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  1. Is there a significant role played by a sociologist in the development process of a country? Explain answers giving examples.

Sociology is findings of the study of society that helps not only to broaden and deepen our understanding of social mysteries but also to help solve problems in society. Although it is difficult to gauge the measure of its success, sociologists have attempted to make use of

sociological insights and data to address various social issues. Even though mainstream sociology has remained largely academically oriented, sociologists often influences the thinking of policy makers, other scientists and the general public on diverse issues, and it is likely that these academically oriented sociologists also have some influence on the policy making process.

Two distinct approaches in Applied Sociology

The Engineering Approach: The Engineering Approach is when sociologists follow a previous diagnosis, study, definition or solution in dealing with social issues and accept the definition of the problem given by others.

The Clinical Approach: The Clinical Approach is when sociologists can adopt an investigative and fresh approach to the problems they deal with without necessarily resorting to the earlier solutions.

The significant role played by a Sociologist is categorized into 4 key areas:

  1. Presentation of substantive ideas.
  2. Production of descriptive data.
  3. Use of sociological insights to enlighten policy makers, scientists.
  4. Use of sociological methods to evaluate projects and programs.
  5. Presentation of substantive ideas –

A sociologist can make a significant contribution to the economy of the country by way of making available their findings on social issues through a large body of literature on social stratification, modernization, urbanization, religion, education, bureaucracy, etc. It is through this extensive literature that substantive ideas have influenced applied sociology in general and the process of policy making in particular.

Furthermore, the breakup of traditional societies under the influence of modern science, industrialization, urbanization, and modern liberal ideas brought into focus certain values and standards such as egalitarianism (social equality), social justice, rationality, universalism, secularism, modernity and equality of opportunity. Much of the sociological work since the mid-19th century has been instrumental in spreading these values and standards not only in the developed western societies but also in the Third World.

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  1. Descriptive Sociology –

A sociologist can contribute to the development process of the country by making available descriptive data on wide range of social issues such as poverty, social and income inequality, social life in urban areas, deviance, mental illness, drug addiction, crime, etc. These descriptive data gathered by Sociologists through social surveys not only help give a fairly accurate picture of the social and economic life of the people but also assist in developing indicators that can be used to measure variations and time and across different socio-cultural contexts i.e. divorce rates, suicide rates, voting behavior, incidence and causes of absolute poverty, degree of religiosity etc.

These descriptive survey data could be extensively used for various purposes such as monitoring social trends, evaluation of the impact of policies and programs and analysis of various social, economic, political and cultural issues. Various pressure groups in modern societies use descriptive data to mould public opinion and influence the policy making process. A clear case in point is the current debate on the ethnic question in Sri Lanka. It is well-known, that different groups involved use statistical data on population, employment, education, land settlement, etc., to substantiate various positions they hold.

  1. Policy Making –

Also another main contribution of sociology in the field of policy making is the presentation of substantive ideas on critical social issues. Sociological insights can emanate only from a sociological analysis, such as the reason for the behavior of people. The task of the sociologist in responding to this question has been to identify the various forces that collect together to influence people’s behavior. Accordingly, the conceptual and practical sociological literature has been influenced by this undeniable impact of the human ideas to form behavior of man.

When a particular ideology is widely accepted in a society, it can prepare the groundwork for a major social movement aimed at reforming society in keeping with the ideology concerned. If the new ideology threatens the existing interest groups and if the latter decide to sabotage, the result can be a violent conflict although conflicting ideas and interests do not necessarily lead to violent conflicts. In modern societies, there exist certain political and administrative mechanisms which usually facilitate instrumental social changes in keeping with new ideas. So, it is when such mechanisms fail to bring about the desired changes that violent conflicts often erupt. This fact itself is an important message many sociologists have conveyed to both policy makers and the general public.

Sociological concerns are so wide-ranging and therefore cannot be limited into any narrow boundary to realistically understand and offer solutions to the society. Therefore sociologists also focus on areas which have a direct bearing on the society such as; economics, demography, political science, history, psychology, medicine and agriculture.

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  1. Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation –

Although Development Planning is an activity which has traditionally the responsibility of the economists, increasingly, sociologists’ roles in development planning have become significant in a lesser role.

The sociologist’s assistance is sought on issues such as policy, social development and community development as well as for evaluating the social impact of policies and programs. Apart from evaluating the impact with reference to stated objectives and goals of policies and programs, sociologists could also assist by analyzing why certain policies and programs fail to bring about the desired results.

Apart from the above key areas, sociologists also help the development process by performing different roles as critics, social planners, social reformers, social evaluators and social educators.

  • Sociologist as a Critic –

Many sociologists were influenced by the ideas and beliefs of Marxism which emphasized equality, equal opportunity, social justice as social values to be adopted. Therefore under the education of sociologists, traditional institutions like caste, slavery, hereditary office and bonded labor which stood against modern social values have begun to lose their importance in society, especially in intellectual circles as well as in the educated society.

Also as social critics, sociologists have made a significant contribution to the formation of public opinion against undesirable social conditions, even going to the length of going beyond criticism and campaigning for radical social reforms. This they have done both as activists and as social planners and many sociologists are committed participants in progressive social movements.

  • Sociologist as Social Planner –

Sociologists are increasingly working with key government institutions and have formed Non- Governmental Organizations contributing to social planning by way of research and publication and in the advisory capacity. This is a very important role as the development of diversified state bureaucracy with many layers of institutions has led to conflict of interests among different agencies resulting in waste of resources and duplication of effort.

  • Sociologists as Social Reformer –

In their role as social reformers, sociologists have introduced the socio-cultural dimension into the planning process by examining various socio-cultural factors that either facilitate or delay economic development whilst being attentive to the non-material measures of development and wellbeing of the people. By presenting substantive ideas on critical social, economic, political and cultural issues, sociologists have influenced the public discussions on areas such as inequality, poverty, crime, racism and philosophy. In particular, sociologists working on social issues have influenced policy debates. A clear example is the area of social policy.

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  • Sociologist as Evaluator –

Evaluation is essentially an activity that follows the implementation of a project or program in varied fields as poverty alleviation, primary health care, health reduction, health education, rural development and irrigation rehabilitation.

Sociologists have made significant contribution to evaluation research in the recent years through their main focus on evaluation of the social impact of policies and programs also paying attention to both positive and negative social and cultural factors that contribute to project outcome. By this process the sociologist can also identify various factors that have contributed to the success or the failure of the project and also make suitable recommendations and advise.

  • Sociologist as Educator –

More than in Sri Lanka, in western countries, sociologists have a bigger role in education as it is taught in schools at the advanced level onwards. This could be identified as the largest single role of their contribution at both tertiary and secondary levels though a few of them may also be engaged in applied work, the vast majority of them do little more than teaching and basic research.

Therefore, it is evident that increasingly the role of a sociologist is of great importance when making development decisions in a country as well as in the stage of implementing the economic decisions that need to be made, well considering the patterns of social issues past and present.

  1. Examine the theories of crime with the existing Criminal Tendencies in Sri Lanka using your own examples.

The major theoretical explanations of crime are sociological which explains that social variables and structures are linked to crime. Two principal theories of crime are Robert Merton’s theory of “Anomie” and Edwin Sutherland’s Theory of “Differential Association”.

Social Structure Theory –

  • Emphasized Inequality as some groups of the society are unable to achieve the goals valued by society due to lack of opportunity.
  • Based on the assumption that middle class values are highly held and aspired by all members of society

Anomie: Social Structure Theory –

One of the oldest reasons given for crime is the concept of “anomie”- linking deviance and social disorganization theory. The concept of anomie was first propounded by Emile Durkheim. He saw a “normalness” or confusion of norms stemming from any sudden change in social structure. According to Robert Merton, “anomie’ arises from a situation in which there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles between cultural goals and the social means available to reach them.

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Anomie, therefore, was seen by Durkheim to be a very dangerous phenomenon, mainly because when people no longer believe in their obligations to others (because they no-longer have a concept of a collective conscience by which to guide their behavior), they revert to self-interest. In effect, they attempt to look after themselves without bothering too much about how this may affect the lives of others. Thus, high levels of criminal behavior weaken the collective conscience and produce anomie. Since human beings cannot live in a state of true anomie for long, social collapse occurs, prior to the establishment of some new form of moral order.

Differential Association Theory –

Edwin Sutherland used “differential association” as the main explanation for crime. Involvement in crime results from a “learning process”, learning from others, those whom a youth associates. He receives an “excess of definitions favorable to violation of law”, He gets specific instructions from his peers and friends for theft, burglary or any other crime, even padding and an expense account. He absorbs the “motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes” needed to commit crime.

Sutherland’s theory stated above, explains the popular notion that “bad friends” can get a kid in trouble very easily. But not everyone who has “bad friends” will commit crime. Much depends on the frequency, duration and intensity of association and the meaning of the relationship to a person.

Sub-Culture –

The contemporary theories and literature on crime are closely linked with the general literature in Sociology and Social Psychology. This has been expressed in two principal forms. First, criminologists have studied the process by which persons become criminals and have developed theories of criminality. Second, they have studied the relationship between crime rates in culture and social organization.

Some theories of criminality are theories of social learning and personality development and thus are necessarily related to more general theories about these phenomena i.e. theories about social systems of social structure.

Sub-Culture Theory –

  • Sub-cultural theory emphasizes discrepancies in the norms and values held by different groups.
  • Based on the presumption that a conflict of norms causes criminal behavior (endorsing the norms of the subculture, pressures individuals to deviate from the norms underlying the criminal law).

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Social scientists have emphasized poverty as a leading cause for crime especially applicable to Sri Lanka. It can be the root cause for the escalating crime rate.

  • Poverty Related Crimes –

This is very evident in Sri Lanka as many criminal incidents are reported in poorest urban areas such as slums and lower class dwelling areas such as Slave Island, Maradana, Pettah, Kotahena, Negombo, etc.

Poverty may lead to suicides, prostitution, violence, bribery, alcoholism and so on. Poverty is responsible for many crimes directly or indirectly because it is assumed that there is a close relationship between poverty and social disorganization. There are many social conditions among the poor in Sri Lanka which promote criminality. Unemployment is another important factor contributing to crime. Most youths who are involved in robberies, alcoholism, violence and notorious crimes come from unemployed rural or urban backgrounds.

  • Tourism Related Crime –

Rapid development of the tourist industry in recent years has also encouraged some criminal activities such as drug trade and child prostitution as could be seen in the areas of Negombo, Hikkaduwa, Colombo and other coastal areas.

Forty percent of prison inmates in Sri Lanka are drug addicts and this has become a serious problem according to the Commissioner of Prisons. Meanwhile, during the last two decades, the country has also witnessed an increase in white-collar crimes and organized crime. There are criminals who have high political patronage because of their links with politicians in power.

  • Civil War Related Crime –

Many forces deserters and youth trained in arms have found it easier to commit crimes in Sri Lanka as they are well-trained in arms and possess them. Also as they have witnessed death and are somewhat frustrated about life being away from family members/ they do not consider the consequences of getting caught.

  • Rivalry Related Crime –

In Sri Lanka an alarming rate of rivalry, political and otherwise related crime are on the increase as could be read in the crime reports daily.

We certainly hope that more stringent measures be brought and existing laws will be amended and applied to arrest and eradicate the alarming rate of the crimes committed in this once peaceful island.


Department of Sociology, Open University of Sri Lanka Publication on Applied Sociology (1997).

Durkheim, Emile: Concept of “Anomie”.

Merton, K. Robert: Theory of Anomie.

Sutherland, Edwin: Theory of Differential Association.