This is an interview with Alex Buckley, the founder of Sociology on the Syllabus. As you’ll become aware, the aim of Sociology on the Syllabus is to extend the teaching on sociology to groups including early secondary school-age pupils, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (so to cover Key Stages 3 and 4 for anyone familiar with this specific educational model).
Sociology – or social studies, with a large dash of sociological thinking – already features on school-level curricula in lots of places the world over, including in some schools in Mexico, Sweden, Nigeria, Australia, and Cuba (to take a few random examples quickly cribbed from an internet search). The British Sociological Association has published some supporting materials and organised some events designed to bring together those teachers of advanced-level sociology in schools (see Professor Susan Halford’s piece here).
One of the things that sets Sociology on the Syllabus apart from other valuable initiative is the goal of the intervention to widen sociological teaching and thinking to a widened – younger – age group. The Sociological Review caught up with Alex to ask her about the project, her favourite sociological study, ‘classical sociology’, and a few other things.
What is Sociology on the Syllabus?
Sociology on the Syllabus is an organisation which is campaigning to have sociology added to the KS3 (Y7 – Y9) national curriculum, and for schools to provide the resources to any pupil to take sociology as a GCSE. We think that sociology provides an invaluable set of skills to pupils such as critical thinking, informed discussion and handling qualitative and quantitative data. These are all skills which are becoming more essential in their own right given the current social context. They also undoubtedly complement the types of learning which students cover in other subjects such as history, geography, maths and english. SotS was founded in June and has already garnered a lot of support and interest. I think that’s because it’s a relatively simple idea which makes a great deal of sense.
Why should school-age pupils study sociology?
One question which crops up sometimes is ‘aren’t pupils in Year 7, 8 and 9 too young to learn about sociological concepts?’ The answer is emphatically no. Historically there has been opposition to young people learning about real-world concepts, with those who have a say in what they are taught either underestimating their ability to comprehend and analyse important social phenomena, or else anxious about exposing them to concepts which they deem as a threat to their naivety. The reality is that many students do not have the privilege of ignorance when it comes to their lived experience. Topics such as race, class and gender need not remain taboo to learn and think about. Instead, topics covered by sociology can be taught about in a constructive and neutral manner, informed by a variety of social theories, to encourage open and honest discussion. An introduction to quantitative and qualitative methods can demonstrate to students the relevance and applicability of data to the real world, to their own worlds. By starting to learn about sociological topics in their simple forms at an age where inquisitiveness dominates the minds of young people (but is not always matched by the types and forms of subject matter that they are presented with), they can be motivated to really examine the world around them, and utilise skills which can often seem irrelevant or boring to help them understand the things that they observe.
Who is Alex Buckley, and what is your dissertation research about?
I’m a young woman from a seaside town, who had very little interest in anything until I came across sociology. Having spent my teenage years feeling very out of place at a grammar school, A-Level sociology was my last ditch attempt at something academic. The ubiquitous nature of the topic of focus I found in this subject during those first months of my AS-Levels opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world (what we call the sociological imagination). After becoming almost irreversibly disillusioned with the education system for what I perceived to be its irrelevance to my own life and the world around me, being forced to read news articles for homework and discuss them in the classroom the next day left me with a fierce curiosity to learn more about the society which we live in, and the study which aides this learning. I went to Cardiff to continue studying, where I became obsessed with interactionism and ethnography, finishing with a dissertation on the properties of gossip. After that I went to LSE where I focused on social urban studies, and wrote my dissertation on class and identity in a gentrifying community. Now, I’m a social researcher in the civil service, passionate about inequality and positionality.
Marx, Weber, Durkheim?
Favourite sociological study and why?
An enjoyable read it is not, but I wouldn’t have got very far at all without Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. However, my favourite has to be Lisa McKenzie’s Getting By. Class and gender have always been the focal points of intersection within my own interest, personal experience and academic study, so finally coming across a sociological book which wasn’t written by (or for, I don’t think) a middle-class white man was refreshing. It is an honest, generally positive, and unapologetically subjective account of life and inequality. Lisa talks about the importance of the construction of narratives, identity and value when it comes to the stigmatisation of a group of people. Rather than providing a written safari highlighting the contrast of working-class ways of life to the middle-class status-quo, it makes you question the things that we call mainstream ‘values’, and what it is that is so valuable about them.
Alex Buckley is the founder of Sociology on the Syllabus, and is a social researcher, ethnography enthusiast, and guinea-pig fanatic. Alex aims to take positive action to improve the perception of sociology, just generally because it deserves it, and also so it can take its rightful place on the national curriculum. Alex tweets @soconsyllabus