Sociology and Social Policy

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Social Problems and Sociological Problems

A social problem

  • A social problem is one that causes problems for society and its members and calls for collective action to  solve it
  • examples include poverty, unemployment and under achievement

A sociological problem

  • any thing that is of interest to sociologists, so calls for explanation
  • man not necesarily be a problem in society
  • all social problems are sociological problems, but not all sociological probems are social problems
  • examples include the sociology of food, why people get divorced etc.
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Positivism and Functionalism

  • Early positivists like Comte and Durkheim took the view that sociology was a science that would discover the cause of social problems and how to solve them
  • wanted to use sceince to improve society
  • e.g Durkheims findings allowed him to come up with a meritocratic educational system
  • See society as based on social solidarity and value consensus, so the state served the inbterests of society as a whole, and the policies reflected this
  • sociologists role is to provide the state with research that is objective and scientific
  • by investigating social problems and discovering their causesthe researcher provides the basic information on which the state can then set its policies on
  • the sociologist is like a medical researcher they find causes and look for cures
  • piecemeal social engineering a cautious approach, where one specific issue is tackled at a time


  • Marxists argue that educational policies aimed at equalising opportunities are defeated by the influence of poverty in wider society
  • social problems like under achievement  are aspects of wider structure class inequality, so we must first change the structure of society in order for these policies to be effective
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Social Democratic Perspective

  • favour a major distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor
  • Townsend -m Sociologists should be involved in researching social problems and making policy reccomendations to eradicate them
  • The Black Report on class inequalities made suggestions to eradicate deeply rooted inequalities, including things like free school meals and better working conditions
  • The conservative government refused to implement any of the reccomendations on the grounds of costs
  • shows how political ideology can restrict/influence research


  • Marxists reject the idea that the ideas proposed in the Black Report are enough to solve the problem alone
  • Capitalism is ultimately responsible for these inequalities, a capitalist state isn't going to publish a report that is costly for the public only to benefit the working class
  • Post-modernists  say it is impossible to discover an objective truth as all knowledge is uncertain so sociological findings cannot provide a satisfactory basis for policy making
  • sociologists can only take the roll of interpreters offering one view of many
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  • the state represents the ruiling class and its social policies serve the interests of capitalism
  • provide ideological legitimation  to mask capitalist exploiutation, e.e the welfare state makes capitalism appear to care about the poor
  • maintaing a healthy labour force the NHS serves captialism by by keeping worker fit enough to work
  • Means or preventing revolution if capitalism is ever under threat
  • recognise that social policies  may sometimes help people, but this may be reversed by capitalisms tendancy to go into crises, leading to a cut in welfare spending
  • research that reveals the truth about social problems goes unused as the black report shows
  • such problems cannot be solved until the capitalist state is abolishedm creating a classless society
  • the sociologists role should be to criticise capitalist policy , not to serve the capitalist state


  • the Marxist perspective is impractical and unrealistic
  • Social democrats - rejects the idea that sociological research can help bring abour progressive policies within the capitalist system  
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  • see society as based on conflict between men and women (patriachal) with the state policies beinifitting men at the expense of women
  • Researchers should aim to improve conditions for women
  • family policies may be based on the assumption that the nomal family is nuclear, with a heterosexual marrie dcouple and their children > the state aims thier policies towards them
  • May produce a self fulfilling prophecy encouraging one type of family and preventing the growth of different types of family
  • Feminists research has had an impact on Learning (GIST/WISE) and teacher training
  • liberal feminists see anti discrimination laws as the thing that will bring about gender equality
  • radical feminists supper separatism , as men are the oppressors of women, they should live seperately from women
  • have been influential in establishing womens refuge camps for women escaping violence
  • it is clear the feminist movement has been influential in improving the position of women, gaining influence throughout the 70s
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New Right

believe that state intervention in areas such as family robs people of thier freedom to make thier own choices, leading to greater problems such as crime and deliquency

Murray argues that generous benefits towards lone parents act as preverse inentives, and weaken the families self reliance

encourages the growth of a dependancy culture and an underslass of single mothers with undiciplined children and irresponsible fathers

the role of the sociologist is to propose alternative policies to existing ones and aim to restore individuals responsibilites

e,g Broken windows introduced zero tolerance policing

criticisms - the objectivity of the new right has been questioned  as well as the validity of murrays data

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