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Identifying types of evidence

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In sociological essays it is imperative that you substantiate statements of fact, facts you may think "everyone knows". Many ideas or "facts" are actually assumptions or even myths that have often taken on the status of fact. Also be wary of using the grand generalisation - much of what you experience is determined by your particular social and cultural as well as geographical location. Don't assume it is everyone's experience in Australia, or in the world!

Question 1

Read the following extract from a student's essay on the mass media and gender stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that, in the media, "the notion that men are 'breadwinners' and women are 'nurturers' remains prominent?"

Although the number of dual-income families has risen tremendously in recent years, the notion that men are "breadwinners" and women are "nurturers" remains prominent. The media's reinforcement of the idea that men are naturally better suited to prestigious professional jobs is illustrated through the overall greater coverage of males in powerful positions. Research shows that men appear in news photographs as much as twenty times more often than women (Jolliffe, 1996: 99). Furthermore, women are almost always the subjects of commercials concerning the house, kitchen appliances and baby products; when career women are represented, they are usually shown to hold traditional female occupations such as teaching and nursing (Creedon, 1989; 17).

Your answer:

This stereotype is further developed through the juxtaposition of deviance and normality. For instance, programs on parenting frequently emphasise children's need for their mother, using words such as "duty" and "responsibility" to describe motherhood (Schwartz, 1996:75). At the same time, however, films commonly depict the devoted and successful working mother as somehow deviant, for she is neglecting her family. Meanwhile, the media's positive portrayal of the hard-working man acts to reinforce the idea that employment is primarily a male's field (Joliffe, 1996: 103). The consistency of the mass media's understated differentiation of roles on the basis of gender allows them to construct these stereotypes, and to influence audiences to accept them as "natural" (Blonski et al., 1987: 292).

Your answer:

Question 2

Read the following extract from an essay on the mass media and ethnic stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that "the media frequently present Europeans as the dominant group whose values and cultural behaviours are the Australian way of life"?

The media frequently present Europeans as the dominant group whose values and cultural behaviours are the Australian way of life, meanwhile marginalising various ethnic minorities and depicting them as "others" (Jackson, 1996: 66). This systematic stereotyping is achieved through both the extent and the type of representation various ethnic groups receive (Campbell, 1995: 69). The mere fact that the majority of people appearing in the media are European Australians positions viewers to associate the typical Australian with European origins (Jakubowicz, et al., 1994:79). A lucid example of this is the ethnicity of residents on such shows as Neighbours and Home and Away - the fact that almost all of them are of European descent reinforces a perception of normality as being European.

Your answer:

Question 3

Read the following extract from an essay on the mass media and ethnic stereotyping.

What type of evidence is used to support the assertion that the Melbourne media frequently presents a stereotype of Italians as "Mafia standover merchants and thugs" and that this negative image "dominates viewers' perceptions"?

An illustration of such ethnic stereotyping is the presentation of Italians in the Melbourne media. This minority group has come to take on the profile of Mafia standover merchants and thugs. Since the media provide no opening for other Italian spokespeople to place criminal groups in the context of a much larger social grouping who are appalled by the violence and extortion, this negative image of Australian Italians continues to dominate viewers' perceptions.

Your answer:

Question 4

There are two further points to consider. Firstly, in using evidence, it is important to keep in mind the age of the study.

Read the following description of a study in an essay on the representation of gender in the media. Do you think that a similar study undertaken today would have similar findings?

In 1972 the New York City Chapter of the National Organisation for Women (NOW) conducted the first major study, which focused on television commercials for women. One thousand, two hundred and forty-one commercials were examined. Results showed that almost all women in advertisements were situated at home, with 42.6 percent of the women involved in household chores, 37.5 percent were presented as accessories to men; 16.7 percent as sex objects, and only 0.3 percent of the women were analysed by the NOW to be autonomous individuals.

Check your answer


This study probably fairly accurately reflects the roles of men and women at the time the study was undertaken. Older studies can provide useful data regarding social relations and institutions from previous times, and in demonstrating trends in social change; however, for the purposes of an essay on current media representations of gender, clearly more recent studies are required.

Question 5

A second point to consider is the context of the study.

Read the following summary of a study. What information do you think is missing?

Research has shown that women make up for two thirds of adult viewing audience on weekday afternoons during standard working hours.

Check your answer


The most obvious piece of information that is missing is the country in which this study was undertaken. Also missing is a reference to who conducted the study and when. Other demographic information (e.g. income/education level of participants) would be helpful.

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