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Social problems: Who makes them?
Social problems: Who makes them?

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2.2 Summary

Social scientists need to stand back, to view common sense or ‘what everybody knows’ from the perspective of a stranger. Common sense about social problems such as poverty involves a process of social construction, drawing on a repository or storeroom of underlying theories and assumptions. Common sense has been built up over time, carrying with it traces of earlier understandings which are also brought into discussions of new issues and debates. Common sense is itself divided, reflecting contested and conflicting claims about the nature of society and social problems. Although we have talked here of different ‘bits’ of common sense, some authors prefer to talk about a range of common senses (that is, in the plural). In discussions of social problems, each position seeks to be ‘what everybody knows’ – the dominant common sense. This has direct consequences for the development of social policy through political initiatives. The sceptical analysis of common sense is, therefore, of practical as well as academic importance.