University of Sydney Handbooks - 2016 Archive

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Social Policy

The Department of Sociology and Social Policy is part of the School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS).

About the major

Most countries today have systems to provide for citizens in times of need. These may be, for example, unemployment benefits for people out of work or pensions for the elderly. Social Policy is the study of the policies that create, shape and change such systems. The Social Policy major focuses on how different policies affect the social and economic welfare of individuals, families and communities. Studying social policy enables you to understand the principles underpinning the provision of social policies. It explores why and how some policies emerge and also why they disappear. The type of policy areas you will study include: work, unemployment and employment services; youth and children's services; health policies; housing and urban/regional policies; policies for women, policies for Indigenous people; multicultural policies and policies on the environment.

When you study social policy you will be introduced to the subject area through junior units in sociology. Here you will learn about the key ideas and concepts that sociologists have been developing to help understand the world and which provide the foundations for understanding social policy. You will also be introduced to methods and techniques that will enable you to undertake your own research. These foundational ideas will be extended in senior theory and methods units and then developed further in senior social policy units. These units build on those sociological foundations to explore the principles of social policy and its enactments in different national contexts, deepening your understanding of key sites of inequality and change in the contemporary world.

Students will grapple with these aspects of social policy in both classroom situations and the real world. You will learn to write and think sociologically using essays, reports, oral group work, posters, debates and new social media.

Pathway through the major

A major in Social Policy requires at least 36 credit senior points, including at least 18 credit points of core 2000-level units of study and 6 credit points from core 3000-level units of study.

The units of study for the major can be found in the Table A unit of study table for Social Policy. The table shows units of study on offer in the current handbook year. You can find information regarding a full list of units of study available to the major on the departmental website.

Junior units of study (1000 level)

You complete two junior units of study: SCLG1001 Introduction to Sociology 1 and SCLG1002 Introduction to Sociology 2. In these units you will learn about:

  • methods for conducting and assessing research
  • key topics of analysis, such as class, gender, race, globalisation etc.
  • classical social theory
  • contemporary social theory.
Senior units of study (2000 and 3000 level)

You complete 18 credit points of core senior intermediate (2000-level) units of study:

  • SCPL2601 Australian Social Policy
  • SCPL2602 The Principles of Social Policy
  • SCLG2632 Quantitative Methods.

These core senior-intermediate units of study extend on the introductory material in the two junior units. They focus on deepening your theoretical and methodological capacities in concert with an introduction to the core principles of social policy.

You also complete 6 credit points of core senior advanced (3000-level) units of study: SCPL3604 Social Policy and Practice.

The remaining credit points for your major can be taken from senior units of study listed under electives on the unit of study table. Elective units provide you with an advanced introduction to domestic and international social policy research and analysis, exploring specific policy fields and welfare state regimes. These units have specialist content (eg religion, inequality, urban sociology, deviance, social movements and social policy) enabling you to focus on narrower topics and learn about the particular concepts, theories and methods associated with these sub-fields of sociology and social policy.


In this fourth year of study students undertake a program of coursework and a research thesis. If you intend to undertake honours you must have completed at least 48 senior credit points of Sociology or Social Policy with an average of 70 percent or above. You must also take SCPL3604 Social Policy and Practice as a bridging unit to the research-intensive year of honours. This unit allows you to undertake work around a specific empirical/theoretical project, pulling together your learning across the major.

Contact/further information

Department website:
Undergraduate Coordinator: