G674 OCR Sociology

Social inequality and difference with research methods

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  • Created on: 31-05-13 11:52

Functionalist explanations of inequality

Functionalism is a structural theory based on society having shared values.
Functionalists argue that inequalities have a purpose and are functional for society.

Durkeim and inequality:

- Industrilised societies are complex
- Society needs specialists to undertake the various jobs and roles required to make it run smoothly.
- Harmony comes from people having different jobs, some with higher status than the others
- People accept this as long as they can see the system is fair.
- Conflict may occur however it can be controlled by socialisation.
- Socialisation was the process whereby shared values could be passed from one generation to another. Durkheim argued that education, the family and religion were the three most important agents.

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Functionalist explanations of inequality 2

Parsons and inequality:

- In industrialised societies stratification and therefore inequality exists on the basis of which roles are agreed to be the most important and therefore the most functional for society.
- Agreement occurs because people are socialised into the shared norms and values of society, initially the family and subsequently by education and other agents.
- The value consensus that results is what holds society together and it gives it social order. Sharing a common identity gives people a sense of purpose and a commitment to the maintenance of society.
- These values also give people common goals such as to work hard.
- People have a number of roles, an example being the expressive roles that women are mostly naturally suited for and the intrumental roles of men. These roles are ascribed rather than achieved.

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Functionalist explanations of inequality 3

David and Moore and inequality

- Argued that society needs the most talented people to perform the most skilled jobs and therefore has to pay them accordingly and give them high status.
- There is a meritocracy and the most able will through the examination system be allocated to the most important jobs. Their class position will reflect this role allocation.
- There is an expectation that the most talented will be prepared to make sacrifices early on in order to be educated and trained and for this they will be rewarded later.
- The examination system will 'sift and sort' people into appropriate jobs. This means the system is legitimated.
- The stratification that results will ensure thosse at the top work to maintain their position and those lower down try to better themselves.

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Functionalist explanations of inequality EVALUATIO

- People do not all start from the same point, therefore a true meritocracy is not possible.
- Society is not harmonious. There is evidence of conflict between social groups in the form of strikes as well as disaffection amongst, for example young people who cannot get work.
- Differences between men and women are socially constructed.
- There is not a consensus with regard to which are the most important jobs, for example bankers are paid very well but most people would argue nurses are more important to society.
- Some groups start with more power and status and are therefore anle to ensure that their children get access to the education that will mean they get the higher status jobs.
- Life chance are affected by status and wealth and the poor have less access to opportunities to gain status and wealth.
- Tumin argued that going to university is not a sacrifice although many people in the UK would probably argue that it will be as fees go up.
- Merton argues some aspects of society are dysfunctional.
- The work of the functionalists is not supported by empirical evidence, particularly with regard to the idea that there is a value consensus.

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Marxist explanations of inequality

Marxism is a macro theory which is concerned with the structure of society. Marxism explains inequalities by examining the ways in whcih the bourgeoisie expolits and oppresses the proletariats. Inequalities are the result of the economic arrangements people make to meet their basic needs.

- The bourgeoisie own the means of production, the proletatiats own their labour power.
- The bourgeoisie exploit the proletariats by keeping their wages low.
- The proletariat are much larger in numbers but because they own nothing but their labour power they are dependent on the bourgeoisie.
- Capitalism survives because the inherent inequalities are either not recohnised or are accepted as just. People believe the system is fair.
- Marx argued if people did not recognise they were being exploited or thought it was just it could be said they had false class consciousness.
- There are some that are aware of their exploitation, they have class consciousness which means they know who the others are in their position and could act with them in opposition to the dominant group EG: the miners in 1984

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Marxist explanations of inequality 2

Bowles and Gintis

- Bowles and Gintis used Marxist ideas to explain how the education system reproduced the ideas of the ruling class and legitimated inequalities...
- Students experience schooling is an alienating one
- School specifically prepares students for their future as workings in a capitalist society
- They aregue that school does not prepare everyone in the same way, it prepares them according to their future position in society
- They argue that schools are not meritocratic and that claiming they are is part of the ruling class ideology persuading people that inequality is fair.

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Marxist explanations of inequality 3


- Braverman argued that inequalities in the workplace are exacerbated by certain factors...
- He argues that there has been de-skilling of white-collar jobs, they have become proletarianised.
- Technology has been the main cause of this.
- He argued that the same has happened to some professions EG: Teachers, they are increasingl regulated and inspected. They are told what to teach and when.
- De-skilling leads to a loss of bargaining power by the wokers concerned and a consequent loss of earnings and conditions relative to others.

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Marxist explanations of inequality EVALUATION

- Marx argued that capitalism would eventually give way to socialism and then to communism, but it clearly has not and despite various crises and recessions, it manages to survive.
- The New Right as well as Functionalists argue that the bourgeoisie are not a united class.
- Postmodernists argue that class is dead and people make their lifestyle choices now.
- Feminists argue that traditional Marxist ignore the gender inequalities women experience.
- The New Right argue that people make their own choices they are not controlled by the ruling class.
Not everyone had a false class consciousness some understand only too well they are being exploited.
- Bowles and Gintis do not allow for exceptions, they take a very deterministc position.

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Weberian explanations of inequality

Weber argued that stratification is not just based on the economic relationship people enter into as Marx argued, but the standing or status a person has and the political influence or power a person has as a result of a political party or trade union. Class, status and party are all linked to power. However he accepted that class is the most important determinant of the three in relation to the acquisition of life chances and inequality.


- Parties are the group/organisation such as political parties, trade unions and pressure groups where people come together to either compete for power or influence those with it.
- The more power a person has the more they are likely to have access to better life chances, but membership of a powerful organisation does not necessarily confer the most power EG: wealthy bankers may still exercise power in opposition to government decision on bonuses.

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Weberian explanations of inequality 2


- Weberianism argues that class is concerned with the production of goods. It is concerned with the ownership of non-ownership of economic resources as well as occupational skills.
- A persons class is based on what they bring to the market place, those who own the most marketable resources such as skills and education will be able to acquire more income and access to life chances giving them advantages.
- Homogeneous classes are not a given, rather within a class there are several layers and there may also be different levels or skill and power. EG: a mechanic is more skilled that a road sweeper therefore will have more power and status.
- People are in the same class if they have the opportunity to obtain the same advantages of others in that class. The opportunity may be through their job EG: a barrister will have more opportunity than a factory manager.
- People can move up and down social classes - socially mobile.
- The middle class is expanding.

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Weberian explanations of inequality 3


- Status is based on a persons social position, prestige or social standing. This is based on the perception of others and of what society generally deems to be high standing.
- Some occupations have high status whilst others in the same class may have less status and more economic captial.
- Status groups compete with one another and practise social closure.
- Crompton 1993 argues that the British ruling class do this as they work to perserve their market position and tend to socialise with those they consider to have the same status as themselves.
- Some status groups spend their money on lifestyles that reinforce their sense of belonging into a status group EG: designer clothes.
- Women and minority ethnic groups oftern have lower status that white males in the class they are located in.

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Weberian explanations of inequality EVALUATION

- Weberian explanations of inequality ignore the power of the bourgeoisie.
- Postmodernists dismiss Weberianism as another grand theory.
- Feminists argue that Weberianism still does not pay enough attention to women, although Neo-Weberians Barron and Norris argue women are often located in the secondary labour market as a result of their relatively low status and pack of power.
- Difficulty of understanding boundary lines between classes.

Similaries and differences to Marxism:

- Weber agreed with Marx that ownership of the means of production is the most important factor in terms of economic rewards and life chances.
- Weber thought class would be unlikely to become class conscious because of the many layers it has.
- Marxists argue status is much more aligned to class than Weber suggests
- Political power is not only based oneconomic power. Inequality for Weber is based on the different life chance people have in the market place whereas for Marx is was about relations based on production.

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Postmodern explanations of inequality

Postmodernist argued that the world was becoming increasingly characterised by uncertainty and diversity which cannot be explained by the old grand narratives that is the traditional sociological theories.
The service sector is now bigger that the primary and secondary sectors. People do not see themselves in class terms, they construct their indentities via the media and what they consume. For postmodernists the key to inequalities lies in the development of the post industrial world and the fact that they production of knowledge has taken precedence over manufacturing.


For postmodernists the media is central, it provides images that can be lived out. The media has lead to a greater diversity by showing the range of what is available. People reflect what they see in the media in what they consume.

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Postmodern explanations of inequality 2

The importance of consumption rather than production:

- Waters 1997 argues that people are enticed by advertising to conspicuously consume and by the image they want to portray.

- Baudrillard 1983 argues that as we consume more and more we are buying images. We move away from social relationships to relationships with what we consume. Consumerism is democratic, we can choose what we want. There is no shared reality, inequality is about the different lifestyle choices people make and not their relationship to the old economic divisions of class.

- Pakulski and Waters 1996 argue that class is dead, to be middle class in the 21st century might for some be the type of property they live in, for others it could be the holidays they take. People are no longer interested in the social and economic relationships of class.

- Wilson 1997 states that the elderly also make lifestyle choices about how they will consume the services on offer to them to satisfy their wants.

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Postmodern explanations of inequality 3


Bradley 1995 suggests that the new identities are created by globalisation, we are exposed to a range of identities and cultural groups. We can choose to be any one of them. She Also argues that people no longer see class as their main identity, it intersects with gender and ethnicity.

Hall 1996 argues that 'new ethnicities' are being developed which are partly a result of globalisation. A process of hybridisation is taking place and is a force for social change. The norm for individuals is complex multiple identies which are constantly shifting and being constested.

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Postmodern explanations of inequality 4

Changing attitudes:

inequalities are shaped by lifestyle choices and a 'pin n mix' culture in which people are constantly changing their identity. People are more concerned with personal identities than with the collective identities of class. These personal identities may be shaped by what they consume, their gender, ethnicity or their experience of living in multicultural societies. Inequality is a reflection of the decisions people make about their identities, more identities have more statue and prestige than others.
Madood 2008 - it is possible to have several identites at a time, there is now a super-diversity in the UK as a result of the range of ethnic groups that live in Britain.
Gilroy - argues that on eof the biggest barriers to change and ending inequalities based on ethnicity is racial solidarity, hybridisation could overcome that barrier. Ethnicities are changing with the emergence of hybrid identities.

Everingham 2003 - argues that life courses do not follow a similar path as a result of individual choices people make, people have their own individual story.

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Postmodern explanations of inequality EVALUATION

- Not all accounts of the world are equally valid, some are more valid than others
- There are many people who live in the reality of poverty and cannot make lifestyle chocies. Poverty is structural and constrains people with regard to the choices they can make.
- Postmodernism benefits the ruling class to retain inequality, thus postmodernism is a view that suits them.
- Manufacturing is still important
- It links to the work of some feminists who argue that some of the 'metanarratives' such as traditional Marxism have either ignored or trivialised gender inequalities.
- Traditional sources of identity such as class, gender and ethinicity are still important.
- Is it not possible to change every aspect of ones identity, some such as age are ascribed

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Explanations of ethnic inequality


Functionalists argue that a stable society is based on shared norms and values, and when migrants come to a country they will eventually be assimilated and inequalities will lessen.
Patterson 1965 espoused a similar view adding that any racism from the dominant group was a result of view, adding that any racism from the dominant group was a result of 'ignorance and confusion - it was not deliberate and would eventually go'


- Solomos and Back 1994 argue assimilation does not lead to a decline in inequalities
- Hall 1978 argues the immigrant-host model reinforced racism and inequalities because it defined minority ethnic groups as they problem and ignored structural inequalities.
- Functionalism fails to acknowlege that minority ethnic groups may wish to retain their own cultures and not be assimilated.

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Explanations of ethnic inequality


Marxist argue that class is the most significant factor in explaining ethnic inequalities. Traditional Marxist (Westergaard and Reslter 1976) argue that the inequalities faced by ethnic minorities are just the same as the inequalities faced by members of the white working class. This is supported by Castles and Kosack 1973 who argues that racial prejudice enables the dominant class to divide those who really have the same class intersts.


Solomos and Back 1994 argue traditional Marxism is inadequate in explaining contemporary issues of inequalities and power. There is no unified working class that opposes the capitalist class.

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Explanations of ethnic inequality


Neo-Marxists argue that the traditional Marxist view is outdated, it is deterministic and does not take into account the racism experience by ethnic minorities.

Miles 1989 argues that the division between the ruling class and the working class is fundamental in a capitalist society, but racist ideology plays an important part in determining the position of minority ethinic groups within classes. He argues classes are racialised.


Golroy takes the view that race and class  are separate but connected. He argues inequalities are produced and then reproduced EG: through the school system.

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Explanations of ethnic inequality


Weberians argue that racial and ethinic inequalities are linked to economics but status and power are also important.
- Parkin 1979 argued class and status are equally important and the middle classes practise social closure to keep out people from minority ethnic backgrounds.
- Rex and Tomlinson argue that there is a racialised underclass. Theya regue the marginalised position of many black and asian people in the UK can be understood in terms of an underclass wich occupies a disadvantaged position in areas such as employement, housing, education and power to make decisions.
- Barron and Norris argue there is a dual labour market, the primary sector is well paid with secure jobs, and the secondary sector is less secure, part time, temporary and non-unionised - minority groups often fall into the secondary sector.


- These views are similar to the neo-Marxist view in terms of racialised class fractions
- New Right theories such as Murrary argue many minority ethnic groups do not attempt to engage with the labour market
- The idea of racialised underclass is not substantiated by evidence.

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Explanations of ethnic inequality


Postmodernists argue that we choose which aspects of each others cultures we wish to have as part of our own identities and so inequalities between ethnic groups are complicated by hybridisation.
Modood argues that what we now have is diversity and difference and explantations for ethnic inequalities should focus on these and on identity. Given this development of hybrid cultures Modood argues that it is difficult to analyse inequalities by ethnic group, it is easier to identify small groups to analyse.


Marxist argue that postmodernists do not take account of the material deprivation that some minority ethinic groups experience and that they focus more on culture and identityt than inequalities.

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Explanations of age inequality

Functionalist explanations:
- Parsons argued that social cohesion is based on age groups knowing their place and their roles.
- Children must be socialised into their adult roles. Eisenstadt agreed and argued that children have less status than adults. They must be taught skills and knowledge to enable them to perform their adult roles.
- The position of the elderly has improved with a statutory retirement age and a state pension, but they lose power and status as their children leave home and they retire.
- ******* and Henry 1961 Older people need to 'disengage' from the workplace in order to make way for ounder ones, this ensures society is contunally refreshed.
- Age groups are not homogeneous. Young people do not always accept what they are taught, some rebel and join sub-cultures.
- Class affects the extent to which young and old are socially included in mainstream society
- Hocky and James 1993 argue that functionalism is over-deterministic, emphasizing conformity and consensus - it fails to address inequalities which are a result of class, gender and ethnicity and seem to imply that the young rebel because society needs them to.
- Youth and old age are socially constructed and this serves to legitimate the separation of people by age and the resulting inequalities.
- Pensions create dependency and a fall in status.
- Hunt 2005 argues that the elderly do not automatically disengage they may wish or need to continue working.

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Explanations of age inequality

Marxist explinations:

- The inadequate state pension leads to some elderly people being dependent on benefits
- Young people without skills and retired people form a reserve army of labour. Both groups have little power and it is easy to hire and fire them.
- The elderly tend to have less disposable income are consequently of less interest to capitalism, they do not produce or consume.
- McDonald and Marsh 2005 found that young people in deprived areas lacked power and status.


- Class divisions between youth subcultures are fleeting, fragmented and fluid
- The reserve army of labour theory does not explain age inequality. It can apply to social groups from any age.
- There is a growing number of elderly with disposable income who have 'consumer power'

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Explanations of age inequality

Feminist explanations:

- Oakly argues that inequalities experienced by children are inextricably linked to those of women and the patriarchal nature of society.
- Children are controlled by adults in relation to the age they can start work, their education, where they play and the use of their time. Some are controlled by abuse and neglect.
- Gannon 1999 argues older women are materially deprived compared to men as a result of time out of employment and the gender pay gap


- Wyness 2006 argues that children are controlled by both men and women.
- The English longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) has identified age inequalities being experienced by the over 50s

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Explanations of age inequality

Postmodernist explanations:

The social significance of age is changing. Age groups have become diverse and fragmented and boundaries are becoming blurred.
- Featherstone and Hepworth 1999 note there is a constant bombardment of messages from the media to try to 'stay young' and delay the ageing process. They call is 'mask of ageing'
- On the other hand, children are being encouraged by the media to take on adult behaviours.
- The wealthier retired are described by Mile et al 1999 as having 'grey power' being conspicious consumers


- Certain lifestyle choices EG plastic surgery, may not be available to those with low incomes.
- Nayak 2003 argues that processes of class and redical disadvantage and social and economic exclusion, impact heavily on youth leisure and culture.
- Shildrick and McDonald 2010 argue that youth sub-cultures emerge as a response to material deprivation in areas such as teesside.

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Explanations of gender inequality

Functionalist explanations:

- Functionalist argue that gender roles in the family are different, not unequal.
- Parsons says that women are suited to expressive roles EG: caring, and men instrumental roles EG: breadwinner
- Murdock supports this view arguing that one of the four functions of the family is to educate children into the accepted norms and values of society which includes their gender roles.

Human capital theory:

Some economists take a similar view, arguing that men have more human capital than women as far as work is concerned. They have greater commitment to work, more experience and undertake more training. It is not a surprise therefore that women will on blanace be paid less and recieve less training and therefore have less chance of promotion.

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Explanations of gender inequality 2

 Marxist explanations

- Abbott and Wallace 2005 argued that Marx marginalised women in his analysis of capitalism.
- Engles argued that the role of the family is to maintain and reproduce the labour force in order to support capitalism.
- The nuclear family enables men to pass on their property. Men need to control women so they know who are their heirs.

Dual labour market theory:

- Has its roots from neo-weberianism Barron and Norris argued that there are two labour markets. The primary one where jobs are secure and well paid, and the secondary one where jobs are temporary, low paid and have less security.
- Workers in the secondary labour market are easily replaced and employers can get away with paying them poor wages compared to those in the primary labout market.
- Women are more likely to be employed in the secondary labour market because employers think they are less interested in work than men.

The dual labour market theory is criticised by Burchell and Rubery 1994 who argue that the division between primary and secondary labout markets is too simplistic. Their research revealved at least five divisions and there were not all gendered.

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Explanations of gender inequality 3

Liberal feminist explanations:
Liberal feminists want equal opportunities for mena and women. They argue this is done by legislation and by changing attitudes.
- They argue that gender roles are socially constructed through the family, education and the media.
- Socialisation leads to gender inequalities. Women are socialised into poassive or subordinate roles and men into dominant ones. Oakly argues that a process of canalisation and manipulation socialised children into specific gender roles.
- Teachers and careers advisors perpetuate the view that women and girl will be good at certain subjects and occupations - Kelly 1987 + Colley 1986
- Girls are still steered towards or still choose gendered subjects.
- Oakly argues that the dominant patriarchal ideology means women are percived as wives and mothers and therefore as secondary in the job market.
- There has been progress with regard to gender roles in the family, men are now doing more childcare and more domestic labour - Hauri and Hollingworth.
- Sommerville 2000 argues that women are now better off, they can get divorced, have access to good jobs and have control over their education and fertility.
- Wilkinson argues that there has been a genderquake as the service sector has increased in size and women are being empowered.

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Explanations of gender inequality 4

Liberal feminist EVALUATION

- Does not take into account of structural contraints women face in the workplace or of their class and ethnicity.
- Assumes socialisation is a passive process and men and women accept what they are told.
- Is criticised by other feminists for working within the partriarchal system rather than against it.
- Tends to focus on the public phere and ignore the private.
- Kacks a common theoretical basis - liberal feminists simly believe social change is possible.

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Explanations of gender inequality 5

Marxist feminist explanations

- Womens oppression is inextricably linked to capitalism
- Women are exploited by capitalism at work and at home, at home they meet the needs of capitalism by reproducing the next generation of workers and looking after the current work force.
- Ansley 1972 - They absorb the frustration and anger of husbands who are themselves exploited at work.
- Women are encourgaged by the patriarchal ideology to believe the system is fair.
- Despite the advent of the new man and some shift in the amount of childcare and domestic work med do, women still do the majority.
- At work they are low paid and form part of the reserve army of labour, they are a cheap source of labour and can be brought in and out of the force as necessary. They are most likely to be part-time.
- They tend to change jobs more frequently due to childcare demands.
- Sexism as well as racism keeps the working class divided.

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Explanations of gender inequality 6

Marxist feminist EVALUATION

- The reserve army of labour fails to explain the gendered nature of jobs.

- Radical feminists argue that marxist feminists pay too little attention of patriarchy.

- Black feminists argue that marxist feminists tend to ignore minority ethnic groups.

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Explanations of gender inequality 7

Radical feminists explanations

- Radical feminists argue that patriarchy is the oldest oppression, men exploit and oppress women.
- The family is the main source of this oppression and some argue that all-female households are the better option.
- Education contributes to patriarchal ideology by reflecting a masculine view of the world through the presentation of subjects and teacher behaviour towards girls and boys.
- They argue tha male domination in society menas women are oppressed and subjected to violence in the home and on the streets.
- Ehrenreich and English 1978 argue that medicine as historically controlled women.

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Explanations of gender inequality 8

Radical feminist EVALUATION

- Marxist feminists sat it is not realistic for radical feminists to suggest not all women share the same or similar experiences, the labour market experiences of middle class and working class women are very different.

- Radical feminists ignore the extent to which progress or gender equality has been made.

- They are accused of ignoring the divisions between women in relation to class and ethnicity.

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love it these are great.

samchiya sultana


Thank you so much love these notes so helpful! 



A great revision set of flashcards for the G674 unit for those struggling to grasp the basics or for those wanting to test their basic knowledge



A great revision set of flashcards for the G674 unit for those struggling to grasp the basics or for those wanting to test their  knowledge and understanding.

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