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Social Problems CH1.docx

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What Are Social Problems? From "Social Problems" Chapter 1  Social Problem: social condition/pattern of behaviour that is believed to warrant public concern and collective action  Rallies don't just represent identities and personal interests, they are efforts to change relationships (social, political, economic) Sociology and the Study of Social Problems  Sociology has always been about social change, conflict and cohesion  Rise of sociology coincided with rise of 'modern' societies  confidence in idea of "progress"  possibility of social improvement  There is a struggle to see and record patterns of social life that cause social problems o Cannot see and know everything Objective Elements  Measureable features of a negative social condition (including crime, poverty, alcohol abuse, which are considered the objective realities)  Systematic measurements show that the condition exists and is harmful  We can study the causes and effects of the condition without judging it as serious or trivial  We can count and measure their incidence and make and test theories about their changing rates of occurrence  Activities are based on positivism and science  Positivism: theory that knowledge can be acquired only through direct observation & experimentation (through senses)  Science: a systematic attempt to find and test natural laws through measurements of this reality Subjective Elements  People's evaluations of objective conditions and the processes that influence their evaluations  Include moral labels applied to acts/situations, accounts they give for these acts/situations  Moral and aesthetic judgements reflect people's beliefs and tastes  Subjective realities include beliefs that smoking marijuana is evil, multiculturalism is good, homosexuals are sick, etc  Often harder to measure and explain that objective elements; theories on subjective realities are less developed  Affect and reflect our emotional reactions to information we receive about the world (ex. Reaction to dying children in Africa)  Reactions lead to social constructions of social problems  seeking a villain, crusades for better behaviour, etc  Bringing objective and subjective elements together allow us to define a social problem  We see the condition (the threat to the well-being of a part of society) and the process (sequence of events by which the society comes to see the condition as a social problem that needs remedial action) Social Problems and the Sociological Imagination  Sociological Imagination: term used by sociologist C. Wright Mills, describes the sociologist's ability to connect seemingly impersonal historical forces to the most basic incidents of an individual's life  distinguishes between personal troubles and public issues  allows us to understand how social problems affect our lives  Unemployed people o View their lack of job as a private trouble o Unemployment is, in fact, wide spread and affects many people as a result of economic recession, corporate downsizing, etc.  Microsociology: interactions between individuals in small groups; studies people's understanding and experience of social problems at the local, personal level  Macrosociology: focus on societal level; the ways that trends in institutions, such as economy and government, affect the population as a whole Analyzing and Understanding Social Problems: Street-Youth Example  Traditional approach: gather data on youths and compare those who live at home and those who live on streets, looking for trends in the data to formulate explanations/theories about their reasons for living on the streets  Post-Modern approach: asking for individual accounts as to why each youth lives on the street, then comparing the accounts  Subjectivist/Constructionist approach: determining the reasons why few people consider youth homelessness a major social issue, despite efforts to raise public awareness Public Issues: Living on the Streets  Many runaways come from families with emotional, mental, or substance abuse problems  Rarely on street du to financial difficulties  but it does increase likelihood of phys. Abuse  Lack of necessities in life for street youth lead to crime  a response to need  Youth that can find stable employment tend to be involved in less crime and spend less time on streets Social Problems Research as a Moral Enterprise  Sociology is founded on the notion that society can be improved by application of research- based knowledge  Modernization causes human efforts to improve society to backfire  cost to natural environment and role of technological process in organized killing  Much of sociological research is guided by 7 values: o Life over death o Health over sickness o Knowing over not knowing o Co-operation over conflict o Freedom of movement over physical restraint o Self-determination over direction by others o Freedom of expression over restraint of communication  Since many societies fall short of achieving these values, much research is a criticism of the existing societal order  Social problems literature aims to protect the vulnerable and undo the injustices  This is opposed by the stereotypes and myths that undermine these problems o Ex. Homeless youth are blamed for running away, committing crimes  people don't think of their REASONS for doing so  Sociologists identify social-structural factors that increase the likelihood of problem behaviour ex. Risky sexual behaviour in adolescence  increased early parenthood  reduces likelihood of school completion  increases likelihood of financial dependence Social Construction  People's subjective view of reality shapes their behaviour  Some of the supposed social problems are not real problems, but mere social constructions  Social Constructionism: research observing the ways people interact to create a shared social reality  Moral Entrepreneurs: people who "discover" and publicize deviant behaviours, they see evils in the world and will not rest in seeking reform  Claims-making: a procedure that describes, explains, and blames people who are involved in the problem  Shared meanings make social interaction possible, allowing people to co-operate and influence one another  Social constructionists believe that humans react to the powerful shared meanings of objects and events (ex. a rose is prettier than a daisy is prettier than a cabbage)  The world does not present itself objectively to the observer  When people interact, they share their views of reality and act on those shared views  It is known through human experience  ex. Using language and images to create emotional responses (ex. Witch craze in Middle Ages) Historical and Cultural Specificity is Recognized  Classification of things emerge from social interactions within a group of people at a particular place and time  Witch craze took place in a time where scientific proof was absent from the rule of law  In today's North American society, we wouldn't be concerned about the notion that witchcraft is a threat to society o That said, some cultures still do believe in it Knowledge is Sustained by Social Process  How reality is understood is given by the conventions of communication in place at that time  In the time of witch craze, formal pronouncements by religious leaders, along with superstition and fear, is enough to make people assume the existence of witches as knowledge Knowledge and Social Action Go Together  Reality is defined by complex and organized patterns of ongoing actions  Cannot understand the meaning people attached to witchcraft without understanding their politics, religion, and gender relations Institutional Ethnography  Mode of inquiry designed to help researchers explore social organization of everyday knowledge  Make the familiar, strange, and cal
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