cover of book

The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order
by Joseph R. Gusfield
University of Chicago Press, 1980
Cloth: 978-0-226-31093-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-31094-7
Library of Congress Classification HE5620.D7G87
Dewey Decimal Classification 353.0087/83

"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

Joseph Gusfield is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. The Culture of Public Problems was awarded the Charles Horton Cooley Award for 1983 by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. Professor Gusfield's other books include Kenneth Burke: On Symbols and Society, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
    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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