Sociological Forum

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 347–369 | Cite as

The Emergence of Worthy Targets: Official Frames and Deviance Narratives Within the FBI

  • David Cunningham
  • Barb Browning


How do agencies of social control construct understandings of their targets, and how do these constructions shape subsequent outcomes? In the case of the FBI's counterintelligence programs (COINTELPROs), agents in the field avoided organizational sanctions by using personal characteristics of targets to justify counterintelligence action, particularly in the absence of disruptive political activities by otherwise “worthy” targets. Specifically, agents drew upon predictable deviance narratives to validate official frames produced at the top of the FBI hierarchy, thereby structuring the allocation of counterintelligence action against purported security threats. Our findings point to the importance of considering such intra-organizational negotiations to understand the mechanisms through which interpretive schema connect to the outcomes of contentious political interactions.

deviance organization official frames social movements 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Cunningham
    • 1
  • Barb Browning
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyBrandeis UniversityWalthamUSA

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