Focusing on Focusing Events: Event Selection, Media Coverage, and the Dynamics of Contentious Meaning-Making

Eitan Y. Alimi, Gregory M. Maney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Despite the prevalent assumption among scholars of social movements and contentious politics that transformative contentious events are also the focus of public attention and discussion, there has been little attempt to substantiate this. After making a case for why to focus on focusing events and suggesting that these events should be thought of as products of a dialogical contentious meaning-making process, we develop a coverage attribute-based method for identifying focusing events. For illustrative purposes, we apply our method to the coverage of contentious events during the “first” intifada by Israeli-Jewish, Jewish settler, and Palestinian newspapers. Findings from analyses of 11,868 news items reveal that newspapers are likely to strategically quiet contentious events that are strategically amplified by newspapers affiliated with opposing or targeted parties, and vice versa, depending on their interpretation of these events as political opportunities or threats. Analyses of variations across and within contending parties reveal the role of structure and agency in the dialogical seesaw-like dynamics of contentious meaning-making.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)757-782
Number of pages26
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
1 This article is dedicated to Gregory Maney (1967–2017), who passed away before this article saw light. The materials for this article are based on research supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation (0958743) and by the Israeli Science Foundation (1232/14). We are grateful for feedback on previous versions by Kelly Garrett, Tom Maher, Sidney Tarrow, Robin Wagner-Pacifici, and Sociological Forum reviewers. Our deepest gratitude goes to our research assistants Deema Abo El Assal, Therese Abou-Mrad, Alon Burstein, Orit Hatzav, Nidal Hayek, Eric Lopez, Hana Mahamid, Rhys Schneider, and Avri Schnell. 2 Department of Sociology and Anthropology, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mount Scopus, 91905 Jerusalem, Israel; e-mail: 3 Department of Sociology, Hofstra University, Mount Scopus, 91905 Jerusalem, Israel.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Eastern Sociological Society


  • Israel-Palestine
  • contentious politics
  • dialogical approach
  • focusing events
  • media coverage
  • social movements
  • transformative events


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