Women and Education

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s): 198
  • Published: February 18, 2013
Read full document
Text Preview
3
SOCIAL PROBLEMS

HAROLD

R.

K ERBO

JAMES WILLIAM COLEMAN

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

he study of social problems in the United States is
no doubt one o f the most difficult to summarize and
analyze within sociology. In contrast to family soci­
ology, criminology, social stratification, the sociology o f sport, and so on, the study o f social problems is always
shifting in terms o f what is included or excluded as the
focus of study. But there is also the matter of shifting per­ spectives and theories within all the core issues within the field o f social problems, such as racial discrimination,
crime and delinquency, and sexual deviance, to name only
a few o f what have been among the core issues in the study
of social problems in America.
In what follows, we will briefly consider how social
problems have been studied in early American history
and then consider how social problems have been
defined in sociology textbooks and look at the trends in
these textbooks over the years. In the second half o f this
chapter, we will examine more critically how the partic­
ular pattern o f American values have influenced our
definitions o f social problems, along with the impact
o f wealth and power on these definitions. With this
examination o f wealth and power, we will consider
the impact o f social movements on what comes to be
defined as social problems. A complete understanding
o f the impact o f social movements, however, also
requires brief consideration o f the causes o f social
movements. Finally, we will consider how solutions to
social problems a re also shaped by power, wealth, and
American value orientations.

T

362

A BRIEF HISTORY O F
T HE STUDY OF SOCIAL
PROBLEMS IN T HE U NITED STATES
The first book in the United States with the title Social
Problems was mostly likely that b y Henry George, first
published in 1883 (George 1939). But sociologists such as
George Herbert Mead were already discussing the natu:e
o f social problems and the need for social reform i ll
the late 1800s (see Mead 1899; Schwendinger and
Schwendinger 1974:452-56). As industrialization took off
dramatically in the final two decades o f the nineteenth cen­ tury, so did many conditions that came to be defined as
social problems, such as urban poverty, unemployment,
and crime. As the great historian Hofstader (1955) noted
it was soon after this that the United States entered one 0
its reoccurring cycles o f reform movements (also see
.
y
Garraty 1978). I t was also a time when SOCI01og. was
emerging as a major discipline o f academic study In thde
·
United States (Gouldner 1970; Schwen dmger . an
Schwendinger 1974). The timing o f these two events IS no
doubt a reason why the study o f social problems becam~
·
'
one 0 f the major subareas . '
.,
m Amencan SOCIology' But It
·
'1"
d l'ndl'viduahstlC
was a1 the umque set o f ut11tanan an
so
values in the United States that affected the development
"
.'.
ofA mencan SOCIology. A crusadmg s pmt acc ompanied the
1
emergence o f American sociology, with many of the ear~
American sociologists coming from Christian clergy ba~
grounds to a new secular orientation toward understandIng

i

Social Problems • 363

the problems o f the newly industrialized nation (Gouldner
1970).
It was also a liberal critique o f the American society
rooted in the early discipline o f U.S. sociology, different from that found in European sociology. From the mid­
nineteenth century, European sociology had developed
with the full range o f perspectives, from radical critiques of basic institutions provided by Marx to conservative sup­ port of the status quo from the likes o f Herbert Spencer.
American sociology through the first half o f the twentieth
century, in contrast, "came to dwell on those concrete insti­ tutional areas and social problems" (Gouldner 1970:93)
accepted by the dominate society...
tracking img