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SOSC 1880 (2)
Chapter 1

Chapter 1 - What is Social Change?

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Department
Social Science
Course
SOSC 1880
Professor
Stephen Bosanac
Semester
Fall

Description
What is social change? What are social problems? • Social conditions or behavioural patterns that a sizeable portion of society views as harmful and in need of collective action to remedy • Can be : o Empirically observed • Conditions that threaten the well-being of society (i.e. the problem that really exists) o A sequence of events through which a condition comes to be seen as a social problem Why study social problems? • Social problems harm our social environment and we should be aware of these conditions to work towards improving them o Studying social problems allows us to better understand how social structure interacts and influences people What is social change? • The action over time of an evolutionary nature within a society. Sometimes this is a progression and sometimes this is a regression. • Common sense is not enough to understand the social environment o Use systematic research to gather evidence, test hypothesis and conduct experiments o Based on careful study of social problems, theories or explanations can be formed to help develop practical solutions and the policies to deal with the problems • Sociological Imagination is needed o Sociological imagination is the ability to step back and see the connections between one's own life and the larger social world in which one lives o An approach that focuses on the relationship between the private troubles of individuals and broad social trends and public issues of society at large o Example: Unemployment • People without jobs may think that unemployment is a private trouble, involving only them and their families • Widespread unemployment is the source of this private trouble and is caused by factors (economic recession, corporate downsizing) that affect many people in society o Sociologists make the connections by considering two levels of analysis: • Microsociology (micro-level analysis)  Focused on interaction between individuals in small groups  Studies people's understanding and experience of social problems at individual and person levels • Macrosociology  Focused on a societal level  Studies the ways in which social trends occuring within major bureaucratic organizations and social institutions (eg. Economy, government) effect the population as a whole  May overlook individuals • Both levels of analysis are necessary to fully apprecite how private troubles are really public issues • Social Problems Research as a Moral Enterprise  Sociology is a progressive and optimistic discipline founded on the notion that society can be improved through research and the application of research-based knowledge  Many sociologists studying social problems think of themselves as being engaged in a moral enterprise whose goal is to improve human societies through social change  Goals of social improvement • Life over death • Health over sickness • Knowing over not knowing • Co-operation over conflict • Freedom of movement over physical restraint • Self-determination over direction by others • Freedom of expression over restraint of communication • New Social Problems in the Making o Social researchers are also interested in new concerns that could potentially become serious social problems o For example: • The creations and escape of dangerous biological life forms from labs • Unregulated antibiotics • Misuse of antibiotics leading to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria • Manufactured longevity  Higher life expectancies create new issues • Global refugees may destabilize the countries that grant them asylum • Approaches to understanding social problems o Essentialist approach • Social problems are talked about as though they 'really' exist; they are self-evident problems with real and serious outcomes • This approach is based on the view that an external world exists separate from the way we represent it • No room for individuality o Social constructionist approach • Some problems are not really problems, but 'social constructions'  Social construction: Something that we decide is real as a society. • Involves:  Stereotyping  Claims-making: a process that describes, explains, and blames people who are involved with the problem  Moral entrepreneurs (contruct problems) • Social problems exist when claims-makers or moral entrepreneurs succeed in persuading the public that problems exist • Origins of social constructionism  Theory of knowledge: all knowledge is created, preserved and spread by social interaction • Goal: examine how people act to create a shared social reality  G.H. Mead are able to interact by having shared meanings and symbols • Shared meanings make social interaction possible • Interactions allows influence and co- operation • According to social constructionists, the world is not presented objectively to the observer, but is known through human experience (which is influenced by language) • People do not react to objects or events themselves, but to the shared meanings of objects and events • Meanings are not essential features of objects and events, they are socially imposed or constructed meanings  For example: red roses are seen as beautiful and romantic  The meaning of anything, including social problems, is a product of the dominant culture and symbolic practices in a group or society • Strengths of social constructionism  Social constructionism recognizes that social reality in general is a social construct, or a set of ideas, bliefs and views that is flexible and open to interpersonal influence  It can account for the fact that the definition of a social problems changes over time and differs in various parts of the world • Weaknesses of Social Constructionism  Built on a weak foundation in accepting that beliefs and perceptions are socially constructed, empiricism and scientific observations of what is real or unreal are attacked Warnings, Panics and Claims • The definition of legitimate social problems changes over time o Ex. Former tolerance of family violence • Claims-makers construct social issues by invoking intense feelings towards percieved harm done to people in a commonality • Can result in "moral panics" o Short-lived intense periods of concern that leave a legacy in the form of laws, stereotypes, and changed attitudes Claims-Making Process • Tries to put a problem on the public agenda • Rhetoric invokes certain type of risk and risk avoidance as goals o Ex. A call on people to protect health, community, country and uses particular images or icons to sway public opinion • Main Actors in Claims-Making o Uses the media, which plays a large part in depicting the problem and shaping the public's opinion of and response to the problem • Main actors include  Media  Interest groups  Religious leaders  Medical doctors  Organizers insiders (whistle blowers) Historical Context of Social Problems • Many of the issues considered social problems only a century ago have changed dramatically since then • Example of Historica
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