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world. Social movements offered new frames to

make this possible.

A meaning struggle, the struggle to define the

situation, was seen as a central site of a conflict

in which social movements engaged. Movements

struggled cognitively and rhetorically to align

the understandings of activists, attract potential

supporters, convince the general public, and, at

the same time, counter the frames offered by their

opponents. Attention to the means, the media,

through which this process occurred was also a

central topic of research.

The role of narratives and stories as they relate

to the formation of the rituals, collective imagination,

and consciousness of social movements

has recently become an additional research focus.

Recent research has called attention to the role

of emotions in protest and mobilization, as well

as the interplay between social movement “cultures”

and popular culture.

The student protests of the 1960s triggered a

conceptual crisis which eventually led to a shift

in perspective; the emergence of “new” social

movements in the 1970s–1980s, the women’s

movement, environmentalism, and a revived

peace movement had a similar effect. The rise of

ethnic and religion-based movements and a new

right has spurred similar modifications. Many

of those engaged in the analysis of social movements

had their academic coming of age in the

1960s–1970s and took a broadly sympathetic

stance to the movements they studied, conceptualizing

them as “progressive” and “universalistic”

or, at worst, as “particularistic” and “defensive.”

Newer, more conservative mobilizations and movements

have proved more problematic and difficult

to classify. The same can be said for the

social movements social movements


so-called antiglobalization, or global justice, movement,

but for different reasons. The latter is

most often looked at with sympathetic eyes and

through a traditional – that is, 1960s – lens. Because

of this, questions about whether or not antiglobalization

protests constitute a “movement” or

not are frequent. RON EYERMAN

social pathology

This perspective stresses the importance of social

factors in accounting for social or moral decline.

Such a perspective on crime, for instance, reflects

a sociological understanding that the causes of

crime lie in anomie, social disorganization, and

economic recession rather than in individual biological

or psychological factors. The interest is in

establishing patterns of criminality rather than

individual motivations. The perspective reflects

sociological positivism – first developed by philosophers

such as Auguste Comte and Claude Henri

de Rowroy, Comte de Saint-Simon in the early

nineteenth century. Comte’s belief that society

both predates and shapes the individual psychologically

provided a foundation for sociological


One element of the social pathology perspective

on crime involves the scientific measurement

of indicators of social disorganization such as

rates of suicide, drunkenness, the age and sex of

offenders, educational levels, and crime in particular

urban areas. This approach itself has

roots in the work of the nineteenth-century

“moral statisticians,” Adolphe Que´telet (1796–

1874) in Belgium and Andre-Michel Guerry

(1802–66) in France, and their social-campaigning

colleagues in England (Henry Mayhew, 1812–87,

for instance), who used early empirical methods

to investigate the urban slums where crime and

deviance flourished. E´ mile Durkheim’s work has

also been critical to developments here. Durkheim

argued in The Rules of Sociological Method (1895

[trans. 1958]) that, in any given social context,

the inevitability and predictability of crime rates

must mean that they are social facts, and thus a

normal feature of collective life. Thus it follows

that the volume of crime is likely to increase

as societies evolve from mechanical to more

complex, organic forms of organization.

One of the most significant forms of sociological

positivism was developed by the Chicago School

in the 1920s and 1930s. The University of Chicago

sociologists suggested that crime rates were determined

by certain economic, environmental, and

spatial conditions. They observed that the highest

crime rates occurred in those areas characterized

by declining populations and deteriorating neighborhoods.

Their observations thus led them to

conclude that it was the nature of the neighborhoods

rather than the nature of the individuals

who resided therein that determined levels of


Social pathology perspectives were further developed

in the 1940s and 1950s under the heading

of “strain theory.” By this time, many of the advanced

capitalist societies had entered an economic

boom, and there were high standards of

living and optimism about the future. But crime

persisted in the face of apparently good social and

economic conditions. The answer was thus to

examine more closely the distribution of opportunities

in society and it was this analysis that

led to the conclusion that there was a strain between

the “ideal” and opportunities that were

actually available. Thus the social strictures here

or wider social pathology helped explain crime.

Social pathology and social disorganization

reappeared in the 1950s in the context of functionalist

sociological theory. Here, behavior that

transgressed social norms threatened the supposed

unity of a social system.

Social pathology perspectives have come under

critical scrutiny, not least because of the assumption

that there is a single good society which

is being pathologically undermined or disorganized.

C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination

(1963) suggested in a classic phrase that there

was a “professional ideology of social pathologists”

– indicating assumptions about the shared

social mores and rules of a middle-class American


social policy

This is an area of social scientific study as well as

a description of the actions of (mainly) government

that address social issues, generally in the

name of meeting human needs and promoting

social welfare or well-being. The roots of social

policy lie in the nineteenth century but its development

as a subject mirrored the development

of the welfare state in the twentieth century.

Until the late 1980s it was more typically called

social administration, Richard Titmuss held the

first Chair in Social Administration, established

at the London School of Economics in 1950. The

change of name to social policy, which was controversial,

reflected both a broadening of the subject

beyond a focus on welfare-state policies and

the development of more theoretical and crossnational

perspectives. Today, social administration

usually refers more specifically to the study

social pathology social policy


of the development and implementation on the

ground of welfare-state policies.

Although generally treated as a social science

discipline in its own right, social policy can also

be understood as an interdisciplinary field of

study, which draws on, for example, sociology,

economics, and politics. The boundaries between

it and the other disciplines are not clear-cut or

fixed, and indeed in some countries it does not

exist as a separate academic subject. A distinguishing

feature of British social policy, in particular,

has been a tendency to policy prescription as

well as analysis. More generally, social policy and

social administration have traditionally been

concerned with the values and principles that

underlie policies as well as with their practical


It is not only the disciplinary boundaries of

social policy that are fuzzy. There are also ongoing

debates as to where the boundaries around the

subject should be drawn. Some social policy textbooks,

for instance, confine themselves to welfarestate

policies such as social security, health, housing,

and personal social services. Others define the

subject more widely to embrace other institutions

and organizations that affect welfare and wellbeing,

such as the family, voluntary associations,

and the market (including the labor market), and

to take on board issues such as the environment

and the impact of social divisions such as race,

gender, disability, and sexuality. A key focus is

the distribution of different kinds of resources,

notably money but also work (paid and unpaid),

care, and time.

An underlying issue is whether defining social

policy in terms of needs and well-being provides an

unduly benign reading of the motives behind and

effects of certain welfare-state policies. Some analysts

therefore emphasize the regulatory nature

of policy and the ways in which social policies

serve as tools of social control and reinforce social

divisions. RUTH L ISTER

social problems

One of the more commonly used phrases in sociological

inquiry is that of social problems. However,

in common parlance its meaning is somewhat

ambiguous. According to Earl Rubington and

Martin S. Weinberg in The Study of Social Problems

(2002: 4), a social problem is “an alleged situation

that is incompatible with the values of a significant

number of people who agree that action is

needed to alter the situation.” For example,

racism and discrimination remain social problems

in the modern-day United States. The year 2005

marked the fiftieth anniversary of the refusal of

Rosa Parks (1931–2005), a black woman, to give

up her seat on a segregated bus on that fateful

day in Montgomery, Alabama. The event marked

the beginning of the civil rights movement in

America. Until that time, racial segregation and

discrimination were commonplace and quietly accepted.

However, when African-Americans gained

social and political momentum, their efforts

brought into focus the practices that would be

forever unacceptable.

How social problems are defined is dependent

upon the sociological perspective from which

they are analyzed. For example, functionalism

views society as a system of interrelated parts

whose activities have consequences for survival

implications for the whole. If the activity

promotes survival, it is considered functional,

whereas if the activity lessens survival, it is dysfunctional.

Within functionalism, there are

three vantage points from which to analyze the

concept of social problems: social pathology;

social disorganization; and cultural-lag perspective.

According to the perspective of social

pathology, social problems occur as a result of

unintentional actions by ill-advised people. Social

disorganization theorists view the existence of

social problems as being attributed to an imbalance

among the interrelated parts of the system.

The solution of any social problem would be to

find a way back to equilibrium. Norms and values

guide the cultural lag perspective. There exists a

coherent view of the world because of a shared

sense of culture and meaning. Social problems

evolve when technological changes proffer new

opportunities for behavior at a time when the

cultural norms have not yet evolved or adopted

an acceptable way of behaving, given the new

circumstance. The main criticism of the structural-

functionalist school of thought is that the

status quo is seemingly the preferred state of

being. Consensus is taken for granted as the way

to keep the entire system operating in balance.

The second perspective is that of conflict theory,

which views social problems as emanating from

a power differential between social classes or

other social groups. Societies are not orderly

systems designed to promote the balance of the

collectivity. Rather, society is a collection of different

groups of people who have differing interests,

which necessitate a struggle for resources

and power. From the perspective of Marxism,

capitalism and its consequences constitute the

heart of these struggles, hence they are the underlying

causes of social problems. The only solution

social problems social problems


to these social ills is to overthrow the capitalist

system and to inaugurate a communist state, in

which all people would share equally in wealth

and prosperity. Conflict theorists such as Ralph

Dahrendorf believe that the struggle for power is

evident in society and thus the cause of social

problems. However, the struggle is less about economic

imbalances and more about differentials

of power and authority.

Symbolic interactionism conceptualizes social

problems in terms of the processes by which the

subjective meaning of “problems” is created. Conditions

of social life shape people’s perceptions

and interpretations. Social problems are, therefore,

social constructs. They are neither good nor

bad, neither desirable nor undesirable until and

unless someone assigns the situation some meaning.

In the study of social problems, the main

condition of concern is the process by which

some social conditions become social problems

while others do not. For example, child abuse

prior to the 1970s no doubt occurred; however,

it was not until a group of physicians brought

attention to it as an emergency room phenomenon

that social policymakers and practitioners

began attending to the issue.

Social problems are those social circumstances

that appear to affect, or are believed to affect, a

significant proportion of the population. The

affect, by definition, has adverse consequences

for collective life. However, it is possible to bring

about positive change in order for these negative

effects to be reversed and conditions improved.

Social problems are considered to be by-products

of given social practices, including economic, political,

social, or technological practices. These

practices are usually valued by society. The consequences

of the practices can be predicted or

unanticipated. It is typically the case that social

problems do not arise as a consequence of deliberate

or malicious activities. According to Robert K.

Merton in his article, “The Unintended Consequences

of Purposive Social Action” (American

Sociological Review, 1936), specific social problems

correlate with particular sets of institutionalized

societal values and available means to achieve

those values. Social problems are therefore the

social price a society pays for promoting those

values such as prosperity without providing the

appropriate means to realize them.

Social problems can be persistent or re-occurring.

Once social conditions are recognized, identified,

and acknowledged as being problematic, their

solutions are dependent upon calculated, purposeful

social interventions. It is important to

note, obviously, that not all social conditions are

social problems. A social condition that is eventually

defined as a social problem is so deemed

because someone has defined it as such. There

must be an acknowledgment by someone with

influence that the social conditions have deteriorated

to such a point that a significant segment

of the population is adversely affected. The influence

or authority does not have to rest in the

hands of policymakers, but can be based on social,

economic, or political capital.

The invention of a social problem is guided by

the sensitivities of the collective. There must be

an agreement, however implicit, upon a series of

definitions and perspectives. As a result, social

problems are socially defined and constructed.

They are based on conceptual ideals and perceptions

of a given set of social circumstances at a

particular point in time. According to Armand L.

Mauss in Social Problems as Social Movements (1975:

xv) “social problems originate in public opinion

rather than in objective reality.” Social problems

emerge as a result of collective decisionmaking,

albeit the decision is at times implicit. In other

words, as social constructs, social problems are

defined through a collective process of interaction

rather than being defined by a set of independent

objective measures against which social

conditions are gauged.

Defining something as a social problem entails

a process by which members of the collective

identify a supposedly undesirable condition as a

problem. At that stage, collective forces move towards

seeking solutions. The key to understanding

social problems is that governments do not

have particular policy tools or measurement instruments

that monitor social conditions as they

approach the realm of social problems. The existence

of social problems lies within people’s perceptions,

within their construction of reality,

regardless of the sociological perspective used

to study the phenomenon. Social problems rely

on the reaction of a critical mass that monitors

social conditions and that will identify when the

condition becomes a social problem.

In 1955 the Society for the Study of Social

Problems was founded in the United States with

the aim of promoting scholarly critical research

on issues that influence social life. Through research,

open dialog, and regular publications, for

example in the Society’s own journal Social Problems,

attention has been drawn to the more endemic

and prolific issues that erode quality of

life. For example, the principal social problems

plaguing American society include: addiction,

social problems social problems


crime, drug abuse, poverty, HIV/AIDS, racism,

sexism, legal immigration, urban decay and gang


social psychology

Existing as a sub-discipline within both sociology

and psychology since the early twentieth century,

the first textbooks on social psychology were published

independently in 1908 by a sociologist,

Edward Ross (1866–1951) (Social Psychology: An Outline

and Source Book), and a psychologist, William

McDougall (1871–1938) (Introduction to Social Psychology).

Social psychology continues to straddle the

border between sociology and psychology. However,

despite a number of theoretical concerns in

common, sociological social psychology and psychological

social psychology remain largely independent


Psychological and sociological social psychology

are distinct in scope and focus. Contemporary

work in social psychology is dominated by

American research in the area of social cognition,

which draws heavily on the experimental method,

and applies instruments such as attitude scales to

such topics as stereotyping and prejudice, cognitive

dissonance, and relative deprivation. In contrast,

sociological social psychology has been

historically influenced by phenomenology and

symbolic interactionism, and has investigated the

impact of social structural variables on human

behavior and/or personality. Sociological social

psychology employs a range of non-experimental

methods such as surveys and fieldwork methods,

including participant observation.

Psychological social psychology acquired legitimacy

as a science through the application of

the experimental method during the 1930s, and

was influenced by the tenets of behaviorism, in

which experimental manipulations were used to

effect and measure changes in attitudes and behavior.

Although foundational studies in the field

would be considered unethical by modern standards

– for instance Stanley Milgram’s studies of

authority in 1961, and Philip Zimbardo’s prison

experiments of 1971 – a more conservative variant

of this laboratory-based research tradition continues

to exemplify American social psychology.

Sociological social psychology is marked by its

rejection of experimental laboratory methods

in favor of naturalistic fieldwork and survey

methods. This tradition encompasses the foundational

work of Erving Goffman, George Caspar

Homans, and George Herbert Mead, as well as

the Frankfurt School’s amalgamation of Marxism

and psychoanalysis, especially as realized by

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno, Erich Fromm, and

Paul Lazarsfeld. Sociological social psychology

eschews the individualism of the experimental

tradition to focus on the study of social behavior

from an interactional perspective, such as in work

in ethnomethodology on the intersubjective accomplishment

of identity, or the investigation of

the dynamics of groups and organizations. While

the social psychology of authoritarianism was of

common concern to both sub-disciplines between

the 1930s and the 1960s, the epistemological conflict

between the two psychologies came to the

fore in the 1970s, in what was known as the

“crisis.” During this time, the laboratory-based experimental

methods of psychological social psychology

became the subject of sustained critique.

More recently, discursive social psychology,

with roots in ethnomethodology and conversational

analysis, and the work of Harold Garfinkel

and Harvey Sacks, has introduced sociological

concerns into psychological social psychology. In

turn, research methods employed by discursive

social psychologists – such as discourse analysis

and the study of interpretative repertoires – have

since been adopted within sociology. The social

constructionism movement provides a middle

ground for the development of communication

between sociological and psychological social


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