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Arguments and Action in the Life of a Social Problem: A Case Study of "Overpopulation," 1946-1990

John R. Wilmoth and Patrick Ball
Social Problems
Vol. 42, No. 3 (Aug., 1995), pp. 318-343
DOI: 10.2307/3096851
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3096851
Page Count: 26
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Arguments and Action in the Life of a Social Problem: A Case Study of "Overpopulation," 1946-1990
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Abstract

In this paper, we consider the issue of world population growth using a contextual constructionist perspective. We first develop a theoretical model that allows us to distinguish between interpretive packages (which organize the arguments about the pros and cons of population growth) and proposed solutions (such as population control and family planning). We review the political and organizational history of the population control movement in the period after World War II. Based on readings culled from the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature during 1946-1990, we examine the relationship between argument claims (packages) and potential ameliorative actions (solutions). We conclude that the emergence of birth control as a politically and technologically feasible solution to overpopulation in the early 1960s helped to unify the packages of arguments favoring population control during the next two decades. We test three specific hypotheses about the role of a proposed solution on the organization of argument claims about a social problem. These hypotheses are only partially confirmed by our empirical analysis, thus underlining that the presence or absence of a feasible solution for a social problem is only one aspect, albeit a potentially important one, of its competitiveness in various public arenas. Building on our distinction between argument claims and proposed solutions, we conclude by reflecting on the relationship between science and ideology.

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