Chapter

What’s the Problem?

Kathleen M. Blee

in Democracy in the Making

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199842766
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199951161 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199842766.003.0004

Series: Oxford Studies in Culture and Politics

What’s the Problem?

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This chapter explores how activist groups create an ideological character as they define problems to work on. Although they generally start with a sense of the problem, grassroots groups often change direction as they develop collective theories about political life, social change, and themselves as political actors. This chapter traces how they deal with four common aspects of defining a problem. Two are ontological: the problem=s scope and its moral status. The others are epistemological: how to assess what they know and how they can learn more. The chapter concludes by comparing two groups that began with a similar focus on violence, one organized to combat gun violence, the other to stop police violence against African Americans. Despite their initial similarities, the groups diverged considerably over time in how they defined the problem. One became increasingly expansive, stretching to include issues of war and domestic violence. The other narrowed its vision to gun control laws only.

Keywords: ideological; identity; scope; moral status; learning; activism; violence; theorizing; guns; police violence

Chapter.  12175 words. 

Subjects: Social Movements and Social Change

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