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Defining Social Problems

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Introduction

Defining Social Problems A distinction is made between the definition of a social problem and sociological problem by Peter Worsley (1972). The latter refers to the problem of explaining social behaviour in terms of a sociological theory, whilst the former is some piece of social behaviour that causes public friction and or private misery and calls for collective action to solve it. The study of social problems is a complex and very controversial undertaking. Broadly speaking, this is not understandable to the average layman whose concepts of what constitutes a social problem is firmly established by the rhetoric of his/hers everyday social discourse and indeed the classification of acts or situations as social problems seem to be a relatively simple exercise. It is becoming more and more evident by present day sociologists and social scientists alike the complexities involved in defining, identifying and classifying a social situation as a social problem. This process has far-reaching implications on the focus, scope and projected recommendations of studies conducted of a particular social situation. There are two major conceptualizations of defining a social situation as a social problem. ...read more.

Middle

The supporters of the public opinion approach contend that this approach limits the subjectivity of the researcher. Turner and Beeghley believe that by relying on the public's conceptualization of what constitutes a social problem that the sociologist remain neutral and value-free thereby playing a passive rather than active role in the process of defining social problems, since he/she is unable to impose his values, morals and ethnics. Gross dismisses the proposed objective rational proposed by the supporters of the public-opinon approach. He believes that for the sociologist even to interpret a public response to a social situation as negative or positive, good or bad is in itself a value judgment! This method of defining social problems is not as value free and objective as Beeghley and Tuner insinuate. If one is to speak of the majority, then what of the minority. In all fairness some public-opinion supporters have attempted to address this aspect of the debate around the definition of social problems. Sheppard and Voss have included in their definition the point that not only is a social problem defined by the "large proportion of society" but by "powerful elements of it" who see a social condition as undesirable and in need of attention. ...read more.

Conclusion

The controversy surrounding the definition of social problems is still going strong. Some may ask why is it important to understand how a social situation is classified as a social problem. The implementation of social policies affects everyone and some policies may not always be to our benefit. For example the Mass Marriage Movement in Jamaica looked to encourage couples to marry because some British sociologists thought that single-parent families were having adverse effects on their children and this was considered a problem. Through the research of dedicated Caribbean sociologist we know differently. In conclusion, I adapt the view points of Merton and Roberts, Contempory Social Problems, that social problems 'vary among societies and it varies in the same society among social groups and from time to time, since both the social realities and the social norms differ and change.' Fuller and Myers to develop a rather accommodating definition of a social problem. They wrote 'Every social problem thus consists of an objective and a subjective definition. The objective condition is a verifiable condition which can be checked as to the existence and magnitude by impartial and trained observers....The subjective definition is the awareness of certain individuals that the condition is a threat to cherished values.' ...read more.

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