CHAPTER 2
Interpreting Social
Problems:
Aging
SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES AND SOCIAL
PROBLEMS
 Theory:


A statement about how and why specific facts are
related.
A theory provides a framework for organizing
facts, and in so doing, provides a way of
interpreting reality.
 Sociological

Theory:
Provides a framework for thinking about a social
issue from a perspective that we might otherwise
neglect; a basic image of society that guides
thinking and research.
THREE THEORIES
 FUNCTIONALISM
A social system composed of parts that
work together to benefit the whole
 CONFLICT THEORY
 Groups competing with one another
within the same social system; sees
society as divided by inequality and
conflict
 SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM
 People’s patterns of behavior always
changing; sees society as the product of
individuals interacting with one another

FUNCTIONALISM
AND
SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Major theory that sociologists use to interpret social
problems
 Sees society as a system with many interrelated parts.



When each part does its job, the system runs smoothly. If
some part fails, however, the whole machine can suffer
(dysfunctions).
From the functionalist perspective, a social problem is
the failure of some part of society that interferes with
the society’s smooth functioning.

Problems don’t stem from bad people but bad institutions.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF
FUNCTIONALISM
 Auguste

Society as organism
 Herbert

Durkheim
Normal and abnormal states
Robert

Spencer
Society as structure
 Emile

Comte
Merton
Functions and dysfunctions
APPLYING FUNCTIONALISM
PROBLEMS
TO
SOCIAL
 Major
source of social problems is the inevitable
consequence of change.

Institutional change in one area of society disrupts the
equilibrium of society’s parts, forcing those parts to
make new adjustments.
 Aging:
Society needs to pass its positions of
responsibility (jobs) from one group (the elderly)
to another group (younger people).

Disengagement Theory – elderly disengage from
society/networks.
FUNCTIONALIST THEORY: AGING
Functions:
Social Security transfers jobs from older workers to
younger
 Social Security not only benefits recipients but
families, businesses, and workers at Social Security
Administration
 Nursing homes as positive environments
 Function of change in family/work patterns

Dysfunctions:
Nursing home facilities can be inadequate or
detrimental
 Barriers to receiving adequate care and treatment
that the elderly face
 Rules and regulations

CONFLICT THEORY AND SOCIAL
PROBLEMS
Below the surface, society’s parts are competing with
one another for scarce resources.
 From the conflict perspective, social problems are the
natural and inevitable outcome of social struggle.
 Conflict theory: views society as a system in
competition and conflict
Each group in society attempts to further its own
interests, even at the expense of others.
 As these interests collide, the social order becomes
unstable.
 Those in power exploit people and their resources for their
own benefit.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF CONFLICT
THEORY

Karl Marx
 Capitalism and conflict

Bourgeoisie and Proletariat
Concluded that the hallmark of history is a
struggle for power
 Georg Simmel
 Compared the relationships of people who occupy
higher positions (superordinates) with those who
are in lower positions (subordinates)
 Lewis Coser
 Analyzed why conflict is especially likely to
develop among people who have close
relationships

APPLYING CONFLICT THEORY TO
SOCIAL PROBLEMS
 At
the root of each social problem lies conflict over
the distribution of power and privilege.
 Social problems are inevitable, for it is inevitable
that groups will come in conflict as they try to
maintain or to gain control over power and privilege.

Those with power don’t like to give it up.
 Understanding
that power and privilege lie at the
root of social problems helps analysts to penetrate
the surface and pinpoint what any particular social
problem is all about.
APPLYING CONFLICT THEORY TO SOCIAL
PROBLEMS
Two types of social problems:
 Trouble experienced by people who are exploited
by the powerful
 Trouble experienced by the powerful when the
exploited resist, rebel, or even appeal to higher
values
INTRODUCING FEMINIST THEORY
Inspired by the Marxist theory and aims to transform
society instead of just studying it
 Patriarchy
 Rule by men is understood to be the root of all this
inequality.
 To maintain this power, men create boundaries
and obstacles for women, making it hard for them
to gain power.

THE DEVELOPMENT OF FEMINIST
THEORY
 In 1970s, feminist theory was an umbrella term that
described oppression of all women.

In 1980s, feminists split into five different branches of
feminist theory:





Radical feminism: dismantle society entirely to dissolve
patriarchy
Liberal feminism: all people created equal and deserve equal
rights
Socialist feminism: direct link between capitalist class
structure and oppression of women
Cultural feminism: biological differences between men and
women should be appreciated
Ecofeminism: patriarchy oppressive for women and
environment
APPLYING FEMINIST THEORY TO
SOCIAL PROBLEMS
 Social
norms place the burden of care for
elderly parents disproportionately on
daughters, not sons.
 In the U.S., men typically do not care for
parent(s) because it is often assumed his wages
are more vital than a woman’s.
 Over the next several decades, the population
of aged persons will continue to grow, while the
number of caregivers remain constant.
 Social problems are a result of the struggle
over resources between men and women.
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND SOCIAL PROBLEMS
 The

significance of culture
Focuses on the symbols that people use to make sense
out of life
 Symbols:
things to which we attach meaning and
that we use to communicate with one another
 Because symbols change, so do social problems
SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM AND
SOCIAL PROBLEMS: AGING

Earlier in our history, old age was a personal
problem, not a social problem.
 What was once a personal problem has
become a social problem
 From the perspective of symbolic
interactionists, then, social problems are
whatever people in a society define as social
problems.
DEVELOPMENT OF SYMBOLIC
INTERACTIONISM
Georg Simmel (1858–1918)
 Chicago School
 Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929)
 Looking-glass self
 George Herbert Mead (1863–1931)
 Role of the other and generalized other
 Alfred Schutz (1899–1959), Peter Berger
(1929), and Thomas Luckmann (1927–)
 Phenomenological sociology and social
construction of reality

APPLYING SYMBOLIC INTERACTIONISM TO
SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Social Construction of Reality: the attempt to
make sense of life by giving meaning to one’s
experiences.
 The Social Construction of Social Problems:


Labeling
Simply means that people categorize things
 Put tags on other people or on events and then act
accordingly

3 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES
THE FUTURE OF THE PROBLEM: THE
PENDULUM SWINGS
Economic growth and expansion of federal
programs reduced poverty rate for the aged to
below nation’s average
 Some people think elderly are receiving more than
their fair share.
 Reflects fundamental shift in the subjective
concerns of this social problem
 Belief centers on costs of health care
 In about 20 years or so, one in five Americans will
be elderly.
 This continuous growth will strain Social
Security and health care programs.

Figure
2.3
LIFE EXPECTANCY IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
THE EMERGING STRUGGLE

“Congress has caved in and has given too many benefits to old
people.”
 Some want to trim Social Security, Medicare, and other
programs available to the elderly.
 To protect their gains, older Americans have organized a
powerful political lobby.
Conflict Perspective
 The AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired
Persons) boasts 38 million members and a staff of 1,200.
 Difficult for politicians to ignore these numbers
 Gray Panthers
THE EMERGING STRUGGLE
The interests of younger and older groups are on a
collision course.
 Two major problems:
 Contributions to Social Security are not put into
a worker’s own account.
 Proportion that collect Social Security is
growing, proportion who are working (those
who pay) is shrinking.


Dependency ratio: number of workers compared with
number of Social Security recipients
SOCIAL SECURITY PAYMENTS AND BENEFICIARIES: FEWER
WORKERS TO SUPPORT THE RETIRED
Problems of Dependency
Nursing Homes:




Understaffing, Dehumanization, and
Death
Gender Roles among Elderly
Elder Abuse
Elderly Poor
Gender and the Elderly
Gender and Poverty
 Race-Ethnicity and Poverty

RECURRING PROBLEMS: RACE –
ETHNICITY AND POVERTY IN OLD AGE
Changing Perceptions of the
Elderly

Ageism

Shifting Meanings


Technology
Influence of Mass Media
POLITICS: CONSTRUCTING PROBLEMS AND
DEFINING SOLUTIONS

The Political Spectrum: a continuum representing a
range of political attitudes from “left” to “right”
Plays huge role in determining how to solve social problems
 Each has very different approaches solutions


Conservatives: Seek to limit the scope of societal change


Liberals: Favor more sweeping change in society


Focus on shortcomings of individuals not society
See problems in the organization of society
Radicals: Support policies that go beyond mere reform

Can either be ultra liberal or ultra conservative
Who Thinks What? Social forces, structures, location, etc.
Download

Chapter 2 Interpreting Social Problems: Aging