Constructing Social Problems
There is no adequate definition of social problems within sociology, and there is not and never has been a sociology of social problems. That observation is the point of departure of this book. The authors aim to provide such a definition and to prepare the ground for the empirical study of social problems. They are aware that their objective will strike many fellow sociologists as ambitious, perhaps even arrogant. Their work challenges sociologists who have, over a period of fifty years, written treatises on social problems, produced textbooks cataloguing the nature, distribution, and causes of these problems, and taught many sociology courses.
It is only natural that the authors' work will be viewed as controversial in light of the large literature which has established a "sociology of" a wide range of social problems-the sociology of race relations, prostitution, poverty, crime, mental illness, and so forth. In the 1970s when the authors were preparing for a seminar on the sociology of social problems, their review of the "literature" revealed the absence of any systematic, coherent statement of theory or method in the study of social problems. For many years the subject was listed and offered by university departments of sociology as a "service course" to present undergraduates with what they should know about the various "social pathologies" that exist in their society. This conception of social problems for several decades has been reflected in the substance and quality of the literature dominated by textbooks.
In Constructing Social Problems, the authors propose that social problems be conceived as the claims-making activities of individuals or groups regarding social conditions they consider unjust, immoral, or harmful and that should be addressed. This perspective, as the authors have formulated it, conceives of social problems as a process of interaction that produces social problems as social facts in society. The authors further propose that this process and the social facts it produces are the data to be researched for the sociology of social problems. This volume will be of interest to those concerned with the discipline of sociology, especially its current theoretical development and growth.
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Table of Contents
Introduction to the Transaction Edition
Chapter 1 Introduction
Social Problems: Some Examples
Definitions of Words
The Library of Congress Treatment of Homosexuality
The Yellow Pages
Psychiatric Nomenclature on Homosexuality
Some Related Lines of Investigation
Chapter 2 Functional and Normative Definitions
The Functional Etiological Approach
The Normative Approach
Whose Normative Standards?
Chapter 3 The Value-Conflict School
Inconsistencies in the Value-Conflict Position
Recent Value-Conflict Writings
Chapter 4 Social Problems and Deviance: Some Parallels
Chapter 5 Social Problems as Claims-Making Activities
Social Problems as Activities
A Definition of Social Problems
Kinds of Questions about Claims
The Role of Values
Chapter 6 The Description and Analysis of Social Problems Activities: An Extended Empirical Example
Social Problems as Activities: What Would the Research Look Like?
Social Problems in the American Psychiatric Association: A Case Study
Chapter 7 The Natural History of Social Problems
Trailer Camps in Detroit
Induction and Generalization
Emergence and Development
Natural History of Social Problems: A Reformulation
Some Further Considerations
Is There a Natural History of Social Problems?
Chapter 8 Teaching Social Problems
Project 1: Recognizing and Defining Social Problems
Project 2: Social Problems Activities
Project 3: Social Reformers and Crusaders
Project 4: A Legislative History
Project 5: Subject Indexes as Data
Project 6: The Experts Difficulties of the Perspective