Use the summary of the Case for Environmental Injustice in the module to construct a problem statement. The problem that you identify does not need to be the problem identified in the module example.
Write a statement about the problem described above. Start with a diagnostic frame , providing evidence of the problem and its harmful effects. Add a motivational frame that expresses the experience of the problem in its context. Explain a conflict in social or cultural values that creates the experience of harm.
using this case:
Constructing a social problem statement
Consider the following scenario: The case of environmental injustice
A small, working class community is suffering from the effects of toxic pollution. The health consequences of exposure to several toxins in the workplace and the immediate residential area is being felt by local residents and the treatment of their illnesses are being mitigated by area health professionals and localized environmental changes. The poor communities working and living in the area continue to be impacted by the health conditions even after the environmental pollutants are mitigated. They are calling for action from local officials and the nearby industrial businesses. They say that their homes have been poisoned and that their everyday lives are dangerous. In addition, their working conditions in nearby industrial areas are hazardous and causing illnesses to adults. Children are especially endangered because the toxins are making them sick and effecting their cognitive development. The residents feel that they have been lied to and that the local government and industries have knowingly put them in a dangerous position.
In 1999, the local government agreed, after intense public pressure and national media attention, to buy 50 properties near the industrial plant. The government planned to demolish the industrial buildings, smoke stacks, coal and coke ovens and wanted the houses surrounding the industrial buildings vacated to reduce risk of increased exposure arising from demolition. Residents received only a fraction of the value of their houses and property, which made moving away very difficult if not impossible. In addition, buying the houses without fair compensation and damages only dealt with a small part of the problem. The toxic environment had already poisoned a majority of the workers and their families.
After the removal of the industrial complexes, many remained in their homes. They were unable to relocate. They were told that the harmful toxic pollutants were removed, and that the environment should be safe. Their state Chief Medical Officer told residents that the pollutants were removed and there were no immediate health risks in the area. Testing on the soil and water did not begin until one year later.
By 2001, soil and water tests found very high arsenic levels exceeding federal guidelines by 450%. Lead levels were 10 times higher that federal guidelines in five area yards. These levels posed significant health risks to the community, especially children. After complaints of illness, the residents were tested for toxic poisoning. Sixty percent of children under five tested with unsafe levels of arsenic and one pregnant woman tested with unhealthy lead levels.
Upon the testing results, the government quickly relocated all residents to new housing in an environmentally safe area. After 6 months, public health officials followed up on testing for toxicity and found persistent ill health in the residents. They enlisted the help of Public health professionals, who focused on the presence of illnesses and the relationship between environmental factors, social factors, and health outcomes. After further research they found that the continuing problems related to illness are linked to a problem based in the spatially and socio-economic links to toxic work and low access to health services. Cultural and socio-economic factors kept workers and their families from moving away from the toxic environment and limited the employment choices for residents. A lack of attention to economic participation in job growth contributed to the problem. Health services were lacking in poor areas. The toxic area was not experiencing new opportunities for economic growth which exacerbated a continued public health spiral because of the associated lack of access to health services.
Consider how the harm is experienced and by whom. Claimsmaking can be aligned with the claims of activists and those impacted by harmful situations. Claimsmaing is an act which represents a social problem within itself. As noted by Gale Miller, claimsmaking is a statement not only about a problem, but the social conditions and contexts surrounding the claim. In other words, claimsmakers may not have known justification for the problem. But the act of claimsmaking involves the context of a problem within which the problem emerged. It requires a claimsmaking activity to illuminate a systemic or institutionalized problem.
Use objective and subjective qualities to identify a problem, establish an appeal about the problem that resonates across social groups. It is a way of making the problem reasonable by providing a structure to its explanation.
This is an important part of structuring and narrowing the social problem you choose. However, even if the problem is known through claimsmaking, it may be defined by its social and institutional context.
The social problem should be measured through objectivist and subjectivist conditions.
Objectivist: Problems are “objectively measurable characteristics of conditions” that can be identified as “harmful”.
Example: Toxins were not controlled to protect life and health of workers and residents. The levels measured far exceed legal limits, which makes illness and cognitive impairments likely. Subjectivist:
Something is problematic depending on society’s understanding of harm, which tends to fluctuate.
Government and industrial leaders knowingly exposed workers and residents to harm, taking advantage of their low economic and social status. The residents didn’t know they were exposed to harm and did not know to protect themselves and their children.
Structuring Your Social Problem
Once you have identified a social problem, provide a structure for your claim. According to Best, a claim for social problem starts with a diagnostic frame. Provide some evidence of the problem and its harmful effects. Depending on the type of problem, you should be able to find plenty of information about the social conditions that are harmful, and who these conditions harm. For the diagnostic frame, work very hard to establish a narrowly defined harm that can be explained with data. Do the work, and do the math. If the problem cannot be quantified or qualified through data, it will be very hard to research.
Once your grounds for a claim are established, you will build a Motivational Frame. A motivational frame will appeal to values and support a motivation for taking action. It will communicate a dissonance between the claim and values of society.