Chapter 1 notes of Social Problems book.

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3 Feb 2011

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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
oSystematic measurements show that the condition exists and that it harms people
oCan study its causes and effects without making a moral judgment and without judging it asseriousor
oCan study changes in social life that cause the numbers or rates of these events to increase and decrease
oThis activity is based on philosophical premise, akapositivism”, of a material reality we can perceive
with our sense
oTo find and test natural laws about these subjective beliefs and their consequences which is usually hard
to measure; so theories are developed
Subjective elements: peoples 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
oReflect peoples beliefs and tastes
oEg. Believe that smoking marijuana is evil then this belief is an aspect of social realities
osubjective aspects affect and reflect our emotional reactions to information we receive about the
oOur subjective or emotional responses often lead to what we call the social construction of social
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 sociologists ability to connect seemingly impersonal and remote historical
forces to the most basic incidents of an individuals life. The sociological imagination enables people to
distinguish between personal troubles and public issues
oEg. 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
oStudies peoples understanding and experience of social problems at the local, personal level
Macrosociology, or macro-level analysis, focuses on the societal level
oExplores 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,
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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
Much of research simply criticizes existing social order
Sociologists are often opposed and undermined by the myths, ideologies, and stereotypes that perpetuate
harmful conditions
oMedia turnspublic issues intoprivate troublesand 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
oDurkheim: 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
oEg. Teenage pregnancy leading to teenage parenthood
oNeed to study these problems and find ways of preventing them
Social Construction
Socialreality 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.
oThomas dictum: peoples 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 dont
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
oMoral 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
oClaims 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
oCan play together, perform complementary roles, and relate to the social group as a generalized
oRoles: the specific duties and obligations expected of those who occupy a specific social status
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