Sociology and Social Policy Unit 4

Heres some notes on social policy

  • Created by: Cookie
  • Created on: 02-06-12 18:36

Social problems and sociological problems

Social problem--> piece of social behaviour that causes public misery and calls for collective action to solve it, e.g. poverty or crime.

Sociological problem--> pattern or relationships that calls for sociological explanation. Also includes behaviour that society doesnt normally regard as a problem,which sociologists find interesting e.g. why people are law abiding.

Some sociologists are employeed by government departments, e.g. Home Office. Having a direct input into policy making.

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Influence of sociology on policy

Not all social problems that sociologists research into are taken into account by the government policy makers.

Factors that affect whether sociologists ideas are used by policy-makers:

  • Electoral popularity
  • How far researchers valuestance matches the governments political ideology
  • Cost of implementing proposals
  • Support or opposition from interest groups

Example of policy that may be affected by the above:

  • Sociologists may support a minimum wage to reduce poverty, but business interest groups could campaign against.
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Perspectives on social policy and sociology

Positivism and Functionalism

Early positivists--> sociology is a science that discovers cause of social problems and provides solutions. (improve society)

Functionalists--> society is based on value consensus, so state serves the interests of society, good for all. Favour policies that bit by bit change.

Example: Durkheim's analysis led him to propose a meritocratic education system to promote social cohesion.

Both argue that sociologists role is to provide state with objective, scientific info.

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The Social Democratic Perspective on social policy

Favours redistribution of wealth from rich to poor.

Sociologists should research social problems and make policy recommendations to eradicate them. Example: Townsend--> research on poverty, brought up policies that are fairer with higher benefit levels.


  • Marxists--> criticise this perspective arguing that it is naive to imagine that capitalist state would implement policies favouring poor.
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Postmodernism perspective on social policy and soc

They argue is is impossible to discover objective truth. All knowledge produced by research is uncertain, so sociological findings cant provide a basis for policy making.

Sociologists can only 'interpret' views on reality and not be law-makers.

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Marxism perspective on social policy and sociology

Society is divided by a conflict of interest, in which ruling capitalist class exploit the labour of the working class. So, Marxists argue social policies serve the interests of capitalism.

  • Social policies provide ideological legitimation for capitalism (welfare state gives it a 'human face'
  • Maintain labour force for further exploitation(NHS workers kept fit enough to be able to work)

For Marxists--> sociologists role is to reveal the exploitation and the way ruling class use social policies to mask this.


  • Social democrats--> Marxists reject the idea that sociological research can help bring progressive policies within the capitalist system.
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Feminism perspective on social policy and sociolog

Society is patriarchal. So--> the states social policies perpetuate womens subordination.

Some policies have been down to liberal feminists, e.g. equal pay

Some radical feminists ideas have also been turned into social policy, e.g. the establishment of womens refugees (escaping domestic violence) With this idea, it also links to separatism--> the idea that women need to seperate themselves from men to be free from patriarchy.


  • Marxists argue that the reformist social policies cant liberate women and call for more radical changes that the state cant deliver.
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The New Right perspectives on social policy and so

The state should have only limited involvement with society, e.g. welfare state provision should be minimal.

Murray--> policies such as welfare benefits and council housing for lone parents acts as 'perverse incentives' that encourage a dependency culture.

Sociology: The new right see the role of sociologists as being to propose policies that promote individual responsibility and choice.

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