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Definitions of Conflict and the Legitimation of Resources: The Case of Environmental Risk

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Sociological Forum, Volume 4, p.47-70 (1989)



This paper examines the social construction of conflict over environmental health and safety issues (i.e., environmental risk). Four explanations for such conflict are commonly offered in the environmental policy literature. We examine the interests served by each. We hypothesize that environmental policy professionals hold definitions of conflict consistent with the values and interests of the organizations for which they work and the professions of which they are members. These definitions enhance the legitimacy of the resources those groups possess in relative abundance. Data from a survey of risk professionals are generally consistent with these hypotheses. We conclude by generalizing beyond environmental conflict to identify ways in which disputes about the nature of a social problem or conflict are often at the same time struggles to determine the value of the resources available to social movements and their opponents.