People everywhere want to maximize the quality of their lives. There is widespread agreement that a high quality of life requires such things as a good education, freedom from fear of crime, good housing, meaningful work, and good health. A high quality of life, then, can only be attained if people deal with the social problems that detract from that quality. As we point out in the first chapter of this text, a social problem is, by definition, a condition or pattern of behavior that is incompatible with people's desired quality of life.
To deal with a problem, you must understand it—how it affects one's quality of life, what causes it, what tends to maintain it. Sociologists have used three theoretical perspectives to answer these questions in order to analyze and deal with social problems. We discuss the three major perspectives in chapter 1 and show how we use elements from each to analyze individual problems and talk about how the problem can be attacked.
We do not mean to give the impression here that either understanding a problem or attacking it is a simple matter. Even experts disagree on such things. The factors that combine to cause and perpetuate any particular problem are many and complex. We have seen students feel overwhelmed as they study these factors. As one said: “I don't see how society can ever deal with some of these problems. The more I understand about what causes them, the more hopeless I feel.”
It is interesting to note, therefore, that some problems are less serious than they were when this book was in its first edition. Among other things, poverty among the aged has declined, many crime rates have dropped, divorce rates have declined, the cold war and the accompanying arms race between the superpowers have come to an end, and air and water pollution levels have decreased significantly. Other problems, however, are still as serious—or even more so. For instance: addictions continue to ruin lives and traumatize families; domestic and international terrorism are of the highest concern to citizens and the government; war remains a vexing problem; white-collar crime is more widespread and more of a threat to the economy than previously recognized; health problems afflict great numbers of people, many of whom have no health insurance; racial minorities have lost some of the gains made in previous years; poverty has increased among some groups; increasing numbers of single parents mean increasing problems for children; equitable opportunities remain elusive for homosexuals; and the threats posed by such things as global warming and toxic wastes are more serious than previously thought. These advances and setbacks are all discussed in the text.
Changes in the Twelfth Edition
A social problem is a product of social definition. That is, something becomes a problem, and becomes a more or less serious problem, as it is so defined by the people of a society. People's definitions of problems and the problems themselves continually change. Each new edition of a social problems text, therefore, strives to capture the current status of an ever-changing phenomenon. To achieve this goal, we have updated all materials in this edition with hundreds of new references as well as the most recent data available from the government and other sources.
There are changing concerns among the public as well as changing emphases among researchers. To reflect current interests and concerns more adequately, we have included new or expanded materials on such topics as: the abuse of prescription drugs; legalizing drugs that are now illegal; the role of the mass media in the drug problem; the computer crime of “vishing”; the working poor; immigration; the role of the Internet in elections; he “No Child Left Behind” program; family violence internationally; health care reform; land mines; and global warming.
We have divided the book into five parts and fifteen chapters. Part 1 introduces students to social problems. Chapter 1 discusses the various tools needed, including the difference between social problems and personal problems, sociological theories and methods, and fallacious ways of thinking.
In Part 2, we look at a cluster of problems that involve behavior that deviates from social norms. Chapters 2 through 5 cover the problems of alcohol and other drugs, crime and delinquency, violence (including rape), and sexual deviance (prostitution and pornography).
Part 3 examines problems that involve social inequality. Poverty (chapter 6) is inequality in income and wealth. Gender and sexual orientation comprise another area of inequality (chapter 7), as women and homosexuals strive to gain equal rights. Racial and ethnic inequality (chapter 8) include the multiple ways in which there is disparity in valued things between the various racial and ethnic groups in the nation.
Part 4 focuses on problems of social institutions. Chapters 9 through 13 cover the institutions of government and politics, work and the economy, education, family, and health care. These institutions are factors in other kinds of social problems, but are also problematic in themselves.
Finally, Part 5 covers two global social problems: war and terrorism (chapter 14) and the environment (chapter 15). These problems pose a threat to civilization itself, and cannot be understood apart from their global context.
We use a variety of learning aids to facilitate understanding of the materials:
• Chapter-opening vignettes personalize the various problems. They make each problem not just a set of facts, but a social reality that disrupts and diminishes the quality of people's lives in concrete, understandable ways.
• Chapter objectives and marginal key terms keep students on track as they work through the chapters.
• Global Comparison boxes add dimension to students' understanding of social problems by seeing how they work out in another nation or nations.
• Dealing with the problems is as important as knowing what causes them. Each chapter, therefore, contains a section, called Public Policy and Private Action, that suggests ways to ameliorate each problem. We have found that most students are like the one quoted at the beginning of this preface—they don't simply want to know about problems, they also want to know what can be done to address those problems. We do not claim that the suggestions will eliminate the problems. But they do demonstrate that problems have solutions, and the solutions are always, to some extent, up to each individual.
• Marginal icons identify places in the text where we show how people use the fallacies of thinking discussed in chapter 1 to draw erroneous conclusions about social problems.
• End-of-chapter summaries, key terms lists, study questions, and Internet resources and exercises provide students with ample review, study materials, and self-learning projects.
• As a full-service publisher of quality educational products, McGraw-Hill does much more than sell textbooks. The company creates and publishes an extensive array of print, video, and digital supplements for students and instructors. This edition of Social Problems is accompanied by an extensive, comprehensive supplements package:
For the Student
• Online Learning Center Web site—an innovative, book-specific Web site featuring
flashcards that can be used to master vocabulary and a wealth of other review materials—is organized by chapter for ease of use when studying for exams or writing papers. Access it at www.mhhe.com/lauersp12.
For the Instructor
• Instructor's Manual/Testbank—chapter outlines, key terms, overviews, lecture notes, discussion questions, a complete TestBank, and more.
• Computerized Testbank—easy-to-use computerized testing program for both Windows and Macintosh computers.
• PowerPoint Slides—complete, chapter-by-chapter slide shows featuring text, tables, and visuals.
• Instructor's Online Learning Center —password-protected access to supplements and other important instructor support materials and as well as additional resources.
• Course Management Systems—whether you use WebCT, Blackboard, e-College, or another course management system, McGraw-Hill will provide you with a Social Problems cartridge that enables you to either conduct your course entirely online or to supplement your lectures with online material. And if your school does not yet have one of these course management systems, we can provide you with PageOut, an easy-to-use tool which allows you to create your own course Web page and access all material on the Social Problems Online Learning Center .
• Primis Online—a unique database publishing system that allows instructors to create their own custom text from material in Social Problems or elsewhere and deliver that text to students electronically as an e-book or in print format via the bookstore.
• Videotapes—a wide variety of videotapes from the Films for the Humanities and Social Sciences series is available to adopters of the text.
Many people are important in producing a book. The staff at McGraw-Hill Publishers has been most helpful and supportive. Time and again, we have been impressed with the quality of work done by the various editors with whom we have worked. We appreciate ach of them, and particularly Nicole Bridge and Craig Leonard, who worked with us on this latest edition. We would also like to thank the academic reviewers who are listed facing the title page; their suggestions have, we believe, enhanced this book.
Robert H. Lauer
Jeanette C. Lauer