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It’s July 2019 at the time of writing this introduction. The British summer has taken some time to arrive, but the smell of barbeques has started to fill the air. The England football team has just lost in the semi-finals of the World Cup. This is the second tournament in succession that the England team has been defeated at this stage. Their downfall in 2019 followed only a year after the Men’s England football team suffered a similar defeat in the semi-final of the Men’s World Cup. In contrast, the winners of the 2019 Women’s World Cup faced a different battle – after their triumph, no less. Despite their victory, the United States players were locked in a dispute with their national federation over pay. Even though they are more successful on the pitch than their male counterparts, having won the World Cup and Olympic Gold four times apiece, as well as being commercially more successful through shirt sales and corporate endorsements, they were paid substantially less. Added to this, the tournament’s star player, Megan Rapinoe, had attracted disdain from the President of the United States because she has been outspoken in terms of equal rights. As well as fighting for equal pay, Rapinoe was the first white player to take a knee in support of the American footballer Colin Kaepernick who led a protest highlighting police violence against African Americans. Rapinoe also highlighted that ‘you can’t win a championship without gays on your team’. In one brief global tournament, significant social issues like gender inequality, sexuality and racism were all highlighted.

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When Stormzy walked out onto the Glastonbury stage in the summer’s evening of June 2019, he made several important political statements. On a basic level, Stormzy announced the commercial arrival of grime music at a festival that has usually headlined rock bands in its 50-year history. Being the first black British male to headline the world-famous Pyramid stage, however, could have indicated that the UK’s multicultural population was finally getting acceptance. Yet his attire suggested the opposite. Stormzy wore a stab vest (designed by the artist Banksy) to highlight the disproportionate number of young black men criminalised in the British criminal justice system. Alongside Stormzy, the black and minority ethnic (BME) dance group Ballet Black danced, highlighting the lack of diversity in the high cultural art forms of ballet and opera. This wasn’t the first time that grime artists had made political statements. Three years earlier, Stormzy, Akala and others united under #Grime4Corbyn to endorse party politics and, more specifically, the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as the next prime minister. While Skepta has since argued that mainstream politicians and media cynically exploited this movement, it highlighted a significant moment when a youth subculture became explicitly linked to the broader politics of the country; a journey that continued with Stormzy headlining Glastonbury.

This chapter will show how lifestyle and consumption choices, like grime or football, have changed over the past 50 years. These reflect the wider social, economic and political changes that have taken place. They also help explain some of the demographic differences between age groups in the UK.

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Immigration has been at the centre of political wrangling in the UK and more widely for decades, but even more so since the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the European refugee ‘crisis’, and increasingly heated national and global debates about the benefits of multicultural societies. Populist movements across Europe and the US have brought to the fore questions about the impact immigration is having on national identity and wellbeing. Campaigns from those on the right of the political spectrum have suggested that immigration detrimentally impacts national security, the healthcare system, the economy and social cohesion. In contrast, studies show positive economic and cultural benefits of migration. This chapter unpicks the current focus on migration and how understanding race and ethnicity is important in a multicultural society.

The Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum suggested that ‘Immigration will continue out of control putting public services like the NHS under strain.’ Alongside this, Nigel Farage, then leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), unveiled a ‘Grassroots Out’ campaign poster that showed a long queue of Syrian refugees (that were heading to Germany) with the phrase ‘Breaking Point: the EU has failed us all’. Messages such as this were instrumental in swaying the vote. The EU referendum also revealed the stark polarisation within the UK between its cities and surrounding regions. Areas with foreign-born citizens were congregated around the cities. Yet support for UKIP, a party that was known for its anti-immigration stance, was found in those areas where there were few immigrants This raised the question as to whether fear of immigration and dislike of immigrants is borne of personal experiences so much as negative media discourse.

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There is a clear polarisation in British society over access to jobs, job security and income inequality. The informational economy around knowledge and service sector skills has concentrated job opportunities and wealth in major cities, particularly London. The drastic wealth disparities in Western societies were also exposed during the global financial crisis of 2007–08. Occupy, the multi-platform, anti-inequality social movement, reiterated this point by declaring that ‘We are the 99%.’ The movement highlighted the concentrating of global wealth in only 1 per cent of the world’s population. As the neoliberal state has been restructured to facilitate global capitalism, rather than social provision, income inequalities have been exacerbated. This chapter outlines how class is another way that society differentiates between large groups of people and how this has changed since the 1950s.

Changes to class composition and identification are the other outcomes of the restructured economy. In 1990 the then UK Conservative Prime Minister John Major expressed his desire for a classless society as this would symbolise social mobility. Seven years later the Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is attributed to have said that ‘We’re all middle class now.’ The comment was a reference to the growth of the service sector as an indication of the post-industrial society that the UK had become. The implication was that we were all wealthier because our employment prospects were changing. This political outlook links to traditional ideas of class based on economic wealth. It also conforms to some sociological analysis that will be addressed later in the chapter, particularly as it links back to arguments about the individualisation of society.

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One of the major critiques of sociology is that there is too great a focus on the ‘founding fathers’ of sociology, namely Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. Although there are some prominent early female writers, like Harriet Martineau from Britain and Jane Adams from the US, early writings are predominately written by men, about men and for men. They wrote about the male experience and did not really take into account differences based on gender. If you go back and look at the earlier quotes by these theorists, they all use ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘man’ as a shorthand for ‘he or she’, ‘him or her’, or ‘human’. They didn’t consider that the non-male experience could be different. Thus, the ‘dead white men’ approach to social theory has been heavily critiqued in recent years. The success of feminism is therefore that it has not just brought about legislative and cultural changes in wider society, but it has centralised gender as an analytical tool so we can understand society through different perspectives. As with race and class, it is important to listen to the lived experience of people, not to assume that their experience is the same as ours.

This chapter addresses the dominant position men and masculinity have taken in society. It then outlines how there have been broadly three ‘waves’ of feminism in the West. The first wave centred on the right to vote and basic property rights at the start of the 20th century. Equal access to the workplace and education, and control of reproductive rights became the focus of the second wave in the 1960s.

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In a country which politicians had claimed was ‘classless’, the wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was all about class. The Prince was not only marrying someone from outside the revered bloodlines of European royalty, but also from outside Europe. Markle is a divorced, mixed-race, self-made US woman who proudly calls herself a feminist. As an actor, lifestyle blogger and now Duchess of Sussex, she has provided a platform for women to share their voices, as well as being a vocal champion of the #MeToo movement. British newspapers and magazines enthusiastically reported on her wearing a trouser suit, showing that she would not be officially dressed by the Royal courtiers. This challenges the conservative image of the British Royal Family with its centuries of protocols and customs. Although this provided an exhilarating prospect for the notoriously excitable British media, other features of Markle’s life added to the spicy narrative. The sermon after the wedding was given by a black American bishop, followed by gospel singers, which meant it significantly differed from previous royal weddings. Leading up to the event in 2018, the media were full of stories about her estranged father who was not invited to the wedding. Markle’s parents divorced when she was a child, and she had a difficult relationship with her father. Since the relationship with Harry was made public, she became a regular news story for the press, and received extensive negative coverage. There was a strong analogy to Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, who divorced Prince Charles and died after being chased by paparazzi photographers. In one highly public family, it is possible to see the wider changes to families and relationships in the UK.

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The biggest political and social crisis in recent British memory has been the decision to leave the European Union (EU). On Thursday 23 June 2016, of those that voted in the referendum, 52 per cent voted for the UK to leave the EU. The following day, Prime Minister David Cameron stood on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street and announced that he would take responsibility and resign. While noble, this decision ignited chaos. The Conservative Party turned inwards and the leadership battle that had been latent for months came to the fore. Theresa May emerged as prime minister and was immediately confronted with trying to unite her party and the country. The Official Opposition, the Labour Party, was also beset with internal divisions with centrist and pro-European MPs battling with their new left-wing and suspiciously anti-EU leader, Jeremy Corbyn. These party-political battles have continued through to the ascension of Boris Johnson to the prime ministerial role, and are likely to continue beyond, whatever trajectory Brexit takes.

This chapter looks at the role of political economy: the relationship between the state and the economy. Through an overview of the foundations of political economy through to its impact on globalisation, we will see how the UK has shifted from an industrial to a post-industrial society and how this has affected the country, before assessing how this could account for the divisions exposed during and since the referendum on EU membership. The referendum reignited conversations about the impact of globalisation. Under-investment, poverty and migration were all factors for many people voting to leave.

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Through a brief exploration of some features of everyday life, we have covered over 60 years of British history, gone global, and tackled big issues like race, gender, sexuality and class, as well as touched on national and international processes like globalisation and the UK referendum on leaving the EU. This book has introduced some of the key thinkers and conceptual arguments in the field of sociology and hopefully shown that there is no definitive answer. Even with a sociological imagination there are different analyses and interpretations of global and local events and social processes. Where some sociologists argue that there is growing individualisation in society, others believe we are still fundamentally social animals, constantly forming new friendships, groups, collectives and social movements. As outlined in the introductory chapter, US sociologist Randall Collins (1998: 3) said, ‘There is literally nothing you can’t see in a fresh way if you turn your sociological eye to it. Being a sociologist means never having to be bored.’ Hopefully we’ve fired your sociological imagination and encouraged a new way of looking at the world.

This is only a short guide. It is not intended to be the definitive guide, nor the only discussion and analysis of complex topics. Sociology is a broad subject. It has to be, as it is concerned with the infinitely interesting and changeable animal that we call humans. Throughout history, humans have engaged in all sorts of social activities. But even fundamental human activities like sex, love and relationships have changed over time.

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In this chapter, Jocelyn Cornwell is interviewed by Mark Doidge about the importance of sociology outside of academia. The interview charts her career trajectory and highlights how there was no real strategy as well as detailing the difficulty in establishing a career. Cornwell demonstrates how important the discipline of sociology has been in developing her career. It provides the practical skills and critical mind that enables her to flourish in various organisations. It also provided the thread that allowed her to follow her interests and develop her own individual career. Despite not working in a university, Cornwell shows that the discipline never leaves you and equips you to engage with the wider world in a variety of ways

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This illuminating book offers a fresh and contemporary guide to the field of sociology. By demonstrating the versatility of the sociological imagination, the authors reveal the ways in which thinking sociologically can help us to understand the personal, social and structural changes going on in the world around us.

Using real world case studies, the book addresses key sociological themes such as:

· global social transformations

· social divisions and inequalities

· social theory and its practical applications

· the personal and the political

Providing a set of concepts, tools and perspectives for analysing our social world, the book equips the reader with an understanding of how to start thinking sociologically. With helpful features such as end-of-chapter summaries, key definitions and recommended readings, it is an invaluable resource for students taking an introductory sociology course or those studying sociology at further or higher education level.

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