Social Problems – Ch 16
- Future is entirely constructed; we imagine it based on current trends.
- All social problem related to one another… change in one area will affect other areas… they result from historical long
standing neglect and conflict… but they also can change over time (cocaine was used for medical purposes before, but now
is strictly banned)
- Weed was legal before, then illegal, and now we have tightly limited legal access to it for only therapeutic purposes, and
prospect of the effective decriminalization of weed use.
- Sociologists need to formulate possible solutions to the social problems that we predict are likely to occur/recur
What is Future Studies?
- Utopias – places where everything works in perfect harmony – started with accient peoples imaging the origins of humanity
and imagining the afterlife ….dystopias – things to avoid
- Andrew Hacker decided critics of Utopian thinking fall into 3 categories: Democrats (dictatorial – unequal, unfree but
humane), Dialecticians (value historical law, they see Utopian thought as idle speculation, dreaming), and Devil-Hunters
(concerned with overcoming original sin, humans are unable to change their ways)
- Future studies seek to make use of our understanding of the past and present.
- Future Studies – the area of research concerned with forecasting possible scenarios – technological, economic, political,
social, environmental – in order to prepare for an shape what may come
- Prediction - people will continue to respond positively to new opportunities, and that these new opportunities will continue
to be provided by new technology, among other things
- Technology might offer opportunity for predicting the future…scenarios of possible alternative futures are created, which
are then used as choices within strategic planning initiatives.
- Focuses on demographic change
Alternative Forecasting Methods
- Forecasting methods fall into 7 categories – identified by David Walonick
- Genius forecasting – relies mainly on intuition and insight…many of it turns out to be wrong, other intuitive, judgments,
decisions, predictions are right…the ones that are accurate are useful because they are reliably accurate… it works because
it builds on our own experience
- Trend Extrapolation – examines trends and cycles in historical data; uses mathematical techniques to predicts the future
from past. Strength – roots future from historical experience. Weakness – the further into future we forecast, the less certain
the forecast becomes. The stability of environment determines if this method is good or nah
- Data-smoothing – separate historical data into trends – seasonal & random parts. Mathematical models based on the
observed trends use smoothing constants, coefficients, and other features that must be chosen carefully by the forecaster …
choice determine forecast outcome.
- Consensus methods – eg. Delphi method…experts offer judgments on the likelihood of certain outcomes, and then evaluate
the answers given by their peers. Approach used to produce rapid narrowing of opinions among experts… its more accurate
than group discussions, is more reliable than judgments by individual geniuses, and make better use of expert knowledge
than mathematical trend extrapolation….IT can be impractical though
- Simulation methods – use analogs to model complex systems. Game analogs may be used to model interaction of players in
imagined social interactions (studying negotiation). Mathematical analogs successful in forecasting outcomes (physical
science)…they use advanced statistical techniques to model complex systems involving relationship b/w two or more
variables…. Multiple regression (mathematical analog used by economists and sociologists) - Strong correlation b/w predictor variables create unstable forecasts; a change in variable can cause large effect on
another…in multiple regression (& systems) approach, as relationship b/w parts of the system become stronger and more
numerous, our ability to predict any given part decreases.
- Scenario method – a narrative forecast that describes a potential course of events. Recognizing the interrelationships of
system components: new technology, population shifts, changing consumer preferences
- Creation of scenarios leads directly to a need to make choices and decisions, which leads to models of decision-making.
Decision Trees – are graphical devices to help illustrate the relationship b/w choices. Computer tech. good for creating
complex decision trees, with many subsystems and feedback loops
- Every decision can be expected to produce a variety of outcomes, some desired and some undesired. The value of a
decision is the value of the outcome it produces, calculated as the total of all estimated positive n negative outcomes in the
- The goal of forecasting is to be as accurate as possible, and to enable social scientists, policy-makers, and the wider society
to plan the use of resources efficiently and effectively. The value of the forecast depends on various things (the type of info
being forecast, our confidence in the accuracy of the forecast, the magnitude of our dissatisfaction with the forecast, the
variety of ways we can adapt to or modify the forecast.
- If two people make mutually exclusive forecast, one has to be wrong, one right.
- Forecasts may be attempts to control today’s decisions (e.g., global warming debate)
- Can be a type of agenda-setting – a way of forcing everyone to think about the future and to make decisions in particular
- Ideally, forecasting will be used to create socially desirable futures.
THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES ON FUTURE STUDIES
- Futures studies look into alternative futures and identify the most probable social trends
- Forecasting contributes to today’s decision-making and planning by helping politicians devise social policies
- Looking to the future encourages people to reflect on current patterns of events and to make adjustments in preparation for
- Different forecasting and simulation methods produce different insights into the nature and probability of occurrence of
certain events that may favour one population subgroup over another
- Various interest groups compete for government support by raising and perhaps exaggerating the perception of particular
- Gossip and rumour may spread misinformation and create moral panic or fear
- The rise of cyberspace and virtual communities hides many social factors (e.g., gender, race, and class) that often prevent
similar people from interacting with one another
- Despite ongoing efforts made by women to overcome gender discrimination, inequalities in wage and job opportunities will
continue to persist
- Modern mothers must learn to negotiate a fine balance between work and family responsibilities as their participation in the
labour force increases
Social Constructionism - The future is a social construct, a form of propaganda designed to evoke a particular set of behaviours
- Media portrayals of social problems and trends exert a large influence on people’s perspectives of society, may spark social
movements, and contribute to policy-making
- The lack of the relationship b/w women and future studies is linked to specific limitations of future studies; the hyper-
technological & scientific orientation of professional mainstream futurism, the future of expert opinion in Delphi method,
quantifiable trend analysis, techno-utopianism and socio-dyspianism, which are considered to be out of comfortable level of
knowledge for many feminists.
- Forecasts of feminists seem to be guesses that could go either way.
- Social forecasting must specifically address relevant physical, cultural, and societal values. It must also examine their own
biases, which are likely to influence the forecasting process.
Changes in What The Public Sees as Social Problems.
- Social problems change in response to changes in social, political, and economic conditions
- Since 9/11 concerns about war and subversion have been raised (USA). Future = greater concern given to terrorism,
treason, and national security in public mind.
Trends in Social Problems Projected To The Near Future
- Noam Chomsky is pessimistic about the prospects of future research: ‘the record of prediction in human affairs has not been
inspiring, even short range”
- Goal of future research is only partly to paint a pic of what life will be in the later generations. Its task is to imagine a
desirable alternative future for people to work towards, future actively shaped by decisions of people living tofay.
- Environmental problems will become more severe and their effects more intense in the future, even if we make changes
immediately now. (oil spill in gulf of Mexico) … more droughts and famines, higher rates of skin cancer, more extreme
- Nunavut will be impacted severely by environmental damage (harvesting activities, hunting, use of social networks,
knowledge ) – Inuit – predicted breakdown of social networks, due to rising inequality of access to resources because of
differences in the adaptive capacity of groups in the community
- Prediction on future of humanity hinge on the use of genetic manipulation to improve the quality of human life.
- Genetic manipulation – the altering of genes to produce a more desired physical trait
- Ethicists and researchers are worried about human cloning and the use of embryos made expressly for research
- Without sufficient government and institutional guidelines for ethical behaviour in genetic research, humanity risks
abusing this technology
- Manipulating genetic code not only changes how the individual develops, but also alters the human gene pool
- It could lead to parents controlling the sex and racial characteristics of their unborn children
- - Technology – the manifestation of human knowledge and ingenuity applied to the solution of a problem or need; applied
- Public opinion and controversies rely on the potential risks and benefits of the technology in the future
- Claims and counterclaims predicting utopia or dystopia play a large role in shaping the perception of public to the potential
of the technology
The Problem ofAging
- Forecasting based on changing in technology and forecasting based on changes in