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This course analyses a wide range of social issues confronting the United States today, as well as how our institutions and culture impact and are affected by these issues. To comprehend the origins of civil society, how issues originate and are identified, and the role of social transformation, a sociological approach and important ideas will be employed (particularly contemporary technological innovation). Social stratification/inequality, crime, drug misuse, prostitution, ageing, infectious illness, family violence, health care, racial/ethnic strife, terrorism, and other issues will be discussed. Sociological studies on social concerns will be presented, as well as social policies to address the detrimental effects of these issues on society.
Any condition or conduct that has negative implications for a large number of people and is widely recognised as a condition or behaviour that needs to be addressed is referred to as a social issue. There is an objective and a subjective component to this definition. The following is the objective component: As discussed in each chapter of this book, every situation or activity that is deemed a social concern must have negative repercussions for a substantial number of individuals. How can we tell if a social issue has bad ramifications?
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Reasonable people can and do dispute on whether such consequences exist, and if so, what their scope and severity are, but in most cases, a body of evidence emerges—from academic research, government agencies, and other sources—that strongly suggests widespread and substantial effects. The causes for these repercussions are sometimes highly argued, and the reality of these effects is occasionally questioned, as we will see in specific chapters of this book. Climate change is a contemporary example: Despite the fact that the vast majority of climate scientists believe climate change (changes in the earth's climate caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) is real and serious, fewer than two-thirds of Americans in a 2011 poll said they "believe global warming is occurring."
This sort of disagreement highlights the subjective nature of the definition of social problems: for a condition or conduct to be called a social problem, it must be seen as one. This element is at the core of the social constructionist approach to social issues. Many different forms of negative situations and actions occur, 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 behaviour.
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This latter condition may be seen in the attention paid to rape and sexual assault in the United States before and after the 1970s. Sexual violence against women has definitely existed from the dawn of time, and it was certainly frequent in the United States prior to the 1970s. Despite the fact that males were occasionally caught and punished for rape and sexual assault, sexual violence was mostly overlooked by law regulators and received little attention in college textbooks or the news media, and many people believed that rape and sexual assault were commonplace. As a result, despite the fact that sexual violence existed, it was not considered a social issue. In the late 1970s, the modern women's movement began. Rape and sexual assault were quickly seen as severe crimes and symbols of women's discrimination. Rape and sexual assault ultimately entered the public awareness as a result of this concentration, and attitudes about these crimes began to shift, and law policymakers began to pay greater attention to them. In other words, sexual violence against women has evolved into a social issue.
When is a social problem a social problem, according to the social constructionist viewpoint? Negative conditions and behaviours, according to some sociologists who hold this viewpoint, are not social problems unless they are recognised 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. Other sociologists argue that unfavourable situations and behaviours should be deemed a social problem even if they receive little or no attention; for example, rape and sexual assault prior to the 1970s were regarded a social problem by these sociologists.
This issue is probably similar to the age-old subject of whether or not a sound is created when a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it. As a result, it's difficult to respond, but it does strengthen one of the social constructionist view's central beliefs: perception counts at least as much as reality, if not more so. Social constructionism stresses that people, interest groups, legislators, and other parties frequently strive to shape common views of a variety of situations and actions, which is consistent with this concept. They strive to sway public perceptions of the nature and scope of any negative repercussions that may be occurring, the causes of the disease or behaviour in issue, and potential remedies to the problem through influencing news media coverage and popular opinion.
The emphasis on perception in social constructionism has a provocative implication: just as a condition or behaviour may not be considered a social problem despite a strong basis for this perception, a condition or behaviour may be considered a social problem despite a weak or no basis for this perception. A historical illustration of this latter option is the "problem" of women in college.
Leading physicians and medical experts in the United States urged women not to go to college in journal papers, textbooks, and newspaper columns in the late 1800s. What is the explanation behind this? They were concerned that college stress would disrupt women's menstrual cycles, as well as that women would do poorly on tests around "that time of the month." Of course, we now know better, but these writers' sexist attitudes transformed the concept of women going to college into a societal problem and contributed to cement limits on women's entrance to schools and universities.
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