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Durham University

Postgraduate Module Handbook 2021/2022

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2021-22. The current handbook year is 2022-23

Department: Sociology

SOCI59630: Social Policy and Society

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2021/22


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • Regardless of one’s area of social inquiry – from education and violence prevention to communities and health to criminology and social work – the application of social science to everyday life is paramount, primarily in policy making and evaluation. Given this wider context within which the work of social inquiry takes place, this module aims to explore social policy and the wider socio-political context in which it is presently situated. More specifically it seeks to situate the role of social policy within debates about two of the most important nexus issues with which it currently intersects, namely the social contract and political economy.
  • Furthermore, given the significant complexities surrounding such an analysis, this module will help students employ a social complexity theory frame of reference, which will help them contextualise and understand social policy within wider sociological debates about social forces shaping social problems and outcomes that policies seek to address and/or respond to.
  • In particular the module aims to provide students (regardless of their area of focus within the Sociology Department) with an advanced understanding of:
  • Major theories, concepts and principles that inform the academic study of social policy;
  • Key themes in politics and political economy of particular relevance to social policy analysis;
  • How notions of the social contract can be used to explore and unify questions about individual and social outcomes;
  • Debates that call for social policy to challenge, rather than concur with, conventional wisdom and provide more than consensual and technocratic solutions to social problems;
  • Core issues relating to the nature of policy-making and implementation in the context of the changing shape and nature of society;
  • The 'experience' of welfare as this relates to the impact of social policies on a range of social groups.


  • Term 1: Building blocks and trajectories;
  • ‘Building blocks to understand and contextualise the role of social policy in society’;
  • ‘Trajectories in contemporary societies influencing the role, design and scope of social policy’;
  • Term 2: Themes. The teaching for the second term will explore themes of relevance to debates about contemporary social policy. For example, ‘Place: Uneven geographies and spatial inequalities’, ‘Health and health inequalities’, ‘Social mobility’ and ‘Generational contract’;
  • The key readings will be distributed through the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in advance of the lectures and seminars.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module students will be able to:
  • understand key concepts in the context of the provision services by the state, the market and the occupational, voluntary and informal sectors;
  • understand social contract and complexity theories and apply these to debates about social policy;
  • apply explanatory frameworks in understanding social policy and practice;
  • understand the causes and experiences of a range of social problems;
  • explain the role of institutions and institutional mechanisms in the delivery of policy and practice;
  • understand relationships between social trends and policy and practice;
  • be aware of relationships between economic and socia policies;
  • understand the impact of politics on policy and practice.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of this module students will be able to:
  • evaluate key concepts and contribute to key conceptual and practice debates in social policy;
  • be aware of and able to apply cross-national and comparative perspectives as well as national perspectives;
  • to apply an advanced knowledge in the subject to specific research contexts, including investigating concepts and issues in depth.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of this module students will be able to:
  • evaluate critically evidence and ideas at the forefront of research and thinking in the subject;
  • deal with highly complex issues and communicate conclusions to specialist and non-specialist audiences;
  • demonstrate a high degree of self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems;
  • work autonomously in planning and implementing tasks, exercising initiative and personal responsibility;
  • continue to advance their knowledge and understanding at an advanced level.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures: allow staff to introduce designated topic areas in a systematic manner. At MA level, students are encouraged to engage with lectures more proactively than is normally the case at undergraduate level - to this end, lectures act both as a 'point of departure' for knowledge accumulation, but also as a means of encouraging students to engage either with new ideas, or with familiar ideas buy at a more advanced level of debate.
  • Seminars: enable staff and students to explore and evaluate social policy issues arising from lectures and from independent reading. Students are encouraged to develop their own questions about the nature and role of social policy and the core concepts and principles relevant to the academic study of social policy. They also are required to present complex scholarly work both orally and in written form, in ways that are clear and understandable to others, thus enhancing not only subject knowledge but also key communication skills.
  • Directed Reading: module study guides provide students with information about core and further reading. Students are expected to read for seminar and written work. 'Directed reading' relates to books and other texts relevant to a particular seminar topic, Seminar presentations will provide students with opportunities to distil a range of complex information from core texts (some of which will be research monographs) and present this information orally and visually in ways understandable to others.
  • Independent Reading: provides students with the opportunities to read widely, particularly in preparation for formative and assessed essay work. Independent reading enables students to draw on debates within scholarly journals and research monographs, in ways that enhance a critical understanding and engagement with key issues in social policy.
  • Summative work - summative essays test students' understanding of the major issues discussed in the module. They also test capacities to draw out the implications of particular arguments and the ability to apply theoretical and conceptual perspectives to specific issues which arise in defined areas of welfare;
  • Formative work - The optional formative essay provides an opportunity for students to receive feedback on these capacities and understandings prior to completing their summative work.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lectures 18 weekly 1 18
Seminars 18 weekly 1 18
Preparation & Reading 264
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Assessment Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 3,000 words 50%
Essay 3,000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

An optional formative essay of 1,500 words.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University