Lecture#1: Probs 1
Social Problems – Chapter 1
What is a social problem?
A condition/pattern of behavior that warrants public concern/collective action
What is sociology
Systematic study of societies
The rise of sociology itself coincided with the rise of modern societies
There are two aspects to social problems
1) Objective Elements
Measurable features of a negative social condition (eg crime, sexual abuse, pollution)
2) Subjective Elements
Our evaluations of objective conditions and the processes that influence their
evolution (eg moral labels)
By bringing together objective and subjective elements (changes in measurable reality and our
perceptions of measurable reality, we can define a social problem as a condition and process
C. Wright Mills
The ability to see connections between one‟s life and the social world
This enables people to distinguish between personal troubles and public issue
This connection is made by closely analyzing reality at two levels
o Microsociology: local/personal level
o Macrosociology: major bureaucratic organization and social institutions
Social reality is a social construct, a set of ideals, beliefs and views that are
flexible and open to interpersonal influence
People‟s subjective view of reality, not reality itself shapes behavior
Those who classify social problems and try to make a change
Claims – Making Anything people do to propagate
There are 4 basic assumptions made
The world does not present itself objectively to the observer
Historical and cultural specificity recognized
Knowledge is sustained by social process
Knowledge and social action go together
Do social problems only become real when attention is drawn to them?
How can we tell if a social problem is real?
Are there differences/inequalities in the groups?
Is there exclusion?
Are there second-order outcomes?
Social Problems are not the exclusive domain of sociologists
Biological Perspective: focus on genetic, hormonal, neurological factors
Psychological Perspective: focus on cognitive, perceptual and effective processes
Ways of looking at society
A Theoretical paradigm emphasizing the way each part of society functions to
fulfill the needs of society as a whole
Everyone/everything has a function in society including poverty
o Manifest Functions: Intended/easily recognizable
o Latent Functions: Unintended/hidden from participants
Marx and Engels, emphasize conflict and change as the regular and permanent
feature of society
Marx believed in two broad groups
o Bourgeoisie: elite owners of the means of production
o Proleriat: working class who must sell labour for wage
Paradigm that studies the processes by which individuals interpret and
respond to the actions of others, and that conceives of society as the product
of this continuous face-to-face interaction Focuses on small group interactions
o Labeling theory: a social problem is only a social problem once it has
Population Health Perspectives
Approach to health with goals of reducing health inequalities
Lecture#2: Points 9
Starting Points- Chapter 9: Classes and Workplaces
The satisfaction people feel from their work depends on what they want to get out of their
work and what they are expecting.
Class: a group of people who share the same relationship to the means of production or to
capital (Marx) or a group of people who share a common economic situation based on
income, property , authority, etc. (Weber).
Marx→ conflict between classes is an inherent problem for capitalism
Durkheim→ conflict between classes in inherent in industrialism
In our age of capitalism it‟s the managers and directors who control capital, not the
Also, state institutions exercise a lot of power in society
Marx → capitalism alienates workers. They become isolated and estranged from the
products they make, their co-workers and sometimes even themselves. The anger
employees feel can be channelled to other places (violence against women, children,
Workplace inequalities translate into broader social and economic inequalities.
Functionalists argue that poverty and inequality have an important place in society.
In this case the inequality cause by capitalism is a “graded ladder” where people who are
at different rungs have different jobs and incomes. Meaning that poverty is a way to
motivate people to move up the ladder.
The jobs at the top of the ladder require the most education but have the most benefits.
Functionalists think that everyone needs work along with hope and love.
Work allows you to acquire material necessities for you and your family.
Work also allows you to satisfy your need (emotional) of wanting to be a productive and
valuable member of society, to gain praise and recognition and to interact and co-operate
with other people.
Work is a platform for social interaction, social solidarity and cohesion. It‟s a place to
work out your social and creative impulses. Critical Theory
Relies on ideas from Marx and Weber
Want to know “Who benefits from the way power is organized in society? (Especially the
In this theory, unemployment is a condition that is manipulated by the capitalists who run
things. It allows them to boost profits
Marx→ capitalism is a cycle because you get burst of high productivity which leads to
overproduction. Overproduction forces prices down and when prices go down the
capitalists stop investing. When investment stops the economy slows causes a recession
(where people lose their jobs)
Boom and bust cycle gives you periodic cycles of unemployment.
Reserve army of labour: the people who form the easily mobilized, easily disposable
workforce that is at the mercy of the employers. (Their employment situation is like this
because they are often unemployed and are therefore impoverished)
Marx→ class relations under capitalism cause all the conflict that happens between
Have a critical analysis of the workplace but they note that women and men, whether of
the same class or not, have quite different experiences at work.
Since women get paid less than men, capitalists profit more from the work that women do
than from the work that men do.
This creates job dissatisfaction for women, a lack of job control and high rates of
depression (and other psychological issues).
Want to know “ How the labels of wealthy and poor are constructed through social
Stereotype of the poor: minority member who relies on welfare instead of getting a job.
Perhaps is involved in crime and spends their money on drugs, alcohol, etc.
Stereotype of the rich: greedy, snobbish, callous, wasteful. Most likely born into a family
that was already well off.
Focus also put on what work and unemployment mean to individuals.
A lot of people see occupational titles as status symbols (basing their assessment on
Ask “How did this arrangement emerge” Contested Terrain: The Transformation Of The Workplace In The Twentieth Century
(Edwards, 1979) tells us that management practices have changed, going from direct
control to technological control to bureaucratic control.
Change in management strategies and ideologies is seen in the work that is done and the
technology used at work.
Also interested in charting the changes in ideologies about work and the workplace.
„50s and „60s → worry was that work could become alienating. „70s and „80s→ concern
was for exploitation of workers , computers replacing humans and the need for more
Labour and Monopoly Capital
Harry Braverman, 1974
Explored the evolution of capitalists over 2 centuries
Saw that works was becoming more degraded and “mindless”
Noted that the separation of skill and knowledge further degrades the meaning of work.
Developed 2 groups of employees needed: the small number of highly skilled employees
whose time is valuable (white-collar) and the masses of people doing simple labour
whose time is worth next to nothing (blue-collar).
The proliferation of clerical workers led to the application of scientific management
techniques (standardization of techniques, subdivision of skills, freezing of pay levels)
degraded work even further, even highly skilled jobs.
Labour and Classes
Social class: the way people earn a living (Marxian version) or how much money and
status people gain from their job (Weberian version).
Classes and the work that people do are fundamentally linked.
Bourgeoisie (the “haves”): the controlling class who owns the means of production
Proletariat (the “have-nots”): the subordinate class who work for wages that come from
the bourgeoisie (Marx).
Since the two classes have different interests they will always be in conflict, yet they are
interdependent (they gain at the expense of each other).
Proletariat have to sell their labour to the bourgeoisie to earn the wages they need to
survive. Bourgeoisie buy the labour and gain profit from the goods and services that are
But high prices, low wages and poor working conditions are bad for the health of the
Marx → the class struggle is inevitable and never ending.