When is a social problem a social problem? The Social constructionist view

A social problem is any condition or behavior that has negative outcomes for larger groups of people and that is generally recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be taken into consideration. When talking about a social problem, there is an objective component and a subjective component.

The definition of a social problem has both an objective component and a subjective component. The objective component involves empirical evidence of the negative consequences of a social condition or behavior, while the subjective component involves the perception that the condition or behavior is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed.

But how do we know if a social problem is really a social problem?
climatechangepolarbear.pngThe answer lies in the extent and seriousness of the consequences.Let’s take for example the climate change: even though the majority of scientists argue that climate change is happening because of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and they see is as a real and serious issue, other groups of people (about64% of Americans in a 2011 survey) said that global warming is just happening” (Leiserowitz, Maibach, Roser-Renouf, & Smith, 2011).

This example illustrates the subjective component of a social problem. The key factor lies in the Perception that a certain condition or behavior will have negative consequences, and should be treated as a social problem.  Exactly this aspect lies at the base of social constructionist view of social problems (Rubington & Weinberg, 2010).

The social constructionist view emphasizes that a condition or behavior does not become a social problem unless there is a perception that it should be considered a social problem.

In this view, negative conditions and behaviors exist. Some conditions can be considered enough  to become a social problem, some are not, and there are some conditions that become social problems only if citizen, the policymakers and other parties thiconstructivism.jpgnk of them as so.

According to some sociologists who adopt this view, negative conditions and behaviors are not a social problem unless they are recognized as such by policymakers, large numbers of lay citizens, or other segments of our society; these sociologists would thus say that racism or sexism were not a social problem because our society as a whole paid them little attention. Other sociologists say that negative conditions and behaviors should be considered a social problem even if they receive little or no attention; these sociologists would thus say that racism and sexism were a social problem.

Here’s an interesting question: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, is a sound made?

It’s hard to give a correct answer, but it does reinforce one of the key beliefs of the social constructionist view: Perception matters at least as much as reality, and sometimes more so. Let’s take a look at the story of Simone and Maria.Simone’s washer-machine is broken. While dinning with her friend Maria, she started to complain about her situation. Simone’s washer-machine is one of the last models, and the part that is broken must be special ordered. Simone will have to hand wash her clothes for the next two weeks.Maria is one of the friends listening to Simone’s story. She is trying to be show empathy, but she has never had a washer-machine. In Maria’s village, the washer-machines are rare. Maris’ family has always hand washed their clothes. Maria likes Simone, nonetheless she thinks that Simone is a bit spoiled.

Maria and Simone have different realities.Simone thinks her dishwasher is a necessity, where Maria views it as a luxury. Their differences are a result of social constructionism. We are the sum of our past experiences.Simone’s experiences and interactions lead her to believe that everyone has a washer-machine. When found that her washer-machine is broken, she saw it as a major inconvenience. That’s Simone’s reality. Maria’s experiences made her believe that most people don’t own a washer-machine, and sees it as a luxury not a necessity. That’s her reality.

Each one of us constructs and rationalize our reality through the social experiences we have had with others.

Alexandrina Bivol


Category: When I think of the problems of the world, the first thing that comes to my mind is…








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