Claims making entails the activities by which groups of people (such as advocacy or social movement organizations, community groups, legislators, or journalists) attempt to persuade an audience (such as Congress, other government officials, or the general public) to perceive that a condition is a social problem in need of attention. The concept of claims making originates from the social constructionist theory, which rejects the perception of social problems as objective realities. Rather, conditions, which may or may not exist, or are currently considered the normal state of affairs, are defined or redefined as social problems via social interactions between interested groups and audiences. Consequently, of analytical interest is how or why a condition is or is not constructed as a “social problem” via claims making, and what features of the claims-making activities are likely to facilitate public support of the claims makers’ cause.
Using this perspective, social scientists examine various social problems, such as child abuse and abduction, domestic violence, prostitution, and cigarette smoking. Researchers analyzing claims and claims-making activities might explore such questions as follows.
About Claims Makers
Who is making the claims, and what stake do they have in the successful construction of their issue as a social problem? How do their different statuses (such as gender, class, race/ethnicity, political affiliation, professional affiliation, and religion) influence their decision to make claims, the rhetorical features of their claims, and the likelihood that their claims will be heard and either accepted or rejected? How are their claims different or similar to other claims makers approaching the same issue? Do they adjust their claims in response to others’ reactions to their claims? What modes of communication (such as television, newspapers, Web sites) are they using to convey their claims, and how do the modes influence the claims?
What are the rhetorical features of the claims being made, and what about them are or are not compelling? What types of evidence (e.g., statistics, expert testimony, victims’ stories) are being given regarding the nature, magnitude, and reach of the social problem? What solutions are being proposed as a way of addressing the social problem? What values or interests are being reflected in the claims? Are the claims constructing “victims” and “victimizers,” and, if so, who are they? What motifs or themes (such as good/evil, right/wrong, justice/injustice, or morality/ immorality) are being conveyed in the claims? Do the claims contain broader or localized social, historical, or cultural themes (such as civil rights, value of or protection of freedom), and will these resonate with the target audience(s)? What emotions or ideologies are being appealed to in the claims (such as anger, sympathy, patriotism and freedom, or social/moral responsibility)?
- Loseke, Donileen. 2003. Thinking about Social Problems: An Introduction to Constructionist Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Loseke, Donileen and Joel Best, eds. 2003. Social Problems: Constructionist Readings. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Nichols, Lawrence. 2003. “Rethinking Constructionist Agency: Claimsmakers as Conditions, Audiences, Types and Symbols.” Studies in Symbolic Interaction 26:125—15.
- Spector, Malcolm and John I. Kitsuse. 2001. Constructing Social Problems. New ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.
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