Talking Politics

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Cambridge University Press, Aug 28, 1992 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 272 pages
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Those who analyze public opinion have long contended that the average citizen is incapable of recounting consistently even the most rudimentary facts about current politics; that the little the average person does know is taken at face value from the media reports, and that the consequence is a polity that is ill-prepared for democratic governance. Yet social movements, comprised by and large of average citizens who have become exercised about particular issues, have been a prominent feature of the American political scene throughout American history and they are experiencing a resurgence in recent years. William Gamson asks the question, how is it that so many people become active in movements if people are so generally uninterested and badly informed about issues? The conclusion he reaches in this book is a striking refutation of the common wisdom about the public's ability to reason about politics. Rather than relying on survey data, as so many studies of public opinion do, Gamson reports on his analysis of discussions among small groups of working-class people on four controversial issues: affirmative action, nuclear power, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the troubles in American industry. Excerpts from many of these discussions are transcribed in the book. Gamson analyzes how these same issues have been treated in a range of media material, from editorial opinion columns to political cartoons and network news programs, in order to determine how closely the group discussions mimic media discourse. He finds that the process of opinion formation is more complex than it has usually been depicted and that people condition media information with reflection on their own experience or that of people they know. The discussions transcribed in this book demonstrate that people are quite capable of conducting informed and well-reasoned discussions about issues and that although most people are not inclined to become actively involved in politics, the seeds of political action are present in the minds of many. With the appropriate stimulation, this latent political consciousness can be activated, which accounts for the continual creation of social movements.
  

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Contents

Political consciousness
1
Central themes
4
Collective action frames
6
The four issues
8
What follows
10
Conversations and media discourse
13
Context of the conversations
17
Participant assessments
22
Injustice as the key
111
Conclusion
114
How people negotiate meaning
115
Media popular wisdom and experience
117
Comparing resources
125
Resource strategies
128
Conclusion
134
Cultural resonances
135

Media discourse
24
Collective action frames
29
Injustice
31
Injustice in media discourse
34
Injustice in conversations
36
Troubled industry
38
Affirmative action
43
Nuclear power
51
ArabIsraeli conflict
54
Conclusion
57
Agency
59
Troubled industry
64
Affirmative action
69
Nuclear power
74
ArabIsraeli conflict
79
Conclusion
81
Identity
84
Troubled industry
87
Affirmative action
94
Nuclear power
104
ArabIsraeli conflict
106
Conclusion
107
Talk and action
110
Popular wisdom and cultural resonances
142
Troubled industry
143
Affirmative action
149
Nuclear power
151
ArabIsraeli conflict
157
Conclusion
161
Proximity and engagement
163
Issue proximity
165
Issue engagement
167
Engagement proximity and resource strategy
171
Conclusion
173
Developing political consciousness
175
Resource strategy and collective action frames
176
Media effects on public opinion
178
Unanswered questions
181
Strategic implications
182
Methodological issues
189
Cartoon set for peer group discussions
202
Working frames and codes
215
Notes
258
References
263
Index
267
Copyright

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About the author (1992)

William A. Gamson, the former President of the American Sociological Association, is also a former Guggenheim Fellow and Professor in Boston College's Sociology Department. He is the creator of SIMSOC and author of "Talking Politics, The Strategy of Social Protest, " and "Power and Discontent", among other books".

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