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Look Away: How the Social Constructionist Approach to Social Problems Channels Attention Away from the Marginalized

Authors
  • Christensen, Tony1
  • 1 Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Criminology, 73 George St., Brantford, ON, N3T 2Y3, Canada , Brantford (Canada)
Type
Published Article
Journal
The American Sociologist
Publisher
Springer US
Publication Date
May 01, 2019
Volume
50
Issue
2
Pages
271–289
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s12108-019-9413-9
Source
Springer Nature
Keywords
License
Yellow

Abstract

This paper’s thesis is that the constructionist approach to social problems unintentionally directs its practitioners’ analytic attention toward “top-dog” claimsmakers while neglecting the claimsmaking of the marginalized. This neglect is the result of several common-sense assumptions about what social problems claims will look like and who they will be directed to. These assumptions include: 1) that institutional authorities are benign and trusted entities, 2) that claimsmakers have a right to freedom of expression and 3) that claims will be forwarded using words. Further, the need for constructionist analysts to be able to recognize the symbolic markers of a claim and to have access to those claims drives their attention toward claimsmakers who speak and act in ways that are familiar to them. Lastly, the paper examines how the inductive approach favored by constructionists exacerbates these issues by channeling its practitioners' attention toward activities that resemble the already existing model rather than ones that challenge it.

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