Thursday, July 8, 2010

PPA: Social Problems

We attended the third Public Policy Lecture today on Social problems. This is the first week I have actually enjoyed the readings, they made logical sense (I know its a very scientific view). Policy analysis thinks about solving problems (policies are MEANT to solve problems). There are many problems and beliefs as to why they are in fact social problems. Good examples include drug abuse, guns, poverty, energy efficiency. Each has a state in the world and is measurable by some metric.

In framing a problem there are three (well more but the are only looking at three) viewpoints. Positivism, Functionalism and Social Constructivism. When reviewing the problem one looks at the Nature of the problem, Causes of social problem, Methods to review and ways to Intervene.

In Positivism (exogenous), the problem is considered a disease caused by individuals or societies failings (weaknesses). One can measure through observation and remove the cause (excise disease). This approach is expert-driven and undemocratic.

The second Functionalism (endogenous) looks at a problem as a function to society. One needs deviants to know normality. One can once again measure this and then adjust norms to maintain a balance. This approach is also expert-driven.

The last is Social Constructivism and in this you can re-interpret the problem and states that there is no direct access to reality, that everything we do is an interpretation. It believes that social constructions reflect conflicts. Unlike the previous two Social Constructivism is not analytic but rather hermeneutic (interpretive). It challenges dormant constructions. This is one viewpoint I have the most difficulty understanding.

This is a reference that came up during the lecture: Charles Booth who designed the first poverty maps of London, his scale cause a lot of comic relief.

The associated readings:

  • Fuller and Myers (1941), “A Natural History of Social Problems”, American Sociological Review, 6:3, pp.320-329.
  • Elaine B. Sharp (1994), “Paradoxes of National Antidrug Policymaking”, in David A. Rochefort and Roger W. Cobb (1994), The Politics of Problem Definition: Shaping the Policy Agenda, University Press of Kansas, Kansas. pp. 98-116

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