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The Rise and Fall of Social Problems: A Public Arenas Model

Stephen Hilgartner and Charles L. Bosk
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 94, No. 1 (Jul., 1988), pp. 53-78
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2781022
Page Count: 26
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The Rise and Fall of Social Problems: A Public Arenas Model
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Abstract

This paper develops a model of the process through which social problems rise and fall. Treating public attention as a scarce resource, the model emphasizes competition and selection in the media and other arenas of public discourse. Linkages among public arenas produce feedback that drives the growth of social problems. Growth is constrained by the finite "carrying capacities" of public arenas, by competition, and by the need for sustained drama. The tension between the constraints and forces for growth produces successive waves of problem definitions, as problems and those who promote them compete to enter and to remain on the public agenda. Suggestions for empirical tests of the model are specified.

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