Tasers, Accountability, and Less Lethal Force: Keying in on the Contentious Construction of Police Electroshock Weapons

Brian Wolf, Joseph De Angelis


Over the last decade, Tasers and other electroshock devices have become a nearly standard, though highly controversial, piece of police equipment for law enforcement. While a great deal of research focuses on the technical merits and health effects of this type of device, we adopt a constructionist framework and explore the manner in which different sets of actors compete to construct the “reality” of this type of technology within public media. By focusing on this issue, we seek to use the debate over Tasers to explore an underdeveloped area of social problems theory, i.e., how public problems are constructed publicly through the dynamic interaction of different sets of contentious claims-making actors. More specifically, we adopt Goffman’s concept of “keying” to examine how the opponents of the technology sought to appropriate and then re-deploy the claims made by proponents of the technology. By exploring the “keying” process, this paper will allow us to better understand the dynamic and iterative way in which the public claims offered by dominant and powerful groups are contested, appropriated and sometimes subverted, by less powerful groups.

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International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory | ISSN : 1916-2782