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Social/Sociological Problem

  In sociology, there are tremendous difficulties involved in the definition of a social problem. Cultural differences mean that what is a social problem for one group may not be for another. Historically, social problems can change over time with changes in the law, ethics and social standards. Finally, sociologists have pointed out that there is a political component involved in the definition. The identification of a problem may involve the exercise of social control of one group over another. Sociologists clearly reject the commonplace notion that social problems somehow have an objective status, rather they stress their socially constructed character.

An important criticism made within sociology is that many official definitions of social problems contain the assumption that they derive from the personal characteristics of individuals rather than from the structural features of the social system over which the individual has little control. The assertion, for example, that unemployed people are work-shy diverts attention from the broader causes of unemployment. Similarly, schemes aimed at ‘better equipping individuals to secure jobs’ imply that it is the unemployed individual who is at fault rather than the job market. DA

See also culture; discourse; dominant ideology; ideology; norms; power; social construction of reality; sociology of knowledge; values.Further reading R.K. Merton and , R. Nisbet (eds.), Contemporary Social Problems.



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