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ch.2, ec-p.7 – identifying the value and utility of the sociological social construction approach to social  problems for examining public opinion and concern about environmental problems…

“Among the many challenges faced by analysts of public environmental concern (Dunlap and Jones, 2002), the fact that an individual’s views vary over time makes the social constructionist view on social problems advantageous. The relevance of environmental problems to different kinds of people and social groups also varies (Freudenburg, 1991). Although explorations of environmentalism’s social bases offer cross-sectional and longitudinal snapshots, they cannot fully explore the social processes in which ecological conditions are defined as problematic. This failure includes revealing the cultural resources and social factors such as religious tenets that shape people’s perceptions of ecological conditions.”

 

 

a short and sweet closing paragraph to the section on social construction. occasionally i write stuff that quickens my pulse because it feels inspiring and reminds me why sociology gives me hope. this is one them, maybe it is for you… 

“Social constructionists adopt the interpretive approach “as a counter to survey research, which…fails to understand the meanings people attach to their lives and actions.” In contrast to quantifying individuals’ discrete attitudes, hearing individuals’ own stories facilitates study of the interaction of structure and agency in meaning construction. Agger advocates the approach because individuals’ stories “can be read to reveal both the ways in which they have been socialized to accept ‘reality’ as defined for them by dominant ideologies and institutions, and the ways in which they creatively resist and transform these definitions” (2006:??).”

 

Orphanage Photographers - Visual Sociology

Orphanage Photographers – Visual Sociology (Photo credit: Paul Chenoweth)

the broader version of the sociological social construction approach to social problems…

“Contextual constructionists counter that “the language of claims does not exist independently of the social world; it is a product of—and influence on—that world” (Best 1993:141). They argue that strict constructionism ignores the pragmatic realities of the “social problems work” that both researchers and actors perform. Contextual constructionists advocate a more ethnomethodologically sensitive approach that reflects concern for “the interpretative practices by which everyday realities are locally accomplished, managed, and sustained” (Holstein and Miller 1993:152). They recommend a broadened focus to constructionism that includes “practices that link public interpretative structures to aspects of everyday realities” (Holstein and Miller 1993:152). Miller and Fox (1999) grant strict constructionism value as a theoretical ideal, but declare it untenable in practical research and applied applications.”

 

 

brief mention of the narrow version of the sociological social construction approach to social problems…

“Analysts adopting a social construction approach to social problems in this era of the theory formed two camps, “strict” and “contextual” constructionists. Strict constructionists contended that analysts must confine themselves to focusing only on claims-making activities and their “symbol and language bound character” since “the strict constructionist never leaves language” (Ibarra and Kitsuse 1993). In this formulation, analysts were urged to remember that “it is ‘they’ (as members of the settings we are studying) and not ‘us’ (as analysts) who do the work of realizing the characteristics of the worlds in which they live” (Weinberg 2009#1).”

 

 

what’s the sociological social constructionist process for how conditions become problematic?

“Spector and Kitsuse outline the process and activities involved in defining conditions as problematic by conceptualizing it as a “heuristic, four-stage natural history model” (Schneider 1985). Stage one includes “collective attempts to remedy a condition that some group perceives and judges offensive and undesirable…Initial social problems activities consist of attempts to transform private troubles into public issues” (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:148). Stage two occurs when “governmental agencies or other official and influential institutions” acknowledge these claims (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:154). Whether stage three comes next is contingent on first, official agencies or institutions accepting these claims and then responding, and secondly, this response becoming seen itself as problematic. If this occurs, stage four commences when advocates (claimants, claimsmakers) of problematic conditions declare “that it is no longer possible to ‘work within the system’…” and they set out to craft alternative institutions (Spector and Kitsuse 1973:156).”

the emergence of the social construction perspective on problematic conditions…

“Following Blumer, Spector and Kitsuse initiated a more systematic approach for examining interpretations of social reality with the provocative claim, ”there is no adequate definition of social problems within sociology, and there is not and never has been a sociology of social problems” (1977:??). Their treatise expounded on the pithier, but limited, notion that problematic conditions arise in society when “a significant number of people or a number of significant people” see them as such (Julian 1973:9). Kitsuse and Spector aimed to explain this phenomenon by focusing on both the social process and people’s actions in their everyday lives (Kitsuse and Spector 1973; Spector and Kitsuse 1973). They proposed that “social problems be conceived and defined as an activity by which groups identify ‘problems’ which they claim to be harmful, undesirable, unjust and in need of corrective attention. By this definition, every condition claimed to be a problem by whatever group on whatever grounds qualifies as subject matter for the study of social problems. In this view of meaning construction, a social problem is not seen as an ‘objective condition but rather as the process of interaction between claimants that is organized by what they claim to be ‘a problem’” (Spector and Kitsuse 1977).”

The Society for the Study of Social Problems

The Society for the Study of Social Problems (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

first major section of chapter two…

Social Construction. “Social constructionism is a theoretical approach focusing on social influences on the meanings people impose in their everyday lives. A social constructionist approach emphasizes the dynamic, iterative processes by which individuals perceive, define, and then subsequently act toward their reality. But the approach itself is used with varying meanings (Hacking 1999). Some analysts emphasize human agency in examining people’s construction of meanings about the world. Other analysts emphasize social structure, studying the restraints of social institutions, and cultural processes.”

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