Article

Social Problems

Joel Best

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online July 2011 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0052
Social Problems

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  • Sociology
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  • Social Movements and Social Change
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The term “social problem” is usually taken to refer to social conditions that disrupt or damage society—crime, racism, and the like. “Social Problems” is the title of an undergraduate course taught at many colleges; a typical course discusses what is known about a series of conditions considered social problems. In contrast, the sociology of social problems defines social problem differently and adopts a different analytic approach. This approach—sometimes called constructionist—defines social problem in terms of a process, rather than a type of condition. It focuses on how and why people come to understand that some condition ought to be viewed as a social problem, that is, how they socially construct social problems. Typically, the social problems process begins with claimsmakers who make claims that some condition ought to be considered a problem, that this problem should be understood in particular ways, and that it needs to be addressed. Other people respond to those claims and rework them, so that the social problem is constructed and reconstructed by the media, the general public, policymakers, the social- problems workers who implement policy, and critics to assess the policy’s effectiveness. The process is complex: some claims produce a speedy reaction, while others have difficulty finding an audience. The constructionist approach began to guide researchers in the 1970s and has generated a substantial literature that continues to develop in new directions.

Article.  10365 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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