Theory and Methods Topic 3 - Sociology and Social Policy



What kind of things do they research?

  • Sociologists should work with the government to uncover objective causes of social problems 
  • They use statistics to find trends
  • They help governments to formulate policies which improve society gradually                                                    

How has government policy used Positivist/Functionalist research?

  • Governments claim to collect data in a value free way - for example, the consensus
  • Governments use this data to make decisions about how many school places will be needed, how many prison spaces etc. 
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What kind of things do they research?

  • Research should highlight the exploitation of the Bourgeoisie and the oppression of the Proletariat
  • Look at the relationship between social class and inequality in education, the unfair criminal justice system and the harm which corporations cause                                                                                        

How has government policy used Marxist research?

  • The UK government does not listen to Marxist data - Marxists argue that this is because governments consist of the upper middle classes
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What kind of things do they research?

  • Research gender inequalities
  • Liberal feminism focuses on achieving political and economic equality for women
  • Contemporary feminism focuses on the underlying patriarchal ideology of institutions within society (family, education), domestic violence, the beauty myth and sex trafficking                                   

How has government policy used Feminist research?

  • The UK government has been forced to listen to feminism as the movement has gained popularity
  • However, the government seems to want to reverse women's rights as 70% of the government cuts fall on women 
  • Policies promoting gender equality:                                                                                                                             

1. The vote (1928)
2. The Divorce Act (1969)
3. The Equal Pay Act (1972)
4. **** in Marriage made Illegal (1991)
5. The Paternity Act (2011)

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What kind of things do they research?

  • Research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions and should aim to achieve verstehen 
  • Focuses on processes such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy                                                  

How has government policy used Interactionist research?

  • Howard Becker criticises the government as being the source of all labels as the government labels people not like them as 'problems' and therefore do not use interactionist research
  • The research is too small scale to be of interest
  • The government has, however, used research on police labelling and school teacher labelling to try and improve labelling in these areas
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The New Right

What kind of things do they research?

  • Modern day Functionalism - believe that the government should interfere less in social life, particularly in the family
  • However they are tough on crime                                                                                                                                                            

How has government policy used New Right research?

  • The current government in the UK is the New Right
  • Polices include:                                                                                                                                                               

1. The Education Act (1988)
2. Zero Tolerance Policing
3. Taxing the rich less

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Applied Sociology

  • Some sociologists argue that sociology should be 'applied' - it should be used to directly influence the government to bring about reform
  • Other sociologists argue that sociology should be used to radically change the political and economic system - it should not be used to just reform
  • Finally, there are sociologists who argue that the point of sociology is that it is an academic subject and had no use/value other than to increase self-knowledge                                                                               


1. Understanding society
2. Awareness of cultural difference
3. Increase in self-knowledge
4. Assessment of government policies

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Benefits of Sociology

1. Sociological understanding can take two forms:                                  

  • FACTUAL - providing us with the 'facts' which allow us to form a theory
  • THEORETICAL - providing us with an explanation as to why something is happening

2. Sociological research has demonstrated the extent of discrimination against marginalised groups                            

3. This has resulted in empowering those groups by giving them a degree of self-knowledge. It has also allowed the government to respond in an informed way with new policies

4. Sociology plays a vital role in making assessments of the effectiveness of government social policy (e.g. In the NHS, medical procedures have been tested to determine their effectiveness in providing a better quality of life for patients) Therefore, social research has had a positive influence on government social policy factually and theoretically

  • However,, some sociologists argue that governments do not simply respond to sociological research in the way that Giddens describes - governments only act when they are pressured to do so or when research fits with their political and ideological agenda 
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Post Modernism

  • Sociology has no contribution to social policy
  • The role of sociology is to simply allow people to seek out an understanding of their personal lives within a specific social context
  • Post-modernists reject the modernist idea of 'social progress' - social research cannot be used to usher in the 'good society'
  • Knowledge is a social construction - a series of metanarratives
  • Sociologists assumed that there is an 'orderly' society to be discovered by rational scientific method and Post-modernists argue that there is no such thing 
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Laura P


Thank you so much! really helpful

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