What Makes a Social Crisis?: The Societalization of Social Problems
In this book, Jeffrey Alexander develops a new sociological theory of social crisis, which he calls societalization. He argues that crises are triggered not by objective social strains but by the discourse and institutions of the civil sphere. In the steady state, reactions to strains unfold within institutional boundaries, handled by organizational elites according to sphere-specific logics. Institutional boundaries can be breached only if there is code switching. When strains become subject to the utopian aspirations of the civil sphere, there emerges widespread anguish about social justice and the future of democratic life. Once admired institutional elites come to be represented as perpetrators, and the civil sphere becomes intrusive legally and organizationally, demanding repairs in the name of civil purification. Resisting such repair, institutional elites foment backlash, and a war of the spheres ensues.