Sociology & Social Policy

  • Created by: nelliott
  • Created on: 10-05-21 09:11

Social Problems

• These are aspects of social life that cause misery and anxiety to both private individuals and society in general. 

• Crime, child abuse, domestic violence and suicide are examples of social problems.

• Those in power often sponsor the research of these problems, such as the government.

• Often government social policies aimed at solving or reducing social problems are based on the evidence gathered by sociologists.

• Sociological research is therefore central to social policy because it can provide governments with crucial data about the extent of a problem and explanations can help shape the social policy response.

• However, governments do not always take action when sociologists identify a social problem. 

• Politicians may disagree with sociologists about the cause of a social problem, e.g. a politician may prefer to blame poverty on its victims, rather than on government policies and the way society is organised.

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Sociological Problems (P.1)

• Sociologists are interested in how societies and social institutions work and how individuals interact and interpret one another’s behaviour. 

• Aspects of social life are seen as sociological problems. E.g. divorce can be seen as a social problem and sociologists make ask questions about why it is happening and why it is important. 

• Sociological research functions to increase knowledge of how society works and why social groups behave in patterned and predictable ways. 

• Much research is based on social and sociological problems and their relationships to social policy in three ways: 

1- some research aims to be descriptive. It describes a situation or set of facts. 

2- some research is explanatory- sets out to explain social phenomenon, such as poverty. It gives reasons as to why it occurs and encourages social policy makers to do something about it.

 3- some research is evaluative. It monitors and assesses the effect of social policies and see if they work.

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Sociological Problems (P.2)

• The interests of the researcher

• Some sociologists are strongly attracted to the subject of sociology because they feel that some inequality/injustice needs to be corrected. E.g. feminists focus on patriarchy as a social problem and challenge this. 

• Marxists will focus on wealth and income and draw attention to the problems of capitalism.

• Poverty researcher Peter Townsend was committed to ending poverty and he did studies on the elderly and the poor which were a result of this commitment.

• However, it is important to understand that this does not mean the research is bias.

• Sociologists must conduct fair and balanced enquiries and not allow personal or political values to affect what is discovered and reported. 

• Values may influence their choice of topic, but the methods used to gather evidence should be bias free. 

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• Research costs money and need financing. Some agencies will judge a research proposal purely on its merits. 

• Most universities and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) are most likely to fund and take a neutral position.

• A good deal of research is also funded by charities that specialise in particular interests and are therefore more likely to sponsor research in those fields. E.g. the Joseph Rowntree Foundation supports lots of research in the field of poverty and inequality. 

• Runnymede Trust is mainly interested in issues affecting ethnic minorities. 

• Some think tanks are politically motivated and will fund research into issues which support their perspective. E.g. Conservative minister Iain Duncan-Smith funds research that supports New Right views that the nuclear family is under attack and the welfare system is the problem.

• Governments and businesses also finance sociological research but they are unlikely to commission research that is going to bite them by suggesting that they are the cause of the very problem under investigation.

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Access & Gate-Keeping

• Some groups have the power to resist sociologists and not all are willing to take part in research and many powerful people can easily use their authority to deny sociologists access.

• This means research can feel populated by the powerless who are unable to resist sociologists.

• Groups which are difficult to access are interesting to research, such as prisons, mental hospitals or women’s refuge. 

• Some sociologists join exclusive or deviant groups to gain access to do research. 

• This can be a problem for safety so the sociologist will need a ‘gate-keeper’- a person who does have contact with an appropriate set of individuals. E.g. researching a women who has suffered domestic abuse would need someone like a social worker to introduce the researcher and help establish a bond of trust.

• Some sociologists have used gate-keepers when studying crime and deviance as they can help sociologists gain access to the criminal world by negotiating with those the sociologist is interesting in and getting the to cooperate. 

• However, no one wants to take on the gate-keeper role, particularly in crime.

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