As social scientists, sociologists attempt to explain these interactions and consequences that arise, such as being without health care insurance or having a check returned for insufficient funds.
Theory attempts to explain reality. Within sociology there are several theories. The three most historically significant are: functional, conflict and interaction. The terms also appear in the literature as structural –functional, social-conflict and symbolic interaction. The terms are used by sociologists and others to create a theoretical framework. Theories are nothing more than constructs used to interpret reality. No one theory can adequately address all circumstances. Life is simply too complex.
The functional perspective is similar to a puzzle. All the parts, when placed properly together, form a coherent picture. The theory is postulated on stability. If all the parts function as intended, society operates in a stable manner.
A diagram of an internal combustion engine also illustrates the relationship of one part to another. If all the parts are assembled, the engine, given fuel and ignition, should operate as planned. From our medical example, if you are ill, you may go to the doctor’s office and expect treatment. If your have health care insurance or other means of payment, such as funds in your bank account, you walk in, and, if lucky, four hours later, you have been seen and are on your way to the next player in the health care institution – the pharmacy.
What happens if you do not have insurance and you cannot pay the price for the prescription? You may do without the medication and suffer. You may call a Canadian supplier. You may go to the black market. On the other hand, you, as an increasing number of low-income single parent households, elderly or other people working diligently say, “Enough is enough.” You lobby, you boycott and you may even join protesters in the streets.
Theoretical Framework Continued
Karl Marx, an early sociologist of sorts, predicted that there are inherit problems in society, particularly capitalist societies. He said that the inequalities between the haves and the have nots will intimately lead to conflict. Conflict theory postulates that with a class society, values will clash, resulting in significant, often-violent change.
Interaction theory, also termed symbolic interaction, views reality from the individual’s perception of reality. This perspective lies at the core of the micro level of society, which was previously discussed.
As stated above, there is infinite change due to our unique lives. Society operates when there is agreed meaning among individuals. For example, driving to class tonight I obeyed the traffic laws, as did all the drivers on my route. Our reality is that traffic laws exit, they must be followed and we oblige. Law enforcement officials are there to promote safety. Other drivers may think differently. With their speeding or driving under the influence, social problems arise that may have fatal consequences.
Developmental Stages of a Social Problem
The developmental stages of a social problem are quite easy to identify. Though the natural history of social problems was eloquently defined two decades ago (Spector & Kitsuse, 1987), following most stories in the public media provides a good illustration of the developmental steps.
The first step is problem definition. A group of individuals representing themselves or advocating for others are either displeased or suffering. The elderly suffering and dying due to the lack of health care is a good example. Advocates and family members turn the spiraling costs of health care into a social issue.
Step 2 is the amassing of those in political and financial power positions who have constituents or shareholders who are willing to add their voice of concern over the deaths of the elderly. These voices legitimize the issue.
Step 3 occurs when the pharmacy company simply ignores the concerns, or passes the issue off to the cost of doing business, due to high labor costs for research and development. More likely, the company blames the FDA for tighter manufacturing guidelines and extensive field-testing. The complaining groups are still displeased.
The final and fourth step occurs when the complaining group, possibly the AARP, retreats and encourages clients to shop from the internet or develop a reliable source from a Canadian supplier.