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The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming . . .

William L.F. Felstiner, Richard L. Abel and Austin Sarat
Law & Society Review
Vol. 15, No. 3/4, Special Issue on Dispute Processing and Civil Litigation (1980 - 1981), pp. 631-654
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/3053505
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3053505
Page Count: 24
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The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming . . .
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Abstract

The emergence and transformation of disputes, especially before they enter formal legal institutions, is a neglected topic in the sociology of law. We provide a framework for studying the processes by which unperceived injurious experiences are-or are not-perceived (naming), do or do not become grievances (blaming) and ultimately disputes (claiming), as well as for subsequent transformations. We view each of these stages as subjective, unstable, reactive, complicated, and incomplete. We postulate that transformations between them are caused by, and have consequences for, the parties, their attributions of responsibility, the scope of conflict, the mechanism chosen, the objectives sought, the prevailing ideology, reference groups, representatives and officials, and dispute institutions. We believe the study of transformations is important. Formal litigation and even disputing within unofficial fora account for a tiny fraction of the antecedent events that could mature into disputes. Moreover, what happens at earlier stages determines both the quantity and the contents of the caseload of formal and informal legal institutions. Transformation studies spotlight the issue of conflict levels in American society and permit exploration of the question of whether these levels are too low.

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