Applying theories and sociological reasoning to problem-solving

According to C.W. Mills, personal troubles are issues that an individual faces and for which the society as a whole and the individual themselves place the blame on their own moral and personal faults. Unemployment, divorce, and eating disorders are a few examples of such issues. In this essay, a personal issue will be examined in the context of a situational issue, an institutional crisis, and a systemic catastrophe. The social process will also be explained using a sociological theory.

The sociological view of a situation

The sociological view of a situation is very different from the viewpoint of an individual. According to sociology, societal concerns have a direct impact on individuals. According to Mills (2000), it may be appropriate to see the majority of the issues as public concerns. He came up with the sociological imagination with the aim to grow the structural basis for personal problems. To expound on the Mills' (2000) argument, one can apply the sociological imagination to understand some common social issues. One can choose the issue of unemployment. Mills (2000) argues that when a society has very few unemployed individuals, the society terms them as being lazy or lacking good working habits. Contrary, when lots of individuals are unemployed, it turns a public concern.

The high unemployment rate in the US serves as an excellent example of Mills' argument. Unemployment rates were as a result of the 2008 recession that led to many people losing their jobs. The recession was a situation crisis that people would not have controlled. Therefore, one cannot blame individuals' lack of skills or be lazy.

In life, many people experience personal social problems. For instance, some people are poor and unemployed, drink too much alcohol, many have family problems and others commit a crime. When one hears about these people, it is easy to conclude that their problems belong to them, and they and other people with the same problem should blame themselves for their difficulties. To gain a better understanding of the personal problems one can focus on the issue of poverty in American society. Usually, people tend to think that a social problem like poverty emanates from an individual's failings of the people experiencing such a problem. People tend to blame the victim rather than the system (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007).

Focusing on the root-cause of ineffective education of poor children in urban areas is crucial for gaining insights on the blaming the victim situation. From Mills' (2000) perspective, the society would conclude that the children's parents fail to teach the children good study habits, do not care about their learning and do not motivate their children to take learning seriously. This situation may apply to some parents, but it will have ignored the greater reasoning. For example, one should blame the out of date equipment in the schools, old textbooks, overcrowded classrooms and poor housing structures. Therefore, to improve the schooling of these children, one should focus on improving the schools and not the parents.

As illustrated above, the approach based on blaming the victim for answers to a social problem is very different from the one that blames the system. When the society blames the victim, a lot of time and money can be used to address the personal failings of people who suffer from poverty and other difficulties. Instead, when one blames the system like the school, it would be much easier to focus the attention on various social conditions that propel these difficulties (Mills, 2000). A sociological understanding proposes that a latter approach is urgently needed for individuals to deal with the personal problems successfully. The personal issue can be addressed through the conflict theory, functionalist theory as well as symbolic interactionist theory.

Functionalist Theory

This theory is founded on the great works of Robert Merton, Emile Durkheim, Herbert Spencer and Talcott Parsons. According to the functionalist perspective, the society is a system joined by many parts that work together in harmony with an aim to maintain a social equilibrium as well as a state of balance in the society. For instance, each social institution is a vital part of the society. The family plays the role of nurturing, reproducing and socializing children. Education enhances society's knowledge, culture, and skills of individuals. The economic environment focuses on the consumption, production, and distribution of goods and services. Religion provides moral guidance while politics offers a means of governing the society.

Functionalism focuses on how different parts of the society influence other aspects of the same society. For instance, the increase in dual earners and single parents have contributed to children failing in schools due to lack of supervision when doing their homework. Also, advancements in technology have influenced the majority of people returning to school to learn new skills that are required in their professions.

According to Functionalism, when one understands how different parts of the society are interconnected, the identification of problems and adoption of appropriate interventions becomes efficient. For instance, solving the issues of poverty demands the knowledge about the relationship among factors that predispose a person to the problem. The understanding of risk factors facilitates the formulation of solutions of poverty at the individual, family, and societal levels. One can check on the system of education which is responsible for providing skills to individuals. This strategy demands shifting focus to dealing with the factors affecting education ranging from poor structures to overcrowding in classrooms, eliminating the blame the victim approach.

Conflict Theory

This theory considers the society as a complex unit consisting of different groups that compete for resources and power. The conflict theory explains forces behind groups that possess power and how a particular social setup influences the changes of being in the position of influence. For instance, the feminist theory claims that most of the individuals live in a patriarchal society that is dominated by men. The conflict theory can be associated with the work of Karl Max who argues that each society undergoes a series of economic development.

Societies have shifted from agriculture to industrial-based economy. According to Karl Max, the change raises concerns, especially where individuals' attention shifts from survival-oriented activities to profit-making ventures, which is the stamp of the capitalist system. Eventually, the industrialization results in two classes of people the proletariat who are termed as the workers who earn wages and the bourgeoisie who can be termed as the owners of production. In the long run, the bourgeoisie benefits more compared to the proletariat. Based on Karl Max's perspectives, owners of the means of production use their influence to dominate societal institutions to their favor (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). This argument can be used to explain the issue of the income gap in the society and is the reason behind poverty levels in the American society.

The rich people have dominated every institution in the society. Since they have wealth, they can afford good health and schooling facilities for their children. They have a voice in the society where their concerns are addressed much fast compared to the poor. This situation explains why poor children do not have access to proper schooling facilities, thereby, making poverty a personal problem to the poor. When one uses the conflict theory, it would be easier to address the issue of poverty in the society by ensuring equitable distribution of wealth with an attempt to neutralize power.

Symbolic Interactionist Theory

Symbolic interactionist perspective depends on the symbolic sense that people derive in the course of social interaction. Further, the theory addresses particular values that individuals lay on behaviors, dealings, and things. According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, individuals conduct themselves upon what they rely on and not on what is real. Therefore, the society is a construction through human interpretation. Individuals interpret each other's behavior thus creating a social bond. The people's interpretation brings about the definition of a situation. For instance, one would ask why the young generation smokes cigarettes irrespective of the potential dangers associated with the smoking. However, the answer to this question would be as a result of the situation that people create. Research indicates that the youths have adequate information on the potential risks associated with smoking tobacco (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). Nonetheless, they think that smoking is cool and it creates a confident image amongst their age mates. The reason for smoking supersedes facts pertaining smoking and its risk.

People do not learn from what the society has set out for them, but they learn from the interaction. As people interact, they exchange their definitions of the situations in which they are. In doing so, people tend to rely heavily on symbols to reach a mutual understanding. This theory views social problems as arising from the interaction of individuals. For instance, drug and crime are often associated with interaction with people who takes part in such behaviors. People adopt attitudes of other individuals to justify committing such behaviors (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007). Therefore, to understand the issue of poverty in the society, symbolic interactionist theory tries to examine people's interaction in their daily lives.

The society must focus on the lives of individuals in rural and urban settlements to address the issue of poverty successfully. It is evident that the rich and poor rarely interact in the society. The experiences of poor people may be results of racial, ethnic, age and gender discrimination. The issue of prejudice is a common problem in the American society that can be associated with low income. Some communities fail to get equal job opportunities hence becoming marginalized. It does not mean that such people can only overcome poverty through hard work alone. This argument is the reason why most of the government policies fail to address the realities of increasing employment insecurities, failing urban schools and lack of affordable housing.


For many years, the society has addressed the issue of poverty as a personal problem. Individuals who are poor are seen as lazy, blaming individuals rather than the system. However, with an understanding of social theories like functionalist theory, symbolic interactionist theory, and conflict theory, it becomes easy to address the issue of poverty at the individual, institution and societal level.


Mills, C. W. (2000). The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mooney, L. A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2007). Understanding social problems- 5th edition. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth.

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