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Evaluate the Significance of Sociology To Understanding Social Work Practice

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EVALUATE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOCIOLOGY TO UNDERSTANDING SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE This essay will examine the significance of sociology and the importance of a good understanding of the society in which we live. This essay will also provide an understanding of what sociology is, and an insight into each perspective in relation to a particular concept and some of the social problems surrounding it. It will identify how an understanding of sociology is useful in helping social workers understand, evaluate and resolve the potential problems faced by their client groups, and will assess the importance of sociology in social work practice. Sociology differs to psychology, in as much as psychology studies the individual and that individual's reactions and involvement within society. Sociology concentrates its approach on a much wider level, looking at the bigger picture. Giddens (1989:18) reports that the study of sociology offers the individual an opportunity to detach oneself from preconceived ideas about social life, however it does pose specific problems, mainly because of the complex problems involved in subjecting our own behaviour to study. It is hard to be objective which you are directly involved in, and later on in the essay, it is apparent how this has influenced, and biased some perspectives. Sociology developed as a science in the late 1700s. It was initially a way of attempting to understand the great changes happening in industry and society around that time, following a period of social and industrial revolutions throughout England and the transition from feudal England, into a more capitalist and industrialised society. Although there are many definitions of sociology, there is no clear cut definition as to what it encompasses. Macionis and Plummer (1997:4) say that the definition of sociology is the "systematic study of human society", whilst "The study of human social behaviour, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society" - is the definition taken from We can therefore deduce that sociology is a study of looking at things from a wider angle.


These were social problems during the 1900's and earlier, and were immoral, which in the local communities at that time, could have been punishable by law, but today's society has started to adapt and accept these changes, making something which was originally perceived as deviant into a social "norm", and this will lead eventually into this behaviour becoming part of the social mores of our society. It is therefore safe to say, that in order for society to be maintained it has to accept the changing threats to values and adapt around the social problems it encounters. Using statistics from Giddens (1989:176) we can see that the number of couples with dependent children has dropped significantly from 38% in 1961 to only 23% in 1998, whilst this signifies a decline in the amount of young married couples having children, it also highlights the fact that our society is also now increasing in age. This shows that the current population is likely to be comprised of adults without dependent children. In addition to this, the number of lone parents has risen dramatically from 2% in 1961 to 7% in 1998. Using figures from Macionis and Plummer (1997:447) which state that, "the numbers in adoption have sharply fallen. 6,000 in England in Wales in 1994, compared with 21,000 in 1971", we can see how society has accommodated the issue of unmarried mothers. The number of one person households has also risen from 11% in 1961 to 28% in 1998, and this is probably due to the rise in divorcees having to find alternative accommodation following the breakdown of a marriage. So, whilst we have identified what a family is, and an example of the social problems surrounding it, it is useful now to look at how each perspective views the family and its purpose and usefulness in society. Looking at the functionalist perspective, who provide the most positive view of family life, it is essential to understand that functionalists view the family as the "basic social unit and the core institution of society" (Jorgensen et al:1997:72)


According to Thompson(1993:56) this is one of the main weaknesses in the theory, as it does not explain how there is still continuation of male dominance in the non-capitalist societies Liberal feminism has been evident since the early eighteenth century, and its main objective was to make it illegal to discriminate against, or use unequal treatment for women, and it was largely based on notions of free choice, empowering women to take control of their own lives. Liberal feminism is primarily concerned with issues of overt discrimination against women in all areas of social life, in particular, work education and the portrayal of women in the media, as well as arguing for legal protection and social rights. It argues that women are not inferior to men and should be allowed to compete equally in all aspects of life, especially education and work. It has been successful so far in using its main weapon (the legal system) in outlawing discriminatory behaviour towards women, and in establishing legislation to protect female workers in the UK and USA, such as equal pay etc. The main criticism of this perspective is that the women involved in the writing were middle class women, therefore the changes implemented were benefiting middle class women. I understand that sociology can assist the social work practitioner in assessing situations from the wider picture and drawing on relevant perspectives in their own merit to help the client group involved in reaching a suitable resolution. I therefore believe that an understanding of sociology can help social workers to develop a mind set which will provide the foundations for the commencement of good practice skills. I think that society modifies itself to accommodate social problems and that sociology itself has adapted to identify these, therefore, as sociology helps us to identify what the social problems are, it can help social workers to help the society in which they work.

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