Defining Social PolicyA social policy is a plan or action ofgovernment agencies which aim toimprove or reform society.
Applied Sociology• Sociologists are divided as to whether there should be a relationship between sociology and government social policy• One group argues that sociology should be ‘applied’; it should be used to directly influence government to bring about reforms• Another group argues that sociological insights should be used to radically change the political and economic system – they should not be used for reform.
And,• Finally, there are those who argue that the point of sociology is that it is an academic subject and has no use-value other than to increase self knowledge.• We shall look at these arguments
Anthony Giddens According to him, there are 4 practical benefits of studying sociology:1. Understanding society2. Awareness of cultural difference3. Increase in self knowledge4. Assessment of government policies
Understanding Society 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
An example of the way in which factual andtheoretical understandings of society can positivelyinfluence social policy is the sociologicalstudy of poverty.
Poverty in The UK (1979)• Peter Townsend’s study showed that poverty remained a huge, though hidden, problem in the UK.• This was despite the creation of the welfare state.• Through his fact gathering he made poverty socially and politically visible again
ContinuedHe provided atheoretical analysisof this problem bydevising sophisticatedways of measuring it:he devised the‘relative deprivationmodel’.
Definition• He argued that poverty can only properly be understood in terms of what people normally expect to have in a society – even if this was well above the level of destitution.• This new way of defining poverty allowed for a whole new insight into the nature of poverty in affluent societies.
The Impact of Research Townsend’s study, along with future sociological research into poverty, led indirectly to the creation of1. The minimum wage2. Tax credits
• Moreover Left Realists have had an influence on government social policies toward crime• New Labours firmer approach to the policing of hate crimes, sexual assaults along with the introduction of ASBOs, reflect the Left Realist concern for the victims of crime.
Awareness of cultural difference and self knowledgeGiddens also argues that ‘Pride’: Londonsociological research hasdemonstrated the extentof discrimination againstmarginalised groups(those on the edge ofsociety ie:, women, thepoor, the disabled, ethnicminorities, homosexuals)
ContinuedThis has resulted in empowering those marginalised groups bygiving them a degree of self knowledge.It has also allowed the government to respond in aninformed way, for example…
Government Social Policy• Sociological research has resulted in in the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Rights Commission Act in the 1990s.• Research also led to the Race Equality legislation of 1976 and 2000.• The Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts of 1975 grew out of feminist research into sexual discrimination in the work place
Assessment of the effects of policiesFinally, Giddens points out the sociologyhas a vital role to play in makingassessments of the effectiveness ofgovernment social policies
This has been usedextensively in theNHS to determine justhow effective certainmedical procedureshave been in terms ofbetter quality of life forpatients and the costto the NHS.
Giddens therefore argues that socialresearch has had a positive influenceupon government social policy both at anempirical level (by fact gathering) and alsotheoretically (arriving at explanations forcertain social problems).
Others however argue that governmentsdo not simply respond to sociologicalresearch in the that way Giddensdescribes.
• The practical issue of winning an election leads to the dismissal of policies that are not ‘vote winners’ to the inclusion of ones that are.• Governments only act when they are pressured by groups that are powerful enough to have their views heard by politicians.• Finally, it is suggested that governments only act on research when it fits with their political or ideological agenda
The Black Report• For example, this report, carried out in 1980 on class inequalities in health made 37 far-reaching policy recommendations for reducing inequalities• These included free school meals for all children, improved working conditions, better benefits for the disabled and more spending on housing
• The Labour government had originally commissioned the report in 1977 but it was only completed in 1980, the year after Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative government came to power• The new government refused to implement the reports recommendations on grounds of cost and even tried to prevent its publication.
• Marxists reject the idea that that polices even as far reaching as those proposed by the Black Report are enough to solve the problem (in this instance, of inequalities in health) anyway• For them, capitalism is responsible for these (and other) inequalities and so the solution is the abolishment of capitalism.
• The government is reluctant to commit itself to radical economic change.• So, although sociology can uncover the extent of social problems and suggest solutions, solutions are selected only when they fit the governments political agenda.
• This political agenda, for Stuart Hall and other critical sociologists, is to maintain ruling class hegemony.• Indeed, social polices provide ideological legitimation for capitalism and mask capitalist exploitation• For example, the welfare state gives capitalism a ‘human face’, making it appear like the system cares about the sick, poor and old.
Indeed Marxists see the policies that createdthe welfare state after the 2nd World War as away of preventing revolution by ‘buying-off’the workers opposition to capitalism
• Sociologists have therefore been caught up in providing legitimation for a system that should itself be attacked• The victim-centred approach of the Left Realists to crime for example, diverts attention from the crimes of the powerful – the greatest rule breakers in society.
• Sociology has been colonised by the ruling class.• The government is part of the superstructure and so will always act to protect ruling class interests.• So Marxists argue social problems can only be solved through radical economic change – not reform through legislation.
• Marxists do recognise that social policies do sometimes provide real, if limited, benefits to the working class• However, such gains are constantly under threat by capitalisms tendency to go into periods of recession leading to cuts in spending on welfare
• Therefore research which reveals the truth about the social problems capitalism creates (crime, unemployment, poverty) cannot be used to solve these problems.• The only solution to social problems is a revolution to overthrow capitalism and create a classless society.
• Similarly, Socialist, Marxist and Radical Feminists argue that attempts to ‘tinker’ with the system miss the point of inequality in society.• It is the direct result of patriarchy and / or capitalism and may not be ‘legislated’ away.
• Radical, Marxist and Socialist feminists argue that the current system is actually based on the exploitation of women; it is patriarchal, and only by dismantling the entire system will women achieve any form of liberation.• They therefore criticise liberal feminists for their close ties with government.• Indeed, despite equalisation legislation, women still earn less than men and are prevented from reaching powerful positions.
Post ModernismFor them, sociology has no contribution tomake to policy.The role of sociology is to simply allowpeople to seek out an understanding oftheir personal lives within a specific socialcontext..
• This is because post-modernists reject the modernist idea of ‘progress’; social research cannot be used to usher in the ‘good society’• Knowledge is a social construction – a series of metanarratives.• Sociologists assume that there is an ‘orderly society out there to be discovered by rational scientific method’ but post modernists argue there is no such thing.
So sociology is simply an academicdiscipline and its findings should not beused to inform government social policy.
Assess the relationship between sociology and social policy. 33 marksRevision exercise: 1000 - 1200 words