Crime Talk: How Citizens Construct a Social Problemby Theodore Sasson
Crime in the streets has remained consistently among the most conspicuous aspects of the American political landscape. Sasson argues that the significance of our national pre-occupation with the issue depends on how it is constructed or “framed” in the mass media and in everyday conversation. Drawing on the methodology for analyzing issue frames in… See more details below
Crime in the streets has remained consistently among the most conspicuous aspects of the American political landscape. Sasson argues that the significance of our national pre-occupation with the issue depends on how it is constructed or “framed” in the mass media and in everyday conversation. Drawing on the methodology for analyzing issue frames in political discourse developed by William Gamson (who has contributed a foreword to this book), Sasson identifies the five interpretative frames that comprise the crime debate: Faulty System, Social Breakdown, Blocked Opportunities, Media Violence, and Racist System.
Tracking the performances of these frames in twenty small group discussions among black and white urbanites, and in a sample of newspaper columns, he demonstrates that the two “generally conservative” frames, Faulty System and Social Breakdown, are by far the most prominent. He explains their prominence in the group discussions through a careful analysis of the ideational resources (popular wisdom, personal experience, media discourse) used by the participants. Sasson’s empirical findings lead him to conclude that the American preoccupation with crime will generate recurrent demands for a more expansive and punitive criminal justice system and new support for conservative politicians and their causes.
Apart from its contribution to the understanding of the civic role of crime and of the politics of crime control, Crime Talk also advances a methodology for framing popular discourse, and a theoretical perspective on how ordinary citizens make sense of social problems. A study at the intersections of criminology and political sociology, it will capture the attention of a wide range of social scientists, as well as instructors in courses on social problems, the mass media and research methodology.
“Sasson has adopted a constructionist perspective as a point of departure to explore different "interpretative frames" for making sense of crime. These frames are: faulty system; social breakdown; blocked opportunities; media violence; and racist system. Some 20 crime-watch groups in the Boston area were contacted, and the author then interviewed them and monitored their discussions (which are extensively quoted) about crime… [T]his book provides a timely exploration of an important topic. Appendixes; references. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students.”
—D. O. Friedrichs, Choice
“In this modest but delightful study Theodore Sasson makes a significant contribution to our understanding of everyday discourse on crime and punishment…. Sasson is an unpretentiously shrewd and sensitive interpreter of his participants’ talk, and this is the best empirical account we yet have of everyday argumentation about crime and justice.”
—Richard Sparks, Contemporary Sociology
“Crime Talk remains an insightful exploration of the frames this culture uses to discuss crime. The book provokes further interest in the fertile field of discourse analysis.”
—Amy Binder, American Journal of Sociology
Meet the Author
Theodore Sasson is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Middlebury College. His research interests are in political science and criminology.
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