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The Culture of Public Problems

Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order

"Everyone knows ’drunk driving’ is a ’serious’ offense. And yet, everyone knows lots of ’drunk drivers’ who don’t get involved in accidents, don’t get caught by the police, and manage to compensate adequately for their ’drunken disability.’ Everyone also knows of ’drunk drivers’ who have been arrested and gotten off easy. Gusfield’s book dissects the conventional wisdom about ’drinking-driving’ and examines the paradox of a ’serious’ offense that is usually treated lightly by the judiciary and rarely carries social stigma."—Mac Marshall, Social Science and Medicine

"A sophisticated and thoughtful critic. . . . Gusfield argues that the ’myth of the killer drunk’ is a creation of the ’public culture of law.’ . . . Through its dramatic development and condemnation of the anti-social character of the drinking-driver, the public law strengthens the illusion of moral consensus in American society and celebrates the virtues of a sober and orderly world."—James D. Orcutt, Sociology and Social Research

"Joseph Gusfield denies neither the role of alcohol in highway accidents nor the need to do something about it. His point is that the research we conduct on drinking-driving and the laws we make to inhibit it tells us more about our moral order than about the effects of drinking-driving itself. Many will object to this conclusion, but none can ignore it. Indeed, the book will put many scientific and legal experts on the defensive as they face Gusfield’s massive erudition, pointed analysis and criticism, and powerful argumentation. In The Culture of Public Problems, Gusfield presents the experts, and us, with a masterpiece of sociological reasoning."—Barry Schwartz, American Journal of Sociology

This book is truly an outstanding achievement. . . . It is sociology of science, sociology of law, sociology of deviance, and sociology of knowledge. Sociologists generally should find the book of great theoretical interest, and it should stimulate personal reflection on their assumptions about science and the kind of consciousness it creates. They will also find that the book is a delight to read."—William B. Bankston, Social Forces

278 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1980

Rhetoric and Communication

Sociology: Theory and Sociology of Knowledge

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: The Culture of Public Problems
The Construction of Social Problems: How Phenomena Become Real
The Public Character of Social Problems
The Structure of Public Problems
The Ownership of Public Problems
Responsibility: Causal and Political
The Cultural Perspective toward Public Actions
The Illusions of Authority
The Artful Realm of the Public
Part One - Rhetoric and Science: Creating Cognitive Order
2. The Organization of Public Consciousness
Conceptual Framework: The Structure of Accident Consciousness
The Organization of Knowledge
Multiple Frameworks and Alternative Consciousness
Accident, Risk, and Certainty
3. The Fiction and Drama of Public Reality
Creating the Drinking Driver
Fiction as the Shape of Fact
Ten Million Alcoholics: The Social History of a Dramatic Fact
The "State of the Art" in Drinking-Driving Research
The Isometric Fiction: Blood-Alcohol Levels
The Universalistic Fiction: Collecting Data
The Fiction of Association: Alcohol Involvement
Knowledge and Authority: The Ring of Conviction
The Dramatic Significance of Fact
The Moral Drama of the Drinking-Driver
4. The Literary Art of Science: Comedy and Pathos In Drinking-Driver Research
Act I. Scientific Style: The Rhetoric of Method
Act II. Literary Act: The Rhetoric of Substance
Act III: The Rhetoric of Social Hierarchies
Part Two - The Ritual of Law: Creating a Moral Order
5. Law as Public Culture
The Criminal Metaphor and the Ambiguity of Traffic Law
The Utilitarian Metaphor in American Law
Traffic Offenses and DUIA: Ordinary Violations and Crimes
Law, Alcohol, and Traffic Policy
The Ambiguity of Drinking-Driving: Fault without Censure
The Legal Style as Public Culture
6. The Legal Myth of Social Order
Alcohol, Control, and Release in American Life
The Myth of the "Killer-Drunk"
The Theory of Accidents and the Drama of Drinking-Driving
The Symbolism of Order and Disorder
Law as Negotiated Social Order
The Two Levels of Social Order
7. The Drama of Public Action
The Cultural Drama of Drinking and Driving
The Public Drama
The Cultural Autonomy of Legal Acts
Watergate: An Example of Public Drama
8. The Perspective of Sociological Irony
The Ironic Stance
Sociological Irony: Utopian and Olympian Science and Politics

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