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II. Not all social conditions become elevated
to the status of "social problem." For example, here are some "objective
conditions" which existtoday, and as you will see, not all of them are
considered to be social problems.
Limited Energy Supplies
Family Decline, (Increased Divorce, Family Abuse, etc.)
Weakening Institution of Religion
Each of the above represents an existing condition which threatens
the well-being of the United States and, in some cases, the entire world.
Also all are objective conditions that really exist! But we all
realize that many of them draw relatively little public concern-- Why?
III. If you review a variety of social problems
texts, you find that there is general agreement that four conditions must
be met before an objective reality in the greater society becomes elevated
to the special status of "social problem." They are:
|1. The objective condition must be perceived to be a social problem
That is, there must be some public outcry. People must become actively
involved in discussing the problem. Public attention becomes directed toward
that social condition.
2 The condition must involve a gap between social ideals and social reality. That is, the condition must run counter to the values of the larger society. At the beginning of the 20th century alcohol abuse was perceived to be a very serious social problem, responsible for family breakdown, abandonment of children, accidental death at work, and violence in society. A "Temperance Movement" emerged that further consolidated public opinion to a point that people wanted to do something about it.
3. A significant proportion of the population must be involved in defining the problem. (A large proportion of the population must be concerned about the condition… It must have national attention. If only a small segment of the population gets involved you have an interest group pushing for the general public to do something about the condition-- not a social problem).
4. The condition must be capable of solution through collective action by people. If no solution is perceived possible, people will resign themselves to their fate. A good example is government bureaucracy-- If everyone takes the attitude that "you can't fight city hall", government bureaucracy doesn't emerge as a social problem. Rather, it is a part of life that everyone must live with.
|Example: Hard drug addiction had been a lower class, black problem for some time before it reached the suburban white middle class. But when it began to affect middle class kids, we see the emergence of a new social problem!|
|Example: The poverty of Native Americans has received much less attention than the poverty of Black Americans. Why? Native Americans are a relatively small and isolated segment of the U.S. population. African Americans are a much larger minority and are much more visible. The poverty of African Americans also has a greater impact on the middle classes than that of Native Americans.|
|Example: People become accustomed to the prevailing levels of crime, pollution, and urban congestion-- But a sharp increase in the intensity of any of these leads to elevated public concern. One airline crash every year is grounds for concern, but not for the definition of a social problem. But, five crashes in one month will get the public's attention!|
|Example: A good example is the controversy over the Monica Lewinsky affair. The liberal press lamented it, but maintained that the larger issue was the quality of the job that the President was doing. The conservative press saw it as a basic flaw in the moral fabric of the presidency and counter to the values of the larger society. On this issue, the general public seems to have sided with the liberal position if public opinion ratings of the President's job performance are to be believed.|
|Example: If the general population has adopted a Marxist ideology, then such things as corporate power, militarism, imperialism, etc. will be perceived as serious social problems in the U.S. However, if the public, as a whole, holds conservative values then "big government," "national defense," and "declining morality" will be perceived as social problems.|
|Example: Conservatives will perceive poverty as being caused
by lack of intelligence, lack of motivation, lack of the ability to delay
gratification, and other personal characteristics of those who are poor.
Thus, they will tend to defend the system, or in the case of radical conservatives,
will argue for a dismantling of the "welfare state" and a return to the
free market system.
Liberals emphasize the lack of opportunity and structural factors in the system. The system must be adjusted to open up opportunity. Radical liberals will advocate overthrowing the current system of government and establishing something entirely new.
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