Social Problems and Moral Panic: Primary, Secondary, and Oppositional Definers in the Social Construction of Canada's Opioid Crisis in Select Corporate Print Media
This thesis seeks to explore the viability of a composite model of social problems using Canada’s current “opioid crisis” as a case study. Drawing on and modifying Joel Best’s (2017) and Herbert Blumer’s (1971) social problems models, I develop a four-stage composite model that aims to explain how primary, secondary, and oppositional definers construct competing claims over the discovery of a variously labeled opioid crisis. Relying on a materialist theoretical formulation of social constructionism and a critical assessment of the news media as both source and interlocutor for primary, secondary, and oppositional definers, I contend that in the making of the opioid crisis primary and elite secondary definers have a resource advantage in laying claims of expertise and “definitional dominance” over the construction of social problems. As an epistemological inquiry into the making of social problems, this study relies on the print news media as the locus for the articulation of competing claims in the construction of social problems. Respecting the social construction of the latest drug scare, I use the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail as my primary data sources. This study uses a range of theoretical perspectives—symbolic interactionism, labelling theory, and a Marxian perspective on conflict and inequality—to operationalize processes of representation at each stage of my composite model of social problems. Since the composite model seeks to make sense of “text and talk” in the making and experience of reality, this study employs critical discourse analysis (CDA) to analyze how primary, secondary, and oppositional definers engage in exclusionary and usurpationary closure while in the process of mobilizing and resisting discourses, narratives, and constructions of folk devils, as these relate to meanings of a perceived opioid crisis in Canada.
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