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Flashcards in Sociology and Social policy Deck (13)
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What is a social problem?

Some piece of social behaviour that causes public and/or private misery and calls for collective action to solve it, e.g. poverty or crime


What is a sociological problem?

It is any pattern of relationships that calls for sociological explanation


Social problems and sociological problems overlap, but what is the difference?

A sociological problem can also include behaviour that society doesn't normally regard as a problem, e.g. why people are law abiding. This is because for sociologists, 'normal' behaviour is just as interesting and in need of an explanation as behaviour that people see as a 'social problem'


How are these problems solved/explained?

Many sociologists are interested in solving social problems through their research, e.g. sociologists who feel strongly about poverty or inequality have conducted research aimed at discovering solutions to these social problems. Some sociologists are employed by government departments such as the Home Office or the Department of Education, often having a direct input into policy making.


The influence of sociology on policy

Even when sociologists conduct research into social problems, there is no guarantee that government policy-makers will take act on their findings. Many factors affect whether or not policy makers use sociologists' research findings to shape their policies. These include electoral popularity, how far the researcher's value-stance matches the government's political ideology, the cost of implementing proposals, support or opposition from interest groups, and the possibility that critical sociology (e.g. Marxism) may be regarded as too extreme. For example, research may support a minimum wage to reduce poverty but business interest groups may campaign against it.


Positivist perspectives on social policy and sociology

Early positivists saw sociology as a science that would both discover the cause of social problems and provide their solutions. Science and reason could be used to improve society.


Functionalists perspectives on social policy and sociology

Functionalists see society as based on value consensus, so the state serves the interests of society as a whole, implementing rational social policies for the good of all. For example, Durkheim's analysis led him to propose a meritocratic education system to promote social cohesion by fostering a sense that society was fair. Functionalists favour policies that are sometimes referred to as 'piecemeal social engineering'- cautious bit by bit change, rather than wholesale change


What is the role of sociologists' for both positivists and functionalists

For both functionalists and positivists, the sociologists' role is to provide the state with objective, scientific information on which it can base its policies.


What is the social democratic perspective?

The social democratic perspective on social policy favours a major redistribution of wealth and income from the rich to the poor. Sociologists should be involved in researching social problems and making policy recommendations to eradicate them. Townsend's research on poverty has led him to make recommendations for policies such as fairer, higher benefit levels. Marxists reject this view, arguing that it is naïve to imagine that the capitalist state would implement policies that radically redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.


Postmodernist perspective on social policy and sociology

For postmodernists, it is impossible to discover objective truth. All knowledge produced by research is uncertain, and so sociological findings cannot provide a satisfactory basis for policy-making.
Sociologists can only take the role of 'interpreters', offering one view of reality among many, and not the role of 'legislators' (law-makers)


Marxist perspective on sociology and social policy

In the Marxist view, social policies serve the interests of capitalism, not those of society as a whole.
Social policies provide ideological legitimation of capitalism; e.g. the welfare state gives it a 'human face'
They maintain the labour force for further exploitation; e.g. the NHS keeps workers fit enough to work. This links to the Marxist view that society is divided by a conflict of interest in which the ruling class exploit the labour of the ruling class.
They are a means of preventing revolution; e.g. the creation of the welfare state was a way of buying off working class opposition to capitalism
For Marxists, the sociologists role should thus be to reveal the exploitation that underpins capitalism and the way in which the ruling class use social policies to mask this.


Feminist perspective on sociology and social policy

Feminists see society as patriarchal, benefitting men at women's expense. They see the state's social policies perpetuating women's subordination.
Research by liberal feminists has had an impact in a number of policy areas; e.g. anti- discrimination and unequal pay policies.
Some radical feminist ideas have also had an influence on social policy, e.g. the establishment of women's refuges for women escaping domestic violence
However, many Marxist and radical feminists reject the view that reformist social policies can liberate women and call for more radical changes that the existing state cannot deliver. For example, for radical feminists, the only solution to obtain liberation from patriarchy is the idea of separatism- women must completely separate themselves from men, including in their personal relationships (political lesbianism)


The New Right perspective on social policy and sociology

The New Right believe that the state should have only limited involvement in society; e.g. state welfare provision should be minimal.
State intervention undermines people's sense of responsibility, leading to greater social problems.
Murray argues that policies such as Welfare benefits and council housing for lone mothers act as 'perverse incentives' that encourage a dependency culture
The New Right see the role of sociologists as being to propose policies that promote individual responsibility and choice.
The New Right support strong 'law and order' policy and research by right realist criminologists, e.g. Broken Windows, has been influential in the introduction of zero tolerance policies.