Role of Deviance in Societies
Deviance is behavior that is regarded as outside the bounds of a group or society (Deviance pp). Deviance is a behavior that some people in society find offensive and which excites, or would excite if discovered, and is usually met with disapproval, punishment, condemnation, or hostility (Deviance pp).
Deviance is not merely behavior, but involves a moral judgement (Deviance pp). Moreover, in essence, any act can be defined as deviant (Deviance pp). It is not possible to isolate certain acts and find them universally condemned by all societies as deviant acts, not even murder or incest, and even within a given society, behavior defined as deviant continually undergoes redefinition (Deviance pp). Furthermore, it is relative to time and place, thus, it is not possible to find a behavior that is absolutely condemned by all societies, because what is deviant in one society may not be in another, and even within one society, what is deviant today may not be considered deviant next year (Deviance pp). For example, in past centuries, people used to be burned at the stake for engaging in behavior that most people today regard as normal (Deviance pp).
Although murder is generally condemned by society, there are instances, such as self-defense and warfare, when it is accepted and expected (Deviance pp). Nelson Mandela was viewed by the ruling party in South Africa as a “dangerous political deviant,” however, most of the world revered him as a leader of the freedom movement (Deviance pp). Pancho Villa was regarded by the wealthy and powerful as a deviant, yet, to the poor, bandits are often seen as rebels who reject the normal roles that poor people are expected play (Deviance pp). People such as Pancho Villa are able to display courage, cunning, and determination through their bandit activities (Deviance pp).
Moreover, for the most part, definitions of mental disorders occur the same way that other forms of deviance receive their definitions (Deviance pp).
Often the definition is vague and varies “depending on the culture, audience, and context,” thus, behavior alone does not necessarily define a mental disorder (Deviance pp).
Class distinction is also involved in labeling deviance (Deviance pp). For example, a poor woman who steals a roast from the grocery story is called a common criminal, while a wealthy woman who steals a roast is regarded as a kleptomaniac, thus, her deviant status defines a form of mental illness (Deviance pp). Moreover, a woman who is sexually promiscuous is likely to be labeled as a nymphomaniac or whore, while a man who is sexually promiscuous is usually regarded as a macho stud or swinger (Deviance pp).
Then there is the distinction between what is considered professional behavior and what is considered domestic behavior (Deviance pp). For example, a man is punctual and obedient during the week while at the office, however, he raises hell on Saturday afternoon while watching football games (Deviance pp). Although appearing contradictory, both behaviors are normal in their respective contexts, however, if a man took his Saturday’s behavior to the office, he would be labeled as strange and most likely be fired, while on the other hand, if he behaved in a passive manner at a football game, he would be considered a social drag and most likely his friends would not want to watch football with him anymore (Deviance pp).
Culture plays an important role in determining what is deviant behavior and what is not (Deviance pp). For example, in Western culture, abstinence for two years after marriage would not only be considered strange, but would be legal grounds for annulment, while in the Dani Tribe of New Guinea, it is considered normal and any sexual activity before two years is viewed as sexual deviance (Deviance pp).
The Western view of deviance has been strongly influenced by the religious explanations (Deviance pp). From roughly the 4th century to the 1700’s, the most dominant explanations of deviance invoked visions of evil spirits, and the deviant was seen as morally deprived and usually possessed by the devil (Deviance pp). Thus, “alcoholism is seen as a weakness, mental illness is seen as irresponsibility, criminal and deviant acts result from giving in to our evil nature, sexual deviance is seen as moral depravity, and rebellion is seen as immaturity” (Deviance pp). In other words, the cause of deviance lies within the individual (Deviance pp). Solutions used to correct demonic possession seem bazaar today, such as drilling holes in the head to let out evil spirits, and exorcisms (Deviance pp).
During the second half of the 19th century, the positivist school argued that deviant behavior was beyond an individual’s control and were explained by biological abnormalities (Deviance pp). Cesare Lombroso, a well-known positivist, believed that criminals were actually throwbacks to some sort of pre-human, and claimed that prisoners had “low foreheads and smaller than normal human cranial capacities,” and that deviant behavior could be predicted based on skull and body types (Deviance pp).
A new type of socio-biological theory attempts to apply positivist philosophy to street crime, arguing that stamina is required to be a criminal, thus, people with the most stamina will be more likely to commit crimes (Deviance pp).
Other biological theories look for links between higher rates of aggression in men to levels of testosterone or chromosomal abnormality, however, such research has produced no consistent findings (Deviance pp). Functionalist theories focus on the preservation of social order, and argues that deviance actually helps maintain social cohesion and the collective conscious (Deviance pp).
Emile Durkheim emphasized the importance of deviance in society as a tool for boundary maintenance (Deviance pp). For example, “the media who reports on deviance and the accompanying punishment, serve to educate the public by restating society’s rules, and punishing violators reaffirms the rightness of society and those rules (Deviance pp). Moreover, deviance is an important element of social change because it offers alternative definitions to what is acceptable, and often the alternative becomes the dominant view (Deviance pp).
Durkheim noted, for example, that the death of Socrates paved the way for intellectual freedom (Deviance pp). The majority of the civil and human rights legislation, as well as public sentiment, has been influence by those whose actions were originally judged to be in violation of the law or accepted moral convention (Deviance pp). Regarding civil rights, it was deviant behavior that drew attention to inadequacies in the existing system of race relations (Deviance pp). In other words, today’s crime could be tomorrow’s accepted behavior (Deviance pp).
Frederick Thrasher found that there were a greater number of gangs in transitional neighborhoods than in more stable neighborhoods, and noted that the gang is a social creation, a way for people to organize themselves in order to cope with disorganized environments (Deviance pp). A gang offers a substitute for what society has failed to give, and provides relief from suppression and unsatisfactory living conditions, thus, the gang fills a gap and offers an escape at the same time (Deviance pp). Research found that ghetto neighborhoods actually demonstrate a lot of organization, however, it is simply different from that found in middle-class neighborhoods (Deviance pp). One study of active gang members found that ties to family and children were common, and income was generated though gang activities as well as legitimate employment (Dietz pp). Another study analyzed the interactional dynamics of gang member and conventional residents and found benefits such as security in the production of social capital (Dietz pp). Gang members may generate goodwill among residents by sponsoring neighborhood block parties and other local gatherings, and also may provide security at public events (Dietz pp).
The distinction between primary and secondary deviance is important in the development of social policies that reduce the chances of primary deviance inducing secondary deviance (Long pp). Primary deviance is behavior in which an individual commits a deviant act but does not adopt a primary self-identity as a deviant (Long pp). Primary deviance is correlated with social, cultural, structural and psychological conditions, and is usually short-term and/or ceases with adult status (Long pp). Secondary deviance is behavior in which an individual recognizes the behavior yet remains committed to continue, and results in the adoption of a deviant self-identity that confirms and stabilizes the deviant life style (Long pp). Secondary deviance is long-term and does not cease with adult status, and includes chronic deviant behavior by individuals who come to identify themselves as deviants (Long pp).
LeAnne Campbell writes in her 2003 article, “As Strong as the Weakest Link: Urban High School Dropout,” that “at risk” prevention programs are based on research that predicts and describes dropout and poor academic achievement (Campbell pp). According to one study, researchers delineate the contours of the dropout issue by documenting and predicting who is likely to drop out (Campbell pp). The list included general deviance, such as deviant behavior and sexual involvement, deviant affiliation, such as bonding to antisocial peers, structural strains, such as gender, ethnicity and low socio-economic status, poor family socialization, such as low parental educational expectations and parents’ lack of education, and school socialization, such as low school bonding (Campbell pp). This list provide practitioners a basis with which to create prevention and counseling programs for individuals who are at risk for dropping out of school (Campbell pp). To participate in a prevention program, one has to meet at least two of the markers, “i.e., a black male receiving free and reduced lunch and has a history of school detentions, just as, a black female, who has parents that dropped out of school and who has been sexually active since twelve years of age” (Campbell pp). Campbell says that by using this framework it becomes obvious that an “at risk” program uses the values and assumptions of those in positions of power and authority (Campbell pp). The outcome of this endeavor is to assimilate the victim of the inequality into the dominant world-view while at the same time assuming that the understanding of the problem, the expectations and assumptions of the “expected” dropout, and the social, economic and political structures that created the disparity are equitable, just and fair (Campbell pp). However, in the end, the problem persists and the community continues to be excluded, while the people that created the problem are maintained and legitimated (Campbell pp). One researcher says that “this is a form of deficit thinking, creating a scapegoat for the problem rather than providing a real and substantive solution” (Campbell pp).
There is support in the research literature for a strong significant effect of the association with deviant peers on subsequent deviant behavior independent of previous deviant behavior (Kaplan pp). One 1989 study on the causes of dropout behavior, asserted that it is “well documented that dropouts as well as delinquents associate with friends with like behavior” (Kaplan pp).
A description of the mechanisms by which association with deviant peers may facilitate future deviant behavior has included providing adolescents with justifications for their deviance, decreasing their association with representatives of the normative structure — who could under normal circumstances provide informal sanctions against their deviant acts — and providing them with alternative sources of emotional support that continue even when they break the rules, or because they break the rules (Kaplan pp).
Thus, it is hypothesized that students who associate with other students who have adopted contra-normative attitudes and behaviors are more likely to adopt behaviors that will lead to their dropping out of school (Kaplan pp).
Joan McCord writes in the “Journal of Studies on Alcohol” that there are several explanations for a possible association between school dropout and underachievement and the development of alcohol use disorders (McCord pp).
According to McCord, the association may be due to a general tendency towards problem behavior and deviance, however, abnormal drinking behavior may also be a method for coping with poor feelings and the alienation associated with failure (McCord pp).
Most research on offending emphasizes humiliation, incarceration, stigma, loss of income, freedom, and respect (McCarthy pp). Modern society typically rejects violence, however, many people, such as victims and vigilantes, will assault offenders (McCarthy pp). The decline in Western society’s use of direct physical pain to punish lawbreakers has not eliminated crime’s potential for harm, nor all potential offenders’ fear of it (McCarthy pp). People’s apprehensions may focus more on the danger of others who respond to crimes with severe, even fatal, retaliatory violence (McCarthy pp). “Youth who fear and youth who are fearless in the face of crime’s potential harm both appear to use these perceptions in making decisions about offending’ (McCarthy pp).
A recent study involving deviant and non-deviant participates, revealed that there were no differences in the percentages reporting educational goals, successes, or stresses, however, deviant participants reported a higher rate of bad grades and negative school experiences over the previous three years than did non-deviant participants (Wadsworth pp). The study suggests that the quality of current or recent school experiences is a major factor regarding good verses poor outcomes in the transition to adulthood (Wadsworth pp).
Deviance is normal because it exists in all societies and logically will continue to exist, and according to the logic of functional theory, if it exists, it must be functional, produce some positive consequence for the whole society (Transition pp). Just think, without Hitler, there would be no European social democracy, no state of Israel, no jet engine, no penicillin, no NATO, no microwave oven, no atomic attrition, and most importantly, no precedent against which to measure future aspiration (Boyden pp). In other words, society, ideas and all creative thought would have stagnated long ago without the constant agitation of difference and divergence (Boyden pp).
Boyden, Matthew; Green, Amy. “Positive Deviance.”
Campbell, LeAnne. “As strong as the weakest link: urban high school dropout.”
High School Journal. 12/1/2003.
Dietz, Robert D. “The paradox of social organization: networks, collective efficacy, and violent crime in urban neighborhoods.” Social Forces.
Kaplan, Howard B. “Decomposing the Academic Failure-Dropout Relationship: A
Longitudinal Analysis.” The Journal of Educational Research. 7/1/1997.
Long, Russ. “Deviance.” April 18, 2004.
McCarthy, Bill; Hagan, John. “Danger and the decision to offend.” Social Forces.
McCord, Joan. “The association of educational achievement and school dropout with risk of alcoholism: a twenty-five-year prospective study of inner-city children.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 5/1/1998.
“Transition to Functional Theories of Deviance.”
Wadsworth, Martha. “Life History Reports of Young Adults Previously Referred
for Mental Health Services.” Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. 12/22/2000.
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