Tag Archives: social problem

beginning to close the section on sociological social construction approach to social problems, one more paragraph and then on to section two: environmental concern – with a summary of its social bases and my review of the research on religion’s role in it…

“Today’s proponents of the social construction approach to social problems continue urging analysts to follow a “middle road” (Weinberg 2009:1) between its principled, narrow version (Ibarra and Kitsuse 1993) and other sociological traditions in which the objective conditions of social problems are assumed (Spector and Kitsuse 1977). They acknowledge a pragmatic and paradoxical challenge facing the social constructionist perspective is everyone’s inevitable embeddedness in the mundane social world. “Neither we as researchers nor those we study can ever intelligibly leave the domain of embodied, invested, and fully purposeful practical action” (Weinberg 2009#1). However, they contest the strict constructionist argument to ignore this (Ibarra and Kitsuse 1993). “Agnosticism regarding the structural contexts of human action comes at the cost of rendering that action normatively unaccountable or, in other words, unintelligible. General social problems theory cannot succeed if it is confined to the comparative analysis of social problems discourse in vacuo” (Weinberg 2009#1). Calling for a contextual social constructionist approach to social problems reflects the value proponents place on holding onto this analytical tension and balance. It comes from the belief that this perspective offers sociologists a clearer, wider vision on how some conditions, but not others, become defined as problems and why people’s views about them vary.”


I am very concerned about environmental problems

I am very concerned about environmental problems (Photo credit: Gauravonomics)


identifying various other versions of theories for the emergence and decline of public interest in social problems…

“Conceptually compatible theoretical models developed simultaneously with Spector and Kitsuse’s social construction of social problems. Hilgartner and Bosk (1988) applied a ‘public arenas’ metaphor to emphasize the social contest between claims-makers and the process through which definitions of environmental and social conditions are ascribed their status as ‘problems’ in public discourse. Other analysts focused on variation over time in public attention to and concern about problematic conditions. Downs (1972) described waves of resurgent, then dissipating, interest in ecological issues as the inevitable result of the public’s “issue attention cycle.” Dunlap (1992) viewed the cycle as a consequence of their “natural decline.” Others emphasized the role of organized, sustained, collective action such as social movements in constructions of meaning of problematic conditions (Mauss 1975). Best notes that, despite some compatibility, this social movement approach substantially differs from the social construction approach: “Constructionist analyses have obvious parallels with studies of social movements but, constructionists remain the only sociologists committed to the cause of developing a theory of social problems” (Best 2002:??).”


Before the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, ...

Before the Air Pollution Control Act of 1955, air pollution was not considered a national environmental problem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

brief mention of the narrow version of the sociological social construction approach to social problems…

“Analysts adopting a social construction approach to social problems in this era of the theory formed two camps, “strict” and “contextual” constructionists. Strict constructionists contended that analysts must confine themselves to focusing only on claims-making activities and their “symbol and language bound character” since “the strict constructionist never leaves language” (Ibarra and Kitsuse 1993). In this formulation, analysts were urged to remember that “it is ‘they’ (as members of the settings we are studying) and not ‘us’ (as analysts) who do the work of realizing the characteristics of the worlds in which they live” (Weinberg 2009#1).”



rather than the social or structural causes of objective conditions…

“After this seminal text detailing the social construction approach to social problems appeared, past presidents of the Society for the Study of Social Problems extended Blumer’s original notion (Lopata 1984). Although arising from and still compatible with other theoretical traditions in sociology, proponents argued its distinction came from its presumption “that social problems are the definitional activities of people around conditions and conduct they find troublesome, including others’ definitional activities” (Schneider 1985). This stance not only shifted the analytical focus, but consequentially changed analysts’ relationship to the object of study (social problems). On the basis of professional research and personal activism, analysts become their own subjects. “Sociologists who act as experts on problematic conditions are social problems participants. They become part of the problems rather than an analysis of it” (Schneider 1985). Advocates of the social constructionist approach to the study of social problems made unequivocal, value-based assertions about the purpose of their work. “Sociologists of social problems should not concern themselves with the validity of participants’ (their colleagues included) claims about conditions, but with how such claims and definitions are created, documented, pressed, and kept alive. Documenting claims or definitions about conditions constitutes participation. The point is to account for the viability of these claims, not judge whether they are true” (Schneider 1985).”


English: Underlying structure of the social co...

English: Underlying structure of the social construction of reality (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

what’s the sociological social constructionist process for how conditions become problematic?

“Spector and Kitsuse outline the process and activities involved in defining conditions as problematic by conceptualizing it as a “heuristic, four-stage natural history model” (Schneider 1985). Stage one includes “collective attempts to remedy a condition that some group perceives and judges offensive and undesirable…Initial social problems activities consist of attempts to transform private troubles into public issues” (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:148). Stage two occurs when “governmental agencies or other official and influential institutions” acknowledge these claims (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:154). Whether stage three comes next is contingent on first, official agencies or institutions accepting these claims and then responding, and secondly, this response becoming seen itself as problematic. If this occurs, stage four commences when advocates (claimants, claimsmakers) of problematic conditions declare “that it is no longer possible to ‘work within the system’…” and they set out to craft alternative institutions (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:156).”

the emergence of the social construction perspective on problematic conditions…

“Following Blumer, Spector and Kitsuse initiated a more systematic approach for examining interpretations of social reality with the provocative claim, ”there is no adequate definition of social problems within sociology, and there is not and never has been a sociology of social problems” (1977:??). Their treatise expounded on the pithier, but limited, notion that problematic conditions arise in society when “a significant number of people or a number of significant people” see them as such (Julian 1973:9). Kitsuse and Spector aimed to explain this phenomenon by focusing on both the social process and people’s actions in their everyday lives (Kitsuse and Spector 1973; Spector and Kitsuse 1973). They proposed that “social problems be conceived and defined as an activity by which groups identify ‘problems’ which they claim to be harmful, undesirable, unjust and in need of corrective attention. By this definition, every condition claimed to be a problem by whatever group on whatever grounds qualifies as subject matter for the study of social problems. In this view of meaning construction, a social problem is not seen as an ‘objective condition but rather as the process of interaction between claimants that is organized by what they claim to be ‘a problem’” (Spector and Kitsuse 1977).”

The Society for the Study of Social Problems

The Society for the Study of Social Problems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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