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Public Opinion: It’s a Social Thing

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If you are one of those who likes to think society is just a collection of individuals, well, think again.  There’s a nice piece in today’s Independent by Terence Blacker following on from yesterday’s furore about the Home Secretary.

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The Home Secretary’s Films

Monday, March 30, 2009

I’m having to be very careful not to use the P word today because I don’t want Google bringing forth all sorts of undesirable adverts. But you will all know what I’m talking about.  But what about the sociology of the matter?

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Quick Quiz 4 Answers

Answers to Quick Quiz 4 I’m sure this won’t have been too difficult.  If you’re unsure of any of the terms, check them up. Make sure you know and can use the terms appropriately.

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Quick Quiz 4

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quick Quiz 4 - Marxism and The Family Here you are, a very quick quiz on the Marxist view of the family; or at least, a bit of it.  Fill in the gaps, answers will follow in a later posting - probably tomorrow - with an obvious heading so you can find it.  It’s important in sociology to learn the technical vocabulary and use it; it makes life easier for you - believe it or not - and helps convince examiners that you actually know what you’re talking about.  Don’t read too much into the length of the gaps - that just reflects the practical difficulties in producing a test like this.

Good luck.

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Has Work Really Changed?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It’s worth dropping by Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Aloud radio programme every now and then for interesting snippets of sociological interest. Taylor used to be Professor of Sociology at York University and he is a great populariser for sociology and the social sciences. Today he is discussing the changing nature of work with Professor Kevin Doogan and the politics and sociology of climate change with Prof. Tony Giddens.

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Who Says Status is Dead?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to Stand Out in a Crowd It just so happens that I was booking up a flight for my summer holiday yesterday. I’m not surprised to be asked to give a ‘Title’, amongst the requests for credit card numbers and so on.  But I was surprised by the range of titles available.

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Jade Goody and Class

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jade, the Underclass and the Media Following my blog yesterday, I’ve found a rather interesting article on Goody by Johann Hari in The Independent.

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Jade Goody

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jade, Class, Health and the Media Today the opinion and leader columns are full of the news of Jade Goody’s death.  So, what more can sociology say about this, stranger than fiction episode?

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Quick Quiz 3 Answers

Friday, March 20, 2009

Answers to Quick Quiz 3  The answers to Quick Quiz 3 are below.

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Quick Quiz 3

A Few Questions about Research Methods
Here’s a quick quiz on research methods. Questions below, answers in a separate posting.

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Language and National Identity

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ethnicity, Language and National Identity Yesterday’s leader from The Daily Mail gives a lot of food for thought on this topic. Our national identity may often be considered to be something ‘natural’ and inevitable, and even something which transcends politics. In fact, I’d argue it’s all about politics- in the sense of power and conflict between different social groups.

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Public Ownership of the Mass Media

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Here’s an answer to my question from yesterday:

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Media Ownership and the BBC

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ownership and Control of the Media In the news today is discussion of Tory plans to freeze the BBC licence fee for one year.  Now, I may just be talking about my own inadequacies, but I always get the feeling that the textbooks and the way we teach the media topic are slightly detached from the way the issue is discussed in the papers and on TV.  And certainly, I’m forever hearing people - students and teachers it has to be said - moaning about how out of date the texts, and indeed the discipline itself can be on this topic. So how can we relate the licence fee debates to what we learn about mass media in sociology?

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Latest Crime Statistics

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Sun’s Take on the Latest Crime Stats The Sun says we can’t trust the latest crime stats - statistics alone cannot reveal the truth about crime. Which begs the question, what can?

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No Country for Old Men

Sunday, March 15, 2009


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Quiz 2 Answers

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quiz 2 Answers Quiz 2 answers are below. Don’t look until you have done as much as you can.

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Quick Quiz 2

Quiz 2 The Family and Households Students need quizzes. Here’s my latest. They are just very simple, quick, messy stuff - no proper marks.  Just use it to help remind you of some basics.
1. What is structural differentiation and who talks about it?
2.  What are the names of the two sociologists who criticised Parson’s views on the isolated nuclear family on the basis of historical accuracy?
3. What is the name of the 1960s psychiatrist who criticised the family?
4.  What are LATs?
5. What is a nuclear family?
6.  What is the difference between a family and a household?
7.  What is polygamy?
8. What is assortative mating?
9.  Name one matriarchal society.
10. Who wrote ‘The Sociology of Housework’?

Media Effects

Media Effects - Does Advertising Work There’s a nice piece of anecdotal evidence in Mark Lawson’s column in The Guardian today which should be useful for any student studying the Media option at AS level.

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Shift Happens

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Shift Happens Today lets take a look at an incredibly powerful and provocative online presentation on education and social change. It was made by some American high school teachers a couple of years ago and its become quite well known in some educational circles.  Dig in.

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Research Ethics

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


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Who Pays for Sociology?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who Pays for Sociology, Who Wants Sociological Research? Students are often a bit perplexed about who the hell sociologists are anyway, and who pays them. So - a few remarks on this.

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The Myerson Family

Monday, March 09, 2009

The downside of Family Life Like Libby Purves in The Times I’ve been trying to avoid mentioning the Myerson’s, but as everyone else is, well, why not? Whatever your views on the rights and wrongs of the case, for the sociology student it does at least offer a fresh example to put alongside all that rather tired stuff in the textbooks about R.D. Laing, and what the texts and specifications love to call ‘the dark side’ of the family.

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Watch the Earth Breathing

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sociology should take you around the World I heard about this website called Breathing Earth on the BBC’s Click programme.  OK, the AS/A2 specs don’t have much about demography, but not everything worth learning is always on the syllabus or comes up in an exam.

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Age Old Problem

Friday, March 06, 2009

Is Age a Natural Phenomenon I’ve always had trouble convincing students that age is -at least in part - a social construction. Now at last, here’s a bit of evidence to help me in my battle against the forces of darkness (students - whoops, no, only joking). The Independent reports a judgement from the European Court which rejected claims that the UK policy on retirement amounted to age discrimination.  Look in The Guardian and you’ll see their leader certain thinks it’s about time we changed our laws about retirement.  And ‘Motty’- football commentator John Motson - thinks he’s better than ever, age 63.

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Are all state schools equal?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

School Admissions I’ve always said, only half jokingly, to anyone who would listen - If you want a successful school, choose your pupils carefully. So it’s nice to see Peter Wilby agreeing with me.

The surest way to turn a bad school into a good one is to change the pupils who attend it, according to Peter Wilby in The Guardian. Wilby argues thus:

The government tries to make allowances for differing intakes by publishing ‘value-added’ scores. If parents took this seriously they would clamour to send their children into Islington and Lambeth, and away from Kent, but they don’t. In effect, then, schools are judged on their intake. If one school achieves a better intake, the less able children blight another nearby school. The latest big idea to overcome this is to introduce random allocation (crudely, lotteries). But the idea is fraught with practical difficulties. The truth is that Britain has a problem with school admissions because it is a grossly unequal society. Schools wouldn’t have such grossly dissimilar intakes if extremes of wealth and disadvantage were not so great.We need to face the truth. Britain has a problem with school admissions because it is a grossly unequal society, in which rich and poor are segregated. Schools wouldn’t have such grossly dissimilar intakes - and such dramatically contrasting results - if extremes of wealth and disadvantage, which Labour has reduced only marginally if at all since 1997, were not so great. The never-ending debate about pupil admissions and bad schools is a diversion. We have a social and economic problem, and we have to tackle that before we have a hope of curing educational problems.

No marks for guessing which sociological perspectives that comes from.  As I’ve indicated, Wilby’s point of view also reflects my own viewpoint.  But let’s exercise the sociological imagination; how would opposing theoretical perspectives counter this argument?

Ann Widdecombe on Zero Tolerance

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Fear of Crime and Zero Tolerance You might not expect a sociology teacher to be directing you to articles by ex-Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe in The Express but teachers need to challenge stereotypes and point out sociological ideas wherever they may be lurking. By the way, The Express website is not right up to date so it may take a day or two for the article to turn up on line. Anyway, to cut to the chase, in today’s paper, Widdecombe bemoans the spread of the fear of crime throughout the UK - and indeed, its a problem which has been noted by those from many different positions in the political and sociological spectrum.

Widdecombe argues that the way to reduce fear of crime is to rekindle trust and a key element in doing that, she says, is to take a zero tolerance approach to crime. Zero tolerance is a policy approach but it has roots in several sociological theories: right realism, communitarianism, and control theory. The weaknesses of an approach like zero tolerance are that it operates with a highly selective view of crime, usually focusing on street crime, theft and violence. Important as these are, they are only one element of crime.  Zero tolerance also tends to share the assumption of the right realists that crime starts small and inevitably gets worse - which may not always be the case. It also tends to assume that there is a consensus in society about what crime is - or in Widdecombe’s case - that there is a consensus about what people are frightened of. It would be interesting to consider whether different social groups are frightened of different things.

City Boy Warns of End of Capitalism

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Sociology Makes the City Pages OK, my title is a bending it a bit, but still, its good to see a bit of sociology appearing in the financial pages, even if you argue that you might expect that in The Independent. The first seven paragraphs or so of Stephen King’s article in yesterday’s Independent provide a useful piece of stimulus material which can help sociology students evaluate Marxist theory. It does nicely illustrate the point that the theories of society prevalent at any particular time tend to reflect the dominant assumptions and conditions. Can we expect Marxism, after a lull since the heady days of the late 70s and early 80s, to suddenly become more fashionable? And if the Chief Economist of HSBC thinks its worth knowing a bit of sociology, its worth taking a note. Mind you, the reader comment/s underneath King’s article show that not everyone is so impressed. Indeed, critics of HSBC might say this explains everything - see elsewhere in the business pages and todays’ Independent for more on HSBC’s troubles.

6 Nations Sociology

Monday, March 02, 2009

Scotland v Italy Call me a bitter Englishman if you must, but during a tough weekend’s couch spectating, I couldn’t help noting a brief sociological point during the Scotland/Italy match.

McLean makes a try-stopping tackle on Danielli.

But who is playing for who? Well, obviously, as soon as I say that, you’ll guess. Luke McLean was playing for Italy and Danielli for Scotland. And of course only a year or two back there was Dallaglio of England and Marsh (I think?) of France. And doubtless you can find or know of others.

Luke McLean is a Kiwi (New Zealander) who gets Italian eligibility from his grandmother. Danielli - I don’t know about for sure. I may be wrong - and apologies if so -  but it sounds like there’s some Italian ancestry somewhere in the family with a name like that.

So what’s all this about? What’s the sociology?


Discuss - can you think of any more examples?

Mickey Mouse Degrees?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mickey Mouse Degrees There was a provocative little package on BBC 24 yesterday, warning that there are too many graduates chasing too few jobs; there will apparently be around 300,000 graduates this year and only about 30,000 graduate jobs. Unfortunately the package doesn’t seem to have been posted up on the BBC website. Maybe it will turn up soon, but nonetheless it is certainly food for thought for all sociology students.  Check out this article in The Guardian which shows one reason why the package was newsworthy.  John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, wants more vocational degree courses.  Predictably the BBC dragged on Chris Woodhead, former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, to slate what he called ‘Mickey Mouse Degrees’. Woodhead says there are too many bad degree courses, and students are simply taking on a lot of debt to do courses which won’t guarantee them a job and which employers do not value.

Time to apply some sociological skills. Which perspective best explains the expansion of higher education in the UK over the last few years? Is it the Marxist or the Functionalist account? For a Weberian take on the ‘Mickey Mouse’ charge, see below.

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End of the Week Quick Quiz 1

Friday, February 27, 2009

Quick Quiz 1 OK, here’s a very brief, and I’m afraid today, a rather messy quiz.  In future I’ll aim to make this available as loadable documents, but today, well, needs must.  Today the quiz has questions mainly focussing on a couple of AS topics. It’s hard to know exactly what readers are teaching/studying at the moment, but I hope this will be a useful ten or fifteen minute filler for all.  If you’d like to comment on the format, types of questions, please do so.

So, here we go. 1. What’s the term for using a variety of research methods? 2. Name two functionalist sociologists. 3. Who wrote the book, ‘The Rise of the Meritocracy’? 4. How many ‘aptitudes’ were identified in the 1944 Education Act and what were they? 5. What sort of theoretical perspective does the sociologist Howard Becker adhere to?  6. What is the means of production? 7. Which Spanish sociologist wrote ‘The Information Age’? 8. How many universities are there in the UK? 9. Who recently said that institutional racism was no longer a problem in the Metropolitan Police Force? 10. Which American sociologist developed the concept of an underclass?  Answers below - don’t cheat!

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Teenage Pregancies

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Teenage Pregnancy - Are we having a moral panic? Well well, who says the family is a boring topic? The case of Alfie Patten the other week seems to have provoked quite a bit more coverage on the topic. As The Guardian reported last week, such reports aren’t always quite so simple as they seem.

Today and yesterday the saga continues, with an interesting episode of The Moral Maze and a nice interview with nightclub owner Peter Stringfellow on today’s Daily Politics.

It’s all kicking off, but before your class erupts into debate lets try to tie down a few sociological issues. Are we in the midst of a (nother) moral panic about teenage pregnancy? Stan Cohen, who developed the concept, said that moral panics always involved several stages. First there was the identification of a social problem. It is reported in a sensationalised and distorted fashion leading to further reports and a spiral of official action.  All of these stages act only to ‘amplify’ and distort the original problem. 

Another useful concept which can be applied here is Howard Becker’s notion of moral entrepreneurs. These are people who have the power to create or enforce rules, and they can in effect ‘profit’ by drawing attention to deviance and infractions of society’s rules. 

Are we seeing a moral panic about teenage pregnancy? Who, if anyone, do you think is acting in the role of moral entrepreneur in the current round of reporting.

Disability and Media Representation

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dustbins for Disavowal? News today that David Cameron’s disabled son, Ivan, has died, ought to prompt us to reflect on the way that disability is socially constructed, as well as the way that the media represent disability.  The sociologist Tom Shakespeare, who himself suffers from achondroplasia, argues that the media overwhelmingly presents disability in a negative light. Now you may find this a puzzling viewpoint, but Shakespeare argues that the ‘disabled’ are in fact often very able; it all depends what sort of abilities you are talking about. Moreover, Shakespeare has made the point that his difficulty in using the London Underground largely arises from the way it has been designed - without regard for achondroplasics - dwarfs.  If you make buildings which assume that everyone is a certain height and has two arms and two legs, then those who do not have those physical capabilities will find movement difficult. 

Tom Shakespeare comes up with the memorable line that contemporary culture portrays the disabled as ‘dustbins for disavowal’. What he means is that society tries to ignore the disabled and in a way to try and deny their very existence.

How could you sociologically research and test these claims?

The Sociology of Primark

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Sociology of Primark

As promised yesterday here’s a few brief thoughts about Primark. First though, a quick reference back to yesterday’s posting, given that Gail Trimble - or was it Corpus Christi - actually won University Challenge. As I said yesterday, a few questions about football could have swung the result the other way.  Ahem, so you may note, knowledge is not just about class; it is also gendered.

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Slumdog Millionaire v Trimble

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome back after what I hope has been a great half-term break for you all. I’ve been busy myself with a sociologically stimulating visit to Primark (see more tomorrow) and a trip to the cinema to catch Slumdog Millionaire. But now, the big question of the day is - where do you stand in regard to Slumdog v Trimble?  You must all know who Trimble is surely? The new found star of Univesity Challenge who seems able to rack up points with her brain still in first gear. The poor girl has come in for a fair bit of criticism on the web, but that’s showbiz for you. But irrespective of where you stand on the Trimble like/dislike issue, the whole incident is nicely pulled into sociological perspective by Slumdog.  The lead character, Jamal Malik has some interesting lines when he’s being questioned by the police.  The general thrust of questioning is - how could some character from the slums know enough to answer all the questions on Millionaire? One implication is that only by cheating could he have done so well.  Another is that the poor are stupid.

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On the Buses - New Wars of Religion?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Whatever happened to secularization? An article in today’s Independent got me thinking about secularization- not for the first time in recent months. Tony Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College London,  welcomes the launch of a national federation of atheist, humanist and secular societies, saying it’s one of the brightest things to have happened this winter. Grayling’s own slant is that the discipline of the scientific approach to life “makes short work of the foundation of today’s religions, which lie in the ignorance of people living several millennia ago.” 

Well, I’m not a signed up believer myself, but even to my sceptical ears that sounds just a bit harsh. Religion though is surely becoming a fascinating topic area, invigorated by a contemporary revival of religious debate.  You’ve no doubt seen some of the press coverage of Richard Dawkins following publication of his book ‘The God Delusion’ back in 2006, yet still bobbing up on the media radar.  For me the most intriguing sights have been the posters stuck on to London buses, one set of ads proclaiming that God exists and a rival ad refuting the claim!

With all this social activity, I just find it difficult to see how those such as Prof Steve Bruce can so confidently assert that we do in fact live in a secularized society. Maybe we need to turn more to Durkheim? Or maybe science and religion can in fact, co-exist in a world where knowledge is perhaps more contested than some of the sociology books have sometimes tended to imply.

Sociology and the Financial Crisis

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Durkheim and the Financial Crisis If you’re interested in reflecting on what sociology can tell us about the financial crisis, then follow the link to an episode of R4’s Thinking Allowed. Laurie Taylor talks with Steven Lukes about the relevance of Durkheim’s analysis.  It’s good stuff.  For Durkheim, periods of economic crisis lead to the breakdown of norms and values - and the way in which they are regulated.  The resulting anomie - literally normlessness - leads to a reduction in social integration and an increase in egoistic suicide.  Lukes recalls the testimony of one of his students in New York who lives in a block favoured by finance workers. Back in October the day that the news of Lehman brothers broke, there was an extremely sombre mood, streaked with small-scale aggressive behaviour. As Lukes notes, its a social condition with psychological effects. R4 Thinking Allowed - Durkheim and the Financial Crisis

Tabloid Crimes

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I was intrigued to read the thoughts of Stephen Pollard in today’s Daily Express.  Pollard is one of many journalists - tabloid and broadsheet - who like to point out how soft the criminal justice system is.  But it’s interesting to look at his article from a sociological perspective. Pollard picks up two recent cases which he believes illustrate how our justice system has been corrupted by liberal do-gooders. A man in Scotland has been imprisoned for two months for a breach of the peace, after he broke into a drug dealer’s house and flushed the man’s heroin down the toilet.  In another case -widely reported yesterday- a Portugeuse lorry driver was jailed for three years after six people died in an accident caused by his negligence. 

Firstly, a socio-legal point. The idea of the rule of law means that nobody is above the law. If someone has sold your child drugs, that does not give you the right to take the law into your own hands and commit a crime in the course of administering what you consider to be a fair punishment.  Sociologically - it’s interesting how some people or groups of people (I include journalists!) seem to think that the law does not apply to them.

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A Higher Class of Failure?

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Rich are Different From You and I- It was Ernest Heminway who swiftly replied to this assertion - “Yes, they have more money”. Ah, yes, but are they more intelligent?

There’s an interesting angle on the appearance of top bankers before the Treasury Select Committee on Friday in today’s Telegraph. Andy Hornby, former chief executive of HBOS was- predictably perhaps- asked what qualifications he had in banking. Hornby had to reply that he had none; although he was able to say that he had an MBA from Harvard and had specialised in all the finance courses.  Not sure if that’s exactly the sort of ringing endorsement the Harvard Business School will be keen to publicise, but there it is. So the question arises - does the education system (consider the UK and the US as essentially the same) really select the best and the brightest?

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Moral Decline and Moral Panic?

There’s a thoughtful piece in The Times today from David Aaronovitch which covers a number of issues of interest to sociologists. You may have caught an episode of the Channel 4 series, “Boys and Girls Alone”. It’s a bit like a televised version of Lord of the Flies. The programme has been heavily criticised by viewers and in the press. The programme makers have defended themselves against criticism by arguing that the programme is a valuable social experiment that tells us a great deal about human nature. but Aaronovitch is critical of the idea that the programme is in any way a valuable social experiment. As Aaronovitch goes on to argue, people moan on about CCTV and ID cards, yet are prepared to connive in the invasion of the privacy of minors in this way, simply to be entertained, or to have their prejudices about youngsters apparently confirmed.

Aaronovitch also links in a comment about the case of the 13-year-old father Alfie Patten, arguing that it is depressing, although predictable that what he calls the ‘moral declinists’ should choose to use the Patten baby as a symbol of our broken society.

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Welcome to the Sociology Blog

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Welcome to our new Sociology Blog.  The aim of this blog is to provide sociology teachers and students with resources, news and other materials which help support their studies.  We’ll try to cover a wide range of topics across the GCSE and A Level specifications.

Would you like to contribute to this blog?  Experienced or enthusiastic sociology teachers are welcome to join the authoring team.  Blogging is a rewarding process and a great CPD activity too!  If you would like to get involved, please contact tutor2u using this form

Sociology Categories

Friday, February 01, 2008

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