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'Selfie' culture and social media in new sociology A-level

An exam board is claiming its new sociology A-level will help the discipline “shake off its image as a softer subject” by including a section on social media.

The new "Globalisation of the digital social world" topic in the OCR qualification will ask students about the impact of global digital communication on identity, social inequalities and relationships.

It will also examine if the culture of the "selfie" encourages the sexualisation of young girls, and students will be expected to apply Marxist, feminist and postmodernist theories to digital forms of communication.

Victoria Hunter, OCR subject team manager, said: “Contrary to some outdated misconceptions, sociology is not a soft option: it is rooted in social science theory, demands academic rigour and equips students with the critical reasoning and data analysis skills to understand the complex dynamics that shape societies.

“The course will be an excellent foundation for university and pave the way to a wide range of careers, from business management to public policy.”

However, sociology has never been included in the list of “facilitating subjects” published by elite Russell Group universities to show sixth formers which A-levels are most likely to get them places on degree courses.

OCR is stressing the inclusion of “evidence-based research” in its new course. The board says pupils will be able to refer to studies on how Facebook makes people less satisfied with life; why three quarters of young people claim they couldn’t live without the internet; and how the sexes behave differently online.

“Globalisation and digital communication are transforming work, family and leisure life,” Ms Hunter said. “No Sociology A-level would be complete without making it compulsory to study how people are responding to the new rules of the digital global village.

“Students will apply sociological theories and methods to explore weighty questions around online censorship; how to police the rising tide of global organised crime; if the selfie culture encourages sexualisation of young girls; whether social networks unite or isolate people; and the role of digital networks in creating virtual communities.”

Judith Mudd, British Sociological Association chief executive, welcomed the report. “In today's online world, social groups across the globe are connecting and colliding in ways that could not have been imagined before,” she said.

“We owe it to our students and society to reflect these fundamental changes in the way social groups interact in our courses, not just to make sociology real for students, but also to foster scientific analysis of the social impacts of new technologies to help steer further developments in ways that will better rather than break societies.”

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