Chapter Title

Constructing Causal Stories and Moral Boundaries: Institutional Approaches to Sexual Problems

Type of Work

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Book Title

The Sexual Organization of the City

Book Editor

Edward O. Laumann, Stephen Ellingson, Jenna Mahay, Anthony Paik, Yoosik Youm


University of Chicago Press


Chicago, IL, USA

First Page


Last Page





An analysis of interpretive stories and intervention strategies used by health care and social service organizations in Chicago, Illinois, are drawn on to explore the nature, scope, and meaning of institutional regulation of sexuality. After laying some theoretical groundwork, the causal stories deployed by institutional actors in three Chicago neighborhoods are described. These stories followed the same generic model, with five distinct stories used to make sense of high-risk sexual behavior, driven in large part by social and cultural embeddedness, and justify various interventions. Attention turns to these intervention strategies and their connection to the causal stories. Some remarks are offered on how the police differed from the health care and social service actors in sufficient manner to warrant removing them as a third institutional actor from the analysis. In closing, Seidman's (1999) two moral logics are discussed. One centers on a basic good/bad duality regarding sex acts. The second logic, a "communicative sexual ethic," has opened the sexual boundaries by dismissing the good/bad duality in favor of a sexual morality based on the nature of the relationship and the interactive context. Institutional actors are seen to offer a fluid and shifting sexual boundary to clients and are caught between two competing senses of agency. The stories they generate to diagnose sexual problems do not underpin their interventions, which are, instead, informed by the institutional logic of health care or social work, inhibiting their capacity to help clients surpass the social and cultural embeddedness behind the high-risk sexual behavior and undermining their legitimacy.

Hamilton Areas of Study


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