Social policy refers to the activities of governments and their agents to meet social needs and solve social problems. For example, the government have set up city academies in order to raise the educational performance of poor performing inner city schools. As sociology is the study of society and of people and their behaviour it can be seen to successfully relate to/help the government in creating future social policies or reviewing those that have been created. The founding fathers of sociology all believed that by studying the social world they could understand and therefore make changes or be able to control what happened. They all believed that rational progress was possible.
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There are two views to the relationship between social policy and sociology; some argue that it should be closely related to social policy and others argue that it should not be closely related.
Sociology contributes to social policies in many ways. It identifies causal explanations of social problems which help deepen our understanding of social processes and they also question the validity and adequacy of non-sociological explanations of social problems. Sociology also uncovers and publicises latent social problems as well as drawing attention to socially constructed problems and they help to produce alternative definitions where required. Therefore many sociologists do believe that sociology should have a relationship with social policy.
Social democratic researchers are a key example of the type of sociologists that believe that the two should be closely related. They believe that sociologists should be and are actively involved in making social policy recommendations, as well as believing that their recommendations can help to eradicate the social problems they identify. Social democratic researchers tend to side with the ‘underdog’ ,such as Liberal Feminists and disadvantaged women, and they offer practical measures to reduce social inequality, injustice and social exclusion.
A key example of social democratic research is the Black Report, that not only identified a range of cultural and structural causes of inequalities in health but it strongly argued for structural/material solutions to reduce the health divide. Another type of sociologist whofeels that sociology should be closely related to social policy is the left realist researchers such as Lea and Young who have used their research to show that state intervention and community involvement are essential to halt the spread in crime.
Page 2 Evaluate different views of the relationship between sociology and social policy Essay
However these sociologists are not always listened toand in some cases, like that of the Black report, not only were their recommendations ruled out by the government but the government also restricted the publication of what was seen to be a politically embarrassing report.
These sociologists are criticised by Marxists for trying to impliment rational social policies as they are only going to fall on deaf-ears as the capitalist state are not going to introduce any policies that may be deemed as costly especially if they shall benefit the working class. Postmodernists criticise the attempts of these sociologists to influence policy as they argue that it is impossible to discover objective truth and that sociologists are mere interpreters but should not try to be legislators. Radical Feminists also criticise liberal feminists for advocating anti-discrimmination policies as they argue that women’s emancipation can only be achieved through destroying patriarchy.
Other more radical sociological theorists claim that sociologists should not be involved in making social policy solutions. This is either because they believe that sociologists should be independent from the government and be critical of their actions or because they are ideologically opposed to policy making. New Right theorists are often against sociologists making social policy recommendations as they believe that the state should have only minimal involvement in society as they stress the individual responsibility instead.
Therefore they are opposed to using state provision of welfare to deal with social problems. For example Murray maintains that providing generous welfare as a social policy solution for poverty actually makes the problem worse because it created an underclass who become dependent on welfare. The New Right thinking has been particularly attractive to the Conservative Party and some policies have also influenced New Labour policies such as married couples being the best place to bring up children.
Some Marxists are completely against making social policy recommendations on welfare as they believe that if sociologists encourage more benefits then this will only reduce class solidarity because the welfare buys off the working class and prevents them from realising their true interests. For sociologists such as Westergard and Resier the social problems faced by the working class can only be overcome through proletarian revolution and that social policies only delay this. However many critics argue that these views are both impractical and unrealistic, with social democrats criticising them for rejecting the idea that sociological research can help bring about any progressive policies within the existing capitalist system.
It is evident that sociology does have a relationship with social policy and indeed in the past it has been closely related to social policy. One of the prime examples in recent history is Giddens, a sociologist that had a major effect in shaping government policy. Giddens was instrumental in ‘third way’ policies which had a big influence on the New Labour governments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In conclusion the relationship between sociology and social policy is one that is close and throughout history it has been seen to be close. This has can be argued to have created many positive effects in society, such as the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act. It has also shed light on many problems in society that have not been regarded by the government before such as cultural deprivation problems were tackled by policies such as Operation Headstart.
Even if sociologist do not have a direct role in shaping social policy they still have the ability to create a ‘climate of opinion’ which governments and their agents then choose to act on. Therefore the close link between sociology and social policy can be seen as a good thing. However other sociologists view this link in a negative light as it only prevents the real solutions from occurring. Also some sociologists argue that the policies which sociologists may wish to put forward may be compromised by their funding agencies. Some sociologists will not want to threaten or openly challenge the agencies they work for so the work they produce would be of limited value in the grand scheme of things.See More on Policy