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Social practices should not be confused with the level of behaviour; they are socially recognised ways of doing things that are taken up, perhaps as "discourses", by people in a certain frame of mind.This theoretical agenda is combined with an integrated "numbers and narratives" methodology.
In 1997 the age-specific pregnancy rate for women 15-19 years of age was 33/1,000 for non-Maori and 94/1,000 for Maori (Dickson et al. Among developed countries, only the United States records a higher statistic.
The specific incidence of teenage pregnancy is not necessarily influenced by changes in the sexual activity of young people, but there is an obvious relationship between sexual activity and pregnancy, and there is much to be said for an integrated approach in this field.
This paper argues the case for New Zealand research into teenage pregnancy - and the sexual activity of young people in general - in its full social and cultural context.
Three conceptual barriers to this project are identified and discussed: (i) "at risk" positivism; (ii) "true effect" reductionism; and (iii) the concept of culture.
The long-term costs of teenage pregnancy to the state, in terms of sole-parent family benefits expenditure is substantial (Goodger 1998).
These are acknowledged as the principal reasons for the recent determination to tackle teenage pregnancy in the United Kingdom, where the Cabinet has launched a multi-pronged campaign to address what is perceived there to be a serious problem (Social Exclusion Unit 1999:4).New Zealand has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the developed world.In the UK, where the rate is lower than New Zealand's but twice the European average, a Cabinet-led programme has been launched to bring the problem under control.The "at risk" concept, however, has no explanatory value and gives support to a "cycle of deprivation" model that is not necessarily supported by the evidence (Dean 1997, Jones et al. There is in reality no one-to-one correspondence between income and lifestyle and, just as family resources have a continuous distribution, so do social practices.The distribution of family resources - including income, cultural capital, and social networks - and the discourses of practice, follow a continuous distribution in which sharp breaks are difficult to detect.It is plain that numbers need narratives to explain them and it should equally be plain that unless the various magnitudes of a matter under investigation are known an explanatory narrative will be that much less valuable.Although the interminable debates about sociological theory are likely to have minimal interest for policy makers confronted with pressing material problems, some discussion of these areas seems necessary.Two other variables, diagnosis of conduct disorder and being in trouble at school, have an ambiguous status.The former is probably best regarded as a dispositional variable, but in as much as attention is drawn to conduct it might be regarded as a practice variable.The challenge for sociologists with a responsibility to assist in these state tasks is to construct a realist framework within which the complex processes that generate social inequalities of various kinds can be modelled.An approach able to transcend the dichotomies that plague social research - qualitative versus quantitative, positivist versus hermeneutic, and theoretical versus applied - can be achieved.