Social Problems Chapter 1:Thinking about Social Problems

What percent of Americans were satisfied “with the way things are going on in the United States” in a 2011 Gallup Poll?
Which year had the lowest American satisfaction rate “with the way things are going on in the United States” according to the Gallup Poll?
According to a 2011 Gallup Poll, what were the three most commonly selected problems?
-Unemployment and the lack of jobs, economy in general, deficit spending.
What was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 designed to do?
-To help failing industries, create jobs, promote consumer spending, rescue the failed housing market, and encourage energy-related investments.
In February 2011, what percent of the funds of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 were made available?
-92% of funds, excluding tax benefits.
What is a social problem?
-There is no universal, constant, or absolute definition of what constitutes a social problem. Rather, social problems are defined by a combination of objective and subjective criteria that vary across societies, individuals and groups within a society, and across historical time periods.
What is the objective element of a social problem?
-Refers to the existence of a social condition; We become aware of social conditions through life experience, media, education.
What is the subjective element of a social problem?
-The belief that a particular social condition is harmful to society or to a segment of society and that it should and can be changed.
What is the combined definition of a social problem?
-A social condition that a segment of society view as harmful to members of society and in need of remedy.
Why do individuals and groups frequently disagree about what constitutes a social problem?
-Due to differences in values, beliefs, and life experiences, across societies, across historical time periods.
What kind of framework does sociology provide to study complex social problems?
-Sociological perspective
What are some of the concepts and tools of sociology?
-social structure, culture, the sociological imagination, major theoretical perspectives, and types of research methods.
What is Proposition 8?
-A law that banned gay marriages in California.
How is society like a coin with two sides?
-On one side is the structure of society and on the other is the culture of society. Each side is distinct and both sides are inseparable from the whole.
What is the structure of society?
-Refers to the way society is organized into institutions, social groups, statuses, and roles.
What is an institution?
-An established and enduring pattern of social relationships.
-Made up of social groups
What are the five traditional institutions? What are some other social institutions?
-Family, religion, politics, economics, and education.
-Science and technology, mass media, medicine, sports, military.
Many social problems are generated by what in various institutions?
What is a social group?
-Makes up institutions.
-Defined as two or more people who have a common identity, interact, and form a social relationship.
-Can be primary or secondary
-Consist of statuses
What are primary groups?
-Social groups which tend to involve small numbers of individuals, are characterized by intimate and informal interaction.
What are secondary groups?
-Social groups that may involve small or large numbers of individuals, are task-oriented and are characterized by impersonal and formal interaction.
What is a status?
-A position that a person occupies within a social group
-Can be ascribed or achieved
-Can have more than one role
What is an ascribed status?
-A status that society assigns to an individual on the basis of factors over which the individual has no control.
What is an achieved status?
-A status that society assigns on the basis of some characteristic or behavior over which the individual has some control.
What kind of status affects the likelihood of achieving other statuses?
-Ascribed status
How many statuses do individuals have?
-Numerous simultaneously
What is a master status?
-The most significant status in a person’s social identity.
In the U.S., what usually determines your master status?
-occupational status
What are roles?
-The set of rights, obligations, and expectations associated with a status.
What is the culture of society?
-Refers to the meanings and ways of life that characterize a society including beliefs, values, norms, sanctions, and symbols.
What are beliefs?
-Refer to definitions and explanations about what is assumed to be true.
-influence whether that individual or group views a particular social condition as a social problem
-influence the existence of the social condition itself
What are values?
-social agreements about what is considered good and bad, right and wrong, desirable and undesirable.
-when values are contradicted and incompatible with social conditions, we interpret conditions as social problems.
-play a role in the development of the social condition itself
-absent or weak values contribute to social problems.
What did Hewlett say about American values of freedom and individualism?
-Two sides to coin of freedom: One hand the enormous potential for prosperity and personal fulfillment, on other hand all the hazards of untrammeled opportunity and unfettered choice.
-Rampant individualism does not bring sweet freedom; it explodes in our faces and limits life’s potential.
What are norms?
-socially defined rules of behavior
-serve as guidelines for our behavior and for our expectations of the behavior of others.
-associated with sanctions
What are the three types of norms?
-folkways, laws, and mores
What are folkways?
-the customs and manners of society (cultural tradition, no law)
What are laws?
-norms that are formalized and backed by political authority.
What are mores?
-norms with a moral basis.
-Violations of mores may produce shock, horror, and moral indignation.
What are sanctions?
-social consequences for conforming to or violating norms.
-when we conform to a social norm, we get a positive sanction
-when we violate a social norm, we get a negative sanction
-Most sanctions are spontaneous expressions of approval or disapproval by groups or individuals (informal sanctions)
-Sanctions that are carried out according to some recognized or formal procedure (formal sanctions)
What are the four types of sanctions?
-positive informal, positive formal, negative informal, negative formal
What are symbols?
-something that represents something else
-without symbols, we could not communicate with one another or live as social beings.
-sometimes people attach different meanings to the same symbol
What is the sociological imagination?
-coined by Mills in 1959
-Refers to the ability to see the connections between our personal lives and the social world in which we live.
-Able to distinguish between private troubles and public issues and to see connections between the events and conditions of our lives and the social and historical context in which we live.
If various elements of social structure and culture contribute to private and public issues, what should be done?
-Society’s social structure and culture must be changed if concerns are to be resolved; social forces responsible rather than individual skills.
What is the structural functionalist perspective?
-Spencer, Durkheim, Parsons, Merton
-society is a system of interconnected parts that work together in harmony to maintain a state of balance and social equilibrium for the whole.
-Each of social institutions contributes important functions
-Interconnectedness of society shown by focusing how each part influences and is influenced by other parts.
-Proposed solutions may lead to other social problems.
Describe the terms functional and dysfunctional and what they are used for?
-Used by structural functionalists to describe effects of social elements on society.
-Elements are functional if they contribute to social stability.
-Elements are dysfunctional if they disrupt social stability
-Some aspects of society can be both functional and dysfunctional.
What are the two types of functions according to structural functionalists?
-manifest and latent functions
What are manifest functions?
-consequences that are intended and commonly recognized.
What are latent functions?
-consequences that are unintended and often hidden.
What two dominant theories of social problems grew out of the structural functionalist perspective?
-social pathology and social disorganization.
What is social pathology?
-social problems result from some sickness in society
-society becomes ill when its parts (structure/culture) no longer perform properly
-social illness also results when members of a society are not adequately socialized to adopt its norms and values.
-Early theorists attributed failure in socialization to “sick” individuals who couldn’t be socialized. Later theorists recognized failure in socialization process stemmed from “sick” social conditions, not “sick” people
-To solve social problems, members of society must receive proper socialization and moral education through family, schools, churches, workplaces, media.
What is social disorganization?
-rapid social change disrupts the norms in a society.
-When norms become weak or are in conflict with each other, society is in a state of anomie (normlessness).
-People start to engage in deviant behavior
-Solution is to slow pace of social change and strengthen social norms.
What is the conflict perspective?
-society as composed of different groups and interests competing for power and resources.
-look at which groups have power and benefit from a particular social arrangement.
-Marx said industrialization leads to development of two classes: the bourgeoisie (owners of means of production) and proletariat (workers who earn wages). Haves vs have nots—-beneficial to owners (haves). Bourgeoisie use their power to control institutions of society to their advantage.
What are the two types of conflict theories of social problems?
-Marxist and non-Marxist
What are Marxist Conflict Theories?
-social problems result from class inequality inherent in a capitalistic system. Haves benefit and have nots suffer poverty.
-Capitalism encourages corporate violence—actual harm and/or risk of harm inflicted on consumers, workers, and the general public as a result of decisions by corporate executives/managers. Profit motive encourages participation in manufacturing defective products.
-problem of alienation (powerlessness/meaningless in people’s lives). Workers have little power or control over their jobs, specialized nature of work requires workers to perform limited and repetitive tasks (meaningless).
-alienation in classroom—students have little power over education and curriculum is not meaningful—-low achievement, violence, suicide.
-solution is to eliminate class inequality by creating a classless society, nature of work changed to avoid alienation, and stronger controls applied to corporations so corporate decisions and practices are based on safety rather than profit.
What are non-Marxist conflict theories?
-conflict that arises when groups have opposing values and interests
-reflect different subjective interpretations of what constitutes a social problem.
-Sometimes social problem is the way that conflict is expressed.
-Value conflicts may occur between diverse categories of people
-solution is to ensure that conflicting groups understand each other’s views, resolve differences through negotiation or mediation, or agreeing to disagree. Ideally want win-win but outcomes are often influenced by the most powerful group.
What level of sociological analysis describes structural functionalist and conflict perspectives?
What is macrosociology?
-Looks at big picture of society and suggests how social problems are affected at the institutional level.
What level of sociological analysis describes the symbolic interactionist perspective?
What is microsociology?
-concerned with the social-psychological dynamics of individuals interacting in small groups.
What is the symbolic interactionist perspective?
-Weber, Simmel, Cooley, Mead, Thomas, Goffman, Becker
-Human behavior is influenced by definitions and meanings that are created and maintained through symbolic interaction with others.
-suggests that social interaction shapes our identity or sense of self.
-We develop our self-concept by observing how others interact and label us.
-Has important implications for how social scientists conduct research.
-Some disagree that social problems exist only if they are recognized.
What did Thomas emphasize?
-The importance of definitions and meanings in social behavior and its consequences. Humans respond to their definition of a situation rather than to the objective situation itself. Hence, situations that we define as real become real in their consequences.
What is Cooley’s looking glass self?
-By observing how others view us, we see a reflection of ourselves
What does Verstehen mean according to Weber?
-to understand individual and group behavior, social scientists must see the world through the eyes of that individual or group.
-Verstehen means “to understand” and implies that in conducting research, social scientists must try to understand others’ views of reality and the subjective aspects of their environment, including symbols, values, attitudes, and beliefs.
What is the basic premise of symbolic interactionist theories of social problems? What three symbolic interactionist theories are based on this premise?
-The basic premise is that a condition must be defined or recognized as a social problem for it to be a social problem.
-Blumer’s stages of a social problem, labeling theory, and social constructionism.
What are Blumer’s stages of social problem?
-Blumer suggested that social problems develop in stages.
-First, social problems pass through the stage of societal recognition—the process by which a social problem is “born”
-Second, social legitimation takes place when the social problem achieves recognition by the larger community, including the media, school, and churches.
-Third, mobilization for action occurs when individuals and groups become concerned about how to respond to the social condition.
-Fourth, development and implementation of an official plan for dealing with the problem.
-helpful in tracing the development of social problems.
What is labeling theory?
-a social condition or group is problematic if it is labeled as such.
-resolving social problems sometimes involves changing the meanings and definitions that are attributed to people and situations.
What is social constructionism?
-Similar to labeling theorists and symbolic interactionism, social constructionists argue that individuals who interpret the social world around them socially construct reality.
-Society is a social creation rather than an objective given.
-often questions the origin and evolution of social problems.
-Media, universities, research institutes, and government agencies provide public’s initial take on social problem.
What are structural functionalist, conflict theorist, and symbolic interactionist thoughts on society?
-Society is a set of interrelated parts; cultural consensus exists and leads to social order; natural state of society: balance and harmony.
-Society is marked by power struggles over scarce resources; inequities result in conflict; social change is inevitable; natural state of society: imbalance.
-Society is a network of interlocking roles; social order is constructed through interaction as individuals, through shared meaning, making sense out of their social world.
What are structural functionalist, conflict theorist, and symbolic interactionist thoughts on individuals?
-Individuals are socialized by society’s institutions; socialization is the process by which social control is exerted; people need society and its institutions.
-People are inherently good but are corrupted by society and its economic structure; institutions are controlled by groups with power; “order” is part of the illusion.
-Humans are interpretive and interactive; they are constantly changing as their “social beings” emerge and are molded by changing circumstances.
What are structural functionalist, conflict theorist, and symbolic interactionist thoughts on cause of social problems?
-Rapid social change; social disorganization that disrupts the harmony and balance; inadequate socialization and/or weak institutions.
-Inequality; the dominance of groups of people over other groups of people; oppression and exploitation; competition between groups.
-Different interpretation of roles; labeling of individuals, groups, or behaviors as deviant; definition of an objective condition as a social problem.
What are structural functionalist, conflict theorist, and symbolic interactionist thoughts on social policy/solutions?
-Repair weak institutions; assure proper socialization; cultivate a strong collective sense of right and wrong.
-Minimize competition; create an equitable system for the distribution of resources.
-Reduce impact of labeling and associated stigmatization; alter definitions of what is defined as a social problem.
What are some criticisms of structural functionalist, conflict theorist, and symbolic interactionist thoughts?
-Called “sunshine sociology”; supports the maintenance of status quo; needs to ask “functional for whom?”; does not deal with issues of power and conflict; incorrectly assumes a consensus.
-Utopian model; Marxist states have failed; denies existence of cooperation and equitable exchange; cannot explain cohesion and harmony.
-Concentrates on micro issues only; fails to link micro issues to macro level concerns; too psychological in its approach; assumes label amplified problem.
What did Wilson say about research and theory?
-They are intricately related. Theory building not a separate activity from gathering facts.
-Without theory, the empirical researcher would find it impossible to decide what to observe, how to observe it, or what to make of observations.
What are the first four stages in conducting research on a social problem?
-formulating a research question, reviewing the literature, defining variables, and formulating a hypothesis.
What are the sections of a journal article?
-introduction and review of the literature, sample and methods, findings and conclusions.
What is formulating a research question?
-Research study usually begins with a research question.
-Researchers develop questions through life experiences, personal values, desire to test a particular sociological theory or some aspect of it, to establish its validity, or conduct studies to evaluate the effect of a social policy/program, concerns of community groups and social activist organizations, government and industry hire them.
Which amendment of the U.S. constitution protects journalists’ sources?
-First Amendment
Why can’t journalists reveal information given in confidence?
-They need the permission from the source or a court order.
What is reviewing the literature?
-Researchers review published material on topic to find what is already known.
-Provides researchers with ideas how to conduct research and helps them formulate new research questions.
-serves as an evaluation tool, allowing a comparison of research findings and other sources including expert opinions, political claims, and journalistic reports.
What is a variable?
-Any measurable event, characteristic, or property that varies or is subject to change.
What is an operational definition?
-specifies how a variable is to be measured.
-important for defining variables that cannot be directly observed. Nor can researchers directly observe perceptions, values, and attitudes.
What is defining variables?
-Researchers must operationally define the variables.
What is a hypothesis?
-a prediction or educated guess about how one variable is related to another variable.
What is a dependent variable?
-the variable that researchers want to explain, that is, the variable of interest.
What is an independent variable?
-the variable that is expected to explain change in the dependent variable.
What is formulating a hypothesis?
-Researchers predict or hypothesize how the independent variable affects the dependent variable.
-Researchers often assess the affects of several independent variables on one or more dependent variables.
What are the four methods of data collection?
-experiments, surveys, field research, and secondary data.
What are experiments?
-involve manipulating the independent variable to determine how it affects the dependent variable.
-require one or more experimental groups that are exposed to the experimental treatment(s) and a control group that is not exposed.
-After researcher randomly assigns participants to either an experimental or control group, the researcher measures the dependent variable. After the experimental groups are exposed to the treatment, the researcher measures the dependent variable again.
-If participants have been randomly assigned to the different groups, the researcher may conclude that any difference in the dependent variable among the groups is due to the effect of the independent variable.
-one major strength is that it provides evidence for causal relationships, how one variable affects another.
-one weakness is that experiments are often conducted on small samples, usually in artificial lab settings and so the findings may not be generalized to other people in natural settings.
What is survey research?
-involves eliciting information from respondents through questions.
-selecting a representative sample, then interview people, ask them to complete written questionnaires, or elicit responses through computers.
What is a sample?
-A portion of the population, selected to be representative so that the information from the sample can be generalized to a larger population. (assumes that those who were not questioned would give similar responses)
What is interview survey research?
-trained interviewers ask respondents a series of questions and make written notes about or tape-record the respondents’ answers.
-May be conducted over the phone or face-to-face.
-One advantage is that researchers are able to clarify questions for the respondent and follow up on answers to particular questions.
-Researchers often conduct face-to-face interviews with groups of individuals who might otherwise be inaccessible.
-The most serious disadvantages of interview research are cost and the lack of privacy and anonymity. Some respondents may choose not to participate in interview research on sensitive topics. Those who do participate may conceal or alter information or give socially desirable answers to the interviewer’s questions
What is questionnaire survey research?
-questionnaires that are mailed or given to sample of respondents.
-Advantages include less expensive and less time consuming than interviews, provides privacy and anonymity, reduces likelihood of being threatened or embarrassed when asked personal questions, and increases the likelihood that answers are not intentionally inaccurate or distorted.
-Major disadvantages include that it is difficult to obtain an adequate response rate, many people do not want to take the time and effort to complete and mail questionnaires, others may be unable to read and understand the questionnaire.
What is talking computers survey research?
-ask respondents to provide answers to a computer that talks.
-Newman found that syringe exchange program participants were more likely to report stigmatized behavior using computer-assisted self-interviewing, but less likely to report psychological distress when compared to face-to-face interview respondents.
What is field research?
-involves observing and studying social behavior in settings in which it occurs naturally.
-Sometimes, sociologists conduct in-depth analyses or case studies of an individual, group, or event.
-main advantage is that it provides detailed information about values, rituals, norms, behaviors, symbols, beliefs, and emotions of those being studied.
-a potential problem with field research is that the researcher’s observations may be biased. Because field research is usually based on small samples, the findings may not be generalizable
What are the two types of field research?
-Participant and nonparticipant observation
What is participant observation?
-Researchers participate in the phenomenon being studied to obtain an insider’s perspective on the people and/or behavior being observed.
What is nonparticipant observation?
-Researchers observe the phenomenon being studied without actively participating in the group or the activity.
What is secondary data research?
-researchers analyze secondary data, which are data that other researchers or government agencies have already collected or that exists in forms such as historical documents, police reports, school records, and official records of marriages, births, and deaths.
-A major advantage is that the data are readily accessible, so researchers avoid the time and expense of collecting their own data.
-Disadvantage is that researchers are limited to the data already collected.
What did Caldas and Bankston do?
-Used information from 1990 Louisiana Graduate Exit Examination to assess the relationship between school achievement and television-viewing habits of more than 40,000 tenth graders. They found that television viewing is inversely related to academic achievement for whites, but has little or no effect on school achievement for Black Americans.
What is a social movement?
-an organized group of individuals with a common purpose to either promote or resist social change through collective action.
What is the most important prerequisite for becoming actively involved in improving levels of social well-being?
-genuine concern and dedication to a social “cause”.
What was the 2009 Serve America Act?
-designed to increase the size of the AmeriCorps service program, expand ways for students to earn money for college, and create opportunities for all Americans to serve in their communities.
What is service learning in college?
-College students can volunteer in the community and receive academic credits for their efforts.
What was the American Youth Congress (AYC)?
-In 1930s AYC protested racial injustice, educational inequality, and the looming involvement of the U.S. in WWII.
-Called student brain of the New Deal, political power showed later in 1960s.
What characterized the new activism that exists today?
-new technologies and networking sites allow for virtual activism as many students join online causes.
What was the Kent State Massacre?
-At Kent State University, unarmed student demonstrators protested U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
-was the only nationwide student strike in U.S. history
-Shootings by Ohio National Guard were unjustified, but no criminal charges were filed.
What is the Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (SETA)?
-SETA is a student group organizing to be the voice of rights for animals.
-Through weblogs, Facebook, rallies, and community outreach, students speak up effectively for those who can’t.
What happened at the protests of Tiananmen Square?
-Chinese university students sat peacefully in Tiananmen Square to protest for democratic reforms and social justice; they were open fired against
-greatest challenge to the communist state in China since 1949 revolution.
What is the Gay-Straight Alliance Network (GSAN)?
-a youth leadership organization that connects school-based Gay-Straight Alliances to each other and to community resources.
-member of Marriage Equality USA
-actively promotes the marriage rights of same-sex couples
-some states now can have same-sex marriages
What was the Greensboro Four act about?
-Four African Americans walked into a Greensboro Woolworth store for school supplies. Then they walked into whites only lunch counter but were never served and many others followed by “sit-ins”.
-Was a pivotal step in propelling the American civil rights movement.