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Social Problems Chapter 1

8 Pages

Course Code
Sociology 2140
Paul Whitehead

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What Is a Social Problem? Objective and Subjective Elements of Social Problems  Objective element of a social problem refers to the existence of a social condition  They exist independently of our perception  Social conditions often affect people in waves or patterns  Subjective element of a social problem refers to beliefs that particular social conditions are harmful to society  Social conditions are not considered social problems until a segment of society believes that these conditions diminish the quality of human life  Claims-making activities- strategies and actions that individuals or groups undertake to define social conditions as social problems  Defining conditions as problems is a social activity that assumes shared values and shared definitions regarding what counts as a social good  Past (and future) sociological assessments do not necessarily begin from the same shared definitions  A social problem is a social condition that a segment of society demonstrates to be significantly harmful to members of society and in need of remedy Variability in Definitions of Social Problems  Definitions of social problems vary not only within societies, but also across societies and historical periods Concepts Elements of Social Structure  Structure of a society refers to the way society is organized  Different parts: institutions, social groups, statuses, and roles  Social facts- that is, phenomena created by social organization rather than individual acts of desperation INSTITUTIONS  An institution is an established and enduring organization of social relationships  Main institutions: family, religion, politics, economics, and education  Other examples: science and technology, mas media, medicine, sport and the military SOCIAL GROUPS  Social groups- defined as two or more people who have a common identity, interact, and form a social relationship  A primary group, which tends to involve a small number of individuals, is characterized by intimate and informal interaction  A secondary group, which may involve a small or large number of individuals, is task- oriented and characterized by impersonal and formal interaction i.e. employers and employees STATUSES  A status is a position a person occupies within a social group  Statuses we occupy largely define our social identities  Ascribed status is one that society assigns to an individual on the basis of factors over which the individual has no control  Achieved status is assigned on the basis of characteristics or behaviour over which an individual has some control  Ascribed statuses may affect the likelihood of achieving other statuses  Everyone occupies numerous statuses simultaneously  A person‟s master status is the one considered the most significant in a person‟s social identity ROLES  Every status is associated with many roles- the set of rights, obligations, and expectations associated with a status  Roles guide our behaviour  A single status involves more than one role Elements of Culture  Culture refers to the meanings and ways of life that characterize a society BELIEFS  Beliefs refer to definitions and explanations about what is assumed to be true  Beliefs influence not only how a social condition is interpreted, but also the existence of the condition  Sociologists do not accept beliefs as true, but as sources of information VALUES  Values are social agreements about what is considered good and bad  We apprehend social conditions as social problems when the conditions are incompatible with or contradict closely held values  Absent or weak values may also contribute to social problems NORMS AND FOLKWAYS  Norms are socially defined rules of behaviour, serve as guidelines for personal behaviour  Three types of norms: folkways, laws and mores  Folkways refer to the customs and manner of society LAWS, MORES AND SANCTIONS  Laws are formalized norms backed by political authority  Some norms, called mores, have a moral basis  Violations of mores may produce shock, horror, and moral indignation  All norms are associated with sanctions, or social consequences for conforming to or violating norms  When we violate a social norm, we may be punished by a negative sanction  Most sanctions are spontaneous expressions of approval or disapproval by groups or individuals- referred to as informal sanctions SYMBOLS  A symbol is something that represents something else  Symbols of a culture include language, gestures, and objects whose meaning is commonly understood by the members of a society The Sociological Imagination  The sociological imagination refers to the ability to see the connections between our personal lives and the social world in which we live  Enables distinction between “private troubles” and “public issues” Theoretical Perspectives  Sociological theories help us to explain and predict the social world in which we live  A theory is a set of interrelated propositions or principles designed to explain an observable phenomenon  Structural- functionalism assesses social structures and their functions or dysfunctions  Conflict theory understands differentials in power, well-being, and access to resources  Symbolic interactionism asks how people come to agree about the meaning and significance of what occurs between them  Feminist theory demonstrates that women are marginalized by social structures  Postmodern theory argues that the progressivist stance of modernism presupposes too easily that subjects and societies are stable and linear, moving toward their best possible manifestation  Queer theory corrects the pervasive assumption that heterosexuality is both natural and ahistorical  Offers more nuanced accounts of history  Structural-functionalists see the world divided neatly into male and female bodies that fulfill social roles, tasks and institutional requirements  Queer theory extends its utility well beyond the scope of questions focuses on sexuality Structural-Functionalist Perspective  Society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole  Structural-functionalist perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of society by focusing on how each part influences and is influenced by other parts  Elements of society are functional if they contribute to social stability and dysfunctional if they disrupt social stability  A manifest function is an intended, recognizable consequence or intent  A latent function is an unintended, commonly hidden consequence or denied intention Structural-Functionalist Theories of Social Problems SOCIAL PATHOLOGY  Social pathology model, social problems result from some “sickness” in society  Society becomes “ill” when its parts- elements of the structure and culture- no longer perform properly  Social illness also results when members of a society are not adequately socialized to adopt its norms and values  To prevent or solve social problems, members of society must receive proper socialization and moral education SOCIAL DISORGANIZATION  Rapid social change disrupts the norms in a society  When norms become weak or are in conflict with each other society is in a state of anomie, or normlessness  The solution to social problems lies in slowing the pace of social change and strengthening social norms CONFLICT PERSPECTIVE  Conflict perspective views society as a struggle among different groups and interests competing for power and resources  Sees conflict and struggle as the central feature of our social world  Originates with the classic works of Karl Marx  Marx argued that all societies go through stages of economic development  Two classes of people: the bourgeoisie, or the owners of the means of production, and the proletariat, or the workers who earn wages  According to Marx, the bourgeoisie use their power to control the institutions of society to their advantage Conflict Theories of Social Problems MARXIST CONFLICT THEORIES  Social problems result from the class inequality inherent to capitalism  Capitalism also encourages “corporate violence”  Corporate violence may be defined as actual harm or risk of harm inflicted on consumers, workers, and the general public as a result of decisions by corporate executives or managers  Focus on the problem of alienation,
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