This essay will be bearing in mind homelessness in Australia as a social problem from the sociological perspective of a functionalist. To understand and look at homelessness from a functionalist’s perspective some understandings should be met. To begin with, what constitutes a social problem; secondly, how homelessness is interpreted and seen in Australia, thirdly, how the functionalist’s perspective is suitable by applying it in explaining homelessness as a social problem.
What is a social problem? A social problem is any condition or behavior that has negative consequences for large numbers of people, and it is recognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed (What is a social problem? 2011).
To be capable to recognize/ remember what is and what is not a social problem in a society, you must understand the social structure and the culture of the society. Within every society the structure and culture are different, and yes there are comparisons. However, no two societies are exact.
Social problems cite to a distinct society at a definite time due to the structure and culture of society varying as time accede, and each society is diverse in their societal norms, values, and morals. So, what may be a social problem in Korea, for example, may not affect or be a problem in Australia. The era does not merely have an influence on what does and does not make up a social problem, but geographic location, in addition, plays a function in what is and is not the norm or socially acceptable within a society/ for example, in Iraq and middle eastern countries society it is the norm to wear a Burqa, while that is not the norm in Australia.
Homelessness is an example of a social problem within the Australian context.
Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) provided the definition currently accepted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is used in its studies and research. The definition by Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) is historically and culturally derived from the meaning home. A person living in a substandard or borderline substandard setup for the societal norms is living with no sense of security in the length of their tenure in one room without a bathroom and kitchen of their own, or is moving between various temporary spaces, e.g., hostels, friends, houses or is without living arrangements that are ‘normal’ for the society (e.g., street living, under a bridge is termed homeless. In Australia, the norm is living in self- contained units or suburban houses (Chamberlain and “Mackenzie, 1992).
Using this definite ion, the ABS completed its most recent census 2011. The ABS 2011 recorded 105,237 people Australia wide as homeless which equates to a rate of 49 per 10,000; this demonstrates an 8% increase since 2006 (45 per 10,000 which suggests that the problem is growing. Homelessness presents a number of implications which make it harmful to the individual and society; one significant effect for the individual is their increased susceptibility to chronically ill health whilst one significant social implication is that over $27,000per annum is spent on those ‘rough sleeping’ by the community (Homelessness Australia, 2013) The most prevalent causes are domestic violence (25%) and financial difficulties (15%) (Homelessness Australia, 2013).
The Australian Government, by carrying out censuses on population and housing, demonstrates that homelessness is perceived to be a social problem and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) housing, and homelessness webpage states that homelessness is a ‘pressing issue’; a targeted initiative by COAG was to create over 600 new dwellings for the homeless between 2009 and 2013 (COAG, nd). These factors clearly demonstrate that homelessness is perceived as a social problem in Australia as is affects a significant segment of society negatively; has been recognized as a social problem by the Australian government, and; the Australian is seeking viable solutions.
Functionalism is one of the three fundamental sociological theories of thought, also known as the functionalist perspective and the structural functionalism and works by consensus and cohesion within society. This theory will be applied to homelessness throughout this essay. Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parson and Robert Merton are the works of this school of thought. Mooney, Knox and Schacht (2015) explain that this theory contributes a macro (big picture) view of society which is recognized as a system constructed on interrelated, co-dependent systems (referred to as institutions) that impact one another and, in turn, are influenced to preserve a steady social equilibrium based in consensus within a society.
These institutions are similar to puzzle pieces that fit together to form a bigger picture which, in this case, is society. It is regularly correlated as any society is just like the human body. The key institutional structures of society work like the body’s organs to keep society healthy and well (Watts, 2007). Some sectors that firmly alter and add to this social equilibrium are known as functional elements, although others that negatively affect and disturb the balance are known as dysfunctional elements; some of these elements can be both functional and dysfunctional. An example of how an element is both functional and dysfunctional is a crime. It is dysfunctional because criminal behavior is conflicting to socially accepted behaviors but is functional due to its reinforcement of societal norms, values, and morals which increases social cohesion and consensus.
The function can be subdivided more into manifest and latent functions to obtain an education with one of its latent functions being to learn socially acceptable behaviors. There are two major models used to apply functionalism to social problems; the social disorganization model and the social pathology model. When rapid social changes occur, social norms are weak and unclear, and as a result, there is a state of normalizes (anomie) as society alters and restructures itself based on the rearranged norms (Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology, 2012).
The latter, conceptualized by Auguste Comte in the late 19th century, sees society as analogous to the human body with social problems occurring as a result of illness’ in one or more of the systems due to an institutional break-down (Levine, 1995). In addition to these models, there is an extension of the social pathology model involving a person being inadequately socialized, thus unable to contribute to the functioning of the institutions to which they are related.
Homelessness as a social problem will be explained by using the social pathology model. Homelessness Australia (2013) studied 25% of homelessness are caused by domestic abuse and is the highest cause. Hence this is the sample that will be used to demonstrate that dysfunction in one or more institutions causes homelessness for some. Domestic abuse is an indication of a dysfunctional family institution which means the roles of the family members are not being fulfilled, for instance, females have an important role of caregivers where males have the role of defender/ guardian in the family institution.
Due to a family member not doing their part within the institution, the institution falls apart and becomes dysfunctional and will probably experience a breakdown. This break down leads to the abused party living in a risky arrangement that is like-minded with Chamberlain and Mackenzie’s (1992) definition of homelessness under the sections that there is no promise of how long the abused party can stay and that they may be living in temporary accommodations in the worst case scenario wherein the abuser has alienated the abused party from their support networks, the abused party may live on the streets or enter an emergency shelter.
The domestic abuse is an indication of dysfunctions in the educational institutions within the manifest function of educating children and the latent function of children learning how to interact in a socially acceptable manner. This can be associated to governmental dysfunction, in poor policymaking concerning what is comprised in the national education values and curricula, and the following disappointment of the educational institution to apply curricula that acts as a solid guiding hand for the students under that curriculum.
All of this can also link to insufficient socialization throughout the childhood years, with a dysfunctional family institution which the child sees as ‘typical’ that helps and leads the child to behave in a socially unacceptable manner while in the education institution, resulting in social isolation and exclusion. As an outcome of this barring, the child will not gather and learn how to function as a productive member of society when their tenancy in the education institution has ended. They won’t be able to get or keep a job which leads them into a state of homelessness due to their incapability to make money thus causing them to rely on short-term places or live in the circumstances counter to Australian societal housing norms, such as taking up residence under a bridge or in an abandoned building.
As shown, a social problem disturbs a specific society at a particular time and must be seen as a problem that troubles a significant amount of the population that needs to be fixed. These standards are encountered by homelessness in Australia in its rate of 49 per 10,000 living in a state of homelessness which is described using the culturally and historically built meaning of the word ‘home’ by Chamberlain and Mckay (1992), The government has accepted homelessness as a social problem, proven by their application of initiatives to ease the circumstance and the ABS censuses and research into it. It can furthermore be seen precisely through the functionalist’s social pathology model as being caused by dysfunctions within one or more institution and insufficient socialization.