CHAPTER 1 – TAKINGANEW LOOKAT SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Social Problem: Asocial condition (poverty) or a patterned behaviour (violence against women) that
people believe warrants public concern and collective action to bring about change.
• Systematically disadvantage or harm a significant number of people
• Seen as harmful by many people who wield power, wealth and influence in a group/society.
Social problems are social in their causes, consequences and possible sources of resolution
Dominant vs. Subordinate Group:
• The dominant groups members are disproportionately at the top of the hierarchy with maximum
access to the societies power resources (political authority and control over means of economic
• Subordinate groups members, in relation to the dominant group, do not occupy such positions of
power – usually called the minority group.
The Sociological Imagination – C. Wright Mills
• Derived from Max Weber’s term verstehen – meaning to see the world as others see it and to
empathize with them
• The sociological imagination is the ability to see the relationship between an individual’s
experiences and the larger society in which they are contextualized
o Connecting the private troubles of an individual to the public issues of a society
o Public issues: Matters beyond a person’s control that originate at the regional or national
level and can only be resolved using collective action.
• Enables us to shift our thinking from just private issues (ex: personal unemployment) and relate it
to the society as a whole using microlevel and macrolevel analysis
SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON SOCIAL PROBLEMS:
The Functionalist Perspective: Macro-Level
• Society is a stable, orderly system composed of several interrelated parts, each of which performs
a function that contributes to the overall stability of society
o The interrelated parts are institutions – each institution performs a unique function that
contributes to the overall stability of society and the well being of individuals.
• Manifest & Latent Functions
o Manifest Functions: Intended and recognized functions/consequences of an activity or
o Latent Functions: Unintended consequences and functions of an activity or social
Dysfunctions are the undesirable consequences of an activity or social process
that inhibit the society’s ability to adapt or adjust.
Dysfunctions occurring in social institutions create social disorganization,
which are the conditions in society that undermine the ability of traditional
social institutions to govern human behaviour.
• Cause a breakdown of values and norms that serve as social control
• Values: Collective ideas about what is right, wrong and bad in a
• Norms: Established rues of behaviour or standards of conduct
Durkheim’s Anomie Theory: Periods of rapid social change that result in a loss
of shared values and sense of purpose in society – social bonds grow weaker, social control is diminished and people are more likely to engage in
nonconforming patterns of behaviour.
o Lifestyle-RoutineActivity Approach: Applying Functionalist perspective to violence
The timing and pattern of people’s daily movement and activities as they go
about obtaining necessities such as food, shelter, companionship and
entertainment are the keys to understanding violent crimes in society.
Ex: People living by themselves, shopping/work hours extended to later times in
the night and more people eating outside the home.
This approach suggests that people whoa are more should modify their
behaviour – or society should provide greater protection for them.
• Cons: Does not address violence in the home or other supposed safe
havens – it also does not explain the violence itself
The Conflict Perspective: Macro-Level
• Groups In society are engaged in a continuous power struggle for control of scarce resources –
emphasizes the degree to which society is characterized by conflict and discrimination.
• Value-Conflict Perspective: Social problems are conditions that are incompatible with group
values – value clashes are normal in families, communities, and the larger society in which
individuals commonly hold many divergent values.
o Discrepancies between ideal culture (values/beliefs people claim they hold) and real
culture (values/beliefs they actually follow) are a source of social problems in all
• Critical-Conflict Perspective: Social problems arise out of the major contradictions inherent in
the way societies are organized – such as the inequalities of the capitalist system or race, ethnicity
o Capitalism coined by Karl Marx, is an economic system characterized by private
ownership of the means of production, from which personal