Race, social constructions, and the policy process: The case of the ADAA

Chandra L Crawford, Purdue University


The purpose of the present study was to investigate the impact of social constructions on political decision making. Ann Schneider and Helen Ingram argue that social constructions affect policy design. For instance, they assert that powerful, positively constructed groups often receive policy benefits, while powerless, negatively constructed groups tend to receive fewer policy benefits and are more likely to face punitive measures with regard to public policy. In the present study, focusing on Schneider and Ingram's theory, media rhetoric and legislative discourse were examined to determine whether social constructions played a role in the decision process of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (ADAA). Newspaper reports and legislative hearings on the ADAA yielded similar results in terms of how the "crack cocaine problem" was publicly constructed. Crack cocaine, the drug that receives the harshest penalties under the ADAA, was largely associated with a negatively constructed group, poor African Americans, in the press as well as in the legislature. These results are discussed in relation to media influence, the power of social constructions, and legislative decision making.




Boling, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political science|Criminology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|African Americans

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