The Study of Social Problems
1. The Study of Social ProblemsFollow: Mooney, L. A. 2013.
Understanding social problems
Sullivan, Th. 2011. Introduction to
2. What is a Social Problem?C. Wright Mills distinguished between personal
troubles and public issues
are things that
and their immediate
have an impact
on large numbers
and are matters
of public debate
3. Objective Elements of Social ProblemsAwareness of social conditions through life
experiences and through reports in the
– We see the homeless, hear gunfire in the
streets, and see battered women in
hospital emergency rooms.
– We read about employees losing their jobs
as businesses downsize and factories
4. Subjective Elements of Social ProblemsThe belief that a particular social condition is
harmful to society or to a segment of society
and that it should and can be changed.
We know crime, drug addiction, poverty,
racism, violence, and pollution exist.
– These are not considered social problems
unless a segment of society believes
these conditions diminish the quality of
5. What is a Social Problem?A social problem exists:
when an influential group defines a social
condition as threatening its values
when a condition affects a large number of
and when the condition can be remedied by
6. The Social Context of Social ProblemsSocial conditions that can lead to the emergence
of social problems
Deviation from group values & norms
A decline in the effectiveness of social institutions
Extensive social & cultural diversity
The exercise of power
7. Types of Social NormsFolkways - customs and manners of society.
Laws - formal norms backed by authority.
Mores - norms with a moral basis.
Situational – norms that change according to a
8. Social InstitutionsAn institution is an established and enduring
pattern of social relationships.
The five traditional institutions are:
9. CultureCulture is defined as the meanings and ways
of life that characterize a society including
beliefs, values, norms, sanctions, and
10. Elements of CultureBeliefs are definitions and explanations
about what is assumed to be true.
Values are social agreements about what is
considered good and bad, right and wrong,
desirable and undesirable.
11. Elements of CultureNorms
– Socially defined rules of behavior.
– Consequences for conforming to or
– Language, gestures, and objects whose
meaning is commonly understood by the
members of a society.
12. Theoretical Approaches on Social ProblemsA theoretical perspective provides some
fundamental assumptions about the nature and
operation of society.
Macrosociological perspectives focus on large
groups, social institutions and society as a whole.
Microsociological perspectives focus on the intimate
level of everyday interactions between people.
13. The Functionalist PerspectiveSociety is a system that is made up of a number
of interrelated elements, each performing a
function that contributes to the operation of the
Robert K. Merton distinguished between manifest
functions, latent functions, and dysfunctions.
14. The Conflict PerspectiveSociety consists of different groups who
struggle with one another to attain the scarce
societal resources that are considered
valuable, be they money, power, prestige, or
the authority to impose one’s values on
Karl Marx provided the framework based on the
class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the
15. Conflict Theories of Social ProblemsThere are two general types of conflict
theories of social problems:
Marxist theories focus on social conflict that
results from economic inequalities.
Non-Marxist theories focus on social conflict that
results from competing values and interests
among social groups.
16. Marxist Conflict TheoriesAccording to Marxist theorists, social
problems result from class inequality inherent
in a capitalistic system.
Marxist conflict theories also focus on the
problem of alienation.
Conflict can create positive change
17. Non-Marxist Conflict TheoriesConcerned with conflict that arises when
groups have opposing values and interests.
– These value positions reflect different
subjective interpretations of what
constitutes a social problem.
Ultimately, conflict is, and always will be,
18. The Interactionist PerspectiveInteractionism focuses on everyday social
interaction among individuals rather than on
large scale societal structures.
William and Dorothy Thomas stated that “If people
define situations as real, they are real in their
The definition of the situation refers to people’s
perceptions and interpretations of what is important
in a situation and what actions are appropriate.
20. Research on Social ProblemsScience is a method of obtaining objective
and systematic knowledge through
Hypotheses are tentative statements that can be
tested regarding relationships between two or
more factors, and that act as links between theory
21. Stages of Conducting a Research Study1.
Formulating a research question.
Reviewing the literature.
Formulating a hypothesis.
Design research method
Collect and analyze data
Form conclusion and publish results
22. VariableAny measurable event, characteristic, or
property that varies or is subject to change.
Researchers must operationally define the
variables they study.
– An operational definition specifies how a
variable is to be measured.
Operational definitions are particularly
important for defining variables that cannot
be directly observed.
23. HypothesisA prediction about how one variable is
related to another variable.
The dependent variable is the variable that
the researcher wants to explain.
The independent variable is the variable that
is expected to explain change in the
24. Four Types of Sociological ResearchDirect observation
– The social scientist sees or hears something him
– People are asked questions
– Information collected by some other agency for
reasons other than research
– Controlled methods of collecting evidence
25. Assessing DataSampling problems
Upon whom or what were the observations made?
Samples should be representative.
The three criteria to establish causality
Observe associations or correlations
Ensure time sequence
Avoid spurious relationships
26. Future ProspectsSolutions to social problems can fall into
one of the following categories.
27. Who Provides Solutions?“Collective action” means that people work
together toward a solution.
A social movement is a collective, organized
effort to promote or resist social change through
some noninstitutionalized or unconventional
29. Should we solve the problems?Can we accept the costs of the solution?
Does a solution to one problem create yet
Is a particular solution feasible?
30. International PerspectivesReasons to look at other societies and cultures
Because we can gain additional insight into
problems and their solutions when we observe
Because nations today are intertwined in a complex
relationship in which we all depend on one another
Because some social problems are inherently global