Framing the picture: racial profiling and the public discourse

Oman, Kenneth John, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Vickerman, Milton, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

Using a case study of racial profiling, this study examines the use of
cultural tools by minorities in the civil rights political process. Drawing on a content analysis of coverage in the print and broadcast media, the research examines the way the issue of racial profiling has been framed in the public discourse. Special attention is given to how the problem of racial profiling was identified, how strategies to combat it were developed, and how opposition to the practice was mobilized. Interviews with key authors, speakers, and leaders of advocacy groups explore strategic and framing processes.

Differences between the racial profiling movements and more traditional social movements are studied both empirically and theoretically. A proposed theory of hybrid social movements focuses on the distinct characteristics of such movements, including the central leadership role of membership advocacy organizations and the extensive use of litigation and “soft” protest in place of
more disruptive protest actions.

By studying the timing and impact of incidents, lawsuits, and media coverage related to the campaigns against racial profiling, the dissertation analyzes aspects of the movements such as duration (the time it took to develop awareness and response), event response (changes in coverage or framing due to key events), intensity (how extensively the issue was covered at various times), and legislative response (what laws or regulations were passed or adopted). In addition, narrative analysis examines how victims’ stories (particularly of minority elites) were used to mobilize opposition to racial profiling by neutralizing images of racial stigma and by framing the issue as a matter of injustice and victimization.

A comparative analysis of the two racial profiling campaigns (one emerging from the “war on drugs” and the other from the “war on terror”) highlights both similarities and differences in the environments in which the movements have developed, the leadership role that advocacy organizations have assumed, the tactical choices that have been made, and movement outcomes that have occurred. The study also compares the effectiveness of the two movements in combating, on a symbolic level, firmly established public policy narratives and deeply embedded cultural images.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
racial profiling, social movements, victimization
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