Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy

Social policy refers to the actions governments take in order to influence society, or to the actions opposition parties and ‘social movements’ (think Marxism and Feminism) propose to do if they were to gain power. This topic basically involves looking at perspectives on government policies

The Positivist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

For both Functionalists and Positivists the role of the researcher is to provide the state with objective, value free data which can be used to uncover the root causes of social problems in society. Social Policy recommendations are seen as ‘cures’ to a whole range of social problems.

Durkheim and Comte (in the 18the and early 19th centuries) both believed that doing research was part of the Enlightenment project – to use science and reason to improve society. Durkheim, and later Parsons both believed that through using cross national and historical comparisons they had started to understand the ‘laws of social evolution’ and so could inform governments of what the appropriate policies were to manage social change. For example, one of the things Durkheim suggested, way before his time, was for governments to establish a meritocratic education system and abolish inherited wealth (yay!) as a way to foster a fairer society and ensure that the most talented people could rise to positions of power and influence in the newly industrialising Europe.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Governments claim to collect data about the social world in a ‘value free’

E.G. Office for National Statistics employs over 4000 people to collect and analyse data on everything from family trends (births/ marriages/ deaths are recorded) to crime statistics

The UK national census is also a good example (from 2011)

Governments use this data to make decisions about how many school places will be needed, how many prison places etc.

The Marxist view of Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Marxists believe that Sociology should target research to highlight a) the exploitation by the Bourgeois and b) the oppression of the working classes

Marxist inspired research includes anything that involves looking at the relationship between social class and inequality in education, research into the unfair criminal justice system, research on the harms ‘Corporate elites’ do (Tombs and Whyte) and The Spirit Level

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Marxists argue that governments mainly ignore research done from a Marxist Agenda because governments typically consist of the upper middle classes.

Marxists argue that Social Policies generally protect the interests of the wealthy – and there are several examples that support this view –

Within Education – the existence of private schools allows the wealthy to get their children a better education – upper middle class children effectively get ‘hot- housed’ so they are more likely to get better A levels and end up in top-end universities when compared to those attending state schools.

Looking at Crime Policy – the government does not adequately fund the Health and Safety Executive which prosecutes companies which breach health and safety law, neither does it adequately fund the Financial Services Authority, which prosecutes companies and individuals who engage in financial crimes – this is despite the fact that (according to Jones 2008) that these crimes together do more economic harm to the economy than all street crime put together.

Finally – taxation policy has tended to favour wealthy individuals and Corporations since the Thatcher years in the early ‘80s (NB – New Labour are effectively the same as the Tories these days) – Before the Tories came into power, there was a 90% rate of tax on earned income over —– – today the top rate of tax on earned income is 50% (on all income over £150 000).

Marxists argue that because of the inherent bias in Social Policy, Sociologists should not aim to work with governments – Sociologists should identify with the ‘underdog’ and focus on ‘critical research’ (which, of course, will be self-funded) to help alert people to the injustices of the Capitalist system and assist in the inevitable revolutionary movement that will bring down the Capitalist system.

Feminism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

Feminists generally focus on researching gender inequalities

Liberal Feminism traditionally focussed on achieving political and economic equality for women

Contemporary Feminism focusses on issues of domestic violence, the Pornification of Culture and the Beauty Myth, sex trafficking and the persistence of inequalities in work and politics

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

SUCCESSIVE UK GOVERNMENTS HAVE BEEN FORCED TO LISTEN TO FEMINISM –

Policies promoting gender equality include

  • The vote (obviously) (1918 and 28)

  • The divorce act (1969)

  • The equal pay act (1972)

  • Rape in marriage made illegal (1991)

  • The Paternity Act (2011)

HOWEVER: The current government seems to want to reverse women’s rights –

  • 70% of the government cuts fall on women

  • Prominent MPs such as Nadine Dories want to reduce the time limit for abortion, giving women less control over their bodies.

Interactionism, Sociology and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

According to Interactionists, research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions. It should aim to achieve Verstehen. Traditionally research has focussed on process such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy, often taking the side of underdog (the powerless in society) – a good example of which is Venkatesh’s sympathetic account of Crack dealers in Chicago.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

Interactionists such as Becker criticise the government as being THE Source of labels – people in government label people not like them as ‘problems’.

The government doesn’t tend to use interactionist research – It tends to be too critical and too supportive of deviants, and in any case it’s too small scale to be of interest.

However there are some exceptions –

o Research on the extent of police labelling – Prompted compulsory multiculturalism training in the police

o Ditto for training school teachers and other ‘state workers’.

The New Right and Social Policy

What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research?

The New Right believe that the state should have minimal involvement in society. In particular they opposed to using state provision of welfare to deal with social problems. In their view, state intervention in areas such as family life and education robs people of their freedom and undermines their sense of responsibility. This in turn leads to greater problems such as crime and delinquency.

One classic New Right Theory is Charles Murrays’ view of the underclass – Murray argues that overly generous welfare benefits and council housing have encouraged ‘perverse incentives’ and lead to the growth of over a million people in the UK who are now dependent on state hand-outs – This includes hundreds of thousands of lone mothers, abandoned by feckless, irresponsible fathers, all made possible because these people know that if they don’t take responsibility, the state will just pay for them.

The New Right point out that there is a very strong correlation between being long term unemployed and social problems such as binge drinking and crime.

How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?

THE CURRENT UK GOVERNMENT IS THE NEW RIGHT (as was the last one, and the one before that)

Breakdown Britain (2007) – A report by a Conservative think tank proposes a number of social policies designed to tackle these problems – such as

  • Cutting unemployment benefit to make it less attractive

  • Tax incentives for married rather than cohabiting couples as married families are more stable than cohabiting ones.

  • Marriage preparation and parenting classes where required.

In addition to the above, New Right thinking was responsible for ‘Right Realism’ and ‘Broken Windows’ theory – The only exception to their theory that the state should do less is that it should provide strong law and order – to help communities that suffer from low levels of social control and to clamp down heavily on those who break the law with Zero Tolerance Policing techniques.

Related Posts

Social Policy and The Family

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