Social Pathology

Social pathology is a term used to describe social factors, such as poverty, old age or crime that bolster social disorganization. At the same time, the term refers to the study of these factors and the social problems they may lead to. Social pathology as a concept appeared late in the 19th and early in the 20th century, when sociologists classified as social pathology all human actions that contradicted with ideals such as residential stability, sobriety, habituation to work, sexual discretion, family solidarity, neighborliness and discipline of the will.

The study of social pathology is crucial to the maintenance of social health. Similar to pathology in medical science, a more definite knowledge and deeper understanding of social pathology gives sociologists an insight into the healthy social organization. The aim of social pathology is to identify the causes of social disease and to find ways to remove them. In the early 20th century, for example, poverty was one of the most discussed and studied forms of social pathology. Sociologists were deeply interested in the effects that poverty had on people.

The concept of social pathology has changed significantly in the past era. In the 21st century actions often defined as social pathology include substance abuse, violence, abuses of women and children, crime, terrorism, corruption, criminality, discrimination, isolation, stigmatization and human rights violations. These society problems are relative and usually differ among different cultures. Social pathology also depends on the values and organization of the time that a person lives in.

Social disorganization is a concept closely related to social pathology. The two terms overlap to certain extend, while social disorganization may also be viewed as supplementing social pathology. Social disorganization is defined as a state of disequilibrium and lack of consensus among the members of a society. American sociologists William Fielding Ogburn (1886-1959) and Meyer F Nimkoff 1904-1965) explain social disorganization as a disturbance of the harmonious relationship between the various parts of culture.

Sociologists have outlined five major factors for social change. These include: psychological, biological, physical and technological factor and culture. Sometimes the changes in social structure triggered by these factors may be so disturbing that the present institution and other means of social control can no longer work effectively. These events result in social disorganization. Factors of social disorganization at a particular period are usually highly interrelated, making it difficult to find which factor is the predominant one. More specific events that may lead to negative social change may include the changing structure of the family, the increasing importance of the central government and the lowering standards of morality.

Social organization and social disorganization represent the dual aspects of the functioning of society. Both terms are relative as they are never static. Social organization is focused on the unchanging patterns, although the process of change is always found in every society. Social disorganization can be described as a kind of decay in the social structure so that old habits and forms of social control cannot keep functioning effectively. In other words, social disorganization represents a decline in the influence of the existing social rules of behavior upon individual members.

Making a list of the forms of social pathology for a certain period in history or for a certain society is not an easy task. Social scientists have long argued whether a sociologist has the right to point out the aspects of social life which should be modified or ameliorated. Whether students of society and culture should make value-judgments about the data they examine is a question that has provoked much debate.

One group of sociologists believe that it is impossible not to make value-judgments. They argue that a sociologist makes value-laden decisions merely by the selection of particular social phenomena he or she studies and by publishing the results of his or her investigations. The opposing group of sociologists claims that the making of value-judgments cannot mix with science and that if sociology is to be a science then it must forego ethical generalizations. It is difficult to objectively define what is bad and what is good in a certain society or a specific culture. According to the dominant democratic philosophy of society, groups and individuals are able to formulate their own values, objectives and goals within broad limits of freedom.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Social Pathology: A Systematic Approach to the Theory of Sociopathic Behavior
Edwin M. Lemert.
McGraw-Hill, 1951
Social Pathology in Comparative Perspective: The Nature and Psychology of Civil Society
Jerome Braun.
Praeger Publishers, 1995
Society in Transition: Problems of a Changing Age
Harry Elmer Barnes.
Prentice-Hall, 1939
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 12 "Leading Problem of Urban Life" and Chap. 18 "Some Aspects of Social Pathology"
Man's Quest for Social Guidance: The Study of Social Problems
Howard W. Odum.
Henry Holt, 1927
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXIX "Maladjustment and Social Waste"
The Psychology of Crime
David Abrahamsen.
Columbia University Press, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Social Pathology and Crime"
The Institutions of Society
James K. Feibleman.
Allen & Unwin, 1956
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XXI "Excessive and Defective Institutions"
Contemporary Social Problems: An Introduction to the Sociology of Deviant Behavior and Social Disorganization
Robert K. Merton; Robert A. Nisbet.
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961
The Emergence of Deviant Minorities: Social Problems and Social Change
Robert W. Winslow.
Consensus Publishers, 1972
Angles of Vision: How to Understand Social Problems
Leonard Beeghley.
Westview Press, 1999
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