The Articulation of Public Problems within a Communicative Figuration Approach
This article proposes an analytical shift in the theorization of public problems, from the standard (institutional) constructionist view which has informed the tradition of conceptualising social problems since Spector and Kitsuse’s classic work, to a communicative constructionist view, stemming from the mediatization paradigm. The rationale behind this shift is based on the conceptualization of the relation between various types of actors as claim makers and the logic of visibility governing processes of publicization in a media ecology marked by accelerated development. If, in the new communicational landscape, claim-making activities can turn any new-media user into a potential constructor of public problems, then we need to explain how developments in media technology reconfigure the practices of claim-making. In our understanding, such reconfigurations are just a particular case of the socio-cultural processes of transformation which are the focus of the mediatization paradigm.
On the other hand, in a Foucaultian tradition, a shift from problems to problematizations is required in order to account for the processual dynamic through which certain phenomena are analysed under specific circumstances and at certain times, while others are ignored. This shift leads to an understanding of communicative figurations as a meta-theoretical framework for the construction of public problems, accounting for the interdependencies between articulations of public problems and the dynamics of the public sphere.
With this aim in view, we first identity and evaluate the theoretical directions that are symptomatic for the transition from social problems to public ones and from problems to problematizations. In the second part, we present the heuristic potential of the concept of communicative figurations for our topic and articulate some methodological implications for a research agenda.
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