Social Problems and Solutions - Spring 2003
When the sociological enterprise was established in the United
States over one hundred years ago, its focus was on social problems. During
the late 19th century, the U.S. was undergoing a fast-paced social change -
industrialization, which brought the people from the rural areas into the
urban setting and also waves of immigrants who expected to find "streets
paved with gold" and found, instead, crowded, crime-ridden slums, hazardous
working conditions and an often hostile social climate. The relatively new
discipline of sociology was ideally suited to analyzing the social of the
Although the social problems of yesterday are not the same as today, some
problems are enduring ones. For example, inequality, poverty, racial,
ethnic, and gender discrimination are the legacy of the social, structural
and cultural circumstances of the past. However, some contemporary problems
are different from the past especially terrorism. Whether addressing
enduring problems or new ones, sociology remains the best means of analyzing
them and finding solutions.
On a more subjective level, studying social problems can be a highly
rewarding experience since it offers an excellent avenue for developing
patterns of critical thinking by applying sociological concepts and
perspectives to analyze specific social concerns such as drug addiction,
violence, and inequality.
The most familiar and important sociological concept is C. Wright Mills'
"The Sociological Imagination". Using this concept we see the relationship
between individual experience and the larger society.
We will also be using the sociological perspective to help us see
individuals as products of their social environments - that who they are,
what they believe, what they strive for and how feel about themselves
depends on other people and the society in which they live. In addition,
this perspective will help us adopt a critical stance toward all social
forms - even to questioning the make-up of a society (who has the power, who
Finally, studying social problems offers a challenge. Can these problems be
solved? If so, how? Must we tear apart a society to achieve equity? Or, can
we be more pragmatic and suggest more practical solutions? Should the
solutions come from the bottom up or the top down - or both?