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Chapter 1

Social Problems Chapter 1 [COMPLETE] Notes - I 4.0ed this course

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Sociology Chapter 1: Understanding Social Problems •The discipline of sociology began in Western Europe during the late 1800s and soon made its way to the U.S. •A. Javier Treviño, recent president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, emphasizes that "early American sociology was primarily a reformist endeavor." Called the vision and goals of the early American sociologists service sociology "Service sociology is a sociology of social problems intended to ameliorate • conditions of life for those in need of assistance, and to insure and promote the welfare of the community. Motivated by care and compassion, a service-oriented sociology is aimed at helping people meet their pressing social needs. As such, service sociology involves the application of sociological knowledge combined with the expression of humanitarian sentiment." 1.1 What Is a Social Problem? •A social problem is any condition or behavior that has negative consequences for large numbers of people and that is generally recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed. •Objective component of the definition above: For any condition or behavior to be considered a social problem, it must have negative consequences for large numbers of people. •Reasonable people do disagree on whether there are negative consequences but accumulated data from academic researchers, government agencies, and other sources strongly point to extensive and serious consequences. •People hotly debate the reasons for the consequences as well as the existence of these consequences - example: Climate change. •Subjective component of the definition of social problem: There must be a perception that a condition or behavior needs to be addressed for it to be considered a social problem. •Social constructionist view - The belief that negative social conditions or behaviors do not become social problems unless citizens, policymakers, and other parties call attention to the condition or behavior and define it as a social problem. (Unless someone draws attention to it and defines it as a social problem, it is not a social problem). •Ex: Rape & Sexual violence - "Although men were sometimes arrested and prosecuted for rape and sexual assault, sexual violence was otherwise ignored by legal policymakers and received little attention in college textbooks and the new media, many people thought that rape and sexual assault were just something that happened. •Due to the women's movement which began in the late 1970's, rape and sexual assault were seen as serious crimes and manifestations of women's inequality. They entered the public consciousness, policymakers payed attention, and it became a social problem. "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is a sound made?" - • Reinforces one of the key beliefs of the social constructionist view: Perception matters at least as much as reality, and sometimes more so. • Social constructionism emphasizes that citizens, interest groups, policymakers, and other parties often compete to influence popular perceptions of many types of conditions and behaviors. • Just as a condition or behavior may not be considered a social problem even if there is strong basis for this perception, so may a condition or behavior be considered a social problem even if there is little or no basis for this perception. Ex: Women were discouraged from going to college because researchers and physicians wrote textbooks, newspaper columns, etc. about how the stress of college would disrupt the menstrual cycle and women wouldn't do well in exams during "that time of the month". The Natural History of a Social Problem ! Stage 1: Emergence and Claims Making • A social problem emerges when a social entity (such as a social change group, the news media, or influential politicians) begins to call attention to a condition or behavior that it perceives to be undesirable and in need of remedy. • Claims-making process: The use of arguments to try to influence public perceptions of a social problem, the reasons for it, and possible solutions to it. • Not all efforts to turn a condition or behavior into a social problem succeed, and if they do not succeed, a social problem does not emerge. • The more well known a person is, or the more people who protest, the greater the chance of a social problem being noticed. • Because politicians have the ear of the news media and other types of influence, their views about social problems are often very influential. ! Stage 2: Legitimacy • Once a social group succeeds in turning a condition or behavior into a social problem, it usually tries to persuade the government (local, state, and/or federal) to take some action - spending and policymaking - to address the problem. • To accomplish this, the social group tries to convince the government that its claims about the problem are legitimate - that they make sense and are supported by empirical (research based) evidence. ! Stage 3: Renewed Claims Making • Even if government action does occur, social change groups often conclude that the action is too limited in goals or scope to be able to successfully address the social problem. • They often press their demands anew by reasserting their claims and by criticizing the official response they received from the government or other established interests, such as big businesses. • This stage may involve tension between the social change groups and the targets of their claims. ! Stage 4: Development of Alternative Strategies • Social change groups often conclude that the government and established interests are not responding adequately to their claims. • They may continue to press their claims but also realize that they won't get an adequate response from established interests. Then they develop their own strategies for addressing the social problem. *The definition of a social problem has both an objective component and a subjective component. The objective component involves empirical evidence of the negative consequences of a social condition or behavior, while the subjective component involves the perception that the condition or behavior is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed. *The social constructionist view emphasizes that a condition or behavior does not become a social problem unless there is a perception that it should be considered a social problem. *The natural history of a social problem consists of four stages: emergence and claims making, legitimacy, renewed claims making, and alternative strategies. 1.2 Sociological Perspectives on Social Problems • Many individuals experience one or more social problems personally: poverty, unemployment, poor health, family problems, alcoholism, etc. • Most people hear about these individuals and think that their problems are theirs alone, and that they and other individuals with the same problems are entirely to blame for their difficulties. • Sociology takes the approach that individual problems are often rooted in problems stemming from aspects of society itself. • Personal troubles refer to a problem affecting individuals that the affected individual, as well as other members of society, typically blame on the individual's own personal and moral failings. Ex: Eating disorders, divorce, and unemployment. • Public issues, whose source lies in the social structure and culture of a society, refer to social problems affecting many individuals. Problems in society thus help account for problems that individuals experience. • Sociological imagination - the ability to appreciate the structural basis for individual problems. (From C. Wright Mills, the realization that personal troubles are rooted in public issues). • Ex: If only a few people were unemployed, we could reasonably explain their unemployment by saying they were lazy, lacked good work habits, and so forth. If so, their unemployment is their own personal trouble. But when millions of people are out of work, unemployment is best understood as a public issue because "the very structure of opportunities has collapsed". • Eating disorders are a public issue because there are more American women than men with an eating disorder and it relates to the ideals of beauty. • Blaming the victim - The belief that people experiencing difficulties are to blame for these problems. Blaming the system - The belief that personal difficulties stem from problems in • society. Theoretical Perspectives Theoretical Major Views of Perspective Assumptions social problems Functionalism Social stability Social is necessary problems for a strong weaken a society, and society's adequate stability but do socialization not reflect and social fundamental integration are faults in how necessary for the society is social stability. structured. Society's social Solutions to institutions social perform problems important should take the functions to form of gradual help ensure social reform social stability. rather than Slow social sudden and change is far-reaching desirable, but change. rapid social Despite their change negative threatens effects, social social order. problems often also serve important functions for society. Theoretical Major Views of Perspective Assumptions social problems Conflict theory Society is Social characterized problems arise by pervasive from inequality fundamental based on faults in the social class, structure of a race, gender, society and and other both reflect factors. Far- and reinforce reaching social inequalities change is based on needed to social class, reduce or race, gender, eliminate social and other inequality and dimensions. to create an Successful egalitarian solutions to society. social problems must involve far- reaching change in the structure of society. Theoretical Major Views of Perspective Assumptions social problems Symbolic People Social interactionism construct their problems arise roles as they from the interact; they interaction of do not merely individuals. learn the roles People who that society engage in has set out for socially them. As this problematic interaction behaviors often occurs, learn these individuals behaviors from negotiate their other people. definitions of Individuals also the situations learn their in which they perceptions of find social themselves problems from and socially other people. construct the reality of these situations. In so doing, they rely heavily on symbols su
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