising social stability even in the
midst of social change.
These views were extended by Talcott Parsons who in
describing social change focused on social institutions such
as the family. In a simple society the family worked together,
pooled their resources, took care of domestic matters such
as cooking and child-rearing, and was responsible for the
socialisation of their children. In complex societies the
functions of the family are performed by child minders,
domestic helpers and early childhood centres and each
adult member may work in quite different occupations.
In addition, television and other forms of media now play
a large socialisation function. Parsons felt that in the face
of these social changes new norms had to be established
to stabilise and harmonise the relationships between the
home, school and the workplace. One of these is the high
value placed on academic success which is something
families and schools advocate and which is rewarded on
the job market.
Interpretive perspective
This perspective is critical of evolutionary theories
which attempt to explain society by showing how
human progress takes place in a linear manner ultimately
resulting in the nation state as we know it. (Individuals,
or, as they are called in sociology, actors, are not deemed
important.) The Interpretive Perspective emphasises
the agency of actors and the meanings that make sense
to them in explaining their involvement in social
Giddens (1984) put forward a theory of structuration
to explain human action and social change. It avoids
the emphasis on structures in macrosociology and on
agency in microsociology by attempting to bring the
two together. He says that the structures which constrain
our lives (social institutions, social organisations, norms,
laws, rites, rituals and so on) are all the time being
produced and reproduced by ordinary human actors in
their daily activities (the effects of agency). The outcome
of social change cannot be predicted because society
is a process undergoing constant change, a negotiated
process involving multiple actors.
Different approaches to feminism see social change
differently. For example, liberal feminism wants to see
more women become involved in public life. Radical
feminists on the other hand look forward to destroying
patriarchy and the links that bind women to men, such
as marriage and child-rearing. Cultural feminists want
more celebration of women’s activities and interests. To
a large extent they agree that these changes cannot take
place without relentless activism and advocacy.
Children and Social Change
In this section we take one example of social change, that
of children being seen as different from adults, and with
different needs, and analyse the human arrangements which
changed the rules about how children were regarded.
In early times there was no view of children as
different from adults. They were expected to take up
work or become apprentices as soon as they were able.
Gradually a humanitarian movement emerged which
sought to emphasise the vulnerability of children and
their dependence on their parents. They were still
regarded though as ‘small adults’ who had to be carefully
socialised to take up their roles in adult society. New and
different ideas about childhood began to become evident
during the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in by mass
education. A social movement developed around pedagogy
that was intent on finding out how children learn and
to organise instruction along those lines. These and
other concerns about children as a distinct social group
culminated in a landmark agreement by the United
Nations Convention on the Rights of Children in 1989
which said that children were a distinct group with
rights who were entitled to special protection and were
not just the property of their parents. This has resulted in
worldwide social change.
What are the human arrangements that made it possible
to change the existing rules (views) of childhood?
1 Organising. The rules (practices, expectations, laws,
norms) regarding children as a social group could only
be changed by people coming together to form a social
movement that had the specific purpose to change the
existing norms. The more coherent and focused a social
movement is the more likely it is that its concerns would
be given priority by a government or a world body. A
social movement has to organise itself to reach a wide
cross-section of the society through demonstrations,
meetings and public education using a variety of media
and prominent people supporting the cause. Its goal
is to publicly indicate its dissatisfaction with existing
arrangements and show how society could be improved
by the changes it is suggesting.
2 Formalising. The Convention on the Rights of the
Child (CRC) came into being after years of consultation
with many different organisations from all over the world.
These organisations represented different aspects of civil
society – governments, religious bodies, humanitarian
groups, lawyers, health personnel, parents, social workers,
child development experts, economists and more. This
formalising process occurs when recognition of the cause
is accorded widespread approval and the various groups
come together under an umbrella organisation to work out
the actual reform.
3 Signing. The CRC is a consensus document signed
by the member countries of the United Nations (UN)
which indicates that they agree generally with the ideas
expressed. (There are 192 countries in the UN which
represents almost all the countries in the world.)
4 Ratifying. Countries indicate that they fully endorse
the document and intend to adopt the standards indicated
to change their existing laws to incorporate the changes
5 Monitoring. Governments are required to report to
the UN on progress in implementing all the standards
set out in the CRC document. The USA has not ratified
the CRC mainly because it is concerned that ratification
would give the UN a say in its sovereign affairs. So, one
of the human arrangements for changing the rules has
inherent tensions, indicating that the path of social change
is not smooth even when there is widespread consensus.
Other than the social movements mentioned above
which focus specifically on bringing about improvements
in society through a formal, legal framework, social
change is also brought about through other, namely
economic and technological, movements which are
usually described as ‘factors’ inducing social change. Here
we look more closely at them as ‘human arrangements’.
The view of children as constituting a distinct social
group with specially protected rights has been gradually
interpreted by market forces, the media and the leisure
and entertainment industries to mean that children are
now fair game to be targeted as consumers. Today we see
a full flowering of a kinderculture – the mass production
of toys, books, television programmes, DVDs, films,
computer games, and fashions centred on characters
such as animals, action heroes, science fiction entities or
elegant dolls, all intended for children. This culture of
children as consumers is driven by capitalism which has
been quick to see that many children have their own
money (given as gifts or rewards) and more importantly
that the resources of parents can be tapped through
appeals to their children. This becomes especially evident
at Christmas.
Social change is a principle of constraint because
society only allows change to take place through certain
habitual channels (consultations, demonstrations, protest,
wars, treaties, public awareness campaigns) or through
the human arrangements that accommodate the factors
of social change (technology, capitalism, family life). In
other words, you must employ some of these methods
if you want to initiate change of some kind. When
social change results it usually succeeds in stabilising and
integrating the society especially if it was a large-scale
movement involved in bringing about the change, but
that does not mean that all are happy and content or
even that the change will proceed as planned. So, social
change can also create tension and dissatisfaction leading
eventually to more social change.
To sum up:
Social change is a principle of constraint in
sociology. It attempts to change the normal rules
and arrangements of society and foster new rules.
It is therefore about human arrangements which
make these new rules possible. Social change can
be brought about through the efforts of social
movements or popular movements or through
social forces or factors that create unpredictable
conditions such as changes in the physical
environment, cultural innovation, migration and
developments in technology. Social change can
be at the macro or micro levels of society, large or
small, but all result in human arrangements which
change the rules for living together.
Chapter Summary
In this chapter we learned about the sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Interactionism
and Feminist Theory. We also studied in detail the six principles of constraint – institution, socialisation,
stratification, organisation, social control and social change – which show us the extent to which
our membership in groups allows others to influence our behaviour. These principles of constraint
represent the conceptual knowledge base of the discipline giving sociology a coherence or a structure
from which everything else stems. They summarise the nature of the discipline and its ways of
looking at the world. Both the perspectives and the principles have developed concepts which are
noted throughout the chapter as the tools we use to discuss social issues.
Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Cambridge: Polity.
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon Schuster.
Harley, K. (2008). Theory Use in Introductory Sociology Textbooks. Current Sociology, 56(2), pp. 289–306.
Maley, T. (2004). Max Weber and the Iron Cage of Technology. Bulletin of Science Technology Society, 24 (1), p.69–86.
Mulkey, L. (1993). Sociology of Education: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Usborne, S. (2007). 101 Gadgets that Changed the World. Belfast Telegraph online. At http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/
technology-gadgets/101-gadgets-that-changed-the-world-13490868.html, accessed 25 November 2013.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. Empirical data refers to
subjective data as in microsociology
data that is used in qualitative studies
how data is collected in quantitative studies
data for which there is an external referent
2. Which of the following studied issues at the
level of macrosociology?
I Comte
II Weber
III Marx
IV Durkheim
I, III and IV
All of the above
I and II
III only
3. The structural perspectives in sociology include
Symbolic Interaction
I and IV
II and III
IV only
I, II and III
4. Functionalists regard change as
dysfunctional if it is rapid and deep-seated
retaining the best of what there is
the most important dynamic in society
immanent in how complementary entities
are related
I and III
I and II
I only
IV only
5. Which of the following is NOT a sociological
principle of constraint?
(a) social control
(b) socialisation
(c) organisation
(d) culture
6. Which of the following statements is correct?
(a) Socialisation is a concept not a principle of
sociological constraint.
(b) There are Functionalist, Conflict and
Interactionist perspectives on each of the
principles of constraint.
(c) Social Control is a Feminist argument
emphasising the need for society to come
to consensus to ensure stability.
(d) Social Order refers to the arrangement of
groups in society in a ranked hierarchy
based on wealth, power and prestige.
7. Principles of constraint
(a) demonstrate how conflicts affect society
(b) explain the cycles of social change that
society experiences
(c) illustrate how socialisation affects
members of society
(d) show how members are influenced by
others in daily life
8. Agency is an important concept in the work of
9. The rules for learning the rules of society is
otherwise known as
(a) socialisation
(b) social control
(c) social stratification
(d) organisation
10. Which of the following statements
best describes the sociological view of
(a) The typical patterns of thoughts, feelings
and behaviors that a person has
(b) The unique ways that a person responds
and interacts in the social environment
(c) The ways in which the needs of the
society are reflected in individual
(d) The traits of character a person possesses
that are consistent
(C) Essay Questions
In this section some essay questions are given.
The questions may involve further research
building on what the chapter offers. A specimen
answer for critique is provided, with annotations.
Refer back to Chapter 1 for guidelines of how to
critique a sociological essay.
(1) Examine the sociological principle of
institutions and explain how it works as a
form of constraint in society.
(2) All sociological perspectives ultimately have the
same purposes. Evaluate this statement.
(B) Structured Response Questions
Each response should be about two or three lines.
Each item carries 4 marks.
(1) Describe the differences between the
Functionalist and the Marxist view of social
(2) Explain TWO of the key tenets of Feminist
(3) Using ONE example drawn from the
Caribbean, show how the physical
environment can bring about social change.
(4) Explain what Weber meant when he likened
life in Western society to living in an ‘iron
(5) Why do you think there are ‘mainstream’
and ‘alternative’ perspectives in sociology?
(6) Outline how the view of reality in positivism
differs from that of dialectics.
(7) What is the difference between sociological
perspectives and the principles of social
(8) What does it mean when a sociological
perspective is described as ‘structural’?
(9) Describe the main tenets of ‘hermeneutics’?
(10) Outline the differences between Liberal and
Radical Feminist thought.
(3) Identify TWO social theorists with
contrasting views on the principle of social
control and compare their ideas.
(4) Assess the major criticisms directed at the
Marxist Perspective.
(5) Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the
Interpretive perspective.
Sample Answer and Critique
Examine the sociological principle of institutions and explain how it works as a form of constraint in society.
Sociologists in studying societies have come to agree that there are certain forces acting on us as
members of society which influence or even compel us to behave in socially acceptable ways. They
say that in all societies there are some common forces which are classified as institutions,
socialisation, social stratification, social control, organisation, and social change. These forces are
otherwise known as sociological principles of constraint to underscore their fundamental roles in
influencing, shaping and guiding social life. Each of the sociological perspectives has a different way
of explaining the influence of these principles on us. In this essay the focus is on one of these forces
or principles, that of institutions showing how it works as a form of constraint. The principle of
institutions can be thought of as the social force that compels us to plan and make arrangements to
achieve human needs based on our ideas and values. This is clarified below and illustrated through
the view of each of the sociological perspectives.
Institutions are a fundamental and yet invisible part of our world so that it is easy to take them for
granted. To describe them as a force which compels us to plan in certain ways to achieve human
needs, perhaps is best understood if we try to think of a scenario where this force is absent. We
quickly realise that wherever people are gathered the issue of attending to their needs arises –
whether it is to nurture a belief in the hereafter or to diversify an economy. There seems to be a
compulsion, once groups form, for the groups to organise themselves according to prevailing
patterns and norms for the purpose of carrying out tasks so that the society can grow and develop.
Therein lies the force or compulsion. It is not just about identifying needs and getting things done
but that things can only be done according to prevailing dominant beliefs, values and ideas.
Institutions therefore are a principle of constraint because within them they hold all the ideas about
how things should be done – dominant and marginal ideas – and provide rationales and rewards for
doing things in the expected way and, negative sanctions for going against the norm. We should keep
in mind that institutions are intangible and when sociologists speak of them they are regarded
almost as if they are a large, overarching cloud above us which also envelops us. In other words, we
live in an institutional environment which means that we live in a world of dominant ideas, beliefs
and practices and marginalised ideas, beliefs and practices. Our history determined which ideas
became dominant and our present institutional practices largely serve to continue that dominance.
Religion is the institution selected to illustrate how the institutional environment influences or
constrains us. The institutional environment of religion is discussed as it is understood within the
three major sociological perspectives. In Functionalism, religion is seen as a force with undeniable
power to stabilise society. Durkheim was of the opinion that we were really worshipping society
when at church because the rituals, observances, rites and symbols were fundamentally about
drawing people together into a unit obeying common norms and having the same values and beliefs.
Explaining the
principle of
relating it to
the sociological
perspectives and
outlining how the
essay unfolds.
institutions in
greater detail to
show the aspects
of influence
and control by
dominant groups
and beliefs.
are not neutral
entities is the
message here.
In effect, religion acted as a force for the stable (re)creation of society in a conservative mould. While
the faithful do not see their beliefs and religious convictions quite in this light, they to a large extent
feel that worship has to have a public and community face and therefore keep to the ritual of
attending church services. The religious beliefs and practices of those who disagree with ‘organised
religion’ and distance themselves from the politics and corruption within churches are vilified and
demonised. Witness the alternative religions movement such as New Age groups who accommodate
a wide variety of perspectives into their system of beliefs and base much of their spirituality on
Hindu and Buddhist thought. They find themselves marginalised and regarded as ‘decidedly strange’
because the conventional institutional ideas about religion support a denominational organisation.
Increasingly too there are many individuals who are moving away from the established churches and
opting for a spiritual way of life, emphasising that religion and spirituality may be poles apart. That
these two belief systems (New Age and Spirituality) are growing and intertwining shows that the
institutional environment of religion encompasses all beliefs and practices but only those which
cohere best with the higher socio-economic groups in society and which have leaders with large
followings tend to be dominant. Thus, whilst religion is an institution which caters to a need for a
spiritual life and the development of a moral person, all beliefs are not regarded equally. What
distinguishes them is the extent to which they conform to already established beliefs and practices.
Marxist thinking about religion can be regarded as ‘alternative’ by mainstream religions. Marx likens
religion to a drug deadening the pain and alienation that workers felt in their daily lives. Religion
gave them solace and hope that in the afterlife they would be rewarded. There was therefore no
necessity to ‘rock the boat’ or attempt to agitate for better working conditions and standards of
living because what was important was a place in heaven. In effect what Marx was saying was that
the institutional environment of religion saw the need to provide for a spiritual life of members but
what was provided was shaped and influenced by the elites of the society. Their beliefs and ways of
worshipping became the norm so that other ways of seeing or worshipping were denigrated and even
sometimes threatened by the law. In the Caribbean this was the case with the Shouter Baptists and
today followers of Afro-centric religions (Shango, Kumina), who are mostly from lower socioeconomic groups, are still regarded with a great deal of suspicion. The institution of religion then
encompasses all the views and beliefs of a society but in the Marxist view is strongly influenced and
shaped by groups who dominate the economy.
The Interpretive Perspective looks at the institution of religion from the standpoint of the believer.
In one study on religious groups in the USA, the researcher found that members of congregations in
a variety of religions were ignorant of the basic beliefs of their faith (Yamane, 2007). In addition, they
had views on abortion, same-sex marriages and contraception that were at odds with that of their
church. What is even more interesting is that those who did not go to church continued to profess a
belief in God and described themselves as belonging to a particular religion. This study emphasises
agency rather than in the other perspectives where people are seen to be influenced by structural
conditions. In trying to explain the attitudes of these persons we should note that it is not that the
institutional beliefs and structures do not exist for them. Rather, they have actively sought to
One institution
chosen as a
strategy for
comparison and
to lend coherence
to the essay.
view (dominant
one) and
marginal views
which challenge
representations of
Making the
point that the
of religion
encompasses all
views: dominant
and alternative
alike and
constrains both.
How religion
constrains groups
from a Marxist
Interactions of
two institutions;
economy and
Use of actual
study and
negotiate a stance that is not radical or rejecting of religion and at the same time incorporates
a more secular and personal perspective. The research also pointed to the feeling amongst the
American public that being religious has less to do with knowing doctrine and creeds and more
to do with behaving appropriately. Thus, these people are being influenced by the institutional
environment of religion but they are at the same time exerting their own pressures to change what
has traditionally been described as ‘a religious person’.
The sociological principle of institutions is an intangible construct that sociologists use to attempt
to explain some aspects of social life. It acknowledges that there is a force amongst us urging us to
come together and attend to the needs of the group. In this essay we examined religion as a social
institution and saw that ‘needs’ tend to be understood within the existing dominant paradigms of
established religious beliefs. The Functionalist view was that religion is a normal, stabilising process
in society while Marxists saw it as domination by elites. Interpretive sociologists attempt to portray
the shaping and constraining institutional influences of religion as neither fixed nor uniform and
could be variably interpreted by different persons. All beliefs and practices are a part of the
institutional environment of religion but the experiences of history, culture and politics lead to
traditions, structures and habits in a society which act as constraints influencing which of these
beliefs and practices would become dominant and which would be marginalised.
Yamane, D. (2007), Beyond Beliefs: Religion and the Sociology of Religion in America.
Social Compass, 54(1), pp. 33–48.
Having ‘agency’
does not mean
that there are
not institutional
but that the
individual is
striving to
accommodate to
those influences
in various ways.
A summary of
the main ideas.
Ends with a
general statement
attempting to
wrap up much of
the discussion
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise that:
whilst we may try to separate out the meanings of society and culture for purposes of study,
in reality they are tightly inter-woven;
social order is maintained through social structures which are actively constructed by culture;
culture as a lived reality is almost impossible to describe or explain in its entirety;
to study the phenomenon of culture theorists created basic concepts about it and divided it
into ‘characteristics’ and ‘elements’;
the sociological perspectives each give a different understanding of culture and we may be
socialised into the view of just one perspective;
through a study of culture we can become aware of continuity and change in the society;
through the forms of popular culture – music, dance, art, theatre (and folk culture) – culture
becomes accessible to study;
the Caribbean is characterised by socio-cultural diversity.
Culture and
the Social Order
While the emphasis in this book up to now has been on society, in many ways the
discussion has also been about culture. This chapter will heighten your awareness of
the circular relationship that exists between culture and social order. It will show that
culture is a by-product of a society and in turn works to create and re-create that society.
This relationship is so close that in ordinary life these linkages are camouflaged.
The Study of Culture
‘Culture’ does not exist ready-made and clearly evident
for those of us who wish to study it. We need to create
definitions and basic concepts about it so as to make it
more accessible to study. This is worthwhile as culture
exists in every society and so common terms help to
clarify commonalities and differences across the cultures
of the world.
Culture is underground, meaning that its core (beliefs,
values and attitudes) can only be studied as and when
they are made manifest. During a religious ceremony
or through dance or the making of artefacts the core
beliefs of a cultural group become ‘visible’ because there
is something tangible being used as a vehicle to represent
cultural beliefs. It is through these tangible manifestations
that we interpret another’s and our own culture. Because it
is ‘underground’, culture has to be represented in some form
or fashion. One issue that arises is that in the multi-ethnic,
multi-religious and multiracial societies of the Caribbean,
there is a continual struggle to decide whose culture gets
represented fully and whose is marginalised. Culture then
is not some all-embracing medium in which we live that
is smooth and benign. Whilst it enables us to maintain
social order, this may also imply that it influences us to
build barriers and silence the culture of others.
Definitions of Culture
On the intangible side, you live your culture every day.
It is not the dry and mechanical thing that definitions
may suggest. It is what you rely on to decide how to
dress on a given day, what aspirations are worthy, for
example of a housewife, a farmer or an office clerk, who
you will and will not marry, what you will and will not
eat, whether you want to have children and how you feel
about a supernatural being. You call on it in an automatic
way to help you make decisions minute by minute.
For example, if a group of people are having a discussion
and the topic turns to religion, some may say that they
are regular churchgoers, others that they do not go to
church for various reasons but that they do believe in God.
However, if someone states that he or she does not believe
in God then a kind of void or silence opens up as each
person furiously starts an internal debate as to how to make
a decision about this ‘situation’. It is only a ‘situation’ because
of the dominant cultural value that belief in a creator in our
society is important, almost mandatory. An ethnographer
(Chapter 2) will be deeply interested in how social order is
maintained at this micro-level when someone drops such a
statement into a social gathering.
Box 4.1 (page 82) outlines some of the many ways
theorists have tried to capture the term ‘culture’. While
it is very familiar to us and we use it all the time to guide
us, it is very difficult to pin down and say what it is.
Box 4.1 only provides a select list of definitions –
there are many others. You should not be satisfied with
just one definition of culture because that can hardly do
it justice. The anthropologists Kroeber and Kluckhohn
(1952) published a list of 160 different definitions of
culture. Table 4.1 is based on their work, showing how
each definition could be categorised to reveal how diverse
culture really is. When we speak of socio-cultural diversity
in the Caribbean we usually mean different ethnicities
and their different customs and traditions. We seldom
realise that this diversity pertains as well to how a group
decides to solve a problem (such as flooding ordeveloping
a business), or what they regard as wealth and therefore
what they regard as meaningful in life. These aspects of
diversity come out clearly in Table 4.1.
BOX 4.1
Definitions of Culture
Culture may be variously defined as:
• the accumulated knowledge, experience,
beliefs, values, attitudes, spatial
relations, cosmology, material objects
and possessions acquired by a group of
people over many generations;
This metaphor goes a long way in helping us to understand
not only our own culture but also the culture of others.
music, dance, art,
what is explicit
sea level
‘C’ - norms,
values, beliefs,
what is tacit
• the systems of knowledge and its
communication to the next generation
shared by a relatively large group of people;
• cultivated behaviour which is socially
transmitted through socialisation;
• a way of life of a group of people that is
accepted uncritically and passed along
from one generation to the next, mainly
unconsciously through imitation;
• symbolic communication in which the
meanings are learned and deliberately
lodged by a society in its institutions;
• patterns, explicit and implicit, of
behaviour of human groups, including
their embodiments in artefacts;
• an essential core of traditional ideas and
the values attached to them;
• systems that may result from human
action, but may also place conditions on
future actions.
One way of making culture less complex for purposes
of study is to break it down into components – for
example, real culture and ideal culture and material
culture or non-material culture, or scale it down as
in subculture and counterculture (see Box 4.2 for
definitions). Since culture is dynamic as well as diverse,
all these terms imply something about beliefs and values.
The metaphor of an iceberg may help you to better grasp
culture in all its variety and manifestations (Figure 4.1).
Only one-eighth of an iceberg is said to be normally
visible above sea level. ‘Big C’ and ‘little c’ refer to the
intangible and tangible aspects respectively of culture.
Figure 4.1 The iceberg metaphor
Table 4.1 The diversity of culture
Culture consists of everything on a list
of topics, or categories, such as social
organisation, religion, or economy
Culture is social heritage, or tradition, that
is passed on to future generations
Culture is shared, learned human
behaviour, a way of life
Culture is ideals, values, or rules for living
Culture is the way humans solve
problems of adapting to the
environment or living together
Culture is a complex of ideas, or
learned habits, that inhibit impulses and
distinguish people from animals
Culture consists of patterned and
interrelated ideas, symbols, or behaviours
Culture is based on arbitrarily assigned
meanings that are shared by a society
Source: Adapted from J. Bodley. An Anthropogical Perspective. (1994).
In Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States and the Global System.
1. Identify which of the following can be categorized as C and c:
a. customs
b. language
c. world view
d. government
e. history
f. assumptions
g. perceptions
h. attitudes
i. foods
2. Which aspect of culture, C or c, is likely to undergo constant change?
3. Apply the term cultural lag to question 2.
BOX 4.2
Concepts Describing Culture and Cultural Change
Ideal culture – the cherished norms, beliefs and
values that a culture publicly declares and expects
its institutions and organisations to uphold. The
national motto or watchwords are examples of
ideals that the people are supposed to uphold.
For Barbados that would be ‘pride and industry’,
for Antigua & Barbuda ‘each endeavouring, all
achieving’, and for St Kitts-Nevis it is ‘country
above self’. They all stress model citizens working
productively for the common or national good.
Real culture – the actual behaviours and patterns
that people display which tend to fall short of the
ideals to which the society aspires. For example,
the extremes that some adults go to enjoy
themselves at Carnival result sometimes in lewd
behaviour (not in keeping with dignity, pride, and
having a general concern for the images that youth
might choose to emulate). Productivity is also
severely diminished at such a time.
Material culture – the products or artefacts that
a society creates which expresses its beliefs and
values (its non-material aspects). Music, dance, art,
technology, books, and buildings are examples of
material culture. Pirogues and traditional crafts
such as basketry would also be included.
Non-material culture – the beliefs and values of
a people which provide inspiration for the products
and objects they create. It includes politics,
religion, customs, family, economy, language and
so on. In the Caribbean Anansi is a familiar figure
in the stories passed on from grandparents and
parents to children. The cunning spider outsmarts
adversaries in humorous ways. These stories
present values important to the society: the need
for drama as entertainment, maintaining links
with Africa where Anansi originated, having
folk heroes and legends marking out a space
of belonging where Western culture cannot
intrude and teaching stories about human nature,
resourcefulness and survival.
Subculture – a group whose culture differs
from that of larger and more dominant groups
among whom they live. For example, the student
subculture in a large secondary school refers to the
generational differences between the students
and adults (teachers, administration, pastoral and
security staff) shown in a struggle for whose values
will prevail from one situation to another and
generally it is an accepted aspect of school life.
Counterculture – a subculture which is very
distinct and hostile to the dominant culture. They
uphold norms and values quite different from
mainstream society – e.g. members of gangs,
homosexuals, and certain religious sects such as the
Nation of Islam.
Enculturation – socialisation within a culture
(usually one’s own). A sociologist uses the
term ‘socialisation’ and an anthropologist uses
Acculturation* – socialisation into another
culture, most likely a migrant into the host culture.
A new member becomes enculturated into the
ways of life of the host culture by learning to
adapt. He or she constructs an amalgam of his
or her culture and the host culture so that such a
person can exist effectively in the host culture. We
can say then that this individual is acculturated into
the host culture (is able to function optimally in
the host culture but has not relinquished many of
the core beliefs and values of the original culture).
Assimilation* – a more extreme version of
acculturation perhaps because the person lives for
a much longer time in the host country.
Interculturation – a subtle mixing of cultural
forms, ideas and beliefs when two or more cultural
groups inhabit the same space and mix with each
other in a routine and regular way.
Transculturation – refers to an amalgamation of
two cultures:
[It] is a creative, on-going process of appropriation,
revision and survival leading to the mutual
transformation of two or more pre-existing cultures
into a new one”
(Ortiz, quoted in Fernández Olmos & Paravisini-Gebert, 2003, p. 4).
Creolisation – the adaptation and syncretisation
of people, beliefs, and creative expressions
producing new, hybrid cultural forms and
Cultural diffusion – the spread of ideas, beliefs,
traits, practices, arts and technology from one
culture to the next. For example, coffee drinking
spread from Arabia to gradually encompass the
world and today is associated with American
culture. Tobacco first came from the New World
and has diffused throughout the world.
* The terms acculturation and assimilation
originated in Western social sciences and generally
were used to examine how colonial societies
became acculturated into the culture of the
coloniser. Today, Caribbean-based sociologists
and anthropologists prefer creolisation or
transculturation as a more authentic rendering
of the Caribbean situation.
Characteristics of Culture
Anthropologists study the cultures of humankind past
and present in order to compare them and understand
how they each developed. The comparison serves to
deepen cultural knowledge, for example, searching
out what may be different and what may be common
across cultures. The two disciplines, anthropology and
sociology, overlap because in studying the development
and structure of a society the sociologist must investigate
social behaviour and, to a large extent, the actions people
take or the decisions they make are based on their cultural
understandings. The anthropologist may be interested
in culture for its own sake but what is important to the
sociologist is how culture influences the development of
social order – how the society is organized in terms of
relationships. There are several characteristics of culture
that anthropologists and sociologists agree are found in
all cultures.
1 Culture is an adaptive mechanism. Adaptation is
the process of using cultural knowledge and innovation to
improve on how the group overcomes problems in their
human or physical environment. The course of human
history from hunting and gathering through to village
life based on agrarian technologies (sowing, reaping,
harvesting) to the industrial-urban complexes we have
today are all based on people using their cultural skills
to survive, devising improvements and technologies to
increase efficiency and improve the quality of life.
Caribbean peoples, the majority of whom were
brought here from other homelands, each have had to call
upon their adaptive resources in order, first to survive, and
then to forge a society with other groups. All kinds of
people were thrown together on the plantation and later,
after the colonial power departed, in regard to developing
a society. One way of adapting was to mix and mingle and
so we have hybrid peoples, creative expressions, syncretic
religions, customs and the like developing as more than
one group jostled for the same space. The theory of
creolisation (Chapter 2) saw it essentially as a process of
adapting that involved all groups, regardless of ethnicity or
social status. This adaptive element of culture shows how
malleable it is and (despite one’s fears) that it is not easily
‘lost’ – that it can still continue whilst a person is being
acculturated into another culture. Further examination of
creole society shows that culture supported a social order
that was hierarchical and stratified while at the same time
it was being transformed by processes of mixing. Creole
society is discussed further later in this chapter (§4.3.2).
Critical Thinking
1. Suggest ways in which tourists to your country
adapt or do not adapt to the cultural differences
they encounter.
2. What strategies are used by the host country (your
country) in adapting to the tourist clientele?
2 Culture is learned. We are not born with a culture.
We are born into a society and a cultural group and
learn all aspects of that culture through the processes of
socialisation as we grow up. If we were born into French
culture, like people in Martinique and Guadeloupe, we
would shake hands every time we met someone – even
little children are expected to do so. And both males and
females kiss their close friends on each cheek, starting
with the right cheek, as a form of greeting. In parts of
Europe kissing (sometimes air kissing) the cheeks three
times is customary, the right, left and right again, amongst
and between males and females.These customary greeting
rituals are not traditional in the anglophone Caribbean,
though there are situations where a handshake is expected
or a cheek kiss; but men seldom kiss each other in greeting,
they are more likely to hug.
As we grow up we learn the cultural knowledge we
need to survive in our society. And if we are journeying
abroad it would be certainly be worth our while to learn
about some of the customs we are likely to encounter
because there could easily be consequences stemming from
not having learned what the culture involved. Learning our
culture means that we do not have to reinvent the wheel.
We have access to the cumulative knowledge that our
ancestors have produced to facilitate life in our part of the
world. Culture then helps us to maintain the social order.
Language facilitates the communication that makes
this possible. While culture is something learned we
are often unaware that we are learning it and that
we continue to do so all our lives. The processes of
primary and secondary socialisation induct us into the values
and norms of our culture and keep on reinforcing this
grounding in our culture. In fact, we don’t think of our
existence as one where we are participating in a culture
because everyday matters are so ordinary and we act
effortlessly.The fact is though that we become so enculturated
that it is difficult, when travelling abroad for instance, to
easily embrace what is considered typical cuisine in other
cultures. The notion that we have ‘learned’ our culture
only becomes evident to us when we encounter a culture
with a different set of responses and often that shocks us
into the realisation of culture at work (Boxes 4.3 and 4.4).
Socialisation then, into a culture, is another way of saying
we are learning the rules to maintain social order.
At the same time, perhaps you might think of any
practices in your own culture that may cause others to
cringe? Box 4.4 below discusses the concept of cultural
relativism and anthropologists say that it is necessary in
order to study and understand a culture. It does not mean
that the researcher necessarily takes on that viewpoint.
Generally speaking though, it is difficult to escape one’s
own values and beliefs (culture) as a reference in judging
some of the horrific practices listed in Box 4.4. While that
is ethnocentric, it is perhaps well-nigh impossible to totally
escape one’s culture and bring in a culture-neutral verdict.
BOX 4.3
Critical Thinking
After reading Boxes 4.3 and 4.4:
1. Investigate the different stages of ‘culture shock’
that a person encounters whilst immersed in a
foreign culture.
2. Suggest how someone can prepare to reduce the
impact of culture shock.
3. In your opinion, can a person avoid an ethnocentric
4. Give examples of culture shock that you can come to
terms with and others which will be more difficult.
In the case of the latter, is it your culture or you as
an individual that is presenting the difficulty – or is
there no distinction between the two?
Culture Shock!
This term describes the
kind of feelings that
upwell in you when
you witness something
(usually in another
country) that is so
patently different to
how things are done in
your country or culture
that it bothers you
and causes you some
discomfort. After the
‘shock’ you may try to
evaluate the practice to determine whether it
is ‘better’ than your own or ‘inferior’. You may
even go beyond this to ask yourself whether your
opinions and feelings are important at all because
if this is someone’s culture then that is their
way of life and you need to respect it. A simple
interaction such as maintaining eye contact during
a conversation, which is normal and expected in
Western society, may be considered rude in parts
of Asia, particularly Japan. This could certainly
jeopardize a successful business relationship. The
wearing of headdresses is seen as essential in
some cultures, but as unnecessarily restricting,
particularly to women, in others. In some French
schools, for example, such headdresses are
banned for pupils.
Other examples include:
• when city-bred children visit rural areas and
feel that villagers are somewhat inferior
because they do not have cable television,
running water, and internet access;
• when Caribbean island visitors to Guyana see a
• when you are a victim of racism from people
of your own race;
• when visitors to Caribbean countries realise
that friends may only know each other by their
• when non-Caribbean people hear us calling
each other using ethnic or racial terms: ‘Reds’,
‘Chiney’, ‘Syrian’, ‘Black Joe’, ‘White Man’, ‘Kid
Curry’ and so on;
• when non-Caribbean people line up patiently
and locals swarm all around and in front of
them demanding service;
• when Caribbean people from one country
go to another Caribbean country or a nonCaribbean country and order chow mein only
to realize when it comes that it bears little
resemblance to what they ‘know’ as chow mein;
• female teachers from the United States
sometimes remark on their amazement that in
the Caribbean female teachers still wear dresses
whilst they mostly wear jeans or trousers and
blouses or even track suits.
The main idea running through all the above is
that your culture gives you a set of tools, insights
and knowledge to operate smoothly and this also
means as you interact you maintain the order of
social relationships. Contact with other cultures
sometimes ‘jars’ you because the familiar order is
being disrupted.
BOX 4.4
Cultural Relativism
This term usually comes up when trying to explain an incident or events related to ‘culture shock’. We
often engage in arguments and discussions trying to establish whether another group who has a different
practice to us is engaging in ‘right’ and ‘moral’ actions. For example, how do we feel about Muslim men
who may have four or more wives? There is a strong tendency to judge or appraise these practices from
an ethnocentric viewpoint – ours, which is of a different culture – and often we condemn such actions or
believe that they are not in some way ‘proper’.
Cultural relativism on the other hand is a point of view that states that you cannot judge another
culture from your own cultural viewpoint because cultural practices arise from the history and adaptations
that a people have made which reflect their values and beliefs. In other words, their values are socially
constructed, just like ours are, and different cultures can have fundamental differences in their
worldviews. What we can do is to try to understand the practice and what members gain from it in terms
of perhaps, belonging, celebrating their identity, carrying on their history and so on. In anthropology
cultural relativism is a method used to be able to fully describe a culture on its own terms, the goal being
to understand the culture.
An argument that is often brought up to challenge this idea is that some practices are downright
harmful and bring much suffering whether in terms of ostracism, pain or death and that cultural relativists
are condoning wrong/harmful behaviour by maintaining their stance that a people’s culture is really their
own business.
How would you react to the
• honour killings in some
Muslim societies, when
(usually females) offend the
family by going against strict
moral codes, and the family
puts the woman to death;
• female genital mutilation;
• arranged marriages;
• the practice of some religious
groups to forbid blood
transfusions even if it means
saving the life of someone;
• the ancient practice of foot
binding amongst the Chinese
(so-called ‘lotus feet’).
Traditional Chinese ‘lotus feet’
3 Culture is shared. Not only do people of a certain
culture accept similar beliefs and ways of doing things
but they pass that knowledge on to the next generation,
so that culture is shared in this generation and with the
next. Life in groups (society) would make no sense if basic
ideas, practices or beliefs about living and working were
not shared. For example, most cultures recognize some
variation in how the different sexes are perceived and for
us that is so taken for granted it is not noticeable. But,
in 1978, Dr Maria Lepowsky lived with the people on a
small island in the South Pacific, Sudest Island, where she
observed close to equal relationships in how women and
men were treated (Wilford, 1984). ‘Equality’ proved to be
a problematic concept for these people because we share
in the idea of it as an ideal whilst to them it was a norm.
Cultures therefore vary from one society to the next,
and there may be multicultural societies, but for members
who share a culture the basic norms and values are mutually
intelligible and accepted. This raises the thorny issue of
whether an anthropologist, sociologist or any ‘outsider’
can really share in everything about another’s culture.
Whilst many aspects of culture that are clearly visible
can be studied such as religion, marriage, child-rearing,
family-life practices and creative expressions such as music
(small ‘c’), cultural life goes much deeper than this. A
person may live in a culture for a long time and still not
grasp certain things which a native ‘knows’ instinctively.
It is not easy for foreigners who have lived here in the
Caribbean for a while to understand that rain may be a
legitimate excuse for being late or missing work for the
day; that people prefer to turn up later rather than earlier to
a function; that food is necessary at any kind of gathering;
and getting routine information from public officials is
like pulling teeth. Caribbean people themselves may be
at a loss to explain the meanings behind these everyday
occurrences yet they are deeply embedded in our culture.
This aspect of culture, that it must be shared, is closely
allied to the idea that culture is learned. Learning and
sharing the beliefs and traditions of a group represents a
way of organising social relationships so that social order
survives and is perpetuated. Note though that this order
might be based on prejudice as when one group tries to
maintain its racial ‘purity’ by socialising members to be
distrustful of out-groups.
4 Culture is symbolic. A symbol is something
that represents something else, so that the Olympic
torch, for example, stands for the values of fair play,
sporting excellence and peaceful co-operation between
nations that are celebrated at each Olympic event. The
symbol communicates this wider vision to members.
Communication therefore is an important dimension of
how culture (in the sense of a set of symbols) comes to
be shared. People learn the significance of a symbol and
communicate that to others who learn it and pass it on.
In doing so, they reinforce the meaning and importance
of that symbol. Language is a cultural product which is
symbolic, that is, we have ‘words’ to represent objects,
thoughts, emotions and so on (see §4.1.3).
Some of the most obvious symbols having cultural
significance are those which state the values that a country
holds dear, as in a national flag or the emblem of an
organisation.These reinforce national (or cultural) solidarity
and thus help a person to deepen identification with his or
her country or social group. Music, songs, art, dance are all
symbolic of a culture and so too are local proverbs, stories,
oral histories, festivals, heroes, foods, clothing and fashion, as
well as the Sunday markets, the rituals of wakes and other
religious observances, family and kinship networks and
child-rearing practices. The list above is not exhaustive –
every day in almost every moment you are engaging with
something that is symbolic of your culture.
Clifford Geertz (1973), a cultural anthropologist,
emphasised that culture could be thought of in terms of
webs of significance in which we are all intertwined and
furthermore we helped to spin this web. Being part of the
‘web’ means that we have access to the deep meanings
that the culture has for something and which outsiders do
not have. We can decode the symbols without difficulty
whilst outsiders have to discover the meanings over time
or may never do so. This becomes a problem when the
same gesture may occur in different societies but with
utterly different meanings. Culture then, can be thought
of as a series of symbols, and as we expertly decode them
we make sense of the world. Our expertise however relates
to our own culture. If we use our own cultural knowledge
to decode another’s symbols (and sometimes that is all we
have) we do so at our own risk as Activity 4.4 shows!
As we and we alone have access to the deep-seated
cultural meanings of our own culture, then culture
exists deep in our psyche. This suggests that we do not
deliberately set out to re-create our culture and thereby
maintain social order, but that we act automatically, for the
most part.
2 Culture is dynamic. It varies over time and place.
No culture is static. All cultures undergo change of some
kind over time. Change usually comes about in response
to contact with other groups, known as cultural diffusion.
European culture came into direct conflict with the cultures
of the people of the Americas when they arrived here. Over
time various degrees of assimilation occurred – new crops,
languages, government, and the process of miscegenation
which brought new, hybrid peoples into existence.
Comparative Element in Sociology
1. What do these hand gestures mean to you? If you
do this activity in class you may find some variation
from one person to another in the same culture,
but not very different meanings.
2. Conduct your own research to investigate the hand
gestures shown, as well as others you might find, to
produce examples of the same gestures having very
different meanings in different cultures.
The term cultural erasure describes elements of a culture
that have completely died out but it is rather difficult to
pinpoint such examples. In the case of the Aztecs, ritual
human sacrifice could be one example. However, culture is
dynamic, with aspects being modified and changing form
continually. So, while religion may not be performed today
as the Aztecs practised it, elements of Aztec culture are
preserved and assimilated in Caribbean Roman Catholicism.
This is known as cultural retention, or cultural continuity. An
example is the popular feast in honour of the dead in
Mexico which is scheduled for All Souls’ Day to maintain
the appearance of a Roman Catholic observance.
The dynamic aspect of culture makes sense when you
realise that change is inevitable and that cultural diffusion is
always taking place. A major issue today is the direction of
the influences that are spurring on cultural change. Most of
the influences are emanating from the West and the cultures
that are undergoing change belong to traditional societies.
This implies that the social order is undergoing change.
This means that the usual social relationships are altering
and transforming as the cultural influences from abroad
become stronger. Children from a very young age now
may prefer i-pads, laptops, tablets and the like to running
about and playing games. Their relationship with school
may go downhill if school cannot be as stimulating as the
graphic images to which they have grown accustomed.
Within a family, siblings may interact less and less with each
other. On the other hand they will excel in knowledge
of the latest technologies, know how to hook up various
gadgets and be adept at figuring out new software – skills
necessary for survival in the 21st century (see Box 4.5).
One example of how the social order could change is that
it is becoming very clear that schooling must radically
transform itself to be relevant in this new youth culture.
Sociologically, cultural exchange is a two-way process.As
well as assimilating US culture into our own, we mediate/
impact US culture, for example in practices which show
some level of resistance to US cultural influence in the
Caribbean. An example is the strong family relationships
that continue to be a part of Caribbean life – and not only
blood kin but fictive kinship ties such as with godparents.
Cultural Practices
For each cultural practice in column A
of the table, choose the correct country
from the list provided in column B.
There could be some degree of overlap
but generally speaking, one country is
particularly noted for the specific
cultural form.
A. Cultural practice
B. Country where it occurs
Papiamento (language)
St Vincent & the Grenadines
Zouk (music)
St Lucia
Junkanoo (festival)
Antigua & Barbuda
Dame Lorraine (folk character)
Saltfish and Antrobers (food)
Trinidad & Tobago
The Cake Dance (dance)
Las Posadas (Christmas tradition)
BOX 4.5
Children as Consumers
What has turned children into major
consumers in the 21st century?
1. Technology. Children now have
personal computers and can access
the internet, interactive games and
other entertainment on tablets, CDs,
DVDs and other devices. Today more
than ever a definable youth culture
exists experienced by youth all over
the world and influenced by their
immersion in similar images, music
and attitudes made possible through
the media. It seems true that this era
of social change has indeed been
ushered in by changes in technology.
The ‘human arrangements’ of note
here are (a) the marketing of
increasingly sophisticated
micro-computer technologies
which are relatively cheap because of (b) mass production and (c) the reduction in tariffs and other
forms of regulation in this era of globalization.
2. Capitalism. The increase in the standard of living in many ‘developed’ countries is based on the spread
of business, industry and modern organisations. This resulted in parents having disposable incomes and
consequently the growth of a consumer culture which in turn fuelled capitalist enterprise. However, in
this case capitalists deliberately created a demand by changing their ways of relating to children. Now,
they saw them as a lucrative new market of potential consumers.
3. Advertising. Subtle and seductive strategies are employed by the advertising industry to specially
entice children into a syndrome of dissatisfaction and want that can only be satisfied by owning the
advertised item. Capitalist interests harness technology and mass advertising to intensify the images
children have of themselves – as happy people who have a right to own all that is advertised that other
children have.
4. Parenting. It is well-high impossible for parents to resist the combined efforts of capitalism,
technology and advertising. In the face of the strong lure of cable television and the computer, parents
often opt for peace and quiet and give up their socialisation responsibilities to these media. However,
such media work to strengthen children’s desire for consumables and so parents, in the hope of being
appreciated and seen as modern, try to accommodate their youngsters.
Elements of Culture
A conventional way of studying the elements of culture
is to understand culture as being built up through
language, norms, beliefs and values. This is the case for
all cultures throughout the world.
Perhaps the most basic element of any culture is its
language, a cultural universal (Box 4.6). Language
makes culture possible because it makes communication
possible. It develops because of the needs of people who
live in a certain place at a certain time. In the Caribbean
the historical meeting of a range of peoples of many
languages produced pidgins which became the lingua
franca of many and today these speech communities
evolved into the Creole languages of each country.
Because the development of language was based on the
need for these people to communicate and create a life
together, it is both a cultural product and a facilitator of
culture. Being fluent in the Creole, through which most
transactions take place on a daily basis in the Caribbean,
grounds a person in his or her culture.
BOX 4.6
Cultural Universals
The existence of cultural universals points
to the commonalities between human
cultures whilst, at the same time, culture
itself is so diverse and ever-changing.
George Murdock (1945) defined cultural
universals as any traits, patterns, norms or
behaviours common to all cultural groups.
Examples include religion, language, family
life, an economy, a system of governance,
distinguishing colours, body parts, weather
conditions, taboos, kin groups, gender roles,
statuses and roles, and so on. Emphasising
cultural universals – for example, studying
different cultures through the themes
of food, religion, education, transport,
festivals, and the like –focuses on what is
human in all cultures.
Language is symbolic in its basic make up. The words
of a language have no meanings in and of themselves.
They stand for something and therefore each is a symbol.
For example, the word ‘run’ could just as easily be ‘have’
or ‘gisj’, once that meaning was shared and mutually
intelligible. Language is therefore a set of arbitrary
words and a system of rules and idioms we learn to put
together to make sense of something which also makes
sense to others who share this language. A language may
be written or unwritten. Those who do not know our
language cannot understand us. Hence, a culture cannot
develop amongst persons who do not share the same or a
related language.
All cultures have developed languages of different
levels of complexity. No matter how complex or
rudimentary the language, though, there is a view that
says that a person’s language influences him or her to
think in a certain way. It is called the Sapir-Whorf
Hypothesis. A much quoted example of this hypothesis
is the fact that the Inuit (Eskimos) and Nordic peoples
have hundreds of words to indicate snow and ice. This
suggests that persons sharing a language will have a
particular world view that their language can easily
express and this would be very difficult if not impossible
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis says that we do not just
use language as a tool but the language itself constrains
us to voice only what is culturally available to us and so we
cannot speak meaningfully of what is not a normal part of
our culture.
to translate into another language. Other examples may
help to make this clearer:
■ In Japan, the culture promotes values such as
politeness, an appreciation of the group and
interdependence which is quite different from
Western ideals of individualistic values. Not
surprisingly, the word for ‘self ’ (jibun) in Japanese
means ‘part of a group’ (Davis, 1999).
■ Some languages and cultures have a very strong idea
of ‘the future’ as a certainty and a normal part of
life. Other cultures, for example the Hopi (Native
Americans) have a more tentative outlook which
could be related to the lack of a future tense in the
language (Bennett, 1993).
■ For native speakers of Arabic, language skills convey
prestige. According to Jandt (2010, p.34) there are
3,000 words for camel, 800 for sword, 500 for lion and
200 for snake. Arabic uses more graphic expressions
than English – to us they sound exaggerated. The
phrase for ‘We missed you’, for example, is literally
translated as ‘You made us desolate with your absence’.
Language then is a strong bearer of culture. It serves
to bind people together and creates a sense of identity
and ties to a larger group to which one belongs. This
common language is necessary for a people to build
social order – the idea of a tower of Babel in the Bible
makes this point.
Critical Ref lection
1. Conduct your own research to determine the
purpose for creating the composite universal
language, Esperanto.
2. Reflect on language in the Caribbean context
and find examples to uphold the Sapir-Whorf
Hypothesis that a people’s language influences how
they perceive the world.
Norms vary across cultures and reflect their dominant
beliefs and values. In France, for example, if you happen
upon an accident you are expected to help in some way.
If you leave the scene without rendering help to someone
who was in danger and didn’t play your part, you may
incur a maximum penalty of five years in prison. In
many societies, adultery is forbidden, usually based on
moral and religious grounds (i.e. culture), but it is not
illegal. However, in some Muslim countries such as Iran
and the northern part of Nigeria, where Sharia law is in
operation, it is a crime and one of the punishments is
death by stoning.
Bullying at Caribbean primary and secondary
schools is a social norm. Unfortunately, the culture
of schooling includes a fair amount of namecalling, teasing, and physical aggression, as well
as excluding others and spreading rumours about
them. Spreading rumours is so very much a part
of adolescent socialisation, that it is not seen as
harmful or contributing to students’ perception of
school as an unsafe environment. Some norms then
are potentially harmful.
Whilst norms are based on beliefs and values that a
people hold dear, they may undergo change over time.
Today, for example, compared to ten years ago there
is a more relaxed attitude in many countries towards
premarital sex, unwed teenage mothers, abortions and
homosexuality. However, there is so much variety in the
cultural groups comprising a society that norms are not
held by each in the same way. A fundamentalist religious
group may continue to maintain a policy of ostracising and
demonising homosexuals; and straight men, on the whole,
may continue in homophobic behaviours that arise out of
fear or disgust. From this discussion you can see a picture
emerging that the social order may not be as cohesive as
we think and all social institutions have structures that
are at odds with each other. For example, the recent
trend in some parts of the Anglican Church to ordain
women and the practice in other Christian churches to
allow homosexuals to marry represent tensions in the
social institution of religion and hence in social order.
Our values, that is, what we find desirable, are based on
our beliefs. Values are more action-oriented than beliefs
and can be thought of as a ranking we hold about how
desirable or advantageous certain qualities, dispositions
or actions may be. Examples include patriotism,
commitment, peace, equality and conservation of the
environment. For some, competition is an important
value and that comes out of beliefs that this is a dogeat-dog world and that money does not grow on trees.
For many persons involved in the lobby against abortion
(pro-life position) their stance is based on the belief that
all life comes from God. The value arising from that is
that human life is sacred, at any stage of its development.
They will therefore promote foetal rights – the right of
the unborn to protection. On the other hand those
who argue for legalising abortion (pro-choice) believe
in individual liberty. Their value position is that it is a
woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or
not, and that reproductive rights and freedoms should be
respected. Hence, in one society there may be groups who
differ on fundamental beliefs and values, contributing to
cultural diversity. Sometimes the differences in beliefs
and values from one society to the next are clearer to us
than the differences within our society.
A belief forms the foundation of what we value, as
individuals, and as a social group. Beliefs and values are
strongly interrelated. Beliefs refer to what people regard
to be true (whether or not there is proof ), so they are
assumptions we make about the world. In most instances
our beliefs arise out of the cultural conditioning we
experience through the processes of socialisation we
experienced at home, in church, in school, at work, from
the media and from our friends. These cultural beliefs
guide and influence a wide range of human behaviours:
belief in a supernatural being, trust in the innate human
kindness or cruelty of people, conviction that all persons
are equal before the law, doubt whether other persons of
a different race or religion should be trusted, and so on.
On the individual level our beliefs also undergo
change over time. Sometimes an incident challenges our
previously accepted beliefs – we may become a victim
of a crime and that may cause us to look at the world
as a scary place so that our usual optimism is dimmed.
Alternatively, we may witness the remarkable recovery
from illness of someone we are close to, encouraging
belief in divine intervention. But daily we encounter
events and situations that continue to reinforce what we
believe without much conscious thought on our part.
Individual and society-wide beliefs coalesce.
Thus, there are norms, values and beliefs at large in
the society that can be considered negative and those that
can be considered positive, in terms of social order. A
society as a whole may uphold beliefs about equality for
all, enshrined in law (ideal culture), but because of ethnic
polarities, suspicion and skepticism tend to characterise
the beliefs each group holds about the other (real culture).
Beliefs and values (big ‘C’) are subject to slow processes
of change as the society begins to embrace new trends,
fashions and technologies (small ‘c’), a phenomenon
known as cultural lag.
Critical Ref lection
‘Wearing appropriate clothing’ is a norm that is related to the values we uphold about decency and modesty. Reflect on the
values inherent in the norms mentioned above and fill in (or copy and complete) the table below:
family responsibilities and obligations
Sunday as a day of rest and relaxation
everyone should be gainfully employed
At the scene of an accident you are expected to help
a more relaxed attitude to homosexuality
children should go to school until age 16
against incest
against murder
against pedophilia
the above are positive norms, but what about leaving
work early or only doing the minimum?
The elements of culture described above – language,
norms, values and beliefs – are found in all cultures.
They are cultural universals (see Box 4.6). In the first
instance, language makes culture possible through
the process of communication. The cherished beliefs
of the group become the basis of values that mandate
what is considered to be desirable action. Such actions
become the norms or standards of behaviour that the
society requires or encourages. Through the processes of
socialisation persons growing up in the society learn and
share in all these cultural symbols which provide the basis
for adaptation and dynamism in the culture. Thus change
is an ever-present factor and, as the debate on abortion
shows, may split a society. The cultural beliefs and values
of the society may uphold positions that are mutually
incompatible – this increases the diversity in the society.
To sum up:
The focus has shifted in this chapter from society
to culture. Culture is so comprehensive in how we
experience it that one definition can hardly do it
justice. We have to break it down into ‘components’
such as concepts, characteristics and elements in order
to understand it. The characteristics and elements
point to the existence of cultural universals which
provide a means for studying cultures across the
globe – even though there is great variety in how each
society expresses its culture. It is worth remembering
that these ‘components’ are merely devices that
theorists use to make ‘culture’ more accessible for study
– neither ‘culture’ nor ‘society’ are tangible realities –
they are labels for people living their lives in various
ways. The discussion has shown that a people’s culture
support and sustain the social order but culture is quite
diverse and so this order is not as all-encompassing as
we once thought.
Perspectives on Culture
How we view the term culture and how we study it is
very much influenced by the lens of the sociological
perspective we are using. The questions we ask and the
topics we consider worthy of research come directly from
the perspective on culture that we adopt. In the previous
sections we treated with culture generally, giving largely
mainstream (Functionalist) views. If we examine and
compare what all the perspectives say about culture we
will be looking at it in a more critical light.
The earliest sociologists and anthropologists who studied
culture believed it came into being to serve human needs.
It was therefore functional for the society. We see here
the idea that society has needs. For example, Durkheim
felt that the customs, traditions and rituals of religion
created norms amongst people that served to unite them,
build social solidarity and preserve social order.
These ideas about culture are the ones we are used
to and it is not easy for us to grasp that culture wherever
it occurs is diverse. So, even amongst one cultural group
such as Afro-Jamaicans there are cultural differences:
■ heritage (e.g. those who live in Port Royal);
■ social class (e.g. high, middle and low);
■ ethnicity (e.g. religion);
■ skin colour (significant because of historical
privileging of lighter-coloured groups);
■ residence (e.g. rural and urban groups);
■ gender and generational differences.
A typical definition of culture – the ways of life of
a people – paints a picture that culture is uniform
and relatively non-problematic. It seems to say that
people ‘bear’ their culture as if it was a coherent
thing, uniform and stable. This is a Functionalist
understanding of reality.
Functionalism emphasises consensus and harmony and
downplays differences but the existence of groups different
enough to form subcultures (e.g. the Maroons) and even
countercultures (e.g. the Rastafarians – see §7.3.3), means
that norms, beliefs and values are likely to be contested.
The fact that functionalism has been the dominant
sociological perspective in our experience has socialised
us into accepting a traditional portrayal of culture as
benign and uniform (e.g. ‘ways of life’). So, we are told
that cultural diversity is typical of societies such as Belize
and Guyana where there are many different racial and
ethnic groups but the fact is that in human societies
cultural differences do occur even among those of the same
racial grouping.
Functionalist perspectives on culture then emphasise
group norms and values encouraging a view of society
as an entity tending towards integration and solidarity.
There is the feeling that variety, diversity, and multiple
allegiances in the cultural networks of a society work
to the disadvantage of social solidarity and social order.
Culture is often spoken of in ways that equate it with the
nation state, for example, Jamaican culture. These notions
are so familiar to us that we do not think to interrogate
them and ask ‘What is Jamaican culture? Can it be
represented in a way to please all Jamaicans?’ Even when
researchers focus on subcategories such as gender or social
class, they invariably conclude that a particular group
expresses its culture in a particular way. This continues to
entrench the position that culture is a solid ‘thing’ that
can be captured and described and that whole groups
of people enact it in similar ways. However, recent
theorising in sociology such as postmodernism opposes
this view and claims that how culture is portrayed in real
life, from one situation to another, is more likely to be
unpredictable and inconsistent.
Comparative Element in Sociology
Carry out some research on the culture of Barbados
and identify examples of cultural diversity in Bajan
The Marxist/Conflict position is that culture constrains us
by supporting inequalities. It is the adaptive mechanisms
of the rich and powerful, they say, which determine what
religions, arts, healing practices, education and so on
that are considered legitimate by the society. The culture
of the elites (or the capitalists) dominates the society
because their ideas, values and beliefs are enshrined in
the institutions of the superstructure. Their culture is
so embedded as the legitimate culture that it becomes
an ideology – it is their norms, beliefs and values which
become a comprehensive world view. Marx (1978, p.172)
said: ‘the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the
ruling ideas.’
The culture of the wealthier groups justifies their
habits and practices, for example who they associate
with and who they ignore, who they hire and who they
fire, which political groups they support and which
they see as threatening to their interests. This dominant
culture oppresses the poor and the powerless because the
ideologies in the society are those which privilege the
priorities of the wealthy. The poor are manipulated to
accept and recognise and even embrace these values, a
condition referred to as false consciousness. This can
clearly be seen in social and cultural life under colonialism.
Marxists say that within the capitalist mode of production,
the function of the working class is to produce surplus
value. Marxism then sees groups as possessing cultural
beliefs and values which fit with the dominant ideology
(or norms) of material wealth as success, for example the
worker feeling that working hard and conforming will
get him or her such success. Thus, in the Marxist critique
of capitalism, culture (beliefs and values) fulfils the needs
of the society, a typically Functionalist position. This
may seem a contradiction to you but remember that
there are some commonalities between Functionalism
and Marxism because both are based on a structural
interpretation of society. In Caribbean societies, Western
culture (largely capitalist culture) is the dominant culture
and the culture of the Amerindian or the Shouter Baptist
is relegated to that of a ‘subculture’, of minimal national
In the Marxist view, our Caribbean elites perpetrate
a false set of ideas about culture and make it legitimate
through their support of popular culture, Western
fashion, music, art, established and mainstream religions,
the foreign media, local media houses, technology, books,
the publishing industry, and so on. Western culture then
is hegemonic in Caribbean countries, that is, it is privileged
and regarded by most as having no other equal. The
mass media are seen as playing a major role in promoting
the hegemony of Western culture. This point of view
is called the Cultural Imperialism thesis and suggests
that the cultures of small countries are gradually being
erased or changed to reflect Western values. However,
the Marxist version of this is much more complex. It
sees cultural change within a dialectical process where
there are contradictions: both Western culture and the
cultures of the world are diverse and complex entities in
which indigenisation and counter-flows of products and
ideas are at work.
However, critics of the Cultural Imperialism thesis
point to China, Japan, India, Singapore and Taiwan as
the big producers of everyday consumables and centres
of economic power today. Hollywood is now rivalled
by Bollywood. American soap operas have spawned
local soap opera productions in developing countries.
Previously marginalised communities such as the
Amerindian peoples of the Caribbean can now use the
mass media to disseminate their culture. Although the
basic ‘model’ for all these innovations seem to be that of
Western culture, how they are produced and reproduced
in a range of settings in developing countries points to
the creative development of hybrid cultures and products,
not cultural erasure.
Critical Ref lection
Think of the television programmes with which you are
1. To what extent do they portray ‘beautiful’ people
– whether black, white or other? What is being
‘normalised’ in these programmes as regards to
beauty and beautifying amongst viewers?
2. Marxists say that when there is a programme that
obviously seems to go against mainstream values
(like Queer as Folk or Roseanne) it is not because
the mass media is giving us cultural alternatives but
because they are subtly seeking our disapproval for
homosexuality or being poor. To what extent do you
agree with this?
Marxism says directly that the culture of the ruling
class dictates the nature of social order in the society.
In this perspective, it is the economy that influences
culture and social relationships. As Marx saw it, when
the economy changes to socialism or communism then
inevitably a new social order will occur with different
cultural beliefs, norms and values.
The Interpretive Perspective
Microsociology attempts to understand culture from the
standpoint of the people who are sharing in a culture.
Weber pointed out that within cultures there were
subcultures motivated by their separate interests but they
were not necessarily in conflict with each other. In this
perspective, people are seen as having agency and thus
being able on a daily basis to create, conform or resist
cultural beliefs. In this way, everyone in the society
is constantly reinterpreting their values and norms.
Culture therefore is dynamic. People can display a
range of cultural attitudes and beliefs based on what is
meaningful to them at the time.
Interpretive theorists disagree with the Marxist view
of cultural imperialism and put forward the idea that
people actively interpret their culture and do not just
passively absorb the beliefs and values of their social class
or social location. We may deliberately choose to listen to
Western hip hop or other types of music but that does not
mean we regard reggae, soca, zouk or punta as somehow
inferior. As a matter of fact, according to the Creolisation
thesis we may be witnessing the Caribbeanisation of
many imported musical forms. Not only that, the United
States today has become a big market for reggae and
dancehall music, indicating movement of ideas and
cultural products in the opposite direction to that
indicated in the cultural imperialism thesis.
Interpretive Theory opposes the theory of cultural
imperialism. This is because it acknowledges the
existence of multiple realities and even conflicting
realities. Theorists focus rather on how the
audience is receiving and processing the messages.
To sum up:
Sociological perspectives on culture serve to make
us critically aware that typical conceptions about
culture such as ‘the ways of life of a people’ are
mainly the view of one perspective, Functionalism,
with its emphasis on integration. Marxist thought
on culture is based on the notion that the culture
of the elites oppresses the other groups. Both
perspectives regard culture in similar ways – as
a definable entity that is robust and predictable
– though the Marxists predict change as the
oppressed becomes aware of their predicament.
Interpretive Theory sees culture being interpreted
by social actors who are variously positioned in
terms of ethnicities and statuses and thus how they
live their culture can be highly variable and creative.
Postmodern views go even further to say that
culture does not exist as a ‘grand narrative’ but is
fragmented, contradictory, and incoherent.
In this section we saw that the relationship between
culture and the social order was thought to be
strong in the macro-sociological perspectives.
In micro-sociology and postmodernism thought
change, ruptures and fragmentation were thought
to be possible and therefore that social order could
be disrupted with cultural change.
Comparative Element in Sociology
Identify a subculture with which you are familiar and
consider the following questions with respect to it:
1. To what extent is the subculture subversive and/or
opposed to the mainstream culture?
2. Can this subculture be described as indigenous
Caribbean or Eurocentric?
Trying to discuss culture which is complex and multidimensional within the macrosociological perspectives of
Functionalism and Marxism yields general characteristics
and elements which make it seem as if culture is fixed or
unchanging. People (the agents and bearers of culture
themselves) are not given voice and culture is therefore
portrayed through generalisation. The Interpretive
perspective however allows us to see the ruptures, the
creative connections and the mutating of culture into
new forms. It may be though that ‘culture’ itself is too
broad a concept to fully flesh out especially as we who
are explaining and making meaning are culture bound
ourselves. Social scientists find that they are better able
to work in clearly defined areas of culture – material
and non-material culture, ideology, belief systems, or
consumer culture – than to attempt to explain culture in
its entirety.
Theories of Culture
and Society in the
In the 1960s and 1970s decolonisation and independence
were major goals or purposes sweeping the region,
becoming enshrined in government policies as well as
in the research interests of social scientists. Our early
sociologists were energised by this spirit and looked
for different methodologies from those of Functionalist
Western sociology to confront the realities of Caribbean
social life. This goal became translated into ‘development’
and was taken up by the New World Group, who
established the Plantation Model of Caribbean society
(§2.3.2) opposing the ideas in the Plural Model (§2.4.2).
Both theories were vigorously contested by the Creole
Society Model (§2.4.3). In this section we will examine
the Plural Society and the Creole Society Model further
and discuss how each sees culture contributing to the
social order.
Plural Society
M.G. Smith felt that the dominant idea of society as
a harmonious entity based on common values could
not easily be applied to the Caribbean. He carried out
ethnographic research in Northern Nigeria, Jamaica,
Grenada, and Carriacou and posited a plural model of
Caribbean society, using the term as J.S. Furnivall (1956)
had done.
[A plural society] … is in the strictest sense a medley,
for they [ethnic groups] mix but do not combine. Each
group holds by its own religion, its own culture and
language, its own ideas and ways.
(Furnivall, 1956, p.304)
This understanding of a ‘plural’ society sees it as being
characterised by strong divergences/differences at the
social, cultural and institutional levels between groups
of people who may live side by side but do not mix.
A plural society has different institutional sub-systems
and conflicting ideas and beliefs about religion, family,
culture, and so on. Smith showed evidence of these
characteristics in relation to the white, brown and black
groups in Jamaican society. In his study of Carriacou
he showed how the Grenadian élite differed from other
groups in terms of marriage and family life. Most of these
groups are Afro-Creoles (not many white descendants
have remained in the Caribbean) yet they display marked
differences in their social institutions. Skin colour is the
most emphasised marker in differentiating the groups.
For M.G. Smith the plural society is an ‘artificial’
one in that groups were brought specifically to provide
a labour supply and they only became a political unit
because there was one government. In effect, a plural
society is comprised of different societies, each with its
own internal structures and institutions. Since there
are few common values between the groups, a strong
ruling power, such as the colonial metropole, is needed
to maintain order as tensions and struggles between the
different ethnic groups could have dysfunctional results
for the society as a whole (for example, discrimination
and conflicts escalating to terrorism and civil war).
Societies that M.G. Smith claimed were plural included
Cyprus, South Africa and India among others.
Following this train of thought, after independence,
Caribbean countries needed to entrench a dominant
cultural group in order to minimise conflicts and tensions.
In most Caribbean countries that group was the urban
Afro-Creoles. Their culture, norms and values became
established as the dominant culture. However, to Lloyd
Braithwaite and R.T. Smith (Chapter 2) the different
Caribbean groups did have shared values (those of the
British colonial power – ‘things English’) and that meant
they were working their way from being ‘plural’ to being
heterogeneous – having groups of different origins but
not necessarily with their own separate institutions. US
society could be described as heterogeneous: it contains
many different groups which may have a strong ethnic
culture (such as the Poles, the Irish) but at the same time
hold common allegiance to ‘American’ values and beliefs
(such as commitment to law and order, democracy and
M.G. Smith revised his position on plural societies
over the years in response to much criticism, particularly
from Lloyd Braithwaite. He developed a detailed
typology of plural societies to show that:
1 All stratified societies are not necessarily plural.
For example, US society today is highly stratified but
not plural. Smith noted that in US society there were
groups who were deeply involved in their own cultural
institutions but he went on to show that this was mainly in
the private domain of marriage, kinship, family and religion.
In the public domain of the law, the economy, and the justice
system, they seemed to share common values. In this way
US society could qualify as being heterogeneous rather than
plural. However, he classified Jamaica and Grenada as
plural-stratified societies.
2 Pluralism cannot be reduced to social
stratification. Social stratification (Chapter 9) refers to
the hierarchical arrangement of groups of people into
social classes based on occupation, income, descent, and
prestige, with the upper echelons ranked as superior
to those lower down the hierarchy. It is an economic
framework by which one can analyse social structure.
Cultural pluralism refers to how people holding similar
values about ethnicity, family, religion, culture, marriage,
occupations, language, justice, education and so on form
distinct collectivities which are unequally incorporated
into the society, meaning that some groups suffer inequities
and are marginalised.
3 It is the relationships produced by pluralism that
influence and generate social stratification. Plural
groups tend to distrust each other so that those who are
employers or have political power seek the good of their
own members. Entrenched inequities result in a pattern of
stratification based on cultural groups who either have or
do not have economic and political power.
4 Many plural societies like those in the
Caribbean evolved under conditions of conquest
and colonialism. Similar societies, described as ‘fragile’,
could be found in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Fiji, Malaysia
and Indonesia. All have experienced conflict and violent
episodes between the different ethnic and cultural groups
brought as labour on the plantations. However, in these
societies ethnic differences have been sharpened because
they are based on racial differences. In Jamaica, the plural
society is made up of largely Afro-Creole groups. In
Guyana or Belize where there are many different racial
groupings these societies are referred to as segmented or
plural-segmented societies (Doumerc, 2003). Skin colour
is not as important as race and culture in the formation
of social groups, and social stratification is therefore
influenced by this segmentation.
The term cultural pluralism when it is used today in the
form multiculturalism means something quite different from
Smith’s understanding of pluralism. In this mode it refers
to the liberal values of tolerance of cultural differences,
free discussion of competing views and a celebration of
cultural diversity. Smith’s conception of plural societies
cannot grow into this kind of vision because in the
plural society groups are differentially incorporated into the
institutions of the society and so inequalities maintain the
conflicts in the society. Typically, in plural societies there
is some recognition that accommodations must be made
but often the groups are distrustful of each other. For
example, in the Caribbean:
■ The dominant ethnic or cultural group tends to
see its dominance as a sensible alternative to the
disintegration of the society which may result if all
groups were given more power.
■ The dominant group sometimes puts forward the
view that because of inter-group tensions they are
(and all others should be) working towards a goal of
national unity.
■ While many hail this as progress, others say that
‘national unity’ results in the weakening or dilution of
the cultural values of sub-ordinate groups.
There is no doubt that the plural nature of Caribbean
societies as described by Smith poses vexing problems to
the development effort in the region. It also seems to be a
problem worldwide wherever there are culturally distinct
groups, who compete for power and the rewards of the
society. While we may be hesitant about treating cultural
homogeneity as a solution (even if it were possible), there is
certainly much that can be said about Caribbean societies
finding ways of reducing the subordination experienced
by certain groups. Smith proposed the dismantling of the
plural society through fair enforcement of laws.
He felt that the cleavages that existed were more a
product of cultural and ethnic divisions than of class
consciousness. Critics believe that Smith may have
misjudged the extent to which segregated communities
could endure without the backdrop of class struggle.
In other words, social class has to be significant in any
discussion on inequality but this was largely ignored
by Smith.
2 Smith seemed to feel that conflict was inherent
between segregated social and cultural groups. Other
mechanisms however, such as co-operation and
competition, are available in a society to equalise
opportunities. Barbados, for example, has shown
stability in the face of conflict between social groups
perhaps due to attempts at fair enforcement of laws.
3 Smith’s model is fairly static in that it does not
recognise acts of interculturation or alliances between
groups in the society.
Comparative Element in Sociology
Select ONE Caribbean country which you believe
exhibits plural characteristics.
1. Conduct independent research to find out the
characteristics of the different groups comprising
the society and in what ways they may hold
different values.
2. To what extent is there evidence that such a society
is ‘fragile’?
3. Compare your findings with that of another student
who has chosen a different country: what is (a)
similar and (b) different in the plural characteristics
of both countries?
M.G. Smith saw a direct relationship between the
cultures of different social groups in one space and the
fragile social order that developed. With each group
clinging to its own culture and traditions, it was unlikely
that such a society would develop cross-cutting social
structures to enhance social order. He felt that the high
level of confrontation and dissension in Caribbean society
stemmed from the marked cultural variations between
groups who try to preserve their own institutions. The
Plural Society Thesis has been widely debated and
applied to many countries in the developing world.
The plural society theory attracted some criticisms.
1 Smith did not value the Marxist perspective (see
Chapter 3) in understanding Caribbean society.
Creole Society
Kamau Brathwaite (Chapter 2) is the main theorist
developing this idea of Caribbean society and culture.
His ideas seem to fall within the assumptions of the
Interpretive Perspective as he places emphasis on
people having agency in working out their responses in
their various social locations. He did not adopt a static
model of Caribbean society as a ‘plantation model’ or
as a ‘plural society’ but nevertheless acknowledged the
conflicts between different groups. His emphasis was on
the unique inter-bred cultural forms emerging from the
meeting of all groups. He called that contact a process of
cultural action known as creolisation which continues today.
According to Brathwaite, Caribbean society ‘began’
on the slave ships and the plantations through the
processes of seasoning (or acculturation) into life in the
New World. However, Brathwaite preferred the term
‘creolisation’ (closely resembling ‘interculturation’) to
‘accculturation’ because the processes encompassed
everyone in the society; all institutions and peoples were
involved in creating and maintaining a place in this mix.
Hybridisation and syncretism are other terms
which are similar in meaning to creolisation, so that the
mixed peoples of the Caribbean are described as ‘hybrid’
and religions such as Vodun or Shouter Baptist can be
considered to be ‘syncretic’ as they retain (or include)
aspects of Christianity.
Brathwaite saw the zone of contact between master,
slave, black, white or coloured as ripe with possibilities
for the cross-fertilisation of ideas, cultures and people.
Such mixing could bring about varied responses
– imitation, adoption, adaptation, miscegenation,
rejection or opposition – many of which could lead to
creolisation. However, the realities of dominance and
subordination must be factored in as they influence how
strong the acculturation forces and their responses will
be. Brathwaite studied Jamaican society in creating his
thesis about creolisation so that the theory first emerged
in reference to Caribbean societies where the cultural
contact was between whites, coloureds and blacks. We
must be clear about this because many scholars have seen
the versatility of the theory in applying it to other groups
in Caribbean (and other) societies and sometimes there
are problems in interpretation (see ‘Criticisms’ opposite).
The reference to dominance and subordination can
be seen clearly in the language situation in Caribbean
countries. The languages that were introduced and
those which evolved each enjoyed a different social
status. Today, we have both Creole and Standard English
and Caribbean people use whichever they believe will
be most useful at a particular time or context. At the
same time prevailing beliefs judge the Creole to be an
‘inferior’ version of ‘proper’ English. The meeting and
mixing then of different groups, some with more status
and power than others, produced a new language (the
Creole) and we are still working out our stance to this
homegrown, folk language in relation to the standard
forms. Brathwaite though has consistently asked that our
‘nation language’ (the Creole) be the official language
of the curriculum and sees Caribbean societies working
out, through art, literature, drama and poetry more
than through other media, a larger place for creole folk
culture within the black, élite creole culture that is still
upholding the historic domination of Western-style
culture and institutions.
Brathwaite rejects the models of Caribbean society
described as either ‘plural’ or ‘plantation’, stating that
they are static portrayals, emphasising ethnic polarities
or economic characteristics. The Creolisation thesis, on
the other hand recognises the multiple and unending
variations between and among Caribbean peoples and
their cultures and subcultures. The emphasis in this
‘model’ of Caribbean society is the creativity that comes
out of the clash between cultures, with some groups
being in a dominant or hegemonic position. Sometimes
this ‘creativity’ arose from the sheer necessity for survival
as when the enslaved chose imitation and mimicry of
the white man’s values and culture rather than authentic
African cultural portrayals.
Despite many criticisms Brathwaite’s Creolisation thesis
is a significant contribution to Caribbean sociological
theorising because it follows a middle road between two
previously dominant perspectives about Africans in the
New World. These are:
1 The enslaved population was stripped of all their
cultural knowledge in the journey to the New World
and in life on the plantations. They had little choice
but to be acculturated into the culture of the whites.
2 African heritage in the Caribbean represents as
only ‘retentions’, minor examples of material and
non-material culture, which have survived through
memory and secret practices during slavery.
Brathwaite distances himself from these positions
by making the point that the enslaved made deliberate
choices (agency) as to how, in what ways and what
times, they would deploy their cultural knowledge.
Those decisions often took the route of meeting and
mixing. This is an important point because in analysing
cultural change Western societies have persistently given
prominence to acculturation which states that cultural
change is unidirectional - the dominant culture impacts
subjugated peoples who then become assimilated,
accepting the dominant culture’s beliefs, norms and
values. The Creolisation Model by rejecting these ideas
about cultural change introduces us to the complexity of
cultural mixing in the Caribbean.
Brathwaite goes one step further, to logically extend
and problematise what would happen if this mixing was
seen for what it was (is) and allowed to continue producing
a creole society, creatively blended. Unfortunately, he
says, the hegemony of the élites in today’s Caribbean
society has denigrated and marginalised the folk creole
culture so that this cross-cultural challenge is obstructed
resulting in friction, conflict and continuing inequality.
1 The Creolisation thesis can be misleading because
it does not recognise the differences of scale that
operated in historical and current contexts. The thesis
assumes that creolisation is a uniform process and
downplays the particularities of local contexts and
settings. Hence, attention should be paid to the local
contexts of individual estates, particular islands or
regions when studying creolisation influences.
2 The processes of acculturation and interculturation
occur in all societies where two or more social groups
meet and mingle. Critics say that to name the effects
of these processes ‘creolisation’ does not add anything
more than what the two concepts implied in the
first place. The terms ‘creole culture’, ‘creole society’
and so on bring a confused element to a study of
Caribbean society because they are too often used
to mean the same thing as black or African culture
in the Caribbean. Thus, it is difficult to extricate and
pinpoint exactly what may be meant by ‘creole’ when
examining any aspect of Caribbean social life today.
3 Following from the above, the Creolisation Thesis is
criticised because it seems to proclaim that ‘creole
culture’ is what we are all aspiring to, that those of
other cultures have to make an accommodation
towards taking on creole culture but creole culture
does not reciprocate. Those who argue this point see
creolisation as assimilation.
4 Brathwaite tends to overstate the case for
interculturation as opposed to acculturation.
Orlando Patterson (1982) says that during slavery
acculturation was more likely to be prominent than
creolising processes. The enslaved population while
on the plantations had less of a chance, or window
of opportunity, to assert their cultural forms into the
society than in enclaves (such as Maroon society).
It is clear that in many of these criticisms ‘creolisation’
is interpreted with a wider reference than Brathwaite
intended in discussing Jamaican society or those where
there were only white, coloured and black groups. At
the same time it is equally clear that to many people
the concept of creolisation has distinct possibilities for
extension to other societies and cultural activities such as
music, religion, festivals, food preparation and the like.
In making this ‘leap’ however, using ‘creole’ terminology
could give rise to misunderstandings because the word
‘creole’ has such varied meanings over the Caribbean and
in many cases refers specifically to blacks.
To sum up:
ly ssociological
call theorising
siing in
in the
th Caribbean
red largely
elyy on a
ng tthe
he n
e of tthe
c et
etyy in
n a bid
d to
to ex
p ai
n it.
itt. The
The Pl
al Society
del put
put fo
d by M.G.
G. Smith
h fo
forr th
e Caribbean
ea n
y tied
ed culture
e and
and social
c al order
er together
herr –
y tthat
hat Caribbean
r bb
n societies
s ci
es would
d not
not enjoy
gh levels
elss of social
iall order
derr and
and cohesion
on because
of tthe
he e
n he
d differences
d ff
cess between
n cultural
ps. Br
te,, wh
ho pu
putt fo
d th
the Creole
e y Model,
l saw
saw ssocial
iall or
derr as
as ssomething
omething that
d be d
ed by
by one
one group
oup but
but also could
ow a
es,, ru
es a
nd a meeting and mixing
of cultures
u tu
ress in places,
s, so
so that
that it
it would be difficult to
t IIn
n ot
herr wo
s, Caribbean
aribbean culture is always
ng and
and being
g reinvented
reinvvented and so social order is
lyy b
ng rre-worked
eworked – relationships between
o ps p
ng a number of different possibilities
in co-existing.
Caribbean Popular
Popular culture is often contrasted with ‘high culture’
(Box 4.7, page 100). It includes the music many people
listen to on the radio or CDs or in video performances,
and in television programmes; in fact the mass media
today is regarded as the main means of disseminating
popular culture. Mainstream preferences and tastes in
music, dance, art, painting, film, sculpture, literature and
plays lead to the creation of cultural products appealing to
Popular culture is usually defined as culture that has
mass appeal.
the majority. Popular culture is therefore closely related to
the term mass culture, which refers to the mass-produced
items that consumers demand in entertainment, fashion,
and the mass media. We see it in how the media highlights
programmes related to lifestyles and interests of ordinary
people – reality television, games, sports, gardening and
cooking shows, and soap operas.
BOX 4.7
High Culture
This refers to works of art that can be
compared with similar works internationally
and are generally thought to have great
artistic and aesthetic value – namely,
opera, ballet, musicals, gallery type art
and theatre productions. High culture
does not have mass appeal because many
people are unable to bring the necessary
understanding and judgement to bear in
critically appraising the work. To a large
extent, it has been the upper classes who
have participated in its production in the
past. These early conceptions of culture
and cultural products continue to influence
how culture is spoken of today in terms of
binaries: high culture contrasted with low
culture – popular, folk and mass culture.
Folk culture can be contrasted with popular culture
though many times the two overlap. It is sometimes
difficult to distinguish between popular culture and folk
Folk culture refers to the beliefs and practices of a
distinct ethnic group and tends to be tradition-bound
and, more often than not, rural in occurrence.
culture. They can freely overlap but on the whole the
folk culture can be distinguished by ethnicity – for
example, the East Indians in the Caribbean would have
quite a different folk culture to African Caribbean people
but they all share in popular culture. In contrast, popular
culture has wide appeal to all ethnicities, is usually urban
in occurrence and is constantly changing. Carnival in
the 19th century was a folk tradition but today it is an
example of popular culture. Herbal remedies however
are still very much a part of the folk knowledge of distinct
groups of people in the society. Popular culture tends to
be more widespread in urban areas and heavily influenced
by Western fashion, music, dance, art forms, theatre and
cinema. The forms of popular culture undergo rapid
change compared to folklore. In this section we will
explore some of the different strands of popular and folk
culture in the Caribbean.
Table 4.2 Popular (and folk) music in selected Caribbean countries
Popular and folk music
Trinidad & Tobago
calypso (kaiso), soca, the steelband chutney, parang, chutney soca, parang soca, ragga
soca, rapso, pichakaree, and tambrin (Tobago)
junkanoo, mento, ska, rock steady, rockers, reggae, roots reggae, lovers rock, dub,
nyabinghi, reggaetón, dance hall, reggae fusion, raggamuffin
St Lucia
cadance, zouk, soca
spouge, ringbang, soca
marimba, brukdown , punta, punta rock
Cuba, Puerto Rico and
the Dominican Republic
son, rumba, habanera, salsa, timba, plena, meringue, bachata and bomba, reggaetón (Puerto
Martinique & Guadeloupe
zouk, cadence, méringe, and beguine
compass (or konpa), mizik rasin, rara, twoubadou
tumba, ritmo kombina
kaseko, kawina
For such a small area on the globe, the Caribbean is
renowned for the varieties of its music. Undoubtedly
this has to do with the historical fact that many diverse
groups of people either came here or were brought here
from elsewhere. They carried with them their traditions
which underwent syncretic changes, borrowing and
mixing elements, yet still emerging as distinctly different
musical forms and genres. It is important to realise that
the enslaved Africans came from different ancestral
groups with varying traditions so that the African
influence on music in the Caribbean is pervasive but also
extremely varied. Table 4.2 opposite gives a quick picture
of this immense variety of music in selected Caribbean
Musical forms across the Caribbean have been
subject to a steady and on-going process of creolisation
from the very first meeting and mixing of different
BOX 4.8
peoples in the region. The European jig, reel, waltz,
polka and mazurka provided a backdrop for the enslaved,
and later the free African population, to adapt and
creatively incorporate into their traditional African
rhythms, particularly drumming. The salsa, beguine and
mento are a few examples of the creolisation of European
musical forms. These creative expressions of music played
a role in mounting resistance to European culture. Drums
were repeatedly outlawed but that was steadfastly ignored
and today, drumming in the different genres is a typical
characteristic of Caribbean music (Box 4.8).
The theme of resistance continued into the era of
independence, decolonisation and beyond. Reggae music,
and particularly roots reggae with its iconic leader, Bob
Marley (Figure 4.2), enshrined in haunting and powerful
lyrics the continuing urge to be free and ‘chant down
Babylon’. The Rastafari being closely linked to reggae
music has continued the tradition of African people in
Drums of the Caribbean
Whilst musical instruments are widely varied,
drums seem to be a main feature in all Caribbean
music. This speaks directly to the significance
of drumming in African cultures, which was an
integral part of worship, celebration and of
daily life. Europeans did not celebrate the drum
as Africans did - they grumbled that the drums
were ‘noisy’ but it was more likely that they were
distrustful of them – seeing them as the medium
for sending messages and as something which
seemed to give the enslaved joy and power.
In Afro-centric and syncretic religions in the
Caribbean, drums are central. Drumming closely
mirrors practices in Central and West Africa, such
as the competitions between rival drum orchestras,
how the drums are held by the knees or beaten
whilst sitting, and the varieties of materials used
to make drums (hollowed-out tree trunks, with the
skin of goats, deer and other animals stretched out
on top), and using varying lengths and widths to
create different sounds. Koongo terms still in use in
Trinidad are bula (to keep rhythm/to hammer) and
ful (fula, meaning to beat or hammer). The Koongo
ethnic groups came largely from present-day
Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire), the Republic
of the Congo and Angola (Warner-Lewis, 2003).
In Trinidad & Tobago the invention of the steel
drum, called ‘pan’, emerged from this rich African
heritage of drumming which was thwarted by
British restrictions on the playing of skin drums
between 1838 and 1883. After that there was an
all-out ban imposed which led to tamboo bamboo
bands. Continued and intense experimentation by
grassroots people, among them Ellie Mannette
and Winston ‘Spree’ Simon, created the practice
of ‘tuning’ (by pounding with hammers) all kinds
of tins and cans to render musical notes. Mannette
found that the discarded oil drum had a larger
surface area that could contain more notes and
that the sounds were sustained longer than on
ordinary tin cans. From then till now continued
technological developments have made pan
into an instrument of worldwide acclaim with
many countries having their own steel orchestras
and even manufacturing pans. It is described as
a metallophone – meaning a metal percussion
instrument. The latest development in the
continuing evolution of pan music is the invention
of the Percussive Harmonic Instrument (PHI,
pronounced ‘Fye’) which can be amplified just like
any other electronic instrument.
Interestingly, East Indians have had a long
involvement with the pan movement in Trinidad
& Tobago not only as players but as managers and
arrangers (Joseph, 1998) and the pan music itself
has been influenced by the traditional East Indian
drums the tassa, tabla and dholak. Tassa drumming
is widely appreciated, perhaps calling to the
common roots of East Indian and African people in
a culture of the drum.
Figure 4.2 Bob Marley on stage
the Caribbean to find solace and inspiration in religion
and spirituality of their own fashioning – Rastafari is
a syncretic religious mix of Christianity and African
spirituality. Afro-centric and other syncretic religions
in the Caribbean namely, Vodun, Kumina, Santéria and
Orisha are accompanied by distinctive drumming and
chanting. It is more accurate to describe Afro-centric and
syncretic practices as folk rather than as popular culture as
they are limited to certain ethnic groups but, increasingly
their music has been incorporated into popular culture.
Resistance, institutionalised as social commentary, is
also evident in the calypso of Trinidad & Tobago. Begun
under colonialism when the enslaved would parody
the whites in song, it continues today this tradition of
subversion of the established order through sarcasm,
mockery and humour leveled at the leaders of the
society, using a playful mix of double entendre, picong and
ex-tempo. Double entendre refers to a double meaning, so
that the calypsonian could sing about something that is
relatively innocent but with creative word play so that the
audience knows the exact circumstances being satirised.
(Tourists are often at a loss to understand this because it
usually arises from topical issues in the society.) Picong
(sometimes described as ‘giving fatigue’) is a cultural
practice in Trinidad & Tobago using biting wit, couched
as humour, to insult and devastate the pretensions of
another. Its roots lie in West African traditions where
insults were traded in song using a call-and-response
guise. Ex-tempo refers to the on-the-spot compositions
of calypso verses (which rhyme and use long-winded
and elaborate language) by two opponents who try to
ridicule each other through picong while they each sing
alternative verses on a given topic. Amerindian musical
forms (Box 4.10) are also related to resistance.
Creolisation, interculturation and hybridisation
continue to spawn innovation and diffusion in different
musical forms. Examples abound such as
■ Soca music has bifurcated into ‘power soca’ and
‘groovy soca’ using adaptations of East Indian rhythms,
Latin music and American rhythm and blues.
■ Reggaetón originated in Panama drawing inspiration
from reggae and dancehall but found a considerable
following in Puerto Rico where it was intermixed
with the local bomba and salsa and American hip-hop.
■ Barbados musicians have created a synthesis of the
music of other Caribbean countries to come up with
their own renditions having widespread appeal.
In everyday speech, we describe music as ‘culture’.
It however embodies culture. Whilst songs, instruments,
technologies, dances are an example of material culture,
music also demonstrates non-material culture. If a group
chooses to revere the teachings of the ancestors and revives
traditional musical forms, then they are operating out of
an understanding of non-material culture. Panmen, by
continuing to invest energy in hundreds of ‘pan sides’ all
over Trinidad & Tobago, are endorsing the cultural values
placed on music being the lifeblood of the community,
that it should be open to anyone and that musical
excellence can come from any sector of the society.
Earlier in this chapter we learned that culture was an
adaptive mechanism and music displays this characteristic
very well being a force for resisting the colonial
oppressors and simultaneously through adaptation and
change helping each group to accommodate to others
all occupying one Caribbean space. Ethnic groups today
in the Caribbean on the whole do not deliberately seek
out closer relationships with their ancestral homelands
(except perhaps through Bollywood musicals) so that
the laboratory of musical experimentation that goes on
tends to involve cross-fertilisation of ideas and rhythms
between and within the Caribbean region and the
Caribbean diaspora. As this music fusion continues the
Caribbean is constantly inventing and reinventing
new musical genres.
BOX 4.9
Amerindian Music
Amerindian music lives on in certain parts of the
Caribbean. The Garifuna of Belize who are the
descendants of a mixed group of Africans and
Caribs (originally from St Vincent) is associated
with traditional folk music that features drumming
styles reflecting similar patterns in West Africa.
This music has jumped into the popular music
arena with the development of ‘punta rock’. In
the north of Dominica the small Carib community
is attempting to maintain its folk music and
dance traditions through the Karifuna Cultural
Group. Their efforts can be described as cultural
renewal, staging performances for tourists and
others alike that serve to educate them on the
cultural heritage of the Kalinago (Caribs).
Cultural renewal deliberately targets aspects of
culture that may be fading
Guyana, with a much larger group of Amerindian
peoples, has a vibrant tradition of folk and
contemporary Amerindian music. Those on the
coastlands, namely, the Caribs, Arawaks and
Warau have recorded their music on CDs, available
through internet sales, showing that native groups
The types of Caribbean music listed in Table 4.2 are
almost always associated with a dance of the same name.
Sometimes there is no specific name for the dance, for
example the movements accompanying steelband music
or the gyrations and ‘chipping’ we see on the streets on
Carnival days. Dance can be a spontaneous response to
the music and the setting or it can be presented by skilful
professionals as a choreographed performance. Dancing
as witnessed in the Caribbean to a large extent falls
into the first category. Whether the event is a wake, a
maroon festival, a Kumina ceremony (folk culture) or a
social dance such as at a party (popular culture), dancing
is largely borne out of a natural and powerful impulse
to participate and express oneself. Performances staged
for tourists, for national celebrations, to commemorate
significant historical events and by those interested in the
formal art of dance, are only now growing in importance.
Like music, Caribbean dance also has a history of
mixing by crossing dance styles to develop different
versions. A number of European court and folkloric
The Original Turtle Shell Band, group of Garifuna
musicians, Stann Creek, Dangriga, Belize
are taking advantage of globalising influences to
promote their own folk culture. All these groups
are involved in acts of resistance through music.
They continue the centuries-long traditions of
enslaved and indentured peoples in reconstructing
their culture because it is culture which gives
a person a sense of belonging, solace and an
understanding of his or her own identity.
dances such as the quadrille, mazurka, polka, contradanse
and waltz were creolised to produce unique forms of
Caribbean dance. For example, the quadrille was copied
by the enslaved population and then parodied and
ridiculed adding African elements so that it is now a fullfledged Caribbean folk dance that itself varies widely
from Jamaica to Grenada to Martinique. The creole
forms of dance became subject to many different types
of influences producing hybridised dances, for example,
salsa, emerged from the mambo and the bachata utilises
dance moves from both the meringue and the bolero.
Throughout the Caribbean dance styles are heavily
influenced by African dances and rituals. In Africa
though, dance is associated with almost every aspect of
daily life, whilst in the Caribbean that is not as evident.
The ritual dances celebrating or commemorating deaths,
births, weddings, and honouring the ancestors and deities
have passed into folkloric traditions and are performed
at certain times of the year, at specific events or for
festivals and national celebrations. In other words, they
do not occur on a daily basis accompanying routine
activities such as work songs, except possibly, ‘dancing
the cocoa’. The enslaved were not allowed to worship or
celebrate in the ways they remembered and so they had to
devise ingenious circumventions (such as incorporating
their traditions within a European dance) to satisfy
their need for self-expression, communication and
social interaction. This is probably why anthropologists
studying African cultural retentions in the Caribbean
find that certain practices and movements are far different
from the traditional African dance though there are
clearly common roots.
The classification of dances in the Caribbean in
Table 4.3 is not exhaustive and some of the dances are
so widespread that all countries could not be named.
Dance as high culture (for example, classical or ballet)
while evident in most Caribbean countries in terms of a
national dance troupe or a dance company is to a large
extent not regarded as popular culture, though this is
changing. Dance as popular and folk culture occurs in a
variety of forms – in worship, for festivals, for pleasure
as in social gatherings, in national celebrations, and lifecycle milestones such as marriage or death.
Dance as a form of worship is long established across
the Caribbean. Vodou is described first and foremost as a
dance in which the people and the lwa (spirits, African
and Creole gods) come together in a sort of mutual
knowing that reaches a pinnacle in possession when they
become one. Drums, which are sacred in vodou, bring
this fusion through a heightened sense of awareness and
the hypnotic rhythms induce in the devotee movement
(dance) that becomes increasingly feverish and frenzied
until union has been achieved. This may take place over
several days. Much of the dance is improvised and led
by drumming and singing which increase in intensity
to guide the dancers into a trance-like state that heralds
the coming of the lwa (Fernández Olmos & ParavisiniGebert, 2003). Whilst these details are true of vodou
as practiced in Haiti, there are many common themes
that link dancing here with the rites of Kumina, Rada,
Orisha, and the Shouter Baptists.
Table 4.3 Caribbean dance: Popular and folk culture
National dance
Cuban National Ballet
National Dance Theatre Company
Popular dances
Mento, tambu, ska, rock steady, reggae, dance hall
Trinidad & Tobago
Calypso, soca, Indian dance (kathak, odissi), chutney soca
Chumba, hunguhungu, punta, punta rock,
Calypso, soca, Scottish country dances, the cakewalk
Kumina, Revival,
Myal, Pukkumina
Kumina dances based on the Koongo, a Bantu-speaking
group of the Congo.
Orisha (Shango),
Trinidad &Tobago
Dancing in the Orisha faith honours the Yoruba God,
Shango (from the Oyo kingdom in West Africa). The Rada
is similar to Orisha and Voodou and derived from the Fon
peoples of Dahomey (now, Nigeria, Benin and Togo).
St Lucia
Performed in the Piaye area, honouring Eshu, a Yoruba orisha
A ritual involving spirit possession dance similar to the Shango
worshipping of the ancestors and asking for intervention of
deities to bring about healing and to give thanks.
Honouring the
ancestors; ethnic
songs and dances
of different African
Big Drum & Nation Dance
Spiritual dances
Folkloric dances
and festivals
In Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana local Indian
classical music and dance traditionally characterised
the festivals and events in the East Indian community.
However, an entirely new form of music and dance has
been created, chutney (unheard of in India), that marries
influences from the classical Indian tradition, with the
music and dancing of Bollywood movies, and that of
calypso and soca. A few years ago it was regarded with
scorn by many religious leaders (because some of the
compositions were based on religious songs and sung
in Hindi) but today it is widely acclaimed as popular
music and dance with its own competitions and artistes.
Today even further hybridisation has produced chutney
soca where the lyrics are mainly English and the music is
highly up-tempo. The dance is heavily influenced by the
kind of dancing that accompanies soca music.
Dance and music are strongly intertwined even if there
is no specific name of a dance that accompanies a piece
of music. So, dance too (their material culture), has been
performed by Caribbean people in ways that interpret and
re-interpret their experiences, memories, and histories
Folkloric dances
and festivals
Combat Dances
dances to
celebrate various
(i) weddings
(ii) Christmas
Ceremonial dance
(their non-material culture). The latter shapes beliefs,
values and attitudes and these translate into a fierce desire
of resistance to being colonised mentally. We see this
in the ways in which African, Indian and Amerindian
cultural traditions continue to be celebrated. At the
same time there is value placed on accommodating,
meeting, mixing and fusing so that dance, of whatever
variety in the Caribbean, is continually being changed
into something more expressive of how Caribbean people
see their past, present and future.
Critical Ref lection
Box 4.10 (page 106) discusses Caribbean culture and
identity portrayed through dance and is a tribute to
the work of the late Rex Nettleford of Jamaica.
1. Identify the different ways in which Nettleford
conceives of dance as resistance.
2. What do you understand by his term, ‘cultural
Trinidad & Tobago
the limbo traditional dance once performed at wakes now
for stage performance and the bongo danced at wakes
dinki mini performed at wakes in defiance of death
Trinidad & Tobago
Stickfighting (Kalenda); Martinique (danymé)
the cocoa lute, a one-stringed instrument, for accompaniment
Dominica, Jamaica,
Grenada, St Lucia,
St Kitts & Nevis,
Trinidad & Tobago
Quadrille and Belé
Tobago, St Kitts &
Jig and reel
Brukins (from the pavanne)
Grenada (Union
Cake Dance
Hanover, Jamaica
kwe-kwe (queh-queh)
Jamaica and the
Bermuda and the
Mari mari (Warrau, Carib and Arawak), Amerindian dance
which imitates animals and their antics
BOX 4.10
Rex Nettleford
For Nettleford , the body and its actions were a
key site of post-colonial struggle and a source of
emancipatory knowledge. The origins of this idea
were generated in the period of plantation slavery,
which he theorised as the moment when the dance
became a primary instrument of survival that
furthered cultural resistance. As he argued in 1985:
First, it [dance] is a skill that depends on the
physical and mental capacities of the survivor.
One’s body belongs only to oneself, despite the laws
governing chattel slavery in the English-speaking
Caribbean, which until 1834 allowed a person to be
the ‘property’ of another. Second, the language by
which the body expresses itself does not have to be
anyone else’s language, least of all the master’s; even
when there are borrowings, which are inescapable
in a multicultural environment, they can be given
shape and form on the borrower’s own terms. These
strategies are crucial in a situation of pervasive
dependency, where all influences are dictated by the
overlord. A hold on any activity beyond the control
of a cynical power is a valuable weapon of cultural
self-defence. The art of dance, comprising the dancer’s
own body movements informed by his own spiritual
and emotional states is such a weapon.
This ‘valuable weapon of self-defence’ is the
knowing body, an idea which, as he lays it out,
is complex. It comes into being as a result of the
coercive institutions, and violence of the ‘overlord’
but it is also sustained by what he called ‘the
worship of forbidden but persistent gods and
the configuration of the world beyond the
master’s grip’.
This maverick existence at the threshold or
crossroads of sacred and secular power, at the
boundary of imperial knowledge, is critical to his
ideas about what Caribbean culture and identity
can be. His name for this shifting and mercurial
creative spirit was ‘cultural marronage’, and this
was the conceptual framework for his artistic
work. Drawing on the work of anthropologist
Richard Price, Nettleford theorised the dance as
a moving cultural reserve, a space that operated in
covert political ways through secrecy, cunning and
fugitive sensibilities.
The term ‘cultural marronage’ is a metaphor
that draws on the movement of the Maroons who,
through displacement and/or flight away from
slavery, managed to both resist the colonial order
and partially construct another. From their place
in the hills, the Maroons raided the plantation and
fought the colonisers. In Nettleford’s rendering,
this was not an act of authentic warriors or a
romance of rebellion, it was strategy, and when
translated into dance it would bring a safe
community into being from which other challenges
to the hierarchical order could be mounted.
The dance was an existential space called
home as much as it was the process of finding
a way home. We see this over and over again
in his choreography in which the dancers move
diagonally across the stage in alternating waves
entering and exiting, overlapping and becoming
visible and then disappearing offstage, only to
return over and over till finally the entire company
is present on stage in the finale.
(Ford-Smith, 2010)
Art refers to works produced by drawing, painting,
sculpting and related activities. The history of art in the
region, with styles largely adopted from the colonial
masters, tended to depict Caribbean life in colourful,
static portrayals, for example, of market scenes or
landscapes. That form of art continues but contemporary
art is more varied in that art forms may overlap and even
integrate other types of artistic expression such as live
performances of dance and music. Caribbean artists have
also moved away from traditional watercolours and oil
paintings to adopt other materials such as wood, metal,
glass, paper and may even develop ‘art’ around an object
such as an urn. The content, form and techniques vary
widely and so the products are highly individualistic,
there being no ‘school of Caribbean art’.
Having said that, there are some common purposes
that art attempts to accomplish. Artists relate their work
to the society in which they live. They may celebrate
and promote it by painting picturesque scenes of
Caribbean life. Or they may attempt a deeper project
– that of bringing to awareness in the viewer the idea
that cultural life has meanings going unexplored and it
is in everyone’s interest to look deeper into their present.
One of the purposes of art is to communicate something
to the viewer but the artist is not only concerned with
how the viewer receives the work. The artist in the act
of communicating ideas, feelings and so on searches for
novel ways of transforming the message by using objects
differently, or applying a range of textures and materials,
or might deliberately move away from popular models
or understandings of what is considered ‘art’. Through
these processes of innovation artists seek to bring about
cultural change by impacting our ideas of art and
beauty, as well as by presenting us with other ways of
looking at ourselves. In this section Caribbean art will be
studied in the work of two artists, equally renowned.
Christopher Cozier of Trinidad & Tobago works
in multimedia – drawing, painting, video, performance,
sound and installation (three-dimensional works that
transform a space, as in Figure 4.3 below). A variety
of everyday materials are organised to evoke feelings
Figure 4.3 The Attack of the Sandwich Men by Christopher Cozier (courtesy of the artist)
and memories and the essence of the portrayal may be
the full gamut of the artist’s imagination and to which
enhanced via sound and video. This is a more dynamic
he or she did not attempt to control with reason or logic.
way of presenting work rather than as a picture on a wall as
Greaves also created works in what is known as the Intuitive
it engages with more of the viewer’s sensory perceptions.
Style where vibrant colours and objects are positioned
Cozier’s The Attack of the Sandwich Men (Figure 4.3) depicts
and composed in ways that spring automatically from
hundreds of greaseproof-wrapped sandwiches made from
the artist’s imagination. It is the hand that does the seeing
white bread topped by small flags of Trinidad & Tobago.
and the artist records these impressions automatically. It
They are spread out in military-like rows as if sallying
may result in abstract art. The intent of experimenting
forth to do battle.
with these and other styles is to liberate the viewer from
Interviews with the artist reveal that the sandwiches
normal stereotypes and open up new experiences and
are a memory from school days in the 1960s when it
was considered progressive and modern to bring to
There Is a Meeting Here Tonight is a set of 14 paintings
school lunches consisting of sandwiches (potted meat),
and Figure 4.4 (below) belongs to this series. The dark
as opposed to local foods like roti or bake. This portrays
colours, the man holding the microphone standing in a
a national agenda for education at
the time of schooling in the values
of the North (i.e. Western culture)
even as independence was being
celebrated. The artist sees this as
crucial in how identities are built
and today that generation who once
carried the sandwiches to school
now hold power and continue to
conceive of development as aping
Western traditions which we still
cannot perform adequately.
Stanley Greaves is a Guyanese
artist and poet who lived and
worked in Barbados and now in
Canada. He works in the media
of sculpture, drawings, painting
and pottery and is also a musician.
Not surprisingly his paintings are
characterised by many different
styles such as the Metaphysical
and Surrealism Schools. The
Metaphysical School of art began
in Italy and was characterised by
ordinary objects posed in ways
that seemed to make them beyond
ordinary, to make them mysterious
and thus raised unending questions
of what we take for granted.
Surrealism carried that movement
further attempting to remove
itself from the fundamental values
inherent in art of form, symmetry
and meaning where the picture
depicts reality in a mirror image.
It proposed to show objects placed
Figure 4.4 The Annunciation, 1993 (from the series There Is a Meeting Here
in strange juxtapositions that run
Tonight) by Stanley Greaves
rubbish bin wearing a baseball cap sideways depicting
the US flag, are examples of the surreal. The theme of
‘meeting’ evokes Caribbean syncretic religious group
meetings, whether of Kumina, Orisha or Shouter
Baptists which can occur at street corners and small
community settings. However, it really is a play on the
political meetings also typical of the street corners in the
The most dominant motif in the suite is the dog,
which [Greaves] utilizes to be critical of politics in the
region. He is especially harsh in his treatment of the
politicians as posers, conjurists, showy, performing
balancing acts or three-card tricks … as if, in a very
cynical statement, Greaves is suggesting that politics
has gone to the dogs.
(Creighton, 2003)
Both artists, Cozier and Greaves, attempt through
the medium of material culture to disrupt our taken-forgranted ways of thinking and operating which comprise
our ideas and philosophies, our non-material culture.
They are saying that conventional and traditional art
collaborates with us in ‘hiding’ the unspeakable, the
things that we have let run amok such as nationalist
agendas that allow the dominance of one ethnic group
and the treatment of the environment as if it were in some
way alien to us.
In addition, there is so much scope for looking at
ourselves in our everyday ordinary lives, even in the
objects that hedge round our existence that we should be
more mindful and critical beings. Artists therefore concern
themselves with issues such as culture and identity but are
ambiguous in stating their claims so that they engage in
a continuing interpretive exercise with the viewer. Art,
like dance, provides a medium for free self-expression
unencumbered by the styles and forms of others, that is
difficult to repress and censor and which one can produce
and perform even whilst experiencing oppressive and
limiting circumstances. Art, therefore, has always been
an outlet for creativity, critique and empowerment.
Theatre and Folklore
Theatre usually refers to the live staging of plays and
dramatic performances before an audience. It can
combine visual arts, music, singing, and speech into a
production that embodies a story in some form. Theatre
productions range from musicals to comedy and dramatic
performances involving the portrayal of life situations as
well as re-enactment of texts from holy scriptures, be
they Hindu, Muslim or Christian. From the times of
the ancient Greeks, theatre was presented at a specific
venue and in the Caribbean during the colonial era
theatre for the upper social classes was indeed performed
in buildings custom-designed to accommodate seating
around a stage with basic facilities for lighting, backdrops
and other props.
At the same time street theatre or the informal staging
of dramatic performances had very early beginnings and
was associated with the common folk. In Europe passion
plays (scenes from the last days of Christ) were performed
as well as puppet theatre (which is also found in many
countries including China and Japan) and there also were
Carnival events which normally preceded the season of
Lent. Carnivals took place all over Europe and involved
the portrayal of characters in masquerade using masks
and costumes, clowns, mimes and parades, as well as the
acting out of scenes from local folklore. This tradition
of street theatre including informal staged performances
from Europe merged in the Caribbean with the rituals,
music and folklore of the Africans to create vibrant
celebrations put on in the streets, back yards, river banks,
parks or any open space. People told stories, celebrated
events, participated in games, routines, dances and various
acts. Well-known characters in Caribbean folklore are
moko jumbies, Anansi, duppies, and jab jab (or the devil), who
are represented in these stories and enactments.
The merging of European and African influences is
also seen in the folk tales about Anansi told throughout
the Caribbean.
The pattern of the little trickster besting the larger
figure is one shared by European and African lore,
but most of the specific stories told of Anansi are
more closely allied in form and structure to European
stories than African.
(Abrahams, 1967, p.461).
Today, both professional theatre producing worldrenowned plays and musical productions in a dedicated
space, and street theatre based on folklore, continue.
The former tends to be elitist and seen as ‘art’ performed
by highly acclaimed artistes expressing a notion of
‘high culture’. Folklore, on the other hand from which
springs street theatre, is based on local stories, myths,
fables, ballads, proverbs, games, and songs. Many people
grow up experiencing and participating in story-telling,
community-based events such as fairs, celebration
of harvests, church feast days, village festivities and
wakes, where the oral folk culture comes alive. Folklore
expresses both material and non-material culture; it
evokes a people’s sense of belonging and strengthens
their communal bonds.
Distinctions between professional theatre and street
theatre are beginning to be blurred through the advent of
popular theatre. These are productions which are put on in
a theatre and present high culture such as internationally
acclaimed plays and musicals or folklore, in a way that
appeals to a mass audience (popular culture). It brings
folklore into an urban place and it Caribbeanises what
was normally presented as formal, Western drama.
Such presentations are infused with Caribbean folk
knowledge and customs – stories, myths, proverbs, calland-response refrains – and aspects of cultural life such
as specific contexts, sexual innuendo, jokes, and satire,
and the distinct possibility of audience participation.
Derek Walcott’s work particularly is in this genre,
Caribbeanising the epic masterpieces with expert control
of the English language.
There is a peculiar emphasis on language in Caribbean
folklore as can be seen in the recurrence throughout the
region of folk characters, known by different names,
‘men of words’. Abrahams (1967) observed any number of
informal interactions on the streets, in the marketplaces,
in the rum shops, where an argument develops between
two (for the most part, men) egged on by friends and
listeners, where the goal is to best the other person and
dazzle the audience by a virtuoso performance on words.
Being witty and innovative also helps.
Festivals give more opportunity for
this emphasis on word play. Carnival in
Carriacou (in the Grenadines) includes
the ‘Shakespeare Mas’ which involves
verbal clashes between players in an ongoing contest.
A group of mas’ men will challenge
players from another village to recite
passages from Julius Caesar. A player
who recites poorly or inaccurately is
hit with a whip by his opponent. People
from each village gather to cheer the
players on, and after several verbal and
nonverbal challenges, the mas’ players
go to the next village for ‘combat’ with
the players there. The audience increases
at each village and follows the players to
the next crossroads.
(Fayer & McMurray, 1999, p.58)
Figure 4.5 The Midnight Robber
Again we see the pervasive influence of
syncretic cultural forms in the Caribbean:
a Shakespeare play in the tradition of
English and Irish mummers typical of the
16th century (plays where the troupes
went from house to house) entwined
with African costuming, fighting stances,
dance rituals and verbal contests.
The Midnight Robber (Figure 4.5)
is a traditional character in the mas of
Trinidad & Tobago. He is feared by
children, resplendent in black robes and
something resembling a Panama hat. He
carries simulated weapons and threatens
onlookers with certain death if they do
not give up some money. He is serious
and menacing. His sentences are long,
elaborate and well-rehearsed.
Ah does bade in acid and scrub meh teeth in the ashes
of Caroni and grease meh foot beyond petroleum jelly.
One midnight in eternity a mighty ancient wind blow
from the Kalahari to the Gobi and sweep through the
Sahara and there I form and rise out of the belly of the
pit of hell. I is the Scorpion King!
(Excerpt from ‘The Midnight Robber speaks’, Bolai, 2010).
Theatre (of whatever kind) represents an urge to bring
comment and awareness to our experiences. European
and classical plays are revered for their timeless quality but
they are less immediate and relevant to the predicament
of Caribbean peoples than folkloric expression. During
slavery, and afterwards during the colonial era, Africans
lived at the bottom of the social strata and so celebrations
where they could actually mock their oppressors in
stories, song and dance were a very welcome change of
pace. The verve, enjoyment and abandon with which
Caribbean people participated in Carnival events, Afro-
centric religious rituals, and folk dancing and singing,
contrasted sharply with the way their everyday lives were
structured. Today, Caribbean societies are still highly
stratified and so folklore and popular theatre continue
to provide an outlet for cries against injustice. In this
respect, there is always a political dimension.
Theatre and folklore are expressions of material
culture. In the Caribbean they express the cultural
contributions of the major ethnic groups, the Europeans
and Africans, though persons of all ethnicities participate
in some way. All productions today, be they in the
formal style and staged in a theatre or on village grounds
display some element of syncretism between these two
main influences. The fears that much of our oral history
and the art of story telling would die out over time
have proved unfounded because contemporary popular
theatre taps into this common cultural background to
which the audience instinctively responds.
To sum up:
This section focused on Caribbean music, dance, art,
theatre and folklore. In each case there is evidence of
syncretism between the cultural groups which inhabit
this Caribbean space. In addition, expressions, such as
dance, are replicated in endless variety throughout
the region so that there are national differences in the
same cultural forms. The non-material cultural impetus
to create, fuse and transform comes out of a history
of repression – these art forms represented a medium
which were not easily controlled and monitored by
the coloniser. They became a source of comfort and of
self-expression, where the common people could resist,
show their contempt for the coloniser, and strengthen
the bonds between them as a strategy of overcoming.
Chapter Summary
The idea of culture was taken apart in this chapter to discuss what it is or seems to be and how it
works with social institutions to promote social order. Two conceptions of Caribbean society and
culture were examined, the Plural Society and the Creole Society. Caribbean cultural diversity was
seen to be deeply implicated in the presence of multiple ethnic groupings and the constant mixing
and meeting between them. Cultural processes led to continuity and change and involved conflict and
assimilation. The second part of the chapter described and analysed forms of material culture such
as music, dance, art, theatre and folklore, as forms of resistance and cultural identity. They too serve
to influence the social order because they provide insights about the society that could spur reflection
and critical thinking about society.
Abrahams, R.D. (1967). The Shaping of Folklore Traditions in the British West Indies. Journal of Inter-American Studies, 9(3), pp. 456–480.
Bennett, M.J. (1993). How Not to Be a Fluent Fool: Understanding the Cultural Dimension of Language. The Language Teacher, XVII(9),
pp. 3–5. Japan Association of Language Teachers.
Bodley. J (1994). Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States and the Global System. Mountain View, CA: Bodley.
Bolai, R. (2010). The Midnight Robber Speaks. At http://thebookmann.blogspot.com/2007/06/midnight-robber-speaks.html, accessed 27 November
Brathwaite, K. (2001). Creolisation. In C. Barrow & R. Reddock (eds). Caribbean Sociology: Introductory Readings, pp. 108–117. Kingston,
Jamaica: Ian Randle.
Creighton A. (2003). Stanley Greaves – Artist, Poet, Honorary Fellow. Arts on Sunday, Starbroek News, 29 June. At www.landofsixpeoples.com
/news3ol/ns3062911.htm, accessed 26 February 2014.
Davis, A. J. (1999). Global Influence of American Nursing: Some Ethical Issues. Nursing Ethics, 6(2), pp. 118–125.
Doumerc, E. (2003). Caribbean Civilisation: The English-speaking Caribbean Since Independence. Toulouse, France: Presses Universitaires
du Mirail.
Fayer, J.M., & McMurray, J.F. (1999). The Carriacou Mas’ as ‘Syncretic Artefact’. Journal of American Folklore, 112(443), pp. 58–73.
Fernández Olmos, M., & Paravisini-Gebert, L. (2003). Creole Rreligions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santería to
Obeah and Espiritismo. New York: New York University Press.
Ford-Smith, H. (2010). Rex Nettleford - Guardian of Our Crossroads. The Gleaner, Wednesday February 10, 2010. At http://www.jamaicagleaner.com/gleaner/20100210/news/news1.html, accessed 27 November 2013.
Furnivall, J.S. (1956). Colonial Policy and Practice: A Comparative Study of Burma and Netherlands India. First published 1948. New York:
New York University Press.
Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Jandt, F.E. (2010). An Introduction to Intercultural Communication: Identities in a Global Community. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Joseph, T. (1998). Indian Arrival in the Panyard. Sunday Express, 24 May, p. 16.
Kroeber, A.L., & Kluckhohn, C. (1952). Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, MA: The Museum.
Marx, K. (1978). The German Ideology. In R.C. Tucker (ed.), The Marx–Engels Reader. First published 1932. New York: W.W. Norton.
Murdock, G. (1945). The Common Denominator of Culture. In Ralph Linton (ed.).,The Science of Man in the World Crisis. New York: Columbia
University Press.
Patterson, O. (1982). Slavery and Social Death. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Warner-Lewis, K. (2003). Central Africa in the Caribbean: Transcending Time, Transforming Cultures. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the
West Indies Press.
Wilford, J. N. (1984). Sexes Equal on South Sea Isle. New York Times, 29 March, p. C1. At http://www.nytimes.com/1994/03/29/science/
sexes-equal-on-south-sea-isle.html, accessed 27 November 2013.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. Playing soca or reggae music at the end of
each over in a cricket match is an example of
(a) a norm
(b) values
(c) a belief
(d) rules
2. Which of the following refers specifically to
non-material culture?
(a) dance in a Kumina religious ceremony
(b) the spirit of resistance that produced the
(c) the techniques and resources used by
artists to portray their understandings of
the Caribbean
(d) festivities associated with folk culture in
the Caribbean
3. An example of symbolic culture is
ideal culture
real culture
4. Which of the following can be defined as a
(a) Rastafarians in Jamaica
(b) the white élite in Barbados
(c) the Garifuna in Belize
(d) the middle class in Grenada
5. The study of a cultural group detailing its
contexts, customs and characteristics is
known as
(a) archaeology
(b) cultural diffusion
(c) ethnography
(d) transculturation
6. Which of the following characteristics of
culture includes the processes of creolisation
in Caribbean societies?
I Culture is an adaptive mechanism
II Culture is learned
III Culture is shared
I and II
I and III
II and III
I, II and III
7. What term is used to describe the application
of one’s own standards to judge other
(a) anthropology
(b) ethnocentrism
(c) cultural lag
(d) cultural relativism
8. Which of the following is not normally
considered to be an example of popular
(a) television sit coms
(b) folk singing
(c) soccer
(d) ballet
9. Which of the following statements is most
likely to represent a Marxist perspective on
popular culture?
(a) Media bombardment that supports a false
sense of reality
(b) Cultural practices that serve to integrate
the masses
(c) Cultural products such as music marketed
for high profits
(d) The artefacts of popular culture reflect the
ways of life of groups of people
10. Which of the following statements is a specific
example of how ‘cultural diffusion’ occurs?
(a) Internet technologies pervade the
Caribbean region
(b) The First Peoples have numerous websites
(c) The Shakespeare mas is performed only in
Carriacou today
(d) Many variants of calypso and soca music
are promoted today
(B) Structured Response Questions
(C) Essay Questions
Each response should be about three or four lines
and carries 4 marks.
In this section some essay questions are given.
The questions may involve further research
building on what the chapter offers. A specimen
answer to the first of these essays is provided,
with annotations. Refer back to Chapter 1 for
guidelines of how to critique a sociological essay.
(1) Explain the relationship between norms,
values and beliefs.
(2) Differentiate between enculturation and
(3) Distinguish between ‘popular culture’ and
‘folk culture’.
(1) Compare and contrast how ‘culture’
is viewed by the major sociological
(4) Suggest what may be wrong about accepting
the definition of culture as the ways of life of
a people.
(2) Discuss how Caribbean music has been
influenced by the ideas of culture put
forward in the Plural Society Model.
(5) Explain, using an example, the relationship
between ‘society’ and ‘culture’.
(3) Examine the sources of cultural diversity in
Caribbean societies.
(6) Explain why the terms Near East and Far East
are examples of ethnocentrism.
(4) Discuss the importance and significance of
language in the development of culture.
(7) Clifford Geertz defined culture as
representing webs of significance for people.
Explain why this idea of culture is supported
by the Interpretive perspective.
(5) Explain how the processes, cultural diffusion,
cultural assimilation and cultural innovation, have
resulted in culture change in the Caribbean.
(8) Describe the main ideas in the cultural
imperialism thesis.
(9) Summarise the main ideas in the two
theories of Caribbean society and culture
known as the Plural Society Model and the
Creole Society Model.
(10) Outline TWO purposes artists have in
depicting Caribbean culture.
Sample Answer and Critique
Compare and contrast how ‘culture’ is viewed by the major sociological perspectives.
The three main sociological perspectives usually present three different views on society, but in
reality the two macrosociological perspectives share some similar ideas that are often not made
explicit. Furthermore, more recent theoretical positions, building on the ideas of the main
perspectives, go on to produce quite different analyses and conclusions. In this essay, ‘culture’ will
be described through the lens of the macrosociological perspectives of Functionalism and Marxist/
Conflict Theory as well as through the microsociological lens of Interpretive Theory. More recent
theorising will be introduced to extend these perspectives.
What distinguishes one sociological perspective from another is the view of reality that each
espouses. Each has a distinctly different explanation of what is important in understanding a society
(and in this respect, culture), and therefore each values something different in terms of ‘what is real?’
There will be some similarity between the macrosociological perspectives because they give
emphasis to the ‘structures’ that order and configure our lives. These include the interaction of social
institutions and organisations and the patterns and arrangements that result. Interpretive theory,
on the other hand emphasises ‘agency’, that people are meaning-makers and make decisions and
take action based on the exercise of their will and choices. How culture is understood by the
perspectives then will differ based on the interpretation of what is real.
The idea of reality in Functionalism is that it is external, it lies outside of persons, so it is very much
an objective understanding of reality. This is based on the philosophy of positivism. Culture is viewed
as ‘the ways of life of a people’ and Functionalism focuses on how culture is manifest as material
culture (their ways of life). It is conceived as stable practices based on traditions for which there is a
high degree of consensus. Early anthropological and sociological studies of cultural groups sought to
define and describe a ‘culture’ as if it had robust qualities that could be reduced to description,
analysis and generalisation. Thus, external reality was more pronounced in how culture was
conceived of and discussed than any internal dimensions. In fact, material culture was said to be
supported by non-material culture but the latter, while acknowledged, is not made problematic in the
functionalist study of culture. They developed terms such as ‘statuses’, ‘roles’ and ‘norms’ to describe
patterns of behaviour or thought (structures) that they felt were influenced by ‘non-material culture’.
But they could not access the latter more concretely. They were able to show though that deviating
from norms, for example, can result in negative sanctions thereby reinforcing cultural practices.
They concluded that having common norms, values and beliefs serves to develop strong bonds
among people and a sense of belonging is nurtured which contributes to identity formation (on a
personal level) and deep integration of the society (on a macro-level). Functionalism has strong
themes of order, consensus and integration in how it conceives of societies so that this way of
conceiving culture, with different ‘parts’ or components, and structures such as norms and statuses,
closely fit those ideas about reality.
This is
You may
deliberately pose
ideas that are
problematic to
deepen analysis.
When a question
is direct you may
fall into the trap
of merely being
A ‘general’
paragraph on
what is the
between them as
the basis for what
is to follow
Discusses reality
in a functionalist
sense to show
how ‘culture’
emerges from
such a lens.
A superior
strategy to
enhance the
be to bring in
Giddens and his
way of combining
structure and
Durkheim deepened this notion of bonding by showing that in modern societies – meaning
industrial societies – an interdependent culture had to develop in order to fulfil the goals of the
society. He theorised about ‘organic solidarity’ in which members developed specialist skills to cater
for the growth of the differentiated modern economy. As the economy became more specialised each
sector had to depend on other sectors to produce a harmonious whole. This is referred to as the
division of labour and it could be difficult to sustain as with specialisation comes the urge for
individualism. Durkheim therefore felt that there is the ever-present threat to the society if members
subscribed to different norms and values. Religion, he stated, was one of the social institutions that
could reinforce a sense of social solidarity. Culture then in Durkheim’s view was a stabilising and
integrative force that functioned to cement the society.
The other structural perspective, Marxism/Conflict Theory, shares a similar belief in the bonding
effect of norms, roles, statuses and values in producing culture. Marxists, however, depart from
Functionalism in their understanding of reality. To them reality is linked to the forces and relations
of production. The economy (a social institution known as the substructure) configures and
organises the culture of the various social groups. The culture of the elites is accorded legitimacy
– their norms, values and so on are dominant. In this perspective how economic power is distributed
among the groups is the fundamental reality and this creates culture – elite culture and mass culture
- seen in terms of inequalities. Cultural change will come about when contradictions in the economy
become so untenable that the relations of production shift to accommodate another set of relations
and so, norms and values will also change. The society is the site of the ever-shifting struggle or
dialectics between changes in the economy and the impact on the superstructure – the relationships
and activities found in all the other social institutions such as education, religion, the family and so
on. In the final analysis, all aspects of culture are shaped by the forces and relations of production.
Despite these differences, the view of culture is similar to Functionalism in that it is thought to be
something uniform and totalising developed through processes of socialisation.
The Interpretive view of culture is based on the idea of reality as a social construction which is
subjective and therefore can be interpreted according to the meanings persons attach to the symbols
of their culture. From the outset it targets a deep sense of culture and according to Geertz, members
are embedded in webs of significance which they use to interpret their culture. It is the non-material
culture, the significance of symbols that interpretive theorists seek to bring to light in understanding
culture. This view has a sense of the impossibility of holding culture down so that it can be described
and explained in a uniform way. People, in having agency, are meaning makers so that there will
be some variation in how each interprets culture. While the culture of a group must have some
coherence and systems of practices, it is not expected that a culture will be tightly formed around
similar norms, values and beliefs. The outsider never really ‘gets it’ because beliefs and values are
represented in various guises and symbols which in themselves may be multiple and contradictory.
Postmodernism extends the ideas about culture from Interpretive theorists. The postmodern
attitude to ‘culture’ is that this is not an ordered world with precise meanings and so culture does not
Views of a
theorist to extend
info’ from above
but also to deepen
the complexity.
Durkheim: how
cultures in
modern society
need forces of
Marxism – a
contrasting view
of reality.
exist as a ‘grand narrative’ as conceptualised by Functionalists and Marxists and even Interpretive
theorists. They employ ‘deconstruction’ methodology to break down familiar and taken for granted
meanings such as, culture being a ‘way of life’, to show that culture may only be partially like that. In
today’s world the mass media bombard us with images which create our reality. Cultural reality then
is fragmentary, superficial, disorienting, and playful, there being nothing like ‘high culture’ or ‘low
culture’. Culture is a process, it is fluid, incoherent, continually streaming by us and we dip in to it
according to our wishes and needs at the time.
This is something
‘extra’ but it
is useful in
throwing light on
the traditional
concepts about
Whilst we may have thought of culture as something that we know quite a lot about, sociology
uncovers for us the idea that taken-for-granted, everyday meanings may be only one way of thinking
about something. This attests to how we have been socialised, mainly into a traditional idea of
culture and wholly from a Functionalist perspective. There is a wealth of perspectives and views to
answer the question, ‘what is culture?’ Each depends on and conforms to a particular view of reality.
To bring to awareness a more balanced conception of culture, all these views and perspectives must
be taken on board. This makes our understanding of the social world more complicated but it may
well be a truer picture than the one painted by the dominant perspective.
This has a
‘tone’. Some
summarising is
done, there is
an attempt at
synthesis, and
applying the
problem to life.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise that:
scientific research is methodical, systematic and rigorous;
what is considered ‘scientific’ is underlain by certain assumptions about knowledge;
at all stages of the research process the researcher must adhere to the highest ethical
there are different approaches to research and some may be more dominant than others;
data collection procedures and instruments will vary according to the research approach
you adopt;
you need to master many terms and concepts as the field of research is precise and requires
that you know and can use the language appropriately;
the research process describes a systematic way of planning and carrying out your
data analysis is conducted differently in different research approaches or traditions.
Sociological Research
To re-search is to look again at some issue with the intention of further examination.
Research is undertaken to add knowledge (or disprove existing theories). The knowledge
could be ‘new’ or the purpose may be to deepen understanding of some existing problem
or issue – in which case, it adds explanatory value. Research is also used, especially in the
natural sciences, to attempt to predict and control phenomena. Research is undertaken in
all disciplines. The ultimate purpose of research, in the social sciences and in sociology,
is to improve society and human lives.
Research adds new knowledge and deepens our understanding of social issues. It therefore
broadens the sociological knowledge base and expands the discipline. Governments
and other bodies use the findings of research to plan development programmes and
interventions, and so research must be sound and conducted according to the highest
ethical principles. Researchers are careful to follow best practices so that they do not end
up with findings that are misleading or just plain wrong.
This chapter introduces you to the exciting world of research. However, before you go
out there in the field, clipboard in hand, to interview members of the public, there is
some preliminary work that needs to be done. The chapter explains the basic procedures
of research and at the same time focuses on you, the novice researcher, by walking
you through the various stages of the research process. It assumes that you will have
a research project to conduct and so assists by helping you to ask yourself the right
questions about what you are setting out to research. You will realise that a major task in
research is the first one – to decide on a topic that is researchable and design a plan to get
as much relevant data on this topic as possible.
Principles of Scientific
We have heard of the scientific method and we also
learn that sociological research is ‘scientific’. Where
the disciplines are concerned we have seen (Chapter
2) that there are the natural sciences (chemistry, physics,
biology) and the social sciences (economics, sociology,
psychology). The content studied in the natural sciences
is usually either inanimate matter or biological systems
and processes, or diseases, including bacteria, viruses and
so on. In the social sciences the content relates to people
and their behaviour. This suggests that there may be some
issues as to whether the social sciences can make an equal
claim to the scientific method in research.
Sociology and the Scientific Method
A question that is always posed, and we need to know
how to respond, is whether a particular approach can be
considered ‘scientific’. As we saw in an earlier chapter
(§2.2) the Founding Fathers of the discipline all thought of
sociology as the science of society.
Following the steps of the scientific method (Box 5.1)
would make sociology’s claim to being scientific stronger,
and much research that is positivist and quantitative does
adhere to these steps. Sociologists try to conduct research
that is modeled on what scientists do in the laboratory
– collect empirical data, reduce bias, and maintain
an objective stance to the subjects of the research. As
a result, positivist sociological research tends to retain
many of the terms used in standard scientific research –
instruments, variables, validity, reliability, probability sampling,
BOX 5.1
The Scientific Method
Historically, the ‘scientific method’ was associated
with the natural sciences and how new information
is discovered. Comte regarded the age when
scientists developed this method as positive in
that it led to discoveries and inventions that
could better our lives in society. Science and
the ‘scientific method’ is based on a positivist
understanding of reality – what is real is believed
to lie in the outside world and can be discovered
through observation and measurement. Natural
scientists then largely believed that knowledge
can only be discovered through the collection of
empirical data (Box 2.1) followed by the formation
of a hypothesis. The strong approval held by the
early sociologists for science and its method of
finding new knowledge meant that they adapted
the research process of the ‘scientific method’ to
the study of the social world.
Positivist research, which tends to be quantitative
in nature, and uses statistical analysis, closely
follows the scientific method. However, research
in the qualitative paradigm is only loosely
based on these steps – for example, qualitative
researchers usually do not pose hypotheses but
posit research questions. They differ also in the
choice of sampling procedures, data collection
instruments and data analysis techniques.
Nevertheless, because they make the claim that
they follow methodical, rigorous and systematic
procedures (and this can be verified), they argue
that qualitative research is also scientific.
mean, median, mode, standard variation, and so on. Where
there is some variation between what the scientist and
the sociologist do, the latter claims that research does
not necessarily have to follow the scientific method to be
deemed ‘scientific’. As long as it is methodical, systematic
and rigorous, it is scientific. Moreover, there is no longer
something called the scientific method – scientists
use any methods which they think will be fruitful.
We may conclude by saying that there are a variety
of qualitative approaches and some could be considered
scientific but there are others which do not regard ‘being
scientific’ as necessarily something of value.
Ethical Issues In Research
The purpose of research is to elicit knowledge of the issue
or problem from someone who has that knowledge. This
Steps of the Scientific Method
1. Define the problem to be studied
(conceptualised as the interaction of two or
more variables).
2. Pose a null hypothesis.
3. This assumes that any kind of variation is due to
4. Collect data – gathering empirical data from a
sample, because usually the whole population
to which this relationship might apply is either
too large or in some way inaccessible.
5. Analyse the data – usually using statistical
analysis as the samples are often quite large.
6. Report on your findings: If the null hypothesis
is upheld then there is no relationship between
the two variables. If it is rejected by the statistical
analysis, then this means that any relationship
between the two is not due to chance.
A hypothesis is a general statement or
proposition which assumes some kind of
relationship between a set of variables.
Variables refer to the phenomena that are being
The null hypothesis states predicts no
relationship between the variables under study.
involves a transaction between individuals and is very
much a social interaction. Hence, it can be conducted
in all manner of ways. There are several rules governing
researcher ethics that all researchers should keep in
mind, especially qualitative researchers who are more
closely involved with their subjects than are quantitative
Treatment of Participants
The subjects or respondents are to be treated with respect
and fairness. Their natural rights should be preserved. If
they are reluctant to speak on an issue they should not be
coerced through threats or bribes. The research would
be compromised if the knowledge on which it depends
was not freely given. In addition, their rights to privacy
should be acknowledged by the use of pseudonyms
and their statements should be kept confidential. From
reading the report, it should not be evident who gave the
information. The researcher must keep in mind that s/he
should minimise any kind of risk to the participants that
relates to their input in the research. For example, in the
conduct of interviews the researcher should be mindful
of topics that may threaten interviewees’ self-esteem and
should sensitively ‘manage’ the interaction. If children,
or students, are involved in the study permission should
be sought from their parents or guardians. If conducting
research within the school it is also advisable to get the
permission of the school principal.
It is also recommended that researchers ‘give back’
to those informants and their communities who helped
with the research. The most obvious item would be a
copy of the research report, but if humanitarian acts can
be performed, especially for disadvantaged groups, then
that should be explored. However, you should not make
it seem as if you are paying the subjects to participate –
often only a stipend is offered to reduce the element of
coercion. The humanitarian acts are difficult to decide
on beforehand – as the research unfolds perhaps the
researchers may see an area of need where they can assist.
The Research Process
Ethics relating to the conduct of the research process
deals with issues of bias. In qualitative research, a sample
should be chosen from among persons who know
something about the topic under study, otherwise the
research would be purporting to report on something
without relevant data. Data collection should be as
exhaustive as possible so that the study is based on
comprehensive data. This means that researchers should
remain in the field as long as they can to be more certain
that what they eventually report is an accurate portrayal
of the context. Multi-methods should be used to
triangulate the data. Where data analysis is concerned,
Triangulation involves the use of two or three different
forms of data collection in order to increase the
trustworthiness of the study.
the interview transcripts should be read and re-read
many times so that the researchers becomes immersed in
the data and may be more likely to come to insightful
findings. All procedures and interactions should be
continuously documented so that an audit trail is left of
the researcher’s activities. This increases the trustworthiness
of the study (see §5.2.2).
For quantitative studies, the issues are the same but
are approached differently. To reduce bias, a large sample
is used and this also helps the researcher to be fairly
confident that a generalisation could be made based on
this representative sample. In order for the findings to
be valid and reliable, great care is taken in designing the
instruments of data collection – questionnaires, interview
protocols, observation schedules, and so on (see §5.2.3).
Statistical procedures are used to analyse the data and
such procedures are reported so that others can, if they
wish, replicate the study, in which case they should come
up with the same quantitative results. The major ethical
issue in the conduct of both qualitative and quantitative
research is the effort to avoid falsification of data.
Research methods
In this section we will focus on the two main approaches
to sociological research – quantitative and qualitative
methods. Attention is paid to their philosophical
assumptions and how they each understand the social
world. This is important because it guides what
questions they ask, what methods of data collection they
use, how they relate to the subjects of the research, what
techniques they use in data analysis and how they report
their findings. Attempt Activity 5.1 (page 122) to see
how one method of data collection works.
Quantitative Approaches to Research
The philosophy of positivism underlies the scientific
method, the sociological perspective of Functionalism
and hence, quantitative approaches to research.
Positivism views reality as located outside of human
beings so that when research is conducted what is valued
is information collected about the natural world or in
the case of sociology, about things that can be seen and
enumerated about people (empirical data). Following
the steps of ‘the scientific method’, there is a tradition of
collecting data on many items or persons (a large sample)
so that a generalisation can be posed about major trends
in the data. Because many observations are involved,
statistical software is used to analyse the data – hence the
term, quantitative research. Many of the research methods
discussed below, such as surveys and sampling, document
studies and so on, may be used for both quantitative and
qualitative research, but in slightly different ways.
The kinds of research questions that a researcher
who holds a positivist assumption of reality will ask are
those which call for the collection of empirical data,
such as How does violent crime vary with socio-economic class
in Country X? (Note that research questions are not
Inquiry Skills
The exercise below is an adaptation of a questionnaire used by real researchers (Halpérin et al., 1996). The entire
questionnaire contains 20 items, but only the first four are included here. Read through the questionnaire and then
answer the questions
which follow. (This
activityy could be done in a group
p with other members of your
Questionnaire on Child Sexual Abuse
Q 1:
How old are you ?
Q 2:
Are you a girl or a boy? (tick relevant box)
Q 3:
Who do you live with? (list all members of your household, e.g. mother, father, brother etc.)
Q 4:
Here are some general statements on child sexual abuse.
Do you rather agree or rather disagree with these statements?
Some children are sexually abused by older children
Most people who sexually abuse children do not belong to the child’s
Most of the time children are sexually abused when they are alone, at
night, and outside their home
Only girls are victims of sexual abuse
Sexually abused boys are usually not homosexual
Children from reputable families are not victims of child sexual abuse
Children who report being victims of sexual abuse are not necessarily
placed in foster care following these revelations
Few children are victims of sexual abuse
Only young children are victims of sexual abuse
Boys are not sexually abused
A majority of sexual abuse perpetrators are retarded or mentally ill
Even if one lets a year go by before talking about a sexual abuse
situation, it is still possible to do something about it
In sexual abuse cases, the child him/herself is never responsible
1. Which aspects of the questionnaire do you think can be improved?
2. What do you think is the purpose of questions 4(d) and 4(j)?
3. What do you think is the purpose of Question 4 of the questionnaire as whole?
Using five questions, construct what you believe the next section of the questionnaire should look like.
the same as a question you would ask someone in an
interview. A research question refers to the whole study
and the issues important to the research.) Here, records
on violent crimes can be obtained from police or other
official data bases and some idea of socio-economic class
can be obtained by locating the address of individuals
involved in committing acts of violent crime. Usually
the researcher will include hundreds or thousands in
his/her sample so that the trends emerging would seem
representative for that population.
Such studies usually centre on two or more variables
and how they relate. The language of the natural sciences
is retained in the social sciences and a variable refers to an
entity that may or may not vary under certain conditions.
Note that the researcher is not called upon to do much
in terms of manipulating the data – s/he will only have
to interpret the statistical results. This again is closely
following the scientific method where to reduce bias
the scientist uses instruments from which s/he directly
reads off data. In this case the sociologist will devise a
form on which s/he records pertinent information from
Quantitative studies in sociology may conform to a
non-experimental or survey format, a quasi-experiment,
or a correlation study.
■ Non-experimental research includes surveys,
data obtained by questionnaires and interviews
administered to a relatively large group of persons.
The survey is used to answer research questions which
depend on descriptive statistics (percentages, averages),
e.g. How many families in Area X are single-parent
families? Is there a difference in subject choice in form 5
between male and female students?
■ This is an example of cross-sectional research
because the sample comes from a group of persons
and they are only studied at one point in time.
(In other words, we would not know if there was
variation in the findings, after the data were collected).
■ Experiments are usually carried out in the pure
sciences in laboratories. In the social sciences, we use the
quasi-experiment. In such studies control and experimental
or treatment groups are used as well as random sampling.
These conditions conform somewhat closely to how the
natural scientist conducts experiments.
■ Correlational research refers to studies where the
researcher is interested in the nature of the relationship
or association between two variables. It does not
imply that one causes the other, just that they have an
association. For example, low socio-economic status
varies positively with low academic achievement. The
nature of the association is left up to further study.
Statistical software is used to determine the numerical
value of the correlation coefficients which indicates how
strong or weak is the association between the variables.
Quantitative approaches to research seek to describe a
situation in terms of how variables relate to each other so
that major trends or generalisations could be identified.
A generalisation is only possible because of the use of
probability sampling which generates a representative
sample. There is a concern at all stages to eliminate bias
and that can be seen in how researchers keep their
distance from the subjects of the research and use
instruments that capture the data by forced-choice
questionnaire items or structured interview protocols
or observation schedules and checklists.
The interview protocol is a guide to the kinds of
questions the researcher will ask the respondent during
the interview.
In other words, there is minimum interaction with
the subjects. The data itself is statistically analysed and
presented as tables, graphs and other numeric information
with some discussion. The survey is the most popular
method used in quantitative research, though it only
gives a snapshot or static picture of the subjects at one
moment in time. This approach to research is heavily
influenced by the philosophy of positivism and the need
for empirical data.
Qualitative Approaches to Research
Qualitative research is underlain by a set of assumptions
or philosophies rooted in hermeneutics and
constructivism. Qualitative research is primarily
Hermeneutics, taking its name from the Greek god,
Hermes, the messenger of the gods, refers to the part
played by communication, meaning and interpretation in
how people understand reality.
Constructivism is closely related because it describes
reality as being built up by persons as they negotiate
their world.
engaged in how people understand their world as an
explanation for their behaviour and actions. It goes into
people’s reasons for actions, motivations and perceptions
and attempts to build a picture of their world from
their eyes.
It is therefore mainly concerned with subjective
knowledge. In order to elicit a person’s worldview or
deeply held beliefs and values, the researcher and the
researched must enter into a close and mutually trusting
relationship. Hence, the researcher can only get at
the knowledge s/he seeks by deliberately nurturing a
relationship with the participant. The latter would not
necessarily give up that kind of information easily and
usually it would not be something that s/he would be
willing to write on a questionnaire. The kinds of data
or knowledge that the qualitative researcher seeks mean
that her/his methods of data collection and instruments
would vary from that of the quantitative researcher. It
also means that maintaining an ethical stance in research
becomes more problematic the closer the researched and
the researcher get.
The research questions that a qualitative researcher
would ask are quite different to those a quantitative
researcher would ask. Possible qualitative research
questions are:
■ What are the perceptions of overweight persons about
diet and exercise?
■ How do overweight persons negotiate the messages
from the health system about health and well being?
■ How do overweight persons describe their social life?
These questions are designed to give as much
information on an issue as possible. The intent is to
describe a phenomenon in detail. Note that all the
questions are posed from the subjects’ point of view.
There are no ‘why’ questions because in the social
world there are so many influences acting on a person
that giving a certain explanation for their behaviour
is virtually impossible. Qualitative research can give
insights about how overweight persons deal with health
messages, how they seek healthy behaviours, if they do,
and generally what they think about themselves.
Qualitative studies attempt to reduce bias by increasing
the trustworthiness (credibility and dependability) of the
research. As you learned earlier, by engaging in multiple
methods of data collection (interviewing, observations,
journal writing) it is more likely that the range of
perceptions that subjects have will emerge. This is called
triangulation of methods. One might use interview,
observation and documentary analysis all in the same
study, for example, to get a deeper understanding of the
Different researchers and experts can be called in to
discuss and evaluate the findings in a qualitative study
(called investigator triangulation) to ensure that as many
arguments as possible have been applied. The researcher
is especially asked to employ different strategies to make
his or her own biases clear and to reflect on how it impacts
the research. Finally, the researcher must document all
decisions taken at all stages and this comprises an audit
trail of the entire inquiry.
Data Collection
The first step in collecting data is to determine who is
the target group and how many of them are accessible to
you. For example, your target group may be adolescents
in the 14–18 age group as this is the group of people you
are studying. You may decide that those who are
accessible to you are those in your school, about 150
students in all. This is called the accessible population.
The accessible population refers to persons belonging to
the target population who are accessible to the researcher.
The quantitative researcher determines how large to
make the sample because size confers more credibility
on the research findings in this paradigm. With this in
mind the researcher may decide on a sample size of 70
and these will be the subjects of the study.
The researcher then makes decisions about what
kind of data-gathering tools to use – a questionnaire, an
interview or observations, and this may be complemented
by document analysis. In quantitative research these data
collection tools or instruments are conceived of differently
from the way they are constructed and used in qualitative
■ Sources of data collection: Primary data refers
to data that is collected directly by the researcher
through interviews, observations and questionnaires.
Secondary sources refer to data already collected by
other people and organisations for their own purposes.
Sources of secondary data include publications by the
government and other organisations, books, journals,
census data, the databases found in libraries, case
studies and archived data.
■ Instruments of data collection: These are the
tangible measures used to gather information from
the chosen sample. A questionnaire is an instrument of
data collection. So is the interview guide or protocol (the
list of questions to be asked) during an interview. An
observation schedule records the behaviours or incidents
observed by the researcher and may be in the form
of a checklist. Surveys are typical of quantitive research
(see Box 5.2). Well-constructed instruments serve to
increase the reliability and validity of a study.
Reliability focuses on whether the instrument measures the
things you intend for it to measure every time you use it with
the same subjects. In other words, if it is likely that the same
people will give different answers tomorrow then something
is wrong with the instrument.
BOX 5.2
Validity focuses on whether the instrument measures or
represents the things you set out to measure or study. In
other words, does the instrument measure what you are
claiming that it would measure? If it does, then the chances
of generalising the findings are good.
Survey Research Terms
• Surveys - an approach to data collection where
a researcher asks questions and a respondent
answers e.g. all types of questionnaires and
interviews. This is a very popular form of
sociological research.
• Experimental design – two groups are
studied: one is administered a ‘treatment’ and
the other acts as a ‘control’ group. The study
indicates whether the variables in the treatment
option made a difference or not.
• Measurement - the collection of data using an
‘instrument’, for example a questionnaire or an
interview protocol. Note how terms are identical
to the natural sciences where ‘measurement’
involves numbers; in sociology ‘measurement’ in
many cases refers to the act of administering a
questionnaire and recording the responses.
• Sampling – this is a design issue as the choice
of probability or non-probability sampling rests
on the view of reality adopted in the study.
In Functionalist (or quantitative-type) studies
usually the purpose is to arrive at a generalisation
explaining the behaviour of a population.
Generalisability is enhanced by the use of
probability sampling measures (see page 126).
• Questionnaire - an instrument that uses a
range of different question formats. It may be
used in a face-to-face situation or left with the
respondent to be completed later (it could also
be mailed or e-mailed). There are various kinds
of questionnaire. In structured questionnaires
(as in Activity 5.1 above) items are of the forced
choice format.
• Interviews – here the researcher and the
respondent face each other in a question-andanswer session. If the sample is large and the
data needs to be quantified and statistically
analysed, the interview will most likely be a
structured interview where the researcher
follows an interview protocol (see below). Semistructured and conversational interviews are more
open-ended and wider ranging and do not adhere
strictly to a protocol (and are more likely to be
found in qualitative research). Telephone interviews
and audio conferencing are also possible.
• Probability samples – random, stratified
random, and systematic sampling are used to
select a sample that is representative of the
target population. These techniques reduce
bias in selecting the sample (Box 5.3, page 126).
Non-probability samples are discussed in Box 5.4
(page 127).
• Archived and census data – this is considered
secondary data because the information was
not collected by the researcher; for example,
government statistics, census data and other
records. The advantage of using official sources
for secondary data is that the data is reliable
in that it was obtained through systematic
procedures reducing bias as much as possible
and gives information on the total population
or very large samples, much more than an
individual researcher could access.
• Longitudinal design – the study of one group
over time, noting change and continuity. These
studies are complex to organise and so there are
relatively few of them. However, they give more
information on cause and effect since groups are
studied intensively over time.
Forced choice items are questions with a
• Cross-sectional design – the study of one
or more groups at one point in time. These
are easy to organise. However, they are not as
conclusive about cause and effect as they only
study the population at one point in time.
Open-ended items are questions that ask
predetermined set of answers. Each response
is assigned a number and can be statistically
analyzed (quantitative data analysis) either
manually or by computer software.
respondents to put responses into their own
words. Verbal data cannot be easily converted to
numerical data so that qualitative data analysis
procedures are used in analysis.
Ensuring reliability and validity are procedures which
seek to reduce bias in the research instruments and are
typical of quantitative studies. In many cases a researcher
might seek to pilot test the instruments on a very small
sample of the target population to determine how
reliable and valid the items on the instrument are.
Target population refers to the entire group to which
the findings of the study will apply.
In quantitative research the survey is used to answer
research questions which depend on descriptive statistics
(percentages, averages, etc.). In qualitative research
interviews are the most common forms of survey data
collection. Box 5.2 (page 125) lists some of the common
terms used in survey research.
BOX 5.3
A sample is a small group extracted from a larger
group with similar characteristics. Sampling refers to
procedures that ensure that a sample is representative of
the entire target population so that generalisations can be
made. Probability sampling is used in quantitative research
because the goal is to make a generalisation. This is a
method of selecting a sample, such as a representative
sample, which tries to ensure that the persons comprising
the sample are present in a similar proportion to how
they occur in the actual population. Boxes 5.3 and 5.4
discuss sampling as it is used in quantitaive research and
qualitative research respectively.
If your sample includes, say, 30 persons or over, then a
quantitative approach may be suitable for your study. A
Sampling in Quantitative Studies
Representative sample – the smaller,
representative group selected from the accessible
population to participate in a study. It is more
economical to use a sample than to attempt to
study an entire population, some of whom may be
impossible to reach for different reasons.
Random sampling – procedures ensuring that
there is an equal probability that any name on
a list can be chosen for the sample e.g. selecting
names based on numbers generated by a computer
or, use of log tables or, even names pulled from
out of a hat.
Random stratified, systematic, and
convenience sampling are used when random
sampling cannot be done. Random sampling is the
ideal form of sampling for the ‘scientific method’
and therefore if the other types are used the claim
of the research to be ‘objective, systematic and
methodical’ can be compromised. Nevertheless in
social research in many cases it may be impossible
to secure a random sample and convenience
sampling is often used.
• Random stratified sample. A sample can
be finely segregated according to different
criteria or characteristics that the researcher
wishes to impose on the data because the study
is slanted that way. For example, a random
sample will pull out people of all different
kinds of characteristics and be without bias in
creating the sample. But, the researcher may
only want persons in the age category 10–15
years who live in a certain area. To stratify the
sample by age and residence, the researcher will
compile data on that target group using those
characteristics. Then a random sample is pulled
from that larger group.
• Systematic sample. The researcher may not
be able to carry out a random sample but can
still create a sample where bias is minimised by
choosing every nth person to study (administer
a questionnaire, interview, or conduct an
• Convenience sample – This is the simplest
and most popular form of sampling used by
researchers. It however has inherent bias. A
convenience sample is one that the researcher
has no difficulty in accessing – near where s/he
lives, works or all found in one place (an
organisation or, a group of farmers in an area).
In quantitative research, lack of bias in selecting
the sample is the ideal. Random sampling gives
an unbiased sample. However, in many cases
random sampling cannot be used and researchers
create other kinds of samples. The strength of
the generalisation made at the end of the study
would be greater the more unbiased the sample.
Generalisations that come out of convenience
sampling are considered weak for this reason. Such
studies are useful, though, in identifying trends
that could be further researched.
BOX 5.4
Sampling in Qualitative Research
The qualitative researcher is not interested in
generalisations. Therefore, the sample does not
have to abide by the laws governing probability
sampling. Such a researcher is interested in the
meanings that a group has about a certain topic
or issue and the researcher can only get at that
information after prolonged contact with the
subjects. Hence, a survey approach would not be
useful. Having to maintain prolonged contact with
just one person, the researcher would not be able
to include many persons in the sample. Qualitative
research then usually has quite small samples.
They are described as purposive samples – selected
by the researcher based on whether s/he thinks
that they have information relevant to the topic
under study. Usually all members of the sample
are not chosen beforehand, as the researcher
begins to better understand how people feel or
survey questionnaire is an economical way of collecting
data. It is easy to construct but the questions must be well
thought out in relation to the research problem. Important
guidelines about constructing and administering
questionnaires are listed below.
■ Begin with a short biographical section but only
include items that are absolutely necessary to the
research. For example, names are usually not included
to encourage individuals to participate and a person’s
address, age, or income may not be relevant. If you
need any of this data you can try a forced-choice item
where you group responses e.g. the participant can
circle which age group is appropriate: 16–19, 20–25,
and so on. Instead of an address you may state some
areas or locations and ask participants to indicate
which is closest to her/his home, but only if location
is an important aspect of your study.
■ Most of the questions should be designed either as
(a) forced choice items or (b) needing only one-word
answers or, a short response. Longer responses cannot
be efficiently reduced to numbers for quantitative data
■ You may end the questionnaire with one or two
open-ended items where the participant writes in the
answer in her/his own words. Again, you should leave
only a few lines in order to cut down on the amount
of information that the participant can give.
the meanings they have for something s/he then
decides who may be the next person. Purposive
sampling is an example of non-probability
The small samples enable the researcher to
study a phenomenon in an in-depth manner. This
is because the focus is on eliciting the subject’s
ways of making meaning in the social world. The
kinds of linearity evident in the scientific method
and quantitative research cannot be adopted if
one is looking for in-depth data rather than broad
trends and patterns. So, the sample develops
as the researcher goes along - and so too are
all aspects of the research process. This kind of
research design is described as emergent because it
develops as the researcher gets a better and better
grasp of the issue, the context and the participants.
Organise the questions so that anything of a personal
or private nature is located near the end.
Order categories in a progression, e.g.: Disagree/
Neutral/Agree/Strongly agree.
Most people will willingly fill out a two-page form,
so you should keep your questions to the minimum
that allows you to obtain the information you want.
All questionnaire items should be written in language
that is as clear as possible so that your sample can
readily understand them.
Items should not ask about extremely private
or personal matters unless express permission is
given beforehand and, for school children, parental
permission as well.
It is important that you keep all information
confidential as much as possible whether or not
the questionnaire information is anonymous.
You should share with the participants a little
about the project you are undertaking and if
possible share the findings of your study with
them afterwards. In other words, do not just ‘use’
them for your purposes. (This is one of those
ethical issues in research.)
Note that a questionnaire is not useful if the goal
is subjective data.
The interview protocol is the list of questions that
you will be asking the participant. The interview is
the actual event. The structured interview is the more
useful tool for quantitative studies. Semi-structured and
unstructured, conversational interviews are more appropriate
for qualitative research where in-depth understanding is
sought and fewer persons comprise the sample.
Interviewing in quantitative research
For a structured interview, the protocol is usually a list
of questions that are directly relevant to the problem or
issue being studied and do not need extensive answers. A
semi-structured interview asks questions requiring more
elaboration. If necessary some questions like this may be
introduced into the structured interview but generally
this is discouraged because survey research only needs a
brief, snapshot of the social situation.
Important guidelines about constructing and
administering structured interviews are:
■ Plan for all eventualities ahead of time: for example,
find a comfortable, quiet space for the interview;
seek permission about taping the interview before
it begins; be ready to write responses if need be; and
ensure that there are no technical problems with
equipment (e.g. have extra batteries on hand).
■ Plan the questions: experiment beforehand, test the
items on your friends (this is called pilot testing) to
ensure that the questions are relevant and likely to be
clearly understood by your sample.
■ Plan follow-up questions (probes) if a question does
not elicit a clear response. In other words, you might
need to stray from the set list of questions occasionally.
■ Create an atmosphere which gives the participants
confidence – for example, be polite and courteous
and do not persist with questions they do not seem
willing to answer.
■ Allow the participant to respond without too
much prompting and probing at first. This becomes
necessary only if the response is unclear.
■ Observe the highest ethical standards with regards to
maintaining confidentiality of information, disclosing
the identity of participants, and refraining from private
and personal issues.
If participants are much younger than you are or
belong to a social group that is very different from yours,
be especially careful to be as facilitating as possible.
Interviewing in qualitative research
The interview is the main data-gathering tool of the
qualitative researcher who may employ semi-structured,
open-ended and/or conversational or unstructured
interviews as well as focus groups. This type of interview
allows the subject as much leeway as possible to speak and
reflect. The researcher may have a list of guiding questions
but it is often as the discussion begins that the concerns of
the subject become more and more prominent and some
questions on the researcher’s list may not be touched on
at all. This differs from quantitative research where in a
structured interview all the questions are asked of all the
subjects in the same order and not much leeway is given
for the subject to expand.
In qualitative research the interview may last a
long time and there may be repeat interviews until the
researcher gets a sense of saturation, that the subject has
exhausted her/his knowledge and understanding of the
issue. The data that a qualitative researcher is looking
for is anything that could assist in grasping a deeper
understanding of a situation, context or phenomenon
and includes the variety of perspectives of people in that
context. As a result, the textual data or knowledge that the
qualitative researcher is seeking comes in many forms –
opinions, fears, biases, experience, insights, perspectives,
insider knowledge, expert knowledge and hearsay.
This alerts us to the fact that when people are
interviewed about their subjective knowledge of a
situation the researcher cannot use what they say as
definite and certain knowledge, but such statements
are useful in that they indicate how an individual or a
group may be thinking about a phenomenon. Subjective
knowledge is what the qualitative researcher is looking for
because in this paradigm (as opposed to the quantitative
paradigm) it is accepted that people can have multiple
realities, even conflicting realities, and that they largely
act out of how they define a situation. For example,
members of the society are taught not to steal and they are
socialised into this way of thinking through the family,
religion and education. However, people do in fact steal
and if interviewed they may indicate that though they
believe it is not right to steal they did it because high
society people steal everyday and get away with it, or they
felt that no one would know. Here we have persons who
own to a particular worldview – honesty – in rhetoric,
but practise something else. Qualitative data then deals
with the complex world of subjective knowledge and
behaviour, people’s lived realities (see Figure 5.1).
Focus group interviews
This is an interview conducted with a small group of
subjects (four or five) in an informal setting. There are
certain ground rules which must be established such as
discouraging persons from speaking at the same time.
Why do you deny that you stole the money when there
were witnesses?
R: Ah not saying I ain’t take de money but dat money
was mine because I work for de school party and
none of de other fellas come to help, so … I like
take a reward…I doh find dat dat is stealing.
How would you define or explain what is stealing?
R: Well like when a burglar come to your house in de
night and tief your stuff. Or, when dem big pappies
in de bank or in the government tief people money,
…big money, and ting.
If one of your school friends take your money for
lunch, say, would you call dat stealing?
R: Yes,oui! Because it didn’t belong to him.
If you needed to buy something and saw your mother’s
handbag nearby and you opened it and took money
out, would that be stealing?
R: No sireee! Dat is my mother and my house and she
supposed to see about my welfare so if I take a
likkle money off she, dat cyah be stealing, dat
is family business.
Figure 5.1 Excerpt of an interview transcript
Not only does it hinder effective communication but if
the session is being tape-recorded, it makes it difficult in
playback sessions to transcribe the data. Another ground
rule is how to deal with disagreement, that all must
respect each others’ opinion and the right to speak.
A focus group interview is economical in that the
researcher can get a cross-section of views from the
sample at the same time and it may obviate the need
to have individual interviews. It may also suggest who
are the best persons to enlist for follow-up interviews.
The strength of the focus group lies in the nature of the
interaction – persons may disagree or agree with each
other and a discussion may ensue which is valuable for
the researcher. Without the points brought up by others
and the rejoinder arguments, the researcher might never
have had such information if the research design had
been restricted to only the usual interview. Shy persons
in a focus group can easily be drawn into the discussion
whereas in a one-on-one interview they may have little
to say. The researcher who acts as moderator of the
discussion has to be able to control dominant speakers
and those who tend to ramble.
In qualitative research, observations are seldom ‘measured’
via a checklist which observes the subjects’ behaviour at
fixed intervals. Rather, the researcher may have a list of
behaviours s/he is interested in or a mental grasp of the
issues pertinent to the study and use that as a guide on
which behaviours s/he chooses to record. Usually the
researcher will record, using field notes, as much of the
context, the participants and their behaviours as possible.
The researcher would want to do this at several different
times to see if there is variation and the nature of this
Observations can be overt or covert. There are thorny
ethical issues associated with observing persons without
their permission. It is possible to argue that certain
‘public’ behaviours can be observed without permission
because they do not threaten the subject in any way – for
example, whether students say ‘good morning’ to their
teachers as they enter the room and generally how they
address teachers and their interactions with them; how
families who are out for the day at a picnic or amusement
site interact with each other; how females eating alone at
restaurants behave compared to men eating alone; and,
how children at a playground assume roles of leadership
and how squabbles are settled. Observations that can be
considered to be an invasion of privacy are - following
someone around without their permission, making
observations of persons as they engage in illicit acts, or
observing those who might be disabled or challenged in
some way.
Overt observations imply that the researcher abides
by ethical practices and gets the permission of the
subjects or their guardians to carry out this form of data
collection. The issue is that there is a danger that the
subjects will be self-conscious and subtly or otherwise
change their behaviours. In this case the data would be
flawed. However, in qualitative research this is seldom
a problem because the researcher must get close to the
subjects, befriend them and become a fixture in their
lives for some period. The ‘taking of notes’ just becomes
part of the mannerisms of the researcher and fades into
the background. There will be initial curiosity but once
members realise that the presence of the researcher poses
no threat to themselves s/he is tolerated. Of course, this
limits the type of interactions and behaviours that the
researcher can study. Many ethnographic studies (see page 131)
are based on a combination of interviews and prolonged
observations, both participant and non-participant.
Document Studies
Document studies are another form of data collection in
both qualitative and quantitative studies. This type of
research relates to the selection (sampling) of documentary
data for analysis. In a school it could be the disciplinary
logs kept and the sample could be built around acts of
bullying or physical violence or alcohol abuse. One type
of document would be the eyewitness accounts of those
who witnessed certain events and were asked by the
school’s authorities to write an account of what they saw.
This is an example of primary data. One of the advantages
of document studies is that the researcher can have in
hand several accounts of one incident whereas it may
be difficult to trace all those eye-witnesses individually.
One disadvantage, though, is that each report will have
inherent biases according to what that person thought
they were seeing and what they chose to record.
Documentary studies can also be based on secondary
data such as public records and newspaper reports which
have a high level of accuracy. When students perform
a Literature Review (§5.3.4) they are engaging in a
preliminary form of document study. However, further
analysis of the text is necessary and this is discussed below.
Today, secondary data can include e-mails, blogs, texts
and wikis.
Document studies in quantitative research are
referred to as content analysis. This is similar to a survey.
A question is framed that will be investigated using an
array of documents. A random sample could be used to
select the actual documents to be analysed in the study.
For example, the study may focus on how newspapers
sensationalise criminal activities, and be looking
specifically for words that may tend to be used repeatedly
to scare the public – for example terms such as epidemic of
crime, hooligans, thugs, crime wave, under attack, lockdown, crime
hot spots, and the like. It is a quantitative study because
the researcher literally counts the number of times such
terms crop up in different newspapers. The results can be
displayed in the form of tables and graphs. The researcher
will analyse what these findings indicate about different
newspapers, but cannot delve into the complex meanings
that are more typical of qualitative studies.
A documentary study may be all that the researcher
wishes to do, for example analysing how students’ school
reports are written and following the same students
over time, or analysing education policy documents.
However, document studies are usually incorporated
into a qualitative study for purposes of triangulation.
Research Design
Quantitative research utilises specific research designs
such as surveys or co-relation research, and qualitative
research has certain traditions or types of study such as
case study, biography, and ethnography.
Case Study
This is an approach which seeks in-depth data on an issue
and chooses to study a few persons who can throw light
on the issue. For example, a case may be the study of
members of one church youth group to find out how they
deal with and negotiate the church’s ruling on celibacy
until marriage. Multiple sources of data collection can
be used. The intent is to get a rich descriptive account of
how subjects in this case feel about the issue.
One popular understanding of biography is the study of
one person’s life using multiple forms of data collection
– interviews with persons who knew the subject (if
deceased) and/or interviews with the subject; archival
data such as speeches, books, audio and video footage
and photographs. The researcher brings all this data
together, weaving history and culture into the account.
A case study can also be biographical. Consider the
case of a chronic truant in school and the decision by
a school social worker to investigate his school, health
and juvenile records as well as his family background
and friends. Although the subject may be a teenager, a
biographical case study can still be done to ascertain the
influences which may be pushing him towards further
Biographical data can be collected from multiple
persons in a qualitative research study as well. For
example, persons who are handicapped in some way
usually experience society differently to ‘normals’. The
study can focus on persons with one type of handicap
or persons with different kinds of handicaps, and will
need to collect data on family life, support systems,
whether an accident was responsible for the handicap,
life experiences and so on.
Ethnography is a specific approach or method of
inquiry among the many approaches used by qualitative
researchers (examples are given in Chapter 6). The focus
is on the culture of a group or sub-group. It was the
chosen approach of anthropologists seeking to study
small societies. Such anthropologists would live with the
people under study sometimes for years at a time and
then write nothing short of a book that described many
aspects of the lives of these people in detail. This method
is called participant observation. They attempted
to build theory grounded in the evidence gathered
at the site. The emphasis is not on formulation of a
generalisation (theory) that could be extended to similar
groups, but to seek ‘deep understanding’ of the culture
of a group of people.
The researcher relies on immersion in the context to
help him or her interpret the culture accurately, but in
any case the meanings are also discussed with members
so as to minimise misconceptions. The subjects have
to feel strongly about participating because this kind of
research tends to be intrusive, exploring not only their
hopes and fears but also private situations and it takes up
a lot of their time. Activity 5.3 (page 136) looks at a focus
group qualitative study.
Presenting Research – Data Analysis
In quantitative approaches to data collection (using surveys),
the researcher is faced with a mass of observations, usually
in the form of numeric data. The first task is to organise,
summarise and describe this data by using descriptive
statistics. The next step, in more advanced study, is to
generalise the findings from the sample to the larger
population from which the sample was drawn.
Descriptive statistics refers to the simple organisation of
data in ways that make the observations more meaningful
to the researcher i.e. relevant to the research questions.
The simplest form of organising a mass of numbers/
observations is to arrange them in a distribution. This
will show how a variable occurs within the sample or
the population under study in the form of trends or
patterns. For example, if you are studying the incidence
of HIV/AIDS in different age groups in a population,
you are interested in this as a single variable across the
population. To be more meaningful the researcher can
turn the list of values obtained from data collection into
a frequency distribution – either as a table or as a bar chart
(sometimes called a histogram; see Figure 5.2).
Trends and patterns are revealed by organising the data
in this way. The researcher treats these as ‘findings’ to be
discussed and interpreted. Here the researcher is showing
the distribution of a single variable in a population. This
is a first step in analysis – organising, summarising and
presenting the data.
% of the population
with the disease
0 – 20
21– 40
41– 60
61– 80
Population Numbers %
Age range
in years
0 – 20
41– 60
21– 40
Age range in years
Figure 5.2 A frequency distribution represented as a table and a histogram
61– 80
Raw data must first be converted into percentages:
Numbers of persons in an age
category with the disease
× 1000
Total numbers in the population
The researcher can also organise and summarise the
data by calculating measures of central tendency. This is an
attempt to get at the values representing ‘the centre’ of
the distribution, which turns out to be where most of
the people or the phenomenon under study is located.
There are three methods of finding central tendency in a
distribution of values:
a The Mean is well-known as ‘the average’ of a list of
values or numbers. It is the most used measure of
central tendency in a population because it is easily
understood and it can be used in further calculations.
Add up all the percentages in each age range and
divide by the number of age-range catergories in
Figure 5.2. The average percentage suffering from
the disease in each age category is 20.
b The Median is the score found in the exact middle of
a list of values organised into an array, from highest
to lowest or vice versa. The median percentage is 17.
This graph represents a normal distribution. It shows the mean
value of the data. The spread or width of the bell curve around
the mean gives the standard distribution (SD) of the data. 68%
of the distribution is found within 1 of the mean. 95% is found
within 2 of the mean.
c The Mode is the most frequently occurring value
in the list. None of the values occurs more than
once in Figure 5.2, so it isn’t possible to give an
example from this study.
This is another method of organising, summarising and
presenting values and can show other characteristics of
central tendency in the data such as the spread of data or its
variability. It is based on the concept of the bell curve which
is a graph depicting what the distribution of a variable
would look like if in the ’normal’ way there were many
occurrences of the variable concentrated in one group and
then there was a tapering off at either end towards the lesser
and higher values (Figure 5.3). In many distributions this
is a symmetrical pattern. If the pattern does not conform
to the bell-shaped curve, a skewed distribution results,
which is often intriguing, so the researcher looks for
The case study (Box 5.5 and Figure 5.1) includes
excerpts from an actual study on Caribbean social life, to
demonstrate how quantitative research techniques can be
incorporated in a study.
The SD is a descriptive statistic measuring the variation
of a distribution around the mean. It shows the difference
between a raw score and the mean of a distribution.
A low SD indicates that the distribution lies close to the
mean and the curve is steep (Fig. 9.18).
A large SD indicates that the data is spread out over a
large range of values – a flattened and gentle gradient.
The SD is represented by the Greek letter, (sigma).
For a sample population it is calculated by the formula:SD =
( X – X )2 – sum of... n – number of scores in sample
X – raw scores
The SD is used as a basis for inferential statistics where
the researcher attempts to apply the findings for a sample
to the wider population. The SD is used in the calculation
of the t-test, z-scores, analysis of variance, and z scores
which are used in calculating correlation coefficients.
Ages of those having HIV/AIDS
Figure 5.3 The bell curve and standard deviation
BOX 5.5
Apwe plezi c’est la pain or ‘After the pleasure comes the pain’
An entertainment-education radio soap opera,
Apwe Plezi, was broadcast from February 1996
to September 1998 in St Lucia. The programme
promoted family planning, HIV prevention
and other social development themes. The
programme’s effects were assessed through
analysis of data from nationally representative
pre-test and post-test surveys, focus group
Pre-test and post-test surveys are used to
determine whether a change in the variable
being studied was brought about by some
treatment administered after the pre-test and
before the post-test.
discussions and other qualitative and quantitative
sources. In the example, the variables related to
knowledge of contraceptives, HIV-AIDS and being
faithful to one’s partner. The treatment was
exposure to the radio programme. The post test
posed the same questions as the pre-test and the
scores and the responses were compared to detect
any changes.
The data were presented using tables, bar graphs
and line graphs. In addition, an advanced statistical
treatment known as multivariate analysis was
Multivariate analysis is a term used for a
statistical technique that analyzes data from more
than one variable.
used which includes differences in the means and
standard deviations of each group in the sample. In
this study some of the independent variables were
place or residence, ownership of a radio, whether
the respondents were Catholic and so on (see Table
5.1). Dependent variables included knowledge
about family planning and the prevention of
sexually transmitted diseases, attitudes related to
gender equity and, behaviours pertaining to family
planning. An independent variable is unchanged
by the treatment or intervention whereas a
dependent variable may change. Statistical
tests attempt to show whether certain of the
independent variables have a significant impact
on certain of the dependent variables, indicating
possible influences on behaviour change.
Among 1,238 respondents to the post-test survey,
35% had listened to Apwe Plezi, including 12%
who listened at least once per week. Multivariate
analysis showed significant effects of both time
and listenership category on several knowledge,
attitude and behaviour variables. For example,
16% of post-test respondents knew a slang
term for condoms that was coined for the radio
programme, and the proportions of respondents
who considered it acceptable for husbands to have
sex partners outside their marriage declined from
27% in the pre-test to 14% in the post-test survey.
Compared with non-listeners, regular listeners
were more likely to trust family planning workers
(83% versus 72%) and considered a significantly
lower number of children the ideal (2.5 versus 2.9).
14% of listeners reported having adopted a family
planning method as a result of listening to the
Analysing a Case Study
1. What were the principal sources of information for
the study shown in Box 5.5 and Table 5.1?
2. Who do you think would have been excluded from
this study?
3. (a) Identify the dependent and independent
variables; (b) How were these tested for changes over
time? Why was this done?
4. Why do you suppose ‘speaking Creole at home’ was a
relevant variable in this study?
5. Why do you think ‘having less than or equal to a
primary education’ was a relevant variable in this
6. Compare the table with the analysis of the results
given above. Would you have discussed any other
Table 5.1 Percentage of survey respondents with selected characteristics, or mean value of selected measures,
by timing of survey and Apwe Plezi listenership category, St Lucia
Characteristic timing
(N= 799)
Casual listener
Regular listener
urban home
≤ primary education
own a radio
live in towns with condoms available
live in town with family planning available
speak Creole at home
in union
mean parity (and std. error)
listen to Radio Helen 100 often
mean age (and std. error)
29.3 (0.4)
Regular or casual listener to Apwe Plezi
Regular listener to Apwe Plezi
Source: Vaughn, P., Regis, A., & St. Catherine, E. (2000). Effects of an entertainment-education radio soap opera on family planning and HIV
prevention in St. Lucia. International Family Planning Perspectives, 26(4), pp. 148-157 (excerpt p. 148, table p.150).
Analysing Qualitative Data
Next in this section we will look at how qualitative
data is analysed. When you collect qualitative data your
information will largely be in the form of text; it can
also be in pictorial forms such as photographs and digital
forms such as a video. In this section we will focus only
on textual forms of data. Box 5.6 gives the steps involved
in data analysis. Box 5.7 (page 136) gives a short example
of the interview from Figure 5.1 (page 129) after analysis,
together with the resulting presentation of the data as
a narrative. The narrative employs some of the literary
devices listed discussed above.
Conducting your
own Research
In this section, the focus shifts to you as novice researcher
and how you may proceed to conduct an inquiry. It
assists with guidelines and tips as well as actual studies to
illustrate the main points. It may work better for you if
you have an actual research project in mind.
How does one begin to ‘study’ or ‘examine’ some
issue, particularly in the social world? Being a novice
researcher, one of the first things you need to learn is that
research is not so much ‘doing’ as ‘thinking’. Become
familiar with two basic modes of reasoning because they
lend rigour to how you will conduct your study (in other
words you will not just rely on common sense or what
seems natural).
BOX 5.6
Steps in Qualitative Data Analysis
The following steps are involved in qualitative
data analysis.
1. Create a verbatim transcript of the interview,
i.e. the exact words of interviewer and
respondent. This means that it is important
to audio-tape your interviews, if you get
permission from the subjects.
2. Leave a wide right-hand margin for purposes of
your analysis.
3. Use the feature on your word processing
programme to number each line so that certain
statements can be quickly found.
7. You may also find that certain codes are related
to a bigger idea and so you may collapse all of
them to generate a theme. A theme will be at a
higher level than the original line-by-line codes,
which tend to be more descriptive. Themes help
to identify relationships within the data and
allow the researcher to see trends and patterns.
The themes (or categories) give you a good
sense of how the interview can be analysed.
4. Read over the transcript several times – this is
called immersion. It helps to get a good sense
about what perspectives people have and helps
you to begin thinking of possible lines of analysis.
8. NVIVO software and other qualitative data
analysis software can assist in bringing all
instances of one code together (say, from 10
different interviews). This is an example of
computer-aided qualitative data analysis.
5. Go through each line to discover anything that
may be useful in what people feel, observe,
think, suspect, etc. about a given situation.
When you have found something that you
think may be useful you can colour/highlight
the piece of text and in the right-hand margin
assign it a code. This is called line-by-line
coding. In vivo codes use the exact language
of the participant because their words are
so graphic. In most cases the code will be
something you make up, e.g. if someone says
that he steals because others do, you might
code that as ‘others steal’.
9. The qualitative research report is presented as
a narrative (i.e. text) using different literary
devices to attempt to portray in an authentic
manner how people feel about a situation.
These devices may include use of excerpts of
the verbatim language of the participants,
vignettes, metaphors, stories, ‘thick’ descriptions,
and variations in the ‘voice’ used – that of the
respondents as well as the researcher in the
storytelling/narrative voice, the analytical/
interpretive voice and the reflective voice. There
is an example in Box 5.7. Documentary studies
are analysed in a similar manner.
The two types of logic are:
inductive – The researcher decides to study
many instances of some occurrence, described as
‘observations’. (So, when you distribute questionnaires
to many persons and get responses, these are
observations.) Then you make some conclusions based
on the findings. This conclusion is a generalisation
which usually means that the findings can be applied
to other instances of the phenomenon which were
not included in the study (but only if you used a
representative sample). This process is sometimes
described as ‘moving from the particular to the
general’ – a generalisation is the end-result of the
research process.
■ deductive – The researcher has an initial premise or
hypothesis about some phenomenon. S/he sets out
to make observations about the phenomenon guided
6. If you find that the same or similar codes recur,
you can use a colour coding system to show all
those which are similar.
by statements or assumptions in the existing premise
or hypothesis. This process is narrower in that the
observations made are directly targeted at a particular
law, theory or hypothesis. This is sometimes referred
to as ‘moving from the general to the particular’.
Research in the natural sciences was once thought to
occur mainly according to inductive principles but today
scientists use both kinds of logic. Sociological research
too can employ both types of reasoning. When you
engage in research then, you are employing inductive
and/or deductive logic in coming to your conclusions.
To successfully conduct a research study, you should
have an idea generally about how the process will unfold.
Certain things must be done initially that, if neglected,
will derail your research and lead to false conclusions.
The stages of the research process are outlined in Box 5.9
and §§5.3.1–5.3.5 below.
BOX 5.7
An Example of Narrative
Harry (a pseudonym) has developed a system which he uses to rationalise why he
steals. He feels that he can justifiably take money based on the assumption that a
person/organisation somehow owes him and he is entitled. He regards it as a form of
reward. For example, he says ‘..dat money was mine because I work for de school..’ and
where his mother is concerned, ‘…she supposed to see about my welfare’. He feels that
others steal what does not belong to them, like burglars, bank officials and government
employees, even other boys, but he only takes what he feels is his right.
The trouble with this kind of thinking is that Harry alone figures out how much he is
owed or entitled to, not the school, not his mother. Further, the sense of entitlement
suggests that Harry is not one to labour for the school or even the home without a form
of tangible reward. He is thus on the lookout for ways to wrest money from the school,
his family (perhaps even friends) which he can conveniently explain as monies owed to
him. His rationalizations are designed to distance himself from being called ‘a thief’. A
thief, according to Harry, is someone who takes what does not belong to him, so Harry
has found a way to make a claim that what he steals actually ‘belongs’ to him by the
logic he employs. Also, he can only cite people far away from his setting who one might
call a thief – a nighttime burglar, and people who work in banks and the government –
again further underscoring that what he does is not at all similar to those who steal.
We might deduce from Harry’s behaviour that he is well aware that what he does is
stealing and he does not wish to be called a thief so he has devised what he perhaps
believes is an ingenious way of getting away with the crime. His metaphor is ‘like a
reward’ which suggests that he is cleaning up the act and putting a positive skew to the
whole situation – again distancing himself from a deviant act. However, other people’s
opinions of him are important and so he has to construct an argument to justify why he
should not be lumped with that group known as ‘thieves’. In this way he can hold on to his
self esteem and standing in other people’s estimation. He thinks!
The beginning
of a story – the
narrative voice.
Use of verbatim
language of the
to enhance the
language taken
directly from
the transcript
Use by the
researcher of
reflection and
going beyond
what is said in
the transcript,
Use of the
voice of the
Inquiry Skills
Box 5.8 on page 137 is a qualitative case study employing
focus group interviews to tease out the meanings students
have for the phenomenon of indiscipline. Read the case
study and answer these questions.
1. Select one example of
a. the verbatim language of participants;
b. the researcher using the narrative voice;
c. researcher using the analytical/interpretive voice.
2. Suggest two reasons why the researcher probably
chose the focus group for this study.
3. Summarise the ways, according to the extract, in
which primary school students in these schools
perceive indiscipline?
4. Explain why the findings of a qualitative study like
this one cannot be generalised.
5. a. From the excerpt, isolate about four codes that
the researcher probably deduced from the
transcript to write this report.
b. What was the theme that eventually pulled the
codes together?
BOX 5.8
Case study: Indiscipline in Primary Schools
Three co-educational primary schools were chosen
- a Presbyterian School (School P), a Hindu School
(School H) and a Government school (School G)
in Trinidad & Tobago. There were 36 participants,
a mix of students whom teachers considered
to be well-behaved and not so well-behaved.
The following is an excerpt from the narrative
constructed from the data analysis, which in the
qualitative paradigm includes both presentation
of the data and interpretation of findings. The
overarching research question was How do
students in the Primary schools under study
perceive indiscipline?
When asked what they think causes students to
engage in negative behaviour, students from all
three schools in the study identified the influence
of their peers.
One student from the Standard Three group at
School P stated: Well who they hang out with in
school ... sometimes they does see their friends
doing it and they follow them and do it too. A
student from the same class level at School G
added that they does act that way from being in
bad company … when they badjohn friends want
to fight and curse and thing...and then they does
end up doing the same thing. In school H two
students of the Standard Five group indicated
agreement by stating that they does want to do
what them other children doin … they does see
them doin it and follow them. …
A student of the Standard Five class of School H
explained: Watch, when I doing my work it have
some children in the class, them does cuff me and
get me real vex … they does want me to tell them
the answer and when I don’t tell them they does
want to hit me and thing. Another student from
the same group added that they want to see what
I doin in my book so they does pull my book and
thing and then I does have to push them away and
hit them for they to stop.
This tendency to cast the blame on other
students was also seen in the response of a student
from the Standard Three class of School P who
added: and when they call you name and thing
you must get vex.
A student from the Standard Three group of School
G went further by rationalising that if someone
quarrel with you then you does have to quarrel
back …and then you does get in trouble because
the teacher does say that you misbehaving.
This view that when they react in a negative
manner to a particular situation they are not to
blame was shared by a student of the Standard
Three group of School P who related that once a
boy steal another boy money and I went to take
it away from him and the teacher make me stay
inside for a week but I was only trying to get back
my friend money. This response was substantiated
by a Standard five student of School H who said
that a girl did hit me and I hit she back and I did
not get to go outside for lunchtime.
The students of all six groups emphasised that
other students got them angry and caused them to
display unacceptable behaviour.
Of all the participants, only one student who
was with the Standard Three group of School H,
indicated he was aware of his own responsibility
for the manner in which he acted: sometimes
when somebody do something to get me vex I
does try to move away and go by myself so I don’t
do nothing to get myself in trouble.
One Standard Five student of School P expressed
a different aspect of peer pressure by stating:
some of them does fight and curse and thing to
get attention and show off … they maybe don’t
get attention from they parent so they does like
it when other children ‘ fraid them and thing.
Another student of the same group added: Yeah...
dey does want other people to watch they and
say they bad and then they does feel good. Four
students of the Standard Five group of School
G agreed that some students misbehave to get
attention while a student at School H added that
sometimes the boys does take the girls’ thing and
throw it in the bin and thing … they does do that
because they like them and they want to talk to them.
The students of all groups in all three schools
found ways to explain how their negative
behaviours were to be blamed on their peers. They
felt that the attitudes and encouragement of their
peers played a crucial part in student behaviour.
As such even though they may not want to engage
in negative behaviour, the expectations and
encouragement of their friends and other students
placed them in a position where they feel that
they have no choice. Apart from one student the
participants did not seem to think that they had
any control over their own reactions and emotions.
Lochan, D. (2010). Students’ perceptions of indiscipline at
three primary schools in one educational district in Central
Trinidad. M.Ed. thesis, School of Education: University of the
West Indies, St. Augustine, pp. 55–58. Retrieved at http://
BOX 5.9
Eight Steps Involved in Carrying Out Research
1. Identify a topic which interests or intrigues you.
2. Develop, out of your interest in this topic, a ‘problem’ or ‘issue’ that is
researchable. You may spend a long time carving out a smaller area of
inquiry from the large topic you first identified. Reading the existing
literature on the subject often helps with focusing the problem.
3. At this point you will need to conduct a literature review of your
topic and one that mirrors how you have narrowed it down. You
stand to gain deeper insights into the research issue from reading
about it and identifying ways other researchers have studied it and
what their findings are. You may realise that there is a ‘gap’ in this
body of knowledge (e.g. has it been studied in your country or your
part of the country)? It will become clear to you what your study can
contribute to existing knowledge on this topic.
4. Also at this point, because you have read widely, you have a strong
sense about what research approach you will be using, for example,
quantitative or qualitative, and can give a justification of why you
have selected one approach over the other.
5. Formulate your statement of the problem and your research
questions or hypotheses. These are tightly related and your
literature review would have helped you to frame them. The
following aspects of the research process are closely related to the
statement of the problem and the research questions or hypotheses.
6. Create a research plan which includes: (a) a time line; (b) how and when
you are going to acquire official permission if needed; and (c) what
research design you will select, guided by the purpose of the study –
is it to verify theory, or to seek the relationships between variables or
to plumb the deeper meanings of some phenomenon? Each will dictate
specific methods and techniques of research. For example,
• sampling strategies;
• what methods of data collection you will use for each of your
research questions;
Identify a
Develop a research
Conduct literature
Select research
Formulate statement
and research question/
Create a
research plan
Carry out
research plan
• how and when you will be creating or modifying data
collection instruments such as questionnaires; and
• how you intend to analyze and present the data.
Report findings
7. Carry out the research plan.
8. Report on the findings using appropriate formats and engage in
a discussion of the findings, referring to the literature reviewed,
and generate some conclusions and recommendations.
Figure 5.4 Eight research steps
Inquiry Skills
Identify whether inductive or deductive logic was used
in the studies by Durkheim described in Box 5.9.
a. Durkheim collected statistics of death by suicide from
many European countries and analysed this data. He
then concluded that the rate of suicide was higher in
Protestant than Catholic countries.
b. Using the generalisation he found about how suicide
rates varied with religion, Durkheim created new
hypotheses for different groups and countries, which
he then tested, to fine-tune his theories.
The Issue
In beginning to conceptualise a study (Figure 5.5), the
first step is to select an issue which interests and intrigues
you. You may think of a general topic and from that
narrow it down to an issue or a question that you believe
will develop into a valuable study, the findings of which
can help in alleviating the social issue or problem.
There are several questions you need to ask yourself.
1 Does it qualify as a sociological issue? How can I
best phrase it to bring out its sociological dimensions?
For example, in studying music as an example of
material culture, the historical factors that gave birth and
continuity to it are important as well as the ethnic groups
which contributed to it, and that will include something
about how they were/are located in the system of social
stratification. The actual instruments, how they are played
and the chords, beat and melodies, while of sociological
interest may also crossover into the realms of music and
ethnology and you can lose focus on sociological issues.
2 Is it researchable? In other words, can I get the
information I need in a reasonable amount of time keeping
in mind my deadlines? This will include whether
■ geographic access is possible;
■ times are convenient for myself, as researcher, and for
those providing me with information;
■ the information exists in a form that I can use;
■ people are willing to talk or help me;
■ documents or literature sources exist if first-hand
accounts (oral history) or interviews are not available.
Where does this knowledge exist? You need to think
hard about the kind of data you will need to capture.
This should set you thinking about who has this
information and whether it is likely to be readily given
up. For example, a study on pollution in a river valley
and health issues is likely to be straightforward in eliciting
information from affected persons, and in accessing
pollution data. However, if you wish to find out from
failing students why they are failing, you must know
beforehand that any number of factors/reasons will be
offered which sound plausible but may not necessarily be
true. Why is this? Interacting with human beings about a
seeming ‘failure’ brings out issues of self esteem and saving
face that you should be aware of before you even engage
with subjects. In other words, you have to deliberately
plan for such eventualities.
As researcher your job is also to recognise the variety
of information that you may get and sift through the
data to let it speak to you about each person’s location in
relation to the problem. These guidelines pertain more
to qualitative than quantitative research.
The Problem
Any research you undertake must be in relation to a
‘problem’ or issue that you feel is important enough
to warrant an investigation. The problem may be a
genuine problem or it may just be ‘problematic’, that is
an intriguing issue that needs to be clarified (see Activity
5.5). For example:
■ Problem: Students in the sixth form are apathetic about
learning. (This is a general statement outlining
something observed).
■ Problematic: Many adolescents feel a genuine sense of
connection with the United States rather than with another
Caribbean country. (This is an exploratory study looking
for how people feel about ‘belonging’ – perhaps I may
learn that people can feel ‘belongingness’ comfortably
on different levels).
What does the literature say
about the Issue / Problem?
Formulating a hypothesis
or research questions.
How to focus the inquiry
to something manageable
and researchable
the Inquiry
What research design
would make most
sense? Longitudinal
or Cross-sectional?
Figure 5.5 Conceptualising the inquiry
How to reduce bias?
How to conduct the study
according to the highest
ethical standards?
It is important to keep the problem as focused as
possible so that you can conduct something that is
researchable. If you had said, for example, that in this
school there is a high level of student failure, that would be a
valid problem but only if I had a great deal of time and
resources to investigate the many factors that contribute
to the problem.
Anyone about to embark on a research study should
take some time to carefully consider the above points.
This is called conceptualising the study and if enough
attention is paid at the preliminary stage then chances
are the results/findings of the research would be relevant
and helpful.
The Research Process
Whether you are conducting a large study involving
quantitative data or a small scale, in-depth study of a
context through a qualitative approach, the research process
is largely the same:
Inquiry Skills
A brief excerpt is given of a study which focuses on the ‘problem’. Within the text below there are notes directed at you,
the reader, in brackets. Please read and then respond to these questions:
1. Identify at least TWO sociological elements in this research study.
2. How is culture represented in this study?
3. Write out TWO separate statements describing this study in terms of (a) the problem, and (b) the objective(s).
4. How did the researcher ensure that the ‘problem’ was researchable?
5. What may be the limitations of this study?
6. Which sociological perspective is dominant in how this study has been conceptualised?
The effective use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is pivotal to Jamaica’s thrust to develop a
knowledge-based economy and achieve developed country status by 2030. Over recent years, the Government
of Jamaica (GOJ) has invested in and expanded the ICT infrastructure in a bid to boost efficiency and production;
improve telecommunications and increase access to global knowledge through the internet.
Internet penetration within the country has been on the increase reaching 39.4 per cent in 2006. While data on
internet penetration are available, information on how young people use the internet in Jamaica is sparse. In 2006
13.7 per cent of households in Jamaica reported having a computer. Of those households having computers, 44.6
per cent reported having an internet connection. Households in the KMA have both a higher percentage computer
ownership and internet connection.
(The issue being investigated here is likely to fall in the ‘problematic’ category rather than the ‘problem’
category. It is a crucial issue but it does not pose a direct threat to well-being as does, say, teenage
pregnancy, drug abuse, domestic violence and other types of social problems.)
This study is the pilot for a more comprehensive research on internet use among young people in Jamaica. It
examines internet use among young people (age 10-29) in the KMA, in terms of location of access, purpose of use
and canvasses the views of the youth on impacts of the internet on their lives now and in the future. The study will
contribute to the scant body of literature on internet use among young people in Jamaica.
Methodology – The study targeted young people in the KMA within the age group 10-29 years old. The sample
consisted of 130 persons drawn randomly from high schools, tertiary institutions and the general public. Five high
schools and two tertiary institutions within the KMA were selected randomly. A total of 130 questionnaires were
(Let us look at how this study is focused. It begins with a ‘manageable’ research effort – the KMA rather than
all of Jamaica. Secondly, it targets only youth (those in the 10–29 age group). Thirdly, the study concentrated
only on internet use and not on knowledge literacy, information management or how expert persons are in
searching the internet.)
(Source: Kelly, R. (2007). Internet Use Among Young People in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). Kingston: Planning Institute of Jamaica.
At http://pioj.gov.jm/Portals/0/Sustainable_Development/Internet%20use%20in%20the%20KMA.pdf, accessed 29 November 2013, p. 2.)
Conceptualising the study
Data collection
Data and analysis
Quantitative approaches view these processes as linear
stages and qualitative approaches see them as iterative
(repeating again and again), but both recognise them as
basic components of the research process (Figure 5.5).
The decisions you make at this stage will influence
what kind of data collection methods you will eventually
Hypotheses and Research Questions
These are precise statements which summarise the aspects
of the problem you intend to research. Hypotheses are
typically used in quantitative studies.
■ A hypothesis is a general statement or proposition
which assumes some kind of relationship between
a set of variables. An experiment or another kind of
study is then undertaken to find out whether the
hypothesis can be upheld. For example, a hypothesis
could be Lower-income students do not perform as well as
higher-income students in examinations.
■ The null hypothesis is used specifically in statistical
studies. Statistical procedures are employed to either
uphold or refute the null hypothesis. For example:
There is no difference in the performance of lower- and
higher-income students in examinations.
■ Research questions are used in both quantitative
and qualitative studies. Qualitative researchers tend
to prefer research questions to hypotheses and never
use the null hypothesis because that presupposes
statistical tests to detect a significant relationship. Whilst
qualitative research will incorporate simple statistics
such as percentages, it is highly unlikely that statistical
tests will be used. An example of how a research
question for this issue would be phrased in qualitative
research is: How do low-income and high-income students
perform on examinations?
The Literature Review
A literature review is a synthesis of the research literature
on your topic of study. It consists of a comprehensive
discussion of the issue you are researching derived
from the most up-to-date information at hand. The
latter is usually found in books, periodicals or journals
and newspapers as well as internet sources (online
databases, e-journals, e-books and articles). It attempts
to map out how this issue has been studied before, what
the main findings were, and to identify ‘gaps’ that the
present research may address. It discusses the strengths
and shortcomings of previous studies, particularly the
methods used for collecting and analysing data.
In quantitative approaches to research, which are
modeled on the scientific method, the literature review
has a well-defined place in the research report – for
example: it is usually a separate chapter or section. In
qualitative approaches, while there is a literature review,
literature is discussed throughout the study.
A literature review is also useful in other ways. It helps
to narrow down and focus the inquiry. In other words,
all the literature cited should be directly relevant to your
study. Working within this small universe of studies
on your particular topic helps you to refine, define and
clarify exactly what your study is about and what it is
not about. What your hypotheses or research questions
are should emerge in the context of other studies. In
doing this you are able to locate your research against
the background of other research on this general topic.
It is the place in the study where you can explain your
rationale for conducting this study on this topic using this
methodology and gives you the opportunity to define
key concepts and ideas.
Good research is supposed to be as systematic and
unbiased as possible. A literature review helps the
researcher to achieve this because it does not hide what
has been done before. Furthermore, by citing the sources
of the literature you help readers and others interested
in conducting similar research to find the actual studies
and compare them with what your review said about
these studies. In this way what you have written could
be reliably checked by others which increases confidence
in your study and its conclusions. All your sources must
be cited using an approved format such as the APA or the
Harvard system, for quotes within the text of the study as
well as the full citations in the reference list at the end of
the study. (This book uses the Harvard system.) Activity
5.6 on pages 143–4 explores how to develop a literature
Secondary Data
This section examines ways of finding background
information or secondary data for your research
Secondary data is information that has already been
published on the issue you are researching.
project. Whether you are conducting a field-based
research project or developing a research paper, the
information you need to help you
a conceptualise the issue better;
b support your rationale for the study;
c review the related literature will to a large extent be
found in the library and on the internet.
Table 5.2 helps you to develop a search strategy for
your project. It is a systematic procedure that saves time
and ensures that you cover all the possible aspects of the
issue that may be important.
Table 5.2 Guidelines in implementing a search strategy
What are you searching for?
Where to look?
The views of prominent authors
and researchers about a particular
sociological theory e.g. male
A sociological dictionary, a
sociological encyclopaedia or a
Marshall, G, (2005). A Dictionary of Sociology.
Oxford: Oxford Uuniversity Press. International
Encyclopaedia of the Social Science. (2007).
New York: Macmillan.
Up-to-date statistics on the issue
Statistical yearbooks, UNESCO
and World Bank sites, national
statistical organisations, CXC
CEPAL Review, 2011 [Comision Economica
Para America Latina y el Caribe] retrieved
at http://www.eclac.org/revista/default.
CARICOM - Selected Indicators at http://www.
Data: PopNet.Population Reference Bureau at
Research using methodologies
that will be used in the present
study – rationales and justification
for a specific methodology
Textbooks, online discussions
of sociological theory and social
issues, qualitative research sites,
journal articles
Subject Handbooks: Skelton, C., Francis, B.,
& Smulyan, L. (2006). The SAGE Handbook of
Gender and Education. Thousand Oaks, CA:
A historical overview of the issue
and other information about the
context and intellectual ancestry
of the problem
Textbooks, national documents,
e.g. Education Plans in different
eras, books on the history of
education in a particular country,
journal articles, bibliographies
Campbell, C. (1997). Endless Education: Main
currents in the education system of modern
Trinidad & Tobago. Kingston: JA:The Press,
UWI. Sociology: American Journal of Sociology
and Gender and Society.
Education: Caribbean Curriculum and
Caribbean Journal of Education.
Sources for reviews of research
which are relevant to this issue?
Handbooks of research in
education, journal articles,
educational digests, sociological
AERA. Review of Research in Education.
Wash. D.C.
ERIC Digests - http://www.ericdigests.
org/Sociology Central; A Level Sociology;
School Sociology; Sociological Tour Through
Topical sources of information
such as the opinions and
experiences of others where this
issue is concerned
Newspapers, blogs, online news
and feature articles, conferences,
panel discussions, radio and tv
talk shows
New York Times – Sociology Navigator.
W.W. Norton & Co. – Everyday Sociology
BlogSociology Online UK – The Sociology
Resource for Students.
Background information, theories,
original articles, specific issues
and subjects
Textbooks, journals, conference
presentations, national
organisations, and online
Primis Online; SocINDEX; The Annual Review
of Sociology; The Future of Children; IDEA – A
Journal of Social Issues;
Inquiry Skills
In the following excerpt, the topic, issue, research questions and literature review of a research study is given. Notice the
tight integration between them. Please read the excerpt and answer the following questions.
1. Identify TWO characteristics of the Literature Review that are examples of best practice.
2. What could have been included in this account?
3. Would you say that the Literature Review is written more along the lines of (a) a narrative or (b) an argument?
4. The references at the end of this study are written according to the APA system:
a. What do you notice about capitalisation of titles?
b. What do you notice about how authors’ names are written and the punctuation used?
Topic: Decline in religiosity among youth.
Issue: Religiosity of Caribbean youth: Case Study of one school.
Research Questions:
1. What is the nature of religiosity like among students in a selected secondary school in Trinidad?
2. What are the factors that influence the nature of youth religiosity?
Literature Review:
The decline in religiosity of youth is fairly well-documented world wide (Newton, 2011, Grossman & Steinberg,
2010). Broadly, religiosity may be defined as a set of institutionalised beliefs, doctrines and rituals, and ethical
standards for how to live a good life (Holder et al. 2000). This finding has been replicated time and again for
metropolitan countries but the evidence from developing countries is less conclusive (Norris & Inglehart, 2004).
Caribbean countries are developing countries under the strong influence of the youth culture of the US so this
research should provide an understanding of whether the region is closely following trends in the metropole or is
more similar to other developing countries.
The focus of this research is on the religiosity of youth at one non-denominational secondary school in Northern
Trinidad. The issue is important because church attendance, religious values and a religious orientation have been
shown by international studies to correlate positively with school achievement, punctuality, regularity, self esteem,
and, decreased risky sexual behaviours and at the same time correlates negatively with juvenile delinquency
(Regnerus, 2003, Fagan, 1996). Within a context of a persistent high crime rate in Trinidad where youth is involved
in many violent crimes (Baal, 2011), it is important for teachers, educators, planners and parents to understand the
factors that may help to decrease the incidence of crime among youth.
This study uses survey methods (questionnaires and interviews) to find out from 30 fifth formers (15 and 16 year
olds) whether they go to church and how regularly; if they do, what religion or religious organisations do they
belong to; whether their parents, guardians or other adults in the home go to church; whether they believe in
God; and, how versed they are in the religious tenets of their religion. In other words, the study is examining
religiosity among youth in this specific context in an attempt to identify the factors that influence religiosity.
International studies tend to see the family as the most important agent of religious socialisation for children
and show a strong link between family religious orientation and youth religiosity (Ozorak, 1989 and, O’Connor,
Hoge, & Alexander, 2002) and if both parents belong to the same church and attend with equal frequency then
youth religiosity increases (Bader and Desmond, 2006). The drop in youth religiosity in metropolitan countries is
linked to parents losing religiosity, inconsistent attendance and parents going to church less (Johnson et al, 2002).
The reasons offered are a dissatisfaction with what the churches offer and a preference for more individualised
worship. These findings pertain to mainstream denominations.
In the context of Trinidad the issue of religiosity is likely to differ from the situation in developed countries. There
are few studies on religiosity among youth in the Caribbean and none for a specific school which can be used
for comparison. In addition to parental influence, which is a key finding in the literature, there are likely to be
differences between the factors that motivate or demotivate different groups towards religiosity - for example,
groups defined by ethnicity, gender and, socio-economic class, as well as, those who belong to Creole religions.
In addition, type of school is important in the local context. For example, whether the school is denominational
or not could also be a factor in religiosity in terms of the influence of school culture on students. A related
point is that schools are stratified into higher and lower status schools and the former tends to correlate with
denominational schools. It is likely then that the research would identify factors that overlap in signifying the
nature of religiosity at the school under study.
Baal, R. (2011). “UN report: T&T has 2nd highest crime rate in region.” Newsday, Saturday June 18, 2011. Retrieved at http://www.
Bader, C., & Desmond, S. (2006). “Do as I say and as I do: The effects of consistent parental beliefs and behaviors upon religious
transmission.” Sociology of Religion, 67, 313–329.
Fagan, P. (1994). “Rising illegitimacy: America’s social catastrophe.” Heritage Foundation F.Y.I. No. 19.
Grossman, C., & Steinberg, S. (2010). “Forget pizza parties,’ teens tell churches.” USA Today, updated 8/11/2010. Retrieved at http://
Holder, D., Durant, R., Harris, T., Daniel, J., Obeidallah, D., & Goodman, E. (2000). The association between adolescent spirituality and
voluntary sexual activity. Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 295–302.
Johnson, C., Stanley, S., Glenn, N., Amato, P., Nock, S., Markman, H., & Dion, M. (2002). Marriage in Oklahoma: 2001 baseline
statewide survey on marriage and divorce (S02096 OKDHS). Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Newton, S. (2011). Atheism on the rise in Barcelona. Retrieved at http://pswe.net/2011/05/04/atheism-on-the-rise-in-barcelona/
Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
O’Connor, T., Hoge, D., & Alexander, E. (2002). “The relative influence of youth and adult experiences on personal spirituality and
church involvement.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41(4), pp. 723-732.
Ozorak, E. (1989). “Social and cognitive influences on the development of religious beliefs and commitment in adolescence.” Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion, 28(4):448–463.
Regnerus, M. (2003). “Religion and positive adolescent outcomes: A review of research and theory.” Review of Religious Research,
Chapter Summary
This chapter focused on research methods and especially on the quantitative and qualitative approaches
to research. The issue of what is ‘scientific’ research was discussed, particularly with reference to
qualitative research. It was emphasised that there are different approaches and philosophies governing
research, reflecting what people believe is valuable knowledge, and so some forms of research are more
dominant that others – quantitative research is more widely known and accepted than qualitative
research. However, qualitative research, focusing on the micro level, investigates social problems and
issues which cannot be captured by quantitative methods. The chapter ends with a section devoted to
the novice researcher and advice about best practice.
Halpérin, D.S., Bouvier, P., Jaffe, P.D. et al. (1996). Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse among Adolescents in Geneva: Results of a Cross
Sectional Survey. British Medical Journal, 312, pp. 1326–9.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. Hermeneutic philosophy is likely to underlie
which of the following data collection methods?
(a) correlational studies
(b) structured interviews
(c) participant-observation
(d) questionnaires
2. A sociologist who wants to study the
subcultures in a school is likely to use an
approach such as
(a) Functionalism
(b) Ethnography
(c) Conflict theory
(d) Biography
3. A sample that reflects a spectrum of views
across the society must be
(a) representative
(b) purposive
(c) correlational
(d) experimental
4. Which of the following is creating a random
(a) telemarketing staff who selects every 10th
name in the telephone book to interview
(b) marketing researchers who select adult
women in a grocery to interview about
baby formula
(c) ethnographer choosing persons in a school
to participate in a research project by
pulling names from out of a hat
(d) a teacher who studies her own class as the
5. Survey data includes all of the following
(a) journals
(b) questionnaires
(c) structured interviews
(d) observation checklists
6. Which of the following is a form of
quantitative research?
(a) biography
(b) ethnography
(c) case study
(d) content analysis
7. If a researcher is interested in conducting
a macro-level study s/he would most likely
choose which of the following topics?
(a) social stratification in a country
(b) the views of young people in a parish
about religiosity
(c) victims of crime in a particular district
(d) how students in a school choose subjects
to pursue for examinations
8. Interviews conducted in quantitative research
are likely to be
(a) unstructured
(b) conversational
(c) focus group
(d) structured
9. Which of the following best describes survey
(a) interpretivist
(b) ‘snapshot’
(c) subjective
(d) ethnographic
10. Research ethics demands that the researcher
observes ALL of the following except
(a) acknowledging the contribution of
collaborating researchers
(b) that the subjects are not harmed by the
(c) an audit trail must be left of decisions
(d) full disclosure regarding the participants
(B) Structured Response Questions
(C) Essay Questions
Each response should be about three or four lines
and carries 4 marks.
In this section some essay questions are given
(25 marks). The questions may involve further
research building on what the chapter offers. A
specimen answer to the first of these essays is
provided, with annotations. Refer back to Chapter
1 for guidelines of how to critique a sociological
(1) State FOUR reasons why research in
sociology is necessary.
(2) What are TWO advantages of using
structured interviews and TWO
(3) Explain what is meant by participantobservation and give a specific example of
how it is used in research.
(4) Describe the steps of the scientific method.
(5) Briefly outline TWO arguments you
would use to respond to the question, ‘Is
sociological research scientific?’.
(6) Explain what is meant by a hypothesis.
(7) State FOUR reasons why researchers conduct
a literature review.
(8) Formulate TWO research questions for a
quantitative study about the health status of
elderly persons in a country.
(9) Describe how codes are formed in qualitative
data analysis.
(10) State FOUR ways through which quantitative
data can be displayed.
(1) For a research topic of your own choice,
explain why it is a significant research issue
and worthy of being studied. Give a rationale
for the methodology you would employ
and formulate TWO research questions or
(2) Describe TWO ethical dilemmas that a
researcher may face and how s/he justifies
the decisions about how to proceed.
(3) Assess the strengths and weaknesses of
using questionnaires as a data collection
(4) Discuss the statement: Qualitative research is
not scientific and quantitative research is.
(5) Examine the procedures involved in
analysing qualitative data and their
strengths and weaknesses.
Sample Answer and Critique
For a research topic of your own choice, explain why it is a significant research issue and worthy of being studied.
Give a rationale for the methodology you would employ and formulate TWO research questions or hypotheses.
A research topic that interests me is the issue of crime and how citizens think about it and devise strategies
to keep themselves safe. Crime has escalated in many Caribbean countries over the last decade and
in some countries where it has not been a problem in the past, for example St Lucia and Barbados,
violent crimes such as robbery and murder are now a common occurrence. I will give a justification
about why this is a potentially important and valuable area of study and research. Then I will discuss
the methodology I would employ and formulate two research questions to examine the issue.
The perspectives of citizens on the escalation of crime in the small islands and countries of the
Caribbean is an important area of sociological research because of the right people have to feel
secure in their own environment. According to the human development paradigm, a country cannot
effectively attain ‘developed’ status if its people are traumatised daily by horrific crimes and if they
feel that they are potential victims (ul Haq, 1995). Nevertheless the development model that seems to
inform present governments is one that places emphasis on the trappings of development in the form
of huge infrastructure works and buildings rather than a relentless policy on crime fighting. It is
possible that given the heavy involvement of South American and Mexican drug cartels in the
region that national governments feel that their resources are miniscule and all they can do is to try
to contain the problem, especially to crime ‘hot spots’ (Figueira, 2013). Finally, if ordinary citizens
feel constantly threatened they may resort to vigilante-type behaviour and take the law into their
own hands, they may migrate to escape, they may agitate and demonstrate or they may become
apathetic and lose interest in being patriotic and law abiding. All these options will negatively
impact development.
Since this is an issue where the in-depth feelings and beliefs of participants are required, the qualitative
paradigm best fits the purposes of this study. Qualitative research is informed by a constructivist
epistemology – reality is understood to be always being negotiated and built up by the experiences
people have and what observations they make of social life (Creswell,1998). It is also informed by
hermeneutics so that to better understand a person’s motives for action, the researcher must share
in how s/he constructs meaning and interprets events. Thus if a neighbour is mugged or murdered,
people in the neighbourhood may become fearful and begin a series of neighbourhood watches and
patrols, if they can afford it.
Qualitative research can also unearth beliefs and values that are difficult to explain. For example, the
researcher may come across those persons who feel that they are indestructible or who don’t care about the
state of crime in the country or who believe that everything is gang- and drug- related so that they should be
safe. Not everyone feels the same level of threat. Thus, the researcher must also investigate persons living in
upscale neighbourhoods who have guard dogs, burglar alarms, and automatic gates. They may feel unsafe but
perhaps not as unsafe as the poor person who leaves work late in the night and has to find public transport to
trends, some
and gives
examples of
Using the
literature on
the human
paradigm as a
rationale – citizen
Links made
between the
data needed
and the tenets
of qualitative
More thoughtful
and insightful
ideas to inform
the research
design and data
go home. Conversational, unstructured interviews would be the most useful form of data collection
(Silverman, 2010). Since this takes up a lot of time both in collecting and analysing data, the sample must
be small – say, about 10 persons depending on timelines and resources.
The researcher may decide to include 5 well-to-do persons and 5 persons in a lower income bracket. Because
of the small-scale nature of the project, the researcher would not be able to include persons from all over the
country. S/he might decide to deliberately select the 5 low-income persons from crime hot spots, acting on the
assumption that the well to do would hardly live in such areas. In so doing, the researcher would be spreading
his/her sample in at least two quite separate and distinct areas of the country.
Gender may be a consideration and the researcher might opt for 5 males and 5 females. Age is also a
consideration. However, this is not a quantitative study where there would be many more persons in
the sample so it could be stratified by any number of variables – age, race, gender, place of residence,
and so on. In a qualitative study with a small sample, looking for in-depth understanding of a
phenomenon, and not for a generalisation, it is not as important to cover all the variables. Whomever
the researcher finally gets to comprise the sample will have valuable information to give because
crime is a major concern.
Two possible research questions are:
1. To what extent do citizens, in different areas, feel threatened by the level of crime in the country?
2. What strategies, if any, do citizens employ to increase their sense of security?
In keeping with the tenets of qualitative research, these questions are open-ended and exploratory.
They seek to unearth ways of thinking about crime that may have never been articulated by the subject
and discussed with others. Such an interview must necessarily touch on that person’s economic and
home circumstances and so information that is highly sensitive and confidential may emerge. One key
aspect of the methodology is adherence to a high standard of ethical behaviour when treating with the
participants and the information they have given.
Cresswell, J. (1998). Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Traditions.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Figueira, D. (2013). The Caribbean and the Cartels. Trinidad Express Newspapers online, 5 March 2013. At
http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/The_Caribbean_and_the_cartels-195482361.html, accessed
29 November 2013.
Silverman, D. (2010). Doing Qualitative Research: A Practical Handbook. 3rd ed. Thousand Oakes, CA:
ul Haq, M. (1995). Reflections on Human Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
How the
researcher works
out details – by
reference to the
purposes of the
Comparison with
approaches to
Introduction to
Social Institutions
In this Part you will apply almost all the
terms, concepts, principles and research
methods explained in Part I to the study of
specific social institutions. Three of the major
social institutions are singled out in Part II
for detailed and systematic study – the family,
religion and education. A social institution in
sociology is one of its most fundamental
concepts because it is through social institutions
that sociology seeks to organise society for us
to study. Social institutions are not tangible
entities, but ideas we all buy into to make sense
of society. For example, ‘the family’ does not
refer just to people who live in different families
but to the ideas, values and beliefs in the society
that influence the family. The same applies
to religion and education.
The Caribbean social institutions of the family, religion and education
are studied in this Part and compared to these social institutions in
other countries. Sociology is particularly strong in its comparative
focus, operating on the principle that you cannot fully understand what
you have unless you study what others have as well.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise
that the family is:
a core social institution in all societies forming the ‘base’ of the social system;
understood in different ways by the sociological perspectives;
according to Functionalism (the dominant source of ideas about the family), responsible
for carrying out certain ‘functions’ to ensure a stable society, for example, primary
the subject of research and theorising that suffers from myths and ethnocentrism;
very diverse in the Caribbean so much so that theorists are still locked in disagreement
over the variety of ethnic family types and family practices;
subject to continuity and change such as the changing roles of men and women;
the site where gender socialisation first develops resulting in gender roles, identities, and
ideologies that influence family life and wider social interaction;
experiencing threats to its ‘stability’ through domestic violence, child abuse, divorce and
teenage pregnancy.
Social Institutions:
The Family
The family as we know it is not quite the same thing as the social institution of the family.
When sociologists refer to ‘the family’ they include our experiences of family life but they
also focus on the intangible world of values, ideas, and beliefs that groups in a society hold about
caring for, rearing and educating its new members and at the same time providing for the
basic needs of adults. Some of these ideas are dominant and some are marginal. Dominant
ideas about family are easily seen in the society, represented tangibly in the social
organisations we know as ‘families’. Marginal ideas about family are held by a minority and
are reflected in families which are organised differently to the norms of a society. Although
ideas about family vary widely, sociologists recognise that in all societies now and in the
past, certain relationships were put in place to take care of the basic needs of the unborn,
of children and adults, thereby assuring the continuity of the society.
In this chapter we focus initially on the beliefs, myths and assumptions about the family and
our common-sense understandings of families. We will find that the Caribbean has proved
to be a place that turned many of the conventional theories about family upside down, and
so we critically examine research on the different types of Caribbean family. Finally, we look
at the changes in and challenges faced by the contemporary family in the Caribbean.
Ideas about the Family
The term ‘social institution’ is a device that sociology
uses to study the influence of ideas, values and beliefs
on what people choose to do. The social institution of
family is the ‘repository’ of all the ideas, beliefs and values
about family that people in a society hold (dominant and
marginal) and the organisations and practices to which
they give rise.
Over time dominant ideas struggle with other ideas
about family, such as changing ideas and practices in the
economy that caused a shift from agrarian organisation
to capitalism and industry in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This impacted the family in part through the changing
role of women. These realities – women going out to
work, family bonds becoming more fragile, children
left unsupervised for long periods – stemmed from
changes in the economy and led to the questioning and
challenging of the dominant idea that a woman’s place
was in the home. What were then ‘alternative ideas’ are
now increasingly dominant, namely that women, like
men, should find fulfillment wherever they choose to do
so. Today, we continue to see this struggle of ideas about
family being played out in the social institution of the
family and having tangible effects in actual families, one
of which is the social problem of domestic violence.
Sociology employs a cross-cultural or comparative
perspective that enables us to examine families in
different cultures or places so that we are better placed to
understand our own practices. This means that we don’t
fall into the trap of thinking that because our families
are organised in a certain way other families are also like
that. Or that our ideas about family are ‘normal’ whilst
other ideas are strange, or dysfunctional.
In this section we pay attention to the ideas about
family that influence how we think about families.
Thinking about family, studying the family, and
implementing reforms affecting families in the society
are complicated by problems with definitions, conflicting
ideas, and myths. The task of the sociologist is to clarify
these issues and show how they are embedded in social
experience – in perceptions, dominant ideas, and even
ethnocentric theorising.
Definitions, Diversity and Dynamism
Here we look closely at the problems posed in trying to
define the family and later some of the myths that persist
about families. This is an interesting sociological exercise
as it will help in ‘making the familiar strange’ and gives
us a better grasp of our own thinking on the matter.
Sociology texts and social studies classes tend to define
‘the family’ as uniform with only minor variants. The
following is a long-established definition of the family that
still influences how we view family today.
The family is a social group characterised by common
residence, economic co-operation, and reproduction. It
includes adults of both sexes, at least two of whom
maintain a socially approved sexual relationship, and
one or more children, own or adopted, of the sexually
cohabitating adults.
(Murdock, 1949, p.1)
Murdoch intended this definition to apply specifically
to the American family. However, it was widely applied
and though later definitions vary somewhat, they tend
to maintain these general ideas about what a family is.
It was inevitable then that American sociologists and
anthropologists studying family in different parts of
the world, including the Caribbean, used such narrow
definitions as a standard by which to examine family in
other cultures.
Defining ‘family’ is not just an interesting abstract
exercise, it has practical significance. Census data is based
on the idea of the family as the smallest unit of society
and hence requires a reliable definition of the family to
make the data meaningful to the country. A census is a
national undertaking, conducted about every 10 years,
in which a vast amount of data is collected from families
and households that helps planners and policymakers to
“And how many are living in this dwelling – enlightened
or otherwise?”
get a picture of the trends that are occurring related to
marriage, divorce, and other cohabiting arrangements,
size of families, ages of children, family income, number
of adults employed/unemployed, change in residence
and migration patterns, and other information. Census
data are then fed into developmental plans and eventually
become the basis for social policy on how to deal with
family-related issues in the country.
The problem arises when definitions of the family used
in census tabulations are applied generally in the study of
the family. Sociologists today see an obvious difference
between ‘family’ and ‘household’. They view ‘family’ as
a relationship between persons whilst ‘household’ is a more
definable entity that can be counted and classified. For
■ It is not uncommon in the Caribbean (and elsewhere)
for closely related family members to live apart.
Children may be sent to the towns to be closer to
schools, parents may migrate, or children may grow up
with a grandparent.
■ There may be non-family members in the household
such as when distant relatives or children of friends
come to stay for a while, sometimes a long while,
to go to school or work; they become a part of the
■ It is fairly common for adults having a sexual
relationship, even those who have children, to live
apart (known as the visiting relationship).
■ We have some connections that are very much ‘like
family’ yet there is no blood relationship and persons
do not necessarily live in the same household. Fictive
kinship relationships, for example godparents, are based
on friendship and obligation between godparents, the
biological parents and the children concerned.
Not so common in the Caribbean is the appearance
of same-sex families. In addition, the increase in
divorce worldwide leads to many varieties of singleparent and blended or reconstituted families, who may or
may not occupy the same household. Any definition
must acknowledge this complexity and by the same
token state the purposes for which it has been created.
Recently, more sociologically oriented definitions of
the family bring in the idea of kin, that is, all those who
consider themselves to be family members or who feel a sense of
relatedness to others they regard as family. This may or may
not coincide with the traditional idea of a household, yet
this has always been part of Caribbean reality.
The trend today is to recognise family diversity (see
Box 6.1) because it gives a truer picture of how families
actually form and exist. However, many of the older
ideas continue to be dominant. These portray families
BOX 6.1
Family Diversity: Types and Composition
‘Who makes up the family?’ is an enduring question
in the sociology of the family, so much so that
once that was answered scholars felt that they had
defined the family. The many family types described
below shows us that it is impossible to include
them all under one definition. It also attests to the
varieties of ideas, values and beliefs about family in
the social institution of the family.
Nuclear – A family consisting of parents and
children alone in one household. The parents
are joined by a conjugal (married or common law)
relationship. This is considered to be a ‘norm’
in Western countries and even in the Caribbean
there are ideologies which set it up as the ‘ideal’
family. The Functionalist perspective regards this
family form as superior for the purposes of child
socialisation, love and belonging.
Extended – A family consisting of grandparents,
parents and children as well as aunts and uncles
in one household. Many variants of this occur in
the Caribbean amongst African, East Indian and
Amerindian families. At some point in the family
life course, most families in the Caribbean have
had an extended arrangement. One example is the
joint family (see Box 6.2)
Visiting relationship – Perhaps first identified
in the Caribbean, perhaps even unique to the
Caribbean, this family is described as one where a
man and woman have a stable union, but are not
legally married or cohabiting.
Single-parent families – A parent (usually
the mother) and child or children who live in one
household. This may result from the death of a
spouse, divorce, separation, or choice (e.g. a
decision to adopt or the parent
may have never married). There
are single parents who have a
co-parenting relationship with
the other parent although they
are not co-residential. This kind
of diversity is not recognised by
census-takers. Female-headed
families of this kind are usually
matrifocal, and involve a close
relationship between the mother
and her children.
Common-law unions – In
this family a man and woman
have a stable relationship which
is co-residential but they are
not married. This could also be
considered to be a nuclear family.
In some Caribbean countries this family is recognised
in law whereas the visiting relationship is not.
Sibling families – Those persons comprising the
household are brothers and sisters and possibly
children of these siblings. Parents and grandparents
may have died or moved away. Usually an older
brother or sister takes over the parents’ role in
caring for younger members.
Step families/Reconstituted/Blended
families – In these families one or both parents
have children from former marriages and unions.
Those not related by blood are variously called
stepmother, stepsister, stepbrother and stepfather.
They may or may not all reside in the same
household. Any children born to the parents in the
present arrangement become the half-brothers
and half-sisters of the children from previous
In-vitro Families – These are families which
have had children through assisted reproduction
such as in-vitro fertilisation or IVF. For example,
where the female partner in a couple is unable to
produce a fertile ova (pl. ovae – the word means
‘egg’), the male partner’s sperm is injected into
another woman (or surrogate), who will carry
the foetus to term for the couple. This is called
‘artificial insemination’. Alternatively, where the
male partner’s sperm count is low, the female
partner may be inseminated with another man’s
sperm. If the female partner is infertile (i.e. not
producing many ovae), her ovaries are stimulated
by a hormone injection into producing large
numbers of ovae, some of which are then selected
for fertilisation in a test tube (in vitro).
BOX 6.1
Family Diversity: Types and Composition
These arrangements are highly controversial,
explicitly outlawed by some religions and not well
served by society’s laws which are modelled on
traditional ideas of reproduction.
Polygamous Families – Polygamy is an
umbrella term. Polygny specifically refers to one
man having several wives. Polyandry – where one
woman has more than one husband – is extremely
rare. In some parts of Africa and Asia and among
tribal peoples the world over, polygny is common.
in a uniform way based on the household and they are
actually misleading when applied to contexts such as the
Caribbean. They are also misleading for other cultural
contexts which may have one dominant form of the
family but that form is very different from what obtains
in Western countries (Box 6.2, page 155). But what
exists in the West is also becoming increasingly diverse.
The arrangements discussed in Box 6.2 are all extended
family arrangements, two being households and one being
a combination of households. Thus, even the definition
of what is an ‘extended’ family is quite problematic.
They all show the prevalence of patriarchy as a dominant
gender ideology in agricultural communities. Even when
members move to the cities and form nuclear families,
strong ties still bind them into at least some of the values
of their original households – gender ideology, reverence
for the elderly, communal good – which make it easier
to go and come and participate in religious and family
gatherings in their ancestral home.
This discussion highlights the important point often
ignored in the study of family types that they are not
just arrangements of people and roles but that they are
underpinned by certain values. Families in Palestine,
Japan and India as we have seen in Box 6.2 have a strong
commitment to the wider family collective, strengthened
by religion requiring participation in rituals and
celebrations as family events. In Palestine it is also a matter
of sheer survival because they live as a subject people or
in refugee camps. Even when persons decide to set up
nuclear households those families may resemble nuclear
families in the US or Europe but they are less likely to
want to be completely autonomous from their original
Islam and other religions and sects allow polygny
or plural marriages. However, in most Western
countries polygamy of any kind is illegal and the
law specifically states that a person can only be
legally married to one person at one point in time.
To avoid a charge of bigamy polygamists tend to
marry only one wife legally and marry other wives
through religious rites. In polygamy the families
live together or have close relationships. Polygny
tends to reflect a patrifocal emphasis in society.
Devising an adequate definition of the family is
difficult because of the obvious connections between a
‘family’ and a ‘household’. Census-takers hold the view
that, for their purposes, the household is equated with a
family. They admit that not all members in a household
may be family members but they separate out those
members who are related and treat them as the family
household. This may lead to absurd conclusions. For
example, a childless couple is considered to be a nonfamily household. Many times the definition used by
census-takers is too narrow to accommodate the realities
of family life.
Traditional definitions of the family tend to portray
it as a static entity over time but that is belied by the
family cycle. Figure 6.1 (page 156) depicts the processes of
development that a family may experience over time. It
begins with a new union and then charts all the changes
the family undergoes until the original parents are elderly
(Smith et al. 2009, p. 70). While the family cycle brings
to light some of the inner dynamics of family life, the
stages as portrayed in Figure 6.1 apply again largely to
American and European contexts and the ‘norm’ of the
nuclear family. You may find it helpful to adapt the family
cycle to your own cultural contexts because all families
undergo change over time. Charting the life course of our
own families helps us to grasp how the needs of our family
changed over time and how that may have influenced
their form and function. Thinking of family in this way
makes it clear that trying to establish a homogenising
idea of family is not helpful in today’s world. We have to
adjust our thinking to embrace diversity and dynamism
and while that may be cumbersome and untidy it better
represents reality.
BOX 6.2
Family Diversity across Cultures
These are some examples of family diversity in
other cultures.
This is the extended family form of Palestine. It
includes several families who are related to each
other through the male line. Hamulas are rural
family organisations which share agricultural work
and function as a political organisation for Arabs
living under the dominance of Israel. A code of
honour binds all clan members, especially males, in
loyalty towards the hamula. It can be described as
a clan or kinship system rather than the ‘family’ or
‘household’ typical of Western sociology. Females,
if they marry ‘out’, will belong to the hamula of
their husbands. Some hamulas are powerful in
domestic politics. Decision-making about the lives
and fortunes of all members, including marriages,
are made by the oldest male relative, usually
the head of the village. Family boundaries are
wider than in the Western notions of family and
members work closely in everyday activities. In
urban areas, the nuclear family has been on the
increase yet people there still maintain strong ties
to their village hamula and bear allegiance to their
kin making decisions that uphold clan values.
Stem Family
This is a type of multi-generation household that
has existed in Japan for centuries and is an example
of an extended family. The household consists
of a succession of first sons (for example, both
the grandfather and father in the house are first
sons), with their wives and small children. Younger
sons leave and set up their own households. It is a
patriarchal system where the head is always a male.
With increasing industrialisation and urbanisation,
the stem household has been giving way to nuclear
arrangements, especially in the cities. However, it
seems to be resilient and some nuclear households
Myths about the Family
The sociology of the family as an area of research interest
has been greatly influenced by European and North
American scholarship. Without a doubt ethnocentric
myths and theories crept into the study of Caribbean
families. One of the most significant of these is the
instalment of the nuclear family as the universal standard
or model for family. This ‘ideal’ holds sway even though
for the majority of Caribbean people our families are of the
over time are reverting to the stem family as
elderly parents are taken in to help with child care
and reduce the expense of maintaining multiple
households. In choosing to strengthen the stem
family in contemporary times, some Japanese are
also choosing
… to put the collective interests of the group
before their own personal interests’
(Cheal, 2002, p. 25)
But overall the nuclear family is the most typical
type of family in urban areas and that emphasises
autonomy and personal interests.
Joint Family
This is an extended family arrangement found
largely among Hindus in India and parts of the
diaspora, and refers to a multi-generational
household. Usually as male members marry they
bring their wives into the household so all males
are blood relatives. They may have different
rooms or apartments in a large house or occupy
annexes in a compound. The household consists
of grandparents, their sons with their wives and
children, and unmarried daughters. The head is
usually the oldest male who directs all the family
affairs (a patriarchal system). Household chores and
activities are shared and monies are communally
organised and spent. In the Caribbean the joint
family is found in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname
among Indian families, whether Hindu or Muslim.
Both in India and the Caribbean though, this
family type has been gradually breaking down
into nuclear families for those of a higher socioeconomic status and the professional class. For
the rest of the people the joint family provides
much needed support and stability especially in
uncertain economic conditions.
extended type and the male is not the sole breadwinner.
All the different family types in North America and
the Caribbean should undermine the significance and
importance placed on the nuclear family, but to a large
extent it continues to be a durable image as something
close to what an ideal family should be like (e.g. Figure
6.1 where progression and dynamism is based on the
nuclear model). This amounts to an ideology that excludes
the possibility of alternatives. It leads us into talking
1 Establishing the Family
Courtship and marriage or co-habitation sometimes on their own or
sometimes at one of their parents’ homes.
2 Childbearing Family
Infants and new roles of ‘father and ’mother’. Financial pressures mount in
taking care of babies and perhaps paying for a home.
3 Family with Pre-schoolers
Sometimes, babies come along while their siblings are not yet of school
age. The family needs additional space and more support in looking after
the needs of babies and toddlers. Financial pressures continue to grow.
4 Family with School Aged Children
Parents now have to cope with outside authorities (teachers, social workers,
other parents) on matters of child rearing. Children learn that much variation
seems to exist in other families. Secondary socialisation.
5 Family with Teenagers
Adolescents bring their needs to establish their own identities to family
interactions. Peer pressure. Family conflict may escalate if members do not
find ways to balance teenagers’ needs for more autonomy with recognising
their obligations.
6 Family with Young Adults
Launching them into the world of work or further study; helping them learn to
be autonomous. This may happen as the oldest leaves first and so on. New
people come into the family from time to time as friends, co-workers and love
interests of the adult children. Parents continue to be a source of support.
7 Family with Middle Aged Parents
Empty nest syndrome. Children move away and have their own families.
Retired parents now have to adjust to daily life. Grandchildren come into
the picture.
8 Family of Aged parents
Adapting to aging or death. The original home may be closed as an elderly
parent moves in with a child or is institutionalised.
Figure 6.1 Dynamism in the family: The family cycle
easily about ‘the breakdown of the family’, ‘broken
homes’, ‘dysfunctional families’ and casting the ‘single
parent family’ in a negative light. If the nuclear family
is the norm then it is possible to hold the argument that
divorce, separation and single parent families are evidence
that there is ‘breakdown in the society’ and ‘its moral
fabric’. However, there is such a variety of families, in the
past and today – including many without a husband and
wife as an important element in their make-up – that to
label a home as ‘broken’ or ‘dysfunctional’ just because
it does not conform to the ‘nuclear model’ fails to
recognise that the nuclear family was not ‘the model’ in
the first place. Perceptions that the nuclear family is an
‘ideal family type’ assume that what goes on in families
is governed by its form or composition (which is in fact
merely a pattern or structure).
Theorising the Caribbean Family
Research is a process that investigates issues that we have
formulated based on our ideas and emerging theories
but which also highlights relationships and connections
we may not have considered. This is the great advantage
of research – if conducted properly it can bring new
understanding that may challenge our original ideas.
The story of research into the Caribbean family in the
early 20th century uncovers the role ethnocentric beliefs
played in shaping what researchers saw as important.
The family types and living arrangements encountered
by early researchers included some that were difficult
to classify because of their fluidity, but others were
variously described as single-parent families, extended
families, visiting unions, common law unions, nuclear
families, grandmother-headed households, one family
with children of different fathers, fathers with different
families and fathers being marginal to their families.
In addition, marriage was not a widespread practice in
lower-income groups and so most of the children were
described as ‘illegitimate’. Researchers largely confined
their attention to family in lower-income groups and to
Afro-Caribbean people. Their main concern was to find
explanations for these family forms and so early theories
about family in the Caribbean focused on the origins of
the family.
The story begins with opposing theories put forward
by two Americans, Franklin Frazier and Melville
Herskovits (see Chapter 2). Frazier thought that slavery
was responsible for the typical characteristics he noted,
such as the high incidence of families headed by mothers
and the low incidence of marriage. He felt that slavery in
its effects was so totalising that much of the culture of the
enslaved – their courting and marriage rituals, their
family and child rearing practices – were eroded away.
On arrival in the New World Africans were separated
from those who had been their companions on the slave
ships. Every effort was made to mix up the enslaved
population on the plantation to disrupt any common
allegiances such as tribe, kin and linguistic ties. They
were forced to communicate through pidgin languages.
Losing their ancestral languages, together with not being
able to practise many of their religious rites and
ceremonies, went a long way towards removing the
enslaved groups’ ties to their traditional African tribal
cultures. However, some historical studies have cast
doubts on this view (see Sociological Thinking below).
Some researchers today dispute whether planters
were ever able to keep the enslaved nicely
distributed across many different tribal and
linguistic groups or prevent shipmates from being
sent to the same plantation (Warner-Lewis, 2003).
Detailed studies of specific plantations show
remarkable variations in family organisation among
enslaved Africans and that two-headed households
were common (Craton, 2001). Furthermore, the
idea that lower-income African groups post-slavery
are still dominated by matrifocal families is a
stereotype that doesn’t accurately deal with fathers
and the men of the family. Matrifocality itself has
a variety of meanings needing to be explored
(Mohammed, 1999).
Frazier theorised that in such an environment African
men could not maintain stable unions; they or members of
their families could be sold off at any time and the white
planter could lay claim to any female member whenever he
desired. African men having children with different women,
who resided with their mothers, was a natural response to
the conditions which prevailed. It led to a situation where
men were marginal to the family; both women and men
were thought of as promiscuous, having numerous sexual
liaisons, and marriage in such circumstances could not
be a ‘normal’ milestone event. Frazier witnessed these
aspects of family life among Africans in lower socioeconomic classes in North America and the Caribbean
and saw them as the indelible marks of slavery in family
organisation. He compared these family forms to what was
considered the ‘ideal’, the nuclear family, and inevitably
labeled them as disorganised and dysfunctional.
Enter Melville Herskovits. He felt that African cultural
forms had survived slavery and that family life among
African Caribbean people was based, to a large extent, on
the social institution of the family in West Africa. These
cultural retentions did not survive completely intact but it
was possible to trace, say, West African family practices and
values in the family arrangements evident in the Caribbean
amongst those in the lower social classes. For example:
■ Unlike North America and Europe, the customary
system relating to the inheritance of land in the
Caribbean is very much like that of West Africa.
For example, there is no discrimination between
legitimate and illegitimate status; in fact in West Africa
illegitimacy as a concept is almost unknown (perhaps
because polygamy is widespread and accepted).
Moreover, daughters are equal to sons in inheritance
rights (Antoine, 2008).
■ R.T. Smith (1956) noted the close resemblance of
family patterns and customs between rural Guyanese
of African descent and the Akan peoples of West
Africa – such as names, obeah, taboos, birth rituals and
a kinship structure with a strong mother-and-child
bond. The Akan have a matrilineal family structure.
In a matrilineal structure descent and inheritance is
traced through the mother’s line
Smith theorised that because of the dislocation caused
by slavery West African cultural patterns could not
have been retained intact but would have undergone
some change (i.e. Herskovits’ argument). In Guyana
lower-income Afro-Guyanese tend to have strong
matrifocal relationships, whether a father is present or
not – suggesting the survival of a core aspect of
matrilineal families (Ifill, 2003).
The esusu of West Africa (known as the sou-sou in
Trinidad today) is also found in other Caribbean
contexts. An informal group, sometimes families and
friends, pool money every few weeks, and at the end
of a set period, on a rotating basis, one individual is
awarded the total sum (called a ‘hand’).
Although both theories of the origins of the Caribbean
family remained as separate and distinct arguments
influencing the work of many historians, anthropologists
and sociologists, some scholars felt that both could be
brought together. Sidney Mintz and Robert Price
(1976) felt that both Frazier and Herskovits looked for
discrete practices in Caribbean cultural life, such as
‘mother-headed households’, and tried to relate them
either to an African origin or to a New World origin.
Such a stance was naïve and ahistorical, according to
Mintz and Price (meaning that it ignored historical
development and traditions). Inevitably, Africans
brought to bear creativity and synthesis in responding
to the circumstances in which they found themselves
by melding African cultural forms with the conditions
of the New World. Mintz and Price therefore argued
against the either/or controversy of the African versus
New World origins of Afro-Caribbean families and
suggested a creolisation argument of fusion into new
forms. This view of the ‘origins debate’ is an interpretive
view that underscores human agency in re-creating and
reinventing culture especially in new circumstances.
Activity 6.1 opposite allows you to explore historical
marriage patterns across the Caribbean.
Another idea that challenged the ‘origins’ of the
Caribbean family was that put forward by Oscar Lewis
(1959) who emphasised economic factors, namely
poverty, in shaping family forms and relationships. The
culture of poverty, the popular label given to this theory,
says that the poor have a culture of their own based on
the risky, unstable and unpredictable nature of their lives.
They adapt to these conditions by developing certain
traits and attitudes and these are passed on to children
who continue the lifestyle or culture (see Box 6.3).
From a sociological point of view this was a
structural-functionalist study which sought to show
that the Caribbean or black American family was not
‘dysfunctional’ but had devised certain ways (functional
adaptation) of coping with economic marginalisation.
We must keep in mind that these theories only have
partial explanatory power. For example, if the theorist
says that the black family form is a positive ‘adaptation’ to
poverty, why are similar forms seldom found among other
impoverished groups such as Indians in the Caribbean?
Inquiry Skills
Look at Table 6.1 below and answer these questions:
1. a. Which three countries have the most females who ‘never married’?
b. Which three countries have the most females who ‘married’?
c. What can possibly account for the differences noted?
2. State the types of unions that the category ‘never married’ could include.
3. What factors do you think can explain the differences in the percentage
of males and females who are widowed?
4. Most countries show a higher percentage of married men than married women.
How can you explain this statistic?
5. To what extent has this picture changed since 1991?
Table 6.1 Percentage distribution of population aged 15 yrs and over by marital status and sex, 1990–1
15 yrs+
% distribution by marital status
Antigua &
% distribution by marital status
St KittsNevis
St Lucia
St Vincent &
Trinidad &
Key: NM = Never married, M =Married, W = Widowed, D = Divorced, S = Separated, = Not stated.
For The Bahamas, never married includes common-law status.
For Trinidad & Tobago, excluding 22,705 females and 20,542 males who were attending
either primary or secondary school full-time (aged 15+).
Source: Compiled by the CARICOM Secretariat from (i) 1990-1991 Population and Housing Census of the Commonwealth Caribbean-Volume
of Basic Tables for Sixteen CARICOM Countries, Regional Census Office, Trinidad and Tobago, and (ii) data provided by Member States.
Adapted from Caricom (2003), p. 20.
BOX 6.3
The Culture of Poverty Thesis
Oscar Lewis was mainly concerned with showing
how adaptations to poverty resulted in cultural
values that became self perpetuating. He (and
others) identified a number of traits, norms and
dispositions that he said were adaptations to the
conditions of poverty which eventually became a
lifestyle, a culture. For example:
• instant gratification – living for the present,
being fatalistic;
• low aspirations – high incidence of school drop
outs, underachievement and illiteracy;
• women as centre of house and home – also,
more likely to be more fully employed than men;
• men as marginal and occasional contributors –
norms of masculinity do not include economic
• men as sharp dressers, fathers of many children,
having ‘bling’ ornaments;
• families with a high incidence of unwed
mothers, teen pregnancies and cohabitation
rather than marriage;
• little reliance on banks – no savings, few or no
investment strategies.
Lewis’s research in Mexico, India and the United
States led him to believe that women deliberately
chose to head households because it gave them
greater freedom and flexibility in organising their
lives under impoverished conditions. By not getting
married they strengthened the bond between
themselves and their children. They could thus
To sum up:
This section explored the variety of issues that
impinge on the idea that the family can be defined
as a uniform entity. Census activities have confused
our understanding of a family and a household,
promoting the nuclear family as the ‘ideal form’ and
equating it with the household. These definitions
that were widely accepted elsewhere could not
accommodate the variety of family types found in
the Caribbean. Research focused on attempting to
find a historical explanation for the Afro-Caribbean
family by treating slavery or culture or poverty as
major factors.
be free to discontinue their relationships with
the father of the children when circumstances
warranted – for example, when they could no
longer support the family. Men, on the other hand
adapted to this situation by exhibiting attitudes
admitting to ‘manly flaws’ such as unbridled virility,
machismo and irresponsibility in sexual and family
Theories about the origins of the Caribbean and
New World black families focus largely on culture
– either culture that was an adaptation to life on
the plantations (Frazier) or to poverty (Lewis), or
retentions from Africa (Herskovits) or as creolised
African retentions (Mintz and Price). Much of this
could be viewed as Functionalist-related theorising,
casting culture as a set of discrete characteristics
that most members of an ethnic group share
(the creolisation thesis to a lesser extent, since
it has ‘agency’ at its heart). But, there is also the
view that within an ethnic group even amongst
those of lower socio-economic standing there are
large variations in cultural values and behaviours.
Moreover, having a certain cultural orientation
does not mean that one would act it out so that
behaviours cannot necessarily be assumed based
on the culture of one’s group. In the work now
being done by interpretive and postmodern
scholars values are separated from perceptions and
attitudes from behaviours – they are no longer
lumped together as a straightforward package.
This increases the levels of diversity in everyday
social life.
Theoretical Perspectives
on the Family
Functionalism is the dominant sociological perspective
on the social institution of the family, but Marxist/
Conflict and Interpretive perspectives are becoming more
important as a critique of functionalist explanations. In
addition, Feminist perspectives (largely an off shoot of
Marxist and Interpretive theories) are discussed below.
Functionalism, the earliest perspective in sociology,
likened society to an organism in which all parts had to
be ‘healthy’ for the whole entity to function optimally.
It did not focus so much on the parts but emphasised a
holistic view of society and the role of norms, culture
and social institutions. By the middle of the 20th century
however this portrayal had shifted to a specific focus on
the different ‘parts’ (namely, social institutions) and how
they met social needs, mainly that of social stability and
the continuity of society. Emphasis was now placed on
the structural or system aspects of social interactions and
the perspective became known as structural functionalism.
For the most part Functionalism and Structuralfunctionalism can be thought of as representing the same
point of view or perspective.
Functionalists view any social institution as having
‘functions’, that is, a role to play in stabilising the society.
Murdock outlined the most important ‘functions’ of a
■ socialisation of children into the culture of the society
(ensuring the continuance of society);
■ reproducing the next generation (ensuring the
continuance of society);
■ economic function in providing food and shelter
(ensuring the continuance of the family);
■ sexual function in providing for and satisfying the sex
drive (ensuring the continuance of the family and
confining sexual relations to the family).
His work was extended by Talcott Parsons one of
the major theorists in functionalist sociology. Whilst
he agreed with Murdock generally he saw the most
important functions of the family as:
a the socialisation of children into the norms, values and
beliefs (culture) of society; and
b the stabilisation of adult personalities that is, the family
provides a private place (a safe haven) where adults can
relax and be their ‘natural’ selves.
Like Murdock, he thought that the nuclear family was
the most suitable family form to help facilitate all these
important functions. For example, the sexual differentiation
of labour within the nuclear family was an efficient
arrangement, with the male cast as breadwinner and the
female as homemaker. It is important that you see that
this was a ‘functional’ arrangement – the nuclear family
provided for the instrumental and emotional needs of the
family as well as that of socialisation and reproduction.
Functionalists therefore view this gendered division
of labour as the most functional family form and see
the stability of society resting solidly on this model of
family. The functionalist study of families took two very
different paths.
1. Social Pathology
Social pathology views the ‘problems’ of society as
being able to be ‘fixed’ so that there can be a return
to ‘normalcy’. Those holding this view look for what is
causing the society to become dysfunctional. They look
to the ‘parts’ making up the social system because all
parts are interlocking and a problem with one will result
in disequilibrium in the whole. In most cases, social
problems are traced back to the family as the source
or ‘cause’ of the problem. In a structural or systemic
view of society the family is inevitably seen as the root
cause because it is portrayed as the ‘smallest unit’ or the
‘basic building block’ of society. Their remedies call for
re-socialisation of members into the norms and values of
the society.
Welfare officers coming from Britain in the 1930s and
40s took this perspective. In the early 20th century the
British West Indies had undergone widespread economic
hardship. The Great Depression of 1929 caused a
worldwide fall in sugar prices and, in the following years,
a contraction of the economy of all Caribbean countries.
Poverty spread as unemployment, low wages and high
prices reduced the standard of living. As social unrest
grew, labour unions developed and began to agitate for
basic economic and social reform.
The response of the British Government was to
appoint the Moyne Commission to investigate what
was happening in the British West Indies and to suggest
reforms. Funds were allocated for social welfare to
alleviate poverty. Welfare officers, among them Thomas
Simey, diagnosed that the root of the social problems
being experienced in the Caribbean was the disorganised
and dysfunctional nature of Caribbean families
(following Frazier). He went on to make the link with
social structure.
In discussing the social structure of the West Indies
the obvious starting-place is the family, for it is, even
when quite ephemeral, the outstandingly important
social institution of the West Indies. Slavery left its
mark deeply imprinted on the family and it is thus
in the strengths and weaknesses of family life that
the characteristic features of West Indian social
organisation are most clearly displayed.
(Thomas Simey, cited in Barrow, 1996, p. 40)
The ‘weaknesses’ they saw were ‘high rates’ of
promiscuity, illegitimate children and men not acting out
their ‘proper’ roles as household heads and breadwinners.
They did not see how such families could effectively
socialise children into the norms of the society requiring
obedience to and acceptance of the status quo. They felt
that only stable, two-parent families could nurture such
‘normative’ behaviours. In their minds there was a direct
impact on society in terms of juvenile delinquency and
an increasing crime rate especially during a downturn
in the economy. (Social stability is perhaps the major
concern in Functionalism.)
Among the various ‘interventions’ sanctioned
by welfare officers and the British authorities in the
Caribbean was the Mass Marriage Movement in Jamaica
over the period 1944 to about 1950. It was a focused
campaign to encourage as many cohabiting couples as
possible, as well as others in different kinds of union,
BOX 6.4
to become legally married. This was an experiment in
re-socialisation. Its failure should have alerted those
responsible for social welfare to the fact that ideas about
marriage were not the same from one country to another
and from one social class or ethnic group to another.
Functionalist ideas tend to promote the nuclear family
as ideal and therefore marriage, which is the basis of this
unit, as a universal norm.
2. Ethnographic Studies
Sociologists and anthropologists engaged in more
systematic and rigorous studies than the welfare officers
and immersed themselves in the contexts they studied
(see Boxes 6.4, 6.5 and 6.6). They conducted extensive
Edith Clarke’s Ethnographic Study in Jamaica (1957)
Edith Clarke first
published her report
in 1957 as My mother
Who Fathered Me: A
Study of the Family
in Three Selected
Communities in
Jamaica. It examined
internal family
relationships and
family organisation in
these communities and
sought to link these
characteristics to the
wider social contexts.
In doing so Clarke
was emphasising ‘structure’ and ‘system’ in
explaining society (or family). The three communities
displayed different economic conditions as well as
marked differences in the internal relationships
and community norms governing family life:
• Sugartown was dominated by a sugar
company and was more prosperous than
the other two but work was mostly seasonal
and there was a high rate of migration and
marital instability, few nuclear families, many
individuals living on their own and a greater
evidence of promiscuous behaviours. There
was little evidence of community values and
cohesiveness among the people.
• Mocca was a poor community where the
people were mainly small farmers or wage
labourers. Most families lived in ‘faithful
concubinage’ – not married, but living together
in stable committed unions with children.
Patriarchy was evident and fathers showed close
relationships with children. Kinship, ancestral
ties and family life were stronger values than
the ‘respectability’ associated with marriage.
• Orange Grove was a relatively prosperous
citrus-growing community where income
was steady, farmers tended to own their land
and the family worked as a team. Marriage
was strongly approved of because it was
associated with ‘respectability’. Social sanctions
encouraged couples to marry especially when
the man could afford to support a wife in better
style than as a common law partner. There were
many nuclear families and fathers showed close
relationships with their children.
An interesting insight was that men, even poor
men, were not marginal to their family in Mocca
and Orange Grove. They were marginal however in
Sugartown where work was seasonal, men moved
to different parts of the island as migrant labour,
and the ties between kin and neighbours were
slight. This is interesting because of the persistence
of the idea that the Caribbean is dominated by
mother-headed households and men are marginal
to families. The connections between the type of
economic conditions prevailing and how they are
likely to influence family form and stability show
that it is not necessarily poverty but irregular work,
members having to move about looking for work,
and many persons living on their own contributing
to communities that are poorly integrated, which
lead to males being marginal to the family.
(Source: Barrow, 1996; Clarke, 1999.)
BOX 6.5
R.T. Smith’s Ethnographic Study in British Guiana (1956)
R. T. Smith (see Chapter 2) carried out his
ethnographic study in 1956. His work shows some
similarity to that of Edith Clarke’s (Box 6.4) in that
they both brought a Functionalist perspective to
their ethnographies studying family life in three
villages – Smith in Guiana and Clarke in Jamaica.
Both ethographers focused on the economic
conditions affecting poor men. In his study Smith
found that there was:
• a close bond between mother (or grandmother)
and children and also between the mother’s
siblings who provided support for the family;
• a fairly distant relationship between the
conjugal couple (married or not) and between
father and child;
• a high incidence of mother (or grandmother)headed households;
• a pattern showing that males/fathers seemed to
lack authority in the home.
Based on this evidence he concluded that a
matrifocal structure was characteristic of the lowerclass negro family in Guiana. Seeking an explanation
as to why these family characteristics were so typical
of this group led him to focus on social stratification.
Men in these villages were on the lowest economic
rung, they had the least important jobs, those of the
lowest social status – mainly seasonal employment
on the estates or in mines – and often migrated in
search of work. Like Clarke he learned that a man
was only likely to get married if he could support
his wife and children comfortably. Smith went on
to say that the better jobs in the country were held
by non-negro ethnic groups or those not native to
the community. Therefore, because of this system of
inequality the men could not earn enough to give
them authority and importance in the family.
There are some important differences between
Clarke and Smith:
1. Unlike Clarke, Smith treats the villages as if
they were similar and did not consider that
the internal economic differences between
them could influence their family organisation
2. Since he could not attribute his findings to
the internal characteristics of the villages (like
Clarke), he theorised that the determinants of
family structure were to be found in the system
of social stratification in the colony (the larger
social system of Guianese society).
3. Moreover, he went on later to propose a
uniform developmental cycle for households in
circumstances of poverty that could be applied
to other countries.
In my studies of three Negro villages in British
Guiana, … I paid particular attention to the
developmental cycle of household groups and
tried to see the extent to which the ideal form
of nuclear family domestic group is realised in
practice and what patterning there is in the
deviations from this form.
(Smith, 1963, p. 30)
4. Here he shows the functionalist belief (and bias)
that the nuclear family was the necessary basis
for family organisation and anything else was a
The major critic of R.T. Smith’s study is M.G.
Smith who pointed out that the researcher
came to the conclusion that the lower-class
negro family (not only in Guiana but in the
Caribbean) was a matrifocal one because he had
not spent time finding out the villagers’ beliefs
and perceptions of different kinds of unions and
mating practices. For example, young people had
extra-residentiary relationships (e.g. visiting
unions) early in life and only later on settled
into a common law or married union within
an extended or nuclear family. On the whole
marriage came with increasing age in the villages
and was associated with more prestige than
other types of unions. He was fixed on explaining
the many female-headed households he saw
and sought to place that explanation within a
framework where this was a ‘deviation’ from the
‘norm’ of the nuclear family.
(Source: Smith, 1956, 1963)
BOX 6.6
Morton Klass’ Study of East Indians in Trinidad (1961)
Morton Klass was an American anthropologist who
spent a year in a village, Amity, populated mainly by
East Indians in central Trinidad. Among all aspects
of culture, he studied family life and marriage
practices. This was also a structural-functionalist
ethnographic study. Like Frazier and Herskovits who
were theorising the origins of the Afro-Caribbean
family forms, Klass sought to determine whether
the ways of life he observed (e.g. family form and
organisation) were retentions of Indian culture. He
concluded that there was much that was directly
related to Indian village life, in fact, the community
seemed more Indian than Caribbean (though that
begs the question, ‘what is “Caribbean”?’). In family
life, religion and community organisation the East
Indians sought to retain their identities and avoid
assimilation into the dominant African, Christian
groups in the society.
The similarity between Amity and what might
perhaps be called a generalized North Indian
community structure must certainly be apparent to
students of the Indian socio-cultural system. Students of
the West Indian scene cannot but be aware that Amity is
not ‘West Indian’ in almost any sense but the geographic.
(Klass, 1961, p. 239)
Some of Klass’s main findings concerning kinship
and family organisation were:
• an early age for marriage (compare Clarke’s
and Smith’s studies which show a trend towards
marriage late in life for Afro-Caribbean people);
• norms and religious traditions mandating
marriage – weddings being a central feature of
village life;
• the virtual absence of the visiting relationship
or extra-residential mating patterns (compare
Clarke’s and Smith’s work, the latter in
particular, showing the high incidence of these
unions among Afro-Caribbean people);
• patriarchal relationships, i.e. the dominance of
the male either as husband or father or even
brother (Clarke observed both male marginality
and patriarchy in different circumstances among
Afro-Caribbeans, whilst R.T. Smith mainly
observed male marginality);
• the respect accorded to men and the need for a
man to represent the family in the community
and in organising business affairs and arranging
the marriages of his children – a woman
would not be considered competent in the
public sphere (compare the situation in AfroCaribbean communities where women went out
to work to support the home because men only
had irregular work or low incomes);
• that the caste system of India persisted in a
much diluted way and became a consideration
in arranging a marriage and in joining political
organisations but it could not persist in other
aspects of daily life.
The main criticisms centre on the premise that
if the researcher only focused on cultural forms
that were retained, it is likely that he would miss
those that had been erased, as well as new forms
that did not exist in the original culture. It is also
likely that selecting a rural village deep in the
agricultural belt, peopled by members of only one
ethnic group, the findings would show evidence of
cultural retentions, i.e. continuity in the traditions
of India, and thus suggest that in relation to the
African community there was cultural pluralism.
And these would be findings from only a small rural
community. Klass entitled his work, East Indians
in Trinidad: A Study of Cultural Persistence,
showing that there was a strong urge to generalise
findings. Critics also point out that not much
study was made of education and how it impacted
village life and family organisation, although it is
well-known that education plays a major role in
integrating a diverse society into some common
norms and behaviours. In fact, however secluded, in
a small island like Trinidad no group was immune
from constant interaction with other groups and
Klass did not investigate inter-ethnic interfaces.
Later researchers opposed Klass’ findings and
sought to treat with the Indian community as
experiencing constant change and impacting the
host society in a number of ways.
(Source: Smith, 1963, pp. 42–3.)
fieldwork in the years they lived in Caribbean villages
engaging in observations and informal interviews with
villagers. This type of participant-observation research
is referred to as ethnography (§5.2.4) and these early
Caribbean ethnographies had Functionalist assumptions
(for differences with ethnographies carried out later by
interpretive researchers (see §6.2.3).
The Comparative Element in Sociology
Read Boxes 6.4, 6.5 and 6.6. Identify FOUR major
differences between the Afro-Caribbean and IndoCaribbean families revealed by this research.
Marxist Perspective/Conflict Theory
Structural-functionalist studies analysed Afro-Caribbean
and Afro-American families of lower socio-economic
status and held that their distinctive family forms
were more a result of adaptive strategies to deal with
poverty than examples of social pathology. The Marxist
perspective, which is a specific example of Conflict theory,
critiques such conclusions saying that those researchers do
not dwell enough on the structural causes of disadvantage
namely, how the social institution of the economy (the
substructure) is organised to entrench social stratification.
Note that a Marxist analysis is also a structural analysis
(referring to the social institutions and their interactions)
but it puts emphasis on relations within socio-economic
groups in the economy – for example, how does
the capitalist system influence different categories or
members of families and how does the family, as part of
the superstructure, reproduce the class system?
Capitalism, according to Marxists, ensures that the
poor remain poor and so families in the lower economic
groups will continue to be exploited because they only
have their labour power to sell. Within the superstructure
(the family, education, religion and so on) the dominant
institutional ideas are those of the elites and these
perpetuate the existing class relations. If persons from
different social classes buy into the dominant ideas
about what is important (‘getting ahead’, status symbols,
consumer durables) then they are perpetuating false
consciousness and the sources of their own misery.
Marxist feminists say that women in a family
are doubly disadvantaged by capitalism. Firstly, in a
patriarchal system they are exploited by men. The gender
differentiation of labour in families is idealised as ‘natural’
and women (and men) are forced into accepting roles such
as breadwinner and homemaker. If women, particularly,
A general Marxist critique of the Functionalist view
of the nuclear family is that it is too optimistic. It
sees the structure of the family as akin to the world
of work where parents are bosses (capitalists) and
the children are workers who obey their parents.
Most families are not like that. All families,
including nuclear families at some point will
experience levels of conflict and even violence.
opt out of this pattern and reject their expected roles, they
are liable to be seen as ‘unnatural’. Secondly, the nuclear
family operates to the benefit of capitalism with no reward
for the homemaker. In the family the woman provides a
reserve of free labour for housework and child care which
supports and cushions the wage-earning members and
enables them to face the world of work each day. In other
words, this is unpaid work that the man does not regard
as an expense and so he does not have to make extra
demands on his employers (the capitalists). In addition,
women reproduce workers at no cost to the capitalist.
Marxist feminists subscribe to the view that women’s
work is seen largely as reproduction and men’s as production.
Conflict theorists study sources of inequality such
as gender and ethnicity and how they impact families.
They look on all resources as scarce (including power)
and unequally shared by different groups. However,
most theorists tend to agree that discrimination,
disadvantage and inequities are in the first instance
class-based (economic) rather than only due to gender
or ethnicity. In other words, while people of a certain
ethnicity may experience incidents of discrimination it
is more likely that poorer persons of that ethnic group
suffer entrenched and persistent forms of discrimination
(a double disadvantage).
Like Marxism, Conflict theory can be used to explain
phenomena at the macro-level of society, but unlike
Marxism it can also be used at the micro-level. An
example of a macrosociological application of Conflict
theory is in the study of the system of health care in the
society and the extent to which it discriminates against
families and individuals with less power and economic
resources than others. A microsociological application
can be seen in reference to one of its major ideas - that
conflict is endemic in society and human relationships.
Conflict theorists state that it is difficult to pinpoint any
area of human life that is without conflict and family life
and marriage are often sites of conflict. They attribute
this to the idea that we as human beings operate out of
self-interest. We put our own personal interests first and,
if resources are scarce, then individuals see themselves in
competition with each other.
But, they go on to say as well that families do not
operate in quite the same way as other groups. A wife
and mother will seldom put her own interests over that
of her children’s. The bonds in a family can be quite
intense and whilst other (e.g. formal) groups may break
up under conditions of conflict, a family break up visits
untold suffering on its members. That is why in a family
the one who has the least vested interest in the family
wields the most power and why families tend to tolerate
a higher level of conflict than other groups (Smith et
al., 2009). This could be one explanation why domestic
abuse typically occurs over a long period – something
that those outside the family cannot quite understand.
Interpretive Perspectives
The macrosociological approaches discussed above,
particularly Functionalism, gave us a uniform picture of
families which led to sweeping generalisations and hence
to the formation and persistence of stereotypes, such as
how the nuclear family is privileged in myths and beliefs,
and the persistent belief that the Afro-Caribbean family
is matrifocal, despite parallel evidence of patriarchy.
And there is the durable image of the black Caribbean
man as being marginalised and irresponsible. These are
stereotypes that emerge from perspectives that tend to
paint a general picture with research findings.
On the other hand Interpretive approaches are
microsociological and emphasise diversity, particularly
how families of the same socio-economic class or ethnicity
may have a variety of forms. Researchers actually live
with families (and therefore conduct ethnographies) to
study family dynamics and interaction on a daily basis.
Their ethnographies differ from those of Edith Clarke,
R.T. Smith and Morton Klass in that they do not look
on any family form as superior to another. They focus
on the meanings that the actors have for their beliefs and
actions and so they emphasise human agency. By studying
a context in great depth (a few families) it is likely that
researchers will find many variations to the ‘stereotypes’
that have emerged from macrosociological studies.
Radical feminists focus on male dominance,
seeing patriarchy rather than capitalism as the major
problem in families and society. Male dominance
refers to male power and authority that is oppressive
to women. Families, they say, are not only based on
loving relationships but often are sites of oppression
and coercion for females, whether employed or not.
Domestic work and child care are examples of real
work or labour but have been ignored in traditional
scholarship on the family rendering women and their
contribution, relationships and experience in the
family ‘invisible’. In fact, the popular ideology of the
‘happy family’ (or ‘cereal packet family’) is misleading,
according to the radical feminist, because to a large
extent the family is a place of intense and constant
subjugation of those who are vulnerable in society –
women (both rich and poor), children and the elderly.
Feminist Approaches
Under the umbrella of the Interpretive Perspective we
include feminist studies because many take a microperspective in investigating social life. Sometimes feminist
approaches also take a critical, a conflict or a Marxist
perspective, so that it is a multi-faceted area of research.
If I had a hammer …
Liberal feminists focus on equalising opportunities
for women in all spheres of social life by removing
barriers to their full participation in education,
business, industry, politics, the family and other
spheres. They enlist men in their campaign to
equalise the experiences of each gender stating that
inequalities suffered by any group reduce the quality
of life for all. They impact the family by arguing that
women should have the right to choose on issues such
as abortion and that laws should be enacted allowing
outside authorities (such as the police, the legal system)
to intervene in the family in situations of domestic
abuse in order to protect women and children.
Criticisms of feminist approaches to the family make
the point that there is variation from one household to
another and often women wield considerable power
incorporating support networks of kin, siblings and
offspring, showing that power is not only limited to a
home base. In addition, their involvement in domestic
affairs and child care make them ‘the boss’ in a job where
they largely make all the decisions. However, their relative
power is mediated by the level of income and ethnicity of
the family. For example, in a highly patriarchal family
such as a traditional Indian family in the Caribbean the
wife’s power to make decisions is controlled by her
husband and possibly her husband’s parents whilst in an
urban, nuclear Indian family where both parents are of
the professional class there tend to be more areas in family
life where power is shared. The Caribbean critique of
Feminist theorising is that it sidelines race or ethnicity in
its discussion of women and men and families and is
largely based on a white, nuclear family experience.
To sum up:
This section outlined some of the major theoretical
perspectives on the family. Functionalism is the
oldest and most dominant perspective and greatly
influenced the study of the family in the Caribbean.
Research tended to focus on the ethnographic
study of families, i.e. a focus on culture. While today
ethnography is most likely to be used by Interpretive
sociologists, in the Caribbean early theorists employed
ethnography rather as foreign anthropologists had
done when seeking to study the culture of small,
exotic societies. Such studies were influenced by
structural-functionalism and emphasised norms,
family practices, social class, ethnicity and the
social system. An ethnographic study that is in the
Interpretive perspective differs in that culture is
studied through the participants and how they make
meanings. Through Interpretive studies, a picture
develops of great variation in and among families.
Macro-perspectives tend to portray families in a more
uniform manner. Feminist perspectives, derived from
Marxist and Conflict theory, as well as Interpretivism,
provided a gendered analysis of families.
Ethnic Diversity and
Caribbean Kinship
When you are asked ‘how many persons are in your
family?’ you know that the speaker is referring to your
‘immediate family’ which might or might not coincide
with the ‘household’ in which you live. When you
hear people say that they are having a small wedding
‘with only family’ you understand that that means the
immediate family and a select group of ‘relatives’. The
term ‘relatives’ refers to an extremely wide-ranging set
of relationships taking in aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews,
cousins and in-laws but it does not stop there because
there are generational levels involved as well – your
cousin’s children or your brother-in-law’s parents. The
term ‘kin’ is even more expansive than ‘relatives’ because
it refers to any person with whom you share a sense of
identity such as a familial bond or heritage.
Descendants of enslaved Africans comprise the bulk
of the population in the Caribbean. Descendants of East
Indian indentured labourers comprise large numbers
in a few countries, namely Trinidad, Guyana and
Suriname, and smaller numbers in other countries such
as Jamaica and Guadeloupe. Many of the kinship patterns
found in the Caribbean are survivals from our heritage
before we arrived in the region. Amerindians and their
descendants are found in relatively large numbers in
Guyana, Suriname, Belize and Dominica. It is difficult
to generalise about kinship networks and family life
among Amerindians largely because of the great deal of
variety between the so-called ‘tribes’ and linguistic and
ancestral groups, which all overlap in the Caribbean. In
addition, not all have been studied.
Family and Kinship patterns
Patriarchy describes a set of relationships where men
(grandfathers, fathers, brothers, and sons) have more
power and authority than women (grandmothers,
mothers, sisters, and daughters) in the home and in the
society. In the family men are the decision-makers,
disciplinarians and breadwinners. They are obligated to
provide for their families who in turn respect and obey
them. Women take care of children and domestic matters
– there is a sexual division of labour that is supposed
to be complementary and efficient. If they work outside
the home, their job and its income is secondary to that
of the male breadwinner. In the wider society, men hold
the important and prestigious jobs and there are barriers,
visible and invisible, which prevent women from taking
up such positions. The East Indian family system is
highly patriarchal with males and older persons wielding
considerable influence on family decision-making in
matters such as settling disputes, courtship, marriage,
the buying of property, family business, and education.
The father is indisputably the head of the household
and the authority figure. Women tend to be occupied
with domestic matters and may work in family-held
agricultural plots or in family-run businesses.
Extended Families
Extended families may be matrilocal or patrilocal. In West
Africa where polygamy is well-established historically
kin includes all the relatives of the extended family
network as well as other tribal allegiances, and these are
mainly patrilocal. In Afro-Caribbean communities
Matrilocality refers to the custom whereby after the
wedding, the bridegroom moves to his new wife’s family
home. Women stay in the home of their birth. Thus, in the
extended or joint family households that are set up all the
women are blood relatives (mothers, sisters, daughters)
which distinguishes them as having a level of kinship, an
informal close-knit group together with children, quite
apart from the men of the household. Matrilocality is
most common among Amerindian groups.
extended families may include female-headed (matrifocal)
households and sibling families. Extended families are
also characteristic of East Indian kinship systems. Here
they tend to consist of a series of nuclear families in the
joint (patrilocal) household, but increasingly, nuclear
families now exist as separate households. The norms
that uphold family ties extend to taking care of parents
and elderly relatives, especially among East Indians.
However, those norms are limiting and coercive to
members who want to break out of the dominant family
values and to women who abide by those norms but who
nevertheless feel exploited and undervalued.
Marriage patterns vary widely. For example, among
East Indians in Trinidad it is highly regarded and
both girls and boys are led by family norms to
consider early marriage though today they do not
do so at a very young age. East Indian families still
retain some control over their children’s choices;
for example, interracial marriages go against the norms
of this ethnic group, although this is also changing
gradually. Marriage alliances were made when arranged
marriages were more common, with the intent to
enhance the economic interests of the family. Parents and
grandparents wield a lot of power and that is particularly so
when the family’s financial affairs are closely intermeshed
so that potential marriage partners are rigorously screened,
though arranged marriages are not common nowadays.
Cross-cousin marriage
Within Ameridian groups, children of a brother and sister
may marry. A cross cousin is the child of the mother’s
brother or of the father’s sister (see Figure 6.2). Children,
then, of a brother and sister marry (sometimes two
brothers marry two sisters), and over three generations
or so, a marital couple may have common grandparents.
This system is not found outside Amerindian groups.
Cross-cousin marriage is a good example of endogamy.
Some Afro-Caribbean kinship patterns represent
continuation from their African heritage. Children may
marriage or union
This couple has two children –
a boy and a girl
They each marry and have children
Here, two cousins marry. They are
cross cousins because the girl’s father
is the brother of the boy’s mother.
(Parallel cousin marriage occurs when
a girl marries a boy and her mother
and his father are brother and sister).
Figure 6.2 Cross-cousin marriage
grow up with a grandparent, a godparent, with friends
or with other relatives, which is known as fosterage, and is
also common in West Africa. It can occur perhaps because
of a particular need in the beginning, but often these
children became part and parcel of their foster family.
Such children would have a kin network that defies
traditional ideas about family – they may for instance
have two mothers and feel closer to their foster mother,
as well as sisters, brothers and cousins of both families.
People who have experienced these relationships will tell
you that even the extended family of the foster parents
accept the child as one of them. The ideas about kin
underlying these practices show that the Afro-Caribbean
notion of ‘family’ accommodates a more varied range of
relationships than the typical ideas of Western scholarship
which focus on the household and blood relations, or
These ideas also point to Afro-Caribbean kinship
groups having a heightened sense of responsibility
towards children and feelings of obligation to family
members and friends who may need support. Child shifting
is a similar practice to fosterage, but such children only
live for a time in the other family.
Fictive Kinship
This involves godparents whose responsibility it is to
oversee the well-being of the child. More common in the
older generation was a high level of respect and deference
given to godparents. However, fictive, co-parenting
arrangements are not unique to Caribbean families as
godparenthood occurs widely in the Christian world.
Sibling Families
Among Afro-Caribbean families too we find a relatively
high incidence of sibling families – older brothers and sisters
taking care of younger ones. In some Caribbean countries
these children show signs of being neglected and display
anti-social behaviours and delinquency. Sometimes
referred to as ‘barrel children’, they are a phenomenon of
modern times and represent a breakdown in the strong
kinship network that used to prevail and that would have
taken these children under its wing.
Kinship Changes
Industralisation, Urbanisation and Social Mobility
During the latter half of the 20th century and continuing
into the 21st, the pace of social change the world over
has increased considerably. Changes in the economy and
the world of work have impacted on Caribbean families.
Development in the Caribbean has tended to focus on
business and industry, infrastructure and housing, much
of this in and around the capital city. Agriculture and
hinterland development were neglected so that rural–
urban migration became a normal feature of island life,
disrupting existing kinship networks and for the most part
establishing nuclear or single-parent families in urban
areas. Emigration too, which was continuous throughout
the 20th century, played its role in separating kin. With
industrialisation came urbanisation and what are
considered to be ‘modern’ values – the desire for fewer
children, education up to secondary and tertiary levels,
work in the secondary (manufacturing), tertiary (service)
and quaternary (information technology) sectors, both
parents going out to work, and a lifestyle requiring a
home with all the latest amenities. As sociology students
you would know that these aspirations could only be
partly filled by the lower-income groups. For example,
the so-called ghettos and shanty towns largely peopled
by rural–urban migrants have a range of family types.
So, not all urban-dwellers are single parents or belong to
nuclear families. There is still much diversity.
Modernising influences have been affecting
Amerindian families too. Economic activities in the
interior of Guyana such as mining and forestry have
destroyed their agricultural plots and killed off the
wildlife they used to hunt. This has disrupted families
because now men have to travel long distances in search
of work. Those who travel to the coast or to mining
towns suffer from discriminatory practices and if they do
not have the support of kin often fall victim to loneliness,
drug abuse and destitution.
Marriage and Family
With increasing avenues for social mobility through
education the professional class has grown and as highand middle-income earners they have opted for the most
part to set up nuclear households. East Indian women
have used education as a springboard to prestigious jobs
and so husbands and fathers have had to deal with the
issues that much greater autonomy for their womenfolk
have brought.
Though marriages are becoming more egalitarian and
more women are single parents, marriage continues to
be an important rite of passage for both Afro-Caribbean
and East Indian women, but at different stages of their
lives. The nuclear family is emerging as the family type of
choice for those of higher-income brackets, but although
they have struck out on their own their relationships
with kin continue to be strong. East Indian families
meet regularly for religious observances and family
celebrations and kin continue to play a valuable role in
keeping the scattered families together by the assistance
and support they offer to members. As far as possible,
individual nuclear families continue to maintain their
identity as members of a ‘modified form’ of extended
family. At the same time, the variety of family forms first
documented in the Afro-Caribbean community persists,
namely common-law, single-parent, extended, visiting
and other arrangements. In fact, among Afro-Caribbean
groups in particular single parenting is on the rise with
an increase in divorce and the decision being made by
women to maintain a ‘single’ lifestyle. Some practices
such as fosterage and child shifting have decreased,
perhaps because of better infrastructure and opportunities
generally. However, as emigration continued and older
family members died out or they too emigrated, children
have been foisted on ageing grandmothers and relatively
young siblings who cannot carry out the responsibilities
of parenting effectively. Among Afro-Caribbeans for the
most part family relationships with the extended kin tend
to be not as strong for example, members do not meet as
regularly as before and neither are they disposed to share
problems and resources. On the whole, these trends reflect
a preference for more autonomous households which are
not ‘complicated’ by the burdens and obligations that close
kin could demand particularly as family members are
now widely scattered locally and internationally.
When significant numbers of men are absent the
traditions of cross-cousin marriage and joint, extended
households cannot be maintained in Amerindian
households. With the scattering of families, endogamy
cannot continue – men and women now marry not
only into other Amerindian tribal groupings but into
altogether different ethnic groups such as that of Afroand Indo-Guyanese. The experiences of Amerindian
groups will differ across the Caribbean but to a greater
or lesser extent the pressures leading them to move out of
their traditional homelands and re-establish themselves
nearer to economic opportunities often mean that
extended families are broken up and single-parent or
nuclear families take their place. For those of limited
economic means a nuclear or a single-parent family is
vulnerable to financial stress and other kinds of issues
such as adequate child care and supervision for young
children. In the search for a better life, individuals have
no choice but to distance themselves from kin who would
have provided much needed support and assistance.
Respect and Authority
The struggle for power and independence within the East
Indian family during a time of change in kinship and
family patterns is on-going and sometimes erupts into
bouts of domestic violence, as husbands and fathers struggle
with their womenfolk’s desire for more independence and
more say in family decisions. Potentially violent situations
arise, for example, when low-income girls excel at school
making them eligible for higher education and upward
mobility whilst family norms maintain that they should
interact largely in the private rather than the public
sphere of social life.
The ideas of respect and obligation that went with
fictive kinship relationships have also changed over time.
Although assigning godparents is a ritual that is still
widely observed among the Afro-Caribbean population,
the godparents and the godchildren tend not to be close.
For many, it is a meaningless symbol. This could be because
of a decline in the importance of religion in people’s lives
and a decline in the attitude of respect towards elders.
Dynamism in Social Life
Outline FOUR ways in which kinship patterns in the
Caribbean are undergoing change today.
To sum up:
This section focused on the issues of ethnic
diversity and Caribbean kinship. It highlighted the
kinship relationships found within Afro-Caribbean,
Indo-Caribbean and Indigenous (Amerindian)
groups as well as the changes being experienced
today through modernisation influences, namely
increased education and economic opportunities.
It underscores the idea that families are constantly
undergoing change and transformation.
Gender and the Family
Migration and the Family
Migration has always been a ‘norm’ in Caribbean
societies and there are large Caribbean populations in
the metropolitan cities of Western Europe and North
America. Migration was seen and continues to be seen as
a way to better oneself, to grasp opportunities for work
and study that are not so widely available in the home
country. The United Nations (2002) cites the Caribbean
as having one of the highest net migration rates in the
world, with Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica and St Lucia
experiencing the greatest losses.
In studying ‘migration’ you will note that there are
different types depending on the socio-economic status of
the individual. In the Caribbean:
1 Seasonal migration is common where one or both
parents go to the United States or Canada for up to
six months at a time to work – picking fruit, working
in the garment industry and other jobs that the local
population will not do because of the low wages.
2 Serial migration occurs where one or both parents
migrate with the intention of staying permanently
and later sending for their children.
3 Parental migration refers to the migration of one
or both parents who have no intention of returning,
nor of having the family join them.
4 Family migration occurs where the whole family
moves. It is more characteristic of middle-class than
lower-income families.
A gender analysis of migration shows that on the
whole more women migrate than men, leading to a
phenomenon known as the feminisation of migration. The
work normally available to migrants tends to be mostly in
those areas where women are easily employed – teaching,
nursing, child-minding and domestic service. Mothers
have to make hard decisions when leaving their children
behind. As mentioned above fosterage was a valuable
resource in Caribbean family life that helped children
of migrant parents but today more and more children
are left with younger family members and others who
do not or cannot provide a stable and secure home for
them. One of the reasons for migrating is to get a job so
that the migrant can send home remittances to help the
family pay its expenses such as rent, keeping children
in school, paying for consumer durables such as stoves,
fridges and washing machines as well as for accessing
proper health care.
With the feminisation of migration, more and
more children and their families have to deal with the
absence of their mother. Remittances do help families to
survive and some children are eventually reunited with
their parents. However, researchers report too many
instances where families either do not receive funds
from abroad or the funds are misspent by the adults in
the home. Children in such situations tend to drop out
of school and constitute an at-risk group suffering from
depression, low self-esteem who are more vulnerable to
health problems and various forms of exploitation (Olsen,
2009). The long-term development of such children is
threatened and they are not likely to become productive
citizens, yet migration is not something that Caribbean
governments or even ordinary people see as a problem to
family life and to the holistic development of children.
Instead, migration continues to be regarded in a positive
light largely because of the traditional yearning to live in
a metropolis where it is felt one can lead a better life.
Migrant parents too suffer the consequences of loss,
particularly if they realise that their children are being
ill-treated or are delinquent in one way or another. This
poses dilemmas for them because, for many, leaving
the metropole to intervene and provide help for their
children is not an option they can readily take up. Guilt,
anxiety and fear dilute the feelings of accomplishment
they may have in leading a productive life abroad. Some
try to compensate by sending ‘barrels’ with the latest
fashions in clothes and footwear and electronic gadgets.
Hence, the popular term, ‘barrel children’.
Work and the Family
A traditional family norm casts the male as breadwinner
and the female as homemaker who takes care of the
children and domestic chores. This is largely a myth. It
perhaps was typical of middle-class families in the past
where the husband’s job was substantial enough to take
care of all the family’s needs. Men were more likely to be
the breadwinner historically because they were the more
educated and the job opportunities for educated persons
were male-oriented (doctors, lawyers, pharmacists,
civil servants, retailers, managers). A gendered division
of labour developed based on the strong belief that
a woman’s place was in the home (see Box 6.7 for an
example). This gender ideology complicated the lives of
working-class women who carried a ‘double burden’ of
BOX 6.7
Gender in the Amerindian Family
Traditionally, Amerindian women socialise
girls into domestic skills while men socialise
their sons into the arts of hunting, fishing,
building, becoming knowledgeable of the
flora and fauna of the forests. In the wake
of greater opportunities for education and
large-scale economic migration, there is now
however an on-going struggle between
Westernising influences and traditional
practices even in the Amerindian family.
outside work (out of financial necessity) and domestic
work (only lately referred to as unpaid work). Today it
poses the same complications for middle-class women
who have careers because their partners are not well
disposed to sharing the domestic burdens.
Over the 20th century in Caribbean countries,
educational opportunities for women have steadily
increased. Jobs in the service sector (nurses, teachers, office
workers, sales and store clerks, public servants, receptionists,
cleaners, waitresses, cooks), where mainly women tend to
be employed, have grown by leaps and bounds. Women
are also employed in large numbers in manufacturing,
in factories and assembly plants. Increasingly, to avoid
charges of sexism, employers consider males and females
for jobs that were stereotypically male-oriented in the past
(air traffic controllers, security guards, pilots, engineers,
bus drivers) so that women from all walks of life and
all educational levels now have opportunities to work
outside the home. Educational opportunity, the growth
in the diversity of jobs on the labour market and the
intense lobby for gender equality have all resulted in the
‘norm’ today that women are expected to work and for
many families their income contribution is important.
For example, the share of female income in households
ranges from about 30% in Costa Rica to nearly 45% in
El Salvador and over 60% in Jamaica (Pagés & Piras,
2010, p. 11).
As the study by Pagés & Piras points out, therein
lies one of the major dilemmas and tensions in family
life today – females are cast as ‘superwomen’, labouring
outside as well as inside the home – but ideologies that
maintain that their ‘real job’ is to take care of the home,
husband and children continue and for the most part, the
husband is regarded as the head of the household.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, women bear the
major responsibility for the unpaid care of children,
the elderly, and the sick. While such a division of labor
generates considerable value in terms of household
goods, services, and welfare, … women have less
time for paid work, take lower-quality jobs, and chose
flexibility over pay or advancement in their career so
that they can undertake both caregiving and wageearning tasks.
(Pagés & Piras, 2010, p. 25)
The changing role of men and women in the family
hides an on-going power struggle that brings potential
conflict into the home. Logically, if both partners work
outside the home, the domestic chores should be shared
equally, but this does not happen in reality. Sometimes
men are not as able as women to perform domestic duties
(and women may not allow them to do so in the interests
of time, efficiency and so on) but, to a large extent, the
deciding factor is that men do not accept that housework
and domestic chores should be equally divided. Even if
women bring in more money men are still unlikely to
perform the brunt of housework and child care. This
may be seen as another aspect of patriarchy.
How the family’s income is spent, who is the main
decision-maker, and how decisions are made, are areas of
family life which bring out clearly the gender relations in
a family. Middle-class families tend to pool their incomes,
though that is done in a variety of ways. Least common is
for the man and woman to put all their money together
as a ‘common pot’ into which both can dip. More likely
is the pooling of some of their resources to take care
of family expenses with each having an independent
account for personal use. The interesting thing here is
that ‘personal’ for a woman might include her husband
and children’s needs. It is also the case that daily expenses
mount up and may surpass the original budgeted amount
so that the money to pay for a new pair of gym shoes, or
music lessons comes, for the most part, out of the mother’s
account. In many families the man takes responsibility
for financial control of the family’s affairs, paying the rent
or mortgage and insurance premiums, and having the
major say in buying expensive items such as furniture,
a car or an appliance. The woman is more concerned
with money management – making the allotted sum for
the month cover all the expenses of the family (utilities,
food, clothing, daily travel, health and miscellaneous
items). If a couple is closely involved in overseeing all the
expenses of the family then the likelihood for conflict is
minimal but if the gendered separation of responsibilities
is the norm then there can be accusations from both sides
about overspending or hoarding – which could be the
case, but it is also possible that either the man or the
woman does not fully understand what goes on in the
other’s defined sphere of responsibility.
Single-parent families tend to be mother-headed
and are most likely to experience financial difficulties
because one income has to cover all eventualities. That
is particularly so among low-income single-parent
families where the situation could deteriorate into a daily
struggle to make ends meet. Here all the money of the
family is tied up in meeting immediate expenses so that
there is no question of having savings as a cushion for
hard times. All members of the family seek a job at the
earliest opportunity and so the aspirations of children to
continue to higher education, if they do exist, cannot
be honoured. In fact, children may drop out of school,
to ‘hustle’ an income. If a husband or male partner is
present in a low-income household, whether all or
some of the time, his contribution may be irregular or
minimal, so that the mother is also likely to be working.
Compared to middle-class families, what are likely to be
the power dynamics here? Research seems to indicate
that if he is present on a regular basis, whether he is
bringing in income or not, the man still plays the role
of disciplinarian and has a say in decision-making. If,
however, the woman makes most of the money and
allocates it as she sees fit, there are likely to be conflicts,
especially if the man still regards himself as the head of
the household. To avoid such difficulties, women tend
to opt for a closer bond with their children and nonpermanent relationships with men.
Despite the strides in education and the opening
of all types of jobs for women and the fact that they
are contributing more and more to family income,
women continue to earn less than men. There is no
other explanation for this other than that the system of
patriarchy continues to structure and influence work
opportunities for women. Table 6.2 shows gender
inequality in income for the same job across types of
employment in Trinidad & Tobago.
Table 6.2 Average monthly income by type of worker by
sex, 2001
Sector of
Public sector /
Statutory board
State enterprise
(private sector)
Own account
Paid employee
Sources: National Policy on Gender and Development. Republic of
Trinidad and Tobago. Situational Analysis. Draft document. Port of
Spain: Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender
Affairs (2003). Trinidad and Tobago, Central Statistical Office,
Continuous Sample Survey of the Population, Labour Force Report
2001, pp.60–62
Critical Ref lection
Look at Table 6.2 carefully and answer the following
1. Why do you think female income is slightly higher
than males’ in the public sector?
2. Why should there be such a wide gender gap in
income disparity among the self-employed?
3. What examples can you think of to illustrate this
statement? The system of patriarchy continues to
structure and influence work opportunities for
To sum up:
This section discussed how gender ‘organises’
relationships in the family and society and
concluded that patriarchy, a system of male
domination, is entrenched in all social institutions
but today it is being strained by forces that seek
to empower the female. Families, migration and
the world of work reflect in their relationships the
on-going power plays of patriarchy and threats to
reduce its dominance.
Social Problems and
the Family
The term social problems refers to conditions, habits
and practices of individuals and groups that hinder the
development of the society. One of the myths about the
family is that it is a private space that secludes us from
the harsh realities of the outer world (or the society). On
the surface that may be so but the term society includes
the family which is widely regarded as ‘the smallest unit
of society’. The reality is that many of the ‘problems’
that occur in families are deeply connected to conditions
in the wider society, and long-term changes that affect
the institution of the family usually begin in the other
institutions of society.
When members of society decide that something is a
social problem the next step is to find a solution. People
who are located differently (of a different social strata,
ethnic or gender group, for instance) propose different
solutions. When a government responds through formal
procedures to alleviate a social problem, that is known
as social policy. Domestic violence, child abuse, conjugal
separation, divorce, and teenage pregnancy are regarded
as social problems because they all have negative impacts
on families and strain other social institutions such as
the economy, the justice system, religion, education, and
so on. We should keep in mind what C. Wright Mills
said about the sociological imagination (Chapter 1) – that we
should be able to see how our lives and our problems are
related to historical events and social forces in the world.
And so we will know when we are confusing a personal
trouble with a social problem.
In this section we examine some of the conditions in
the wider society that impact the family and the ways
in which the family may respond, sometimes leading to
social problems. This approach shows that the family is
not necessarily a safe haven but instead deeply integrated
into society as a social system. Changes in the relationships
between social institutions internationally and locally
bring about transformations in the social system that
inevitably impact how the family is organised. The
most important institutions in generating change are the
economy, education and the mass media. Together they
have brought pressure to bear on traditional attitudes
to gender relations, especially patriarchy. Some of these
changes are shown in Box 6.8, together with their effects.
Making Connections
Look carefully at Box 6.8 and write a paragraph or two
explaining the connections between the two columns.
Which do you think are the most important changes?
Thinking sociologically allows us to see that changes
in virtually all the institutions of society must impact
the family. That many families cannot cope is not the
fault of the family but that the institutions in the land
have not been able to organise an effective response. In
such a situation domestic violence, child abuse, conjugal
separation, divorce and teenage pregnancy become
significant social problems for the society. (§10.5.1
discusses social change in the family in relation to crime
and deviance.)
Domestic Violence
Sometimes referred to as intimate violence or family
violence, domestic violence is unfortunately a widespread
occurrence. Newspaper reports routinely bring violence
between husband and wife to the attention of the public,
but domestic violence also includes acts of physical
aggression between siblings, and against children and the
elderly in the home. ‘Violence’ also includes emotional,
psychological and financial maltreatment which are less
easy to document.
Owing to the many changes cited in Box 6.8 in
all social institutions, societies in the Caribbean are
becoming increasingly violent. Yet, most violent acts
tend to be committed by people who know their victims.
The image of the family as a place of violence perpetrated
on more vulnerable members is not a popular one. We
prefer to think of the family as a safe haven. However,
of the two images, in some territories at least, family
violence may be the more accurate, and this happens
at all socio-economic levels and in all ethnic groups.
Incidents however are unevenly reported. Poorer groups
may be quicker to make a police report than the well-todo because of the shame associated with family violence.
Approximately 30% of women surveyed in Trinidad &
Tobago experienced domestic violence; 67% of women
in Suriname have experienced violence in a cohabiting
relationship and 30% of adult women in Antigua &
Barbuda and Barbados have experienced some form
of domestic abuse.
(Starbroek News, 2010)
For the greater number of cases reported of spousal
violence, the man is the perpetrator and the woman is
the victim. Physical violence between intimate partners
includes all types of assault, rape and stalking. Such acts
result in humiliation for the victims, physical injuries,
emotional trauma, hospitalisation and murder. Women
are more than likely to suffer psychologically especially
in chronic cases of battering (low self-esteem, depression,
anxiety and isolation are common effects). Children live
in fear and frustration; they may drop out of school or
become loners not wanting others to know about their
home situation; they may want to inflict violence on
others; and if family relations deteriorate they may not
get the attention they need to maintain good health and
nutrition. All this is expensive to the country – costs of
medical attention, loss of hours of work, school drop-outs
and the reduced potential of such women and children to
contribute to the development of the country.
Sociological explanations for domestic abuse look for
a societal pattern – what is general rather than what might
be specific to individual cases. Here are some examples.
Families which undergo a lot of stress are likely sites for
violence to erupt. Losing a job, unpaid bills, loss of a
home, a sick child, obligations to relatives, one person
shouldering all the responsibilities, adultery, and death
of a family member are all factors which can transform
a family environment to one of fear, frustration, rage,
disappointment, loneliness, and helplessness. Those in
the lower socio-economic brackets are always more
at risk because they deal with major stress every day –
in the form of their struggle to make a living – and if
BOX 6.8
other stressors occur members may not be able to deal
effectively with so many negative circumstances. A
downturn in the economy, the failure of an industry or
a sudden natural disaster will put poor families into a
situation of maximum stress.
Social Changes that Impact on the Family
• availability of educational opportunity for girls
to tertiary level;
• girls and women are less easily controlled and
influenced by males in the family and there are
more egalitarian attitudes in the family;
• more women entering professional fields;
• increasing jobs in the service sector so that more
women are now employed;
• aspirations of women to have a job or a career
and marry and have children;
• by earning their own money some women now
have more say in family affairs and if necessary,
an exit strategy – they can leave because they
have resources;
• greater awareness of gender relations
and patriarchy through the efforts of
the feminist lobby;
• those who are not earning enough to live
independent lives nevertheless do contribute
to family income and expect to be heeded and
follow their aspirations;
• more young people studying abroad through
sports and other kinds of scholarships;
• men find that their authority has diminished
(either as husbands, sons or fathers);
• greater influence of the foreign mass media on
the society;
• with both parents working or in mother-headed
families with the mother working, children
spend a lot of time unsupervised; lower socioeconomic families often cannot pay others to
take care of their children in their absence;
• both boys and girls being influenced by First
World values into computer technologies and
the international youth culture;
• explicit sexuality and pornography now widely
available to all members of society through
computers, DVDs and cable television;
• the increasing secular nature of society or the
decreasing importance of religion;
• children spend long hours being socialised
into First World norms via cable television
and communicating via text, e-mail, instant
messaging and social media as well as mingling
and ‘hanging out’ with friends in the malls;
• rural–urban migration and international
migration have weakened the close bonds and
support network provided by the extended
family, increasing mother-headed households;
• young people are experimenting with initial
sexual encounters at an early age; peer pressure
has to a large extent taken the place of parental
authority and control;
• areas of residence are not ‘communities’
in that neighbours tend to be strangers or
acquaintances and not the people you could
look to help out or offer assistance when
• young people have few adults they can turn to
or few adults who see it as their responsibility
to guide them: the role of priests and pastors is
declining, the extended kin is widely scattered,
their home communities are not tightly knit
and teachers do not see their first priority
being the psychological health of their charges;
• young people live in families and societies
that are more permissive in the latitude of
behaviours that are tolerated – early sexual
activity, smoking, alcohol and substance abuse,
school drop-outs.
Alcoholism and Drug Abuse
Substance abuse is sometimes said to be the cause of
domestic violence. However, while they may make a bad
situation worse, producing an added level of stress, they are
not the underlying causes, which are to be found in socioeconomic conditions and personal trauma. The level of
consumption of alcohol is quite high in the Caribbean –
50% higher than other Latin American countries – and is
associated with enjoyment in social events, situations and
celebrations. However, high consumption leads to highrisk behaviours and a reduced ability to deal effectively
with stressors when they occur in daily life.
If women in a male-dominated household make a bid for
power or walk a path that the dominant male disapproves
of, family upheaval takes place and in some instances
violence happens. That increasing numbers of women
today are excelling in education and sometimes earn more
than their partners is threatening to the dominant paradigm
of masculinity. Violence becomes a means of retaliation but
we should note that while patriarchy itself is entrenched in
the society, many men do not beat their wives.
This patriarchy is deeply reflected in our laws and
permeates our social institutions as seen in our justice
system which has not been always ready to pursue
and prosecute men for what was thought of as ‘family
business’. Women seeking help from the police and the
law courts also found little support because they were
in effect challenging the right of men to abuse them by
bringing the matter to male-dominated institutions. The
feminist lobby has been in the forefront of agitating for
changes to laws and procedures that require complaints
be taken seriously. While many countries now have
legislation against domestic violence, the police report
that females tend to change their minds and routinely
drop the charges. Perhaps if they had an ‘exit strategy’,
the charges would stick because many women and their
children are financially dependent on their abuser. The
legal system then has begun the slow dismantling of
patriarchy but if social policies cannot adequately assist
low-income families and offer child support, then the
majority of abused women and children have no choice
but to stay with their abuser. Attempt Activity 6.6 to
consider further the effect of legal sanctions on domestic
Read the extract below and then answer the questions.
Domestic Violence in Belize
In … Belize men have historically exercised almost complete economic and political power over women. In
families, they have always exerted their authority and control through physical battering. Husbands beat their
wives with anything they can get hold of: guns, knives, crowbars, machetes, electric wire, bottles, mop handles,
rocks, boards, rope and so forth. These violent acts go unacknowledged by the community and unreported to the
police and are rarely discussed among family and friends. Despite the fact that local papers periodically run stories
of women mutilated, burned, and murdered by their husbands or partners, wife battering doesn’t warrant any
mention in the country’s official crime documents.
Women’s dependence is so deep in Belize that they are usually willing to accept abuse and tolerate offensive
behaviour in exchange for economic security. Over the past two decades, however, frustrated Belizean women
formed several organisations aimed at increasing women’s status, decreasing their dependence, and ending
domestic violence. Their efforts came to fruition in 1993 with passage of the Domestic Violence Bill, which gives
women the ability to acquire legal restraining orders against their husbands and grants police the power to make
arrests in domestic disputes.
(Source: D. Newman, Families: A Sociological Perspective (New York: McGraw Hill, 2009, p.355).
1. If you live in Belize, is this a fair portrayal, historically speaking, of domestic abuse in your country? If you live in
another territory, is there a similar history in your country? What does your legislation say about domestic violence?
2. To what extent do legal sanctions against domestic violence affect the incidence of domestic abuse in the society?
The Sociological Perspectives on Domestic Violence
Functionalism takes a structural view of the society
and looks at how the needs of the society are met by
social institutions. Where the family is concerned,
Functionalism upholds an optimistic view that it is
beneficial to its members and society. Any deviance
in the family is looked on as dysfunctional and stems
from a situation where society does not address social
needs. Domestic violence, for example, is seen as a
direct consequence of high stress levels and rapid social,
economic and technological changes. These indicate
that a state of disequilibrium exists between social
institutions such as the economy, education and the
family, which is reflected in individuals experiencing
poverty, unemployment, crowded conditions and
alienation, leading them to substance abuse, truancy, and
other high-risk behaviours. In such contexts, violence
against women and children increase.
Conflict theorists hold the view that competition
and conflict are more characteristic of the family than
consensus. They focus on the role of inequity in power
between various family members to explain abuse. In
households where there is a more equal distribution of
tasks and power, there tends to be less violence. They say
that if family conflict is not managed properly, violence
could result; for example, verbal abuse is a form of
emotional abuse that can escalate into physical violence.
In the majority of families, children are powerless and
they become a target for violence in abusive households.
For many Conflict theorists, patriarchy holds explanatory
power in describing violence against women.
Interactionist theorists study how a behaviour
comes to be labelled as ‘deviant’ and what constitutes
‘domestic’ and ‘child abuse’. One of the tenets of symbolic
interaction is that persons act based on the meaning they
make of something. In some families corporal punishment
of children (whether slight or severe) is not considered
to be abuse. A second tenet is based on the idea that
something has meaning for someone only through social
interaction. Therefore, attitudes to domestic violence
may stem from one’s culture and one’s socialization. It
also suggests that increasing knowledge and interaction
with different ideas could change traditional values.
Interactionists are not overly concerned with finding
out the ‘causes’ of why something happens because it is
virtually impossible to do so, people being so varied in
the influences that have shaped them. Rather, they strive
to describe phenomena in as much detail as possible; so
they would study how women interpret and resist abuse,
the strategies they use and how they make meaning of
their situation.
Child Abuse
Child abuse refers to any type of maltreatment meted out to
children namely, physical, verbal, emotional and sexual
abuse, as well as neglect. For the children affected, all
can result in fear, low self-esteem, loneliness, threats to
nutrition and good health, school disengagement and/or
failure, listlessness, distrust of adults and erratic or violent
outbursts. Occasionally they result in serious bodily
harm and death.
Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment such as hitting children, spanking
them, beating with whips, belts, sticks and the like are
common practices in the Caribbean. Few people feel
that spanking, hitting or slapping children now and then
as punishment for inappropriate behaviour should be
treated as ‘violence’. Since parents are entrusted with the
socialisation of children they feel that they should have
a wide repertoire of rewards and punishments in order
to instil appropriate behaviours, norms and values. Even
children’s rights activists have not been able to overcome
this dominant view that the parental right to discipline
(beat) their children is fundamental to the integrity
of the family and must be preserved. Nevertheless, in
Scandinavian and some other European countries there
are legal sanctions against hitting children. Proponents of
a ban contend that physical discipline by parents may lead
to a cycle of violence where children become juvenile
delinquents and abusive spouses and parents themselves,
and policymakers consider this outcome too expensive
to the society.
In the Caribbean where there is a great deal of
tolerance of the idea of occasionally using the belt or
the whip to discipline children, concern usually arises
when corporal punishment becomes too extreme and/
or chronic resulting in injuries, broken bones, burns, and
other physical damage. At some point the transition into
abuse happens. Women are just as likely as men to abuse
children, possibly because they spend more time with
them and may be responsible for discipline and overseeing
their schooling.
Child abuse is very much under-reported. Children
often do not fully understand what is happening and
are too small physically to be able to defend themselves.
Moreover, such incidents leave them confused and
troubled because more often than not they love their
parents or relatives who administer punishments.
‘Battered’ children who are older are also not inclined
to expose violence in the family, believing it to be a
private matter, so it becomes shrouded in family secrecy.
Children also seem to feel (or are made to feel) that they
are responsible in some way for unleashing these attacks.
close family members, namely fathers, stepfathers and
uncles who sexually abuse young girls in their care.
Reports from Jamaica and Guyana show that child
abuse and neglect occurs across all socioeconomic
groups and family structures. However, children from
homes of low socio-economic status, children from
inner-city areas and children who have a parent with
mental health problems or drug / alcohol problems
are most vulnerable. In addition, certain groups of
children are reported to be at heightened risk for
child abuse and neglect. For example, children from
minority groups (Carib children from St Vincent and
the Grenadines and Dominica, Amerindian children
in Guyana and Maroon children in Suriname) have
been reported to experience higher levels of physical
and sexual abuse than children from the general
population. Children with disabilities are reported to
be at heightened risk for all types of abuse (physical
abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect)
and orphaned children and children with absentee
parents are more at risk for physical abuse. There are
also some reports of younger children (aged birth to
4 years and 5–12 years) being most at risk of child
abuse and neglect.
Child sexual abuse is any interaction between a child
and an older or more powerful person, in which the
child is used for sexual stimulation. The offender is
usually an adult, but could also be a more powerful
child. It happens all around us, in rich homes and poor
ones, affecting boys and girls alike. Most times we
either don’t notice or choose not to see this ugly truth.
(UNICEF, 2005, p. 14)
The above excerpt indicates the social groups which
seem to experience a greater incidence of child abuse
in the Caribbean. While this is a complex issue and
individual factors are important, sociologists believe
that poverty is not a cause in itself but leads to certain
conditions which may predispose an adult to abuse a child.
Unemployment, especially in single-parent families,
may lead to depression, anger and hopelessness and
when combined with drug use can produce a potentially
unstable situation which may erupt into extreme violence
against a child even where that child does not misbehave.
Children of migrant parents left with caregivers who
are undergoing such stressors or children of minorities
who suffer from a lack of economic and educational
opportunity, are at risk for abuse and neglect.
(IGDS, 2011)
The age of maturity becomes an issue in these cases.
Childhood is defined by laws which stipulate the age
under which sex with a minor is considered an offence
(called statutory rape), whether or not consent was involved
(see Activity 6.7). Some people hold patriarchal values
A minor in these cases is a child or young person under
the legal age of consent
which encourage men to feel that since they are the
providers in the home they are entitled to have intercourse
with the female children of their partners. Outside the
home, child sexual abuse can occur anywhere that
children are not adequately supervised or if there is a
transaction involved between an older man and a young
girl, trading sexual favours for money. Child sexual abuse
is not limited to any social group or defined by poverty.
It happens in all socio-economic and ethnic groups and
is not limited to young girls but can occur with babies
and toddlers too.
As with spousal violence, the myth that the family
is a private sphere has become so encoded in our laws
and practices that the police and other authorities are
very reluctant to intervene in a family’s affairs. The laws
themselves are not very comprehensive and enforcement
occurs in a minority of cases. Those who know about
such abuse and do not report it often make this choice
because the perpetrator is the economic provider or
because of the shame and dislocation that will necessarily
result if such things are made public.
Conjugal Separation and Divorce
Conjugal means ‘to do with being married’ and can also
apply to the common law family so prevalent in the
Caribbean. A separation could be just a mutual decision
to live apart but there is also a ‘legal separation’ which is
a more formal agreement binding on both parties – but
whether legal or not, the pair remains married. Divorce is
the legal dissolution of a marriage, a family is ‘broken up’
and reforms as a new entity.
Child Sexual Abuse
This type of abuse has its own set of dynamics
differentiating it from the general term, child abuse. It is
a widespread problem as evidenced by the existence of
child pornography, child prostitution and paedophilia –
sexual desires and relations between an adult and a child,
usually a man and a very young girl. Incest is a form of
child sexual abuse involving sexual relationships between
Social Institutions (the Justice System)
Below is a description of the laws of Jamaica taken from Section 10, The Sexual Offences Act.
Read the extract and then answer these questions.
1. Suggest why consent is not an adequate defense for someone accused of having sex with a person under the age of
16 years?
2. Suggest why there is the stipulation about persons 23 years and under.
3. What do you notice about the treatment of gender in how the laws are worded? Suggest ONE explanation.
4. Suggest some possible solutions to the social problem of child sexual abuse?
This section states that anyone who has sexual intercourse with a person under the age of sixteen is guilty of an
offense; it is immaterial whether or not the persons involved consented (Section 25). The offender will be liable
to imprisonment for life. The section also states that attempted sexual intercourse with a person under the age
of sixteen, with or without consent, carries a sentence of imprisonment for fifteen years. It is a defense for a
person of 23 years of age or under who is charged for the first time with such an offense to show that he/she had
reasonable cause to believe that the victim was of or over the age of sixteen. The section also states that where
the offender is an adult in authority, he/she is liable imprisonment for life or another term the Court considers
appropriate, but for a minimum of fifteen years. Where the offender has authority or guardianship over the child
victim, the Court may divest the offender of all authority or guardianship over the victim upon conviction.
(Source: Extract from the Sexual Offences Act, 2009, Global Resource and Information Directory, at
http://www.fosigrid.org/caribbean/jamaica, accessed 17 December 2013.)
Why are conjugal separation and divorce considered
to be social problems?
Too often the break-up of a family results in trauma for
members: children, for example, may feel abandoned
and alienated, resulting in poor academic achievement,
truancy and dropping out of school. The standard of
living of divorced women tends to be lower than that
of married women because one income has to now
stretch further and in most cases they are given custody
of the children. Alimony payments many times do not
cover the costs of bringing up children. To the family,
now a single-parent family, poverty becomes a very real
possibility for mother and children depending on their
social standing. If any practice results in the increase in
poverty and school drop-outs or underachievement then
it is a social problem requiring a solution.
Why is conjugal separation and divorce of
sociological interest?
Divorce, especially, is of sociological interest because
while it is a personal decision, like separation, there are
social factors which seem to affect the rates of conjugal
separation and divorce in different social groups. A
Conjugal separation is an official separation obtained
legally, and is treated here as divorce.
mutual decision to separate without going to court is an
informal occurrence which is under-reported and so
much cannot be said in terms of general trends.
Functionalism views the rise and fall in the rates of
divorce as indicators that marriage and family life may
be thriving or declining. They identify the factors likely
to impact families (see below) and enact social policy to
address those issues because they see the stability of
society at stake. An Interpretive sociologist on the other
hand is more interested in looking at divorce as an event
that is experienced by adults and children, to investigate
the conditions and contexts that explain its occurrence,
and understand its effects on members. It is seen as a lifecourse transition, among others such as leaving home,
marriage, and retirement.
The fact that there are many social factors that are
linked to rates of divorce indicates that it is not solely a
private trouble.
1. Historical factors
Divorce rates increased after World War II in the USA,
perhaps because of the long absence of one partner in the
armed forces.
The divorce rate is the ratio of the number of marriages
which are dissolved in a given year to the average
population in that year.
2. Economic factors
During the Great Depression of the 1930s in the USA
divorce declined, indicating that couples are likely to
stay together in hard economic times and could afford to
divorce in times of prosperity.
Generational differences mean that people who marry at
a younger age, such as teenagers, tend to have a higher
rate of divorce than others.
3. Demographic factors
In Western countries, the poor are more likely to be
divorced than others. In the Caribbean the poor may
just choose to separate because of the expense associated
with a divorce.
More people are living longer these days because of
improvements in health, nutrition, medicine, and
housing and more have access to education. There is
the likelihood that fewer married people will remain
married throughout this longer life span.
4. Education
The increasing educational and job opportunities
afforded to women means that they now have the means
for financial independence and are therefore not likely
to stay in a marriage and play the traditional female role.
5. Feminism
The women’s movement popularised a critique of
marriage showing that housework was really unpaid work;
that women were expected to be subservient in return
for love and family stability; and that they had to tow the
line because they were economically dependent. It seems
likely that the influence of this social movement has helped
to increase the divorce rate.
6. Laws
Perhaps because of the work of the feminist lobby, it is much
easier to get divorced today than before. No-fault divorces
have relaxed the grounds for divorce from a few serious
accusations such as infidelity, abuse and abandonment
to include vaguer conditions such as incompatibility and
irreconcilable differences.
7. Attitudes
Today more people tend to marry for love with the
expectation of finding happiness and fulfilment. When
that does not happen they are willing to divorce and
marry again, showing that whilst divorce rates are rising,
marriage rates are not necessarily decreasing.
8. Secularisation of society
Religions tend to frown on divorce because it signals the
break-up of a family. In the Roman Catholic Church
marriage is considered a sacrament in which two people
become one – therefore, it cannot be dissolved. However,
the increasingly secular nature of the society means that
fewer persons now look to a religion to arbitrate matters
between a husband and a wife.
The above factors affect the various social groups
Socio-economic groups
Ethnic groups
Marriage is valued among all ethnic groups but among East
Indians, for example, it is seen as a stage of life marking the
threshold of adulthood and is therefore very important. For
this group marriage rates are high and divorce rates low.
Some Comparisons
Tables 6.4 and 6.5 show some comparisons in divorce
rates, first between Caribbean countries, then between
countries in different regions of the world. Table 6.5 also
suggests some reasons for the level of divorce in particular
Table 6.4 Marriage and divorce rates for selected
Caribbean countries per 1,000 inhabitants
Caribbean country
St Lucia
St Vincent & the
Trinidad & Tobago
Source: United Nations (2009). World Marriage and Divorce Statistics,
2008. (New York: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs:
Population Division, 2009). At http://www.un.org/esa/population/
publications/WMD2008/WP_WMD_2008/Data.html, accessed 17
December 2013. NB Countries were selected based on whether
data was available for marriage and divorce rates for the same year.
Table 6.5 High divorce rates by ranking with some possible explanations
rate (per
Possible explanations
Westernisation has brought the disintegration of traditional marriage values.
Some commentators also believe that high divorce rates are part of a
general decline in social structure that includes rampant corruption.
The poor financial situation in the country leads to the direct break up of
families and many couples avoid having children, which is another reason
why families break up easily (Mite, 2006).
There is much value placed on marriage, even if someone is divorced many
times. There are many shot-gun marriages and so much family tension and
conflict (Frejka, 2008, p. 110).
Although housing is free, there are so many shortages that families,
sometimes four generations live under one roof, causing tensions and
conflict in cramped conditions (van Berkmoes, 2008).
Puerto Rico
Cayman Islands
Economic hardship is widespread. Divorce is often a solution where despite
formal equality, women find that it is difficult to get jobs in the higher levels
of industry, business, politics and government (http://ukraine.uazone.net/
Source: United Nations (2006). Demographic Yearbook, 2006. New York: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs., pp. 824–826.
Comparative Element in Sociology
1. As well as looking closely at Table 6.4, you will need to conduct your own research to answer these questions.
a. Suggest reasons why St Lucia has the lowest marriage rate among the selected countries?
b. Suggest reasons why Belize has such a low rate of divorce and Aruba has a relatively high rate?
c. Are marriage and divorce rates rising or falling in the Caribbean?
d. What may be the reasons for the trends you detected in (c) above?
2. Table 6.5 indicates those countries with the highest divorce rates in the world together with some reasons suggested
by various commentators.
a. Six of the countries listed were once part of the USSR. Does that suggest that the high divorce rate could have social
b. Suggest why the divorce rate for the Cayman Islands is so high? Why might this statistic be considered to be misleading?
c. Conduct your own research to determine the trends in divorce rates in these countries since 2006.
d. Find out which countries are in the top 10 today.
One of the effects of divorce is that it leads to diversity
in families and family life, especially an increase in
single-parent families. The increase in divorce rates does
not necessarily reflect a reluctance to get married again.
People who have divorced many times seem willing to remarry. Another marriage creates a reconstituted or blended
family with children of the two new spouses now coming
together to form one family. Some feel that divorce is not
a social problem, rather it is the solution to a problem.
In this view the real social problems are abandonment,
domestic violence, drug abuse, and the values associated
with and male sexuality. However, divorce indicates a
failed family and since most mothers are given custody
of any children the offspring of divorced parents grow up
with the father playing a diminished role in their lives.
Teenage Pregnancy
Why is ‘teenage pregnancy’ labelled a social problem? In
fact, in many countries of the world teen sexuality and
teen motherhood are traditional and accepted practices
in the society within marriage. The ‘problem’ for Western
countries lies in unwed, that is single teen motherhood
and it is labelled a ‘social problem’ for a number of reasons.
1 Adolescence is a recognised stage of development
after childhood in which the individual learns to
accept personal responsibility and self-control and
becomes an increasingly adept decision-maker. Early
sexual experimentation however is likely to disrupt
this process of growth and maturity.
2 Teenage pregnancy is evidence that young people
are engaging in premarital sex, something that is
strongly condemned by most religions as being
highly immoral, and shows that with the increasing
secularisation of society teens are not likely to make
decisions based on religious morals and values.
3 Adolescent parents are saddled with weighty
responsibilities such as child care and finding funds
to support the child. Too often this means dropping
out of school and so reduces opportunities for them.
The situation is not gender neutral: the pregnant teen
suffers more disadvantage than her partner.
4 For lower-income persons parenthood is a drain on
scarce resources; if they do receive help from their
families, it is an additional burden to those families.
5 Teenage pregnancy brings extra expense for a small
developing country.
Adolescent motherhood cost the Bahamas 0.9% of
the country’s GDP, and 3.9% of GDP over the lifetime
of the mothers. The country would therefore have
grown by 3.9% over the mothers’ lifetime, had they
all postponed pregnancy until their twenties.
(Caricom, 2010, p. 121)
For example:
a the state has to provide a safety net for those
individuals without support such as maternity
expenses, ante- and post-natal outpatient clinics,
and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases;
b it represents wastage in its investment in education
because more often than not the teen mother has
to drop out of school;
c it is unikely that teenagers can provide good
enough guidance and socialisation skills to their
children to allow them to achieve their full
potential in society – children of teen parents tend
to do poorly in school and are likely to join their
peers in unlawful activities.
To a large extent unwanted teenage pregnancy is a
consequence of other social problems. Poverty is usually
cited as the problem but being poor cannot be the whole
story because teens from higher socio-economic brackets
do get pregnant, though their pregnancies usually end
in abortion. Poverty, however, can provide the contexts
which may influence some adolescents to engage in atrisk behaviours. For example, crowded accommodation
reduces the privacy that is normally observed by adults
having sexual relations. With such knowledge, teens
experiment with sex at relatively young ages. This may
be most marked in families where they spend a lot of
time unsupervised – those with single mothers who are
working; migrant and absentee parents who have left
them in the care of others; and grandparents who cannot
control their teenage charges. Failing at or dropping out
of school are also risk factors. Where poverty is most
dire, the sense of hopelessness and futility may lead
individuals to find empowerment in crime, drug abuse
and early sexual relationships. Teenage pregnancies may
also result from child sexual abuse, which happens in all
socio-economic groups.
The idea of teenage pregnancy as a ‘social problem’
is challenged by those who say that today there are more
state-funded resources and programmes to help unwed
mothers. Girls who take advantage of the opportunities
provided to finish school and learn skills are likely to be
resilient and mature in the handling of their resources
and in bringing up their child. Motherhood then confers
a type of responsibility that encourages some girls to
be motivated to catch up on the opportunities that had
passed them by.
That may be the situation in the developed world, but
in the Caribbean we are less likely to have the resources to
rehabilitate young unwed mothers so we have to focus on
preventing the problem from occurring as much as possible.
One study from Jamaica (Baumgartner et al., 2009)
indicates the major issues that are probably common to
other Caribbean territories:
■ While contraceptive use increased among teenagers in
the sample, there is still a high incidence of unplanned
■ Those who were pregnant (as opposed to those who
were not) tended to believe that contraception was
the female’s responsibility.
■ Many pregnant girls indicated that their first sexual
encounter was at age 14 (for those who were not
pregnant their first sexual encounters were at a later
■ Those who had early sexual encounters also tended
to have multiple partners over time.
■ Sexual coercion and violence was reported by at
least half the sample.
Sexual coercion has been defined … as the ‘act of
forcing (or attempting to force) another individual
through violence, threats, verbal insistence, deception,
cultural expectations or economic circumstance to
engage in sexual behavior against his or her will’.
(Ellsberg & Gottemoeller, 1999)
Based on this study the strategy that might make the
greatest impact in reducing teenage pregnancies is one
that would rely on education (either in or out of school,
e.g. Health and Family Life Education, Social Studies,
Family Planning campaigns, seminars on reproductive
health) to offer information as well as discussion about
gender relations and how patriarchy influences decisionmaking. The availability of contraception is also
In some countries abstinence programmes have
been initiated, and these have received a great deal of
exposure. Teenagers are encourage to abstain from sexual
intercourse altogether, and to develop friendship groups
across the sexes rather than boyfriend/girlfriend exclusive
relationships. Such programmes are particularly popular
in countries where there is strong religious pressure
to abstain from sexual relationships before marriage.
However, these programmes do not seem to have been
very effective in reducing teenage pregnancies.
Why do you think abstinence programmes have been
ineffective in reducing teenage pregnancy?
Discuss the question with your friends and suggest
whether these programmes could be improved or
whether they should be scrapped.
Social Policy
Governments attempt to reduce social problems such
as domestic violence, child sexual abuse and teenage
pregancies through various programmes which we call
social policy. Social policies are based to a large extent on
social research about how people are living their lives
and aim to promote the welfare and well being of all
citizens. Well-being refers to how well people are, if they
are happy, satisfied with their lives and participate in
their communities. Welfare is more narrow and related to
prosperity, income, and access to education, health and
safe living and working environments.
However, as small countries we have very limited
resources and therefore need to spend funds in the best
possible way. In addressing needs, Caribbean governments
have mainly relied on supportive policies which can be
termed ‘handouts’. More developmental or preventative polices
such as vocational training and employment-generating
measures are relatively scarce. Yet they are the ones that
could help to build more empowered, knowledgeable and
resilient individuals.
Social Improvement
For each of the following problems, suggest examples
of supportive, developmental and preventative social
policies that governments have enacted or could enact
to alleviate the problem.
a. domestic violence;
b. child abuse;
c. conjugal separation and divorce;
d. teenage pregnancy.
To sum up:
This section sought to describe and analyse the issues
associated with the family that are designated ‘social
problems’. Grief, murder or robbery in the family
are not considered social problems, only those
issues which have widespread impact beyond the
individual family. For example, child sexual abuse
has an impact on the social institution of the family,
education, the economy and the justice system.
While these social problems occur at all levels of
society, poverty exacerbates their influence. Social
policies that seek to reduce the inequalities in society
and the dominant patriarchal value system are major
strategies in lessening the impact of these social
problems on the family and wider society.
Chapter Summary
In describing the social institution of the family, this chapter outlined the many popular misconceptions
in society about the family. The Afro-Caribbean family, in particular, was labelled as ‘dysfunctional’ by
ethnocentric scholars who used First World models of families as the standard. Their interest however
sparked a spate of research and theory building about Caribbean families – into their origins, the
phenomenon of mother-headed households, the debate as to whether they were matrifocal, the role
of patriarchy, men and fathers in such households, the high rates of single parents and common law
unions, and the impact of increasing education, migration and work opportunities on gender relations
and families. Studying Caribbean families also revealed the differences in kinship and familial
practices amongst different ethnic groups. The sociological perspectives showed that the family could
be studied at the macro- and micro-levels; much of the present feminist research into inequalities in
the family is in the Interpretive perspective. The chapter ended with a discussion of social problems
which may seem to be individual or personal issues in families but which are influenced by social
factors and have social repercussions.
Antoine, R.B. (2008). Commonwealth Caribbean Law and Legal
Systems. New York: Routledge-Cavendish.
Ellsberg, H. & Gottemoeller, M. (1999). Ending Violence Against
Women. Population Reports, series L., no.11.
Barrow, C. (1996). Family in the Caribbean: Themes and
Perspectives. Kingston: Ian Randle.
Frazier, E. F. (1966). The Negro Family in the United States.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. First published 1939.
Baumgartner, J., Geary, C., Tucker, H., & Wedderburn, M.
(2009). The Influence of Early Sexual Debut and Sexual
Violence on Adolescent Pregnancy: A Matched Case-control
Study In Jamaica. International Perspectives on Sexual and
Reproductive Health, 35(1). At http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/
journals/3502109.html, accessed 4 December 2013.
Frejka, T. (2008). Childbearing Trends and Policies in Europe, Bk 1.
Rostock, Germany: Max Planck Insititute for Demographic Research.
Caricom (2003). Women and Men in the Caribbean Community:
Facts and Figures 1980–2001. Georgetown, Guyana: Caricom
Secretariat. At http://crmi-undp.org/documents/documentos/112.
pdf, accessed 17 December 2013.
Caricom (2010). Eye on the Future – Investing in Youth Now for
Tomorrow’s Community. Report of the Caricom Commission on
youth development, January. At http://www.caricom.org/jsp/
accessed 17 December 2013.
Cheal, D. (2002). Sociology of Family Life. New York: Palgrave
Clarke, E. (1999). My Mother Who Fathered Me: A Study of
the Family in Three Selected Communities in Jamaica. Kingston,
Jamaica: University Press of the West Indies. First pub. 1957
(London: Allen & Unwin).
Craton, M. (2001). Changing Patterns of Slave Families in the
British West Indies. In R. Rothberg (ed.), Population History and
the Family: A Journal of Interdisciplinary History Reader, pp. 137–
172. Boston, MA: MIT Press/Journal of Interdisciplinary History.
Herskovits, M. (1958). The Myth of the Negro Past. Boston:
Beacon Press. First published 1941.
IGDS (2011). Break the Silence: End Child Sexual Abuse.
A Research Project. St. Augustine: Institute of Gender and
Development Studies, UWI, in collaboration with the Coalition
Against Domestic Violence, UNICEF and the UN Trust Fund to
End Violence Against Women.
Ifill, M. (2003). African Family Structures in the Immediate PostEmancipation Era. Starbroek News, 17 September 2003. At
accessed 4 December 2013.
Klass, M. (1961). East Indians in Trinidad: A Study in Cultural
Persistence. New York: Waveley Press.
Lewis, O. (1959) Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the
Culture of Poverty. New York: Basic Books.
Mintz, S., & Price, R. (1976). An Anthropological Approach to
the Afro-American Past: A Caribbean Perspective. Philadelphia:
Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
Mite, V. Belarus: Economic, Social Conditions Blamed For High
Divorce Rate. Cited on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. At
http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1068444.html, accessed 4
December 2013.
Mohammed, P. (1999). Family Revisited. In P. Mohammed &
S. Shepherd (eds), Gender in Caribbean Development: Papers
Presented at the Inaugural Seminar of the University of the West
Indies Women and Development Project, 2nd ed., pp. 164–175.
Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press.
Murdock, G. P. (1949). Social Structure. New York: Macmillan.
Olsen, T. (2009). The Impact of Migration on Children in the
Caribbean: UNICEF, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Office.
Pagés, C., & Piras, C. (2010), with contributions by S. Duryea
and N. Schady. The Gender Divide: Capitalizing on Women’s
Work. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development
Bank. At http://idbdocs.iadb.org/wsdocs/getdocument.
aspx?docnum=35117341, accessed 4 December 2013.
Parsons, T. & Bales, R. (1955). Family, Socialisation and
Interaction Processes. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Smith, R.T. (1963). Culture and Social Structure in the Caribbean:
Some Recent Work on Family and Kinship Studies. Comparative
Studies in Society and History, 6(1), pp. 24-46.
Smith, S., Hamon, R., Ingoldsby, B., & Miller, J. (2009). Exploring
Family Theories. New York: Oxford University Press.
Starbroek News (2010). Domestic, Sexual Violence Rates Soaring
in the Caribbean – Wiltshire. Online, Tuesday September 28th
2010.At http://www.stabroeknews.com/2010/news/stories/09/28/
accessed 4 December 2013.
UNICEF (2005). Regional Assessment: Violence against
Children in the Caribbean Region – a Desk Review. Kingston,
Jamaica: UNICEF. At http://www.unicef.org/lac/spbarbados/
accessed 4 December 2013.
Smith, M.G. (1962). West Indian Family Structure. Seattle:
University of Washington Press.
United Nations (2002). International Migration, Wallchart. New
York: Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat, ST/
ESA/SER.A/219, Sales No. EO3.XIII.3.
Smith, M.G. (1965). The Plural Society in the British West Indies.
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Van Berkmoes, R. (2008). Caribbean Islands. London: Lonely Planet.
Smith, R.T. (1956).The Negro Family in British Guiana: Family
Structure and Social Status in the Villages. London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul.
Warner-Lewis, M. (2003). Central Africa in the Caribbean:
Transcending Time, Transforming Cultures. Kingston, Jamaica:
University of the West Indies Press.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. Which of the following is NOT a function of
the family?
(a) reproduction
(b) socialisation
(c) economic stability
(d) authority
2. Polygamy refers to
(a) plural marriages where there is more
than one husband or wife
(b) the crime of having more than one legally
married spouse
(c) one woman married to several men
(d) one man married to several women
3. The practice of selecting a spouse or partner
from within one’s social group is known as
(a) exogamy
(b) polygny
(c) polyandry
(d) endogamy
4. A society where men in the household
exercise power and authority over women
and children is called
(a) patriarchal
(b) matriarchal
(c) patrilineal
(d) matrilineal
5. Why do Functionalist sociologists feel that
society would break down if the family has
I The family is the smallest building block
of society.
II Family problems can spread to other
III Sexuality would no longer be contained
within the family.
(a) I and II
(b) II and III
(c) I and III
(d) I, II and III
6. Which of the following statements BEST
describes the family as a social institution?
(a) all the beliefs and values about family in
a society
(b) the dominant ideas and ideologies about
family in a society
(c) the family as part of the social system
(d) the family types and structures that exist
in a society
7. Which ONE of the following is an
ethnocentric belief about Caribbean families?
(a) the family is a safe haven
(b) Caribbean families are widely diverse
(c) dysfunction in the family is related to the
social structure
(d) the nuclear family is the ideal family type
8. Which of the family types or unions below
can give rise to a nuclear family?
I stem families
II common law unions
III visiting relationships
(a) I only
(b) I and II
(c) I and III
(d) II only
9. Which of the following family types is an
‘extended’ family form?
(a) reconstituted families
(b) nuclear families
(c) sibling families
(d) stem families
10. The anthropologist who theorised that slavery
had erased any African cultural retentions in
Afro-Caribbean families was
(a) Frazier
(b) Lewis
(c) Herskovits
(d) Mintz
(B) Structured Response Questions
Each response should be about three or four lines
and carries 4 marks.
(1) Why did Murdock regard the nuclear family
as the ideal type of family?
(2) Give TWO reasons for the persistence of the
extended family in the Caribbean.
(3) Outline FOUR ways in which the Caribbean
family is undergoing transformation.
(4) Describe TWO contributions of feminist
Marxists to understanding the family.
(5) Give ONE argument supporting the view that
women are oppressed as a group in society
and ONE argument refuting it.
(6) Distinguish between the terms, matrifocal and
(7) Briefly describe the consensus view of the
(8) How has industrialisation impacted kinship
patterns in the Caribbean?
(9) How does ‘the family’ as a social institution
differ from ‘families’ in society?
(10) Provide an explanation of what is meant by
(C) Essay Questions
In this section some essay questions are given
(25 marks). The questions may involve further
research building on what the chapter offers.
A specimen answer to the first of these essays
is provided, with annotations. Refer back to
Chapter 1 for guidelines of how to critique a
sociological essay.
(1) Discuss the arguments of selected sociological
theories about men and fatherhood in the
(2) Give arguments for and against the view that
in the Caribbean the matrifocal family is the
typical family form.
(3) Distinguish between the Functionalist and
the Interpretive perspectives on the family.
(4) Examine, and critique, feminist arguments on
the influence of patriarchy on families.
(5) Critically analyse the possible ways in which
poverty influences the Caribbean family.
Sample Answer and Critique
Discuss the arguments of selected sociological theories about men and fatherhood in the Caribbean.
In this essay three of the major theories about men and fatherhood will be discussed – namely, gender
socialisation, patriarchy, and male marginalisation. Research into Afro-Caribbean males and fathers
has tended to portray men as a marginalised group of low income status contributing minimally to
the family where the woman is often the breadwinner and homemaker. However, extending those
views to the bulk of the Afro-Caribbean male population cannot be justified because they belong to
many different socio-economic groups, occupations, religions and educational levels. Even among
poorer groups, these portrayals are stereotypical and are not based on research taking the views of
men into consideration. Sociological theorising in the traditional model, for example that of
Functionalism, by generalising findings tends to encourage and maintain stereotypes. The
complexity of representing men’s lives as fathers and partners is better elaborated through
Conflict and Interpretive perspectives.
Gender socialisation theories state that the rearing of children to conform to social constructions of
gender begins in the family and continues throughout life. It is reinforced by schooling, the media, the
world of work and one’s peers. Gender stereotypes are so well solidified in the society that they are
almost invisible to its members. Nevertheless, boys and girls from birth are directly or indirectly
trained to regard themselves as differing considerably from each other. Traditional sex role
stereotypes result in an understanding of masculinity as opposite to that of femininity. Boys and
men are encouraged to establish an identity that is comfortable outside the home in the public
sphere and in active pastimes such as sports (Leo-Rhynie, 1998). Girls and women are socialised into
seeing femininity as homemaking and caring for children. They are discouraged from being
‘tomboys’ or outspoken and aggressive whilst these are the characteristics that males are supposed
to adopt. While these child-rearing practices will vary from home to home as well as by ethnic and
socio-economic categories – even by individual prowess and abilities – these dispositions are widely
inculcated and not only in the Caribbean. Gender theorists say that such learned behaviour has
implications for men as fathers. Their lack of involvement in household chores, cooking and looking
after children continues as they become fathers, looking for any means to escape family-related
duties, preferring to spend more time at work, with their friends or playing sports. These theories
identify mainstream conceptions of gender and socialisation helping to form norms, and are the
major reasons why Caribbean males tend to be not as helpful in the home as they could be. Further,
it suggests an explanation for the absences or periodic absences of males in the home which is a
crucial factor because of the dearth of male role models, in the socialisation of both boys and girls
in the family.
Critics of gender socialisation theories underscore that it is difficult to show how someone takes up
a behaviour that is modeled and that individuals are not passively socialised into norms (Watts &
Borders, 2005, Wharton, 2005). They point to the many men who uphold their responsibilities in the
Indicates how
the essay is
to be focused.
Critiques different
briefly. Ends
with a possible
theme to return
to in subsequent
Social change
– opposing
home and participate in the bringing up of children despite mainstream gender stereotypes. They
cite changes in education and the world of work as well as the feminist lobby to show that gender
stereotypes are changing and that the economic situation which has encouraged women to go out to
work has also forced men, both employed and unemployed, to assist in taking care of the home. It is
difficult to try to describe a social situation that is undergoing rapid change but, for the most part,
we seem to be living in an era where the traditional gender stereotypes are under attack. At the same
time we cannot say that men are now active in the home. Interpretive research shows that although
some men are taking the responsibility for domestic affairs they do not feel that sense of fulfilment
and affirmation they get, say, when they participate in sports or outside-the-home activities. These
theories point out that arguments which continue to frame the issue as gender socialisation neglect
important changes occurring such as the efforts of some men to carve out a new set of behaviours in
ways that make them feel comfortable and empowered (the role of agency).
Other theorists see patriarchy as having more explanatory power than gender socialisation. They
see gender socialisation as a necessary sub-process within an overarching system of patriarchy
where gender socialisation processes reinforce and deepen patriarchy in the society. This is a radical
feminist view – patriarchy means domination by men in families, at the workplace, in politics, the
law and so on. They describe it as a system of oppression of women by men where men and fathers
exert the dominant power in families and act as the heads of households because they are male. Their
relationship to their female partners and children is an authoritarian one. This is more pronounced
in East Indian families where patriarchy has traditionally been the norm but it occurs in AfroCaribbean households, to a lesser extent, because patriarchy is deeply engrained in the traditions and
practices of the society.
Critics of this view, particularly Errol Miller (1994), find that there is much sweeping generalisation in
how radical feminists put their case and it is perhaps because they are overly concerned with
advocacy and the righting of perceived wrongs. He proposes that all men, in the Caribbean and
elsewhere, are not oppressors, particularly those who are poor and marginalised by society, and that
gender cannot be the only basis for analysis. Both men and women belong to significant social
groupings – ethnicity and social class being two of the most important – and how men and fathers
develop in each of these needs to be taken into consideration. For example, Western scholarship finds
much evidence for the oppression of women in families but the lower-income Afro-Caribbean
experience, especially in matrifocal settings, does not exactly echo this situation. Men and fathers
may be absent or marginal for economic reasons thereby forcing women to take more control of the
family’s affairs. Feminists counter by saying that patriarchy is such an embedded system that even
men and fathers who opt for more egalitarian households find it an uphill battle to go against the
social norms derived from male domination.
The male marginalisation thesis advances the view that boys in the Caribbean have been
underachieving in the education system at all levels, relative to girls, and do not seem to be as
motivated to seek further education or work. With the opening up of educational opportunities and
Radical feminism
non-traditional jobs for girls, females are being employed at all levels much more than before. This
has effects on men and fathers in that underachievement and unemployment affects their authority
in the home, their self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy. Particularly, it impacts on their
relationships with their wives and partners because the traditional roles are being eroded away, and
more so when in a home a man cannot contribute to the upkeep of the family. Miller in the case of
Jamaica specifically states that the closure of the teachers’ colleges for men in the 19th century forced
poor black men to remain in menial occupations and helped poor black women to aspire to the middle
class. He saw this as being deliberately orchestrated by the brown and white men (those of a different
ethnicity and higher economic status) because of the inherent conflicts among men.
Miller’s thesis has generated a storm of protest especially from feminists who object to the idea
of the advancement of women through a plot by men of a higher social class and ethnic grouping
(Barriteau, 2003). Others suggest that men are not marginalised (by others) but engage in behaviours
that jeopardise their own advancement. They cite rejection of the norms of schooling, embracing the
street culture, participation in gang and criminal activities (Chevannes, 1996). Still others bring the
debate right around to the starting point by suggesting that it is their socialisation into a rigid male
gender identity, which is machismo-based and maintained by patriarchal relations, that encourage
such behaviours.
These three theories have significant overlap although in each case the theorists see important
differences. To bring them together one must acknowledge the system of patriarchy in social life
and how it confines males and females into very fixed notions of masculinity and femininity.
Thus, gender socialisation is a key ingredient in any theorising that focuses on men and fathers
in the Caribbean. The Interpretive perspective has gone further than others in fleshing out how
patriarchy actually disadvantages men. The acceptance that ‘being male’ involves a particular kind
of conformity – to certain ideas of sexuality, a ‘cool pose posture’, being a sporting enthusiast, and
rejecting school and family-oriented norms – is difficult for all males, but especially for those who
want to be different. The machismo culture however keeps men in conformist roles, especially
through their peers. This line of research acknowledges that there are different masculinities but
patriarchy only has a dominant acceptable view. Male marginalisation then has gone beyond laying
blame for the plight of men on women to an examination of the conflictual and hostile relationships
among men.
Barriteau, E. (2003). Requiem for the Male Marginalisation Thesis in the Caribbean: Death of a Non-theory.
In E. Barriteau (ed.), Confronting Power, Theorising Gender: Interdisciplinary Perspectives in the
Caribbean. Mona, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press.
Chevannes, B. (1996). The Role of the Street in the Socialisation of Caribbean Males. Paper presented at
the Annual Conference of the Caribbean Studies Association, San Juan, May.
Leo-Rhynie, E. (1998). Socialisation and the Development of Gender Identity: Theoretical
Formulations and Caribbean Research. In C. Barrow (ed.), Caribbean Portraits: Essays on Gender
Ideologies and Identities. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle.
Miller, E. (1994). The Marginalisation of the Black Male: Insights from the Development of the
Teaching Profession. 2nd ed., Kingston, Jamaica: Canoe Press.
Watts, R.H., & Borders, L.D. (2005). Boys’ Pperceptions of the Male Role: Understanding Gender Role Conflict
in Adolescent Males. e Journal of Men’s Studies, 13, pp. 267–280. EBSCO online database. At http://search.
Wharton, A. S. (2005). The Sociology of Gender: An Introduction to Theory and Research. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise
that the social institution of religion is:
interpreted differently by each sociological perspective;
based on what each society values as ‘the sacred’ and ‘the profane’;
comprised of beliefs in a supernatural entity/entities or in a system of ethics;
observed through rites and rituals as prescribed by dogma;
characterised, in different societies, by the same concerns – how the faithful should behave,
what is taboo, a concept of God, the hereafter;
subject to social change such as changes brought on by the contemporary forces of
fundamentalism, secularisation and globalisation;
made up of both dominant and marginal belief systems so that in Caribbean societies there are
major churches or World Religions, and many smaller ones, including Afro-Caribbean religions;
dominated in the Caribbean by syncretism;
influenced by history, as seen in the Caribbean, with European, Asian, and African religious
full of conflict in multi-ethnic/religious Caribbean societies where each religious group sees
their own religion as a basis of identity and is therefore alert to any ‘threats’ they see as
Social Institutions:
When sociologists study the social institution of religion they describe beliefs and dogma
(or doctrines) but they do not make value judgements or attempt to justify or criticise the
beliefs or creeds of others. Rather, they study the functions of religion as a social institution
in holding the society together, or as a source of oppression or prejudice, or enabling
people to reach states of comfort or salvation through religious observances. Sociology
is a comparative discipline and so religions can be compared according to number of
adherents, the dominant socio-economic class of members, the rituals they practise and
the nature of social change. Comparisons can help us to deepen our own understandings
of familiar practies – for example, how birth is interpreted and celebrated in different
societies illustrates for us what we have chosen to emphasise in our own practices.
Religion, Spirituality
and Belief Systems
To say what it is, is not possible… the essence of
religion is not even our concern, as we make it our
task to study the conditions and effects of a particular
type of social behaviour.
(Weber, 1963, p. 1)
Weber’s point is that defining ‘religion’ is not a
sociological activity. Sociologists focus their attention on
religion, as a social institution, and that entails the study of
(a) how religion affects people – their behaviours,
practices, observances, taboos, ideas, values, beliefs and
their relationships with non-believers, as well as (b) how
society affects religion – for example, the increasing
secularisation of social life and perhaps the opposite
movement, fundamentalism, as well. Weber felt that
Secularisation refers to a movement away from
regarding religion as important, and/or a decline in the
place of religion in public life.
Fundamentalism holds to literal and strict
interpretations of holy books and principles.
describing the effects and behaviours associated with
religion was all that the sociology of religion demanded.
Consequently, the more personal side to matters of faith
– beliefs and trust in the unseen by the individual – does
not concern the sociologist.
The Sacred and the Profane
In this section we explore the views of Émile Durkheim
on religion. Like Weber, he felt that the sociological study
of religion should confine itself to people’s actions and
practices. However, in order to be able to describe their
behaviours he found it necessary to delve into the very
heart of religion itself to try to distil the most important
elements that would explain people’s behaviour (note
the emphasis on how people are affected). In so doing he
attempted to create a definition of religion according to
what is regarded as sacred and profane.
A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices
relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart
and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into
one single moral community called a Church, all those
who adhere to them.
(Durkheim, 1954, p. 47)
Durkheim came to the conclusion that there are some
things in social life that people revere or believe are holy.
This is the ‘sacred’. Such things may or may not pertain to
beliefs in an other-worldly being or beings, a holy book
or set of scriptures, places of worship, acts of worship,
persons who lead or head congregations of believers and
certain associated rites, ceremonies and practices. What
is ‘holy’ is set apart from the normal activities of daily
life which are considered ‘profane’. Whilst the meaning
of profane in normal speech usually refers to wicked,
blasphemous or disrespectful acts, Durkheim uses it to
The statue of Bahubali in Karnataka, India, dates from the 10th century and is one of the holiest shrines to Jains
mean things that are of this world (material, routine,
ordinary) as opposed to the realm of the sacred (beliefs
that inspire awe and devotion for some entity or set of
Note that Durkheim’s definition shies away from
specifically referring to gods or supernatural beings
because what is held sacred by a group may be a set of
ethical principles, such as those that guide Buddhists,
which were not handed down by a divine being. He was
trying for an all-embracing sociological understanding of
religion that would accommodate all the world’s belief
systems by focusing on a fundamental unifying feature.
He felt that the simple division of things sacred and things
profane captured the basic universal trait of all religions.
Indeed, this was a powerful insight and continues to be
widely studied today. To Durkheim, religion is bound up
with the relationship of the faithful to these sacred things
(their behaviours) and not necessarily what they believe.
Examples of the sacred may include:
■ a holy book - for example, the Koran, the Bible, the
Bhagvad Gita, the Talmud, and the Tao-te-Ching;
■ ceremonies handed down or prescribed in scriptures
in which members must participate - for example,
the communion or eucharist in Roman Catholic,
Orthodox and Anglican services;
places important as holy sites – for example, in
Jainism, the huge rock-hewn statue of Bahubali in
Karnataka, India (above);
Jainism is an ancient religion of non-violence which
involves a belief in rebirth to a higher or lower state;
the enlightened become gods and are reborn no more;
Jains believe that the universe is eternal and infinite.
relics, artifacts and symbols which have sacred
meanings - for example, in Durkheim’s study of
aboriginal religion in Australia he found that the
totem, which was a carving or painting of an animal
or a plant, was revered by the whole clan more than
the actual animal or plant. The abstract representation
was regarded as the life force of the actual object
and held sacred.
Profane acts may be the personal decisions and actions
one takes in daily life where convenience, material gain
and utility are the main factors considered. (This is far
removed from the attitudes of transcendence that the
faithful as a group adopts in religious ceremonies.) Specific
profane acts which believers may see as compromising the
sacredness of objects or principles may include:
■ ordinary members of a congregation walking around
the altar in Roman Catholic churches;
non-Muslims entering some mosques and Islamic
shrines such as the Kaaba in Mecca;
■ religious icons being handled by non-believers;
■ women making a bid to be priests and clerics in some
Durkheim focused on the symbols, rites and rituals of
religion in defining a sacred sphere which dictated how
the members acted among themselves and in relation
to non-members. These behaviours and relationships
may be prescribed by religious beliefs but also could
have developed over time in different cultural contexts.
This sacred space is also a social space in which priests,
shamans, pundits and imams maintain and prescribe rules
to preserve its sacred nature. It is therefore the existence
of this sacred realm (and therefore the profane as well)
which defines religion.
In underscoring the sociological importance of
religion, Durkheim makes it clear that while it may be a
personal conviction of an individual, more importantly it
involves a community or a society who commit to such
beliefs. Ultimately he felt that such strong emotions and
beliefs served to unify society and that that was the main
function of religion in society. The space where believers
met to worship and conduct ceremonies proved to be
the ritualistic, communal force binding them together.
Durkheim’s views on religion and society are discussed
further under the Functionalist perspective (§7.2.1).
The Sociology of Religion
Which of the following acts are (a) important to the
religious believer, (b) important to the sociologist of
religion, and (c) important to both?
1. attributing a prophecy or vision to God;
2. relating faith-based practices to social characteristics;
3. feeling a sense of peace through religious observance;
4. accepting beliefs based on faith;
5. understanding what religion is;
6. understanding what religion does;
7. witnessing and/or experiencing transcendental
states during worship.
Belief Systems
A belief system refers to a set of faith-based beliefs either
formalised in a religion or loosely or informally held, as in
non-denominational groups such as the New Thought
movement (see Box 7.1, page 196). The term ‘belief
system’ therefore covers religions, non-denominational
faiths, spiritual practices, cults and sects. Box 7.1
describes some of the major terms associated with the
study of religion with which you should become familiar.
Weber used some of these terms as examples of ideal
types (§3.1.3). By ideal types, he meant the ‘purest’
example of something, which had all the necessary and
sufficient characteristics of that thing. At the same time,
other forms may exist representing variation from the
‘ideal’. Thus, sects or denominations today may embody
some of the characteristics as elaborated by Weber but
also can have other quite distinct features. Box 7.2 (page
197), partly based on Weber’s classification, distinguishes
between different groups and sub-groups which regard
themselves as religious.
Cults form within existing religions or denominations
because of a ‘new’ teaching or scripture revealed by a
charismatic figure who usually ends up leading the cult.
They do not necessarily break off from their parent
denomination initially. Controversial and ill-fated cults
include the People’s Temple in Guyana led by Jim
Jones (1978), the Heaven’s Gate, Branch Dravidians,
and Solar Temple in the United States as well as the
Amun Shinrykyo in Japan. In popular use the term
tends to be derogatory and used interchangeably with
‘sects’ perhaps because they both tend to attract those
disenchanted with conventional worship.
Many cults break up on the death of the founder
but some grow into denominations. The Mormon
religion (otherwise known as the Church of the Latter
Day Saints) began as a cult in the 19th century in the USA
around the teachings of Joseph Smith. It has grown in
membership to become a ‘denomination’. However,
there are fundamentalist splinter groups, which we could
call ‘sects’ that have separated from the mainstream
church over the issue of polygamy, which was officially
discontinued in 1890.
It is difficult to insert ‘cults’ into the continuum shown
in the diagram, because they are new religious groups
which would not have been known to Weber. Weber did
not use the term ‘cult’. Sociologists added that to the other
terms he used in classifying religions. It is also useful to
keep in mind that no member of any faith-based system is
likely to describe his or her group as a ‘cult’ or ‘sect’.
If you believe in it, it is a religion or perhaps ‘the’
religion; and if you do not care one way or another
about it, it is a sect; but if you fear and hate it, it is
a cult.’
(Pfeffer, 1979–80)
BOX 7.1
Major Terms in the Study of Religion
Agnostic – someone who thinks that it is
unknowable whether God exists or does not exist.
Animism – the belief that there is a force or
spirit within natural objects in the universe so
that there is no difference between the spiritual
and the physical world. Rocks, mountains, bodies
of water, volcanoes, thunder, animals and plants
bear these spirits. To the Shinto of Japan there is
an overarching spirit, Kami, manifest in all things
and worshipped at a multitude of shrines and holy
places. Animism is also common in Africa.
Asceticism is the belief that someone can reach
a high level of spiritual development by practising
self-denial, self-mortification, abstinence and an
austere lifestyle. In Hinduism a holy man or saddhu
gives up personal possessions, including family, and
wanders in search of liberation or enlightenment.
Atheism is the belief that there is no god (or gods).
Buddhism can be described as an atheistic
religion. While the core religion does not focus
on an eternal deity but on practical steps to
alleviate suffering, Buddhism was adopted in many
countries and incorporated into existing theistic
belief systems, so that there is a lot of variation.
Infidel is a term, historically, used mainly by
Christians and Muslims to describe ‘non-believers’.
It is an ethnocentric term that labels the ‘other’,
similar to the term pagan which was used by
Christians in the past to describe non-Christians
(and which itself comes from an earlier Roman
distinction for those who did not believe in the
Roman/Greek pantheon). Today, paganism is a
religion subscribed to by neo-pagans such as
Wicca, Druids).
Irreligious describes those lacking reverence or
who are hostile to religion. However, someone
may be against organised forms of religion and
still maintain faith in a deity or engage in spiritual
practice. Many today fall into this category.
Magic includes rites, chants and practices which
attempt to make seemingly impossible things
happen. Durkheim felt that magic couldn’t just be
described as ‘superstition’ and so be differentiated
from religion because religion also contained
superstitious elements. A better distinction was to
associate religion with the public and social sphere
and magic to the personal and individual sphere.
Millenarian movements are religions based
on a belief, usually within Christian doctrine,
that the Second Coming of Christ will usher in a
thousand years of divine rule on Earth. Any group
which professes a similar dramatic change in the
existing world order is described as millenarian, for
example, al Qaeda and the Rastafari.
Monotheism is a belief in one supreme, creator
God, as in Christianity, Judaism, Islam and
Zoroastrianism. (Compare with polytheism later
in this box.) There can be ‘grey areas’ in this, for
example Christian belief in the doctrine of the Trinity
and Roman Catholic reverence for St Mary and the
Saints; by contrast, the many gods of Hinduism are
all manifestations of one supreme power.
Mysticism – usually found among smaller groups
within a religion. Mystics are persons who seek
direct union with God through heightened
consciousness and transcendental states that
induce religious ecstasy. In the Jewish mysticism
tradition, the Kabbalah, meditation and
contemplation are ways in which the individual can
find union with God.
Naturism refers to the worship of the forces of
nature. It is claimed that in an evolutionary way
religion began with nature worship. But there were
early societies which were based on monotheism.
For example, one of the oldest monotheistic
religions, Zoroastrianism, was founded in Persia
(modern-day Iran) by Zarathushtra (Zoroaster in
Greek) around 6000 BCE.
New Thought movement – an umbrella term
for a number of beliefs and practices focusing on
mental wholeness through practical spirituality.
Orthodox Christianity – a grouping of churches
with similar beliefs including Russian Orthodox
and the Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox
and the Coptic (Egyptian Orthodox) Churches.
(Orthodoxy means traditional teachings,
conventional acceptance of revealed ‘truths’.) The
Eastern Orthodox Church came into being as a
separate grouping in 1054, when disagreements
between Greek-speaking Roman Catholic churches
in eastern Europe and Latin-speaking Roman
Catholic churches in Western Europe over doctrine
and ecclesiastical authority led to the two halves of
the Christian Church severing ties with each other.
Polytheism – belief in a pantheon of many gods
and goddesses. In Hinduism there are many deities
such as Vishnu, Shiva, and Krishna, so it tends to
be classified as polytheistic but Hindu deities are
all manifestations of one supreme being or power.
Some authorities therefore class Hinduism as
neither monotheistic nor polytheistic (§7.3.4).
BOX 7.2
Religious Groups and Sub-Groups
Weber devised a classification system for religions
in which he saw an evolutionary development
into fully-established and stable groupings, called
churches. At the other end of the continuum he
placed sects. The criteria he used for placing a
religious group into a certain category were:
• how separate it was from the dominant beliefs
of the local culture;
• whether the group grew or decreased over
time; and
• the level of organisation within the group.
Later sociologists refined his typology and added
the terms ecclesia and cults (see Figure 7.1 and the
discussion below). Note, in the diagram, that a
religious group can move either way (an example
of social change).
• the extent to which it was a ‘protest’ movement
or a stable entity;
Sects are based on protest
and separation from parent
denomination. They attempt
to purge their worship of the
heretical elements they identify
in the parent body. They are
suspicious of other religious
groups and maintain an ‘Us
versus Them’ attitude. Sects
tend to attract those who are
dissatisfied with their social
status or who feel marginalised
by society. One sect that grew
into a full-fledged denomination
is the Protestant group that
formed around Martin Luther in
the 16th century. This grew into
the Lutheran Church of today.
An Ecclesia is similar to a
Church in that it is strongly
integrated into the dominant
social, political and cultural life
of a group, and usually statesupported. Examples include
the Church of Denmark (the
National Church); the Anglican
Church in England; Islam in Iran
and Saudi Arabia.
A Church is a religious
organisation that is deeply
embedded in the religious, political,
and economic life of a society. It is
bureaucratic with a hierarchy of
clerics and elaborate rules
prescribing behaviour. A Church is
the major religious force in a
society. Services are highly
liturgical, following prescribed
rituals. There is less of an
emphasis on personal salvation
than is characteristic of smaller
Christian denominations such
as the Pentecosts. Examples
include the Roman Catholic
Church in early modern Europe,
and the Orthodox Church
in 19th century Russia.
Figure 7.1 Weber’s continuum of religious groups
There is a move afoot to abandon the term ‘cult’
altogether because of the negative connotations associated
with it. Sociologists now use the term New Religious
Movements (NRMs) but, ‘sect’ continues with precise
meanings in sociology. New Religious Movements
include Wicca, Church of Scientology, the Unification
Church, the New Age Movement, the New Thought
Movement, the Hare Krishna Movement, and Baha’ism
among many others which were previously called ‘cults’.
Social Life
1. Suggest TWO reasons why sects and cults are
regarded in a disrespectful way by many in society.
2. Suggest ONE reason why the study of the sociology
of religion sometimes brings discomfort to
Religions worldwide
Comparatively speaking, we can identify some major
differences between the religions or belief systems of the
West and those of Asia. Religions in the West tend to
have a well-defined concept of a Supreme God ( Judaism,
Christianity, Islam, and their offshoots) together with
formal places of worship, and religious officials. Many
oriental religions on the other hand, such as Confucianism
(Box 7.3 below), Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto, do not
concern themseves with specific deities and blur the
distinction between what is sacred and profane. This
represents a challenge to Durkheim’s universal notion of
a stark division into the sacred and the profane.
BOX 7.3
Confucianism is widespread in China and
South-East Asia. It is based on a set of ethical
and moral values, including respect for
elders and social responsibility, attributed
to a Chinese philosopher, Confucius. These
are not ‘transcendental’ but very practical
philosophical principles or religious values
on which to base one’s life. Interestingly,
Confucius did not dispute that ‘heaven’ existed
but his teachings did not include the influence
of other-worldly beings.
Protestant Christianity
Catholic Christianity
Orthodox Christianity
Sunni Islam
Shi’ite Islam
Islam (other groups)
Theravada Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism
Vajrayana Buddhism
Chinese Religion
Nature Religions
Other Groups
Figure 7.2 Map showing distribution of world religions
Social Inquiry
Answer the questions below, which are based on the
map, Figure 7.2, showing dominant religions worldwide.
1. a. Suggest how demographers and statisticians
arrived at the approximate numbers for each religion.
b. In what ways could their survey reflect
2. One criticism of this map is that atheism has been
ignored. Suggest why that may be so. If you were
to add that category, which countries would you
To sum up:
This first section focused on the issues involved in
defining religion and how the sociological study
of religion could be distinguished from other ways
of studying or regarding it. The section went on to
give a global and comparative view of religions as
well as some of the key terms used. We now turn to
the theoretical and sociological perspectives of the
social institution of religion.
Perspectives on Religion
In terms of sociology, religion is a social institution and its
social aspects are of more interest to the sociologist than
the religious experience of believers. For example, the
symbols and rites of religious worship have significance
for the individual because the group of worshippers to
which he or she belongs share in a set of meanings about the
sacred (so this is a social feature). The sociologist is also
interested in how religion is practised in particular social
and cultural contexts which may be meaningless or even a
source of persecution in others. For example, throughout
the Appalachian states of North America there are small
churches where serpent handling has played a central role
in worship, literally interpreting the Scripture that says
‘they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly
thing, it shall not hurt them’ (Mark 16:17–18). However,
such practices are regarded as ‘backwoods’ religion in the
large urban centres nearby such as Atlanta, Georgia. In
this section you will be introduced to how sociologists,
from different perspectives, seek to understand religion.
Functionalism emphasises the consensus role played
by social institutions in maintaining social stability.
Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (first
published 1912) portrayed religion as something devised
by society to increase social cohesion. He viewed the
relationship between God and believers as similar to
that between society and its members. Believers come
together to worship God and to carry out practices
to promote God in their lives. Similarly, members of
society collaborate and carry out practices to preserve
rather than destroy society. He went so far as to say that
in the act of worship people were actually worshipping
society. He meant that in coming together regularly and
living according to moral codes people were continually
reinforcing and strengthening the bonds holding society
together (§7.1.2).
Functionalists are therefore concerned with preserving
society as a unified whole and they look to social
institutions as the means to develop this unity or consensus.
By participating in religious worship and other practices,
they believe that the needs of individuals are met. Such
needs include providing believers (individuals) with
1 an explanation of the meaning of life;
2 a sense of belonging;
3 feelings of comfort and solace in the face of anxiety
and crisis;
4 a set of beliefs about a supernatural being or ideas and
principles by which to live one’s life;
5 a view of the hereafter;
6 practices and rituals that foster intense feelings
and emotions that serve to bond members into a
collective consciousness.
By satisfying these needs, Functionalists say that
religion is carrying out certain functions which at the
macro-level become important for the stability and
continuity of the society. For example, such functions
provide opportunities for the society (the collective) to
continue to be (a) integrated based on common beliefs
and practices, and (b) regulated through adherence to the
norms, bonds and moral codes of that society.
These functions are carried out through the processes
of socialisation. We are socialised through religion to
integrate and regulate the society. Durkheim explained
BOX 7.4
Civil Religion
Robert Bellah is an American sociologist who
applied Durkheim’s claim, that when we are
worshipping God we are really worshipping
society, to America. His argument is that
although in the United States ‘Church’
(meaning any kind of religion) and ‘State’ are
separate (as opposed to say, Iran or the UK),
many public practices involve ‘God’. This ‘God’
however does not pertain to any particular
religion but belongs to everyone, so that
when Americans call on God in the public
sphere they are actually acknowledging their
faith in a god that facilitates their way of life.
This Bellah calls civil religion and says that
what they are actually worshipping is America
and its value system. Specifically, Bellah refers to:
• songs, for example God Bless
• the Presidential oath of office which
involves swearing before ‘God’;
• the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ stamped
on the American currency.
Since this god does not belong to any
particular creed, it is a creation of America
specifically to reinforce consensus amongst
its diverse groups of peoples. The reverence
accorded the national flag and saying of the
Pledge veers very much into the realm of
‘the sacred’, as defined by Durkheim in his
study of religion.
that these processes helped to create a moral community or
church that stabilised society. Parsons later emphasised
the regulatory function of religion by arguing that
religion reinforces society’s laws. For example, moral
codes tend to reflect the laws of the land such as those
prohibiting theft and murder. Religious teachings also
serve to strengthen other social institutions, for example,
the negative way in which adultery is cast serves to
boost family-related values. Functionalists therefore see
religion as having the potential to increase the levels of
consensus in the society (Box 7.4).
Thus the consensus view of religion is that it is
functional for the society. It builds a moral community
of believers which provides answers to some of life’s
enduring questions such as the meaning of existence
and therefore helps to stabilise the society and provides
guidelines for living. A weakness of this perspective is
that it downplays the dysfunctions of religion such as
religious persecution, intolerance and discrimination
escalating into acts of violence and even war.
Social Theory
Explain what Durkheim means by the following
a. that ‘Society is god writ large’;
b. that religion builds a moral community of believers.
Marxist/Conflict Theory
Perspectives on the sociology of religion are based on
how theorists understand social institutions. For Marx,
how a social institution functions is not neutral. It reflects
the society’s mode of production: in capitalist societies,
social institutions are organised to maintain the power
of the wealthy and therefore the status quo. A Conflict
theorist has a similar position but focuses on how social
institutions serve to reinforce the inequalities in society
generally, not only those due to social class differences.
Marxism is a sub-perspective of Conflict Theory.
Marx’s analysis of capitalism divides society essentially
into the bourgeoisie (the haves) and the proletariat (the
have-nots). This economic system operates in such a way
as to maintain these social class divisions. Ideas about
a supernatural being and an afterlife, Marx argued,
only served to maintain the status quo, in that religion
encourages the belief that the social order is ordained
by God who does not intervene to assist the needy
and oppressed in a meaningful way. In many religions
suffering in this life is equated with rewards in the
afterlife. Values such as hard work and frugality are
important and being poor is considered an advantage in
getting to heaven – note the biblical warning that ‘… It
is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle
than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God’ (Luke
To Marx, the proletariat could overcome their lowly
and disadvantaged position if they were to become
aware of the false consciousness inherent in their economic
position and religious beliefs. Only then would they be
motivated and energised to take action and go against
the status quo in trying to wrest the means of production
from being solely in the hands of the capitalists. This
is the background behind Marx’s famous description of
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the
feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless
circumstances. It is the opium of the people .... The
abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the
people is the demand for their real happiness.
(Marx quoted in Tucker, 1978, pp. 53–4)
Marxist sociology therefore is of the view that how
religion is organised serves to justify social inequality
and oppression and this is ‘hidden’ from believers. This
view is critical of Functionalists who maintain that there
is consensus in the society because of the strength of the
primary and secondary socialisation processes and that
religion fosters this consensus. Rather, Marxists say that
Functionalism offers a distorted view of religion and
society. Since the values considered important are those
of the ruling class, the poorer folk in society are socialised
into upholding these values, not through consensus but
through the combined workings of the substructure and the
superstructure (called the ideological state apparatus)
which lead to a state of false consciousness. Socialisation
into such ideological positions become a means of social
control and have little to do with consensus.
Marxists and Conflict theorists see religion as a social
institution ‘located’ or lodged within the superstructure
of society where the norms, values and beliefs of the elite
class are dominant. Both the rich and the poor subscribe
to these beliefs through the power of socialisation.
However, these beliefs prevent or obstruct the natural
feelings of anger, dissatisfaction and distrust amongst the
poorer classes from overflowing into protest, conflict and
seizure of the means of production in the society. Rather,
misery and suffering are interpreted by their religious
leaders as natural and normal conditions in an earthly
Further, in Marxist terms religion alienates ‘Man’ (a
term that includes both male and female) from himself.
The separation of the sacred and the profane, the
supernatural and the natural, including a heavenly as
opposed to an earthly existence, encourages people to see
themselves as only expressing their ‘real’ rather than their
‘ideal’ or ‘true’ nature. Beliefs in God prevent persons
from freeing themselves from bondage to an alien or
supernatural power. Whether God exists or not, to Marx
was irrelevant. What mattered was that religion was a
man-made creation that bound individuals into values
and beliefs that denied their potential for becoming truly
human – fully affirming beings having positive selfconsciousness and realising their true and ideal nature.
If religion could be done away with then the illusion
of happiness would be removed and replaced by true
happiness. However, this could only come about when
human beings learn that their material existence, their
values and norms, and their religious beliefs are all based
on the social relations within a system of production that
thrives on alienation of Man from his true nature.
While Functionalism and Marxism are two
perspectives that give a different understanding of social
reality, they are both macro-perspectives and share some
commonalities. For example, both Durkheim and Marx
described religion as
■ a powerful force in society;
■ a reflection of society rather than the domain of a
supernatural entity;
■ a conservative force downplaying religion as a factor
in social change;
■ a social institution interacting with other social
institutions, such as the family and the economy, to
influence the values and ideologies of people.
The two perspectives differ in relation to how order
is maintained in the society. Functionalists understand
order to be built up through consensus, for example, via
religious practices and rituals (religious socialisation).
Marxists critique that position by saying that what is
really happening is that order is maintained through the
forms of social control that religion exerts on groups
and individuals (which they describe as states of false
Marx has been criticised for not realising that religion
could be a force for social change, as opposed to Weber
(§7.2.3). In the 1960s in Latin America Roman Catholic
priests reinterpreted the scriptures, with a Marxist twist, to
regard as sinful the capitalist classes who systematically
oppressed the peasant class. They publicly renounced the
landowning class, basing their ideas on what came to be
known as liberation theology. Whilst this led to much
Liberation theology is a reading of the Bible (the New
Testament in particular) to see Jesus as a freedom fighter
who opposed the imperial Roman occupation of his time.
opposition from Rome, clerics took it upon themselves
to form base communities for the poor where they could
congregate and be mobilised. In these grassroots communities Paulo Freire and others devised forms of literacy based on political liberation. The further involvement of priests and other religious persons in joining the
ranks of the Sandinistas, the Marxist revolutionary
forces in Nicaragua, was instrumental in bringing down
the Somoza government in 1979.
Social Theory
Make notes suggesting how a Marxist or Conflict
sociologist will answer the question How can the study
of religion help us to better understand the nature of
Interpretive Perspectives
Max Weber
Interpretive theorists maintain that human agency is at
the heart of explanations of social events and processes,
and to a large extent that is missing from Functionalist
or Marxist attempts at describing the links between
religion and society. Max Weber made an outstanding
contribution to the sociology of religion in The Protestant
Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (first published in 1904)
where he argued that the development of capitalism in
Western Europe can be attributed partly to the work
ethic of Protestants, particularly Calvinists. Whereas
Marx posed an evolutionary theory that saw capitalism
developing through the contradictions and failures of the
previous economic system, feudalism, Weber posed an
alternative theory emphasising religious ideas and beliefs
as the motivation for social change.
Weber’s social action theory recognises that people
have the capacity to think and create ideas that subsequently
can lead to social transformation. For example, Calvinists
upheld the doctrine of predestination. To members,
Predestination was a doctrine according to which God
had chosen certain persons, the elect, to be saved. They
were chosen before they were born and no one could
change it, not even through belief or good works.
Weber thought, life would seem extremely scary and
meaningless unless one found a means to know for sure
that one had been chosen. He theorised that Calvinists
came to believe that material success in this life must mean
that they were favoured by God. Their intense efforts at
being frugal, working diligently, investing in a rational
manner and spending wisely stem from this chronic
uncertainty in which their religion placed them. Amassing
wealth served as a symbol to them that they would be
saved. Their tactics of continual reinvestment of profits,
shrewd decision-making and use of modern technologies
led to rational capitalism. The growth of capitalism then was
not due to the evolutionary historical process outlined by
Marx but based on the thoughts and ideas of a group of
people who moved out of traditional thinking (motivated
by their religious beliefs) into a more goal-oriented or
instrumental disposition that was similar to a vocation or a
calling. This work ethic, according to Weber, became the
spirit of the new forms of capitalism that arose in Western
Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Weber went on to develop this thesis further in
Religious Orientation/
Approaches to Salvation
relation to other religions to show that religious beliefs
in different parts of the world either fostered or hindered
the growth and development of rational capitalism. As in
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he sought
to show that the ideas of individuals and groups shape
and influence their actions, even their practical and
economic activities. He isolated salvation as a major quest
of mankind and classified religions according to the
approach they took in attaining it. He then suggested that
there were four possible options, based on whether one’s
religion had an inner-worldly or outer-worldly orientation
and whether it emphasised ascetism or mysticism. Each
impacted on ideal conditions for the development of
capitalism (Figure 7.3).
Weber has been criticised on the following grounds:
1 His strategy depended on using ideal types as a basis
of comparison but this overlooks the idea that social
institutions in one context cannot be easily compared
with those in another.
Other –
worldly religions
Inner – worldly
are indifferent to this world
and seek salvation in the next
religions seek self mastery
through adjustments to living
in this world
Ascetic Religions
Buddhism –
Calvinism –
practice self mastery such
as self denial and
austere living
The goal is not to shape life
in the world but to teach
liberation from the world
The urge is to know for sure
in this world that they have
gained salvation for the next
Mysticism Traditions
Religious Orders
Taoism (Daoism) –
seek salvation through
a personal relationship with
God and altered states
of being
Figure 7.3 Weber’s typology of religions
seek isolation or retreat from
this world in order to attain
salvation; life is devoted to
work, prayer and study
accepts the world, but focuses
on non-effort and contemplation
to develop compassion,
moderation and humility.
2 Weber arbitrarily selected aspects of ideal types that
emphasised capitalism in his study of Calvinism and
downplayed others.
3 Calvinists charge Weber with having a distorted
view of Calvinism. They say that while Calvinists
vigorously pursued business interests, they did so in
a god-fearing way and with a commitment towards
moral responsibility.
That being said, much of Weber’s writings has been
simplified and misinterpreted. For example, the rise of
China as a major industrial power in the 20th century
is held by some to refute Weber’s general thesis as
shown in Figure 7.3. Yet, Weber clearly pointed out that
although followers of Confucianism and Taoism rely on
the minimum of strenuous effort, they emphasise good
fortune and engage in many ways of assuring positive
outcomes. In addition, he went on to say that the Chinese
in all probability could assimilate and emulate capitalist
practices over time.
Whether the details of Weber’s examples stand up
to scrutiny today or not, the important point is that
they were examples to illustrate a major hypothesis that
continues to have significance for us – namely that ideas
and beliefs can provide the motivation for social change.
Weber was not saying that religion causes social change
but that it can be a factor. This represents an alternative
position to that of Marx who felt that all change was
generated through contradictions and changes in the
mode of production, and that of Durkheim who viewed
change as emanating from a society which did not
provide strong enough forms of moral constraint.
Interestingly we see that Weber agreed with Marx
that there were links between the material base of the
society and religion. Marx saw the economy as shaping
religious norms and social stratification whilst Weber saw
religion as being a force that could enhance or hinder the
development of a capitalist mode of production.
Unlike Durkheim and Marx however, Weber sought
to include the subjective meanings that individuals and
groups held in relation to their beliefs about salvation and
how best to get there. This interest in subjectivity is also
a fundamental approach in Symbolic Interactionism, a
branch of Interpretive theory.
In the section above, the influence of religious thought
on the growth of capitalism has been emphasised.
Suggest ways in which capitalism in its turn influenced
Symbolic Interactionism
This is a microsociological perspective. It sees individuals
and groups as constantly creating and re-creating the
rules for everyday interaction. People make meanings and
interpret a shared set of symbols which are significant in
their society. ‘Reality’ is not fixed in this way of thinking
but changes according to the perceptions of the individual
or group. For example, how a person understands the
Roman Catholic faith is influenced by whether he is the
Pope or a priest, whether she is a nun or a member of
the congregation, or s/he is a ‘lapsed Catholic’. These
multiple conceptions of reality are social constructions
based on a person’s social location and experiences. In
this perspective, sociologists are equally interested in
how persons are influenced by society and how they in
turn influence society.
Peter Berger wrote The Sacred Canopy (1967) in
which he argued that participation in religious rites and
rituals and holding certain symbols as sacred provided
certainty for persons that they were not living in a random
universe. It shielded them from the possibility that
existence may have no ultimate meaning or purpose.
If these beliefs could also be convincingly supported
in everyday life by the various structures in the society
– schools, customs, laws, sanctions, media – then the
religious and the secular worlds would merge to stabilise
society. For example, if one religion is dominant in a
country, similar to Weber’s concept of ‘Churches’
(Figure 7.1), then religious beliefs and practices would
become legitimated in that society through all of its social
institutions. There would be little room for dissent and
the nation or the collective would have great confidence
in their religion. Berger explains it this way – religion
would throw a buffer or canopy of symbolic meanings
over the world of everyday change and interaction that
would serve to order social life in all its many aspects.
This is an example of the social construction of religion where
religious ideas and beliefs are unknowingly upheld by
the faithful as playing an overarching role in guiding the
society towards continuity and stability.
Berger developed this theory in relation to early
Christianity in Europe when Roman Catholicism was
dominant. It can be equally applied to societies today
such as that in Iran and Saudi Arabia where Islamic
beliefs and practices are legitimated because they are
upheld by all social institutions. He went on to argue
that this state of affairs would function well only until
questioning arose that could not be silenced, meaning
that the plausibility structures that normally explained
everyday phenomena in terms of religious mysteries,
miracles and magic were no longer adequate. Plausibility
structures were necessary to maintain the religious view
of the world and they remained credible because all or
most people and institutions in the society created and
re-created these beliefs and patterns of interaction daily.
However, when the protest movement known as the
Reformation in Europe arose in the 16th century it
began to undermine this firm foundation or religious
base of the society, eventually sidelining the Roman
Catholic faith to a denomination and sponsoring the rise
of sects which over time grew into different Protestant
This showed that the sacred canopy could provide
order and stability only because members did not realise that
their religion was a social construction. When the plagues that
devastated Europe in the Late Middle Ages could not be
contained by prayers and incantations the canopy began
to disintegrate. When later the Industrial Revolution
and the Agrarian Revolution brought about massive
social and economic changes, the society found that their
religion (Roman Catholicism) was largely irrelevant to
their circumstances. Many turned to religions promising
a more personal and private communion with God, such
as Lutheranism and Calvinism. The credibility of the
plausibility structures in public life which supported a
religious view of the world collapsed, and people realised
that their religion had been dependent on a set of meanings
that the society had constructed. A new definition of
religion came into being. Those remaining within the fold
of Roman Catholicism sought to purge their religion of
superstition, of corruption and of elaborate rituals and put
more focus on the Bible (the Counter-Reformation).
Others went further in removing liturgy, ceremonies,
and symbols from having a central place during worship
in the new religious denominations and groups, and
renounced beliefs considered ‘unbiblical’ such as the idea
of purgatory and praying to Mary, angels and saints.
The thesis of the sacred canopy provides an explanation,
in the tradition of Symbolic Interactionism, for both
the incidence of religious pluralism and the growth in the
secularisation of society from the Middle Ages to now.
When many religions co-exist in a society the plausibility
structures that once ‘worked’ for a dominant religion
become weak. Other religions compete with their claims
to truth and erode the certainty that many once held
about the dominant religion. Where this is the case, as in
many countries in the world today, religion is relegated
entirely to the private sphere. It becomes a personal choice
and therefore extremely diverse, being influenced by the
many social and biographical forces that impact individual
lives. Some examples of secularisation are:
■ the official separation of Church and State in the
majority of countries;
competition between state and denominational
■ the faith and optimism placed in science and
technology for the good of mankind;
■ in a context of religious pluralism, individuals can
now sample different religions and customise their
beliefs in an eclectic style.
Religious pluralism and secularisation both reinforce
each other. They represent instances of how groups and
individuals can influence the social institution of religion.
Symbolic Interaction recognises human agency and the
ways in which members influence society and in turn are
influenced by society. Secularisation is discussed further
below (§7.4).
Feminist Thought
Feminism seeks to uncover and find explanations for, and
solutions to, the problem of male domination and female
oppression in all aspects of social life. It has as its main
agenda the dismantling of structures and processes which
maintain patriarchy in the society. Power is at the heart of
this project. Feminist thought is an interdisciplinary field
influenced by Marxist and Conflict perspectives as well
as by Interpretive sociology.
Where religion is concerned, this gendered perspective
investigates several questions or issues:
■ attribution of anthropomorphic (human) characteristics
to God, specifically masculine characteristics;
■ how malestream religions exclude women from playing
important roles in the church hierarchy, thereby
preventing them from attaining power;
■ the reasons for this exclusion, one being that women
are considered ‘unclean’ or ‘profane’;
■ justifications from the Bible, the Koran, and other
religious texts, that gender differences are ordained by
God – either that men are superior to women or that
they are ‘equal but different’;
■ ways of (re)presenting ‘the body’, for example,
abortion and birth control in Roman Catholicism
where celibate male priests rule on the reproductive
lives and bodies of women.
Feminist studies of religion seek to
■ analyse alternatives to traditional religion such
as feminist reconstructions of God, religion, and
spirituality – for example, theologies that favour the
Goddess, Earth Mother and the inter-dependence of
life and motherhood;
■ question the historically gendered interpretation of
God, e.g. in Judaism;
■ show that the Bible has a view of the equality of men
and women;
alleviate the conditions of women and families in
poverty through liberation theology.
Feminist scholars of religion describe their activist
stance in sociological terms.Thealogy is a term coming
into increasing use in feminist studies of religion that
seeks to find a way out of the traditional masculine
emphasis. It describes the study and practice of religion
from a feminist perspective and privileges a Goddess,
who may assume multiple forms. It is highly diverse but
influenced by neo-Pagan religions such as Wicca, which
celebrates feminine wisdom and experience.
To sum up:
This section examined the major sociological
perspectives on religion emphasising the
contribution of Durkheim, Marx and Weber.
Durkheim saw religion as providing a stabilising
function in the society (Functionalism), Marx
underscored the oppressed position of the lower
socio-economic classes in conventional religion
(Marxism/Conflict theory) and Weber saw religion
as a source of social change (Interpretive theory).
More recent theorising included the work of
Feminist theory which seeks to deconstruct the
traditional ‘malestream’ view of religion.
Caribbean Faiths
The social institution of religion in the Caribbean is
characterised by diversity brought about largely through
the influences of Amerindian, European, African
and Asian belief systems. This diversity includes the
mainstream religions derived from Europe, Africa and
Asia but also those created in the Caribbean through the
processes of syncretism. Processes of syncretism involve
the meeting and mixing of different religions to produce
‘new’ forms that we call Creole religions. The intermixing
of all these faiths has produced a continuum of religions
in the Caribbean, with more or less of elements drawn
from Christian and African religious traditions (Figure
7.4). It is useful to note that the diagram below does not
tell the whole story – syncretism in various ways modifies
and influences all religions. Mainstream Christian
faiths, as well as Eurocentric and Afro-centric Creole
religions have all come under the pervasive influences
of syncretism or creolisation in the Caribbean, some to a
greater degree than others.
Spanish settlers, priests and conquistadores brought
Roman Catholicism to the Caribbean. Almost all of
Europe was Roman Catholic when Columbus ventured
Creole Religions:
Creole Religions:
Roman Catholic
Seventh Day Adventist
Shouter Baptists
Zion Revivalism
Orisha (Shango)
Church of God
Jehovah’s Witnesses
New Testament
Open Bible
Church of God of Prophecy
Figure 7.4 A typology of Caribbean religions
into the ‘New World’ in 1492. The Spanish monarchs
were pursuing the Reconquista, driving out Jews and
Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula. And with equal
vigour they sought to Christianise the peoples of the
Americas, whom they called ‘Indians’ (because they
thought at that time that the islands they had found
were off the coast of India). While the Tainos (Arawaks),
Kalinagas (Caribs) and other New World groups had
their own belief systems, the Spaniards labelled them
all as pagan, simply because they were not Christians.
As part of their religious conversion experience, these
newly discovered peoples were rounded up and herded
into encomiendas where they had to labour and in return
they learned about Christianity. Those countries which
remained under Spanish rule (as well as those who later
experienced French rule), have today relatively large
Roman Catholic populations (Table 7.1).
Compared to Latin America, the Caribbean shows
enormous variety in religious affiliation. For example,
Roman Catholicism dominates in all Latin American
states – Mexico (88.2%), Bolivia (78.0%), Colombia
(80%), and Venezuela (87.0%). In the Caribbean though,
Spain was not able to police all the islands in the Caribbean
Sea effectively and thereby keep out interlopers. They
were more successful on the mainland which remained
overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. During the 16th and
17th centuries other European nations became established
on the far-flung islands and territories at the extremities
of the Spanish-American Empire. They brought with
them their own Protestant faiths.
The Reformation helped to diversify the religious
scene in Europe and a multitude of Protestant religions
came into being. Britain was one of the first countries to
break formally with Rome and establish its own faith –
the Anglican Church – which became the Established
Church. The European Reformation followed under
the influence of Martin Luther. Later, those dissatisfied
because many of the issues which brought the Reformation
into existence continued within Anglicanism began to
develop their own denominations. They were known as
Nonconformists: Methodists, Quakers, Presbyterians
and Baptists in Britain. Similar movements in other
European countries led to Lutherans and the Moravians
in Germany, and Calvinism in France and Germany.
Religious intolerance, genocide and harsh treatment
as well as the diseases brought by the Spanish decimated
the original inhabitants of the region. The Europeans
then turned to Africa as a source of slave labour, bringing
millions of West Africans to the Caribbean. Africans were
treated differently by the various European powers where
religion was concerned. Both the Spanish and the French
had official slave codes whereby they were mandated to
convert the enslaved population. The British and Dutch
had no such policies; in the British colonies the planters
tried to stop the work of the Nonconformist missionaries
amongst the enslaved. But it was never the intention of
any European power to allow Africans to practise their
own religions freely. Whether Africans were ‘converted’
or not, the end result was that throughout the Caribbean
they continued to practise their own religious beliefs
wherever and whenever possible. Beliefs underwent a
great deal of change and fusion in the process.
Table 7.1 Percentage of Roman Catholics and Protestants
in selected Caribbean countries
Antigua & Barbuda
Dominican Rep.
St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent &
Trinidad & Tobago
Turks & Caicos
Br. Virgin Is
US Virgin Is
Source: C. Holland, Table of Statistics on Religious Affiliation in the
Americas and the Iberian Peninsula (2010). At http://www.prolades.
com/amertb106.htm, accessed 6 December 2013. Note that the
website is regularly updated.
During the 19th century, particularly after
Emancipation in 1834, the work of the missionaries
intensified in the British-held territories. The established
Anglican Church chose to uphold the status quo and
was slow to get involved in ministering to the newly
freed population. That is why today in the former British
territories there is such a variety of Protestant faiths (e.g.
Jamaica, see Table 7.2).
Table 7.2 Protestant religions in Jamaica (2001)
Protestant denominations
Seventh Day Adventist
Church of God
New Testament Church of God
Church of God in Jamaica
Church of God of Prophecy
United Church
Jehovah’s Witnesses
Source: Compiled from US Department of State, International
Religious Freedom Report. At http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/
irf/2007/90259.htm, accessed 12 March 2014.
Under European colonial rule the religions of both
the Amerindians and the Africans were considered
pagan. Christianity was thought to be very different
because it was monotheistic, involving worship of a welldefined Father God, with concepts such as the ‘soul’ and
an ‘afterlife’. It was prescribed by a Holy Book, the Bible,
which demanded literate adherents. For those unable
to read or write or decipher the elaborate rituals of
Roman Catholic and Anglican ceremonies, priests acted
as intermediaries. Therefore, priests had power within
a hierarchy of holy, white men who administered to
their largely African congregations. The Nonconformist
denominations had more democratic procedures, less
emphasis on rituals, and more intense Bible study, and
were more willing to initiate local blacks into positions
of authority within the church.
However, Nonconformist religions remained low in
status compared to the dominance of Roman Catholicism
or the Anglican Church. Even today, members of the
highest socio-economic groups in the Caribbean,
whether white, brown or black, tend to belong to either
the Roman Catholic or Anglican faith in territories where
these faiths are dominant. Poorer socio-economic groups
are more likely to be over-represented in Nonconformist
and Creole religions.
Table 7.2 shows that in Jamaica Nonconformist faiths
such as the Seventh Day Adventists and the Church
of God (and its affiliations) are the majority religions
(Roman Catholics and Anglicans represent only 2% and
3.6% of the total respectively).
Hinduism and Islam
After Emancipation, Britain and France embarked on an
indentureship scheme to bring workers from India, China,
Madeira and other countries to replace African slave
labour in the West Indies. On 5 May 1838 the SS Hesperus
and SS Whitby arrived in Guyana (then British Guiana)
with the first group of Indian indentured labourers. On
30 May 1845 the Fatel Razak brought the first group to
Trinidad and that day is celebrated as a national holiday,
Arrival Day, in Trinidad & Tobago.
Between 1838 and 1917, 400,000 Indian workers
were brought to Jamaica, Guyana and Trinidad; more
than 100,000 came to Martinique, Guadeloupe and
French Guiana; and Suriname received 35,000 Indians as
well as 22,000 Javanese brought by the Dutch from their
colonies in the Dutch East Indies. Today East Indians
comprise more than half the population in Guyana and
Trinidad; about 37% of the Surinamese population is
of Indian origin while 15% are from Java. The Indian
indentured labourers were mainly Hindus, though
some were Muslims; the Javanese were mainly Muslims.
Many Indians belong to Christian faiths, for example
the Presbyterian Church which has mainly an Indian
congregation. Table 7.3 (page 208) gives a breakdown
of today’s Hindu and Muslim population in these three
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion after
Christianity and Islam. However it is not spread as
widely as Islam, the largest numbers being concentrated
in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
It is considered to be the oldest world religion, without
a specific founder and comprising such a wide range of
beliefs, practices and customs that the idea of diversity
Table 7.3 Hinduism and Islam in the Caribbean,
Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname, 2010
Percentage of
Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad & Tobago
Sources: Compiled from Guyana Bureau of Statistics,
Guyana Census 2002, National Report (2011). At http://www.
statisticsguyana.gov.gy/index.html, accessed 6 December 2013;
D. Chickrie, Muslims in Suriname: Facing Triumphs and Challenges
in a Plural Society. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 31(1), March
(2011). At http://www.islamicpopulation.com/pdf/Surinam_
Triumphs&Challenge.pdf, accessed 6 December 2013.
is central to understanding it. One of its holy texts, the
Rig Veda, was created before 5000 years bce, originating
with the ancient peoples of Northern India. Other
scriptures are the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and epics
such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. The fact that
there are holy texts and scriptures shows some similarity
to Christianity and Islam but that is deceptive and gives
rise to many misconceptions about Hinduism.
Firstly, there is no overarching religious hierarchy with
authority in matters of faith as there is, for example, in the
Papacy for Roman Catholics. Hinduism itself has many
denominations, the largest being Vaishnavism, Saivism,
Shaktism and Smartism. Secondly, each denomination
has a vast number of schools of thought and sects, with a
guru or other holy or learned person as teacher or pundit.
Thirdly, each group or person usually chooses a deity to
revere and a tradition to follow. There are then perhaps
thousands of groups, with millions of devotees, who are
independent of each other, yet they all regard themselves
as followers of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Way.
As a result of this it is difficult to codify the beliefs
and practices of Hinduism except for the most basic and
unifying ones, for example:
■ Brahma, the all-pervasive Divinity inherent in all
things, regarded as the Supreme Being which is pure
consciousness. This idea is not of a ‘God’ who created
the world but one who is the world;
■ karma, the principle of cause and effect, which says that
our actions always have reactions and consequences so
that intelligent action is what we should strive for;
reincarnation, the cycle of re-birth, the on-going
journey of the soul through multiple births and deaths
as we learn from our karmic lessons. When all karma
is resolved, reincarnation ceases and the soul becomes
one with Divinity;
dharma, the path of seeking spiritual advancement,
through right conduct and taking responsibility for
our duties and obligations.
While Brahma is absolute and formless, it can manifest in many ways and so there are thousands of deities in
Hinduism – Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Krishna, Ganesha,
Kali and Hanuman are the most well-known. Consequently, there is a lot of argument among Western scholars of religion (but not among Hindus) as to whether
Hinduism is monotheistic, polytheistic or pantheistic.
Different commentators would choose any one of these
labels to describe Hinduism.
Most difficult for Westerners to comprehend is that
there is freedom of belief within Hinduism – each person
is free to carry out the spiritual practices that he or she
understands and can relate to. In short, if one is seeking
a mystical experience such as union with the Divine
then the path of learning abstract principles or reciting
sacred texts would not be the way to go. One might
choose a yogic tradition with emphasis on meditation
and chanting. In so doing one is choosing or inventing
an aspect of Brahma to worship. However, in reality
one may be influenced in exercising individual
choice by strong family, village or regional traditions and
With the exception of saivism most of the branches
of Hinduism were caste-based. The caste system is
described in Chapter 9 as an example of the principle
of social stratification (§9.1.2). Ancient Hindu texts
speak of a division of society but it is based on one’s
spiritual development through karma, not through birth.
The Dalits (Untouchables or outcasts) are not mentioned
in religious texts.
It seems that the original concept of social order
prescribed in holy texts through karma became corrupted
by priests and those holding power in the society into
a rigid system of social stratification sanctioned by
Hinduism in the Caribbean
Hindu indentured immigrants from North-Central and
Eastern India were allowed to conduct their religious
traditions as best they could on the sugar estates in
the Caribbean. As in other colonial societies, religion
provided a means for them to resist oppression by
keeping alive their identity in an alien place. At the end
of indentureship most elected to remain in the Caribbean
so that holding on to their Hindu and Indian traditions
was a conscious decision to (re)create their culture in a
different environment.
While in the beginning they kept to the estates it
was inevitable that the Indians would begin a limited
process of mixing with the African and Christian
groups who were dominant, and begin to develop new
ways of doing things. This process of creating different
forms and practices that made sense in the new context
can be termed adaptations, syncretism and creolisation. For
example, because temples were not constructed until
much later on, Hindus built tiny one-person temples
in their front yards. This practice of home worship,
an adaptation to historical circumstances, continues
to this day. Another example of syncretism occurs
around the worship of the black Madonna, La Divina
Pastora (the Good Shepherdess) in Siparia in southern
Trinidad. Descendants of immigrants from Tamilnadu
in southern India have for many years now held this
Roman Catholic statue in reverence as Siparie Mai and
paid allegiance to her as they would to Kali Mai, the
black mother goddess in the Hindu faith. Interestingly,
in Guadeloupe there are Roman Catholics who worship
Mother Kali, also known as Mariamman, who has drawn
in African devotees because of her healing powers.
Kali Mai is also worshipped by the Madrassis of
Guyana. The descendants of the people of southern
India, around Madras, differ in both physical features and
the traditions of Hinduism that they follow from those
of the majority group who came from the North. The
latter are fairer in complexion, and are more orthodox
and classical in their interpretation of Hinduism whilst
the Madrassis are darker in complexion, have performed
animal sacrifice in the past as well as spirit possession
and engage in aggressive drumming. Perhaps because
of these characteristics, the Madrassis have integrated
more than other Hindu groups with the Afro-Guyanese
population. The north–south divide in India evident
in culture and forms of Hinduism is represented in the
Caribbean in terms of a dominant Hindu culture and a
minority one.
This dominant Hindu culture has been increasingly
standardised since the creation of the Sanatan Dharma
Associations in the 1930s in Guyana and Trinidad. Their
task was to meld together the great variety of Hindu
traditions, languages and customs into a religion/culture
with enough common elements so that their presence
would be felt in a similar way to that of Christian groups
in the society. Over time the Hinduism that is practised
in the Caribbean has weeded out many of the gods and
ceremonies followed by smaller groups and instituted a
high Brahamic and Vaishnavite orientation, but at the
same time other traditions persist as in the veneration of
Siparie Mai.
Unlike Hinduism, both Christianity and Islam are
proselytising religions, which means that they actively seek
to convert others to their beliefs. Consequently, both
have grown into the two most dominant religions in the
world today. Islam spread from its home in Arabia in the
7th century to other countries in the Middle East, Africa
and South Asia. Table 7.4 shows the countries with the
largest numbers of Muslims today but other statistics
reveal that for many countries which do not make this
shortlist Islam is the dominant religion.
Table 7.4 Estimated Muslim population in selected
countries, 2010
Muslims as % of the total population
Source: Pew Forum, The Future of the Global Muslim Population. Pew
Forum on Religion and Public Life (2010).
Islam is a monotheistic religion. Muslims worship
Allah as the only God and regard Muhammad as the
last Prophet. They believe that the Koran (or Qur’an) is
the only complete authority on the word of Allah and it
was revealed to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel – 114
chapters over 23 years. The Koran mentions Jewish and
Christian prophets such as Abraham, Ishmael, Moses,
The Ka’aba during the Hajj
John the Baptist and Jesus. Islam sees them as messengers
sent by Allah but their message was corrupted or falsified
by others. However, Muslims regard Jews and Christians
as People of the Book who are to be respected because they
follow an earlier message.
Muhammad was born in Mecca and by the
time of his death in 632 ce most of Arabia had been
converted to Islam. His successors (the caliphs), through
war, conquest and peaceful conversion, carried Islam to
the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Today Mecca is the
holiest city of Islam. Every year more than two million
pilgrims visit the city. Within the Grand Mosque is a
structure housing a black stone believed to be a meteorite
and the foundation stone of the first mosque built by
Adam and later restored by Abraham. This structure
is the Ka’aba (above), the site of the annual pilgrimage
(Hajj). It serves as a focal point for all the varied ethnicities
who are Muslim to gather together as equals in a place
that was the first house of worship. During the Hajj
thousands of people a day walk around the Ka’aba seven
times in a counter-clockwise direction chanting prayers
and verses. Each time they begin a circuit the pilgrims
raise their right hand acknowledging the stone, this is in
lieu of kissing the stone because the crush of people is too
great to allow most pilgrims to get closer.
The Koran instructs Muslims to recite the verses
(suras) of the Koran, and children from their earliest
years learn to recite the Koran in Arabic. For a long time
translations of the Koran were discouraged because of
the fear that the unique message and its poetry could not
be accurately and properly rendered in other languages.
Further, translations are the work of humans and so the
Koran would lose its divine nature. Later on translations
did occur as Islam was carried to non-Arabic countries
but it is still the mark of a devout Muslim, of whatever
nationality, to be able to recite the suras in Arabic.
All Muslims are required to obey the Five Pillars of
1 Shahadah: Recite and believe in the creed that there
is only one God, Allah, and that Muhammad is his
2 Salat: Observe daily prayer five times a day.
3 Zakat: Carry out alms-giving to the needy.
4 Sawm: Fast during the month of Ramadan.
5 Hajj: Take the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in
one’s lifetime if possible.
In addition, Muslims are guided in their daily life and
affairs by the Sunnah (the life of Muhammad) and the
Hadith which is a collection of the Prophet’s sayings and
Today there are two major ‘branches’ of Islam – the
Sunnis comprising 85% of Muslims and the Shi’a, the other
15%. This distinction arose on the death of the Prophet
when some believed that the leadership should pass to
the one most capable and others believed that it should
remain within the Prophet’s family. The Sunnis won out
and Abu Bakr (the Prophet’s adviser) became the first
Caliph of the Muslim world. However, the distinctions
continue and the Shi’a today are found largely in Iran
and Iraq with minority communities in other countries
of the Middle East.
Neither Shia nor Sunnis are a homogeneous group
and the laws and practices they adopt vary. Where Islam
is dominant in a country, the legal system is based on
Sharia laws which are distilled from the Koran, the
Sunnah and the Hadith to guide all aspects of a Muslim’s
life – relationships, dress, foods, obligations, family
life, work and religious observances. Sharia is the law
of the land in Saudi Arabia and some states in northern
Nigeria (as well as in Iran, a predominantly Shi’a state).
In other countries, e.g. Malaysia and Pakistan, the legal
system is strongly influenced by Sharia but they also have
constitutional law. Turkey is a secular state that is only
moderately guided by Sharia, while in India and other
countries with significant minority Muslim populations,
Muslim individuals and families follow Sharia laws as a
code of personal conduct.
Islam in the Caribbean
Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname have the largest Muslim
populations in the Caribbean (see Table 7.3). The
percentage of the population that is Muslim in Suriname
(13%) is said to be the largest for any country in the
Western hemisphere.
Islam was first brought to the Caribbean by African
captives but a significant presence was not established
until Indian indentureship. The Muslims who came as
indentured servants were largely Sunnis and their beliefs
and practices were derived from Indian Islamic traditions.
This means that some of their practices may have
included Hindu elements, as they were to a large extent
converts from Hinduism. In addition, the Javanese who
were brought to Suriname practised a form of syncretic
Islam that included Hindu and Buddhist elements. Thus
Islam was already a syncretic religion when it came to
the Caribbean.
Over time the Muslim population came under the
influence of Arab Muslim clerics and scholars who
sought to standardise their practices and align them
away from a South Indian conception of Islam. They
were motivated too by witnessing the mobilisation of
their Hindu counterparts into powerful boards (Maha
Sabha) that sought to unify Hindu worship, built schools
and temples and lobbied to change the law to recognise
Hindu marriage and promote the interests of Hindus.
Muslim organisations grew up with a similar intent.
For example, in Trinidad there is the Anjuman Sunnat-
ul-Jamaat Association (ASJA), the Trinidad Muslim League
(TML) and the Tackveeyatul Islamic Association (TIA), and
in Guyana the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana, the
Muslim Youth Organisation and the Guyana United Sad’r
Islamic Anjuman. Organising Muslims in this way was
seen as a way of deepening orthodox Arabic Sunni laws
and practices and presenting Muslims with a more solid
identity in the face of the larger numbers of Hindus and
Christians in the society.
In Guyana this trend towards orthodoxy is seen in the
gradual disappearance of Muharram (known as Hosay in
Trinidad). This is a Shi’a observance to commemorate
the anniversary of the assassination of Hussein, the
grandson of the Prophet. It was a street procession with
drumming and the parade of elaborate taziyas (tadjahs)
made of bamboo and paper, painted gaily and decorated
with gilt and tinsel. The various Muslim organisations,
wanting to promote an Arab Islamic culture, discouraged
such activities brought from India and petitioned the
government to ban this ceremony. In Trinidad Hosay
continues to be observed; St James and Cedros are the
main centres, drawing large crowds. It has evolved into
a celebration with both Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians
beating the tassa drums and creating a Carnival-like
atmosphere or fête. From time to time Muslim voices are
raised against the creolisation of what should be a solemn
occasion. Others ask the question, who owns a festival?
In Guyana and Suriname there have also been
concerted efforts to replace Urdu, the language brought
from India and associated with Muslims, with Arabic.
So far, people have resisted this and to some extent the
Muslim organisations are divided as to their stance on
whether they want to propagate Islam according to how
it is observed in the Arab world, mainly Saudi Arabia
(the purifiers) or recognise and revitalise their Indian
heritage of Islam (the traditionalists). Nevertheless,
Islam is undergoing a revival worldwide and the Muslim
communities in the Caribbean are visited regularly by
Islamic clerics, while Muslim students are sent to study
in Arab countries.
In Trinidad & Tobago there are similar themes but
here the radical arm of Islam is present. In the 1980s
Black Muslim converts began to increase in number,
followers of the Nation of Islam in the United States, a
Sunni group. Black Muslims combine ideologies of panAfricanism, Black Power and an Islamist worldview.
The Jamaat al Muslimeen is the largest such organisation
in Trinidad and in 1990 it launched an unsuccessful coup
against the government of Trinidad & Tobago. While
Indo-Trinidadians also belong to the Jamaat, there are
divisions between the Islam practised by Indo- and
Afro-Trinidadians. The latter belong to lower socioeconomic classes and regard Islam as a morally superior
way of life based on the equality of all persons, which
differs from the mainstream ideology of capitalism
prevalent in Trinidad & Tobago. They look on their
fellow Indian Muslims as collaborating with the political
and economic elite and playing their part in entrenching
inequities. Further, they allege that racism keeps them
divided because the Trinidad Indian Muslim is Indian
first and Muslim second.
Africangods as Christian saints. That seems to have been
a practice adopted as a means of sheer survival which at
the same time served to resist the white man through
trickery. But, it also seems to be the case that African
religions were expansive enough to incorporate the new
religion into its own cosmology, without much strain.
In so doing a fusion of African religious thought
and Christianity evolved and this continues even today.
Once Emancipation occurred and the ex-slaves could
practice their beliefs and rites openly new syncretic
religions came into being – some of them having more
Christian elements, some having more African elements.
This process has been called creolisation or hybridisation and
described by Kamau Brathwaite as cultural action (§2.5.1
and §4.3.2). According to him the major factor guiding
the interplay and combining of religious expression was
that one group, the Europeans, was dominant and the
other, the Africans, was not. Within this mix, resistance,
creativity and resilience shaped the development of a
range of syncretic or creole religions emerging under
these circumstances.
Whilst Figure 7.5 portrays Jamaican Creole religions
in the Caribbean on a continuum from Eurocentric to
Afro-centric faiths, in reality even Eurocentric Christian
faiths have undergone some degree of syncretism. Today
there are black, Caribbean-born priests, reverends,
deacons and bishops who infuse their sermons with
the Caribbean oral tradition and use Caribbean
dialects and languages. In addition, hymns have been
Caribbeanised infusing local rhythms, lyrics, drums and
other instruments such as the steel pan. Syncretism then
is an on-going process that affects all aspects of life in
multicultural contexts.
In this section we will study two creole religions that
are Eurocentric – a blend of Christianity and African
religious traditions: Revivalism and Rastafari.
Eurocentric Creole Religions
During the centuries in which Africans were enslaved in
the Caribbean their religious beliefs and practices could
not be carried out openly without dire consequences.
That did not mean that their religions were abandoned
but rather they went ‘underground’ and were practiced
surreptitiously – at nights, in remote places, and disguised
as Christian worship. Religion to the African embodied
all of life and so some of their rituals could be observed
by the white man without him thinking that they were
necessarily religious. For example, their reverence for
rivers, mountains, trees and rocks, their work songs and
placing food and other artifacts in veneration of their
ancestors could to a large extent proceed under the white
man’s gaze.
However, the fact that they were removed from their
kinsmen, shamans, elders and holy places inevitably
meant that many aspects of their religious practice
would be forgotten or shaped and influenced by their
new contexts. A major factor in this new context was
Christianity, the religion of the Europeans. Converting
to Christianity or adopting the outward form of the
religion of their captors provided a ‘space’ for them to
worship peaceably. It is said that Africans deliberately
tried to outwit the white man by disguising their
Creole Religions
Zion Revival
Figure 7.5 Continuum of folk or creole religions in Jamaica
Revivalism (Jamaica)
Revivalism evolved from Myalism, an earlier syncretic
religion in Jamaica, with distinctly African roots.
Myalmen were holy men who were supposed to have
healing powers and developed a band of followers who held
the Holy Spirit and other spirits of West African religions
in great reverence. Myal and obeah were thought of
as two opposing forces (Box 7.5). After a brief time as a
Spanish colony, Jamaica was settled by the British in 1655,
and so Myalism, and Revivalism later, show elements of
Protestantism rather than Roman Catholicism.
In 1860–1 a great religious ‘revival’ occurred in the
United States which spread to England and the Caribbean.
It advocated a more personal and emotional dimension of
the religious experience and was embraced by Africans
who clearly saw a major role for the Holy Spirit. This
‘revival’ was reflected in a movement within Myalism
which developed three strands – Revivalism and Zion
Revivalism (two creole or syncretic religions of mainly
Christian elements) and Pukumina (a creole or syncretic
religion with mainly African elements). Figure 7.5 shows
how they might be located on the continuum in terms of
dominant Christian and African religious traditions.
While there are some differences between Revivalism
and Zion Revivalism, they will be treated here as mostly
similar. In all Revivalism pride of place is given to the
Holy Spirit, perhaps because this entity is seen as very
similar to the many spirits of African religions, or perhaps
BOX 7.5
because it was not given emphasis by white men. The
distinctive factor in Revivalism (and all creole religions
in the Caribbean) is the belief that the spiritual and physical
worlds are one, and that therefore the living can be possessed
by spirits so that they can benefit from knowledge which
is beyond their ken in the everyday life. Differences
among the Revival religions relate to the type of spirits
they recognise. Revivalism itself distinguishes three
levels of spirits – heavenly spirits (archangels, angels, and
saints), earth-bound spirits (Satan, fallen angels, biblical
prophets) and ground spirits (the human dead, except
those in the Bible). Zion Revivalists recognise only the
heavenly and earth-bound, considering the others to be
evil, and Pukumina devotees feel that the earth-bound
and the ground spirits are more accessible and therefore
can be quickly called on when in need.
Bible study was not an important aspect of Myalism
because many adherents were illiterate and to a large
extent they did not trust white missionaries to tell
them truthfully what was in the Good Book. However,
Revivalism on the whole developed a tradition of Biblereading in its ceremonies and street meetings. One of
the leaders of the Revival movement was Alexander
Bedward, a charismatic preacher, prophet and healer,
as well as a warner, who was at the height of his influence
during the 1890s and early 20th century. Revival
conflates Old Testament biblical characters such as
Elijah, Moses, Daniel and Isaiah, and the major saints of
Myal and Obeah
Characteristic of folk religions in Jamaica is the
idea associated with myal, that the spiritual power
which comes during possession by the spirits is
mighty and has the capacity to do good and heal.
This is contrasted directly with obeah, which
in both Revival and Zion Revival is regarded as
harmful, but in Pukumina, Convince and Kumina
obeah has a well-defined role.
Obeah is a set of practices, or a craft, which can
be described as magic or witchcraft. It is conducted
on behalf of persons who are seeking to change
their circumstances in some way, usually for the
better and to get rid of distressing or negative
elements in their lives. The rituals are performed
by the expert, the obeahman, and usually the
client has to carry out certain steps such as using
charms, prayers, and chants at certain times or in
prescribed places. The obeahman operates from
the premise that there are powerful forces and
entities which exist and which can be persuaded/
commanded to make magical things happen such
as relief from pain, healing for broken relationships
or harm to another. The obeahman is usually
a person of great spiritual insight and this is
recognised by others who want him to perform
services on their behalf.
Obeah is an African religious tradition that is
retained in many Afro-centric religions in the
Caribbean. The more Christian-based Creole
religions, as well as mainstream Christian religions,
regard it as a dark and mysterious practice.
However, in the African context, where the spirits
of the dead readily seem to want to communicate
with the living through dreams, trances and myal
episodes, obeah is an essential element of religious
life. It is not regarded as either good or bad, but as
a force that can be harnessed by the living.
the New Testament with the various divinities found in
West African religions (Bisnauth 2006). These characters
play an important part at services.
Occasionally in Kingston one may still see the warner,
usually female, enrobed, head wrapped in a turban,
armed with a Bible and a palm frond, going out among
the ‘highways and byways’ and warning the people
to avert imminent danger by turning away from evil.
In respect to this warning against evil the tradition
shows affinity to Myal. The role of warner therefore
had two aspects to it: that of prophesying the future
and that of calling society to account for its corrupt
violations of God’s moral laws.
(Chevannes, 1995, p. 82)
Bedward founded the Native Baptist Church and his
followers, mainly from among the African poor, were
known as Bedwardites. He preached against racism and
exploitation and was believed to be the reincarnation of
the prophet Aaron. He foretold disasters and that he and
his followers would ascend into heaven leaving the rich
and corrupt (i.e. white civilisation) to be destroyed. In
so doing he foreshadowed the main ideas of the panAfrican Movement and Marcus Garvey which gained
popularity in the 1930s. The Revival movement and
the later Rastafari movement include not only religious
beliefs but political positions and ideologies promoting
black consciousness and resistance to oppression.
Hallmarks of Revival worship lie in the central
role of water for baptism and purification. Fasting,
which they share with the Rastafari, is also necessary
to prepare oneself for spiritual work. Where members
meet is consecrated ground known as the ‘seal’ which
has a flagpole and water through which spirits enter the
meeting. The sole purpose of a Revival meeting is to call
on the gods and spirits to become present in the Revival
yard. While the other aspects of the Holy Trinity (God
the Father and God the Son) are expected to be present,
as well as other Biblical characters, emphasis is given
to the Holy Spirit. Trumping occurs when the band of
devotees dance counterclockwise in a circle to rhythmic
breathing, chanting and drumming, calling on the
gods and spirits to gather. Before that, another practice,
drilling occurs – the leader, known as the shepherd or
the captain, sings out a refrain and starts to pound his
rod or staff into the ground and move to a rhythm. The
members surround him in a circle and respond while
shuffling and swaying, bending their bodies forward and
back in unison.
The service builds in intensity as the worshippers
dance and whirl and moan against a background of
steady drumming and loud chanting. The Holy Spirit
announces his presence when several persons become
possessed evidenced by talking in tongues, thrashing
about and rolling on the floor. The possessed goes into
a trance and has visions and dreams by which s/he
communicates to the others things they need to know
such as any misfortune that may befall them, including
accidents, deaths or bad luck. The shepherd and other
experienced members of the band help to interpret the
signs given by the Holy Spirit, its intermediaries and
spirit messengers.
Rastafari (Jamaica)
This religion developed in Jamaica in the 1930s,
growing out of Zion Revival roots and the teachings
of Marcus Garvey who preached a philosophy of black
self-sufficiency and black pride. Long before that though
among the Jamaican grassroots there was a reverence
for Ethiopia as a symbol of the black man. When
Haile Selassie (opposite) was crowned Emperor of
Ethiopia in 1930 with the exuberant titles of ‘Lord of
Lords, King of Kings, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of
Judah, Elect of God and Light of the World’, Garvey’s
prophecy that a ‘prince shall arise in Africa’ seemed to
have come to pass. This led to the growth of a cult in
Jamaica, its founding members being Leonard Howell,
Joseph Hibbert, Archibald Dunkley and Robert
Hinds, who were all ardent followers of Garvey.
The Rastafari were scattered throughout the island
but with a concentration in the tenement yards and
ghettos of Kingston. Some groups lived in communes
in the countryside, attracting the poor and dispossessed.
Each group followed a slightly different philosophy
evidenced in their rituals, dietary habits and taboos.
Ganja (marijuiana) smoking was not a widespread
practice in the early days and the Dreadlocks hairstyle
came into being only in the 1950s.
The Rastafari gradually moved away from Revivalism
and embraced sentiments such as Back to Africa, black
consciousness, eschewing Babylon (the white man’s
world) and the argument that God was black. They
say that Africans in the New World are the lost tribes
described in the Bible, dispersed by the Babylonian
King Nebuchadnezzar. Haile Selassie was God made
flesh so that he could lead his people to the ‘promised
land’, Ethiopia. Whilst Bedward was critical of whites he
did not argue that God, Jesus and all the prophets were
black. Garvey, however, spoke of God as black and so
did the Rastafari. Both the Revivalists and the Rastafari,
though, held a similar millenarian position that in the last
days the social order on Earth would be inverted and
blacks would rule.
Ras (Duke) Tafari Makonnen was crowned Haile
Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1930
The Rastafari differed from the Revivalists in that
they regarded spirit possession as strictly taboo. They
preferred to rely on their own intuitive interpretation
of scripture which emerged through ceremonies such
as grounation and practices such as reasonings. At the
grounation members dress in colourful African robes in
the red, green and gold of Ethiopia, they sing and dance
to the distinctive Rastafari drumbeats and share food
and smoke ganja. These rituals reinforce community and
create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation, readiness,
inspiration and the free flow of ideas.
Reasonings or soundings are intense discussions and
explorations of Biblical themes, principles and characters
interspersed with everyday occurrences in Jamaica and
other places which attempt to argue and uphold a Rastafari
worldview. It is a loud and dramatic airing of views and
those who contribute strive to vanquish other speakers
with novel and non-traditional interpretations as well as
with wordplay. These sessions could get extremely tense
if outsiders are involved. Chevannes (1995) notes that
the aggression and hostility directed at outsiders are only
for the purposes of the ceremony where the members
ritually assume the personae of Jah and outsiders are cast
as representatives of Babylon and therefore are put on the
The major tenets of the Rastafari religion are based
on the following ideas (Fernandez Olmos & ParavisiniGebert, 2003, p. 162):
■ rejection of the white race and its practices;
■ ‘knowing’ that the black race is morally and
religiously superior;
■ exacting revenge on whites for their mistreatment of
■ rejection of the Jamaican government and other
authorities which uphold the white man’s principles
and values;
■ repatriation (preparation for a return to Africa); and
■ accepting Haile Selassie as the supreme being and
ruler of black people.
The Rastafari substitute ‘knowing’ for ‘believing’.
They engage in certain cultural and social practices which
stem from their religious (and political) convictions – for
■ Their diet is vegetarian, salt and pork are taboo
probably because such foods are associated with the
food fed to the enslaved but also because the pig is
regarded as unclean in the Bible.
■ Their dreadlocks are their ‘crown’, invoking a
comparison to the real crown of the Emperor Selassie,
but this is also meant to shock Babylon because the
wild and unkempt look calls attention to their lives as
social ‘outcasts’.
■ They deliberately manipulate language to support
their religious views which includes resisting
domination: ‘I’ (the personal pronoun) is regarded
as the same as Selassie ‘I’ (the roman numeral). If
‘I’ meaning ‘me’ or ‘my’ is the same as God’s name
then it follows that all Rastas are part of the divine.
This is an example of ‘reasonings’ and a whole Rasta
vocabulary has evolved in this way – ‘I man’ (for ‘me’),
‘I and I’ (for ‘us’ or ‘we’, or the oneness of us all, our
oneness with the divine).
■ Their occupations include gardening, selling crafts,
foods, clothing and services which do not require
them to have allegiance to a ‘boss’.
■ They reject ‘isms’ and ‘schisms’ as trickery that is
inherent in Babylon and therefore refuse to recognise
the label, ‘Rastafarianism’.
As the Rastafari movement evolved their members
increasingly fell foul of the law and the official Jamaican
authorities. Their leaders were harassed and imprisoned
because they ignored and flouted the rules of ‘Babylon’.
The fact that most members were poor and unemployed,
and that they deliberately affected the look of the
outcast, set them apart from mainstream society who
felt that they harboured criminal elements. All these
ideas continue today even though the religion has spread
worldwide through the music and lyrics of Bob Marley
and others and Rastas are more widely accepted now.
It is possible to make the distinction that the hairstyle,
music and philosophy of the Rastafari have made greater
impact globally, but that the religion of the Rastafari,
while influencing people around the world, is practised
by comparatively fewer persons.
Sociological Terms
Consider the following questions with respect to the
Rastafari. (Note that there may be more than one
correct answer for each question.)
Is the Rastafari
• a cult, a sect, a denomination, or an NRM ?
• a subculture or an ethnic minority?
• a world rejecting, world accommodating or worldaffirming movement?
• a patriarchal, a resistance or a millenarian movement?
• a creole, syncretic or Afro-centric religion?
Afro-centric Creole Religions
In this section we will explore some Caribbean religions
which are syncretic and at the same time are more Afrocentric than the religions described in the previous
section. Kumina is found in Jamaica, Orisha (Shango) in
Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent, and Vodou
(Vodun) in Haiti.
Kumina (Jamaica)
Kumina has been greatly influenced by Africans who
came to Jamaica in the period 1840–70, some of them
under indentured schemes to assist with the labour
shortage after Emancipation. It is unclear whether
Kumina existed before their arrival. They were mainly
from Central Africa and today some of the practices
and the terms used reflect similarities to the languages,
religions and cultural practices of the Koongo, Bantu
peoples from the Congo and Angola.
Kumina is both a religion and a dance and is popular
in eastern Jamaica, mainly in the parishes of St Thomas
and Portland. It is organised through small units or
communities, called nations, headed by a king or queen.
Dancing and drumming are characteristic of all Kumina
ceremonies which are held to mark births and deaths, for
thanksgiving, and to summon good (or evil). The rituals
are referred to as ‘plays’ that may last for more than
one day, depending on the purpose of the ceremony.
There are two main ‘plays’. The Bailo is danced for
enjoyment and accompanied by songs mainly in the
Jamaican dialect. The more spiritual Country, which can
approach a frenzied tempo, is danced to communicate
with the spirits. Within the dance ancestral spirits as well
as gods and other deities come to possess the faithful.
The traditional nine-nights ritual of feasting, dancing and
praying at wakes show the importance accorded to the
spirits of the dead and the care taken to ensure that such
spirits wend their way to the afterlife unimpeded. These
rituals take place at the home of the deceased and the
family and community participates. In other Kumina
ceremonies, bringing down the spirits of the dead to
occupy the bodies of the dancers is meant to provide the
living with the wisdom of the ancestors who will know
all things that are likely to befall the faithful.
Not only dancing but drumming is central to Kumina
rituals (Box 4.8). The drummers sit close together, facing
each other, and the dancers move around them in an
counter-clockwise manner. The kbandu is the main
drum which has a low pitch and is made with stretched
ram-goat skin over the head of the drum. Higher in
pitch is the playin kyas, made from ewe skin. Scrapers
and rattles complement the main drum rhythms. The
drummers and the singers control the pace and intensity
of the dancers’ motions. Both the drummer and the
dancer are equally involved – the spirit may first make its
presence felt from the ground upward through the drum
and then go back down and enter one of the dancers.
Once the spirit enters a dancer the movements become
quite different, some believe in imitation of the spirit.
The dancer may display violent contortions and have to
be assisted by the queen and others to gradually ‘dance
out’ the spirit.
Whilst in Myal and Revivalism obeah (Box 7.4) is
viewed negatively because it is seen as witchcraft – using
the spirits to accomplish certain acts, usually to bring
harm to someone – in Kumina obeah is interwoven
with its belief system. It is regarded as a set of practices
which are secondary to the forces of good (myal) but
nevertheless necessary at times. In addition, the Kumina
dance brings clarity to the spiritual realm, enabling
the dancer to see the power of obeah at work – that
shadowy world where earth-bound and ground spirits
are manipulated in various ways and they are able to tell
how close or far away someone, or a group, has come to
distress, disasters and misfortune and what they must do
to ward off harm.
Kumina treats various Old Testament prophets and
characters as deities. David, Ezekiel and Moses, among
others, are earth-bound deities. Adherents also believe
in an all-powerful creator God, as the Christians do.
The Creator God is named Zambi, who is sky-bound,
as are Obei and Shango. Below this level of deities are
the ancestral spirits and earth-bound spirits, and lower
down there are other spirits who seek to do harm. Biblereading and hymn-singing are Christian practices within
Kumina but they are not the focus of the meeting. It is
interesting to note that syncretism also occurred between
different African-centred belief systems – Kumina has
mainly Koongo elements but the recognition of the god
Shango means that in Jamaica Yoruba deities were also
Whilst creole and Afro-centric religions in Jamaica
were traditionally followed by the lower socio-economic
groups and regarded with scorn by the more affluent,
today Kumina has grown in importance, its dances being
performed by the National Dance Theatre Company and
in cultural shows for tourists. It is also widely seen as a
way in which the African cultural identity of Jamaicans
is affirmed. In the Kumina worldview Jamaicans have
resisted the efforts of missionaries over the centuries
and still retain strong links to an African heritage where
religion is heavily invested in emotion, links between the
living and the dead, and a universe where humans, spirits,
gods and others co-exist. Syncretism continues today in
the fact that many Kumina practitioners attend Revival
services on Sundays as part of their religious practices.
Orisha (Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada and St Vincent)
In Trinidad & Tobago Orisha is frequently confused
with the Spiritual Baptist movement. The two groups
share beliefs and practices from a number of traditions.
One of the main differences is that Spiritual Baptists
see themselves as Christians and focus on their version
of the Christian Trinity, and believe Christ gives them
power over the Orisha. By contrast Orisha rituals focus
on African deities such as Shango (Desmangles, Glazier
& Murphy, 2003, p. 293).
There is also the widespread assumption that the
Orisha and Shango are two separate religions, where in
fact Shango is a god in the Orisha faith and the religion
of Orisha in Trinidad was previously known as Shango.
It is only very recently (the last 20 years or so) that the
name Orisha has become widely recognised.
Orisha venerates the spirit of the over-arching
God, Oldumare, that dwells in the deities when they
become manifest. The religion is therefore considered
monotheistic. Orishas are the spirits of ancestors or
other powers who directly intercede in the lives of
people, acting as guardian spirits and as intermediaries
for Oldumare. They have certain specific areas of
functioning, for example – Ogun (clearer of paths),
Eshu (messenger, fertility), Obatala (making the Earth
livable for humans) and Shango (power of lightning and
thunder). There are many others.
The Orisha religion can be traced to the Yoruba
peoples of West Africa, particularly Nigeria. In the
Caribbean it developed even before Emancipation in
the mixing and merging of African belief systems in the
Spanish colony of Trinidad, to which there was a large
influx of French planters and their slaves in the late 18th
century. African religious beliefs – mainly Yoruba mixed
with those brought by the enslaved from Martinique,
Guadeloupe, St Vincent and Grenada (who would not
have been all Yoruba) – merged with the influences of
Roman Catholicism. The creole religions studied so
far in this section (Revival, Rastafari and Kumina) do
not have this Roman Catholic element. In Orisha, the
many saints of Roman Catholicism merged easily with
African ancestral spirits and deities. For example, Ogun
is identified with St Michael and Shango with St John.
Yet there are similarities between Orisha and the
creole religions of Jamaica. For example, singing,
dancing and drumming accompany each meeting where
‘spirit possession’ plays a central role. The formation
of a circle and the call-and-response rhythms are very
much like religious rituals practised in Africa today. The
lead practitioners are also master healers and healing,
particularly through herbal medicines, is widespread
in the Caribbean across all the folk religions. Food
and various offerings such as fruits, vegetables, water,
flowers, wine and bread are laid out for the gods but
in Orisha, Pukumina, Convince and Kumina there is
a stronger tradition of animal sacrifice. Obeah, secret
rituals of healing, magic and sorcery practised during
slavery, is also a tradition in these religions but not in
Revival or Zion Revival (Box 7.4). The Rastafari share
in the singing, dancing and drumming celebrations;
their emphasis on healing is to fast as well as to observe
certain taboos; but, they have only one well-defined god
and do not participate in spirit possession or obeah.
Spirit possession is the major feature most creole
religions share. In the case of the Orishas, it allows for
direct communication between the Orisha and the person
possessed. As in Kumina, the spirits of the dead, the
ancestors, as well as other powers and deities, are called
upon to inhabit the bodies of the faithful. Through this
medium the living learn wisdom and obtain assistance in
developing their spiritual life. The role of the ancestors
looms large because without ancestors one would not
be here. Through what we have inherited from our
ancestors and the culture they created we now live our
lives. Since in the African worldview the physical and
spiritual realms are not separate, humans have access to
this spirit guidance and protection. Possession by a spirit
means that the personality and identity of the devotee
become suppressed to allow for the entry of the divine.
The spirits have different personalities and preferences as
to colours, songs and rituals. They also behave differently.
When possessed, the behaviour of the devotee enables
others to infer which divinity is amongst them.
The modern-day devotees of Orisha are continually
striving to include more African elements in their music,
singing, dancing, ceremonial practices, and language. It
is a conscious drive to diminish the Christian elements
and include more rituals that are practised among the
Yoruba today. So there is now much communication
and interplay between African and West Indian Orisha
groups, particularly in the diaspora. This continues the
resistance trend where the white man’s religion was
continually ‘made over’ into something more ‘authentic’
to the African. However, Orisha worship in Trinidad &
Tobago is not the same religion practised by the Yoruba
of Nigeria; it is a syncretic religious form.
Vodou (Vodun)
During the Haitian Revolution (1791–1803) the white,
French planter class was either killed off or fled. What
remained was a largely African nation with a syncretic
religion, known as Vodou, comprised of Roman Catholic
elements and the religious traditions of the Fon people of
Dahomey, the Yoruba and the Ewe. While Vodou is the
official religion today of Benin (the former Dahomey) in
West Africa and the dominant religion in Togo and parts
of Ghana, it does not have Roman Catholic elements in
Africa. However, in Haiti, while many persons profess
to be Roman Catholics, they also practice Vodou, a
natural part of their upbringing and their life. Roman
Catholicism and Vodou form a seamless, syncretic
religious entity for most Haitians.
Historically, Vodou practitioners were marginalised
and persecuted, especially by the Roman Catholic Church
and the Roman Catholic elites of the government. As
late as 1941, the anti-Vodou campaigns included the
confiscation and destruction of Vodou objects, especially
drums; the razing of Vodou temples; the felling of
supposedly sacred Mapou trees; and the interrogation and
imprisonment of Vodou devotees (Murrell, 2010, p. 66).
Internationally, the religion suffers from a ‘bad press’.
Images of spirit possession and animal sacrifice have been
sensationalised in books and movies, as if they do not exist
in other Caribbean religions. Vodou is similar to Orisha
and Kumina in that there are many saints, African deities
and ancestral spirits who represent the over-arching god,
known as Bondyé (Good God) by the Haitians. Therefore
Vodou is monotheistic but, as in the other syncretic,
Caribbean religions, the Supreme God is distant and welldisposed towards humanity so that there is no need to
appease him. Rather, the saints, African deities and spirits,
called loas (or lwa), are powerful because they provide the
link between humans and the divine.
The main idea in Vodou is that of service to the loa.
During possession, the devotee may undergo terror, pain
and convulsions but all that is to be borne because the
loa brings knowledge and solace to the people and in the
spirit of community the devotee does his/her duty. There
are hundreds of loas. Of African origin are Legba, Ogun,
Erzilie and Obatala. Catholic saints include St John, the
Virgin Mary (Mater Dolorosa), and St Peter (Papa Pie). The
syncretism is so intense that the distinctions between the
Catholic saints and the African divinities are blurred, as
in Orisha.
The altar in a Vodou ceremony contains Roman
Catholic elements, such as votive candles, holy water,
crucifixes and pictures of saints, intermingled with flowers,
foods, stones and flags. Formal prayers are modelled on
pleas or supplications to Mary, Mother of God and other
deities. While the main Vodou ceremony calls on the loas
to become present there are other rituals which invoke
the power of the dead (ancestral spirits) and attempt to
appease or triumph over other spirits regarded as evil.
Vodou practitioners tend also to be Roman Catholics and
regard the priest as a conduit between them and Bondyé
but the loas are a means whereby each believer can have
direct experience of the world of the spirits.
Like Kumina, Vodou is first and foremost a dance
accompanied by drumming where the dancers move in
a circle in an counter-clockwise direction. The drums
are of different sizes and made according to African
traditions using stretched goat skin over the head. The
drums are sacred because drumming is the medium which
summons the loa and s/he comes to inhabit both the drum
and the drummer in the ceremony. The drumming and
dancing are accompanied by singing, and repetitive calland-response refrains.
There are two major branches in the development
of Vodou – the Dahomean tradition known as Rada
and that of the Petro Nation. Rada is aligned towards
Members of the La Kou Souvenance, a Vodou practising community that congregates in Gonaives, Haiti participate in
communion and dance in closing ceremonies that culminate their celebrations of Easter. The celebration is a mixture
of Catholic Easter tradition and post-colonial African rites.
protection, benevolence and guidance but Petro Nation
is more aggressive, even violent, and is thought to have
propelled the slaves towards their bid for freedom in 1791.
It developed in remote parts of the French colony where
maroons formed small, fugitive communities and even
incorporated Taino influences into their worship. Within
Petro Nation the gods of Vodou (Rada) take on menacing
characteristics as they fight oppression and are bitter about
the brutal history of enslavement of the Haitian people.
Because there are so many spirits to be appeased,
superstitions abound about good and evil and the dangers
of becoming possessed by evil spirits. On the margins
of Vodou are practices similar to obeah where certain
individuals are thought to possess knowledge of these
spirits, or of poisons and other herbal concoctions, so that
they can bring about good or evil. These practices have
been immortalised in Hollywood films and have become
the public’s idea of what Vodou is all about. Popular
sentiment even blamed the earthquake that devastated
Haiti in January 2010 on Vodou, misrepresented as a
form of black magic or occult practice. Even today when
much information can be gained about Vodou from the
internet, the dominant image the world over is about
strange and horrifying rituals.
Social Theory
1. How can Durkheim’s concepts such as collective
consciousness and anomie be applied to Vodou in
2. To what extent can a Marxist analysis of religion be
applied to Haitian Vodou?
3. What concepts will an Interpretive theorist use in
describing Haitian Vodou?
To sum up:
This section focused on a sociological discussion of
religions in the Caribbean. While their major tenets
were described, emphasis lay on their emergence,
character and dynamics. The section described
the historical elements, the groups and especially
the ethnic groups, and showed how they interact
with each other and impact the wider society. We
witnessed how the social institutions of religion, the
economy and politics interacted. Of special interest
are the processes of creolisation and syncretism
at work in shaping Caribbean religions in plural
societies. Finally, Caribbean religion is often a means
of reaffirming identity for people in the diaspora.
All social institutions undergo change. In this
section we will examine the phenomenon known
as secularisation. At the same time we will also
consider the opposite view which suggests that there
is a resurgence of religion worldwide.
The Process of Secularisation
Weber put forward the idea of secularisation as a
process that has been on-going for centuries in the West
especially with the advent of capitalism and its emphasis
on a particular kind of rationality. He saw secularisation
as occurring through a decline in religious participation,
religious values and religious beliefs. In The Protestant
Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism he noted that the growing
importance of science and technology in society would
inevitably result in a decline in things held sacred.
Institutions such as education, the market, and the justice
system would be increasingly modelled on rational
principles and religion would be sidelined to a specific
sphere of only private significance. Rationality then was
the underlying principle that would replace mysticism
and the supernatural with a more secular outlook.
True to Weber’s concern with the microsociological
dimensions of an issue, he perceived that increasing
secularisation would lead to disenchantment with the
Disenchantment refers to the confusion and disillusion
people feel when the emphases and lifestyles of the
modern world – profit-making, work-related values,
technologically driven lives, and the preeminence of
science in understanding the world – do not help them
to answer life’s enduring questions such as ‘Who am I?’
‘Is there life after death?’ ‘How do I become happy?’
Research Methodology
Debate on the secularisation thesis continues largely
because there is no empirical way of accurately
measuring it. Consider the following points and
evaluate them as problems of research methodology.
Can you suggest ways these issues might be researched
effectively? Which of the issues do NOT concern
1. Surveys of church attendance are few, especially in
the past, and may pertain to only a few countries,
mostly in Europe.
2. Questionnaire and survey data tend to yield a
‘snapshot’ of a cross-section of a population which
does not tell what they did or believed before and
after the survey. Any trends detected may be only
valid for a particular country or region and only for
a particular time. Weber’s thesis referred to a global
process over time.
3. What people really believe is an inner subjective state
that cannot be easily accessed by researchers. For
example, people may still believe in God or worship
and say prayers without feeling the need to go to
church. In addition, the thorny question arises: To
what extent do regular churchgoers practise and
obey their doctrines, rules and religious laws? So,
church attendance may be only indicative of one
dimension of religiosity.
4. Complicating the issue further is that some may
continue to regard themselves as Roman Catholics
or Anglicans and cite that religion as the one to
which they belong on official documents but no
longer practise the religion, or only take part in some
5. Correlation is not the same as causation. What this
means is that because two events seem to be related
we cannot infer that one caused the other. Thus,
rising levels of modernisation in a society cannot be
taken as the cause of the decline in religiosity in the
society. There has to be more direct proof.
BOX 7.6
Support for and Opposition to Weber’s Secularisation Theory
Berger (1967 – see §7.2.3 above), noted that in
Europe and other places the authority of the
dominant religion declined because its ‘plausibility
structures’ could not accommodate and make
sense of changes in social life. The ‘sacred canopy’
was therefore ripped making way for many
denominations each with a version of the ‘truth’
that contested the other. The resulting religious
pluralism and secularisation reinforced each other.
However, Berger later changed his view (see
opposite column).
Berger (1999) now believes that there is a
resurgence of religiosity worldwide as a result of
secular elites being resisted by other groups. Thus,
the fundamentalist movements in the USA and in
Islam, for example, are reactions to an elite, secular
Walton (2000) argued that religion itself
undergoes change from one historical era to
another. Religion becomes more secular in the
present era because the society values rationality.
What goes on in society must necessarily impact
religion (and vice versa) simply because religion is
a social institution and social institutions interact.
Becoming more rational means that they are also
becoming more secular, because the elements of
traditional religiosity are being diminished, such as
superstition, magic, and mystery. This view is one
which upholds religious secularism.
Hadden (1987) argued that sociologists have
accepted Weber’s idea of secularisation ‘on faith’.
Efforts to put the ideas to scientific test are flawed
as there is no adequate way to accurately measure
all the perceived dimensions of secularisation.
In fact NRMs have appeared even in the most
secularised societies and religion is today a major
factor in foreign policy and global politics.
Wilson (1982) has argued that the growth in the
number of sects over the last few decades is an
indication of the increase in secularisation in
society. Sects comprise people who want to isolate
themselves from non-religious or secular society.
Hence, if we witness a growth in the number of
sects then the society is growing more secular. This
is a logical deduction which may largely pertain to
the Christian world.
Stark (1999) felt that Weber had exaggerated
the religiosity of past eras and underestimated
religiosity today. He presented as evidence the
work of historians who documented the irreligion
and apathy of lay and clergy alike in medieval
Britain. Others disagree saying that it is hard to
believe that the most important institution in the
land had little effect on people.
Stark and Finke (2000) put forward a market
model of religiosity. For example, a monopoly
church in a country necessitates censorship and
strong sanctions to remain in the fold so that to a
large extent stagnation and complacency comes to
mark religious life. Religious pluralism on the other
hand actually stimulates religiosity. According
to this argument, the separation of Church and
State forces churches to become more competitive
and re-vitalised thereby increasing the levels of
religious ferment in the society.
world. Not only does he outline macro-level processes of
social change but he also shows linkages with the
subjectivities people experience.
The process of secularisation has left many with a
spiritual void, what Weber describes as the elimination of
magic from the world (Weber, 1958, p. 105).
Some sociologists have provided support for Weber’s
ideas on secularisation, others oppose it (Box 7.6). Look at
the methodology of the debate in Activity 7.9.
Secularisation in the Caribbean
The World Values Survey 1981–2001 was conducted by
social scientists for over 80 countries and investigated
socio-cultural and political change. It is being continually
followed up to monitor changes and make cross-country
analyses and comparisons. Below are some of their
■ There has been a persistent decline in church
attendance and in the numbers holding religious
beliefs and values both in Scandinavian and other
European countries.
■ Though the decline is not as great there is a similar
trend in Australia, Canada and Japan.
■ The United States represents an exception where
religiosity has increased in an industrialized country.
■ Jamaica and Trinidad &Tobago registered higher levels
of religiosity than Europe but lower levels than Chad,
Rwanda, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Norris & Inglehart (2004) have posited that persons
in the more developed countries are less religious because
the level of risk, hardship and insecurity in their lives is
low. Comprehensive social welfare systems in Europe,
for example, provide help and support to citizens. In
countries with very few resources or not as inclusive a
system of social security as obtains in Europe, citizens
are expected to be resilient and for many this includes
faith in God and a religious orientation to life. Some
scholars suggest that religious life in the United States
is vibrant, especially in the growth of cults, sects, the
evangelical movement and NRMs, largely because their
social welfare system does not give adequate coverage to
many. US citizens, especially when facing a downturn in
the economy, turn to a higher power for help. Thus, the
poorer countries of the world are very religious because
they live with uncertainty and instability all the time.
In the more affluent countries, those of a lower socioeconomic group tend to be more religious.
Social Life
1. Identify examples of secularisation in Caribbean
2. 2. Identify groups or categories of people who may
be more secular than others in Caribbean societies.
3. 3. Explain why you think secularisation is (or is not)
increasing in the Caribbean.
To sum up:
This final section of the chapter dealt with
secularisation, a concept offered by Weber. He felt
that with the increasing modernisation of society
religion would decline in importance and many would
become disenchanted. Since then many sociologists
have sought to critique or extend and clarify the case
for or against the secularisation of society. The section
outlined the different arguments which show that only
Scandinavia and some other European countries now
match Weber’s predictions. On a more global level,
poverty, a sense of insecurity, and endemic conflicts
between cultural elites and others are conditions which
generate not only religious pluralism but heightened
Chapter Summary
This chapter is a sociological account of the social institution of religion with a specific focus on the
Caribbean. The study of a social institution looks at how that institution is influencing society and
how society may be influencing the institution. It therefore calls for:
• a discussion of dominant and marginalised ideas and beliefs on religion in the society;
• an outline of social theory which attempts to explain via different sociological perspectives the
interactions of religion and society;
• a comparative approach to the study of specific religions; forces of social change;
• methods of inquiry which can best capture such changes.
The account revealed that immense diversity in religious life is found in the Caribbean, brought
about by the arrival of transplanted peoples, and the actions of colonisers and missionaries. All these
varieties of religion underwent intense adaptations, transformations and syncretism and moreover
are continuing to develop, a process described as creolisation.
Berger, P. (1967). The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological
Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Berger, P. (ed.) (1999). The Desecularisation of the World.
Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Murrell, N. S. (2010). Afro-Caribbean Religions: An Introduction
to their Historical, Cultural, and Sacred Traditions. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press.
Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and Secular: Religion
and Politics Worldwide. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bisnauth, D. (2006). History of Religions in the Caribbean, 2nd.
ed. Kingston, Jamaica: LMH Publishing.
Pfeffer, L. (1979–80). Equal Protection for Unpopular Sects. New
York University Review of Law and Social Change, 9 (1), pp.
Chevannes, B. (1995). Rastafari: Roots and Ideology. New York:
Syracuse University Press.
Stark, R. (1999). Secularisation, RIP. Sociology of Religion, 60(3), pp.
Desmangles, L.G., Glazier, S.D., & Murphy, J.M. (2003).
Religion in the Caribbean. In R. Hillman & T. D’Agostino (eds),
Understanding the Contemporary Caribbean, pp. 263–304.
Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle.
Stark, R., & Finke, R. (2000). Acts of Faith. Berkeley: University of
California Press.
Durkheim, E. (1954). The Elementary Forms of Religious Life,
trans. J. Swain. First published 1912. New York: Free Press.
Fernandez Olmos, M., & Paravisini-Gebert, L. (2003). Creole
Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou
and Santeria to Obeah and Espiritismo. New York: New York
University Press.
Hadden, J. (1987). Toward Desacralizing Secularisation Theory.
Social Forces, 65 (3), pp. 587–611.
Miller, A., & Hoffmann, J. (1995). Risk and Religion: An
Explanation of Gender Differences in Religiosity. Journal for the
Scientific Study of Religion, 34, pp. 63–75.
Tucker, R. (ed.) (1978). The Marx-Engels Reader. New York:
Walton, C.L. (2000). Is Disenchantment the End of Religion?
At http://www.philocrites.com/essays/weber.html, accessed 6
December 2013.
Weber, M. (1958). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of
Capitalism, trans. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New: York:
Galaxy. (Originally published in German in 1904.)
Weber, M. (1963). The Sociology of Religion. Boston: Beacon,
1963. (Originally published in German in 1922.)
Wilson, B.R. (1982). Religion in Sociological Perspective. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Exercises and
Test Questions
(A) Multiple Choice Questions
Please select the BEST POSSIBLE answer.
1. Which sociological perspective highlights the
integrative nature of religion in social life?
(a) Functionalism
(b) Marxism
(c) Interpretive theory
(d) Conflict theory
2. Which of the following is an example of a
(a) Islam in Saudi Arabia
(b) the Roman Catholic Church in Italy
(c) the Baptists in the USA
(d) the Hare Krishna movement
3. Berger’s Sacred Canopy refers to when Roman
Catholicism in Europe was a:
(a) Church
(b) sect
(c) cult
(d) denomination
4. In which of the following Caribbean
countries are there large numbers of Hindus?
(a) Guyana, Jamaica and St Kitts & Nevis
(b) Suriname, Jamaica and Belize
(c) Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname
(d) Guyana, Suriname and St Kitts & Nevis
5. Which sociological perspective regards
religion as reinforcing the patterns of
inequality in a society?
(a) Functionalism
(b) Marxism
(c) Interpretive theory
(d) Symbolic Interactionism
6. Secularisation occurs in a society in all of
the following ways EXCEPT
(a) Church and State are separated
(b) church attendance declines
(c) the Church censors literature it regards
as unsuitable
(d) religious values are not upheld by many
in the society
7. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
is an analysis of religion and society from
which of the following perspectives?
(a) Interpretive theory
(b) Marxism
(c) Conflict perspective
(d) Functionalism
8. Weber’s idea about ‘disenchantment’ refers
(a) the increase in issues such as abortion
and homosexuality in the society which
the Church cannot seem to control
(b) the process whereby people become
gradually disillusioned with the world
(c) the decline of religion in a society and the
growth of many denominations
(d) when the magical and mystical
elements of life are displaced by rational
9. Religious fundamentalism refers to
(a) religion being undermined by science and
(b) the increase in the spiritual rather than
the religious in people’s lives
(c) religious conflict and division in the
society through the perpetuation of
(d) an emphasis on the literal meaning of
religious texts
10. Which of the following is an example of a
syncretic, creole religion?
(a) Charismatic movement
(b) Revival Zion
(c) Sunni Islam, Guyana
(d) Pentecostal faith
(B) Structured Response Questions
(C) Essay Questions
Each response should be about two or three lines.
Each item carries 4 marks.
In this section some essay questions are given
(25 marks). The questions may involve further
research building on what the chapter offers.
A specimen answer to the first of these essays
is provided, with annotations. Refer back to
Chapter 1 for guidelines of how to critique a
sociological essay.
(1) Describe TWO ways in which religion can lead
to social conflict.
(2) Give ONE example each of a world affirming,
world rejecting, and world accommodating
religion, and name the theorist who devised
this classification.
(3) Explain what is meant by ecclesias as a type of
church organisation.
(4) Identify FOUR characteristics common to
syncretic religions in the Caribbean.
(5) Describe ONE way in which religion promotes
(6) Give ONE example that you know about in the
Caribbean where religion is associated with
(7) Distinguish between animism and naturism.
(8) Distinguish between a sect and a cult.
(9) Briefly outline the kinds of transformation
ONE religion underwent in the Caribbean.
(10) What are the main criticisms of the Marxist
perspective on religion?
(1) Analyse the relationships between gender and
religion in society.
(2) Discuss the argument that religious pluralism
and secularisation reinforce each other.
(3) Examine the view that creole religions in
the Caribbean are a response to a history of
violence and oppression.
(4) Justify the argument that ‘religion is
essentially a social thing’.
(5) Discuss the sociological arguments which
address conflict in multi-religious Caribbean
Sample Answer and Critique
Analyse the relationships between gender and religion in society
To sociologists, religion is important in understanding society, and they look mainly at the nature of
religious participation and religious organisations for this understanding. What they see is that
religious participation to a large extent varies by social groups – for example, whether someone is
young or old, male or female, rich or poor, from the rural or urban areas, black or white, professional
or blue collar, even the type of religious group, such as belonging to a sect or not. This essay will focus
on the nature of gender relationships in religious participation and religious organisations by
looking at empirical data showing broad patterns according to gender as well as the contribution of
social theorists in explaining the data.
Religiosity is the sociological concept that guides how someone’s relationship to a religion is assessed.
It refers broadly to how groups participate in religious activities such as church attendance, what
religious beliefs and values they profess, and what rites, rituals and observances they carry out. It is
widely supported by empirical evidence that women participate more in religious activities than
men (Miller & Hoffmann, 1995; Trimble, 1997; Kelley & De Graaf, 1997). This finding has led to the
general belief that women are more religious than men. There is no proof of this; it is just a logical
deduction. Religiosity is usually measured using survey data which can only tell how often women
participate in religious acts, not whether they are more religious than men. Even if self-report scales
are used, asking whether the respondent considered him or herself to be religious, each person has a
different idea of what that involves or they may just not tell the truth.
Positivist studies then can give us broad trends about gender and religion in society. Miller and
Hoffmann (1995) stated that women are more likely than men to express interest in religion, attend
church more often, and have a stronger personal religious commitment. Moreover, this degree of
religiosity is likely to be maintained over the life course and holds true whether the religious
organisation is a Church, a sect, or a denomination. Various explanations have been offered to clarify
these relationships. Generally, women are less likely to be involved in full-time jobs and so have more
time to devote to religious activities. Their work in the home calls them to look for other means of
personal identity and commitment to the Church fulfils this need.
Another explanation speaks to the differences in gender socialisation. Women are reared to be
more submissive and obedient and these traits are important in religious devotion. Psycho-social
explanations focus on vulnerability. They suggest that women are less likely to take risks and if they
live in at-risk cultures and societies they will find relief in the certainty that faith and religiosity
brings. By the same token men who are less inclined to take risks will also be more religious than
other men. Walter & Davie (1998) take this further: they do not dispute that religiosity could stem
from socially induced vulnerability, but also make a case for the physical vulnerability of women in
relation to men, a situation exacerbated in patriarchal societies. Greeley (1992) offers motherhood
Clarifying the
topic and stating
how the essay
will proceed.
Focus on
‘religiosity’ – a
major concept
in drawing out
between males
and female.
of empirical
data showing
Theorising about
the relationships
religiosity, gender
and society.
as the reason why women seem to be more religious and devout than men. Before having a family
women are less religious than when they assume the caring and nurturing role. One way they can
shoulder their responsibilities to their offspring is to give them a firm foundation in religious values
and morals, and mothers take on the role of the exemplar to model this behaviour for their children.
Religion in particular upholds the ideology of family life and mothers will therefore be in favour of
a strong link between Church and family.
Feminist critiques of all these explanations focus on the nature of entrenched gender inequalities
in society, especially patriarchal societies, and the disadvantages suffered by women. They see
religious participation by women as directly related to the need for solace, comfort and certainty,
if not in this world then in the next. It is ironic, they say, that within religious organisations women
are sidelined and marginalized. Feminists feel that if women, because of the nature of their lives,
have a greater need to turn to religion then they should not have patriarchal organisations to turn
to. In fact, women’s religious involvement does little to challenge the status quo and may in fact be
reinforcing it.
More detailed
treatment given
to feminist
perspectives since
gender is the core
of their analyses.
Baskin (1985) shows how in Rabbinic Judaism women’s and men’s roles are separate and women are
conceived of as something wholly different from ‘the unblemished man who can serve God fully’ (p.3).
Women play little or no role within the organisation and even in prayer they are disparaged:
Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast not made
me a gentile./Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who
hast not made me a slave./Blessed art Thou, Lord our God, King of the
Universe, who hast not made me a woman.
(Baskin, 1985, p. 6)
The Roman Catholic and Mormon refusal to ordain women is also seen as gender discrimination,
especially in societies where equality of the sexes is now an enshrined policy across all major social
institutions. In Roman Catholicism laws which prohibit artificial means of contraception and
abortion are laws made by men ruling over women’s bodies. Where most religions are concerned
there is a ‘glass ceiling’ prohibiting women from reaching top positions in the organisation. In Islam
women cannot lead prayers in the mosque and in Buddhism ordained women follow more rules
than men. Amongst the Rastafari whilst women are held in high regard, evidenced by a man
referring to a woman as ‘queen’, her position is a subordinate one limited to domestic roles and
she is excluded from many rituals and the ‘reasoning’ ceremony.
Feminist studies marry the concerns of Conflict theory with oppression and the search for meaning
typical of Interpretive sociology. Consequently they examine on a microsociological level the
significance of religiosity to men and women. One finding is the issue of guilt in Christianity where
the body is associated with evil (Radford Ruether 1974). Women embody sexuality especially in their
ability to procreate, and thus are considered to be more prone to our ‘lower nature’ than men and
Being sociological
calls for
Feminist critiques
today go beyond
and seek
more nuanced
even those where
women actively
collude with the
source of their
therefore more in need of salvation than men. If women internalize these ideas, then they are likely
to feel more guilt than men, and are more likely to look for ‘forgiveness’ whereas men tend to equate
religion with a search for ‘meaning’ (Walter, 1990). Another factor that may induce more women to
be involved in Christianity is that Jesus does not seem to embody patriarchal qualities – he appears
as a poor man under conditions of oppression and is publicly crucified amidst taunts and jeers
(West, 1983).
The issue of agency comes to the fore in explanations given for women at the helm of NRMs, for
example New Thought, and more feminist-oriented religions such as Wicca, which worships the EarthMother or Goddess, as well as the Hindu group known as the Brahma Kumaris, where women take
the lead. Agency is seen not only in the deliberate overthrow of men having power in a religious
hierarchy but also in women taking control of their own fertility and sexuality. Not so in
fundamentalist religious organisations, new or old, which rely on a literal interpretation of Scripture,
which to a large extent has a view of women as inferior to men and required to play a supportive role.
The relationships between gender and society analysed above show that in the major world religions,
Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, there is a historical ideology which portrays women as
subservient to men and therefore unable to lead. Feminist and other researchers investigate why
women continue to belong in far greater numbers than men to religious organisations that are
patriarchal. Partly answering that call are theories which show that this ideology is reinforced by
women’s psychological states ( they are more likely to feel guilt and anxiety) and their social status
(they are more involved in care-giving and nurturing) so that their lives are more easily bound up
with religion than men’s. Empirical studies support this emphasis and show that the religiosity of
women is higher than that of men. NRMs hold out hope for women to exercise their agency and
become empowered in more egalitarian cults and groups, whilst other NRMs of a more
fundamentalist nature call for stricter seclusion for women and require obedience and passive
acceptance from them. These trends are also true for the Caribbean region where some Creole
religions give more power to women than others.
Baskin, J. (1985). The Separation of Women in Rabbinic Judaism. In Y. Haddad & E. Findly (eds), Women,
Religion and Social Change, pp. 3–18. New York: State University of New York Press.
Greeley, A. (1992). Religion in Britain, Ireland and the USA. In R. Jowell, L. Brook, G. Prior & B.Taylor (eds),
British Social Attitudes: The 9th Report, pp. 51–70. Aldershot, UK: Dartmouth.
Kelley, J., & De Graaf, N. (1997). National Context, Parental Socialisation, and Religious Belief: Results from
Fifteen Nations. American Sociological Review 62: 639–659.
Miller, A., & Hoffmann, J. (1995). Risk and Religion: An Explanation of Gender Differences in Religiosity.
Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 34, pp. 63–75.
Comparison of
gender relations
in NRMs to show
that there are
The conclusion
the main points
by making
some general
statements that
pull the various
Radford Ruether, R. (2002). The Emergence of Christian Feminist Theology. In Susan Frank Parsons (ed.),
The Cambridge Companion to Feminist Theology, pp. 3–22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Trimble, D. (1997). The Religious Orientation Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 57,
p. 970–986.
Walter, T. (1990). Why Are Most Churchgoers Women? A Literature Review. Vox Evangelica, 20, pp. 73-90.
Walter, T., & Davie G. (1998). The Religiosity of Women in the Modern West. British Journal of Sociology,
49 (4), pp. 640–660.
West, A. (1983). A Faith for Feminists? In J. Garcia & S. Maitland (eds), Walking on Water, pp. 66-91. London:
The major expectations of this chapter are that you will recognise
that the social institution of education is:
often thought to be synonymous with schooling, but education has a broader reach in that it
encompasses all kinds of learning;
a ‘contested’ arena of conflicting, dominant and marginal ideas about how best to educate
a mix of historical and contemporary ideas about education which sometimes are not
intertwined with all social institutions but particularly with religion, the family, the
economy and politics;
influenced by the colonial encounter, especially in the importance accorded to high-stakes
examinations and the nature of the curriculum;
viewed differently by each of the main sociological perspectives, as well as by the subperspectives of Critical theory and Feminist theory;
experiencing rapid social change owing to waves of reform stimulated by global
interventions about the nature and purpose of education;
challenged in the present era to deliver quality education and gender equity.
Social Institutions:
The social institution of education embodies the ideas, beliefs and values adopted by
a society about how to pass on its body of skills and knowledge to its new members. It
includes how these have motivated social groups to shape the organisations, structures
and patterns evident today in the system of education.
In this chapter we will deepen our understanding of these ‘ideas, beliefs and values’
about education and how they are translated into concrete organisations (for example,
schools), and structures (for example, examinations). At the same time we also examine
the different views of the social groups (or stakeholders) on education matters, as well
as the sociological perspectives, each of which understands the role and function of
the social institution of education differently. Finally, we apply this knowledge to better
understand the growth and development of Caribbean education systems and issues
related to education today.
Education as a
Social Institution
In Chapter 3 we were introduced to the principle
of institutions in social life. Sociologists say that in all
societies people who live together as a group feel a need
to plan and make arrangements to achieve human needs.
Education is one such need that societies plan for and in so
doing create the social institution of education. However,
once created, an institution takes on a life of its own,
and becomes difficult to change. At the same time there
are diverse groups seeking to shape it in different ways.
As a result, what education is and does become highly
contested issues in society. Box 8.1 (page 232) explores
some of the key terms used in the sociology of education
that are commonly misunderstood or used incorrectly.
When we speak of the social institution of education
we mean the intangible world of ideas, beliefs,
values and expectations that over time have become
concretised into organisations such as ministries of
education, parent–teacher associations, the system of
primary and secondary schools, and tertiary learning
organisations, among others. They are concretised
not only in organisations but in the broad patterns or
standard ways of doing things, known as structures, by
sociologists – for example: the curriculum; high-stakes
examinations; the organisation of schooling into three
school terms a year; a timetable based on consensus about
how much time should be allocated to each subject; the
practice of specialisation into ‘the sciences’ or ‘business
subjects’ towards the end of secondary school, and so
on. All of these are structures or broad patterns which
characterise schooling in Caribbean countries and which
we usually take for granted as norms in education.
However, we must remember they are all decisions taken
by some persons in authority some time ago and today they
are now deeply entrenched in what we believe education
and schooling to be. Sociology is a comparative discipline
and by studying how other countries attempt to solve
the same problems we get some insight into how we are
socialised to see our present arrangements as ‘normal’
and perhaps also the best way to do things.
Take for example the practice of starting formal
schooling at age 5. We are challenged to conceive of
schooling organised in any other way. Yet this practice
is not considered ideal. For example, formal schooling
begins at 6 years in Canada, Japan, France, Germany,
Norway, Spain, Sweden among other countries and at
7 years in Finland, Estonia and Latvia. Before that
children go to government-run or private kindergartens.
While others dispute the significance of starting school
later (and in the UK children begin school before they
are 5), it is instructive to know that Sweden, Finland and
Japan consistently top the world in terms of literacy and
numeracy and Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland
also hold the top rankings in terms of gender equality
(World Economic Forum, 2013).
BOX 8.1
Clarifying Key Terms in Education
Equity refers to how fair education is to each of
these groups as they attend school.
Education versus Schooling
The term education refers to how and what people
learn, such as the skills and knowledge of their
society and culture. It can refer to what is taught
to them as babies and toddlers in the home, in the
formal education system, in the world of work,
and in leisure and recreation where people learn
games, attend courses and seek self-improvement.
Schooling refers to formal education
environments such as teaching and learning in
primary and secondary schools.
Curriculum versus Syllabus
The curriculum is a plan for the education of
students and involves all the learning experiences
they should have – e.g. in classrooms and
laboratories, with multi-media, on playgrounds
and in sports, and in extra-curricular activities
(after-school and weekend activities arranged by
the school or teachers). It also includes activities
to promote affective education such as guidance,
counseling, school assembly, the house and prefect
system and other forms of student responsibility
and empowerment. The curriculum of a school
should explain how the staff seeks to bring about
desirable curricular outcomes for students.
A syllabus is a part of the curriculum and is a
written document detailing what experiences
students should have in each subject area.
Equality versus Equity
Equality of opportunity in education refers to the
ideal that all social groups should be able to access
schools based on merit, i.e. everyone has a right to
access a higher level of education if they qualify on
Assessment versus Evaluation
Assessment is a process whereby the teacher
gathers information on students as to how they
are faring in terms of curriculum goals, through
formative (on-going) assessments, such as the
School-Based Assessment (SBA), exercises, journals,
portfolios, tests, quizzes, observations and other
measures. Based on these assessments, teachers
give students feedback as to how they can
improve; assessment also provides feedback for the
teacher who can adjust instruction to suit.
Evaluation on the other hand is the analysis
of the results of tests or examinations (usually
summative assessment) which rate students in
relation to others and sum up what students
know in terms of a mark, a grade, statements of
proficiency and/or profiles.
Constructivist versus Traditional
Constructivist thinking focuses on what the learner
brings to the teaching–learning scenario in terms
of pre-knowledge, culture, attitudes, dispositions
and so on. Best practice asks that teachers get
to know their learners as thoroughly as possible
through dialogue as well as assessment and
observations of their strengths and weaknesses.
Such knowledge enables teachers to plan more
A ‘traditional’ approach to the curriculum
emphasises the importance of learning content
that can be memorised and repeated for
examinations. It is therefore highly subject- or
discipline-oriented. The discipline is the important
thing whereas in the constructivist approach the
learner is the important factor.
Academic versus Multiple Intelligences
Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind (1983) set out
a theory of multiple intelligences which criticised
traditional curricula and its emphasis only on
certain intelligences. Schooling and examinations,
he noted, are skewed towards testing only linguistic
and logical-mathematical intelligences. He listed
other intelligences just as important but which
were not traditionally taught and tested, such as
kinesthetic, musical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist intelligence (see Figure
8.1). The more diverse students are, the more likely
that all these intelligences will be evident but the
curriculum tends to focus only on the traditional
ideas about intelligence.
Linguistic Intelligence
Ability to use language easily and
effectively for creative writing,
persuasive argument
Ability to identify natural patterns
and differentiate between different
life-forms and species
Ability to distinguish and/or
analyse one’s own emotions,
motives, and desires; gives
Ability to use logic and reason;
tends to give proficiency/
excellence in mathematics
and science
Spatial (Visual)
Ability to ‘read’ people’s
behaviour and facial expressions
to gauge mood and intention;
gives empathy
Ability to notice details and use
visual imagination; important
for visual arts and design
Musical Intelligence
Ability to create, comprehend,
and appreciate music
Kinesthetic Intelligence
Ability to use one’s body with
skill; learn best by hands-on
Figure 8.1 A brief guide to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
Sociological Perspectives
on Education
Sociological perspectives on education are also known
as social theories of education. They serve to clarify and
explain the relationships within the social institution
of education and between it and the wider society.
Functionalism and Marxism focus on the macro- or
systemic level and the Interactionist or the Interpretive
perspective focuses on micro-contexts such as classrooms,
and seek to understand describe and explain the processes
that are observed. Feminist theory has its roots both in
Marxist and Conflict theory and in the Interpretive
perspective. Each sociological perspective is based on a
different philosophy about what is real, important and
valuable in education.
Applying Social Theory
For EACH of the following descriptions of education,
suggest a sociological perspective (Functionalist, Conflict
or Interpretive) that seems to have influenced it:
1. Teachers facilitate instruction; teachers learn about
students; student experiences are the starting point
for instruction; assessment varies from journals to
stage productions and art.
2. Teachers and textbooks represent expert
knowledge; students absorb information and
regurgitate it for examinations; learning is
organised to move from the simple to the complex.
This perspective uses an analogy such as the human body
to understand the social world. The human body depends
on the smooth interconnections between its various
organs for overall optimal functioning. Functionalists
regard the social institutions as the ‘organs’ of society
and say that each will play its role to foster harmony
and equilibrium between the various ‘parts’ of the
system. This refers to the relationships within one social
institution as well as the interrelationships between all
the social institutions of the society.
As a result, the most basic function of education as a
social institution is to maintain the connectedness or
cohesiveness of the society. This is the function of any
social institution as well. Religion does this by – among
other things – forming a community of believers. The
family does this by providing love, food, shelter and
taking care of the needs of its members, particularly of
the young. Education does this in various ways.
1 The Processes of Socialisation. Primary socialisation
takes place in the home. Secondary socialisation takes
place at school and in the wider society, for example the
media, where the young are steeped in the shared values of
the society. Durkheim and Parsons saw education acting
as a ‘bridge’ between the home and the wider society
(the world of work) by helping to socialise children into
the core values of the society. Schools also bring various
social groups together where they begin to develop the
value consensus necessary for integrating the society. These
processes lay the groundwork for preparing children for
their later adult roles and for building social solidarity.
Functionalists hold passive theories of socialisation where
children are expected to absorb the culture and practices
of their society by imitating adults. Other sociological
perspectives see socialisation occurring in very different
2 Its role as an agent of social control. Schools help
to regulate the society by teaching what are acceptable and
unacceptable behaviours.The hidden curriculum serves
to inculcate values of conformity, punctuality, respect for
authority, and desire for success. It is maintained through
a system of rewards and punishments at school. It nurtures
support for and acceptance of the existing political and
economic system – the status quo.
3 The economic training it provides. Schools
produce a cadre of workers who have basic entry level
skills and knowledge for the world of work. Durkheim
theorised that as societies developed they became organic
that is, more differentiated and specialised with each part
dependent on the other for optimal functioning. Schools
helped to strengthen the society by teaching the specialist
knowledge and skills needed for the society to develop
in this differentiated manner. Therefore, the curriculum
should be relevant and appropriate to the needs of the
labour market.
4 Its sorting and allocating function. Education,
through structures and practices such as examinations,
streaming and different curricula, sorts and allocates all
students into different paths based on their ability and
achievement levels. In this way both the talented and
the not-so-talented are selected to perform jobs that are
useful for the society. The education system is therefore
a meritocracy where persons can access equality of
opportunity and be rewarded according to their effort and
ability. Education is a mechanism for social mobility within
a system of social stratification based on occupations.
These are dominant ideas about education in the
society. Functionalism is built on the philosophy of
positivism (§2.1.1) which sees reality as occurring outside
of a person in the physical world. Hence, learning is
equated with testing and examinations because, in this
perspective, the only way to know whether someone
has learnt something is if s/he can re-state or re-tell it.
Sometimes this is called the measured curriculum because of
the emphasis on measuring learning through examinations.
This way of approaching teaching and learning can easily
lead to passive students with the teacher as ‘the sage on
the stage’ because the important thing is the transmission
of knowledge and skills to reproduce for examinations.
Functionalism is therefore associated with a traditionally
oriented curriculum, high-stakes examinations, teaching
to the test, textbooks, and teachers as authorities on
content or knowledge; and ‘learning’ is portrayed as having
knowledge or skills which can be displayed for purposes
of evaluation. Education, conceived of in this way, leads
to a high degree of uniformity in the school system, and
as Durkheim says, this is a necessary requirement for the
survival of the society.
Society can survive only if there exists amongst
its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity;
education perpetuates and reinforces this
homogeneity by fixing in the child from the
beginning the essential similarities which collective
life demands.
(Durkheim, 1956, p.79)
Marxism/Conflict Theory
Marxist and Conflict theories of education are directed
at critiquing existing conditions in the social institution
of education. In effect, they offer a criticism of the
functionalist nature of education. Marxists believe that
in capitalist societies education is organised for purposes
of social control. To show how the Functionalist nature
of education promotes social control they put forward a
theory which differs from the understanding of society
that Functionalism offers. Society, Marxists say, is not
just a collection of social groups and social institutions on
a more or less equal footing, but one where relationships in
the social institution of the economy dominate the whole society,
including education.
The Marxist agenda is to expose inequality, generated
by the workings of the system of production, capitalism,
which shapes the relationships within all social
institutions. Sometimes students believe that the ideas
below represent ‘a Marxist conception of society’, but,
more accurately, it is how Marxists view the organisation
of society as produced by capitalism. Marxists recognise that
within capitalist society:
1 Education is part of the superstructure. The
superstructure represents all social institutions, with the
exception of the economy which is the substructure. The
ideas, beliefs and values of the elites, which are dominant
in the substructure, shape and influence the ideas, beliefs
and values dominant in all social institutions. Hence,
education is organised by the elites so that their children
excel and have better chances on the labour market. They
have power to make laws and influence policy, so that
although they are in the minority their ideas of what is
best prevails for all. This is not, as is commonly said, the
Marxist conception of education, but the Marxist critique of
how education is organised under capitalism.
2 Radical theories of socialisation operate.
Individuals are not just socialised into the norms and
values of their society, as suggested by Functionalists, but
into the norms and values of their social class. This has
implications for education because schools are largely
middle-class organisations. Affluent students fit easily into
an environment which relies on norms such as deferred
gratification, academic competition, an ethic of wanting
to succeed, extra lessons, as well as experiences such as
foreign travel, home computers, parental involvement in
education and use of close to standard language varieties
in the home.
Deferred gratification refers to values that privilege
long-term reward for hard work or investment done now.
One example is a student applying him/herself to long years
of study with the expectation that graduation would bring
a prestigious job and a better life. (Instant gratification,
by contrast, describes the values of those who may prefer
making money now, even a little bit, rather than invest in
many years of study.)
Students from the lower social classes do not have this
kind of cultural capital to enable them to be successful at
school (Box 8.2, page 236). Again this is a Marxist critique
of the links between socialisation and how education is
organised (for example, schooling).
3 Education reinforces the system of inequality
or social stratification. Education is not a meritocracy
as claimed by Functionalists. Students from poorer home
backgrounds who do not have academic support from
parents or resources for extra tuition do not do as well as
other social groups in school. They tend to be the ones
assigned to the lower-ability streams or tracks (see Box
8.3).The majority either fail or leave school with minimal
qualifications. They get jobs that are similar to those of
others in their own social class. Marxists call this a system
of social reproduction rather than social mobility.
BOX 8.2
Cultural Capital
Cultural capital is a concept which describes one
way in which the social institution of education
contributes to maintaining social inequalities.
Pierre Bourdieu focused on the different ways
in which the processes of schooling discriminate
against the poor. In the homes of the upper classes,
children are socialised into using a wealth of
literature – books, newspapers, magazines, as well
as electronic media which promote literacy. They
also are more likely to have attended plays and
musical performances, and visited art galleries and
museums. They are more likely to have travelled
abroad and met people of different socioeconomic groups. They are more likely to be versed
in using different forms of the language and to
be able to switch codes if necessary depending
on the individual, group or context. Students
from poorer homes are less likely to be at ease in
these situations and tend to use one form of the
language that is easily understood at home and
in their social group. Bernstein described how
BOX 8.3
poorer students could not ‘switch’ automatically
to standard varieties of the language (Standard
English, for example) as required in school.
Bourdieu suggested that when a teacher marked
an essay and gave marks for ‘flair, style and
fluency’ s/he was assessing aspects that could not
be taught and probably were not taught but had
to do with prior experiences. In this and other ways
in school students are rewarded or penalised for
the cultural capital of their own social class.
Streaming / Tracking
Jeannie Oakes (1985) investigated the practice
of streaming or tracking students in US schools.
Most schools, particularly secondary schools,
employ some means of differentiating students
by ability because teachers and parents tend to
believe that mixed-ability classes actually keep
back students of higher abilities, as they do not get
the competition that challenges them to excel. The
rationale is also given that if lower-ability students
are grouped together in one class the teacher can
better tailor instruction to meet their needs.
Streaming refers to the process of organising
classes based on homogeneous ability groupings.
Streaming or tracking however, was not just a
factor in how schools organised and sorted their
clientele. Oakes found that the best teachers
were assigned to the higher ability streams.
Higher-status subjects, such as the sciences and
the disciplines of knowledge (literature, history,
languages) were offered to the higher streams.
Teachers were reluctant to teach lower ability
streams and students tended to feel stigmatised.
When we add the finding that students of the
higher social classes tend to be in the majority in
higher ability streams, we get a situation where
schools seem to be intensifying social inequality.
Oakes views these arrangements as part of the
‘hidden curriculum’ in schools – that whilst there
seems to be a creditable rationale for separating
the classes by ability levels, these arrangements
also serve to maintain the status quo. Marxists
and Conflict theorists believe that schools,
through the hidden curriculum, play their part in
social reproduction, since students of the lower
classes leave with either minimal qualifications
or knowledge that does not give them access
to professional careers or highly paid jobs. This
work is in a long tradition of Marxist and Conflict
scholarship in education investigating the role
of the hidden curriculum in differentiating life
chances for persons of different social class.
Higher ability students
Students learn to
work independently
and to value work
Bound for managerial,
professional and
administrative careers.
A more demanding
Students given
more resposibilities
High demand school
Lower ability students
Students are managed
and controlled
to maintain order
Bound for ‘blue collar’ occupations
in shops, factories, and in low
status service-related jobs.
The curriculum is
‘dumbed down’
and simplified
Testing and working
for extrinsic rewards
Low demand school
Figure 8.2 The Correspondence Theory of schools and workplaces – how schools re-inforce inequality
4 The ascribed status of the poor hinders their
chances of getting ahead. Where Functionalists see
education as a system where individuals attain social
positions based on their achieved status, they therefore
see society as a meritocracy and blame individuals for their
lack of achievement. However, Marxists say that they
neglect to factor in the situation of students from lower
socio-economic groups. Their ascribed status has to do
Achieved status refers to the status we acquire by our
own efforts or personal merit.
Ascribed status refers to the characteristics a person was
born with which are used as a means of assigning status to
him or her in a stratified system.
with factors they cannot change such as the social class
they were born into, which, because of the system of social
stratification and the relations of production in capitalist
societies, they are hardly likely to overcome and achieve as
others do. This hinders their chances of getting ahead or
attaining social mobility. Marxists and Conflict theorists
believe that schools, through what is called ‘the hidden
curriculum’ play their part in social reproduction – students
of the lower classes leave with either minimal qualifications
or knowledge that does not give them access to careers as
professionals or highly paid jobs (see Figure 8.2; Box 8.3).
This tends to be true even where schools use streaming.
The Interpretive Perspective
The Interpretive or Interactionist perspective did not gain
importance in the sociology of education until the 1970s,
with the publication of Michael Young’s Knowledge and
Control (1971). Previous to that, the macro-sociological
perspectives of Functionalism and Marxism, one a critique
of the other, were the major ways in which sociologists
sought to understand the social institution of education.
The breakthrough made by the Interpretive perspective
was that it focused on micro-contexts – the world of the
school, classrooms, corridors and playground– rather than
on producing grand theory to explain education at the
systemic level. The upsurge of interest in Interpretive
studies in education later on saw other researchers
attempting to marry micro-scale Interpretive research
with Marxist and Conflict theory analyses to produce
Critical and Feminist research agendas in education.
1 The ‘Black Box’ of schooling. The Interpretive
perspective sought to investigate education from the
ground up and highlighted (or penetrated) the black box
of schooling (Figure 8.3, page 239). Both Marxists and
Functionalists tended to regard schooling as a ‘black
box’, meaning that they did not investigate what went
on in schools in a detailed, in-depth and contextualised
way. Their focus was at the level of the system and
so they investigated ‘inputs’ or ‘factors’ such as socio8.2.3
economic status (SES) and others that could be quantified.
Researchers then sought to correlate certain inputs with
the ‘outputs’ of schooling, e.g. that a high incidence of
teacher absenteeism (input) correlated with schools where
there was low academic achievement (output). Rarely
did researchers seek to enter the micro-contexts of the
school itself to better understand the relationships or the
correlations they had found. In contrast, the Interpretive
perspective focused on uncovering the interactions and
processes of schooling, what students and teachers actually
experienced daily, such as streaming, labelling, the selffulfilling prophecy (see Box 8.4), the hidden curriculum,
league tables, assessment, and teaching and learning episodes
in enacting the curriculum.
2 The use of a range of qualitative research
methodologies. For example, participant-observation
was the main data collection strategy requiring researchers
to stay in schools for extended periods (sometimes as long
as a year), observing and interviewing relevant persons.
Qualitative researchers produced ethnographies and case
studies using the Interpretive sub-perspectives of Symbolic
Interaction and Phenomenology. Phenomenological
BOX 8.4
Labelling and the Self-Fulfilling
Researchers have shown how the label that
a teacher has for a child – in terms of such
things as dress, interaction with teacher
and other students, and whether they tend
to conform or not - influences his or her
expectations of that child’s progress as well
as important decisions the teacher has to
make such as which stream to place the child
in and which curriculum options would be
most suitable. Many Interactionist studies
have pointed to the close relationship
between labelling and the self-fulfilling
prophecy. For example, if a teacher sees
a certain student as ‘deviant’ (i.e. nonconforming) that judgement reveals itself
in their daily interactions and sometimes
students internalise these labels. In the
Interpretive perspective deviance to a
large extent is something arising from the
interactions of teachers and students and
not just ‘bad behaviour’ on the part
of students.
studies include how students experience the transition
from primary to secondary schools, how students deal with
stigma and ostracism, and how low-achieving students
face the competitive world of the classroom.
3 The subjective understandings that participants
had for their experiences. Interpretive researchers
looked at the processes of socialisation as neither passive
nor radical but rather active, in that students/teachers
used their sense of agency and deliberately chose their
reactions to schooling. Active theories of socialisation
sought to understand the meanings individuals had
for their actions – unlike the Functionalist and Marxist
perspectives which regarded individuals as bearers of
group characteristics such as gender, SES, ethnicity, age,
or status (student, teacher). This perspective recognised
diversity and complexity within groups and even that
individuals could hold multiple and conflicting meanings
for the same thing. School research often found students
constructing meaning that resulted in a range of behaviours
that could be described as resistant, compliant or creative.
The Interpretive perspective is built on the philosophy
of hermeneutics which seeks to uncover the interpretations
and meanings people have for their actions.
4 The significance of the curriculum in shaping
the processes of teaching, learning and schooling.
Functionalist- and Marxist-oriented research had taken
the curriculum for granted but Interpretive scholars
focused on the curriculum:
■ Blumer (1969), one of the founders of the Symbolic
Interaction tradition, theorised that what constituted
‘learning’ was something negotiated and constructed
by the social interactions of persons within the social
setting. In other words, it could differ from class to
class or school to school.
■ Keddie (1971) and Hargreaves, Hester & Mellor (1975)
investigated the labels that teachers had for students,
showing that they led to differing learning outcomes
for students, thus confirming the strength of what
they called ‘the self-fulfilling prophecy’ (Box 8.4).
■ Woods & Hammersley (1976) noted that the way in
which students imputed characteristics to teachers and
judged them tended to affect their own performance
and classroom behaviour.
■ Wittrock (1986) summarised a body of research
showing that the need to preserve self-esteem was
a major factor in how students dealt with teacher
questions and tests.
■ Sadker & Sadker (1994) researched how schools serve
to reinforce gender bias and stereotypes in student–
teacher interactions, textbooks and school policies.
academic achievement, drop outs,
repeaters, labour market chances,
different education paths
socio-economic status, gender,
ethnicity, ability, no. of teachers
trained, libraries, labs, teacher
punctuality, teacher absenteeism,
availability of textbooks, trained
principal and, other resources
Figure 8.3 The ‘Black Box’ of schooling
The Feminist Perspective
Feminists began to turn their attention to education on
the international scene in the 1960s. Their concern was
about gender inequality in society. They saw society as
a place of male power, and patriarchy as an enduring
theme in all social institutions. In the social institution of
education they sought to study and uncover how schools
perpetuate gender inequalities and what could be done
to break this pattern.
Their research revealed the gendered subject-choices
of adolescent students, directing females into less
prestigious careers; the gendered and even sexist nature
of textbooks which encouraged stereotypical views
of males and females; the roles students were assigned
in school as well as tasks they were sometimes asked
to perform only because of their gender; and the
nature of the interactions between teachers and students
which seemed to be influenced by the gender of the
Feminist theory is an umbrella term for a wide array
of views and positions on the subject of gender inequality.
Here we will outline three of the more widely held
views in relation to education: liberal feminism, socialist
feminism and radical feminism.
Liberal Feminists
Equalising educational opportunity is a main concern
of this group and their focus is on gender socialisation
at home and in school, both of which support gendered
curriculum choices and the formation of gender identities
that centre on essentialist concepts of masculinity and
femininity. They feel that gender stereotypes are at the
heart of discriminatory practices in schools, whether boys
or girls are being disadvantaged. They advocate:
■ stringent examination of texts and other curriculum
materials to ensure that they are gender neutral;
■ that teachers use other criteria than gender to
organise students;
■ that assistance in making subject choices and career
decisions be based on developing an awareness of
careers generally rather than on gender stereotypes;
■ the opening up of career conversations to deliberately
include non-traditional careers for either gender.
In short, they want to affect attitudes about gender.
Socialist Feminists
Their focus is on how schools perpetuate a gendered
division of labour under capitalism. Although females
are achieving at higher levels than before, this academic
success is not reflected in women’s roles and positions
in society. They also see schools as perpetuating the
class differences between women – schools tend to be
organised as either low-status or high-status schools based
on their clientele. The system of education does little to
dismantle these hierarchies which result in females from
low-status schools being shunted towards low-paying
jobs on the labour market.
Radical Feminists
This group is more concerned with the issue of power
and the oppression of women under patriarchy. They
are interested in how schools lay the basis for the
continued monopolisation of knowledge and culture
by males. Unlike Liberal Feminists, who want to
reduce the differences between males and females,
Radical Feminists seek to celebrate the differences and
to promote the knowledge involved in women’s work,
activities and interests. They advocate a more authentic
woman-centred curriculum that promotes knowledge
and understanding of women as technological beings
who have always needed to change and modify their
environment to provide for their families.
To sum up:
Through each sociological perspective a different
view of the social institution of education emerges.
They differ in their conceptions of what society is
and what role education plays in social life. They
each have a theory as to why people behave the way
they do and why the forms, structures and processes
of schooling take the shape they do. However,
Functionalism is the dominant perspective and so
schools are organised in ways that correspond to
a positivist nature of reality such as the measured
curriculum, high-stakes examinations, and the
importance of teachers and texts as authorities
on knowledge and subject content. Attempts
at educational reform bring to the school ideas
generated by Marxist and Conflict theorists as well
as those by Interpretive and Critical theorists.
Caribbean Education
Education in the Caribbean is as old as European
settlement in the region. It gathered momentum in the
years following Emancipation when it was concerned
with social control and social reconstruction into a free
society. Religion played a large part in the establishment
of the education system. In the years after Independence,
the social institution of education was mainly concerned
with economic development, identity, and nation
building. Today Caribbean education systems continue
to be concerned with all these issues as well as ways of
increasing quality and efficiency in the system.
Development of Education:
the Colonial Era
Since the history of the English-speaking Caribbean
is bound up with that of Britain, the development of
education also mirrors this relationship. The prevailing
ideas in the social institution of education in Britain
differentiated between the rich and the poor and this
was reflected in the Caribbean colonies between British
planters and the African enslaved. In other words,
education in the Caribbean was influenced by socioeconomic considerations. In the Caribbean it also became
associated with ethnicity because the poorer groups in
the society were, for the most part, black.
In Britain, formal education was the right of the
upper classes so that they could better lead and govern.
The wealthy received their early education at home
through tutors and the boys were then sent to elite
secondary schools and universities. In the Caribbean,
formal education or education of any kind for the
enslaved population was discouraged or forbidden. This
policy reflected the needs of a colony in which the rulers
were a minority. Their refusal to allow the oppressed
majority a means of discovering ideas about freedom
and empowerment through literacy was a means of
social control in order to maintain the status quo.
Therefore politics, the economy and education were
closely aligned.
The children of the Caribbean planters were sent to
England to be educated, so for a long time there was
little in the way of a formal education system in the
colonies. As time passed philanthropists did establish
schools for poor white children and in a few territories
the planters established schools for their own children
with teachers coming from England. These schools
were for whites only and occasionally for near-whites
or coloured, as the levels of miscegenation grew. The
curriculum emphasised a classical education in the arts
and humanities similar to that for any well-to-do child in
England. The texts would have been the same ones used
in England. Many of these elite schools of the whites
became the elite schools of today.
Many of the endowed schools established in the
seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are still
operating today. … They are over 250 years old.
Transformed in the nineteenth century into grammar
schools, they are now the prestigious schools to which
all sections of society seek to send their children.
(Miller, 1999, p.15 )
It is instructive to note that there was variation across
the Caribbean. Trinidad, for example, did not become a
British colony until 1797. The oldest surviving ‘prestige’
secondary schools date from only the middle of the 19th
century – after slavery had been abolished. Similarly in
Guyana Queen’s College was established in 1844 and
Bishop’s High School in 1870.
Emancipation occurred in the British Caribbean in
the period 1834–8 and this marks a watershed during
the colonial era because the values and ideals that once
prevented blacks from accessing any type of education
were now adjusted – notice, ‘adjusted’, and not completely
removed. A new society had been formed of ‘free men’,
bringing about a new set of relationships between the
major groups. This had to be carefully planned for and
this was where the British saw the value of education.
Elementary education was expanded to include
the children of the ex-slaves but there was restricted
access to any further education. The society had been
transformed almost overnight from a slave state to a free
state, yet the whites retained control. It could have been
a potentially unstable situation for the minority group
if the masses had continued to be excluded from any
type of education. (It could have also been potentially
unstable if they had been offered access to all education
levels.) It is interesting to note that even from such early
days both blacks and whites seemed to have instinctively
noted the capacity of education to empower people to
improve their lot in life.
Thus began in the British Caribbean a massive
programme to provide elementary education for the poor
and those previously left out of education. The work of
the missionaries had been instrumental in abolishing
slavery and as soon as that was accomplished they built
churches and schools to administer to the ex-slaves
across the Caribbean – Quakers, Moravians, Baptists,
Methodists and, later, Anglicans were all involved. Mass
education, then, began in the region with a system of
primary, denominational schools.
In the Act to abolish slavery the British Parliament
made provisions for this roll-out of primary education
in the colonies in the form of the Negro Education
Grant. A provision was made of £30,000 per annum
to fund education for the ex-slaves – largely to build
schools and train teachers. These funds, and other grants,
were channelled through a non-denominational body,
the Mico Charity, and this arrangement prevailed
until 1845. Schools were to offer non-denominational
but Christian education. After 1845 the denominational
bodies, for the most part missionary societies, continued
the work of mass primary education in Caribbean
countries, some charged a fee for schooling.
Interestingly, similar developments were occurring
in England in the wake of the industrial revolution. As
in the Caribbean, only elementary education was made
available for the masses and it was largely basic exposure
to the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). The
Bible was used to instil Christian values, even in schools
run by non-denominational bodies. The whole thrust and
purpose of the curriculum was to combat child labour
and the problem of street children, and to transmit British
values, traditions and customs which would ‘civilise’ the
children of the lower classes in Britain and the ex-slaves
and their children in the Caribbean.
These historical events show that mass education
was established in the Caribbean at the same time as in
Britain. This is astounding because Caribbean societies
were mainly agricultural, underdeveloped, governed
by a colonial regime and Britain was the most powerful
country in the world. It shows that the colonial authorities
placed great importance on education as a mechanism for
social control through the processes of socialisation.
Social Inquiry
Informally interview older persons you know about
what primary and/or secondary education was like in
Caribbean schools, in the 1940s or 1950s if possible.
Specifically ask about the curriculum, discipline
measures, textbooks, examinations, gender and social
class distinctions and any obstacles those persons had in
accessing schooling.
The experience of Caribbean countries diverged after
the Mico Charity funds ended. In many countries the
missionaries ran denominational schools and students
paid fees. While not everybody could, many parents
seemed to have been able to afford the school fees and
continued to pay even when the state established free
primary schools. This spoke to the enduring values
associated with religion and education – that church
schools were better than government or state schools.
Secondary schools were called ‘high schools’ or
‘colleges’ at the time. There was no link or sense of
progression between elementary and high schools or
colleges. The ideas we have today that primary, secondary
and tertiary form something of a seamless approach to
education was not apparent in the 19th century. Only the
more affluent went on to the higher levels of education.
Even teachers at the elementary level had not been to
colleges. They came from the ranks of the poor, the
children of ex-slaves, and were employed as monitors when
they left school. The monitor system was an economical
teacher training measure where bright and promising
students were retained, with no or little salary, and
learned how to teach by observation of ‘master teachers’.
They went through rigorous examinations at every
stage. Where teacher training institutions existed, master
teachers came out from England and again a rigorous
system of training ensued for the primary system.
Curiously enough, nothing like this existed at the high
schools or colleges. The teachers there were university
graduates or had advanced qualifications obtained
in England. Initially, they were white and British but
that gradually changed as local whites and coloureds
went on to universities abroad and returned as teachers.
Teacher training for this level was unheard of. Their
‘qualification’ to teach lay in their specialist knowledge
whether in Latin, Greek, Mathematics or English
Literature. The social class distinctions were sharp – they
were two different worlds: that of the mainly poor, black
students and teachers of elementary schools and that of
the rich, white students and teachers at the college level,
where school fees were paid. Needless to say, elementary
schools had low status and the colleges had high status.
In most Caribbean countries denominational bodies
offered primary education for a fee. There were some state
schools which were free. So, as the 19th century wore on
much of the population was in school at an early age and
aspirations were high among poor boys who were ‘bright’,
and their parents, that they should access the next tier of
education. This would make them, at the very least, eligible
for jobs in the civil service or in business. If they excelled
they might even win scholarships to study at Oxford and
Cambridge. Girls were not meant to compete on an equal
footing, so aspirations were mainly for boys.
But all this depended on whether the boys could
successfully make the transition from the elementary
level. In some countries very few scholarships were
offered, sometimes only one a year, and those in
elementary schools competed for the few places available
at the colleges. There were not many colleges so the ‘free
places’ were limited. In addition, the colonial authorities
looked with disfavour on members of the lower social
classes accessing social mobility through education.
By limiting access to further education, they created
an obstructed group, whose aspirations and desire for
education grew.
In this discussion of the development of the social
institution of education during the colonial era, we
witness a number of trends that continue to echo in the
ideas and practices in education today.
1 Education provided socialisation into British
values, traditions and customs. As the 19th century
merged into the 20th there was some effort to create
Caribbean-based materials but to a large extent they were
written by British teachers in the Caribbean.
2 A university education in specialist knowledge
was considered enough of a qualification to be
able to teach at a secondary school. To a large extent
the ideology persists that this knowledge is superior and
transcends the common-sense requirement that a teacher
also needs knowledge about how to teach.
3 The curriculum continues to mirror the
disciplines of knowledge that were held in high regard
in the 19th century. While Latin, Greek and Scripture
have been removed and Mathematics and Literature are
very different from their 19th century versions, the fact
remains that there is little that is interdisciplinary on the
curriculum in high-status schools, even though educators
maintain that organizing delivery across disciplines helps
students to solve problems in the real world. To a large
extent, the disciplines are taught in a discrete way because
of the reverence for specialist knowledge as it has been
handed down historically. So, no attention if any is paid to
how the student is experiencing the curriculum – teachers
teach the syllabus without pointing out, for example,
that the concept of ‘capital’ varies from geography to
economics to sociology and to law.
Using dictionaries and encyclopedias or the Internet,
find out the differences in the meaning of the term
capital in (a) sociology; (b) economics; (c) politics;
(d) law; (e) geography. How would you explain these
4 Great value is placed on secondary education.
With restricted access to secondary places – a situation
that continues across the Caribbean – competition, extra
lessons, and a stringent programme of study is imposed on
10 and 11 year olds. There is a heightened awareness and
almost hysteria associated with, first, securing a place at a
secondary school and, second, that that place should be at
a ‘good’ school, one that is prestigious and in high demand.
This is a 21st century continuation of the 19th century
tradition where poor black, bright boys were selected
and coached for the few scholarships available in the high
schools. It is a continuing echo of the British system of
education where high-stakes examinations punctuate the
school experience and influenced the curriculum, so that
little other than ‘what is coming for exams’ is taught.
5 The association of religion and education
continues. Many of the ‘prestige’ secondary schools today
in Caribbean countries are also denominational, and there
is still a preference amongst parents, teachers and students
alike for these schools as opposed to state or government
schools. There may be several reasons for this, such as:
■ the most able always choose the high-demand schools;
■ parents associate religious schools with a hidden
curriculum that instills values, morals and character
building whereas state schools, obeying their mandate
to educate everyone, cannot impose religious norms
and so opt for other means of influencing the values
and morals of their charges – form room periods,
sports, values education, participation in school
activities and so on.
Be that as it may, in the social institution of education
in the Caribbean there is an on-going rivalry between
denominational and state schooling.
6 Education and gender is an issue. In the 19th and
early 20th centuries, it was mostly boys who were sent
to school, particularly in the case of continuing to a high
school. Secondary schools for girls were extremely rare.
However, during the 20th century more girls began to
access primary education and later, as more high schools
were built, they accessed secondary education as well.
Thus, in the Caribbean we have a long tradition of both
sexes accessing education from an early age. This differs
from the situation in many developing countries where
even today boys receive more education than girls.
Furthermore, in the Caribbean there is a marked trend
of girls outperforming boys at all levels of the education
system in most subjects.
Development of Education:
The Independence Era
Establishment and Expansion
Through the rough economic times of the early
20th century, the drive to provide education for the
population continued and was only curbed by lack of
funds. However, it had now become firmly established
that even if religious bodies were involved in building
and equipping schools, it was the responsibility of the
state to provide for schools from public funds. Gradually,
religious schools came more and more under government
regulations and the state in some Caribbean countries
undertook to pay teachers’ salaries. Now, public schools
could be either denominational or non-denominational,
but private schools also continued. There were minor
variations of this across the Caribbean. In all territories
more primary schools were built but secondary
education continued to be severely restricted. For
example, the first state secondary school in Trinidad,
Queen’s Royal College (QRC), was established in 1859
and it was not until approximately a hundred years
later, in 1953, that another state secondary school, St
George’s College, was built. However, there were longestablished denominational colleges.
The curriculum remained a bone of contention
throughout the early 20th century. Various commissions
on education sent out by Britain sought to introduce
agriculture and various forms of technical-vocational
education to supplant the classicist curriculum
favoured by secondary schools. The colonies needed
to be more self-sufficient in food as well as to have a
supply of architects, masons, plumbers, carpenters and
builders to assist in infrastructure and development.
While some of this ‘practical’ orientation was adopted by
primary schools, parents persistently opposed this kind
of education for their children. They were concerned
about social mobility and they did not see a ‘practical’
education securing higher-paying, more prestigious jobs
for their children. The whites and the few upper-class
coloureds and blacks who held high ranks in the public
service and the government saw the curriculum in terms
of instilling British values and fulfilling the needs of the
colony; parents, teachers and students saw the curriculum
in terms of social mobility.
In the lead-up to independence in the 1960s and
1970s nationalist and ethnic passions ran high. The new
governments promised to increase equality in education
by freeing up access to the secondary level. Educational
expansion increased with loans secured from international
agencies. Even with this expansion, the secondary schools
could not accommodate all the adolescent school
population. While most Caribbean countries achieved
Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the middle
decades of the 20th century, Universal Secondary
Education (USE) continued to be elusive. Therefore,
as in the past, high-stakes examinations, for example, the
Common Entrance, were used to sort and allocate
The Common Entrance was an examination taken by
students at the end of primary school to evaluate their
performance and allocate them to different categories of
secondary school, the most prestigious schools receiving
the most gifted students. The CE exam began in England
where it was phased out but then adopted in several
Caribbean countries.
students to different types of secondary schools. Those
who could not secure a place at a secondary school
remained in primary school or were sent to trade and
vocational schools. Some countries, in order to maximise
use of their schools, instituted a shift system so that the
schools could now cater for twice the usual number. The
shift system was criticised in that it provided fewer hours
of instruction on a daily basis compared to the traditional
grammar schools and put children at risk in the very early
or late hours when they would be going to or from school.
In the post-Independence era the new black officials
in governments were not only occupied with school
building and increasing access, but curriculum reform
as well. The urge was to transform the curriculum so
that it could better articulate with the economy. Human
capital theories (Box 8.5) strongly advocated that
education, especially secondary education, could kickstart economic growth. Newly independent states wishing
to survive on the world market had to be competitive.
They needed an education system that would increase the
BOX 8.5
levels of skills and knowledge in construction, marketing,
commerce, industry, research and development. While
a primary education served an economy dependent
on extractive (mining) and agricultural industries, a
secondary education was needed for a service economy
that catered to tourism, manufacturing and business.
Entrenched opposition to this idea saw the higher
ability groups still opting for the traditional, classicist
curriculum. The lower-ability students were the ones
allocated to technical and vocational curricula. The high
failure rate of the latter groups showed that the heavy
investment in secondary education, a form of manpower
planning by Caribbean governments, was misplaced.
Expansion of Caribbean education systems resulted
in a centralised and bureaucratic organisation, headed
Human Capital Theory: The Experience of Trinidad & Tobago
Human capital theory was launched in the 1960s
and early 1970s (Schultz, 1971) and popularised the
idea that education was not just a ‘good’ offered
by the government for private consumption but
could be explicitly harnessed for the country’s
economic development. In other words, it was not
just a means for an individual to enhance her or his
earnings but could be a resource for the country as
a whole. The more a country invested in education
– building schools, training teachers, ensuring that
secondary education was expanded – the better its
chances of enhancing its development potential.
Many countries in the Third World followed this
advice, whether they could afford to or not.
Trinidad & Tobago invested vast sums in building
a new system of secondary education. Junior
secondary schools (for the first three years of
secondary education) and senior comprehensive
schools (for the last two years) were equipped
with extensive laboratories and workshops in an
industrial education model, while the traditional
five- and seven-year grammar schools continued
with their higher-achieving clientele and the
inherited curriculum of the disciplines. These ‘new
sector’ schools never realised their potential and
became a by-word for underachievement and
indiscipline. Continued curriculum reform since
then has seen experimentation in transforming
specialised industrial arts subjects into general
technology-based courses. (The traditional sector
maintains its elite status.)
By the 1970s and 1980s from all over the Third
World there were similar reports of massive failure,
under-performance and bewilderment on the part
of planners that the ‘model’ did not seem to work.
The phenomenon of the educated unemployed
surfaced and we were faced with – and still are – a
syndrome known as the ‘diploma disease’ (Dore,
1976), brought about by an emphasis on schooling
and credentials so that for even low-status jobs
now one has to have examination certificates.
Planners and policy-makers had jumped on
to the bandwagon that showed a clear link
between investment in education and economic
development. They did not stop to consider
how these graduates of the system – those with
credentials and those without – were going to
make economic development happen. There were
few jobs available and only a small number went
into business. In many cases their training was
too specific – e.g. plumbing or masonry – whereas
what was needed was individuals who could be
technologically savvy and could work intelligently
and flexibly in unfamiliar settings. The theorists
had failed to fully examine the world of work and
its demands and it was only later (in the 1990s) that
the pendulum swung full circle and both educators
and planners realised that attention must be paid
to Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE)
as well as primary education to ensure that the
secondary graduate has the necessary skills and
dispositions to engage with learning. The on-going
reforms in education today focus on upgrading
the quality of the system – better-trained teachers,
a more relevant curriculum, use of media and
technology in education and a more studentcentred orientation.
by a ministry of education. The state was now in full
control of education even though denominational bodies
did have some power, mainly because their schools
continued to be in high demand.
Decolonisation and Indigenisation
It was not a physical cruelty. Indeed, the colonial
experience of my generation was almost wholly
without violence. No torture, no concentration camp,
no mysterious disappearance of hostile natives, no
army encamped with orders to kill. The Caribbean
endured a different kind of subjugation. It was a
terror of the mind; a daily exercise in self-mutilation.
Black versus Black in a battle for self-improvement.
(Lamming, 1994, p. xxxix)
Lamming refers to both the hidden and the overt
curriculum that he experienced at secondary school in
the 1940s at Harrison College, Barbados. For example,
the classical disciplines were almost identical to what
was taught in most British ‘prestige’ secondary schools,
known as ‘public schools’. This overt curriculum
reinforced the hidden curriculum, which in this instance
immersed students in a set of relations that undervalued
their own history and culture. All persons, white, black
or coloured, includng Lamming’s black teachers, had to
uphold British culture in a colonial society.
However, as the impetus for decolonisation grew
in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s there were attempts to rework the curriculum. In the Caribbean the philosophy
and rhetoric of the pan-African Movement, Garveyism,
and Revivalism in Jamaica served to question and
condemn the rule of white men over black people, as a
precursor to independence itself.
Duke and Duchess of Kent
Trinidadians regard with pride
The visit of the Prince and his bride.
With banners flying happy and gay
The whole island was on holiday.
And it seems everyone was bent
On welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
(Attila the Hun, quoted in Funk 2005.)
Attila the Hun’s 1935 verses on the Duke and Duchess
of Kent written to commemorate the visit of the British
royal family to Trinidad were typical of British citizens,
whether black or white, who considered themselves
honoured by a visit from royalty. (Figure 8.4 shows the
welcome accorded the Duke and Duchess of Kent in
Figure 8.4 The visit of the Duke and Duchess of Kent to Jamaica in 1935.
Jamaica the same year.) Compare the Mighty Sparrow’s
London Bridge is Falling Down of 1979, a recording of
which you can hear on the Internet. In this calypso the
writer uses an old nursery rhyme to comment on the
state of affairs throughout the British Empire where there
was resistance building in the form of decolonisation
movements and no British monarch, governor or
statesman seemed able to bring back a sense of normalcy.
Since one of the main purposes of education under
the colonial regime was to inculcate in Caribbean
people love for British values and British civilisation,
this meant it was instilling the idea that black people
and their history were inferior. Those involved in the
decolonisation movement put their energies into trade
unions and sought better conditions for the poor from
those who had replaced the British, the elites who
dominated agriculture and business. They then made
the transition to political power with the firm resolve
of securing independence. However, others make the
point that we are still in an era of decolonisation and, like
Lamming, allude to an education system that does not
include anything meaningful about Africa or India, and
sees progress only in terms of white man’s knowledge
thereby devaluing indigenous knowledge.
In addition, education continues to value arrangements
and conflicts that result in social stratification – highstakes examinations; prestige schools versus other types
of schools; streaming; and an elite academic curriculum
versus technical and vocational knowledge. If you are at
a loss to envisage a non-competitive system, read about a
Danish alternative in Box 8.6 opposite.
The Comparative Element in Sociology
Suggest reasons why examinations are so integral a
part of education systems in the Caribbean but are
of minimal importance in the alternative system in
Those seeking to indigenise curricula began with
content, asking whether our curriculum was relevant.
Latin, for example, was still taught in some secondary
schools after Independence. Curriculum reforms included:
■ Textbooks were introduced written by Caribbean
authors so that students would have indigenous
materials to support a deeper understanding of their
region. Caribbean history, social studies, geography
and literature saw an immediate transition.
Syllabuses were devised to conform to a Caribbeanbased examinations body, the Caribbean
Examinations Council (CXC), supplanting the
The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) is an
examining body set up in the 1970s by the countries of
the English-speaking Caribbean region. It has focused
on developing more relevant Caribbean-based curricula
and more innovative forms of assessment than those
offered by the Cambridge Syndicate inherited from
colonial education, so that the development potential
of Caribbean youth could be enhanced.
hegemony of GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels set by Cambridge
and London examination syndicates. This was a bold
and necessary step in changing the emphasis from
what the British thought we should know to what
Caribbean people thought we should know for the
purposes of development and change in the region.
■ The introduction of a deliberate strategy to foster
a secondary school curriculum that is assessed by
the CXC meant that Caribbean governments had
made a positive move towards nurturing regionalism
rather than separatism in the Caribbean. All students
in Caribbean countries sitting CXC exams would
have been exposed to the same curriculum. This was
an important step in seeking to bring Caribbean
countries closer together and to bring into focus a
future where the region would become a significant
player rather than each isolated Caribbean country
striving to enact development.
■ New areas of study for the sixth-form student became
important in terms of self-knowledge and identity,
such as Caribbean Studies and Communication
Studies; and others lessened status differences in
knowledge, for example Geometrical and Mechanical
Engineering, Electrical and Electronic Technology,
Food and Nutrition and Art and Design.
■ A monumental change arrived that is still not
fully appreciated by teachers and students in
the change of assessment from total reliance on
summative examinations to include a School Based
Assessment (SBA) component. This formative type
of assessment is meant to be conducted over time and
to foster closer collaboration between teacher and
student. It encourages students to think divergently
and critically and is focused on Caribbean issues. It
gives some power to teachers in having a say in how
their students are to be assessed.
The indigenisation of education was an important
step in the modernisation of curricula and part of the
continuing process of decolonisation.
BOX 8.6
An Alternative Education System
A few of the characteristics of the education
system in Denmark are:
• Schooling is not compulsory but education
is; so parents have the right to home-school
their children. Children must have nine years’
education as a basic minimum.
• Parents have choice. They can send their
children to the free public schools; or, for a
reduced fee (subsidised by the government), to
private, independent schools where parents,
teachers and the community organise the
school; or they can choose home-schooling.
• Independent schools are growing and some
public schools are converting to independent
schools. They are a viable alternative to
public schools and provide primary and lower
secondary education (from 7 to 17 years).
• At independent schools tests and examinations
are rare. There are national tests in certain
grades in certain subjects but there is no
emphasis on them (students may or may not
take them) and the results are not used to
allocate students.
• Independent schools are diverse – large or
small, denominational, or run according to any
educational ideology the parents and the Board
prefers – and any methods may be used that
are acceptable and lawful. One type of school is
the Rudolf Steiner or Waldorf schools where
enthusiasm, enjoyment and enquiry are areas of
emphasis, rather than examinations.
• A fundamental value of independent schools is
that they provide ‘education for life’.
• Teaching and learning innovations tried out at
independent schools are sometimes adopted by
the public schools.
The Educational Act and the education system
itself comprise a framework of considerable scope,
and that what determines the actual substance of
its content is the common sense, and the good sense,
of the individual parents, students, and other school
personnel. The curriculum, too, has absolutely no
prescriptive rules …. There is a sense that students
should learn the Danish and English languages,
arithmetic (mathematics) and other such basic
subjects, but everything else is left up to the people
involved. One could say that this kind of mechanism
that is found in Denmark which avoids detailed
regulations has fostered good sense and judgement
among members of the public
(Nagata, 2006, p.113).
Independent schools comprise 12% of the
schools in Denmark and are supported by
government policies. Students sit the same School
Leaving Examination held for public schools, if
the parents see fit. As private students they do
not enjoy any higher status than public school
students nor do they have any advantages that will
gain them easier access to upper secondary and
tertiary education. However, they tend to have
better achievement than the public schools. That
these schools hold their own even with little or
no intervention from the government in terms of
educational content and assessment, is attributed
to the strong presence of parents who have chosen
a more innovative and different education for
their children and take an active part in all areas of
school life.
Education in the Caribbean today
Curricula in the 21st century have a vision of the school
graduate as a happy learner, a self-learner and an
autonomous and critical thinker. Caribbean countries
have accepted international trends which now see
human development as the over-arching goal in
improving societies, including the United Nations’
vision of Education For All (EFA) which stresses
inclusive education.
Education For All (EFA) is a reform movement that
began at the United Nations with the concern for
development, which underlined the importance of
including all persons in a country in some form of
education – formal, informal, face-to-face or at a distance,
academic or technical-vocational. Inclusion policies directly
target those disabled in different ways: failing students,
the poor, the old, the imprisoned, and those communities
which may be disadvantaged.
These ideas form the basis of rhetoric, plans and policies
today yet in schools nothing much has changed. Standard
operating procedures for the most part still sort students
by ability and academic achievement and allocate them
to different classes, curricula and ultimately to different
schools and labour-market chances. Tinkering with the
system by adding layers of reforms has not sufficiently
eroded the fundamental colonial inheritance of an
education system that seeks to sort and organise students
from a very early age. Even though more and more
young people graduate from schools the contradictory
situation persists that education continues to be a factor
in maintaining inequality in society.
Modern Technology
Learning in the 21st century has the potential to be
radically altered by the knowledge, equipment, tools
and software being driven by the information and
communication revolution globally. The Caribbean is
no exception and we have taken advantage of distance
learning, especially at the tertiary level. The noncampus territories of the Caribbean now form the
Open Campus of the University of the West Indies,
where classes are mostly online. Online modalities of
instruction and assessment help to increase inclusion and
reduce inequities. For example, the elderly, those who
are ill, the working population or those who have to
stay home for whatever reason, can all continue their
education, and not be limited because they cannot
attend a face-to-face class. Blended learning options
include online learning opportunities with periods
where students have to attend classes together at a site.
Many students who are free to attend face-to-face classes
actually prefer blended learning modalities. Through
these options the Caribbean can make great strides in
increasing the percentage of the population achieving a
tertiary education qualification.
Online learning involves the use of a learning
platform where all users are registered. A lecturer or
tutor can manage a small group as well as a class of as
many as 500 persons by uploading lectures, powerpoint
presentations, wikis, videos, and audio tapings which
students can download and study when convenient.
Learners can also tune into webinars and content
streamed on the web. Skype connections help them to
interact with their peers and lecturers. Small groups
can be carved out of large classes and a tutor assigned
to each group so that they can hold discussion forums
where the thread of the discussion is preserved and all
contributions are monitored. In such a case the tutor can
directly contact someone who is not contributing and
urge him/her to do so.
There are many foreign tertiary education providers in
the Caribbean today. This is a clear example of globalisation
at work (see §8.3.4) – it is said that higher education is big
business, in the Caribbean and elsewhere. These providers
offer more options to the Caribbean person, flexible
delivery and the lure of a foreign university credential.
1. Conduct research in your own country to determine
who the service providers are in tertiary education –
local, regional or international? Which of them offer
fully online credentials? What is a common complaint
about foreign degree providers in the Caribbean?
2. Engage in a discussion with your classmates,
friends and teachers about the use or lack of use of
internet technologies in the secondary classroom.
Choose one subject area and show how teaching
and learning can be improved by the use of webbased resources and technologies.
Globalisation and Education
The phenomenon of globalisation has been intensifying
for some decades now (Box 8.7). As the globalisation
phenomenon intensifies, some Caribbean people have
questioned the knowledge that seems to be most valued
today – knowledge and information about media,
technology, Western culture as well as that related
to economic development. Some say that it is white,
western, male knowledge that is being privileged in a
globalised world. The knowledge of the healing arts
such as alternative medicines, folk understandings of
herbal treatments, indigenous crafts and technologies,
traditional cultural art forms, or the history and
biography of different groups and individuals, are
not likely to be prized, neither are efforts spent to
access and record such knowledge. Globalisation
then is reinforcing the view that Western knowledge
and technology are the paths to progress, and local,
indigenous knowledge is only of minimal interest.
Nativist groups however say that such knowledge
helps us to better develop our identities as Caribbean
persons with a strong history of resistance and resilience
in the face of colonialism and oppression. Cunningly,
nativist groups are harnessing modern technologies to
forge stronger bonds with their groups and to mount a
challenge to Western knowledge whilst using Western
BOX 8.7
Globalisation is described as the deepening of
the ties and interconnections between different
countries by removing barriers to the movement
of trade, capital, business and commerce and to a
lesser extent, labour. It is facilitated by:
a. the removal of laws and tariffs that prevent
another country’s products from being highly
taxed when imported, with the result that there
is the possibility that cheaper foreign products
can undersell local products;
b. the presence of information and
communication technologies (ICTs) – integrated
telecommunications networks combining
computers, telephones, wireless capacity and
broadcast media to enhance:
• the flow of information and commodities;
• new ways of communicating: e-mail, voice
mail, cell phones, texting, and social media;
• the creation, access, storage and
manipulation of information;
• the reach of cable television which floods
the globe with knowledge and cultural
To sum up:
This section dealt with the growth and
development of Caribbean education systems.
The early purposes of education were those of
interest to the coloniser – social control and later,
after Emancipation, with social reconstruction
to preserve order. The new, black independent
governments in the latter half of the 20th century
sought to reverse some of the effects of colonialism
by expanding access and provision, especially in
secondary education, and to indigenise curricula.
Today the forces of globalisation, with its emphasis
on Western technologies and the economy, are
threatening to impose a yoke similar to that of
colonialism by instilling in us through the foreign
media a deep attachment to Western values and
lifestyles. Education therefore exhibits controversies
and contradictions – while reforms are on-going to
improve literacy, academic achievement and student
engagement with learning through constructivist
reforms, the pressure from those trying to make
education more oriented to the economy is to
increase testing and control of teachers’ work.
images of the most dominant countries, the
US and Western Europe.
The above factors help to remove barriers that
traditionally marked one country’s borders off
from another. Today one can use a home computer
with internet access and buy books online using
a credit card, with delivery to your door. Not too
long ago buying books from a foreign country
would have entailed all sorts of restrictions and
red tape, especially to procure the foreign currency.
In many ways the revolution in ICTs and the ever
expanding range of mobile operating systems allow
us to function as if national borders do not exist.
This perception – that national borders do
not exist – leaves us more open to the cultural
influences of the media, and to a large extent we
are being integrated into a cultural milieu that
does not differ much from one country to another.
At the same time there is a powerful resistance to
this movement celebrating one’s own culture and
opposing some of the ideas/ideals demonstrated
by big corporations.
Sociological Theorising:
Issues in Education
Education is a highly contested social institution and
so there are innumerable opinions, theories, ideas and
beliefs about issues that occur on a daily basis and that
are of concern to stakeholders. We will examine some
of these issues through a sociological lens and discuss
theories that serve to clarify and explain them from
different perspectives.
Social Control and Deviance:
Sociologists seek to understand underachievement based
on the sociological principle of social control and deviance
(§§3.2.6 and 11.1). Failing, dropping out or repeating a
grade level are, from a sociological perspective, ‘deviant’
acts because the person assuming the role and status of
‘student’ is not expected by society to do them. Even
more contrary to social norms is student indiscipline
and violence.
Caribbean governments have spent enormous sums
on education in the interests of decolonisation and
economic development (see Box 8.5 for the experience
of Trinidad & Tobago). They have built and equipped
schools with laboratories, workshops and infrastructure
for multimedia, trained teachers, and reformed the
curriculum. While many have benefited from these
reforms, Caribbean governments have still not fully
realised their investment. Persistent high levels of
academic underachievement, particularly at the secondary
level, as well as drop-outs, represent ‘inefficiencies’
in the system – money being expended but goals
not being achieved. Similarly, those who repeat a grade
add to the costs of education. From the perspectives of
various stakeholders such as planners, policy-makers,
religious bodies, parents, teachers, students and other
groups, academic underachievement is attributed to many
sources: teacher absenteeism, student indifference, lack
of resources, parental indifference, irrelevant curricula,
a lack of attention to ‘at risk’ students and those with
special needs, gender differences and the removal of
religion from schools.
Guyana’s Minister of Education in 2010 referring to
the gravity of the problem stated that:
Universal access to education, …. high levels of
nursery and primary enrolment and a completion rate
believed to be as high as around 90 per cent has failed
to produce anywhere near a satisfactory mastery of
basic literacy and numeracy skills.
(Starbroek News, 2010, p.2)
Table 8.1 Pass rates in mathematics (2004–9)
Reports from Jamaica indicate a similar situation. The
overall performance across the region in Mathematics
and English is shown below in Tables 8.1 and 8.2.
Theories of Cultural Transmission and Deviance
Socialisation is the process which explains how culture
(and deviance) is transmitted. Basically, these theories say
that if you are closely associated with a group who possess
norms that are different to those of mainstream society,
the chances are that you will absorb and act on these
norms because your primary caregivers and nurturers,
the people you care most about, hold these views. Such
theories have been used to explain why the children of
the poor consistently do not do as well in education as
the children of the affluent.
Cultural transmission theories tend to be held by
Functionalists, providing cultural explanations for the
under-achievement of (mainly) working-class youth.
They focus on cultural deprivation, seeing the children
of the working class as not having the necessary skills,
values and norms to enable them to succeed in schools.
They attribute this to parents having low expectations for
their children where academic success is concerned. (For
example, in Box 6.3 we looked at the idea of a ‘culture
of poverty’.)
Marxist and Conflict theorists also put forward cultural
theories of transmission to explain the underachievement
of poorer students but their emphasis was structural.
This means that they focused on the social relations of
production in a capitalist society as shaping the norms
Table 8.2 Pass rates in English (2004–10)
CXC *CSEC® Pass Rates:
Mathematics (Average Score Jan. and June Exams)
CXC *CSEC English A Exam pass rate:
Total pass overall Grade I-III
Total %
Paper 1
Total % of
Paper 2
Total % of
Grades I-III
60% (Jun)
15% (Jun)
34% (Jun)
47% (Jun)
20% (Jun)
35% (Jun)
71% (Jun)
20% (Jun)
39% (Jun)
*CSEC – Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate.
Source for both tables: http://www.caribexams.org/m_pass_rates;
accessed 19 February 2014
and values (i.e. the culture) that students experienced. For
example, Bourdieu described the home environments of
children showing that their cultural capital (Box 8.2)
either helped or hindered them at school. He noted that
what he called the habitus – norms and habits into which
a person or group is socialised that stem from where they
are socially located – was not helpful to poorer students
at school. Bourdieu was interested in how ‘culture’
contributed to social reproduction, making some groups
‘deviant’ in the education system.
Marxists oppose functionalist cultural theories of
transmission which emphasise a ‘deficit’ in the backgrounds
of students from the lower social classes. They see such
theories as taking poverty as a given and not focusing on
how poverty results from the structural inequalities in the
society. They regard deficit theories as placing the blame
for underachievement on the students and their home
backgrounds – for example, if society is said to be a
meritocracy, then if one fails it is likely to be one’s own
fault. Blame is being put on the culture of a group.
Criticisms of these theories have come from a number
of sociologists, mainly those working in the Interpretive
perspective (Box 8.8).
Structural Strain Theory
Merton (1938), a Structural-functionalist, proposed
structural strain theory to explain deviance. In doing
so he extended the work of Durkheim. Deviance, he
thought, was caused by the unhappiness and frustration
people felt when they could not attain the goals desired
in their society because they did not have the means to
do so. Some people experienced this strain as tension and
a feeling of anomie, a feeling of not belonging, of being
outside the norms of society because they did not seem
able to reach those socially approved goals that others
could attain. Theorists focus, not on individual traits
and dispositions that might cause a student to fail or be
deviant in school nor on their culture as in theories of
cultural transmission above, but on the way society is
structured (§11.2.2). They see a person’s behaviour as
being influenced by their structural context (i.e. their
place in the social system).
For some groups and individuals, usually those of a
higher socio-economic status or a dominant learning
style, it is easier to achieve the socially approved goals of
the society – orderly and diligent behaviours in school
lead to examination success and a lucrative career. When
someone is described as ‘doing well’ it is usually these
norms that are spoken of. For others, there are many
obstructions to overcome to enable someone to achieve
on par with their peers from a higher income group.
BOX 8.8
Criticisms of Cultural
Theories of
and Deviance
Interpretive theorists regard the cultural
transmission theories of both Functionalists
and Marxists as being too deterministic
and failing to take account of agency and
will or volition on the part of the actor.
For example, schools, teachers and parents
can make powerful interventions to assist
students with disability and disadvantage to
perform creditably.
Other criticisms have been made, for
example, by Nell Keddie and William Labov.
• Keddie (1971), in response to the culture
of poverty thesis, said that workingclass culture was ‘different’ rather than
‘deficient’, and that in schools these
differences were strengthened when
teachers judged students on the extent
to which they conformed to a model that
was close to a middle-class style or culture.
• Labov (1969) studied the speech of
black children in Harlem showing that it
was indeed different from that of their
teachers. Students internalised teacher
responses to mean that they were hostile
to them and school was not a safe place to
be. Hence, they did not express themselves
in such a way as to be understood. Labov
stated that in contexts where students
felt comfortable they were capable of
discussing complex matters in ways that
their group understood.
The theory says that when the strain becomes too
great, individuals commit various deviant acts to lessen
the strain. Conformity may make no sense in a scenario
where the student cannot see an outcome of success. S/he
may give up and retreat from school goals and activities
by dropping out or by just going through the motions
(being ritualistic) or becoming resistant and rebellious, or
cheating or stealing another’s work. When a student has
given up on attaining the shared group norms of schooling,
their deviant acts demonstrate that they are substituting
personal goals of empowerment for the school’s goals of
persistent studying leading to examination success.
Merton is criticised for assuming that all groups hold
academic and economic success as their main goal in life –
a homogenizing tendency that is typical of Functionalist
thought. Different age groups and ethnic groups may
differ in motivation. Academic and career aspirations and
expectations are rather different today than they were
when Merton was writing, and out-of-school training
opportunities now exist that can lead to jobs in technical
and other fields. In addition, the job market has changed,
relying more on a flexible and entrepreneurial spirit than
scholarly credentials.
Labelling Theory
Sociologists contributing to Labelling theory are
Interpretive theorists as well as those who work within
a Critical perspective – a combination of Conflict
and Interpretive theories. Symbolic Interaction is the
Interpretive perspective often used to examine the
relationship between labelling someone as ‘deviant’ and
how they achieve at school. The main ideas in Labelling
theory are:
■ Labels are created by those with more power in a
social situation. Schools represent social situations
where different groups interact. While students do
indeed label teachers those labels do not have as far
reaching consequences as the labels teachers have for
■ Labels for students can become stereotypes that
influence interactions in the classroom and the
assignment of students to ability streams and
curricular options. Labels include: an ‘A’ student, dunce,
slow, special, trouble maker, retarded, from a broken home,
from a single parent family, ignorant, illiterate …
■ Some labels appear neutral, e.g. ‘good at mathematics’
or ‘a science student’ but nevertheless pigeonhole
a student into a particular category or type which
may again prevent her/him from having different
■ Labels are created during the social processes of
schooling and become strong and fixed, but it is
important to remember that someone in authority did
the labelling and put that student into the category of
■ Sometimes the teacher may not even be aware that s/
he has labeled students so that Interpretive theorists
call for teachers to examine their own thinking and
■ Labelling is a potentially dangerous practice since
negative labels in particular impact on a student’s
sense of self-esteem and efficacy, Students generally
look to teachers to understand how they are doing
in the academic setting. Interpretive theorists explain
that how we see ourselves has a great deal to do with
how we think others see us (the looking-glass self, as
advanced by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902).
■ Negative labels seem to influence teachers to hold
low expectations for certain students. The self-fulfilling
prophecy (Box 8.4) is a much-studied phenomenon
among Interpretive theorists who maintain that
the expectations a teacher has for a student are
communicated to her/him by a variety of cues,
implicit as well as explicit, and to a large extent
students internalise these messages and act to suit.
Interpretive theorists therefore understand deviance,
such as acts of defiance at school or underachievement,
not as a direct result of cultural transmission or because
of structural inequalities in the society, but created out of
the interactions at a school. Interactions breed prejudices,
labelling and stereotypes which influence both the one
who is doing the labelling and those labelled into deviant
By labelling an act ‘deviant’ those who have power
in the society can exert some form of social control.
In schools deviance results in a variety of punishments
including scolding and ridicule. These sanctions are
organisational responses to bring the errant student
back on course. In many cases the blame for deviance
is put on the student, and often, Interpretivist theorists
say, those in authority in schools are reluctant to see
underachievement as a result of entrenched patterns
and habits of labelling students. Schools prefer to see
underachievement as a personal failing on the part of the
Gender and Education
The Feminist perspective has ensured that there has
been a lot of interest in this topic over the last two
decades. While some researchers try genuinely to
distance themselves from ‘gender bashing’, much of the
commentary and opinions advanced by scholars and
members of the public alike are highly emotional, and in
many cases defensive.
We should be alert to discussions that speak about boys
and girls as if they each were a single uniform category.
In a sociological study, the idea of diversity is important.
There are girls who are chronic underachievers and boys
who are successful students. Just because, overall in the
system, the highest achievers tend to be girls, does not
mean that the majority of girls who underachieve should
be ignored. Note that today it is more correct to speak of
masculinities and femininities (Box 8.9).
BOX 8.9
Masculinities and Femininities
Stereotypical masculine behaviours include being
aggressive, loud, fond of contact sports and the
outdoors, as well as having a flair for technology
and gadgets. Stereotypical feminine behaviours
have been constructed by society, largely as
opposites to masculine traits; for example, girls
are expected to be quiet, submissive, to like board
games or non-contact sports, and to enjoy reading
and inactive classroom activities.
Today each may be seen as a continuum of
behaviours rather than rigid categories. Even more
important to know is that boys and girls may adopt
different gender identities based on contexts –
for example, boys may become more aggressive
if girls are around, or display less aggressive
behaviours if boys who threaten them are present.
Having a male or female teacher changes the
dynamics for male and female students, who may
act differently in different classes.
To be meaningful, any study of gender and
education should take into account ethnicity,
socio-economic status, the experiences at highstatus and low-status schools and religious and
non-religious schools, as well as in rural and urban
environments. Attributing achievement simply to
someone’s gender renders invisible all the other
factors that contribute to a student’s motivation
and readiness for study. You should keep this in
mind as you read the following sections because
any study on gender and education selects factors
it deems to be important.
Sex or Gender?
Another practice you should note is that the terms used to
study gender and education are often misunderstood, and
the terms sex and gender tend to be used interchangeably.
In many instances the meaning is still clear and not much
is lost. However, there is an inherent danger in regarding
the two terms as having the same meaning.
When people think they are discussing gender, they are
really speaking about sex. ‘Sex’ refers to the biological
differences between boys and girls and differentiates
them as a group. ‘Gender’, on the other hand emphasizes
a relationship or relationships based on social
constructions of what it means to be male or female.
How boys and girls tend to choose subjects based on
how they self identify, would qualify as a gender issue.
rates at the secondary level, unlike the situation in many
countries of the developing world where large numbers
of children remain out of the primary system (Table 8.3).
At the secondary level, gender equality is measured in
terms of disparities between the sexes in their transition
from primary to secondary schools. Access to secondary
education has been a major hurdle for poorer groups in
the past and the Common Entrance has been a high stakes
examination restricting access to the secondary sector.
Since the latter is a major route to employment and further
study, it is interesting to note the nature of the gender
disparities in those enrolling in secondary education in
2002–3 and 2008–11 (see Tables 8.4 and 8.5 opposite).
Table 8.3 Number of out-of-primary-school children:
A global picture
(Mohammed, 2009, p. 86)
Gender equity refers to policies that ensure
fairness to either sex who are perceived as being
disadvantaged in some way, for example, a writing
programme at school that targets boys, though it may
also include girls. Gender equity in education usually
refers to fairness and justice in how the two sexes are
experiencing schooling. It does not mean ‘equality’
because to ensure ‘equity’ it may become necessary to
treat the different genders unequally.
Sex equity refers to policies that ensure fairness to
both sexes in, for example, equal access to programmes
and funding for sports. There is no intention of
distinguishing whether needs vary or that there is
diversity among and between the sexes.
Gender stereotypes are traditional attitudes and
orientations that classify certain subjects and pastimes
as ‘masculine’ and others as ‘feminine’ (Box 8.9). For
example, efforts to improve sports in a school may
emphasise cricket and that may mean only boys will
benefit, if the girls have exercised stereotypical choices
about sports. When governments allocate funds and
resources to schools, they are expected to be shared
equally among males and females, without any kind
of distinction. This represents a commitment to sex
equity on the part of the government, not necessarily
to gender equity. But it is spoken of as gender equity.
This type of policy may actually reinforce gender
stereotypes. Simply providing more resources then
does not effectively address the many ways that gender
equity breaks down at the level of the school.
Educational participation
Most Caribbean countries have achieved Universal
Primary Education (UPE) and there are high participation
Sub-Saharan Africa
2002 (in thousands)
Arab states
Central Asia
South and West Asia
Latin America and
the Caribbean
North America and
Western Europe
Central and Eastern
East Asia and the
Source: Adapted from J.Jha & F.Kelleher, Boys Underachievement
in Education: An Exploration in Selected Caribbean Countries.
London: Commonwealth Secretariat (2006), p. 5
The Comparative Element in Sociology
Examine the data in Table 8.3.
1. Which two regions in the world have the LEAST
numbers of children out of primary schools?
2. Which two regions in the world have the MOST
numbers of children out of primary schools?
3. Which regions have more girls out of primary school
than boys?
4. For countries where more boys are out of primary
schools than girls, how significant is the difference?
Table 8.4 Transition to secondary education by net
enrolment ratios at the secondary level
Caribbean countries
2002–3 *NER at secondary
stage (%)
St Lucia
St Vincent & the
Trinidad & Tobago
* Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) refers to the number of pupils in the
age group who are enrolled expressed as a percentage of the total
population of that age group.
Source: Adapted from Jha & Kelleher (2006), p.7.
Table 8.5 Female to male enrolment at the secondary
enrolment (%)
Trinidad & Tobago
St Kitts & Nevis
St Vincent & the
Antigua & Barbuda
Source: Secondary gender parity at http://www.factfish.com/
accessed 17 December 2013.
Tables 8.4 and 8.5 confirm a pattern that in the
Caribbean, with similar or equal opportunities in
primary education for both sexes, girls have higher
transition rates to secondary education. Table 8.6 (page
256) also confirms that once in secondary schools girls
tend to have a better record of achievement. For most
subjects, more girls are registered for examinations, and
have a higher percentage pass rate compared to boys.
However, in the sciences we see some differences from
this pattern: in mathematics, physics and chemistry boys
have tended to have the edge.
Look closely at Tables 8.4 and 8.5 and say whether
they can be compared directly. Note that Antigua
& Barbuda is the only country out of those selected
in Table 8.5 where there are more boys enrolled in
secondary school than girls.
This situation has existed for some time now because
governments have emphasised equality of educational
opportunity – that is, providing access to schooling
for all boys and girls. Once enrolled, however, their
participation and achievement in the system varies
markedly. This points to an issue of gender equity or
fairness - in other words, there seem to be disadvantages
in schooling in relation to boys. In a system which
makes few distinctions between the sexes, this apparent
disadvantage experienced by boys goes unaddressed.
Look at Table 8.6.
1. Which subject has been traditionally dominated
by boys but in 2011 girls took the lead in capturing
Grade Is?
2. In Biology, both boys and girls achieved Grades
II and III in similar proportions, but more boys
received Grade IV, does this mean that overall boys
are doing better than girls?
3. In which subjects, at the level of Grade I, do males
achieve at a higher level than girls?
Subject choices
Traditional gender stereotypes influence the behaviours
of male and female students and this is evident in the
life of schools. Table 8.5 not only shows differences
in registration and achievement patterns by subject
Table 8.6 CSEC candidate performance in selected subjects by sex and grades awarded (I – IV) May/June 2011
Numbers writing the exam
Grade I
Grade II
Grade III
Grade IV
English A
Caribbean History
Social Studies
Principles of Business
Source: CXC. Caribbean Examinations Council Annual Report (2011). At http://www.cxc.org/SiteAssets/AnnualReports/AnnualReport2011Final.
pdf, accessed 17 December, 2013.
according to sex, but also reflects the ideas and beliefs
that guide girls and boys to choose certain subjects and
avoid others. This is a gender issue because it speaks to
a relationship playing out between boys and girls. Box
8.10 explores some of the theorising about gender and
education with respect to subject choices made by
Gender socialisation is an on-going process in society,
and in schools textbooks continue to reinforce gender
stereotypes in explicit as well as subtle ways. Activity
8.9 (page 258) gives you a chance to judge for yourself
the extent to which textbooks today reinforce traditional
gender stereotypes or whether, conscious of the
implications of such stereotyping, authors and publishers
now attempt to challenge gender norms.
behaviours expected of girls does not help them to develop
their full potential. For example, the issue of traditional
gendered subject choice could be hindering girls from
opting for careers in engineering, architecture, and
other related fields. Careers in technology, engineering,
medicine, law and architecture pay well and open doors
to social mobility. While more women are entering these
fields, they continue to be dominated by men. The glass
ceiling and the old boys’ club obstruct women’s rise to
the top of these male-dominated professions. As a result
fewer women are employed in the highest-paying jobs.
The glass ceiling is a metaphor for women’s
unwillingness to go for the top positions in business,
industry or administration.
The old boys’ club describes the attitudes and bias of
men entrenched at the top of a firm who find reasons to
keep women from occupying similar positions.
School and teacher Influence
Gender socialisation at the level of the school seems to
encourage boys to devalue school and classroom norms
and this may be part of the reason why many, especially
those with learning problems, think that school is mainly
a place for girls. On the other hand the conformist
The research literature contains a range of welldocumented findings that show teachers, even if they
do not realise it, treat boys and girls differently. This
treatment may be a mix of negative and positive responses,
but together they reinforce gender stereotypes.
BOX 8.10
Theorising Gender and Education: Subject and Career Choices
Theorists suggest that students tend to choose
subjects based on prevailing gender stereotypes
and ideologies to which they have been socialised.
These subjects lead to gendered jobs and careers,
for example, nursing, teaching, secretarial work
and becoming librarians, are predominantly
‘female-type’ occupations. These choices are
made because they are compatible with how a
female sees herself – her gender identity – and
in a similar way males make their quite different
subject choices. Subject choice at secondary
school ultimately has to do, even if the student
does not realise it, with an occupation that s/he is
comfortable with as an adult.
Of course, students also choose subjects based
on what they like and seem to have a flair for.
Sociologists will tell us however that we allow
ourselves to like only those subjects that do not
violate the gender norms current in our society.
The seeming dominance of males in mathematics
and the sciences has been eroded lately with
more females entering for and passing these
examinations. However, males still seem to hold
the edge in these subjects, particularly physics.
DFID (1997) sociologists, using empirical data,
suggest that girls see science as both difficult
and demanding and secondly, according to the
the image of the ‘scientist’ is unflattering and
Other theorists put forward biological
explanations for this disparity in both enrolment
and achievement. There is some evidence, for
example, that boys and girls combine their use of
brain hemispheres in different ways, affecting their
abilities in areas such as mathematical reasoning,
spatial tasks such as map-reading or interpreting
technical drawings, language proficiency and
fine motor skills such as handwriting, embroidery
and the timing of complex tasks as in art and
craft. These brain-based theories of the different
learning styles of males and females are reinforced
by societal processes of gender socialisation into
stereotypical subject choices.
The expansion of subjects at both the CSEC and
CAPE levels has empowered students to transcend
some of these stereotypes and orientations and
for many subjects a gender bias is not evident.
Subject choices affect subsequent careers and
are therefore of lifelong importance. One of the
contradictory elements in the study of gender
and education is the success of girls in the school
system, on the one hand and the prevailing gender
ideology of patriarchy in the society which limits
their successes and participation in high status jobs
and in politics, on the other. That more females
today are occupying traditionally masculine-held
jobs and careers masks the fact that most females
are paid less than their male counterparts and
experience inequality in homes and workplaces.
If we think of some of the major areas of social
interaction – the home, schools, workplaces and
the Church – it is the school that emerges as the
site where girls experience the least discrimination.
However, with subject choice before them,
both boys and girls tend to choose according
to traditional gender stereotypes about what is
considered masculine and feminine, even amidst
changing labour market stereotypes. Thus, boys
choose industrial arts and sciences whilst girls
choose the humanities and social sciences. Here
we see the beginning of the differentiation that
exists in the world of work where men and women
gravitate to different occupations and careers and
hence, towards different life chances.
A group of parents arranged a tour of a hospital for a
group of twenty children: ten boys and ten girls. At the
end of the tour, hospital officials presented each child
with a cap: doctors’ caps for the boys, nurses’ caps for
the girls. The parents, outraged at this sexism, went to
see the hospital administration. They were promised
that in the future, this would be corrected. The next
year, a similar tour was arranged, and at the end, the
parents came by to pick up their children. What did
they find, but the exact same thing – all the boys had
on doctors’ hats, all the girls had on nurses’ hats!
Steaming, they stormed up to the director’s office and
demanded an explanation. The director gently told
them: `But it was totally different this year: We offered
them all whichever hat they wanted’
(Hofstadter, 1986, p. 156).
Social Inquiry
Choose any textbook now in use in schools. Those
with many illustrations may prove more useful in this
exercise, for example textbooks in social studies, history,
geography, sociology, language, literature, Caribbean
Studies, and biology. Conduct a gender analysis of the
textbook based on the following guidelines:
1. Do the illustrations depict males and females
• in equal or close to equal numbers?
• clearly, in images similar in size, position and
aesthetics (e.g. colour)?
• in a variety of roles, traditional and non-traditional?
• in ways that they are likely to interest students?
• displaying similar levels of power, authority,
passiveness, and/or control?
2. Content: Does the text include
• significant contributions made by males and
females (to the family, country, professions)?
• a wide variety of roles played by males and
females, of different ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status?
• equal use of gendered pronouns (he, she, his, her)?
• non-stereotypical and non-prejudicial terms are
used (e.g. ‘chair’rather than ‘chairman’ or‘flight
attendant’ for ‘stewardess’)?
• women’s lives are portrayed as interesting and/
or problematic (not just in terms of their roles as
wives, mothers, and daughters)?
• a balance of the public and private spheres
(e.g. evidence of men and women combining
traditional and non-traditional roles)?
• a view of gender as socially constructed (rather
than as essential, binary categories which are
fixed and immutable)?
• attempts to portray men’s lives as a gendered
group (and not as invisible, neutral beings who
represent the ‘standard’, whilst women are
visible to emphasise their ‘difference’ – e.g. the
possibility of a male being fearful, sad, lonely)?
• attempts to analyse historical figures in a
balanced way (e.g. Columbus not only as a heroic
portrayal of hegemonic masculinity – courage,
leadership – but as responsible for genocide,
violence, and destruction)?
• a view of gender as a performance (doing not
being), evoking a range of masculinities and
femininities (moving away from binary positions
of motherhood/ fatherhood, femininity/
masculinity, women/men)?
• Other than the issues listed above, do you have
any other ideas about how gender stereotypes
might be downplayed in textbooks?
The underperformance of boys
Box 8.11 explores the male marginalisation thesis, and
criticisms that have been made of it, as explanations
for male underperformance in schools. All of these
approaches to understanding the ‘boy problem’ are
attempts to realise gender equity at school. Whatever the
causes of the problem, the issue remains that boys do not
do as well as girls, generally speaking. Some educators
feel that if the curriculum and teaching methodologies
are upgraded and made relevant to real life, if assessment
becomes more authentic and less examination-bound,
if out-of-school learning experiences can be arranged,
then both boys and girls will benefit. Girls probably do
better in schools because they are socialised to t