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LUMPING IT AND AVOIDANCE

Lumping it refers simply to inaction, to not making a claim or a complaint. Marc Galanter (1974:124-125) once wrote, “This is done all the time by ‘claimants’ who lack information or access or who knowingly decide gain is too low, cost too high (including psychic cost of litigating where such activity is repugnant).” In “lumping it,” the issue or the difficulty that gave rise to the disagreement is simply ignored, and the relationship with the offending party continues. For example, a college professor may not want to press a particular claim (say, for a higher salary) against the administration and continues to work for the university. Carol J. Greenhouse (1989) described a different form of lumping it in her study of Baptists in a southern town. Greenhouse found that the Baptists she studied considered disputing a profoundly unchristian act because the Bible states that Jesus is the judge of all people. The implication was that to partake in a dispute is to stand as judge over another person, representing lack of faith and a preemption of Jesus’s power. For these reasons, her subjects tended to shy away from disputes.

Avoidance refers to limiting the relationship with other disputants sufficiently so that the dispute no longer remains salient (Felstiner, 1974:70). Albert O. Hirschman (1970) called this kind of behavior “exit,” which entails withdrawing from a situation or terminating or curtailing a relationship. For example, a consumer may go to a different store rather than complain about a rude employee or high prices. Avoidance entails a limitation or a break in the relationship between disputants, whereas “lumping it” refers to the lack of resolution of a conflict, grievance, or dispute for the reason that one of the parties prefers to ignore the issue in dispute. Decisions to practice lumping behavior or avoidance arise from feelings of relative powerlessness or from concern over the possible social, economic, or psychological costs involved in seeking a solution. Avoidance is not always an alternative, especially in situations when the relationship must continue—for example, with certain companies that have monopolies, such as gas or electric companies, or with the Social Security Administration or the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

In sum, avoidance involves the reduction of social interaction or its termination, whereas lumping behavior entails the ignoring of the issue in dispute while continuing the relationship. Either method allows the dispute to continue, with the aggrieved party not achieving any reduction in the grievance itself.

 
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