What Makes a Social Crisis?The Societalization of Social Problems
What Makes a Social Crisis?
The Societalization of Social Problems

In this book Jeffrey Alexander develops a new sociological theory of social crisis and applies it to a wide range of cases, from the church paedophilia crisis to the #MeToo movement. He argues that crises are triggered not by objective social strains but by the discourse and institutions of the civil sphere. When strains become subject to the utopian aspirations of the civil sphere, there emerges widespread anguish about social justice and the future of democratic life. Once admired institutional elites come to be represented as perpetrators and the civil sphere becomes legally and organizationally intrusive, demanding repairs in the name of civil purification. Resisting such repair, institutional elites foment backlash, and a war of the spheres ensues.  

This major new work by one of the world’s leading social theorists will be of great interest to students and scholars in sociology, politics, and the social sciences generally.

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  • November 2019
  • 180 pages
  • 145 x 221 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $64.95
  • 9781509538249
  • Paperback $22.95
  • 9781509538256
  • Open eBook $18.99
  • 9781509538263
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgements

Introduction: Societalization in Society

Chapter 1: What Is Societalization and How Does it Happen?

Chapter 2: Who Are the Agents of Societalization?

Chapter 3: Why Does Societalization NOT Happen?

Chapter 4: Church Pedophilia

Chapter 5: Financial Crisis

Chapter 6: Phone Hacking

Chapter 7: #MeToo

Conclusion: Societalization in Theory


About the Author

Jeffrey C. Alexander is the Lillian Chavenson Saden Professor of Sociology at Yale University.

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“This thrilling book starts with John Dewey’s puzzle: when and how does a problem that is troubling only a few people in a specific social sphere get transformed into a moral crisis for the whole of society? With his unique mixture of knowledge and imagination, Jeffrey Alexander formulates an elegant and complex answer to this question and, in so doing, highlights a central mechanism in the normative ordering of contemporary societies.”
Axel Honneth, Columbia University


“Few concepts better describe our age than that of ‘crisis’, from the economic meltdown of 2008 to the #MeToo movement of today. In a dazzling variety of case studies, Alexander shows that these crises suggest not collapse but vitality, not ‘danger and impurity’ but sacredness and the quest for order. Read this urgent and startling book to understand why Jeffrey Alexander is one of the world’s leading social and cultural theorists.”
Eva Illouz, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris

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