A detailed summary of Chapter 1 What Are Social Problems from the textbook, Social Problems.
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CHAPTER 1: What are Social Problems?
•Social problem is a social condition or pattern of behaviour that is believed to
warrant public concern and collective action.
a.The rise of sociology coincided with the rise of the modern societies in the
19th century where fuelled by progress in industrialization, urbanization,
scientific discovery, and innovation.
•Objective elements are measurable features of a negative social condition
(e.g. crime, alcohol, poverty). We can study its causes and detrimental effects
without making a moral judgement
•Positivism, a philosophical premise when we can perceive a physical reality
with our senses and science is the systematic attempt to find and test natural
laws through measurements of this reality
•Subjective elements are people’s evaluations of objective conditions and the
processes that influence their evaluations (i.e. moral labels as wrong, immoral).
a.Peoples’ beliefs are a reality too, because beliefs set in motion have social
consequences (e.g. laws)
b.Subjective aspects of social problems affect & reflect emotional reactions
to information we receive about the world (children dying remind us of
health inequality & environment negligence)
c.Our subjective responses lead to the social construction of social problems-
catch villains, etc.
•Sociological imagination is a term coined by sociologist C. Wright Mills that
describes the sociologist ability to connect seemingly impersonal and remote
historical forces to the most basic incidents of an individuals’ life. Also, they
are able to differentiate between personal troubles and public issues.
a.Micro events (our life) vs. macro events (social world) (e.g. unemployment)
b.Microsociology (micro-level analysis) focuses on interactions between
individuals in small groups
c.Macrosociology (macro-level analysis) focuses on interactions on a societal
level (e.g. how trends in gov’t or major institutions affect the population
on a whole)
•Post-modern approach is when narratives from subjects of inspection are
analyzed and compared, rather than using an objective, positivistic, traditional
•Subjectivist or constructionist approach is when sociologists question people
who aren’t affected why a certain social problem isn’t a social issue
•Sociologists study social problems to engage in a moral enterprise whose goal is
to improve societies:
a.Life over death, health over sickness, knowing over not, cooperation over
conflict, freedom of movement over physical restraint, self-determination
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over direction by others, freedom of expression over restraint of
•Often society falls short of achieving the above value preferences as the media
turns public issues into private troubles failing to understand the causes of the
problems (e.g. homeless youth are blamed for their addictions, dropping out,
petty crimes- but why did they run away, drop out of school, etc.)
•Increasing cases of mental illness points to increasing stress in society
•Social reality is temporary and in general is a social construct- a set of ideas,
beliefs and flexible views
•(W.I.) Thomas dictum: when people define a situation as real (not true reality),
it will have real effects
•Social constructism is a sociology research approach that examines the ways
people interact to create a shared social reality (i.e. understanding the
subjective aspect of reality) and involves:
a.Moral entrepreneurs are people who ‘discover’ and attempt to publicize
deviant behaviours. They are crusading reformers who are disturbed by
particular evils they see in the world and wont rest until the problem is
b.Claims-making is a procedure that describes, explains, and blames
people who are involved with the problem, often labelling them as
deviants or wrongdoers.
•Berger and Luckmann argue that all knowledge is created, preserved and
spread by social interaction
•For, Erving Goffman, social life is a set of scripted performances behind which
we hide our true identities
•Symbolic Interactionism is the work of George Herbert Mead who wrote
that children learn to interact with others through a system of symbols,
including language, which allows them to share and negotiate meanings, and
perform complementary role, relating to social groups.
a.Social life is the sharing of meanings, the co-operative social construction
b.Human beings react to the shared meanings of these objects and events,
where these meanings are socially imposed/constructed meanings
•Burr identifies 4 basic assumptions of the social constructionist position:
a.We use language and images to create emotional response (hostility
b.The language used to classify things arises from social interactions unique
to a particular place and time (lack of scientific knowledge, people felt
threatened by witches)
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