The category of “social problem” is one of the most popular in sociology. Many social phenomena, such as inequality and discrimination, poverty and drug addiction, corruption and unemployment are traditionally referred as social problems. Meanwhile, there are some difficulties both with conceptualization of the category of “social problem” and with the status of social problems studies in contemporary science. The article presents a brief overview of the institutionalization of sociology of social problems (drawing on Russian and American experience the author identifies three main stages), discusses its modern status, analyzes main challenges and suggests some prospects for the development of the sociology of social problems. As a major obstacle for development of sociology of social problems as a separate branch of sociology, the author identifies the confusion of social and sociological problems (due to the heritage of Soviet sociology), non-reflective usage of everyday interpretations of social problems in academic discourse, as well as the lack of original contemporary theory of social problems reflecting urgent transformations of sociality. Considerable attention is paid to the separation of the fields of applied sociology and professional sociology in the interpretation and the study of social problems, as well as the division between active participant and neutral researcher roles in the processes of social change. Based on this analysis, the author identified possible new forms of institutionalization of modern sociology of social problems. In addition to claims of existing as a separate and independent sociological sub-discipline, modern sociology of social problems develops primarily in the direction of interdisciplinary researches. On the one hand, we can speak about the formation of an original research field - “social problems studies”. On the other hand, M. Burawoy’s public sociology acts as a new form of sociology of social problems. The main idea of the article is that social problems can be a specific research domain.

Keywords: social problems, institutionalization, theory of social problems, social inequality