Sociological Approach to Social Problems Lecture #1 Are things that bad? No ? falling violent crime rates ? improved infant mortality (important health indicator) ? more women in higher education than ever before Yes ? 135,000 students a day go to school with a gun ? 45 million americans without health insurance ? U.S. lags behind most industrialized nations in k-12 education Sociology's Approach to Social Problems ? early sociology: focused on social problems as pathology of "bad" individuals ? recent years: study of deviance; social problems as emedded in social sx and labeling ? objective v. subjective approaches Objective v. Subjective approaches Objective ? There is an objective reality of social problems ? The existence of social conditions (poverty, racism) that induce suffering for a given segment of the population Subjective ? what constitutes a social problem differs by audience and time. ? sp's are about the emergence and maintenance of claims making and responding activity. Utility of Subjective Approach ? Acknowledges that social problems are defined differently by different social actors, at different times in history ? recognizes that the study of social problems is not value free, but depends on the interests (& power) of different groups in society ? Encourages to be critical of "public opinion" when defining social problems ? Allows us to be critical of social order, "common sense," and the status quo OUR FOCUS THIS TERM: OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE APPROACHES The Sociological Imagination ? C. Wright Mills (1959) ? commentary on the relationship of individuals to society ? individual circumstances linked to structure of society ? Mills "personal troubles" are always also "public issues." Putting your SI into practice ? Willingness to view the world from the perspective of others ? Moving away from 'individual' think and focusing on social economic and historical circumstances ? thinking beyond taken for granted or common sense assumptions about the social world Person-Blame v. system Blame Person-Blame ? Idea that social problems emanate from the pathologies of individuals ? Ex: you lose your job b/c walmart comes to town but you blame yourself System-Blame ? Idea that social problems emanate from the situations in which "deviants" are involved Consequences of Person-Blame Approach ? Frees government, systems of satisfaction, educational systems, the economy, from blame. ? makes change difficult ? serves as an ideology of social control ? justifies a social darwinism Strengths of System-blame approach ? Contextualizes social problems within broader social forces and conditions ? Forces us to look beyond the individual to explain social problems ? Helps balance out the "individualist" perspective that dominates in the U.S. ? helps explain why social problems persist, even when individuals alter their beliefs, behavior or actions Weakness of system blame approach ? Offers only part of the story ? Can be overly deterministic, reducing social actors to "robots." How do they explain it? Person-Blame? ? poverty ? teen pregnancy ? illiteracy ? HIV/AIDS ? mental illness ? drug use * Ex: Teen Pregnancy: Girl is "slut", boys fault, lied about age, led him on. System-Blame? ? Ex: Teen Pregnancy: Blame it on the environment they grew up in, weren't educated, ability of contreception
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