If I asked everyone in a class what they believe is the most important social issue facing all nations, there would be many different answers. Terrorism, poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, drug abuse, and many others. Are all these social issues? Most of them would agree that some or all of these social conditions are problems. But which is the more important, and how would we solve it? The answer to these may not be that much straight forward. If you think about it, this is how we spend most of our public conversation arguing, analyzing and just trying to figure which problem is the most serious and what needs to be done about it. In casual or sometimes heated conversations, we offer opinions on whether nations have invaded other nations, explanations for increasing gas prices, or theories on how to reduce drug use. Often these informations are not based on first hand data collections or on an exhaustive review of the literature. Mostly they are based on our life experiences and opinions or they are just good guesses (Mooney, 155).
What this text offer is sociology perspective of on social issues. Unlike any other discipline, sociology provides us with a form of self consciousness and awareness that our personal experiences are often caused by structural or social forces (Mooney, 157). Sociology is the systematic study of individuals and social structures. A sociologist looks at the relational between individuals and societies, which include social institutions like the family, military, economy and education. Sociology offers an objective and systematic approach to understanding the causes of social problems. From sociological perspective, problems and there solutions don’t just involve an individual but also have great deal to do with social structures in the society (Mooney, 160).
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According to Mills, the sociological imagination can help us distinguish between personal problems and public issue. The sociological imagination links our personal lives and experiences with our social world. Mills shows how personal problems occur within the “the character of individual and within the range of his immediate relationship with others”. On the other hand public issues are a” public matter: some value cherished by public is felt to be threatened”. As a result, the resolution of a trouble can be accomplished by an individual and/or that he/she is in contact with, but the resolution of an issue requires public debate about what values are being threatened and the source of such threat (Mooney, 162).
In his essay, Mills makes his connection in the case of unemployment. One man unemployed is his own personal trouble (Mooney, 166). Resolving his unemployment involves reviewing his current situation, reassessing his skills, considering his job opportunities, and submitting his resumes or job opportunities, and submitting his resumes or job applications to employers. Once he has a new job his personal trouble is over. However, what happens when your city or state experiences high level of unemployment? What happens when there is a national wide problem of unemployment? This does not affect just only one person, but thousands or millions. A personal trouble has been transformed into a public issue. This is the case of not just how many people it affects; some things becomes an issue because of the public values it threatens. Unemployment threatens our sense of economic security. It challenges our beliefs that everyone can work hard to succeed. Unemployment raises many questions about society’s obligations to help those without a job (Mooney, 170).
What are social issues and the negative consequences of these issues?
First, a problem is a social condition that has negative consequences for individuals, our social world, or our physical world. If there were only positive effects, there would be no problem. A social problem such as unemployment, alcoholism or drug abuse may negatively impact a reasons life and health, along with the well-being of that person’s family and friends. Problems can threaten our social institutions, for example, the family (spousal abuse), education (the rising cost of college tuition), or the economy (unemployment and underemployment). Our physical and social worlds can be threatened by problems related to urbanization and the environment (Mooney, 174).
Objective and Subjective realities of social issues
Second, a social issue has objective and subjective realities. A social condition does not have to be personally experienced by every individual in order to be considered a social problem. The objective reality of a social problem comes from acknowledging that a particular social condition does exist. For instance, you or I do not have to be poor in order to recognize that some men, women, and even children experience the consequences of living in poverty. We can confirm the realities of poverty (Russell, 63).
Another thing we can notice is that his family appears rather poor, at least judging from their clothing, home and car, seen in the background. We could speculate on the causes of the family’s poverty. We might conclude that their poverty is as a result of laziness or lack of ambition (Russell, 67).
We often speculate about the causes of the moods and behaviors we observe in others. If we saw this unhappy little boy, we assume that he is spoiled or tired or sick or perhaps even a temperamental, bratty type (Russell, 70). But if we think sociologically and expand our focus beyond this boy to include the social content in which he exists, we begin to notice a few things. The social context gives us additional information to explain the individual and his experiences. One thing we notice is that the boy is part of the family. What we have done, however, is to identify personal shortcomings or failures as the source of problems and to define the family’s poverty as a personal trouble, affecting just one boy and his family. The sociological imagination provides us with an awareness that persons trouble are often caused by institutional or structural forces (Russell, 72).
The subjective reality of a social problem addresses how a problem becomes defined as a problem. This idea is based on the concept of social construction of reality. The term refers to how our world is a social creation, originating and evolving through our every day thoughts and actions. Most of the time, we assume and act as though the world is a given, objectively predetermined outside of our existence. We also apply subjective meanings to our existence and experience. In that our experiences do not just happen to us. Good, bad, positive, or negative-we also attach meanings to our reality (Russell, 77).
From this perspective, social issues are not just objectively predetermined. They become real only when they are subjectively defined or perceived as problematic. This perspective is known as social constructionism . Recognizing the subjective aspects of social problems allow us to understand how a social condition may be defined as a problem by one segment of social but be completely ignored by another. For instance, do you believe poverty is a social problem? Some may argue that it is a problem only if you are the one who is poor. Or poverty is your problem if you are lazy or a welfare mother. However others would argue that it qualifies as a society’s problem. Sociologist Denice Loseke explains that conditions might exist, people might be hurt by them, but conditions are not social problems until human categorize them as troublesome and in need of repair (Russell, 89). To frame their work, social constructionists ask a set of questions like:
What do people say or do to convince others about a troublesome condition exist that must be changed?
What are the consequences of the typical ways that social problems attract concern?
How do our subjective understandings of social problems change the objective characteristics of our world?
How do these understandings of social problems change how we think about our own lives and lives of those around us?
The transformation from problem to solution
Without informal social support, a savings account, or suitable and adequate employment-and the increasing cost of health care and lack of affordable housing-a family’s economic and emotional resources can quickly be trapped out (James, 382). What would it take to prevent homelessness in these situations? The answers are not based in each individual or each family; rather, the long-term solutions are structural solutions such as affordable health care, livable wages, and affordable low-income housing (James, 387).
Modern history revels that most nations do not like to stand by and do nothing about social problems. In fact, most people support current efforts to reduce homelessness, curb violence, or improve the quality of education (James, 394). In some cases, there are no limits to our efforts. Helping our nations’ poor has been a major social project of many presidents.
Solutions require social action-in the form of social policy, advocacy, and innovation-to address problems at their structural or individual levels (James, 400).
Social Policy is the enactment of a course of action through a formal law or program. Policy-making usually begins with identification of a problem that should be addressed; then, specific guidelines are developed on what should be done to address the problem. Policy directly changes the social structure, particularly how our government, an organization, or community responds to social problem (Daniel, 263).
Social advocates use their resources to support, educate, and empower individuals and their communities. Advocates work to improve social services, change social policies, and mobilize individuals. National organizations or local organizations provide services, outreach, education and legal support for the homeless (Daniel, 287).
Social innovation may take the form of a policy, a program, or advocacy that features an untested or unique approach. Innovation usually starts the community level, but it can grow into national and international programming (Daniel, 345).
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