Social Problems - Chapter 1 A concise summary of Chapter 1 - What are Social Problems from the Social Problems book. Everything is organized in point form and it includes all important information.

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Published on 16 Oct 2011
School
UTSG
Department
Sociology
Course
SOC102H1
Chapter 1 What are Social Problems?
Social problem: a social condition or pattern of behaviour that is believed to warrant public concern and collective action
Sociology is about social change, social conflict, and social cohesion
Objective and subjective elements
Objective elements are the measurable features of a negative social condition. Such a condition might include crime,
poverty, or alcohol abuse and can be considered an objective reality
o Systematic measurements show that the condition exists and that it harms people
o Can study its causes and effects without making a moral judgment and without judging it as “serious” or “trivial”
o Can study changes in social life that cause the numbers or rates of these events to increase and decrease
o This activity is based on philosophical premise, aka “positivism”, of a material reality we can perceive with our sense
o To find and test natural laws about these subjective beliefs and their consequences which is usually hard to measure;
so theories are developed
Subjective elements: people’s evaluations of objective conditions and the processes that influence their evaluations. They
include moral labels that people apply to particular acts or situations, and the accounts they give for these acts and
situations
o Reflect people’s beliefs and tastes
o Eg. Believe that smoking marijuana is evil then this belief is an aspect of social realities
o ‘subjective’ aspects affect and reflect our emotional reactions to information we receive about the world
o Our ‘subjective’ or emotional responses often lead to what we call the ‘social construction’ of social problems
Claims making a process by which people try to capture attention and mobilize public opinion around particular problems
and their solutions
Social Problems and the Sociological Imagination
Sociological imagination: a term used by sociologist C. Wright Mills in his 1959 book, The Sociological Imagination, that
describes the sociologist’s ability to connect seemingly impersonal and remote historical forces to the most basic incidents
of an individual’s life. The sociological imagination enables people to distinguish between personal troubles and public
issues
o Eg. Unemployment due to economic recession, corporate downsizing, and advances in technology that replace
people with machines
Microsociology, or micro-level analysis, focuses on the interactions between individuals in small groups
o Studies people’s understanding and experience of social problems at the local, personal level
Macrosociology, or macro-level analysis, focuses on the societal level
o Explores the ways that social trends occurring within major bureaucratic organizations and social institutions affect
the population as a whole
Social Problems Research as a Moral Enterprise
Sociology is an engaged, progressive and optimistic discipline founded on the notion that we can improve society through
research and the application of research-based knowledge
Many so research aimed directly at reducing poverty, violence, injustice, and inequality
Modernization itself and its associated features leave primary problems unresolved and they fail to ensure that we preserve
a decent quality of life (homelessness, discrimination, recurrent warfare, mass deaths, genocide)
Modernization carries heavy costs for natural environment
Much of the sociological research on social problems is guided by 7 value preferences
1. Life over death
2. Health over sickness
3. Knowing over not knowing
4. Co-operation over conflict
5. Freedom of movement over physical restraint
6. Self-determination over direction by others
7. Freedom of expression over restraint of communication
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Much of research simply criticizes existing social order
Sociologists are often opposed and undermined by the myths, ideologies, and stereotypes that perpetuate harmful
conditions
o Media turns “public issues” into “private troubles” and victims are blamed and stigmatized for having these
problems (blaming homeless youth for running away)
Sociologists identify the social-structural conditions that make people vulnerable to these so-called personal troubles
o Durkheim: lack of social integration and social control are likely to cause great mental distress
Sociologists also identify social-structural factors that increase the likelihood of problem behaviours
o Eg. Teenage pregnancy leading to teenage parenthood
o Need to study these problems and find ways of preventing them
Social Construction
Social “reality” is a social construct - a set of ideas, beliefs, and views that is flexible and always open to interpersonal
influence
All social reality is conditional and temporary
People invent all kinds of ‘stories’ about reality which lead to actions that are real in their consequences (W.I. Thomas)
o Thomas dictum: people’s subjective view of reality not reality itself shapes their behaviour
Thus, some social problems are not real problems but ‘social constructions’; some view them as problems, others don’t
Social constructionism: a sociological research approach that examines the ways people interact to create a shared social
reality
Often, the social construction of reality involves the work of moral entrepreneurs
o Moral entrepreneurs: people who ‘discover’ and attempt to publicize deviant behaviours; crusading reformers
who are disturbed by particular types of evil they see in the world and who will not rest until something is done to
correct the problem
Constructing problems also involves claims making
o Claims making: claims-making involves the promotion of particular moral vision of social life and, thus, is anything
people do to propagate a view of who or what is a problem and what should be done about it
Goal of social constructionism is to examine the ways people interact to create a shared social reality
Berger and Luckmann: ALL knowledge is created, preserved and spread by social interaction
Mead wrote that children learn to interact with others by learning a system of symbols, which allows them to share and
negotiate meanings among those who share the system
o Can play together, perform complementary roles, and relate to the social group as a ‘generalized other’
o Roles: the specific duties and obligations expected of those who occupy a specific social status
Goffman: think of society as a theatre in which people compose and perform social scripts together
o Come to believe in the truth of the roles we play; often, we become the person we pretend to be
In this view, human beings react to the shared meanings of physical objects and events (socially imposed)
o The meaning of anything is the product of the dominant cultural symbolic practices in a group or society
Burr identifies 4 basic assumptions of the social constructionist position (think witch craze)
1. The world does not present itself objectively to the observer we use language and images to create emotional
responses
2. Historical and cultural specificity is recognized the language categories used to classify things emerge from the social
interactions within a group of people at a particular time and in a particular place
3. Knowledge is sustained by social process how reality is understood at a given moment is determined by the
conventions of communication in force at that time
4. Knowledge and social action go together within a social group or culture, reality is defined by complex and organized
patterns of ongoing actions.
Is this a real problem or merely a social construction? As sociologists, we need
o To have the clearest possible understanding of reality, even if it goes against ‘common sense’ , prevailing wisdom
or the dominant ideology on a given issue
o To learn as much as we can about the social processes by which real social problems, and imagined social problems
come into being
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Document Summary

Social problem: a social condition or pattern of behaviour that is believed to warrant public concern and collective action. Sociology is about social change, social conflict, and social cohesion. Objective elements are the measurable features of a negative social condition. Subjective elements: people"s evaluations of objective conditions and the processes that influence their evaluations. They include moral labels that people apply to particular acts or situations, and the accounts they give for these acts and situations: reflect people"s beliefs and tastes, eg. Believe that smoking marijuana is evil then this belief is an aspect of social realities: our subjective" or emotional responses often lead to what we call the social construction" of social problems. Subjective" aspects affect and reflect our emotional reactions to information we receive about the world. Claims making a process by which people try to capture attention and mobilize public opinion around particular problems and their solutions.

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