You are on page 1of 36

Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc.

, Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1

Sociology: Studying Social Problems

Chapter 1:
Sociology: Studying Social Problems
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Seeing Patterns:
The Sociological Perspective
• Sociology is the systematic study of
human societies.
• Society is a term referring to people who
live within a territory and share many
patterns of behaviors.
• Culture refers to a way of life including
widespread values, beliefs, and behavior.
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Further:
– People experience social problems in very
personal ways
– Sociology shows that the problems we face are
not only the results of personal choices but
reflect the operation of society itself
– C. Wright Mills used the sociological
imagination to show that our personal
troubles are really social issues that affect
many people – ourselves included
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Defining Social Problems
• A social problem
– is a condition that undermines the well-being of
some or all members of society
– is usually a matter of public controversy
• Determining social problems can be controversial
– subjective and objective realities may
– actually end up being quite different
– what people identify as the most serious
– social problems varies over time
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Table 1-1
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Social Constructionist Approach
• Social problems arise as people define
conditions:
–As undesirable
–In need of change
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Claims Making
• Process of convincing the public that a
particular issue or situation should be
defined as a social problem
• Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Figure 1-1
The Objective and Subjective Assessment of Social Issues
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Defining Social Problems
• One indication that people recognize an
issue as a social problem is the formation
of a social movement
–an organized effort at claims making that
tries to shape the way people think
about an issue in order to encourage or
discourage social change
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Stages in Social Movements
• Social movements progress through four
distinct stages:
– Emergence
– Coalescence
– Formalization
– Decline
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Eight assertions that form the
foundation for the analysis of social
problems:
1. Social problems result from the ways in
which society operates.
2. Social problems are not caused by bad
people.
3. Social problems are socially constructed
as people define a condition as harmful
and in need of change.
4. People see problems differently.
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.


Further:
5. Definitions of problems change over
time.
6. Problems involve subjective values as
well as objective facts.
7. Many – but not all – problems can be
solved.
8. Various social problems are related.

Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Figure 1-2
Four Stages in the Life Course of a Social Movement`
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Looking Beyond Ourselves:
A Global Perspective
• A global outlook shows
–Harmful conditions often cross
national boundaries
–Many of the problems that we in the
U.S. face are more serious elsewhere
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Analyzing Social Problems:
The Role of Theory
Theory:
A statement of how and why specific
facts are related

Theoretical Approach:
A basic image of society that guides
thinking and research
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Structural-Functional Approach
• A theoretical framework that sees society as
a system of many interrelated parts
• Social Institutions: the main parts of this
system (organized to meet basic human
needs)
– education
– family
– economics
– politics
– religion
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Global Map 1-1
Women’s Childbearing around the World
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Structural-Functional Approach
• Early Functionalism: Problems as Social
Pathology
• The “Chicago School”: Problems as
Disorganization
• More Recent Functionalism: Problems as
Dysfunctions
–Manifest versus Latent Functions
–Eufunctions versus Dysfunctions
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Social Conflict Approach
• A theoretical framework that sees society as
divided by inequality and conflict
• Social problems arise because our society is
divided into “haves” and “have nots”
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Social Conflict Approach
• Marxism: Problems and Class Conflict
– Capitalists
– Proletarians
• Multiculturalism: Problems of Racial
and Ethnic Inequality
• Feminism: Problems and Gender Conflict
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Symbolic-Interaction Approach

• A theoretical framework that sees society as
the product of individuals interacting with
one another
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

The Symbolic-Interaction Approach
• Learning Theory:
– Problems and the Social Environment

• Labeling Theory:
– Problems and Social Definitions
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.


A researcher asks subjects to respond to items in a
questionnaire or interview.
• A questionnaire is a series of items a researcher
presents to subjects for their response
• In an interview, the researcher meets face to face
with respondents to discuss a particular issue
• While questionnaires offer a chance for greater
breadth of opinion, interviews can provide greater
depth of understanding
Survey Research: Asking Questions
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Field Research: Joining In
• Also called participant observation

• Involves researchers observing people while
joining in their everyday activities
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Experimental Research:
Looking For Causes
• Experiment: a method by which a
researcher investigates cause-and-effect
relationships under highly controlled
conditions

• Most experiments are carried out in
specially designed laboratories

Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Secondary Analysis:
Using Available Data
• A common major research method that is
based on collection of data originally
collected by others
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Truth, Science, and Politics
• Max Weber’s “value-free” approach
• The “value commitment” approach
• Is “objective” research even possible?
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Truth and Statistics
• Check how terms are defined
• Numbers are subject to error
• People often “spin” their statistics
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Figure 1-3
Do Statistics Lie?
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Responding to Social Problems:
Social Policy
• Social policy refers to formal
strategies to affect how society
operates.
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Responding to Social Problems:
Social Policy
• The evaluation of social policy:
– How is success defined?
– What are the costs?
– Whom should get the help?
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Policy and Culture
• Social policy tends to be shaped by existing
cultural values
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Policy and Politics
• Conservatives: seek to limit the scope of
societal change (focus is on shortcomings of
individuals, not society)
• Liberals: favor more sweeping change in
society (see problems in the organization of
society)
• Radicals: support policies that go beyond
mere reform
–can be either ultra liberal or ultra
conservative
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Table 1-2
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Politics: Constructing Problems and
Defining Solutions
• The Political Spectrum: a continuum
representing a range of political attitudes
from “left” to “right”
• Social Issues: political debates involving
moral judgments about how people should
live
• Economic Issues: political debates about
how a society should distribute material
resources
Social Problems, Fourth Edition by John J. Macionis Copyright © 2010 Pearson Education, Inc., Upper
Saddle River, NJ 07458. All rights reserved.

Who Thinks What?
• Two good predictors of political attitudes
are education and wealth – both of which
are elements of social class
• The fact that social class affects social and
economic attitudes differently means that
most people have some combination of
liberal and conservative attitudes