A social problem is a condition that undermines the well-being of some or all members of a society and
that is usually a matter of public controversy.
• Because any issue affects various segments of our population differently, almost nothing is harmful to
everyone (e.g., governmental regulation of pollution is a problem to certain business owners, but
pollution itself is a problem faced by others)
Subjective and Objective Understandings of Social Problems
• The subjective thesis asserts that social problems exist only insofar as people are aware of them.
• The objective thesis states that the existence of social problems depends on facts, not public
• The reality of a social problem is partly a matter of objective facts and partly a matter of how
individuals subjectively interpret these facts.
• One indication that people recognize an issue as a social problem is the formation of a social
movement, an organized effort to encourage or discourage some dimension of social change.
• Typically, social movements pass through four distinct stages:
1) Emergence – people define a situation as problematic and establish an organization to address it
2) Coalescence – the coming together of a movement, which occurs as the new organization begins to
mobilize resources (e.g., money, media attention, public involvement) and starts demonstrating, and
3) Formalization – the social movement becomes established, relying less on the personal skills of early
leaders and more on the efforts of a bureaucratic staff
4) Decline – many social movements eventually decline, either due to success or failure
Important Considerations about Social Problems
1) Social problems result from how society operates, and are not caused by bad people
2) Social problems are not abnormal; instead, they are structural in nature (i.e., built into a way of life).
In some cases, what is considered a problem may actually help society to operate.
3) Solving social problems requires change.
4) People see problems differently. What is viewed as a problem to some people may not be seen as a problem to others.
5) Many, but not all, problems can be solved
6) Definitions of problems change over time
7) Problems involve values as well as facts
8) Various social problems are related
9) Solving one problem can create a new problem
1) The Structural-Functional Paradigm
- Structural-functionalism views society as a complex system of interrelated parts that work together to
maintain social order and stability
- Sociologists use th