Ethics Research paper Assignment on Sociology and Social Problems

Lesson 1
Sociology and Social Problems
Sociology, the scientific study of human interaction, social, and group behavior, arose
at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Other avenues of study could not clearly
analyze the many changes that occurred after the mid-19th century. First begun in
England, the Industrial Revolution quickly spread to Western Europe and the emerging
United States. Social changes resulting from industrialization, urbanization, population
growth, and environmental change were immediate and often problematic.
To explain these changes three major sociological perspectives arose:
1. Structural functionalism (functionalism), first developed by French sociologist
Emile Durkheim, sees that elements in a social system tend to fit together with a sense
of balance, stability, and order. Social change is seen as disruptive unless it occurs
slowly because changes in one area usually lead to changes in other areas of the social
One modern American functionalism, Robert Merton states that not all
components in a social system are functional. Factors can be both positive and negative.
For instance, it is functional to produce goods, but dysfunctional to cause pollution. He
also coined the terms:
Manifest functions = those which are planned and obvious. i.e. schools are for
teaching, learning.
Latent functions = those which are unintended, not obvious. i.e. schools are
Functionalism is a macro-perspective which looks at large aspects of society
including institutions and other social systems.
2. The conflict perspective, another macro-perspective, examines disagreement,
disorder, lack of harmony, and other forms of disorder among individuals and groups
within and between social systems that arise when there are differences related to power
and control. How do those in power maintain their control over resources? How do they
enlarge that power and influence over various parts of any social structure? What
happens to those who are not in power?
Conflict perspective (also known as conflict theory) is based on the work of Karl
Marx who wrote of a continuum whereby those who control the modes of production
(how things are made) determine the social class of those under their influence. Social
class then determines each individual’s personal interests. It is where personal interests
develop that initial dissatisfaction with the status quo is realized. Small groups of trusted
equals begin to discuss problems they see with those in power. Such small groups may
become organized into formal organizations (political parties, labor unions, advocacy
groups) under designated leaders who can approach those in power to request changes
that would be advantageous for the group members. Direct conflict arises when those
who have the power to control meet those who do not.
Conflict theorists see society in a constant state of change. Conflict does not
necessarily mean outright violence. It can be any kind of tension, competition,
disagreement over goals and values up to hostility and outright revolution
Max Weber, admired Marx, but took issue with many of his works. Weber did not
hold Marx’s view that social change could always be traced to the economy. He
broadened the conflict perspective to include many other factors. He also believed
strongly that social scientist should strive to be value-free or as objective as possible with
an absence of personal bias in their work. This is much different than Marx who believed
in direct involvement and utilization of personal bias. The upheavals of the 1960s
including the Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the women’s
movement among others brought conflict perspective to the forefront of sociological
thought in the United States. This was a period which saw the largest percentage of
sociology majors in American colleges because many wanted to study and participate in
the rapid social change.
3. Symbolic Interactionist Perspective is the third major perspective. This microperspective looks at the small-scale in society such as a family, a class in school, a street
gang, or diners in a restaurant. Unlike the two macro-perspectives, interactionism began
for the most part in the United States with major support and contributions from Germans
Max Weber and Georg Simmel. Sociologists at the University of Chicago during the
late 19th and early 20th centuries developed, a perspective that looks at the world from the
point of view of the individuals who “act” within it. It neglects larger social institutions
and societal processes of change and stability which affect society. It focuses on
everyday happenings in small groups. We will look at interactionist theories in more
depth as we move through this class, particularly as we study social problems related to
deviant behavior and the family.
Social Problems
Sociology is interested in the many issues that develop within the social realm. A wide
range of courses are available to the student who wishes to look at particular areas of
study in more depth. This course gives more depth to a number of issues than is found in
an introductory sociology class. It is a good way for the student to investigate issues
he/she may want to study at the full course level later. This semester the class covers
several, but by no means all, social problems in the world today.
Social Problems are those areas of concern to members of a society that have existed
for varying lengths of time, caused or appear to have caused harm, upset a powerful
segment of society, and led to several varying solutions. The existence of social
problems is a cultural universal, in that they are found in every society on Earth, but
vary greatly in terms of importance and cultural response. What may be interpreted as a
critical social problem in one society may not be seen as one at all in another. The
culture of each society varies tremendously. For instance, a taboo against incest is
found universally, but interpreted very differently based on time and place. To have
sexual relations with members of one’s family is seen as a major violation of established
norms or rules, but due to specific circumstances the details of those norms change.
Marriage to first cousins is a case in point. During the early years of the American
colonies, there were often widespread, small, rural settlements where the choice of
marriageable partners was limited. For requirements of social behavior to be met, first
cousin marriage was commonly permitted. If you read the novel or watched the movie,
Gone With The Wind, you will remember that Ashley Wilkes and his first cousin Melanie
Wilkes became engaged in the opening picnic sequence. They quickly married due to the
onset of the Civil War, much to the consternation of Scarlett O’Hara. Social class
boundaries had to be considered in the ante-bellum South. Strict social norms required
that Ashley marry within his status (defined as a position one holds in a society). Today
such an arrangement is still legal in some states, but is frowned upon or illegal in others.
Incest is more than a minor violation of norms in the United States today. To violate
the incest taboo is not simply a case of cousins inappropriately marrying. Incest is one of
the greatest social problems faced by protective services workers in our human service
agencies today. Sexual abuse is primarily incest. Most children have much more to fear
from relatives and close friends than from the stranger luring children to their cars with
candy bars. This is a frightening “little secret” families try to keep of the public eye.
Until the late 1970s very few social workers were trained to deal with the destruction
caused by violations of the incest taboo. Although text books usually did not discuss it,
most social workers, police officers, physicians, and psychologists saw it in daily
practice. In the years as a social worker, this author found that many of her
clients/patients were victims of childhood incest that led to coping issues throughout their
lives—criminal behavior, promiscuity, family violence, and other social problems.
This course will look further into the social problems of family violence, incest, and
sexual abuse, as well as a number of other major social problems—well established and
emerging that face people in our community, nation, and globally. Although we will not
actually conduct any sociological research for this class, different studies will be
accessed. Your text book, Social Problems, 12th edition by D. Stanley Eitzen, Maxine
Baca Zinn, and Kelly Eitzen Smith, will serve as a valuable resource related to the
problems we will study.
As mentioned above, when looking at social problems it is important to use certain
criteria to decide what is and is not a social problem in any one society. What may be a
social problem in one society may not be in another. What may be a social problem in a
society at one time in history, may not be in another within that one society. It is helpful
to use the guidelines below outlined as: