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Chapter 1

Chapter1- Thinking About Social Problems.docx

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Western University
Sociology 2140
Paul Whitehead

1- Thinking about Social Problems September-23-12 12:40 PM  Canadians identified the economy, unemployment & crime as primary areas of social concern  3 basic dimensions of human development: longevity, educational attainment & living standards  Globalization accelerates crime disease, social volatility- 100 mill children live and work on streets, 1.2 bill live on less than a dollar a day, 18 mill die everyday from communicable disease 1.1 WHAT IS A SOCIAL PROBLEM  Defined through subjective/objective criteria, varies across society, individuals, groups within a society, historical periods Objective and Subjective Elements of Social Problems  All social problems have an objective social condition and its subjective interpretation  Objective element: existence of a social condition, exist independently of our perception  Subjective element: beliefs that particular social conditions are harmful to society or to a segment of society, should and can change them  Crime, addiction, poverty, racism, violence & pollution- not considered social problems until segment of society believes these conditions diminish the quality of human life  Claims-making activities: strategies/actions that individuals or groups undertake to define social conditions as social problems that require remedy- central to the development of particular view of a social fact as a social problem  Spector & Kituse- trying to understand what people "perceive" as a social problem  Defining conditions as problems is a social activity that assumes shared values and shared definitions regarding what counts as a social good  Social problem: social condition that a segment of society views as harmful to members of society and in need of remedy  Social problems change overtime as society changes Variability in Definitions of Social Problems  Individuals & groups disagree about what constitutes a social problem variations in views result from differences in values, beliefs and life experiences  Helpful to have a framework to assess social problems- sociology provides a framework & requires knowledge of the concepts & methods designed for assessing & analyzing social phenomena 1.2 CONCEPTS Social Structure and Culture  Society is made up of social structure and culture - each side is distinct and inseparable from the whole  Analysis of both give a better understanding od the root causes of social problems Elements of Social Structure  Structure of society: the way society is organized into different parts- institutions, social groups, statuses and roles  Social facts: phenomena created by social organization rather than individual acts of desperation - employment rates, morbidity/mortality, rates of population growth or decline  Society needs cohesion in different parts otherwise social upheaval and poor institutional cohesion could have catastrophic outcomes  Institution: established and enduring organization of social relationships, five traditional o Family, religion, politics, economics, and education o Largest elements of social structure  Norms: socially defined rules of behaviour for personal behaviour and expectations of others behaviour o 3 types- folkways, laws and mores  Folkways: the customs and manners of society, part of cultural traditions such as shaking hands when you meet someone  Laws: norms that are formalized and backed by political authority  Mores: norms that have moral basis o Violations od mores may produce shock, horror or moral indignation o Child abuse is a law and a more  Sanctions: social consequences for conforming to or violating norms, including positive, negative, formal and informal o When we conform to a social norm may be rewarded by a positive smile or negative disapproving look o Spontaneous expressions of approval/disapproval by groups/individuals- "informal sanctions"  Symbols: something represents something else , symbols of a culture like a peace sign 1.3 THE SOCIOLOGICAL IMAGINATION  Sociological Imagination: Wright Mills- refer to the ability to see connections between our personal lives and the social world in which we live  Enables distinction b/w "private troubles" and "public issues" and connections b/w events & conditions of our lives and the social and historical context in which we live Unemployment not only a private trouble but a public issues results from failure of the economic and political institutions of society to provide job opportunities to all citizens 1.4 THEOREHTICAL PERSPECTIVES 1. Structural -Functionalist Perspective  Structural- Functionalism: views society as a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole; focuses on how each part of society influences and is influenced by other parts o Seen as a historical perspective o Each social institution serves important functions for society- family produces context for reproducing, nurturing, socializing o Increasing number of women in the work place contributed to polices against sexual harassment and job discrimination o Elements of society are functional if they contribute to social stability and dysfunctional is they disrupt stability (crime) o Latent Function: consequence that is unintended and often hidden or unrecognized; education provides schools that function as babysitters for employed parents o Manifest Function: consequence that is intended and commonly recognized education transmits knowledge and skills to youth Structural-Functionalist Theories of Social Problems  Social Pathology: social problems result from some "sickness" in society, society becomes "ill" when elements of the structure and culture no longer function properly o Results when ,members of society no adequately socialized to adopt its norms and values  Social Disorganization : rapid social change disrupts the norms in a society o Anomie: state of normlessness
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