Just Sociology

The Social Functions of The Apprentice: A Sociological Analysis

The Social Functions of The Apprentice

Since its inception in 2005, The Apprentice has become a staple of British television programming. The show, which features aspiring entrepreneurs competing against one another for the chance to secure investment from Lord Sugar, has been a cultural phenomenon, with millions tuning in each year to watch contestants navigate the challenges of the boardroom.

However, beyond its entertainment value, The Apprentice can also be viewed from a sociological perspective, with various theoretical frameworks offering insights into its social functions. In this article, we will explore The Apprentice through the lenses of functionalism, Marxism, feminism, neoliberalism, postmodernism, and late modernism, illuminating the show’s complex interplay of values, power, and social structures.

Functionalist Perspective

From a functionalist perspective, The Apprentice can be seen as a positive force within society, offering numerous benefits to both individuals and the collective as a whole. The show presents an opportunity for secondary socialisation, as participants learn the norms and values of the business world through their interactions with Lord Sugar and their fellow contestants.

Additionally, The Apprentice promotes a strong work ethic, emphasising the importance of hard work and determination in achieving success. Finally, the show provides opportunities for entrepreneurs, offering a platform through which they can showcase their skills and secure funding to develop their businesses further.

Marxist Perspective

By contrast, a Marxist perspective on The Apprentice highlights the role of false consciousness, inequality of opportunity, and ideological control within the show’s framework. Marxist theorists would argue that the programme contributes to a system of false consciousness, whereby participants are encouraged to believe that their success is solely the product of individual abilities, rather than the result of broader societal structures.

Furthermore, the show’s emphasis on individual success obscures the significant barriers that exist for those who do not have access to economic and social capital, perpetuating existing inequalities. Finally, the programme can be seen as a mechanism of ideological control, creating a narrative of meritocracy that reinforces the status quo and justifies the existing power differentials.

Feminist Perspective

From a feminist perspective, The Apprentice can be critiqued for its framing of gender dynamics. Although the show has made efforts to ensure equal numbers of male and female contestants, the winners of the programme have largely been male, suggesting that significant barriers continue to exist for women in business.

Additionally, the show often portrays gendered stereotypes, presenting women as less assertive and less successful than their male counterparts. While some female contestants on The Apprentice have achieved success, such as Michelle Dawson and Stella English, the show’s broader framing can be seen as perpetuating gendered inequalities.

Neoliberal Perspective

From a neoliberal perspective, The Apprentice can be seen as a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, promoting competition and profit generation. Rather than viewing social problems as the result of structural inequalities, the show focuses on individual solutions and highlights the importance of personal investment and innovation.

However, a critique of capitalism may suggest that The Apprentice simply reinforces existing hierarchies rather than challenging them, with the potential for new entrepreneurial opportunities largely available only to those with the economic and social capital to access them.

Postmodern Perspective

From a postmodern perspective, The Apprentice can be seen as operating within a sphere of production and consumption. The programme is a cultural product, designed to be consumed by audiences and generating significant profit for the production company.

Furthermore, the show’s emphasis on individualism and competition can be seen as reflective of broader cultural trends, with participants encouraged to pursue their own advancement at the expense of others. Finally, The Apprentice can be viewed as a manifestation of hyperreality, constructing a reality that is more compelling and engaging than the lived experience of many viewers.

Late Modernist Perspective

Finally, from a late modernist perspective, The Apprentice can be seen as an example of the importance of external support and competition in achieving success. Participants on the show are required to navigate complex and embedded structures, leveraging their skills, experience, and social connections to succeed.

Furthermore, the programme highlights the role of competition in driving innovation and improving collective outcomes. However, it remains to be seen whether the competitive ethos promoted by The Apprentice is an effective mechanism for achieving broader social and economic change.


The Apprentice offers a fascinating object of study for sociologists, illuminating the complex interplay of values, power, and social structures within contemporary society. Through a range of theoretical lenses, we can see both the positive and negative functions of the programme, highlighting the ways in which cultural products reflect, construct, and reinforce broader societal trends.

Ultimately, The Apprentice is a complex and multifaceted programme, deserving of further study and analysis in the years to come.

Marxist Perspective

A Marxist critique of The Apprentice interrogates the show’s underlying structural inequalities and power dynamics, suggesting that the programme is indicative of the capitalist system that sustains it. One of the key concepts through which Marxists examine the show is the idea of false consciousness.

This refers to the idea that individuals who exist within capitalist societies internalise the values and norms that underpin the system, obscuring the ways in which they are exploited and oppressed. On The Apprentice, this can be seen in the celebration of individual success and the narrative that contestants are the only architects of their achievements.

This ignores the wider structural inequalities that affect people’s chances of achieving success, such as access to economic and social capital. Marxists critique the show for promoting the illusion of equal opportunity, as despite the show’s claims to provide a level playing field, participants often come from middle and upper-class backgrounds, with the requisite social and economic capital to support their ambitions.

Radical Marxist theorists argue that the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class, hold disproportionate power, with the show merely reinforcing this power dynamic. In this context, The Apprentice can be viewed as a tool of ideological control, working to perpetuate the system by occluding the economic and social realities experienced by working-class and underprivileged people.

Feminist Perspective

From a feminist perspective, The Apprentice can be critiqued for the ways in which it perpetuates gendered inequalities. While the show does make efforts to ensure equal representation of both sexes, the winners of the programme have largely been men, reinforcing the idea that business is a male-dominated profession.

However, some female contestants on the show, such as Michelle Dewberry and Stella English, have defied expectations and achieved success in their post-Apprentice careers. One of the ways in which the show perpetuates gendered stereotypes is by presenting women as less assertive than their male counterparts.

This can be seen in the way that women who speak out or challenge their male colleagues are often portrayed as difficult or aggressive, whereas men who exhibit similar behaviours are viewed as assertive and effective leaders. This narrative marginalises women and reinforces gendered stereotypes, painting women as less effective in the workplace than men.

The barriers that women face in the workplace are not only down to the gendered stereotypes and biases perpetuated by The Apprentice but also the ongoing problem of sexual harassment. While instances of harassment on The Apprentice have not been widely reported, the show feeds into a misogynistic culture where women are expected to endure harassment as part of their working environment.

This culture of harassment can prevent women from feeling safe and welcome in the workplace and can drive them out of their chosen professions. Finally, the show can also be viewed through the lens of the concept of the dual burden/triple shift.

This refers to the idea that women are often required to perform domestic and caring labour, in addition to their work outside the home. This double workload can make it difficult for women to achieve success in their professional lives, particularly in male-dominated industries.

The Apprentice reinforces this gendered inequality by presenting a narrative that celebrates all-encompassing work ethic, which can be particularly difficult for women with caring responsibilities to achieve.


A Marxist and feminist critique of The Apprentice highlights the structural and cultural inequalities that continue to affect our society, particularly with regard to social class and gender. Both theoretical perspectives suggest that the programme perpetuates damaging stereotypes and narratives that reinforce the power dynamics of the capitalist system.

As such, it is important that we engage with the show critically, interrogating its underlying assumptions and power dynamics, so that we may work towards a more equitable and just society. Through a deeper understanding of the show’s social functions, we can move towards changing the systems that perpetuate inequality, for both men and women, the working-class and the elites.

Neoliberal Perspective

The Apprentice is viewed from a neoliberal perspective as a celebration of entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, competition, and profit generation. The show promotes these values by presenting an idealized version of the process of formation of a successful business, inviting aspiring entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas to Lord Sugar and providing them with access to mentors and funding if selected for the show.

This represents neoliberalism’s emphasis on individualism, self-care, and meritocracy, where it is believed that all people have equal opportunities to succeed based on their own merits. The show’s emphasis on entrepreneurialism is reflected in the way it constructs a culture of innovation and competition among the contestants.

Participants are often presented with tasks that require them to be inventive and resourceful with minimal resources, showcasing their problem-solving skills and their ability to think on their feet. This culture of innovation reinforces neoliberalism’s ideal of the self-made individual, positioning entrepreneurship as the key to unlocking success and personal fulfilment.

The indirect result is that the show idealizes an economic system that places profits above social responsibility, and encourages people to view their success as only benefiting themselves without acknowledgment of the consequences it might have for others.

Postmodern Perspective

From a postmodern perspective, The Apprentice can be viewed as operating within a sphere of production and consumption, where the show exists primarily to entertain its audience and generate profit for the production company. The programme has been created to meet market demand for entertainment, with little consideration for wider social concerns.

As the show is primarily driven by profit generation, it strives to maintain audience engagement through spectacle, as shown by the show’s high production value, flashy set designs and suspenseful music. The production and consumption of the show can also be viewed from the perspective of hyperreality, a concept that describes the blending of reality and fiction, and the way in which contemporary media has produced simulations that are more compelling and engaging for viewers than the lived experience.

In this context, The Apprentice can be seen as creating a hyper-realistic world, where the contestants operate within a highly stylized environment that is designed to be more engaging than the reality that viewers face in their everyday lives. One of the key themes that is explored from a postmodern perspective is the extreme individualism of The Apprentice, where individual success is celebrated at the expense of collective responsibility or social justice.

Contestants are encouraged to pursue their own ambitions and achievements, with little space for collaboration or shared goals. This culture of individualism is reflective of neoliberalism’s ideal of the self-made individual, promoting the idea that one’s success is solely the result of personal effort and skill, while obscuring the structural and social forces that contribute to individuals’ achievements.


A neoliberal and postmodern critique of The Apprentice calls attention to the ways in which the show perpetuates consumerist cultural narratives, reinforcing entrench inequalities and perpetuating damaging stereotypes about entrepreneurship, success, and competition. Through the lenses of those theories, we can analyse the show’s social functions and understand the ways in which it reflects the values and priorities of our society.

To build more equitable and just social systems, it is essential to understand the social powers that shape our culture and work to challenge them, especially when they propagate structural inequalities. The insights gained through the neoliberal and postmodern critiques of The Apprentice highlight the increasing importance of critical analysis in understanding the interplay of power, privilege, and social structure in contemporary society.

Late Modernist Perspective

From a late modernist perspective, The Apprentice can be seen as a product of an increasingly complex and embedded network of social structures. The show highlights the importance of external support and competition in achieving success, illustrating how individual achievement is embedded within a broader social context.

This perspective suggests that we must understand the complex social and organizational structures that form the foundation of contemporary society to be effective agents of change. One of the central tenets of late modernism is the increasing importance of complex institutional structures in society.

These structures shape how people think about the world, influencing their values, beliefs, and attitudes. The Apprentice can be viewed through this lens as a reflection of the complex power dynamics that underlie contemporary society.

The show’s reliance on external support from Lord Sugar and investment demonstrates the need for a broader infrastructure to support innovation and entrepreneurship beyond the scope of individual ability. Moreover, from the perspective of late modernism, the show highlights the need for investment in emerging entrepreneurs as a means to generate greater competition and innovation within the broader economic system.

This emphasis on external support and investment reflects the view that emergent social and economic structures require a network of stakeholders to drive meaningful change, rather than the sole effort of individuals or small groups. By offering access to investment and mentorship, the show offers a platform for emerging entrepreneurs to succeed while contributing to a broader dynamic of systemic change.

Late modernism also argues that contemporary society is characterized by constant change and rapid technological advancement. In this context, The Apprentice can be seen as an illustration of the need to be adaptable and innovative in the face of rapidly changing socio-economic structures.

Participants on the show must navigate a range of challenges and operate within a fast-paced environment, highlighting the importance of the ability to be agile and flexible to succeed. The show also showcases the importance of the competition of ideas, where participants must be continually innovative and creative to succeed in the show, as well as further down the line in the entrepreneurial world.

The Apprentice is built on the premise that thriving in the marketplace depends on being flexible and able to outcompete others.


From a late modernist perspective, The Apprentice reflects the broader social, economic, and institutional structures that underlie contemporary society. The show demonstrates the importance of external support and investment in driving innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as the need to be adaptable and agile in the face of rapid change.

By exploring the show through this lens, we can gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which broader social structures, complex institutions, and innovative thinking shape contemporary society. It is these aspects of ‘The Apprentice’ that make it a fascinating object of study for social theorists and a tool for understanding the contemporary economy.

In conclusion, examining The Apprentice through various theoretical frameworks reveals its complex interplay of values, power, and social structures. While the show celebrates entrepreneurial spirit and hard-work, it perpetuates inequalities by promoting false consciousness, gendered stereotypes, and individualism.

Understanding these social functions helps us question the broader social structures and values that underpin contemporary society. In order to build a more equitable and just society, we need to engage critically with the cultural products that reflect and reinforce these values.


1. What is the function of The Apprentice from a functionalist perspective?

Answer: The Apprentice serves as secondary socialisation, promoting a strong work ethic, and offering opportunities for entrepreneurs.


How does The Apprentice perpetuate false consciousness according to the Marxist perspective? Answer: The show reinforces the idea of individual success and obscures the broader social and economic factors that contribute to success, thereby perpetuating existing inequalities.

3. How does The Apprentice perpetuate gendered stereotypes?

Answer: The show presents women as less assertive than men and reinforces the idea that leadership is primarily a male domain. 4.

What is the significance of The Apprentice from a postmodern perspective? Answer: The show can be viewed as operating within a sphere of production and consumption, generating profit for the production company while constructing hyper-realistic simulations that blend reality and fiction.

5. What is Late Modernism’s perspective on The Apprentice?

Answer: The show reflects an increasingly complex network of social structures, highlighting the need for external support and investment to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

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