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Phenomenological Perspective And Theoretical Framework Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5080 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The aim in this chapter is to offer the foundations on which I base my methodological approach and data analysis. In this section I will clarify theoretical issues which I have examined and informed my work. I outline a framework that highlights the interconnectedness of the macro and micro in explicating the actions and policies of local government in implementing the renewed race relations approach. In this regard, the chapter covers a range of important issues and introduces a number of theoretical concepts relating to race relations and equality.

For work of this sort to have meaning it has to embody a rigorous conceptual analysis which underpin a critical theory approach.

These definitions are located in a broader theory of oppression and intrinsic discrimination and inequality.

Below are the concepts which have informed my approach, these concepts will allow me to examine and understand the complex situation.

Phenomenological perspective

To state that research doesn’t happen in vacuum / isolation – acknowledgement of historical and social influences will shape the research



Structuration theory

Through social action that structures and agency are shaped.

Rejects Parson’s functionalism – subjectivity

And also hermeneutics approach on agency

He argues his theory of structuration reveals how the micro (personal) is shaped by the macro (social systems)

Read Positioning chapter in 1984 book.

Social practices ordered across space and time refer to the actions of individuals and groups understood in their social, cultural and historical context. A key element of this theory, therefore, is the attempt to understand reality in terms of structure –the significance of social divisions and other aspects of social organisation – and agency – the exercise of choice. While many forms of social theory address either structure or agency, structuration theory is characterised by a focus on structure and agency and the ways in which they are intertwined.

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In understanding the ability to participate in community matters what is needed then is an appreciation of both structure and agency. It is not a matter of either or, nor is it an underemphasising of the role of agency by concentrating on the social structures to the almost total exclusion of issues of choices, intentions, wishes, fears and aspirations, or an overemphasising of the role of agency, failing to recognise the power role of social structure in shaping, enabling and constraining the actions of individuals and groups. Our agency is rooted in the complexities of social systems but is not determined by them. Racism, discrimination and oppression are also imbedded in those social systems.


Power is a central feature of the struggle to promote social justice and equality. It is envisaged power in this study will be played out in many ways. In a practical sense, it is the local government who holds the power – both with policy and resources (staff, time, organisation, money), in this case the dominant party, to eliminate the inequalities faced by minority groups. Power analysis is useful in identifying resistance to change as this does not rely solely on the While in the workings of organisations power is transparent in the formal decision-making process, work by Hunter study of decision makers and places of net-working , Mills study of power elite, Bachrach and Baratz’s ‘power is,exercised by containing the scope of decision-making to relatively ”safe” issues’ (p. 6). Steven Lukes (1974) ‘three dimensional framework of power’ identify other ways in which power may operate.

In this study I am informed by Lukes’s three dimensional framework of power as it illuminates the different dimensions where power operates.

Lukes theory is built on earlier theories on power which he addresses in his book Radical View. Dahl’s one dimensional model of power is conceived of as intentional and active in the political arena by political actor groups, and power consists in defeating the opponents’ preferences. The focus is on decision-making behavior on issues where there is an observable conflict of subjective interests as revealed by policy preferences. Criticism of this view, is that power is not only reflected in concrete decisions. Individuals can limit decision-making to non-controversial issues by keeping certain topics off the agenda and argued that power should be analysed by two-dimensional model of power. According to Lukes, the two-dimensional view of power is limited in that it focuses only on observable conflicts, whether overt or covert.

Lukes claims power can also by influencing, shaping, or determining his wants and preferences. Another second criticism is that this view is too committed to behaviorism, that is to the study of concrete decisions, whereas inaction can also be the outcome of socially structured and culturally patterned collective behavior. The third point on which this view is seen as inadequate is in its claim that non-decision-making power only exists where there are grievances which are denied entry into the political process in the form of issues. However, Lukes argues that power can be also exercised by preventing grievances – by shaping perceptions and preferences in such a way as to secure the acceptance of the status quo since no alternative appears to exist, or because it is seen as natural and unchangeable. This he refers to as the ‘insidious’/invisible third dimension of power, through which the relatively powerless came to internalise and accept their own condition, and thus might not be aware of nor act upon their interests in any observable way.

Lukes’ ‘third face’ of power was inspired by Gramsci’s ideas about ‘hegemony’ and ‘manufacture of consent’ as the means by which the willing compliance of workers is secured in capitalist societies. In practical terms, Gramsci’s insights about how power is constituted in the realm of ideas and knowledge – expressed through consent rather than force. Lukes contrasts two meanings of hegemony: the first as an unconscious psychological process that is cultural and internalised, and the second a more conscious, wilful and coordinated strategy of domination.

Hinson and Healey (2003, 4) further write that ‘[Invisible power] is exercised in part through control of the institutions that shape and create meaning: religious institutions, the media, mass consumer culture, popular ideas about government, etc.’

Although the concept of power is used, it is itself is highly contested. What accounts for the highly contested nature of the concept of power? One explanation is that how we conceptualize power is shaped by the political and theoretical interests that we bring to the study of power Lukes 2005, p63.  Some theorists define power as getting someone else to do what you want them to do (power-over) whereas others define it more broadly as an ability or a capacity to act (power-to). Many very important analyses of power in political science, sociology, and philosophy presuppose the former definition of power (power-over).

As Steven Lukes notes, Dahl’s one-dimensional view of power, Bachrach and Baratz’s two-dimensional view, and his own three-dimensional view are all variations of “the same underlying conception of power, according to which A exercises power over B when A affects B in a manner contrary to B’s interests” (1974, 30). Similarly, but from a very different theoretical background, Michel Foucault’s highly influential analysis presupposes that power is a kind of power-over; and he puts it, “if we speak of the structures or the mechanisms of power, it is only insofar as we suppose that certain persons exercise power over others” (1983, 217). Feminists refer to this kind of relation as a specific kind of power-over relation, namely, one that is unjust and oppressive, they also refer to this kind of relation as ‘oppression’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘subjection’, and domination to those over whom power is exercised, this oppressive power will be discussed below.

For the above section should I include Huner and Mills ways in which way power is used to manage people , manipulation and coercion – see separate document ‘how power works’

Global effects local

While this is local community study, I am drawing upon the study of international developmental work by Gaventa and colleagues. Firstly, they contend that effects of globalisation have changed the spatial relations of power, therefore, power increasingly should be understood not only at the local, national or the global level, but also in their inter-relationships p4 (ESRC undated). The ripple effects of ‘9/11’ in the US and the increase in Islamophobia, the renewed race relations can be seen in this context.

Places where power is held

Although in the past it was the local government who controlled and made the decisions in the city and neighbourhoods, governance is now characterised by multiple intersecting actors, arenas and networks. The decision making arenas in which power may be found have become increasingly more varied and porous. Especially with the increase in arms-length-companies, ‘social enterprises’ (joint private and public projects). Therefore attention to the decision-making in such spaces require equal focus in the study of power and decision makers. Who says they have become more porous?


There are different approaches to understanding and analysing power, I will use the powercube approach offered by by Gaventa and team which is based on Lukes three faces dimensions of power three faces.

The power cube is an analytical device, which can be used – along with other approaches – to reflect on and analyse how strategies for change in turn change power relations:

The approach, developed over the years is largely based on studies of community groups based in southern hemisphere. The theoretical approach grew originally as a way of exploring how powerful actors control the agenda through and the ability of less powerful actors to build their awareness and action for change. 

The powercube is a framework for analysing the levels, spaces and forms of power, and their interrelationship.  It is useful in exploring various aspects of power and how they interact with each other. 

The levels dimension of the powercube refers to the differing layers of decision-making and authority held on a vertical scale, including the local,national and global.

The spaces dimension of the powercube refers to the potential arenas for participation and action, including what we call closed, invited and claimedspaces.

The forms dimension refers to the ways in which power manifests itself, including its visible, hidden and invisible forms.

The powercube can build on and be used to further explore the ‘expression of power’:  ‘power over’, power to’, ‘power with’, and ‘power within’. In the study, where the dominant group have to bring about change for minority groups, expressions of power such as ‘power-over’ by actors who are instructed to make changes. The power lens will also help to identify partnerships which help to generate ‘power-with’ across wider range of actors/ groups. The empirical work should highlight ‘power-within’ as minority communities self-determine within the community to work towards improving their lives. In this respect, the power lens will illuminate sources of ‘claimed space’ by the mobilisation of networks and supporters within the neighbourhood.

John Gaventa takes ‘invisible power ‘further. In the powercube, ‘invisible power’ need not be limited to intentional acts of ‘thought control’ by the powerful, but can also be seen as self-reproducing social processes in which the thinking and behaviour of the powerful and powerless alike are conditioned by pervasive norms.

‘Invisible power’ in the powercube can therefore embrace both meanings of hegemony – its structure and agency – and points to the need for appropriate strategies for engaging with both forms of invisible or internalised power.

This third face of power is likewise treated by VeneKlasen and Miller (2002) as a multidimensional barrier to effective citizen participation, requiring well-designed tactics for building self-awareness, self-esteem and ‘power within’ to challenge dominant norms such as gender and racial discrimination. Their practical methods are grounded in experiences of women’s organising and empowerment, and recognises the direct links between gendered norms in society and the fragile condition of women’s ‘power within’. Invisible power in this sense bridges agency and structure.

The use of power analysis is effective in uncovering/ identifying resistence and compliance to changes rather than relying solely on the formal decision-making process.

Critical race theory

Relationship to other movements

Critical race theory builds on the insights of movements such as anti-racism and radical feminism to which it owes a large debt. CRT also draws from certain European philosophers and theorists such as Steven Lukes, Antonia Gramsci, as well as from the American radical tradition exemplified by such figures as Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Du Bois.

race equality policies are developed by white people/the oppressors themselves.

CRT also shares a sympathetic understanding of group empowerment.


The term ‘race’ is problematic

The term ‘race’ itself is problematic, a clear understanding of the term ‘race’ is paramount in understanding what is ‘racism’ and what impact this has on institutions and people.

While the term ‘race’ is used, Miles and Phizacklea (1982), have suggested that ‘race’ should be dispensed with as an analytic category because the very use of the term reproduces and gives legitimacy to a distinction, existence of different human races, that has no scientific status or validity. Thus, an analytic category helps to perpetuate and legitimises the notion that ‘race’ is a meaningful term (Miles and Phizacklea 1984).

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Although this may be the case at one level, to deny the significance of ‘race’ this also obscures the ways in which it has ‘real’ effects both in material and representational terms (look up this quote and amend) (Anthias 1990). While it is clear that ‘races’ do not exist, in any objective scientific reality, it is clear that it does exist as a category /group which is reflected in political and popular discourse (Solomos). ‘Race’ is a way of constructing differences (Anthias and Yuval-Davis, 1993, Cashmore and Troyna 1983, Gilroy, 1987). ‘Race’ is a social category used in reference to divisions within a particular society. Cashmore and Troyna, suggest that ‘race’ should be seen as a stigmatized identity forced on other people. Similarly, Modood (1988) proposes that ‘race’ relates to ‘mode of oppression’, how a group is categorised and subordinated.

Race theorists such as Bonnet 1993, Gilroy 1987, Brah 1996 and others understand the notion of “races” as a ‘social construct’. As Bhavani argues the development of ‘race’ as a spurious ‘scientific’ category is a consequence of imperialism and colonization. It is this scientificism’ which informed, (and still informs), prevailing ideologies of biological superiority and inferiority among human beings on the basis of ‘race’. Jackson and Penrose (1993) argue that “race” is so rooted in the way we think about the world that we tend to take the category for granted. It is through the apparent “naturalness” and immutability that racist ideology works.

Although the terms “race” and “racism” are themselves contradictory, the terms are useful as a way of categorizing the systematic mistreatment experienced by people from black and minority ethnic communities and is used in this study. Donald and Rattansi (1992) suggest that instead of starting with the question as to whether ‘race’ exists, it is more useful to ask how the category operates and how racial frames of reference are articulated and deployed, and with what consequences’ (p1).

Race and ethnicity used interchangeably

The terms ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are often used interchangeably, the terms are generally distinguished in that “race” evokes a biological and genetic referent while “ethnicity” refers to cultural and religious difference and kinship (Gunaratnam). The term ethnicity has been preferred in some quarters; however, ethnicity is also linked to liberal notions of multi-ethnic societies and multi-culturalism which have a tendency to obscure the force of racism with their celebrations of benign pluralism. Race theorists argue ‘the markers and signifiers that racism uses need not be those of biology and physiognomy but can be those of language, territorial rights or culture (Anthias p24). P.262 Rolston ‘ethnicity’ slowly became term used to discuss the internal conflict in Northern Ireland – not its history, inequalities, structural policies or action. p.257 Rolston use of postmodernist language in policies, work etc. there is not any mention of historical legacies such as Thus the unequal relationships, where the Irish and blacks were the oppressed by the British suppressers is ignored, in a way attempts are made to blank out the history .

Racism works through oppression, and the form of oppression can be through discrimination, bias, prejudice and bigotry Bluemenfeld. Anti-racist theorists have drawn upon theories of oppression to examine how racism works, two key themes are prevalent. Firstly, there is the awareness is a system of oppression that not only stigmatises and affects the dominated group but also does psychic and ethical violence to the dominator group as well. The second theme is that racism functions not only through overt, conscious prejudice and discrimination but also through unconscious attitudes and behaviours of a society that presumes an unacknowledged but pervasive white cultural supremacy. The concept of unmarked and unacknowledged norms bolsters the power position of the dominant group. For instance, by group identities, the dominant group have positive value, while labelling the dominated groups as ‘minorities’.

While in the UK, racism is popularly understood to be ‘white’ people having power over ‘black’ people, Rolston points to anti-Irish racism, which exists in the UK.

Rolston argues there are similarities between black oppression and Irish national oppression. In both cases, the root cause of conflict and inequalities is not addressed but hidden behind a veil of multiculturalism which is articulate through the use of postmodernist language. ‘Ethnicity, diversity, integration, tolerance, difference,cultural awareness is considered to be all that is needed.

The study of racism has shown that it operates through systems of oppression. This often involves a dominant group who knowingly or unknowingly exploit and reap unfair advantage over members of subordinate or target groups (Johnson 2004). The dominant group also has economic, political or social, power over the subordinate group. (Essed and Goldberg 2002)suggests that racism is created through routine practices by people. They describe racism as both ‘structure’ and ‘process’. It is structure because dominance and discrimination exists and is reproduced through the formulation and application of rules, laws, and regulations and through access to and the allocation of resources. As a process, it exists in the everyday practice where it is reproduced and reinforced, adapting continually to the ever-changing social, political and economic societal conditions. It becomes ‘normal’ to the dominant group to see ‘others’ as different and inferior particularly in relation to the colour of their skin (Bhavnani 2005). ‘Everyday racism’ refers to forms of discrimination that manifest themselves in ‘systematic, recurrent, familiar practices’. ‘Everyday racism’ ‘is infused into familiar practices, it involves socialized attitudes and behaviour’ (Johnson 2004).

Racism also serves to deny full participation in economic, social, political and cultural life by the essence that they posit (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992; (Gunaratnam 2003). However, there is not a unitary system of signification that can be labelled racist nor is there a unitary perpetrator or victim. This position requires addressing the ways in which the categories of difference and exclusion or the bias of class, gender and ethnicity incorporate processes of racialisation and are intertwined in producing racist discourses and outcomes Anthias (1992 (p3). Include different levels that racism can operate from SCIP (Pincus).

There more ‘ethnicity’ and ‘culture matters the more its characteristics are represented as relatively fixed, inherent within a group, transmitted from generation to generation, not just by culture and education, but by biological inheritance (Gunaratnam 2003). Cultural difference has largely displaced the notion of biological difference, as a basis for excluding or inferiorising, both in discourse and practice (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992) and recently ‘faith’ has been used as categorising difference (Cantle 2007). Anthias and Yuval-Davis (1992) argue that exclusionary practices that are formulated on the categorization of individuals into groups whereby ethnic or ‘racial’ origin are the criteria of access or selection then they are endemically racist. They content that racism is not just about beliefs or statements, but about the ability to impose those beliefs or world-views as hegemonic, and as a basis for denial of rights or equality. Racism is thus embedded in power relations of different types.

Whilst it is known that racism is not only carried out by white people but also by black people, it should not be confused with the occasional mistreatment experienced by whites, with the systematic and institutionalized mistreatment experienced by people of colour (Anthias and Yuval-Davis 1992).

The studies of oppressive behaviour, attitudes and structures have been studied by other oppressed categories such as feminists. Iris Young has oppression names a family of concepts and conditions, which can be divide into 5 categories: exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence (Young).

Marxist explanations of racism is that class divide.

In using the concept of ‘race’ there is the danger of essentialising difference. There are difficulties and contradictions involved in working with the concept, as other concepts such as gender, class, sexuality, ableism also impact on how people live. Hall further argues that the interactive nature of racial or gender categories should be recognised as a complex process and a set of factors through which identity is formulated and contested. Constructions of ‘race’ as of class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity interact, fuse with or displace each other in an on-going process of confrontation and negotiation (Hall, 1992).


Institutional racism

While institutional discrimination had been recognised by anti-racist to exist, it was as significant marker in racism in that institutional racism was publicly exposed and put on the political agenda in the Macpherson Inquiry published in 1999. (Back et al 2002).

For the purposes of the Inquiry the concept of institutional racism which was applied was – “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people” 6.34

Oppression can also be structural. Its causes are embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules. Some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions, media and cultural stereotypes and structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms – in short, the normal processes of everyday life Young.

Need to bring social structures and institutional contexts under evaluation as these are at least partly the cause of patterns of distribution of jobs or wealth. Young has noted three primary categories- decision-making structures and procedures, division of labour and culture (p22). Young argued that ‘Justice should refer not only to distribution, but also to the institutional conditions necessary for the development and exercise of individual capacities and collective communication and cooperation’ (p37

Power to omit – The decision makers have the power to keep and control the topic on the agenda for discussion. Thus by not addressing issues which are pertinent to minority groups the decision makers collaborate in the discrimination.

Impact of racism on BME and WHITE communities

The impact of racism in British society can be seen in the racialised and gendered forms of class exploitation either as homeworkers or in low-waged occupations on employers premises (Amrit Wilson).

Race significantly affects black women’s experiences of treatment in areas such as education, the health service and the labour market (Brah 1991). The influence how black people are represented in popular culture and the mass media (Modleski 1986)

Points to include in definition of racism

From the discussion above, the following points have been identified as appropriate to include in the working definition of the term racism which will be used in this study.

Although the terms “race” and “racism” are themselves contradictory, the terms are useful as a way of categorizing the systematic mistreatment experienced by people from black and minority ethnic communities (BME).

The systematic mistreatment experienced by people from BME communities is a result of institutionalized inequalities in the social structure. In denying people from BME communities, full participation in economic, political and social power, a self-perpetuating imbalance occurs. This imbalance consistently favours members of some ethnic and cultural groups at the expense of others. The consequences of this imbalance pervade all aspects of the social system and affect all facets of people’s lives.

The systematic mistreatment of any group of people generates misinformation about them, which in turn becomes the ‘explanation’ of or justification for continued mistreatment. Racism exists as a whole series of attitudes, assumptions, feelings and beliefs about people of colour and their cultures which are a mixture of misinformation, fear and ignorance.

Participation and citizenship

Participation of general population – Big Society

Although the concept of participation or community participation as it is often known, has been around since 1970s?, in the UK it has re-emerged with renewed vigour in the last decade. ‘Participation’ and ‘engagement’ are terms used intermittently today. While there are differences in the meaning of these terms there is also a lot of overlap. These terms are associated with the importance of involving wider groups of people in decisions, services and design, it is often thought services should be client-led, user-led for the service to be more effective.

Concerns about a ‘democratic deficit’ in the accountability of public services, and an increasing view that lay citizens, members of the public and service users have an important contribution to offer to the improvement of public-service provision, have given rise to a variety of new initiatives in local government, health and social care, and other fields (see, e.g., Barnes, Newman and Sullivan, 2007).

Race perspective – Participation from citizens’ rights to citizens’ responsibilities

Participation allows people to be part of the democratic process, sense of belonging, and part of the decision making.

However, the process of racial discrimination excludes black people from fully participating in society and being equal members in all the structures of the society. It is often the case, black people’s role is limited to being the ‘clients’ ‘service-users’. Black people are excluded from participating to a greater extent.

The multiculturalism policies did not address the deep rooted racism epidemic within the UK. It was merely about steel drums and samosas.

As discussed earlier, racism excludes black people from fully participating in societies.


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