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6. A competent scholar with a working knowledge of:
(d) Social systems, including family dynamics, political issues, and bureaucratic structures

EDUC689 Seminar: Social Systems - Further Readings
Seminar taken with Dr. Elsie Jackson

Assignments for Sunday, May 21, 2000

  1. Read the introductory article on Social Problems (pages 7-14).
  2. Read the article on Guns, Money and Medicine (pages 93-96), the letter from Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King and the Letter from 8 clergymen to Dr. King.
  3. As you read the articles, try to determine which of the three major theoretical positions discussed in the article on Social Problems (Symbolic Interaction, Functionalism or Conflict), each of the authors seems to be using.  Whatever approach the writer uses in his or her discussion suggests what he or she thinks is the primary cause of the social problem/issue under consideration.
Also ask yourself as you read each article,
  1. What values are at stake or in conflict?
  2. What rights are at issue or in conflict?
  3. What is the nature of the harm in each case, and who is being hurt?
  4. What do the authors suggest as possible resolutions for each social problem?

Further Assignments:

  1. Based on issues covered in this seminar, prepare an annotated bibliography, including some web references.

  2. Have an interview with Dr. Jackson

The Articles

  1. Guns, Money & Medicine
  2. Letter from 8 Alabama Clergymen
  3. Martin Luther King’s Response

1. Guns, Money & Medicine

Theoretical model for social analysis: Conflict

Widdison and Delaney’s article says on page 10: “conflict theorists view all the parts as being in competition with each other”, and on page 11: “Conflict is therefore a natural and inevitable result of various groups pursuing their interests and values.”

In the “Guns, Money & Medicine” article, the right to carry a gun is in conflict with the financial burden resulting from gunshot wounds.

(a) What values are at stake or in conflict?

The value seems to be the unhindered enjoyment of the fruits of success and the American way.  The costs of medical treatment and care for gunshot victims are biting too deeply into the earnings of those able to afford health insurance.

The values of the sanctity of life and respect for other human beings are conspicuous by their absence.  In fact, shooting offenders demonstrate a change in values as the article progresses.  It seems that towards the end of the article, they do not shoot to kill but to maim for life.

(b) What rights are at issue or in conflict?

The right to carry a gun is in conflict with the right to enjoy the fruits of success and achievement.

(c) What is the nature of the harm, and who is being hurt?

Obviously, serious harm is being done to the gunshot victims, but this does not seem to be the burden of this article.  On page 93, the article reports “that probably half of gun homicide victims – in some cities as many as 70 percent – are offenders themselves.”  There is no sympathy here for the victims here.  The focus of the article is on the burden being placed on hospitals and doctors and those paying for health insurance.

(d) What do the authors suggest as possible resolutions?

Emergency room doctors need to lobby policy makers, with an emphasis on safer, childproof guns.  They are asking for other reforms, including heavier taxes and import restrictions.  But it seems they do not have high hopes for success.

2. Letter from 8 Alabama Clergymen

Theoretical model for social analysis: Symbolic Interaction

The Widdison and Delaney’s article says on page 9: “until they [social interactionists] can convince those who are in a position to control and perhaps correct the condition, it is not considered a social problem.”

The eight clergy state, “When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders…”  Their concern about rights being denied seems to be rather shallow, and King points this out to them in his reply: “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.” Page 1.

(a) What values are at stake or in conflict?

The values which the clergymen seem to hold dear are: the status quo, “peace”, freedom from the disturbance of demonstrations, freedom from outside interference, and a superficial preservation of law and order.  They seem more concerned about the potential of the demonstrations to incite hatred and violence, rather than the conditions that are giving rise to the demonstrations.  They hardly acknowledge that rights are being denied, only the “natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized.”

(b) What rights are at issue or in conflict?

The rights at issue here are primarily the rights of all people to be treated equally.  The letter also attempts to deny two other rights: the right of peaceful protest and street demonstrations, and the right of “outsiders” getting involved in what they see as being a local concern only.

(c) What is the nature of the harm, and who is being hurt?

From the perspective of this letter, the harm being done is the disturbance of the peace and the threat of losing a comfortable way of life.  They do not acknowledge the wrongness of the inequitable distribution of power and privilege, although this is the great harm being addressed, and the Negroes are the ones being hurt.

(d) What do the authors suggest as possible resolutions?

The authors strongly favor dealing with racial matters in the courts, and in negotiations with local leaders.  Their approach seems to say, “Leave it to the courts.  If the courts don’t fix it, then it isn’t a problem,” which typifies the Symbolic Interaction model of social analysis.

3. Martin Luther King’s Response

Theoretical model for social analysis: Functionalism

Widdison and Delaney’s article says on page 9: “society is a social system consisting of various integrated parts…  When any part fails, this creates a problem for the whole.”  And on page 10: “functionalists emphasize the interrelationships of the various parts of a system and believe that changes in one part will have significant implications for other parts.”

King says on page 1:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

(a) What values are at stake or in conflict?

What are values?  Things I prize and treasure in life; personal beliefs, morality, ethics, rights.  Philosophical differences between morality and ethics can be be debated at length.  Ethics are set by groups; values are personal as well as group.

  1. Human freedom vs oppression; lack of freedom
  2. unjust laws vs just laws; justice (p3,4)
  3. honoring promises vs breaking promises (p2)
  4. equality vs non-equality; equal worth vs non-equality (economic)
  5. equal access vs non-access
  6. power vs powerlessness
  7. law and order vs civil disobedience
  8. true justice vs status quo
  9. taking action vs doing nothing
  10. somebodiness vs nobodiness
  11. control vs controlled (this is about an issue rather than a value)
  12. integration vs segregation
  13. non-violence vs violence

Values at stake or in conflict  from Martin Luther King’s perspective include: justice, honoring promises, the courage or the willingness to act on convictions, the obligation of the church to defend the rights of the oppressed.

(b) What rights are at issue or in conflict?

The constitutional and God given right to peaceful demonstration, good faith negotiation, desegregation and the equality of all people, the right to be heard in a timely manner.

(c) What is the nature of the harm, and who is being hurt?

A “degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’” (page 3), systematic personal and physical abuse, humiliation day in and day out, a pervasive sense of inferiority.  This is being inflicted on Negroes, and on America’s destiny itself, because “Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny.” (page 9).

(d) What do the authors suggest as possible resolutions?

Negotiation has been tried and has proved to be ineffective, so a program of “direct action” was developed “to create a situation so crisis-packed that it [would] inevitably open the door to negotiation.” (page 2).  The nonviolent campaign contained “four basic steps: collection of facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action.” (page 2).  King also hopes that “the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” (page 8).


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