The Importance of Doing Nothing: Everyday Problems and Responses of Inaction

Rebecca L Sandefur

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the United States, among the most common responses to justiciable problems – non-trivial problems that raise civil legal issues – is to do nothing. The probability of taking no action varies inversely with income, with poor households least likely to take any action to attempt to resolve problems. In focus groups comprised of low- and low-moderate income residents of a Midwestern American city, respondents were asked to discuss experiences of justiciable problems involving money or housing, including problems about which they did nothing. Five rationales for inaction emerged: shame, a sense of insufficient power, fear, gratitude, and frustrated resignation. Three themes – fear, gratitude and frustrated resignation – reflected lessons from people’s past experiences with justiciable problems. These themes suggest new, richer explanations for socio-economic differences in how such problems are handled.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationTransforming Lives
Subtitle of host publicationLaw and Social Process
EditorsPascoe Pleasence, Alexy Buck, Nigel J Balmer
PublisherLegal Services Commission
ISBN (Print)9780117021464
StatePublished - 2007


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