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Sociology and Social Policy
Often those in power are the ones able to define what is and are not a social problem and what should
be done about it. Although sociologist's research may influence it the ones in power have the ultimate
Social problems: According to Peter Worsley a social problem is some piece of social behaviour that
causes public friction and calls for collection action to solve it.
Sociological problems: According to Worsley a sociological problem is a pattern of relationship that
calls for explanation, in other words behaviour we need to make sense of, this could be a social problem
which they seek to improve through social policies, or simply analysing mundane everyday behaviour and
patterns of behaviour.
The Influence of Sociology on Social policy:
Many factors influence whether or not sociological research succeeds in influencing policy.
1. Electoral popularity: Research findings may point to a policy that would be unpopular with
2. Ideological and policy preferences of governments: If the researchers value-stance or
perspective is similar to the political ideology of the government they may be more successful.
3. Interest groups: These are pressure groups that seek to change laws for their own benefit;
however the government may reject if it will negatively affect society as a whole.
4. Globalisation: International organisations such as the IMF, the EU and WTO influence social
policies and individual governments. (eg-IMF and structural adjustment packages)
5. Critical sociology: Sociologists such as Marxists who are critical of the state may be regarded as
too extreme, hostile or impractical and less likely to be of influence.
6. Cost: May have insufficient funds to implement or sending priorities.
7. Funding sources: paymasters may recruit sociologists with the same political thinking to justify
implementing a new policy.
Perspectives on social policy
Positivism and functionalism:
Early positivists such as Comte and Durkheim took the view that sociology was a science and
would discover both the cause of social problems and scientifically based solutions to them.
For example Durkheim's research led to him to propose a meritocratic education system and the
abolition of inherited wealth and status.
Functionalists see society based on a value consensus, they see social policies as helping society
run more smoothly and serving the interests of society as a whole. (e.g. educational policies
promote equal opportunities, health and housing policies assist the family in performing roles
They both want to provide the state with objective, scientific information by investigating social
problems and discovering caused and solutions.
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Functionalists favour social policies that are sometimes referred to as `piecemeal social
engineering', in other words they favour the cautious approach, tackling one specific issue at a
Marxists criticise this approach and argue by tackling educational underachievement though
policies of opportunity this will not work as it is due to structural factors of the capitalist system
which needs to be changed!!!!
The social democratic perspective:
They favour a major redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.…read more
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They see this family as restrictive and exploitative.
o In education feminist research has led to learning materials that promote more positive images
of females, and teacher training schemes that sensitise teachers to the need to avoid gender
o Many of these policies reflect the liberal view that anti-discrimination reforms will bring gender
o Radical feminists advocate separatism from men to end exploitation, social policy has supported
this through the introduction of women refuge centres such as Women's Aid Federation.…read more