Crime in the streets has remained consistently among the most conspicuous aspects of the American political landscape. Sasson argues that the significance of our national pre-occupation with the issue depends on how it is constructed or "framed" in the mass media and in everyday conversation. Drawing on the methodology for analyzing issue frames in political discourse developed by William Gamson (who has contributed a foreword to this book), Sasson identifies the five interpretative frames that comprise the crime debate: Faulty System, Social Breakdown, Blocked Opportunities, Media Violence, and Racist System.
Tracking the performances of these frames in twenty small group discussions among black and white urbanites, and in a sample of newspaper columns, he demonstrates that the two "generally conservative" frames, Faulty System and Social Breakdown, are by far the most prominent. He explains their prominence in the group discussions through a careful analysis of the ideational resources (popular wisdom, personal experience, media discourse) used by the participants. Sasson's empirical findings lead him to conclude that the American preoccupation with crime will generate recurrent demands for a more expansive and punitive criminal justice system and new support for conservative politicians and their causes.
Apart from its contribution to the understanding of the civic role of crime and of the politics of crime control, Crime Talk also advances a methodology for framing popular discourse, and a theoretical perspective on how ordinary citizens make sense of social problems. A study at the intersections of criminology and political sociology, it will capture the attention of a wide range of social scientists, as well as instructors in courses on social problems, the mass media and research methodology.