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Social Problems

Social Problems

History of social problems approach

Theoretical issues

Social pathology

Social problems and social disorganization

Social problems as dysfunctions

Social problems as deviation

Future of social problems approach


Social problems are described most simply as perplexing questions about human societies proposed for solution. The distinctiveness of such questions as a separate object of sociological study rests upon their topicality, currency, and pragmatic derivation. Social problems are part of the climate of opinion in society which centers on expressed needs for public policies and anticipated requirements for social control. Social problems study or research consists of the ordering of perspectives and social facts in relation to the ends and means of collective action.

Proceeding beyond this general statement to a more precise definition of social problems poses a complicated task of sorting out the wide diversity of views held by sociologists as to the nature of the subject matter and the perspectives from which it should be studied (Merrill 1948). These conflicting viewpoints, as well as salient misgivings shared by many as to whether social problems is a“field,”or can validly be included with sociology, are in part understandable in the context of the origins and history of sociology itself.

History of social problems approach

Concern with social problems has been singularly American or Anglo-Saxon. Antecedents can be found in the literature of socioeconomic criticism and reform which was directed at many of the consequences of commerce, industrialism, and urban growth in western Europe, particularly eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century England. The more immediate forerunners of what came to be the social problems approach emerged from writings, reports, essays, and surveys by Protestant clergymen, philanthropists, and middle-class humanitarians, in the United States as well as England, who were dedicated to a variety of social reform activities. These included prison reform, settlement work, child rescue, promotion of temperance, housing betterment, and improvement of conditions of employment of women and children; by the middle of the nineteenth century many of these had crystallized into organized actions or associations.

The roots of the intellectual orientation toward social problems as an academic subject are more precisely located in the broadly based American reform movement from which, in 1865, there issued the American Social Science Association. This represented a merger of a variety of local and regional associations, whose constituted objectives were clearly meliorative (Bernard & Bernard 1943). In large part it was responsible for the introduction of social science courses in American colleges and universities, beginning in 1865 and reaching a peak between 1885 and 1895. Many, if not most, of these courses, however titled, dealt with topics subsequently recognized as the substance of social problems courses in sociology with possibly somewhat greater attention paid to education and law.

The development of such courses reflected motivations of persons both within and outside the universities who were seeking to arouse and prepare students for careers of legislative reform. The courses attained quick popularity with students, many of whom were repelled by limitations of the classical or science curricula and who were fired by the social ferments of the post-Civil War period. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, when sociology began to receive formal departmental recognition in colleges and universities, many of those recruited to teach it came from backgrounds of the ministry and welfare work. The lineal ties of their versions of sociology to the older social science movement are attested by the substantial numbers of these early sociologists who were members of the National Conference of Charities and Corrections and of the American Prison Congress (Sutherland 1945).

The scientific rationale

Such facts strongly tempt one to the conclusion that American sociology was fathered by the study of social problems. However, this is opposed by another theme, reflecting continuity with the thought of August Comte and Herbert Spencer, holding to a scientific purpose in the study of society, which was present almost from the first in the social science movement. To the scientific emphasis in pioneer American sociology was added an antireform bias, stemming from the laissez-faire philosophy of Spencer and sounded in W. G. Sumner’s strident disdain for social welfare activities. The conflict of purposes among early sociologists is epitomized by the lengths to which Sumner himself went in devising titles which would sharply distinguish his courses from the reformistic ones taught by his colleagues at Yale Divinity School.

It is generally accepted that Lester F. Ward’s teleological philosophy outweighed the influences of Spencer and Sumner in the formative years of American sociology and that the notion of an“applied sociology”became or remained dominant. Yet the applied sociology of Ward (1906) was little more than an idea which took its concrete meaning from classroom teaching, student field trips to charitable institutions, and the writing of textbooks, a number of which appeared in the first decade of the twentieth century. These, as well as the ones which followed, drew heavily on factual data from a variety of sciences construed to have a bearing on the problems under discussion, roughly ordered into“causes,”“effects,”and “solutions.”This was consistent with Spencer’s conception of sociology as a synthetic,“capstone”science, but this scientific rationale probably made a virtue of necessity. The amount of“pure”sociology available for application to social problems was severely limited; early sociologists, like Yankee inventors, made do with materials at hand.

Changing perspectives

The passing of time saw the social problems approach in sociology lose ground as the socioeconomic characteristics of recruits to the field changed and as the need to validate sociology’s status as a macrocosmic science was increasingly accepted. In the middle decades of the twentieth century sociologists turned more and more to self-conscious discussion of methodology, research design, and theory, with a growing attention to the European sociology of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. A kind of ideological commitment to social neutrality and nonevaluative research took hold of the discipline. The gulf between social theory and the study of concrete social problems grew wide, intellectually stranding many sociologists with continuing interest in the latter (Davis 1957). Their discontent culminated in the establishment in 1952 of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, which, while affiliated with the American Sociological Association, nevertheless carefully cherishes its separate identity.

Despite the shift in perspective regarding the fundamental tasks in sociology, the flow of textbooks on social problems has continued unabated, and courses so titled continue to be taught—albeit more restively by a younger generation of sociologists trained to demand theoretical meaning in materials with which they deal. The attenuated identification of sociologists with social problems courses is perpetuated by the relatively large number of students attracted to their offerings who nevertheless do not plan to follow sociology as a course of study. Instruction in social problems courses in otherwise scientifically oriented sociology departments is given various rationales—general education, a“service function,”or a means of recruitment of students to the field.

Other pressures also have made it difficult for sociologists to disengage themselves from the old ties to social problems. Government recognition of military uses of sociology during World War II, plus research support from industry, government, and private foundations after the war, drew the interest of sociologists toward applied research on problems posed by persons or agencies outside the field. The massive surge of the American Negro after 1954 toward greater equality of opportunity multiplied the contingents of sociologists at work on applied research. The looming threat of thermo nuclear war motivates others toward immediately useful, rather than abeyant,“scientistic”sociology. A number of highly articulate critics both within and outside sociology have inveighed against the sterility or inapplicability of much contemporary theory, directly challenging the claim that sociology can or should aspire to ethical neutrality.

Theoretical issues

The most sweeping indictment of social problems writings appeared in an article by C. Wright Mills (1943) entitled“The Professional Ideology of Social Pathologists.”With slashing phrases he more or less condemned an entire generation of social pathologists for the low conceptual level of their textbooks, the discrete and unrelated nature of their treatments of various social problems, and insertions of rural-biased value judgments in the guise of objective terminology. These observations, while undeniably cogent and pointed, were closer to stricture than to science, although they were organized around Mills’s own brief for structural analysis of social problems data.

Closer study and more sanguine assessment of the field in the past make it less atheoretical than it would seem, especially if the textbooks are disregarded in favor of provocative articles by Frank (1925), Waller (1936), and Fuller (1937; 1938; compare Fuller & Myers 1941a). These writers, especially Fuller, both saw and sought to analyze social problems in a general setting of values and value conflict. Fuller’s distinction between ameliorative problems and moral problems, implications of which he developed in a paper on morals and the criminal law (1942), bears insightfully on structural questions concerning the relationship of values to norms and the contingency of legal action on variations in this relationship.

Both Frank and Fuller stressed a holistic view frequently repeated by many contemporary sociologists, i.e., that situations or behavior considered to be problems, on finer analysis prove to be expressions of cherished values or institutionalized norms crucial to the operation of society. From this came Fuller’s conclusion—dismal to somethat solutions to social problems may be or are impossible. This, when fitted with his later effort to demonstrate a natural history of social problems (Fuller & Myers 1941; Lemert 1951a), closely allies his thinking with the laissez-faire philosophy of Sumner, but it is also akin to the political conservatism many sociologists believe to inhere in modern“system”theories of society. In sum, these critics seem to say that putting social problems into a structural context destroys bothideological rationale and the individual motivation for reform, by showing the problems to be“necessary”consequences of a given type of value system or by making clear that values will have to be sacrificed and institutions disrupted if the problems are to be eliminated.

Definition as an issue

The first authors of books on social problems bothered little or not at all about definitions of social problems, uncritically drawing on fairly homogeneous convictions about the aspects of society that needed improvement or reform. Among the first attempts at definition were those of Ellwood (1915), Howerth (1913), Kelsey (1915), and Hart (1923). The prevailing definition, however, came from Case (1924), who was attracted to ideas of Thomas (1909) dealing with generic elements in the process of cultural origins. Predominant among these was an element of attention, defined as the subjective or reciprocal aspect of social control, which is activated by crises (Thomas [1917-1937] 1951, p. 218). These ideas led Case to propose that social problems are situations impressing a large number of competent observers as needing remedy by collective action. They became for him and many others after him sociopsychological phenomena; social problems, stated most simply, are whatever a goodly number of members of society say they are.

This definition more or less identifies sociologists with the lay populace and makes public opinion sociological opinion, with implied faith in a democratic process. Its difficulties accrue from recognition of the irrational or spurious qualities in public expressions or collective behavior, which counsels considerable discounting of public reactions or moral indignation as guides for sociological criticism of society or its institutions. Moreover, questions must be faced as to how many or what persons qualify as an acceptable panel for making judgments as to what are social problems. Many issues in modern society are articulated almost exclusively within coteries of specialists in health, medicine, welfare, correction, and education. They reflect technical interests, often couched in esoteric language, which are projected into the arena of public opinion only ephemerally or adventitiously.

Superficially, Fuller’s distinction between moral and ameliorative problems seems to reconcile the older conception of social problems with the facts of technical specialization. However, the division between moral and technical problems often becomes vague or disappears, for means may become ends or ends means, depending upon the vantage point of the beholder. The older idea that social problems could be defined by a consensus of professional and welfare experts made little headway with sociologists, largely because judgments of specialists outside their own or adjacent areas of interest can claim no greater validity than those of educated lay persons. Representative specialists often are spokesmen for organized groups, necessarily supporting vested agency values as well as conveying judgments derived from technical knowledge. Finally, it must be noted that the ordering of social problems with respect to priority or importance cannot be determined by consulting specialists who define them distributively.

Social pathology

The subjectivism inherent in the“popular”definition of social problems runs athwart the conception of sociology as a body of knowledge which rises above common sense and is accumulated through application of special methods by observers or researchers at least relatively detached from the social facts under scrutiny. If social problems are defined in terms of such a body of knowledge, they become objective rather than subjective facts,“discoverable”from laws or generalizations about necessary conditions of social life. Despite its well-documented shortcomings, the bare idea of social pathology is more congenial to such a formulation of sociology than is that of social problems.

Social pathology was an effort to apply a biological or medical model to the analysis of problematical phenomena of society. It rests on the idea that societies or their constituent parts may develop abnormally or anomalously and that they can be described or“diagnosed”in the light of some pristine or universal criterion of normality or health. The orientation of social pathology was, however, toward man rather than society, being heavily pervaded with the nineteenth-century concern about the relevance of institutions to the perfectibility of human nature. The notion of individual adjustment figured large in discussions of social pathology, revolving about the consequences of physical illness, mental deficiency, mental disorders, alcoholism, lack of education, or incomplete socialization for the realization of life goals regarded as normal for most people. The fact that many of these conditions are indeed associated with organic pathologies or were assumed to have a hereditary foundation lent strength to the idea that social problems were external, or objective, facts. Sociological residues of this idea persist today among those who believe alcoholism and mental disorder to be diseases. In the perspective of time it may be said that so long as American society was dominated by middle-class values, laissez-faire individualism, localism, and southern regionalism, the more absolutistic conception of social problems as social pathology remained tenable.

Social problems and social disorganization

The growth of cultural relativity in sociology, infiltrating from the critical-historical themes of American anthropology, together with the general questioning of paramount American values that was generated by the great depression of the 1930s and by foreign revolutions, put an end to social pathology as a viable perspective on social problems. The need for concepts to organize thought about societies in wholesale flux and crisis was conjoined with the need to place discussion of social problems in a more comprehensive intellectual scheme that would be in keeping with the methodological aspirations of sociologists. The needs in part seemed met by restatement of conceptions of social disorganization originally set down by Thomas and Znaniecki (1918-1920) and Charles H. Cooley (1918). Many of the phenomena that had long been the subject matter of social problems or social pathology now were postulated as symptoms or products of such processes as uneven cultural development, conflict, dissensus, and dialectical change. Taken together, these processes mean social disorganization. A pivotal distinction was set up between social disorganization and personal disorganization, with the latter assumed to be functionally associated with the former. On this point most textbook writers followed the organic analogy of Cooley rather than the ideas of Thomas and Znaniecki, who saw no necessary relationship between the two.

While some sociologists have decried texts on social disorganization as being little different from those on social problems, apart from their introductory chapters, this ignores the lively development of ecological studies by sociologists at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, whose findings appeared to give statistical support for the notion that social problems are expressions of a common, underlying social process. For a while, at least, the idea of“disorganized areas”in urban communities became established sociology and a welcome new way of ordering the data in textbooks. Vice, crime, poverty, divorce, and mental disorder all became part of a zonal or area parcel explainable in terms of generic ecological growth, change, and deterioration.

Social disorganization as a subject has the look of an impressive theoretical fagade which on closer analysis is disillusioning. The concept of process on which it relies is vague at best, and the distinction between social and personal disorganization is difficult to maintain. Serious doubt has been cast on the method of ecological correlation, undermining the neat idea of disorganized areas. Careful ethnographic studies of the slum, such as W. F. Whyte’s Street Corner Society (1943), make it undeniably clear that such areas can be or are relatively well organized. [See DEVIANT BEHAVIOR.]

The idea of social disorganization still has its theoretical partisans and, defined simply as human activities or failures to act which impede or block other activities, is indeed demonstrable and of heuristic value. Thus, if artillerymen fire shells that, by reason of faulty communication or function, fall on their own troops, the result is fittingly enough described as social disorganization. But if questions are asked whether the attack was part of integral tactics, or whether the associated campaign advanced over-all strategy, or whether the war should have been fought in the first place, theoretical analysis quickly moves into speculation where fact and value blur. In any but a specifiable, closed social system or subsystem with consensual goals, the formulation of social disorganization reduces to value choices of its author.

Social problems as dysfunctions

Forms of thought from the traditions of European sociology and English anthropology offer the theoretical alternative of subsuming the data of social problems under the category of social dysfunctions. This descriptive and analytic device proceeds from assumptions that there are functional prerequisites of social life around which institutional structures operate, mutually supporting each other, meeting psychobiological needs of individuals, and contributing to an over-all integration of society. Practices or activities which run counter to functional prerequisites, which disrupt the institutional nexus, or frustrate individual needs are defined as social dysfunctions.

The difficulties of functional analysis are well known. Determining what is indispensable to maintain a specific complex of behavior and what is adventitious is made difficult by the fact that the range of cases or time series in human societies from which to generalize often is small and some kinds of events have only a few instances. Culture comes to each generation in unsorted bales or packets, and historical, comparative, or cross-cultural studies are limited in their potential for sorting out that which is functional or dysfunctional. When cultures change or undergo disruption, that which may have seemed to participants or ob-servers to be a causal or functional association may turn out to be dispensable. The social problems of yesteryear often live only as the quaint reminiscences of today.

The persistence of ancient social problems or dysfunctional activities in such forms as crime, political corruption, gambling, or prostitution in the face of collective efforts to eradicate them is not readily explained by functional analysis. An explanation for such seeming paradoxes was proposed by Robert K. Merton (1949, chapter 1) in the form of a distinction between“manifest”and“latent”functions; R. M. Williams (1951) also dealt with this matter in his discussion of“patterned evasions of institutional norms.”However, these explanations seem secondary or residual at best. They call attention to the fact that actions may have functions as well as dysfunctions. In another light, they are implicit concessions that determination of functions in a culturally diverse society depends in large degree on the particular needs, perspectives, or values adopted by the observer.

A more crucial but closely related issue in functional analysis is whether it can reveal those activities which can be established in objective terms as social problems, even though they are not necessarily subjects of popular awareness or collective action. In a general way Case (1924) heeded this question when, in defining social problems primarily as aspects of the collective mind, he nevertheless recognized that statisticians and others could describe adverse conditions of society; furthermore, the inclusion of a“situation”in definitions by a number of other sociologists was recognition that objective factors were a necessary part of social problems (Smith et al. 1955). Ogburn (1922), more clearly of functionalist persuasion and impressed by the discrepancies between dynamic technology and institutional adaptation, sought a totally objective definition of social problems as consequences or expressions of “cultural lag.”Subsequent critics showed that this conception was not, as hoped, free from value judgments and strongly argued against its underlying dichotomy of material and nonmaterial culture.

The causal relationships between technology, culture, and moral ideas and the sequence in which they change continue to be among the great moot questions of sociology. They have grown more prominent as ruling groups in some societies seek to assist others to industrialize or raise agricultural productivity. The discovery in many instances that introduced technology does not always lead to the expected consequences has compelled students of socioeconomic development to conclude that their judgment of what is functional and dysfunctional for others is not easily imposed for the purpose of directing change.

Social problems as deviation

Since 1940 a sizable portion of the traditional subject matter of social problems, such as crime, delinquency, prostitution, drug addiction, and physical handicaps, has been categorized as deviance, deviation, or deviant behavior. The amoral, statistical, or descriptive implications of the terms carry a strong appeal, although they tend to acquire morally invidious connotations. Generally, deviance is defined as violations of norms, or departures from social expectancies, but beyond this minimal agreement the ideas projected for its analysis differ considerably.

One group of sociologists, following Durkheim, Parsons, and Merton, has concentrated on sources of deviation in discontinuities, anomie, or strain within the structure of a society that is assumed to be more or less an integrated system. The analysis of deviation in this theoretical context is voluntaristic, in contrast with deterministic or strictly causal versions of functionalism. Deviation originates from permutations of choice by individuals motivated by culturally given ends and confronted with means of varying accessibility. The most cogent statement or theoretical design derived from these ideas appeared in Merton’s widely influential article“Social Structure and Anomie”(1938).

Critical assessment of the structural or“anomie”interpretations of deviation was slow to crystallize but was finally made by a symposium of sociologists qualified by extensive research in areas of deviation. In this volume, edited by Marshall B. Clinard (1964), they raised serious doubts as to whether Merton’s effort to design an embracing theory of deviation was sufficient for the complexities of the data. The ends-means distinction is not an easy one to maintain with concrete data, and the individual motivational base of structural sociology is barren ground for the production of a theory of group-related deviation in any but reactional terms. The heavy accent on conditions of social order in works of Parsons (1951) reduces social control to a negative mechanism for repressing deviation; the recognition of deviation as a creative necessity for social change is absent from structural theories or appears only in revised afterthoughts.

Standing at considerable theoretical distance from the objectivism of current structural theories of deviation are the productions of a small nucleusof sociologists represented by Erving Goffman (1963; 1961), Howard S. Becker (1963), and Edwin Lemert (1948; 1951fc), whose perspectives are more microcosmic than macroscosmic. Characterized by the importance they assign to interactionally derived meanings in the genesis of deviation, they have dwelt upon factors present in interaction, such as labeling, stigma, self-presentation, identity conflict, and identity protection; they have also dwelt upon the more structural concepts of role, deviant career, societal reaction, and secondary deviation. These writers do not talk of social problems, but their interests in the self-definitional and constrictive impacts of social control align them with the notion that social problems are products of definition. They are little concerned with criteria for rational social control or solutions for problems of deviation, preferring to show how agencies of reform, rehabilitation, or “treatment”give form and meaning to deviation and stabilize it as secondary deviation by intervening interaction processes.

While these sociologists offer strong negative criticism of institutional controls and public policy relevant to deviance, thus far they have not produced explanations of how definitions of deviation and related policy appear as cultural phenomena, or of how and why they change. Neither have they done much theoretically to connect deviation with innovation and creativity in the processes of change. Broadly assessed, however, interactional studies of deviation show more sensitivity than systematic sociological theory to many salient features of modern society, among which must be numbered functionally derived morality, shifting ends-means relationships, pluralistic group action, segmentalized social relationships, information control, attenuated role commitment, and the operational consequences of these for norms and rules defining deviation.

Future of social problems approach

In some respects social problems is one of the most important branches of sociology, for it provides the testing ground for predictions and the ultimate usefulness of sociology. Yet it remains a theoretically embarrassing area for many sociologists who regard its crucial questions of definition as unanswered. Discussions and research in social problems, particularly those subsumed as deviancy, now can lay claim to a closer alliance with general sociological theory than was true in the past. However, the dilemma between subjective and objective viewpoints persists, reviving with nearly every attempt to formally delimit the field.

There are growing indications that this dilemma may be resolvable with theory and studies of values and valuation, concepts toward which sociologists and other social scientists have been pushed by the dissensus, group conflict, and resistance which seem to be the ubiquitous concomitants of swift change in modern society. Some sociologists, and more anthropologists, have sought to discover the basis of action in a general structural matrix of values delineated by age, sex, occupation, kinship, and other status attributes; others have looked for significant values in derivative,“second order”categories, such as “personality structure.”However, these researches bypass the question of how values are aggregated for a pattern of action in any increasingly pluralistic society containing tangles of competing groups and associations.

One consequence of the heightened interest in values and valuation may be the evolution of a science of social action from the more amorphous area of social problems, implemented by studies of conflict resolution and short-term change and emphasizing content as well as forms of group interaction. This requires a different imagery of social problems, one less pointed to crisis and reform and more amenable to the facts of continuous change and policy revision in high-energy societies. The notion of a solution to social problems as a synoptical“best possible”choice from a number of alternatives will prove less useful than knowledge of how decisions are made and executed the“hard way.”These decisions, it is to be hoped, will be seen less as“causes”of change in static situations than as strategies for intervention into ongoing processes. If value aggregation through group interaction is an important phase of such processes, it will be no less important to specify who has access to what means of social control and to locate the relevant values of power elites; for these, too, are among the“conditions”of change.

Successful linkage of“subjective”value phenomena with“objective”social structure and technology may come from theoretical extensions of human ecology, widely conceived to show how time, space, energy, and resistance to change intrude into the sociopsychological aspects of action. This necessitates acceptance of the idea that technology can change the order of choice among values, otherwise set by culture and social structure, by altering the costs of their fulfillment. This is not to say that human beings always perceive and respond economically to“costly”ways of acting. Both the definition of social problems and the organization of rational intervention are problematical phenomena to be explained. Insofar as social scientists assume responsibility for supplying critical knowledge for rational intervention, they help to organize it. Consequently, it is doubtful that social problems can be studied from an ethically neutral position.

Edwin M. Lemert



Becker, Howard S. 1963 Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York and London: Free Press.See especially Chapter 1,“Outsiders,”and Chapter 2,“Kinds of Deviance: A Sequential Model.”

Bernard, Luther L.; and Bernard, Jessie 1943 Origins of American Sociology: The Social Science Movement in the United States. New York: Crowell.See especially pages 554 ff.

Case, Clarence M. 1924 What Is a Social Problem? Journal of Applied Sociology 8:268-273.

Clinahd, Marshall B. (editor) 1964 Anomie and Deviant Behavior: A Discussion and Critique. New York: Free Press.Includes“An Inventory of Empirical and Theoretical Studies of Anomie,”by Stephen Cole and Harriet Zuckerman.

Cooley, Charles H. 1918 Social Process. New York: Scribner.See especially pages 153-168,“An Organic View of Degeneration.”

Davis, Arthur K. 1957 Social Theory and Social Problems: Fragments for a Philosophy of Social Science. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 18:190-208.

Ellwood, Charles A. (1915) 1919 The Social Problem: A Reconstructive Analysis. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan.

Frank, L. K. 1925 Social Problems. American Journal of Sociology 30:462-473.

Fuller, Richard C. 1937 Sociological Theory and Social Problems. Sociai Forces 15:496-502.

Fuller, Richard C. 1938 Problem of Teaching Social Problems. American Journal of Sociology 44:415-425, 433-435.

Fuller, Richard C. 1942 Morals and the Criminal Law. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 32:624-630.

Fuller, Richard C.; and MYERS, RICHARD R. 1941a Some Aspects of a Theory of Social Problems. American Sociological Review 6:24-32.

Fuller, Richard C.; and MYERS, RICHARD R. 19411) The Natural History of a Social Problem. American Sociological Review 6:320-328.

Goffman, Erving (1961) 1962 Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates. Chicago: Aldine.

Goffman, Erving 1963 Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Hart, Hornell N. 1923 What Is a Social Problem? American Journal of Sociology 29:345-352.

Howehth, Ira W. 1913 Work and Life: A Study of the Social Problems of To-day. New York: Sturgis & Walton.See especially Chapter 1, ’The Social Problem To-day.”

Kelsey, Carl 1915 How Progress Causes Social Problems. Pennsylvania, University of, University Lectures Delivered by Members of the Faculty in the Free Public Lecture Course [1914-1915]: 9-16.

Lemert, Edwin M. 1948 Some Aspects of a General Theory of Sociopathic Behavior. Washington State Univ., Pullman, Research Studies 16:23-29.

Lemert, Edwin M. 1951a Is There a Natural History of Social Problems? American Sociological Review 16:217-223.

Lemert, Edwin M. 1951b Social Pathology: A Systematic Approach to the Theory of Sociopathic Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Merrill, Francis E. 1948 The Study of Social Problems. American Sociological Review13:251-259.For divergent views see the accompanying“Discussions”by Ernest R. Mower and Stuart A. Queen on pages 260-262.

Merton, Robert K. 1938 Social Structure and Anomie. American Sociological Review 3:672-682.A revision of this article appears on pages 161-194 in the 1957 edition of Merton 1949 as“Continuities in the Theory of Social Structure and Anomie.”

Merton, Robert K. (1949) 1957 Social Theory and Social Structure. Rev. & enl. ed. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Mills, C. Wright 1943 The Professional Ideology of Social Pathologists. American Journal of Sociology 49:165-180.

Ogburn, William F. (1922) 1950 Sociai Change: With Respect to Culture and Original Nature. New ed., with supplementary chapter. New York: Viking.

Parsons, Talcott 1951 The Social System. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.See especially Chapter 7,“Deviant Behavior and Mechanisms of Social Control.”

Smith, Thomas Lynn et al. 1955 Social Problems. New York: Crowell.See especially Chapter 1.

Sutherland, Edwin H. 1945 Social Pathology. American Journal of Sociology 50:429-435.

Thomas, W. I. (1909) 1920 Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society. Boston: Badger.See especially pages 16-18.

Thomas, W. I. (1917-1937) 1951 Social Behavior and Personality: Contributions of W. I. Thomas to Theory and Social Research. Edited by Edmund H. Volkart. New York: Social Science Research Council.

Thomas, W. I.; and Znaniecki, Florian (1918-1920) 1958 The Polish Peasant in Europe and America.2d ed. 2 vols. New York: Dover. - An unabridgededition of the original five-volume work.

Waller, Willard W. 1936 Social Problems and the Mores. American Sociological Review 1:922-933.

Ward, Lester F. 1906 Applied Sociology: A Treatise on the Conscious Improvement of Society by Society. Boston and New York: Ginn.

Whyte, William Foote (1943) 1961 Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum. 2d ed., enl. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Williams, Robin M. JR. (1951) 1960 American Society: A Sociological Interpretation. 2d ed. New York: Knopf.H See especially Chapter 10,“Institutional Variation and the Evasion of Normative Patterns.”

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social problems

social problems A generic term applied to the range of conditions and aberrant behaviours which are held to be manifestations of social disorganization and to warrant changing via some means of social engineering. Typically, these problems include many forms of deviant behaviour (such as crime, juvenile delinquency, prostitution, mental illness, drug addiction, suicide), and of social conflict (ethnic tensions, domestic violence, industrial strife, and so forth). Most of these topics are discussed under discrete headings in this dictionary. In the complex social structures of modern industrial societies, individuals and groups are differentially exposed to these hazards, and people occupying different statuses and roles tend to differ in their appraisal of social situations and in their views as to what constitutes a social problem requiring a solution. For this reason, the range of possible social problems is almost infinite, and can include phenomena as diverse as declining standards of literacy and the demise of the work ethic. Similarly, the proposed solutions are also variable, and this too is (at least partly) due to the different interests and values of the various parties involved.

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