Thursday, September 17, 2009

Social Problem

A social problem is defined as public awareness of a gap between society's expectations and social realities. In our daily life, we often come across the term ‘social problem’. We all have some notions about the characteristics of conditions that can be called ‘social problems’. We use the term ‘social problem’ to indicate that something is wrong. Our common sense tells us that social problems refer to conditions evaluated as wrong because they create harm.
According to Robert Nisbet, a social problem is a way of behaviour that is regarded by a substantial part of a social order as being in violation of one or more generally accepted or approved norms.

However, using the term ‘social problem’ for addressing social issues has its own set of limitations.
No mode of human behaviour can be considered a social problem, no matter how repulsive it may be to any given individual or small group, unless it is regarded as a morally objectionable deviance from some accepted norm, or norms, by a substantial and determining number of people in that particular social order. Thus, to be given the status of a social problem, the condition must be evaluated as widespread, and not hurt just a few people.
For example, if a person loses his job, it is his personal problem. But if something causes a large number of people to be out of their jobs (like the Economic Recession), it becomes a social problem as it affects a significant number of people.

The definition of the term ‘social problem’ contains a hint of optimism. When we call something a ‘social problem’, we refer to a condition which, according to us, can be changed. We use the term ‘social problem’ only when we believe that the troublesome condition can be fixed.
Natural disasters cause a lot of destruction and they disintegrate society. But they are not called social problems as we can do nothing to stop them. However, there are many ‘social problems’ surrounding natural disasters such as the cost of insurance, failures of early-warning systems for disasters, and the response of the officials to such disasters.
Thus, a social problem is a condition that is evaluated as wrong, widespread, and changeable. One may also add that a social problem is not merely a condition which can be changed; rather, it is a condition which should be changed. This is a logical approach: if something is evaluated as wrong, if it occurs frequently and if it can be changed, we should take a stand and do something to eradicate it.

There are other factors which determine the degree to which a social issue comes to be perceived as a ‘social problem’. For instance, if people affected by a condition are powerful and influential, the condition is more likely to be considered a ‘social problem’ than if the people affected by a condition are not so influential.

The media also plays an important role in the selection and definition of social problems. It gives selective attention to certain conditions.

Sometimes, what exactly is a social ‘problem’ is difficult to define.
What may be defined as a ‘social problem’ by one set of people may not be considered a problem at all by another group. For instance, homosexuality is not considered a social problem in U.S.A. In India, though it has been legalised, there are several groups which still feel that homosexuality is a social problem.