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The Sociological Viewpoint Toward Social Problems

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The sociological approach toward social problems differs from other approaches in that the sociological approach includes a focus on self-consciousness and building awareness that an individual’s interaction with society can oftentimes be influenced by forces outside of the single individual’s control or area of power. The author of one of our texts, Anna Leon-Guerrero, who is a Professor of Sociology at Pacific Lutheran University, writes that “Unlike any other discipline, sociology provides us with a form of self-consciousness, an awareness that our personal experiences are often caused by structural or social forces (Leon-Guerrero, 2010).

Certain problems are considered significant, or more significant, than other problems due to a sociological perspective that gained prominence in the 1960’s called “Social Constructionism.” This perspective states, when attempting to explain why society places more significance on some issues rather than others that “They (the issues) become real only when they are subjectively defined or perceived as problematic (Leon-Guerrero, 2010). Another sociologist, Denise Loseke writes that, “Conditions might exist, people might be hurt by them, but conditions are not social problems until humans categorize them as troublesome and in need of repair” (Leon-Guerrero, 2010).

Teen pregnancy is a very serious social problem that has a large impact on society. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (NCPTP) has established connections between early pregnancy and childbearing to a number of other serious social issues, for instance health, education and poverty (“Unplanned pregnancy, sexual,” 2012). The NCPTP reports that between the years 1990 and 2008 “The teen pregnancy rate has declined an impressive 42%” (“Unplanned pregnancy, sexual,” 2012). The Guttmacher Institute offers some explanation of this decline citing “changes in sexual behavior, fear of HIV, changing attitudes about sexuality, increased availability of new contraceptive technologies and increases in contraception use” (Darroch & Singh, 1999).

The Guttmacher Institute also notes that “trends in pregnancy rates have followed the same general pattern across the board, regardless of age, marital status, race or ethnicity” (Darroch & Singh, 1999). Society in general is currently addressing the social problem of teen pregnancy in several ways. One of the most important is an increase in parent’s
willingness to not only bring the issue up and discuss it with their children, but also allowing educators to address the issue in schools.

One can apply the concept of sociological imagination to the social problem of teen pregnancy. Almost everyone is affected, to some degree, by teen pregnancy. Whether you yourself were a pregnant teen, or one of your family members or friends, or one of their friends was; it is relatively easy to personalize at least one story of teen pregnancy and then use that example to help us address the issue as a society.

What did the pregnant teen that you knew respond to? What help or assistance did she get? How did she treat her body during that pregnancy? What, if any, care could have been provided to her that was not? By using the idea of the sociological imagination we are able to take our own experiences with teen pregnancy and use them to illuminate the subject of teen pregnancy on a societal level.

Applying the functional approach to teen pregnancy would lead us to focus on how the issue of teen pregnancy affects a single element of society and then in turn, how that affected element impacts the other elements of society. For example, one could argue that high rates of teen pregnancy creates a burden on the financial resources of a state, the state reacts by cutting funding of other projects, the cutting of other projects then leads to other consequences for people not initially affected by increased rates of teen pregnancy. In the functional approach society is viewed as a collection of separate, but interdependent systems that constantly affect each other.

Viewing the social problem of teen pregnancy through the interactionist approach looks at society as a result of individual interactions. This view takes on a micro perspective, as opposed to the macro perspectives used by both the conflict and functional approaches. In this approach one could account the problem of teen pregnancy as resulting from micro, or personal and individual, interactions by one person or a small group of persons with society. If 10,000 people were to have similar interactions with society, could those 10,000 people all make the same choices than once grouped together then become a much larger issue?

Addressing the issue of teen pregnancy through the social constructionist perspective can help us to understand how and why teen pregnancy has become considered a social problem and can also help us to understand how and what steps have been taken by individuals, governments and other organizations to combat the problem. One could argue that because society has declared that teen pregnancy is, in fact a social problem, changes have been implemented that have successfully decreased the numbers of teen pregnancy and that these changes may not have been made if society, through the social constructionist perspective, had never resolved to label teen pregnancy as an actual social problem.

By use of these sociological concepts, and the numerous other concepts found within sociology, we are able to view social problems, and potential social problems, through many different lenses. With the use of each different approach, perspective and concept, we are able to get a different and sometimes clearer view of the issue at hand and by doing so we are able to come up with numerous different methods and ideas for addressing the issues.

Sociology, like so many other academic studies, has no one correct answer. Instead, by using varying approaches and methods, we are able to compile different possible solutions, apply these different solutions and continually work towards finding the best ways to address certain problems. The ability to apply several approaches to the same problem increases our understanding of the issue at hand and also increases the probability that society can understand and address issues as they arise.

Darroch, J., & Singh, S. (1999, Dec.). Why is teenage pregnancy declining? the roles of abstinence, sexual activity and contraceptive use. Retrieved from http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/or_teen_preg_decline.pdf

Leon-Guerrero, A. (2010). Social problems: Community, policy, and social action. (3rd ed., pp. 06-09). SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://ebooks.apus.edu.ezproxy1.apus.edu/SOCI212/Leon_2012_Ch1.pdf

Unplanned pregnancy, sexual activity, and contraception among unmarried young adults. (2012, Sept.). Retrieved from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/FastFacts_UPSexualActivityContraception.pdf

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