Social Policy and Sociology Summary

Last Updated on January 26, 2017 by

Social Policy may be defined as actions the government carries out, or actions political parties propose to do,  in order to exert an influence over a specific area of social life, such as education, the family, or society more generally – such as policies concerning taxation and wealth distribution.

This posts consists of a summary of Sociological Perspectives on the relationship between Sociology and Social Policy – covering Positivism, Marxist, Feminist and New Right Perspectives.

  What is the purpose of Sociology/ What kind of things do they research? How has the government/ political parties used data from this type of research?


Positivism/ Functionalism  

•           Sociologists should work with governments to uncover objective ‘causes’ of social problems such as crime/ suicide etc.

•           Do this using stats to find trends

•           Help to governments to formulate policies to improve society gradually


·         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.

Marxism and others on the left! •           Sociology should target research to highlight a) the exploitation by the Bourgeois and b) the oppression of the working classes

·         Research includes 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 (Corporate Crimes and Tombs and Whyte)

·         The Spirit Level



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

·         UK education policy has allowed private education to continue

·         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

·         Finally, despite the findings of the spirit level, taxation policy has tended to favour wealthy individuals and Corporations since the Thatcher years in the early ‘80s 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).

Feminism ·         Research gender inequalities

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

·         Contemporary Feminism Focusses on –

·         Patriarchal ideology in the family

·         Domestic Violence

·         Beauty Myth

·         Sex trafficking


·         Policies promoting gender equality include

o   The vote (obviously) (1918 and 28)

o   The divorce act (1969)

o   The equal pay act (1972)

o   Rape in marriage made illegal (1991)

o   The Paternity Act (2011)

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

o   70% of the government cuts fall on women

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


Interactionism ·         Research should be smaller scale and focus on micro level interactions

·         It should aim to achieve Verstehen

·         Traditionally focussed on process such as labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy

·         Also inspired research on Police racism and labelling

·         Interactionists such as Becker criticise the government as being THE Source of labels – people in government label people not like them as ‘problems’ thus The government doesn’t tend to use interactionist research – it’s too small scale to be of interest.

·         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 ·         Kind of like modern day Functionalism

·         Believe the government should interfere less in social life and especially family life

·         The exception to this is through being ‘tough on crime’

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


Examples of New Right policies include…

·         The 1988 Education Act

·         Zero Tolerance Policing

·         Taxing the rich less (increasing inequality)

·         And basically ignoring anything that Marxist or Feminist inspired research says about the harmful effects of inequality on women and the poor.

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