SOC-220: Social Problems

This SOC-220: Social Problems course covers a variety of issues and problems that face modern American society, such as crime, drug abuse, sexual diversity, poverty, overpopulation, and family relations. The focus is on how these issues are caused by and perpetuated by modern social structures.

social problems

A social problem is a societal issue that makes it difficult for individuals to reach their full potential. Social issues include poverty, unemployment, unequal opportunity, racism, and malnutrition. Substandard housing, employment discrimination, child abuse, and, neglect are all issues that need to be addressed.

understanding social problems


As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, the United States and the rest of the world are confronted with a slew of social issues, including poverty and hunger, racism and sexism, drug abuse and violence, and climate change, to name a few. What are the causes of these issues? What are the consequences? Is there anything that can be done about them?

There must be a perception that a condition or behavior needs to be addressed for it to be considered a social problem. Many different types of negative conditions and behaviors exist, according to this viewpoint. Many of these are deemed sufficiently negative to be classified as a social problem; others are not given this consideration and thus do not become a social problem, and still, others are only classified as a social problem after citizens, policymakers, or other parties draw attention to the condition or behavior.

This latter situation can be seen in the attention given to rape and sexual assault in the United States before and after the 1970s. Sexual violence against women has probably existed since the dawn of time, and it was certainly common in the United States before the 1970s. Even though men were occasionally arrested and prosecuted for rape and sexual assault, sexual violence was largely ignored by legal policymakers and received little attention in college textbooks or the news media, and many people believed that rape and sexual assault were commonplace (Allison & Wrightsman, 1993). J. A. Allison and L. S. Wrightsman (1993). Rape is a commonly misunderstood crime.

Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA. As a result, even though sexual violence existed, it was not considered a social issue. When the modern women’s movement began in the late 1970s, rape and sexual assault were quickly identified as serious crimes and manifestations of women’s inequality. Rape and sexual assault eventually entered the public consciousness as a result of this focus, and attitudes toward these crimes began to shift, and legal policymakers began to pay more attention to them. In other words, sexual violence against women has evolved into a social issue.


When is a social problem? According to the social constructionist viewpoint? Negative conditions and behaviors, according to some sociologists who hold this viewpoint, are not social problems unless they are recognized as such by policymakers, large numbers of lay citizens, or other segments of our society; for example, rape and sexual assault before the 1970s were not social problems because our society as a whole paid them little attention.

natural history of social problems

The majority of social problems have a natural history that includes several stages of development (Spector & Kitsuse, 2001). M. Spector and J. I. Kitsuse (2001). Constructing social issues is a difficult task. The transaction, New Brunswick, NJ.

stage 1: Emergence and Claims Making

When a social entity (such as a social change group, the news media, or powerful politicians) begins to draw attention to a condition or behavior that it considers to be undesirable and in need of correction, a social problem emerges. It attempts to influence public perceptions of the problem, its causes, and potential solutions as part of this process. The claims-making process is the part of Stage 1 where the social entity makes claims about all of these things. Not all attempts to turn a condition or behavior into a social problem succeed, and if they don’t, the condition or behavior does not become a social problem.

Some social entities are more likely than others to succeed at this stage due to the resources they have or do not have. A few ordinary people have little influence in the public sphere, but large groups of people who participate in protests or other political activities have a greater ability to aid in the emergence of a social problem. Politicians’ views on social issues are often very influential because they have the ear of the news media and other types of influence. Most studies of this stage of a social problem concentrate on the efforts of social change groups and the larger social movement to which they may belong because most social problems start with grassroots efforts from such groups.

stage 2: legitimacy

Once a social group has successfully turned a condition or behavior into a social problem, it usually tries to persuade the government (local, state, and/or federal) to address the problem through spending and policymaking. It tries to persuade the government that its claims about the problem are legitimate—that they make sense and are backed up by empirical (research-based) evidence—as part of this effort. Government action is much more likely if the group can persuade the government of the legitimacy of its claims.

Stage 3: Renewed Claims Making

Even if government action is taken, social change organizations frequently conclude that the action is too narrow in scope or goals to effectively address the social problem. When they come to this conclusion, they frequently decide to renew their demands. They do so by restating their claims and criticizing the government’s or other established interests’ official responses, such as big business. This stage may be fraught with conflict between social change groups and the people who are the targets of their claims.

Stage 4: Development of Alternative Strategies

Despite the renewed claims, social change organizations frequently conclude that the government and established interests are failing to adequately respond to their demands. Even though the groups may continue to press their claims, they are aware that they may not receive a sufficient response from established interests. As a result of this realization, they devise strategies for addressing the social issue.










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