Why do some social problems capture our attention rather than others? Why does our attention wander from those problems before they are solved? These are the questions Professor Robert Heiner of Plymouth State College’s social science department addresses in his new sociology textbook,
Social Problems: An Introduction to Critical Constructionism, published by Oxford University Press.
“There must … be forces, other than the seriousness of these problems, that explain their procession through the public imagination,” Heiner says.
The book focuses on the four areas most frequently covered in social problems courses – inequality, family problems, crime, and the environment — analyzing each from a critical constructionist perspective. This sociological approach helps students think of social problems not as objective situations outside of their own experience, but as socially constructed phenomena whose perceived importance is affected by media attention and the needs of particular interest groups.
“Teaching courses on various social problems and on popular culture I’ve come to appreciate the effects of the media on how we as a society perceive, prioritize and react to social problems,” Heiner says. “I’ve also come to realize the narrow range of political discourse we have in the United States. For instance, it takes money and media exposure to have a voice in American politics and, in the U.S., only the two major political parties have sufficient access to these resources. In the world scheme of things, both parties fall to the right of center, but mainstream media represent the Democrats as liberals and the Republicans as conservatives and, therefore, the media would have us believe that U.S. political discourse covers a broad range of economic possibilities.”
While published for the textbook market, Heiner thinks the new book will also appeal to a larger range of readers who are interested in a broad consideration of the problems of inequality, crime, the family and the environment.