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Democracy in the MakingHow Activist Groups Form$
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Kathleen M. Blee

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199842766

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199842766.001.0001

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What’s the Problem?

What’s the Problem?

(p.81) Chapter 4 What’s the Problem?
Democracy in the Making

Kathleen M. Blee

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores how activist groups create an ideological character as they define problems to work on. Although they generally start with a sense of the problem, grassroots groups often change direction as they develop collective theories about political life, social change, and themselves as political actors. This chapter traces how they deal with four common aspects of defining a problem. Two are ontological: the problem=s scope and its moral status. The others are epistemological: how to assess what they know and how they can learn more. The chapter concludes by comparing two groups that began with a similar focus on violence, one organized to combat gun violence, the other to stop police violence against African Americans. Despite their initial similarities, the groups diverged considerably over time in how they defined the problem. One became increasingly expansive, stretching to include issues of war and domestic violence. The other narrowed its vision to gun control laws only.

Keywords:   ideological, identity, scope, moral status, learning, activism, violence, theorizing, guns, police violence

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