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Blumer - 1971 - Social Problems as Collective Behavior

Blumer - 1971 - Social Problems as Collective Behavior

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Society for the Study of Social Problems
Social Problems as Collective BehaviorAuthor(s): Herbert BlumerSource:
Social Problems,
Vol. 18, No. 3 (Winter, 1971), pp. 298-306Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of SocialProblemsStable URL:
Accessed: 05/02/2010 10:30
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SOCIALPROBLEMSOCIALPROBLEMS
groupRelations.NewYork:Har-perandRow.1969Sociology:TheStudyofHumanRelations,ThirdEdition. NewYork:AlfredA.Knopf.Rose,A.M.,and H.R. Stub1955"Summaryf studiesontheinci-denceof mental disorders."InRose,1955a:87-116.Rose,A.M.,andL.Warshay1957"Adjustmentsofmigrantstocities."SocialForces36(October):72-76.groupRelations.NewYork:Har-perandRow.1969Sociology:TheStudyofHumanRelations,ThirdEdition. NewYork:AlfredA.Knopf.Rose,A.M.,and H.R. Stub1955"Summaryf studiesontheinci-denceof mental disorders."InRose,1955a:87-116.Rose,A.M.,andL.Warshay1957"Adjustmentsofmigrantstocities."SocialForces36(October):72-76.Stryker,S.1968"Inmemoriam:ArnoldM.Rose(1918-1968)."TheAmericanSo-ciologist3(February):60-61.Westie,F.R.1968"TheAmericanDilemma:An em-piricaltest."Pp.127-141inRay-mond W.Mack(ed.),Race,Classand Power.NewYork:AmericanBook Co.Young,K.1944"Reviewof'AnAmericanDi-lemma.'"AmericanSociologicalReview9(June):326-330.Stryker,S.1968"Inmemoriam:ArnoldM.Rose(1918-1968)."TheAmericanSo-ciologist3(February):60-61.Westie,F.R.1968"TheAmericanDilemma:An em-piricaltest."Pp.127-141inRay-mond W.Mack(ed.),Race,Classand Power.NewYork:AmericanBook Co.Young,K.1944"Reviewof'AnAmericanDi-lemma.'"AmericanSociologicalReview9(June):326-330.
SOCIALPROBLEMS ASCOLLECTIVEBEHAVIORHERBERT BLUMERUniversityofCalifornia,Berkeley
Sociologistshaveerrednlocatingsocialproblemsnobjectiveonditions.nstead,socialproblemshave theirbeinginaprocessof collectivedefinition.Thisprocessdetermineswhethersocialproblemswillarise,whethertheybecomelegitimated,howtheyareshapedndiscussion,howtheycometobeaddressed nofficialpolicy,and howtheyarereconstitutednputtingplannedaction into effect.Sociologicaltheoryandstudymustrespecthisprocess.
SOCIALPROBLEMS ASCOLLECTIVEBEHAVIORHERBERT BLUMERUniversityofCalifornia,Berkeley
Sociologistshaveerrednlocatingsocialproblemsnobjectiveonditions.nstead,socialproblemshave theirbeinginaprocessof collectivedefinition.Thisprocessdetermineswhethersocialproblemswillarise,whethertheybecomelegitimated,howtheyareshapedndiscussion,howtheycometobeaddressed nofficialpolicy,and howtheyarereconstitutednputtingplannedaction into effect.Sociologicaltheoryandstudymustrespecthisprocess.
Mythesis isthatsocialproblemsarefundamentallyproductsof apro-cessofcollectivedefinitioninsteadofexistingindependentlyas a setofob-jectivesocialarrangementswithan in-trinsicmakeup.Thisthesischallengesthepremiseunderlyinghetypicalsoci-ologicalstudyof socialproblems.Thethesis,iftrue,wouldcallfor adrasticreorientationofsociologicaltheoryandresearchnthecaseof socialprob-lems.Letmebeginwitha briefaccountofthetypicalwayinwhichsociologistsapproachhestudyandanalysisof so-cialproblems.Theapproachpresumesthata socialproblemexistsas anob-jectiveconditionorarrangementnthetextureof asociety.Theobjectiveondi-tion orarrangements seenashavinganintrinsicallyharmfulormalignantna-Mythesis isthatsocialproblemsarefundamentallyproductsof apro-cessofcollectivedefinitioninsteadofexistingindependentlyas a setofob-jectivesocialarrangementswithan in-trinsicmakeup.Thisthesischallengesthepremiseunderlyinghetypicalsoci-ologicalstudyof socialproblems.Thethesis,iftrue,wouldcallfor adrasticreorientationofsociologicaltheoryandresearchnthecaseof socialprob-lems.Letmebeginwitha briefaccountofthetypicalwayinwhichsociologistsapproachhestudyandanalysisof so-cialproblems.Theapproachpresumesthata socialproblemexistsas anob-jectiveconditionorarrangementnthetextureof asociety.Theobjectiveondi-tion orarrangements seenashavinganintrinsicallyharmfulormalignantna-turestandingncontrasto anormalorsociallyhealthfulsociety.Insociolog-icaljargonitis astateofdysfunction,pathology,disorganization,ordevi-ance.Thetask of thesociologististoidentifythe harmfulcondition orar-rangementandtoresolveitintoitsessentialelements orparts.Thisanaly-sis of theobjectivemakeupof thesocialproblemisusuallyaccompaniedbyan identificationof theconditionswhichcausetheproblemandbypro-posalsas tohowtheproblemmightbehandled.Inhavinganalyzedthe ob-jectivenatureofthesocialproblem,identifieditscauses,andpointedouthow theproblemcouldbehandledorsolved thesociologistbelievesthat hehasaccomplishedisscientificmission.Theknowledgeandinformationwhichhehasgatheredcan,on theonehand,turestandingncontrasto anormalorsociallyhealthfulsociety.Insociolog-icaljargonitis astateofdysfunction,pathology,disorganization,ordevi-ance.Thetask of thesociologististoidentifythe harmfulcondition orar-rangementandtoresolveitintoitsessentialelements orparts.Thisanaly-sis of theobjectivemakeupof thesocialproblemisusuallyaccompaniedbyan identificationof theconditionswhichcausetheproblemandbypro-posalsas tohowtheproblemmightbehandled.Inhavinganalyzedthe ob-jectivenatureofthesocialproblem,identifieditscauses,andpointedouthow theproblemcouldbehandledorsolved thesociologistbelievesthat hehasaccomplishedisscientificmission.Theknowledgeandinformationwhichhehasgatheredcan,on theonehand,29898
 
CollectiveBehaviorbeaddedtothe store ofscholarlyknowledgeand,on the otherhand,beplacedatthedisposalofpolicymakersand thegeneralcitizenry.Thistypical sociologicalapproachseemson its face tobelogical,reason-able,andjustifiable.Yet,inmy judg-ment,it reflectsagrossmisunderstand-ingofthenatureof socialproblemsand,accordingly,sveryineffectualnprovidingfortheircontrol. Togiveaninitial indication ofthedeficiencyoftheapproach,etme indicatebrieflythefalsityorunprovencharacterofseveralofitskeyassumptionsrclaims.First,currentsociologicalheoryandknowledge,inthemselves,justdonotenable thedetectionoridentificationfsocialproblems.Instead,sociologistsdiscernsocialproblemsonlyaftertheyarerecognizedassocialproblemsbyandinasociety.Sociological recogni-tionfollowsinthewake ofsocietalrecognition,veeringwith thewinds ofthepublicidentificationfsocialprob-lems.Illustrationsarelegion-Iciteonlyafew ofrecentmemory.Povertywasaconspicuoussocialproblemforsociologistsahalf-centuryago,onlytopracticallydisappearfromthesocio-logicalscene inthe1940'sandearly1950's,and then toreappearin ourcurrent time.Racialinjusticeand.ex-ploitationinoursocietywere fargreaterinthe1920'sand1930'sthantheyaretoday; yetthesociologicalconcerntheyevokedwaslittleuntilthechainofhappenings followingtheSupremeCourtdecisionon school de-segregationandthe riotinWatts.En-vironmentalpollutionandecologicaldestructionaresocialproblemsofverylatevintageforsociologists althoughtheirpresenceand manifestationdatebackovermanydecades. Theproblemoftheinequalityofwomen'sstatus,emergingsovigorouslyonourcurrentscene,was ofperipheralsociologicalconcernafewyearsback.Withoutdrawingon otherillustrations,merelyassert that inidentifyingsocialprob-lemssociologistshaveconsistentlyakentheircue from whathappenstobe inthe focusofpublicconcern. Thiscon-clusionissupportedfurtherbytheindifferenceofsociologistsandthepublic,alike,tomanyquestionableandharmfuldimensionsofmodern life.Suchinjuriousdimensionsmaybecas-uallynoted butdespitetheirgravityaregiventhestatus of socialproblemsbysociologists.Afew instancesthatcome to mindare: the vast over-organizationhatisdevelopingnmod-ernsociety,theunearnedncrementnland valueswhichHenry Georgecam-paignedagainstthree-quartersofacenturyago,theinjurioussocialeffectsof our nationalhighwaysystem,thepernicioussocialconsequencesofanideologyof"growth,"theunsavorysideofestablishedbusinesscodes;andmayIaddformyStateofCalifornia,a statewaterplanwith hiddensocialconsequencesofarepellingcharacter.I think thattheempiricalrecordisclear thatthedesignationofsocialproblemsbysociologistsis derivedfrom thepublicdesignationofsocialproblems.Letme addthat,contraryto thepretensionsofsociologists,sociologicaltheory,byitself,has beenconspicu-ouslyimpotentto detectoridentifysocialproblems.This can be seeninthecaseof the three mostprestigefulsociologicalconceptscurrentlyusedtoexplaintheemergenceof socialprob-lems,namely,theconceptsof"devi-ance,""dysfunction,"and"structuralstrain."Theseconceptsareuseless asmeansofidentifyingsocialproblems.Foronething,noneofthem hasasetofbenchmarkshatenable the scholar299

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