Book Review

Perspectives on Current Social Problems
Gregg Lee Carter, ed.
Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon
1997, 368 pp.

I look for two components in a social problems text. First, I like a short, but thorough discussion of the defining characteristics of social problems. Second, I look for a presentation that captures some of the urgency and variety that characterizes social problems research. Perspectives on Current Social Problems includes both elements.

Carter presents a provocative, edited collection of 28 articles, covering eight general topic areas. This is not a book for use by the faint of heart. The articles were intentionally selected to provoke discussion. Carter states that the book "is intended to supplement mainline social-problems textbooks." While it may accomplish this goal, I expect that the controversy and discussion generated by these readings may overshadow "mainline" textbooks. If "losing control" of class discussions is a concern, this material might be better handled by more experienced instructors. Despite the fact that these articles are scientifically, rather than rhetorically oriented, the topics are hot ones: The Bell Curve (Hermstein and Murray, 1994). Sexual harassment on college campuses, HIV/AIDS, welfare reform, gun control, domestic violence, and so on. These issues intrude upon even the most dispassionate discussions of social problems, regardless of their place on the syllabus. Carter's collection provides an empirical basis for these discussions, and, consequently, it is a valuable addition to this type of course.

I generally like this book. However, I do consider some aspects of the text less attractive. First, by integrating conflict and interactionist perspectives, the theoretical orientation of the book may be overly sophisticated for many lower-division students. Second, Carter presents a model for critically analyzing articles on social problems that may presume a higher degree of comfort with research methodology and terminology than most students will have. Finally, it fails to provide a section on environmental social problems.

I should also note that since this text was designed to supplement additional texts, it does not contain the usual amenities of an index, glossary, test bank, discussion questions, and soon.

None of these considerations prevent me from recommending this book for use in a social problems course. In addition to taking some risks, the presentation and cost make it a good value for students. The text might also provide useful additional reading for research methods courses and for courses on social deviance.

Karl T. Pfeiffer, Teaching Sociology (July 1997)


Hermstein, Richard J. and Charles A. Murray. 1994.The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press.

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