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The Black Bear Hunt in New Jersey: A Constructionist Analysis of an Intractable Conflict

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The black bear hunt in New Jersey represents a symbolic clash of understandings about how human beings should live with nonhuman animals who typify intractable conflicts involving potentially dangerous mammals. Manifest and latent content analysis of newspaper editorial materials—written over a 10-year period, ending in 2005—document 2 findings. First, hunt supporters and opponents promote specific constructions of bears, hunters, and other actors in their letters and editorials. Second, these constructions are not only different but contradictory. Opponents and supporters portray bears as either menacing threats or benevolent and peaceful animals. The two groups see hunters as either bloodthirsty killers or defenders of wildlife. Contradictory constructions serve to de-legitimate other constructions and other actors. This finding highlights how public discourse has fed intractability over the conflict rather than provided common grounds for consensus about how New Jersey's residents should interact with their ursine neighbors.

Affiliations: 1: Sociology Department, McGuinn Hall 426, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Avenue, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3807; 2: Associate Professor of Sociology Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The College of New Jersey, Ewing, NJ 08628


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