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Reading for Week 1. Book: Social Problems, Chapter: 1

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Chapter 1: What are social problems?
Social problem: a social condition or pattern of behaviour that is believed to warrant public
concern and collection action.
Struggles everywhere over issues and inequalities. Social rallies dont merely represent identities
and personal interests; these are efforts to change broader social political and economic
relationships. The terrain is full with actor and activists trying to influence our views and
political lives.
Sociology forces us to make connections among problems in seeking answer to the problems
faced by Canadians.
Sociology and the study of social problems.
Early sociology was the study of S.Ps
About social changes, conflict and cohesion.
Rise of sociology came with the rise of modern societies; and with the idea of ‘progress,
progress meant the possibility of social improvement or social amelioration. They believed social
life could be imporoved by studying social issues, social research as diagnosing social problems
and for inventing and evaluating solutions. Social conflict could be resolved in just ways.
We want to take part in a struggle against theses social problems.
Objective and Subjective Elements
Objective Elements: measureable features of a negative social condition. Systematic
measurements show that the condition exists and that it harms ppl. Statistics about crime, sexual
abuse, pollution, poverty.we can count and measure their incidence. Do not reach a conclusion;
like SEs.
Subjective Elements: peoples evaluations of objective conditions and the processses tha
influence their evaluations. Moral labels; wrong, inmoral, sick. Moral or aesthetic judgements
reflects peoples beliefs and tastes. The subjective aspects of social problems affect and reflect
our emotional reactions to information(OE) we receive about the world.
Sociologist, by bringing together the objective and subjective elements, we can define a social
Social problems and the Sociological Imagination
The Sociological Imagination is about making or finding connections between the conditions of
our personal lives and the larger social context in which we live. Connections between ones own
life (microevents) , the social world (macroevents), and between personal/private troubles and
public issues.
Two levels, Microsociology (microlevel analysis) ppls understanding and experience of social
problems at the local/personal level. Macrosociology (macrolevel analysis) social trends
occurring withing major bureaucratic organization and social instutions. Both levels are
Three kinds of approaches to the study of youth homelessness:
(1)(OBJECTIVE) Purely objective, positivistic approach; state facts, statistics, devise
explanations and theories
(2)Ask personal accounts of their homelessness, analyze and compare their stories
(3)(SUBJECTIVE) Ask the publics, why is it a major social issues, this is subjectivist or
constructionist approach.
Social problems research as a moral enterprise
Sociology exists to make the world a better place, improve society. Sociologists do research
aimed directly at reducing poverty, violence, injustice and inequality, etc.
Human efforts to make society better go awry and backfire, modernization, free market system,
etc dont address any issues and even fail to keep an stable quality of life. Modernization carries
heavy costs for society and the environment. Sociologists think of themselves as engaged in
moral enterprise to improve human societies.
There are seven areas which are usually the focus of research, yet we fail to address them, social
problems literature aims to change society, protect the vulnerable and redress injustice.
Often, (the media) turn s public issues into private issues. Fail to acknowledge that because it
happens to so many ppl there must be ‘something in the water’, rather there must be something
wrong with only certain individuals. Sociologists identify factors that increase the chance of
problems, study these problems and prevent them, control them at their source
Social Construction
People invent all kinds of stories about reality; and turn out to act as if those were true indeed
W.I. Thomas; ‘Thomas Dictum’: ppls subjective view of reality, not reality itself, shapes their
Supposed social problems are merely social constructions; though some ppl may view them as
These social constructions require ppl who actually fight for the cause and classify them as
social problems (though they may not be), they are moral entrepreneurs; who practice claims
making: promotion of a particular moral vision and social life(anything ppl do to propagate the
view of who or what is a problem and what should be done about it). How do some
ideas/perceptions became actual convention or social problems, why dont others do.
Social constructionism extent to social relations and how the ways in which people interact (from
the earliest of times) has created a shared social reality. Even for children; as the grow they used
symbols(gestures, artifacts and words that represent smtg else). Shared meanings make social
interaction possible; including ppl performing complementary roles (specific duties and
obligations expected of those who occupy a certain social status) which are key to all basis of
social order.
We dont react to physical objects and events, but rather to their social meaning to us. (rose: as
beautiful, daisy; plain and simple).
Social construction lead to the persecution of Witches; as social panic emerged and
4 assumptions of social constructionism:
1.The world does not present itself objectively to the observer(known through human
2.Historical and cultural specificity is recognized (witchcraft took place within a social
framework, in the modern western world, the practice of witchcraft is not seen as a threat
to society)
3.Knowledge is sustained by social progress: how reality is understood at a given moment is
dependent on social conventions at the time.
4.Knowledge and social action go together: reality is defined by the complexity of social