Please draft a written response to either #1 or #2 or #3. Your choice.

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Question Description

This week during lecture we focused on C. Wright Mills' “The Sociological Imagination,” Blumer's "Social Problems as Collective Behavior," and Hilgartner and Bosk’s “The Rise and Fall of Social Problems.” Based on the ideas of these readings and material covered during lecture, here are three sets of questions for you to write about:


#1. Briefly explain the main points behind C. Wright Mills' argument for the sociological imagination? Identify a contemporary “public issue” that is of unique significance to you. Describe various aspects of the public issue and explain what makes this issue “public” rather than a “personal trouble.”

#2. In “Social Problems as Collective Behavior,” Herbert Blumer argues that social problems are products of a process of collective definition instead of existing independently as a set of objective social arrangements with an intrinsic makeup. Why is this distinction important? What do we gain by studying social problems as a process of collective behavior?

#3. In “The Rise and Fall of Social Problems,” Hilgartner and Bosk outline a “public arena model” for interpreting the relevance of social problems. Why do certain social problems “rise and fall” as the authors contend? Choose a public issue that is prevalent in contemporary media coverage. Use one of the model’s “principles of selection” (drama, cultural politics, novelty and saturation, or organizational features) to explain why you think this issue has persisted as a social problem.

Please draft a written response to either #1 or #2 or #3. Your choice.

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The Rise and Fall of Social Problems: A Public Arenas Model Author(s): Stephen Hilgartner and Charles L. Bosk Source: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 94, No. 1 (Jul., 1988), pp. 53-78 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2781022 Accessed: 21-01-2019 19:59 UTC JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at https://about.jstor.org/terms The University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Journal of Sociology This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms The Rise and Fail of Social Problems: A Public Arenas Model' Stephen Hilgartner Columbia University Charles L. Bosk University of Pennsylvania This paper develops a model of the process through which social problems rise and fall. Treating public attention as a scarce resource, the model emphasizes competition and selection in the media and other arenas of public discourse. Linkages among public arenas produce feedback that drives the growth of social problems. Growth is constrained by the finite "carrying capacities" of public arenas, by competition, and by the need for sustained drama. The tension between the constraints and forces for growth produces successive waves of problem definitions, as problems and those who promote them compete to enter and to remain on the public agenda. Suggestions for empirical tests of the model are specified. This paper proposes a model of the social problems process that elaborates on the symbolic interactionist model that views social problems as products of a process of collective definition. This latter view, developed most fully by Blumer (197 1) and Spector and Kitsuse (1973, 197 7), rejects the theory that social problems are objective and identifiable societal conditions that have intrinsically harmful effects. Blumer (1971, p. 300) argues, instead, that a "social problem exists primarily in terms of how it is defined and conceived in society." We agree with Blumer's contention that social problems are projections of collective sentiments rather than simple mirrors of objective conditions 1 The authors wish to thank Harold Bershady, Fred Block, Ronald Breiger, Fred Buttel, Renee C. Fox, Frank Furstenberg, Jerry Jacobs, Sheila Jasanoff, Michael Katz, Constance Nathanson, Dorothy Nelkin, Judith Reppy, Joseph W. Schneider, Barry Schwartz, Michael Schudson, Sam Preston, Sidney Tarrow, Susan Watkins, Robin Erica Wagner-Pacifici, and a small army of anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft. This paper is based on research supported in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Requests for reprints should be sent to Stephen Hilgartner, Center for the Study of Society and Medicine, Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street, New York, New York 10032. ( 1988 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 0002-9602/89/9401-0003$01.50 AJS Volume 94 Number 1 (July 1988): 53-78 53 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms American Journal of Sociology in society. After all, there are many situations in society that could be perceived as social problems but are not so defined. A theory that views social problems as mere reflections of objective conditions cannot explain why some conditions are defined as problems, commanding a great deal of societal attention, whereas others, equally harmful or dangerous, are not. Why, for instance, does the plight of the indigenous people of South America (who are suffering from the rapid destruction of their cultures, and who in some cases are being killed off in large numbers) receive less public attention than the plight of laboratory animals used in scientific research? Why are conditions and events in the Third World that affect the life chances of millions of people, both abroad and in the United States, the object of only the most cursory and superficial public attention except during "crises"? Why do toxic chemical wastes in landfills receive more public discussion than dangerous chemicals in America's workplaces? Why do so few weep for the dying rain forest? The extent of the harm in these cases cannot, in itself, explain these differences, and it is not enough to say that some of these situations become problems because they are more "important." All these issues are important-or at least capable of being seen as such. Indeed, the idea of importance and the idea of problem must both be regarded as "essentially contested" concepts (Gallie 1956; see also Connolly 1983)-ideas that are always subject to probing about the appropriateness of applying them to any particular case. Finally, it is not helpful to claim simply that some problems are more "marketable" than others because that begs the central question: Why? The interactionist perspective has stimulated much research (Schneider 1985a), and a number of authors (e.g., Blumer 1971; Spector and Kitsuse 1973, 1977; Mauss 1975; see also Downs 1972) have proposed "natural history" models that describe the stages in the career of a social problem. Using such natural history frameworks, many researchers have developed case studies that trace the progression of a social problem through a sequence of stages (e.g., its incipiency, coalescence, institutionalization, fragmentation, and demise).2 However, for several reasons, it is now time to move beyond natural history models. First, even granting that such models are intended to be highly idealized descriptions, the idea of an orderly succession of stages is still crude. Many problems exist simultaneously in several "stages" of development, and patterns of progression from one stage to the next vary sufficiently to question the claim that a typical career exists (Wiener 1981; Clignet 1981). Second, the focus on the typical career of a problem hinders analysis 2 For an extended discussion of this approach, see Woolgar and Pawluch (1985), Pfohl (1985), Schneider (1985b), and Hazelrigg (1985). 54 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms Social Problems because interactions among problems are central to the process of collective definition. For example, although it is widely recognized that social problems compete for societal attention (see, e.g., Blumer 1971, pp. 300-303), the dynamics of the competitive process have been barely explored. Instead, analysis has focused on single problems and their struggles for attention. This emphasis has contributed to an underappreciation of two critical features of the social problems process. First, social problems exist in relation to other social problems; and second, they are embedded within a complex institutionalized system of problem formulation and dissemination.3 In this paper we briefly outline a working model we believe provides a theoretical base for incorporating and then moving beyond natural his- tory models. We will suggest avenues for the systematic study of the factors and forces that direct public attention toward some and away from other objective or putative conditions. Our model stresses the "arenas" where social problem definitions evolve, examining the effect of those arenas on both the evolution of social problems and the actors who make claims about them. We define a social problem as a putative condition or situation that is labeled a problem in the arenas of public discourse and action. But instead of emphasizing the stages of a social problem's development, we focus on competi- tion: we assume that public attention is a scarce resource, allocated through competition in a system of public arenas. We present this model as an initial exploration, in the hope that these hypotheses will stimulate discussion and research. We make use of a wide range of theoretical literature. In addition to using the work of natural history theorists, such as Blumer and Spector and Kitsuse, our model draws on Edelman (1964, 1977), Moyer and Clignet (1980), and Gusfield (1981), work that emphasizes the role of drama in the social problems process. We also use the literature on in- terpretive processes in the mass media (e.g., Gans 1979; Gitlin 1980; Molotch and Lester 1974; Schudson 1978; Tuchman 1978), noting the importance of the selections made by well-positioned cultural "gatekeep- ers" in controlling the flow of messages to audiences. In addition, we borrow from organizational network theory (Knoke and Laumann 1982; Laumann, Knoke, and Kim 1985), stressing the influence of and the interrelationships between institutions and social networks in which problem definitions are framed and publicly presented. At times, we draw on resource mobilization work on social movements (e.g., McCarthy and Zald 1977; Oberschall 1973), although we recognize that the focus of this literature-on collective action, rather than on collective I Our thanks to reviewer A for suggesting this point. 55 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms American Journal of Sociology definition-distinguishes its central concern from ours.4 We press into service the political science literature on agenda setting (esp. Kingdon 1984), recognizing that its original focus (the processes that structure the agenda for government decision making in official forums) is narrower than ours (the processes that structure collective concern in public arenas). Finally, we anchor this model in an ecological framework, not to suggest deterministic relationships, but to highlight the resource con- straints that human actors face in constructing problem definitions. This long list of debts to other theories is not an artifact of a propensity for eclecticism on our parts but stems from the profound complexity of the process of collective definition. Because collective definition (1) involves coupled social-psychological, organizational, political, and cultural processes, (2) spans organizational and institutional boundaries within society, and (3) has a pervasive influence on social action at multiple levels, it needs the light of several intellectual traditions to illuminate it. To the extent that our model is complex and sometimes untidy, it mirrors our subject matter and is therefore preferable to a clean and simple conceptualization that would do great violence to the social reality it attempts to describe. In its most schematic form, our model has six main elements: 1. a dynamic process of competition among the members of a very large "population" of social problem claims;5 2. the institutional arenas that serve as "environments" where social problems compete for attention and grow; 3. the "carrying capacities" of these arenas, which limit the number of problems that can gain widespread attention at one time; 4. the "principles of selection," or institutional, political, and cultural factors that influence the probability of survival of competing problem formulations; 5. patterns of interaction among the different arenas, such as feedback and synergy, through which activities in each arena spread throughout the others; and 6. the networks of operatives who promote and attempt to control particular problems and whose channels of communication crisscross the different arenas. ' With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Snow et al. 1986), resource mobilization theorists have tended to concentrate on organizational and macromobilization processes, while paying limited attention to interpretive processes that take place in public discourse. 5 This competition among problems, of course, involves competition among social groups who promote different problems or different ways of seeing the "same" problems. In other words competition among problems' definitions at a cultural (i.e., meaningful) level reflects and is reflected in competition among groups "on the ground. " 56 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms Social Problems COMPETING DEFINITIONS As a first step to understanding the nature of the process of collective definition, it is necessary to note that there is a huge "population" of potential problems-putative situations and conditions that could be conceived of as problems. This population, however, is highly stratified. An extremely small fraction grows into social problems with "celebrity" status, the dominant topics of political and social discourse. A somewhat larger number develop into lesser social problems; small communities of professionals, activists, and interest groups work to keep these problems alive on the margins of public debate. The vast majority of these putative conditions remain outside or on the extreme edge of public consciousness. Moreover, the length of time that the members of this population re- main at any particular level of status varies greatly. Some social problems, such as the "energy crisis" of the mid-1970s, maintain a position at the center of public debate for several years, then fade into the back- ground. Others grow and decline much more rapidly. Still other problems grow, decline, and later reemerge, never vanishing completely, but re- ceiving greatly fluctuating quantities of public attention. Such fluctuations are apparent in the history of the social problems of poverty and the threat of nuclear war. The fates of potential problems are governed not only by their objective natures but by a highly selective process in which they compete with one another for public attention and societal resources. A fraction of the potential problems are publicly presented by groups or individuals who define them as problems. These groups and individuals come from many sectors of society and may have very different goals. Some, such as inter- est groups, politicians, and "social movement organizations" (Zald and Ash 1966; McCarthy and Zald 1977), may actively seek social change or reform. These activists may be members of the polity or of challenging groups, from movements or countermovements (Mottl 1980). On the other hand, the main goal of some actors who formulate social problems, such as television producers, tort lawyers, and public relations specialists, may be making money rather than pushing for or resisting social change. Thus, not all the actors who market social problems can be considered "activists." For some, social problems are just another day at the office. Accordingly, we use the more inclusive term "operatives" to designate the groups and individuals who publicly present social problems. Since there are usually many ways of defining a given situation as a problem, claims about social problems do not only call attention to con- ditions; they also frame problems in particular ways. For example, as Gusfield (1981) points out, the highway deaths associated with alcohol consumption can be seen as a problem of irresponsible drunken drivers, 57 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms American Journal of Sociology insufficient automobile crash-worthiness, a transportation system overly dependent on cars, poor highway design, excessive emphasis on drinking in adult social life, or of any combination of the above definitions. Statements about social problems thus select a specific interpretation of reality from a plurality of possibilities. Which "reality" comes to dominate public discourse has profound implications for the future of the social problem, for the interest groups involved, and for policy.6 Competition among social problems thus occurs simultaneously at two levels. First, within each substantive area, different ways of framing the situation may compete to be accepted as an authoritative version of reality. For example, in the area of road-traffic safety, claims about reckless drivers may compete with claims about unsafe vehicles (Irwin 1985). Second, a large collection of problems-from teenage pregnancy to occupational health to shortages of organ donors-compete with one another for public attention, as a complex process of selection establishes priorities about which should be regarded as important. Through these interacting processes, social problems (and the operatives who promote them) must compete both to enter and to remain on the public agenda. Their successes or failures in this competition need bear no strong relationships to the number of people affected, the extent of harm (as measured by any particular set of criteria), or to any other independent variables that purport to measure importance. If a situation becomes defined as a social problem, it does not necessarily mean that objective conditions have worsened. Similarly, if a problem disappears from public discourse, it does not necessarily imply that the situation has improved. Instead, the outcome of this process is governed by a complex organizational and cultural competition. To understand this competition, it is necessary to examine the social "arenas" in which it takes place. THE CARRYING CAPACITY OF PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS The collective definition of social problems occurs not in some vague location such as society or public opinion but in particular public arenas in which social problems are framed and grow. These arenas include the executive and legislative branches of government, the courts, made-forTV movies, the cinema, the news media (television news, magazines, newspapers, and radio), political campaign organizations, social action groups, direct mail solicitations, books dealing with social issues, the 6 In controversial areas, competing groups often struggle to impose definitions of a problem and, hence, to influence policy. For a discussion of the conflicting ways that industry and labor advocates frame the problem of occupational disease, see Hilgartner (1985). 58 This content downloaded from 68.5.141.229 on Mon, 21 Jan 2019 19:59:58 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms Social Problems research community,7 religious organizations, professional societies, and private foundations. It is in these institutions that social problems are discussed, selected, defined, framed, dramatized, packaged, and presented to the public. Though there are many differences among these arenas, they all share several important characteristics. First, each has a carrying capacity that limits the number of social problems that it can entertain at any one time. Mauss (1975, pp. 42-44) argues that, at a given time, every society has a normal quota of social problems. While it is clear that the number of situations that could potentially be interpreted as social problems is so huge as to be, for practical purposes, virtually infinite, the prime space and prime time for presenting problems publicly are quite limited. It is this discrepancy between the number of potential problems and the size of the public space for addressing them that makes competition among problems so crucial and central to the process of collective definition. Different arenas have different carrying capacities, which can be in- dexed by various measures. For newspapers and magazines, the measure is column inches; for television and radio news, minutes of air time; for made-for-TV movies or the ...
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Running head: Sociology Imagination

Sociology Imagination
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1

Sociology Imagination
Introduction
In the first chapter; the promise of his book, “The Sociological Imagination”, C. Wright Mills
confers on the impacts of change on human beings in the 20th century. Wright presents a series of
arguments aimed at justifying the essence of sociological imagination. He achieves this by
pinpointing on some the challenges that people go through due to the lack of understanding on
how history is interconnected with their lives and the relationship between them as individuals
and the society at large. This paper discusses on some of the main points behind Mill’s argument
for sociological imagination.
W. Wright Mills views sociological imagination as the capacity to look at the history, current
events and individual experiences as a whole; whose interaction when combined would have a
greater impact compared to the summation of their discrete effects. He concludes that ordinary
people often fell trapped in their personal lives due to their inability to assess their lives as a
synergistic whole comprised of the historical and present events in addition to individual
experiences.
Mills also contends that the failure for men and women to comprehend their present and history
and the relationship between the two with respect to society has stimulated a social order that
encourages the development of bureaucracies where power lies in the hands of a very small
group of people.
Mills further argues that sociological imagination helps an individual to comprehend how the
larger history contributes to their inner lives and the external careers of different individuals. The
main benefit of this imagination is the idea that it enables individuals to apprehend their
individual experiences and assess their destiny by pinpointing themselves within their periods.

2

Sociology Imagination
By doing this, individuals can discern their chances in life by also understanding other people
that are going through similar situations.
According to Mills, sociology unites the history and personal experiences by recasting private
difficulties as past difficulties and past difficulties as private difficulties. By applying this
rationale, sociology imagination seeks to answer why an individual feels trapped by asking a
series of questions including; what is happening in history that is producing this feeling? How
does this situation affect how people feel about their private lives? (Mills, 1959)
Mills further ...

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