Defining Social Problems

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II. Not all social conditions become elevated
to the status of “social problem.” For example, here are some “objective
conditions” which existtoday, and as you will see, not all of them are
considered to be social problems.

Each of the above represents an existing condition which threatens
the well-being of the United States and, in some cases, the entire world.
Also all are objective conditions that really exist! But we all
realize that many of them draw relatively little public concern– Why?

III. If you review a variety of social problems
texts, you find that there is general agreement that four conditions must
be met before an objective reality in the greater society becomes elevated
to the special status of “social problem.” They are:

1. The objective condition must be perceived to be a social problem
That is, there must be some public outcry. People must become actively
involved in discussing the problem. Public attention becomes directed toward
that social condition.

2 The condition must involve a gap between social ideals and social
reality. That is, the condition must run counter to the values of the larger
society. At the beginning of the 20th century alcohol abuse
was perceived to be a very serious social problem, responsible for family
breakdown, abandonment of children, accidental death at work, and violence
in society. A “Temperance Movement” emerged that further consolidated public
opinion to a point that people wanted to do something about it.

3. A significant proportion of the population must be involved in
defining the problem. (A large proportion of the population must be concerned
about the condition It must have national attention. If only a small segment
of the population gets involved you have an interest group pushing for
the general public to do something about the condition– not a social problem).

4. The condition must be capable of solution through collective action
by people. If no solution is perceived possible, people will resign themselves
to their fate. A good example is government bureaucracy– If everyone takes
the attitude that “you can’t fight city hall”, government bureaucracy doesn’t
emerge as a social problem. Rather, it is a part of life that everyone
must live with.


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