Assess the usefulness of functionalism in explaining the causes and the extent of deviance in society.

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Sociology Assignment                                                                    0334716

HEFP in Law                                                                         05/03/2004

1.        Identify and briefly explain two ways in which the concept of social control can help us to understand one of the following areas: families and households; mass media; power and politics; religion.                       (8 marks)

Religious beliefs of one sort or another are present in every known society. The functionalists believe that the function of religion is the contribution it makes to meet society’s needs, for example, its contribution to value consensus.

Talcott Parsons stated that human action is directed and controlled by norms provided by the social system. Religion provides general guidelines for conduct which are expressed in a variety of norms. For example, the Ten Commandments in Christian societies, that by establishing general principles and moral beliefs, it helps to provide the consensus which Parsons believes is necessary for order and stability in society.

However, Marxists argued that religion is an illusion which eases the pain produced by exploitation and oppression. It acts as a mechanism of social control, maintaining the existing system of exploitation and reinforcing class relationships. For example, slave-owners in the southern states of America often approved of the conversion of slaves to Christianity, believing it to be a controlling and gentling influence. In this way, religion is a distortion of reality which provides many of the deceptions that form the basis of ruling-class ideology and false class consciousness.

To sum up, it is evident that the ideological commitments of particular researchers have influenced their definition of religion and their view of its role in society.

(216 words)

2.        Deviant behaviour may be studied using a variety of sociological methods. Examine some of the problems of using observational methods to study deviance.                                                 (12 marks)

All sociological research involves observation of some sort, especially when studying deviance. However, problems often occurred.

To begin with, observation is often very time-consuming. Cicourel (1976) spent four years studying juvenile justice in California.

The researcher can usually only study a very small group of people and has to be physically present for the research to proceed, which can be highly inconvenient and demanding. For example, the researcher may find it necessary to engage in activities they dislike in order to fit in with the group, and they may even face personal danger. ‘James Patrick’ left Glasgow in a hurry when the gang violence began to sicken him and he felt concerned for his own safety (Patrick, 1973).

More seriously, are the theoretical objections that have been raised. Firstly, to quantitative researchers, the samples used in observation are too small and untypical for generalizations to be made on the basis of the findings. Thus Pryce (1979) would not have been justified in making generalizations about all West Indians in Britain on the basis of a study of Bristol.

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Moreover, such studies cannot be replicated, so the results cannot be checked. It is therefore difficult to compare the results with the findings of other studies. As Whyte admits, ‘To some extent my approach must be unique to myself, to the particular situation, and to the state of knowledge existing when I began research’ (Whyte, 1955).

Additionally, the account of social life produced by observation is the result of a highly selective method of data collection. Like Martyn Hammersley (1992) points out that an ethnographer could have produced many different, non-contradictory and true descriptions of the same setting. In this ...

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