Evaluate the Significance of Socilogy To Understand Social Work Practice

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The term “sociology” comes from the Latin word ‘socius’, which means people, and the Greek word ‘logos’, which means study of. According to Macaronis and Plummer (cited in Cree 2001:1), sociology is defined as the methodical and doubting examination of human society.

“Sociology offers us the chance to comprehend the origins of social issues and refrain from attributing fault solely on individuals. It enables examination of the societies people belong to and their roles within communities. In this passage, I will give a concise introduction to the three main sociological perspectives along with newer contemporary ones. Additionally, I will evaluate sociology’s significance in social work, particularly regarding older adults, and investigate ageism as a societal problem.”

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Sociology covers a wide range of subjects, including religion, class, ethnicity, sex, race, education, and crime. Social institutions like the family, law, and peer groups make up society. These institutions contain different cultures that may share values. Cultures consist of values, norms, and customs that each have a role and status in society.

People are born into society and go through socialization, which involves learning about different cultures and adopting norms and values. Primary socialization happens in the early years and is usually taught by parents or older siblings. Secondary socialization occurs at school, through media, and within peer groups, extending throughout life.

Secondary socialisation is the ongoing process of individuals developing their social identity and gaining knowledge about their roles in society. These roles, such as daughter to wife and worker to retiree, continuously change throughout life. There are various sociological perspectives that provide different views of society and its members, including the functionalist perspective, the Marxist perspective, and the social action theory.

It is crucial for a social worker to acknowledge that there are situations where a single general theory may not be universally applicable. Let me provide a brief explanation of the three main traditional perspectives and their views on society. While I recognize that each perspective faces criticisms, I am unable to go into detail due to limited space. “Functionalism is a structuralist theory that gives priority to the social structure or organizations of society rather than the individual’s significance.

“Moore et al (2001:6) argue that functionalists examine society on a macro level, perceiving it as a system consisting of interrelated parts. They believe that individuals are shaped by society and its social institutions, such as family and peer groups. Consequently, people generally conform to established norms and rules. Furthermore, functionalists emphasize the importance of order and stability for the overall survival of the social system.”

The idea of functionalism suggests that social systems have their own functions, which help maintain the stability of the entire system. Some influential functionalists include Emile Durkeim, Auguste Comte (who first coined the term sociology), and Talcott Parsons. According to Parsons, socialization is key in understanding human behavior patterns. Durkeim aimed to create a new understanding of society and believed that behavior could be understood through social structures rather than individual preferences.

The influence of laws, policies, and religion determines our behavior in society, shaping our roles and guiding our actions. According to Parsons, the nuclear family is the optimal unit for socializing children, with a male breadwinner fulfilling the instrumental role and a housewife and mother serving as the expressive leader. The family is not only responsible for maintaining the well-being of its members but also for meeting the societal and economic needs of mobility and adaptability within the workforce.

Moore et al (2001:41) argue that dividing labor makes it easier for families to resolve decisions without conflict. This is because each family member has a specific role within society’s structure. Marxism, derived from Karl Marx’s ideas, sees society as a class system divided into the proletariat (workers) and bourgeoisie (employers or bosses). Marx referred to the bourgeoisie as the ruling class.

Marxism, like functionalism, is a structuralist theory that emphasizes the macro level. It suggests that individuals’ behavior is influenced by societies’ economic organization. Marxism argues that class relationships, which are prominent in economic life, shape individuals” (Moore et al., 2001:10).

According to Marxist ideology, the bourgeoisie, as the owners of the means of production, held control over society’s major institutions. This included the economy and socialization institutions like family, religion, and education. Marxists view society as having unequal class systems where the ruling class exploits the working class for profit from their labor. They believe in a future where communal ownership replaces the current economic system, creating a more equal society (Giddens, 1997:10). In contrast, social action theory focuses on individuals and their interactions in shaping social life, distinguishing itself from functionalists and Marxists.

The social action theory, a perspective that looks at the individual level of society, explores how individuals have the ability to choose their actions and roles. Max Weber, a prominent sociologist in this area, stressed the significance of beginning with individuals instead of society. This is in contrast to the structuralist theory which takes a ‘top-down’ approach.

According to Weber, individuals have the ability to transition between roles and change them at will without being limited by societal expectations. He believed that our actions are influenced by cultural ideas and values, which in turn shape society. Weber identified different types of action that can be used to understand human behavior. For example, traditional action is when individuals choose to do something based on longstanding customs and traditions.

* Effective actions occur when actors are driven by their emotions and cannot help but do something or other. Value-oriented action, on the other hand, happens when one principle or purpose takes precedence over all others. Rational action, in contrast, takes place when actors carefully evaluate and calculate the most efficient methods to achieve specific goals. (Bilton et al.)

(1996:89) Weber disagreed with the Marxist perspective that class conflict is the dominant factor influencing social change and argued that values hold equal importance. Functionalism, Marxism, and social action theory are the major sociological perspectives. Nevertheless, the latter half of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of more contemporary perspectives including feminism, anti-racist thought, and postmodernism. Like the earlier perspectives, these newer frameworks offer unique explanations of behavior, individuals, and society. Feminists argue for the unequal treatment of men and women across various social institutions, including work and home. Different strands of feminism such as Marxist, black, liberal, and radical femisms exist, each with their own nuanced viewpoints. Nonetheless, these feminist perspectives collectively challenge traditional sociology and highlight the unjust treatment of women historically and in present times.

Moore et al (2001:27) argue that gender is a vital aspect of feminism, encompassing societal expectations for both males and females. These expectations are transmitted to future generations through gender role socialisation. Although gender is socially constructed, there exist notable disparities in experiences and societal roles between the sexes.

Women continue to encounter the expectation of being homemakers and an unequal division of labor within their households. In terms of anti-racist or ‘black’ perspectives, the emphasis lies on examining the racist assumptions and encounters faced by ethnic minorities in Britain. The notion of ‘black feminism’ specifically tackles the oppression that ‘black’ women undergo as a result of both sexism and racism. This phenomenon is often referred to as double jeopardy because ‘black’ women can experience oppression based on both their race and gender.

“Postmodernists argue that society today is significantly different from what early sociological writers predicted (Cree 2000). This is primarily because we now live in a multi-racial and multi-cultural society, leading to the belief that many traditional sociological ideas are no longer relevant. According to Moore et al (2001:19), postmodern culture revolves around mixing and juxtaposing styles that may seem contradictory. Each sociological perspective serves a purpose in understanding human behavior and explaining social issues, but they also face criticism. Functionalists, for example, have been criticized for their inability to explain conflicts and diversity, as they tend to overemphasize social order.”

Some criticisms of functionalists include their neglect of individual freedom of choice, despite viewing socialization as infallible, which it is not. Similarly, certain Marxists also overlook people’s freedom of choice and excessively focus on conflict. Additionally, social action theory is criticized for its lack of detailed explanation regarding the responsible parties for demonstrating norms and power.

A social problem is when a problem affects many people in society, rather than just individuals. A social worker’s duty is to work together with other organizations to alleviate these problems; they cannot solve social problems alone. By using the term our sociological imagination, we can acknowledge that individual issues, such as poverty, are not solely the responsibility of those individuals but rather a matter that affects the whole society.

Addressing the issues as a whole and adopting a holistic approach is vital for enhancing people’s lives. This entails acknowledging and honoring cultural and lifestyle disparities, while also taking action to drive change for marginalized individuals who experience discrimination. Social workers must grasp the interdependence between personal challenges and societal elements, as well as the connection between individual difficulties and wider social systems. This awareness assists clients in realizing that their struggles are not solely a result of their own misfortune or lack of preparation, but rather stem from broader social problems such as housing or poverty.

Sociology provides social workers with a foundation that enables them to go beyond immediate problems and quick solutions, allowing them to see the bigger picture from different perspectives. In order to better understand their actions, social workers must be aware of the reasons behind their decisions and recognize any underlying assumptions, as social structures do not treat individuals equally. Working with older individuals, such as in my client group, presents numerous sociological issues like housing. Placing people in sheltered housing, typically located in areas with limited access to stores, transportation, amenities, and the community as a whole, often leads to the marginalization of these individuals.

In this case, individuals become increasingly reliant on services and lack the ability to carry out tasks independently due to the absence of nearby assistance, like from neighbors. The services available are located too far away to be reached. However, the organization I am employed by has a long-standing program in place. It consists of sheltered housing located directly in the town center, with on-site homecare services provided.

The location of the establishment, which is near various amenities such as shops and bus routes, as well as being adjacent to the local community centre, allows people with disabilities to continue being active members of society. Additionally, it is not uncommon for older individuals to face difficulties in communicating their issues due to strokes or illness. Thus, social workers play a crucial role in aiding clients in expressing their needs and overcoming social exclusion.

Advocacy involves communicating and engaging with clients, as well as promoting their ability to express their opinions. Older individuals often face the social challenge of not being able to integrate into society due to social structures or limited networks. In coastal towns, older people often choose to retire to areas where they have previously enjoyed happy vacations. They leave their families behind and settle in properties with intentions of spending the remainder of their lives there.

When individuals become ‘incapacitated’, they are frequently left alone without support from their families, resulting in isolation from their communities. Previously, before the implementation of the Care In The Community Act 1990, one option for these individuals was to voluntarily enter residential care. However, according to the findings of the Griffiths Report, social workers are obligated to perceive the transition to permanent residential care positively rather than as a last resort. They should take action by offering long-term care plans to prevent admission into residential care and promoting independence rather than dependence for the client.

Many clients heavily depend on state-provided retirement pensions and income support, struggling to afford private services not covered by social services due to eligibility requirements. The retirement pension only accounts for approximately one third of the average income, limiting older individuals’ ability to age successfully (Gilleard & Higgs, 2000:15). It is important to acknowledge that not all older individuals experience poverty. Previously, there was a lack of literature on aging from traditional functionalist and Marxist perspectives as older individuals constituted a minority. However, the percentage of older individuals in Britain has increased since the start of the 20th Century thanks to improvements in quality of life and healthcare.

“For the first time, the European population now has an equal number of individuals over the age of 60 and under the age of 15,” according to Talcott Parsons. Gilleard & Higgs (2000:12) state that Parsons viewed retirement as a loss of role and integration into society. In the later stages of their lives, older individuals go through various sociological changes. The roles of spouses may shift from husband or wife to widow or widower, and from independence to dependence or interdependence. To facilitate this transition and reduce stress, some larger corporations provide courses for those approaching retirement age. However, it is common for people to retire earlier due to private pension schemes and investments.”

According to Gilleard & Higgs (2000:37), income from occupational pensions for recently retired individuals has increased by over 150% in the past two decades. This increase in income can lead to significant changes and upheaval not only for the individual, but also for their family. Gilleard & Higgs (2000:32) argue that retirement is seen by structured dependency theorists as a crucial factor in the transition towards a less socially respected identity, which can put older individuals at a disadvantage. Furthermore, older people are often perceived as burdensome and have a negative image.

As an assistant care manager, I often encounter ageism, even from fellow professionals. It is a frequent occurrence for older individuals to seek medical assistance for a health issue, only to be dismissed by their general practitioner who attributes the problem solely to their age and believes nothing can be done to help them.

In British society, older individuals may experience discrimination in the allocation of beds on rehabilitation units. While waiting for a bed after suffering from a stroke, priority might be given to younger patients. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that older people also receive favorable treatment through discounts on bus passes and admission to specific attractions. Conversely, other cultures tend to regard aging as a positive journey where older individuals are esteemed and held in high regard as wise figures.

Service providers and social services have the potential to contribute to negative perceptions by categorizing individuals as disabled or frail. These labels are frequently used to determine the client’s eligibility for services. It is important for social workers to challenge this form of marginalization by being mindful of their language and focusing on the strengths of the clients, rather than solely their needs. Additionally, workers may need to address clients’ self-esteem if they have experienced marginalization.

Services for older people often receive lower budgets, so social workers may need to present their case to a panel in order to secure the necessary services for their clients. Unfortunately, older people are often included in the same policies that are applied to all adult social services clients, without specific protections against abuse. Neil Thompson (2001) explains how this discrimination and marginalization impact the experiences of these clients, utilizing the PCS model.

According to Thompson (2001:21), the term “P” refers to the personal or Psychological, which encompasses personal feelings and emotions as well as individual practice. He also mentions that “C” stands for the cultural level, representing shared ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. This includes the social norms and values of our society.

S refers to the structural level, which includes social divisions and power relations that are closely connected to them Thompson (2001:22). It also represents the normalization of discrimination in our society. This model can be used to illustrate how all forms of discrimination affect individuals and society. It also recognizes that societal attitudes and actions can impact individuals. As mentioned earlier, it is important for social workers to understand that their own actions can contribute to marginalization and discrimination, as well as how others’ actions affect individuals and the community as a whole.

PCS analysis emphasizes the different levels of discrimination and their interconnectedness (Thompson, 2001:24). In brief, I have covered the three main sociological perspectives and given a short explanation of newer perspectives from the 20th century. I have demonstrated the importance of applying theory to social work practice and addressed ageism as a societal problem. Furthermore, I have outlined how discrimination affects individuals and society overall, along with the role that social workers can play in reducing this issue.

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