Lectures4 5 Ch2

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Published on November 7, 2007

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What is Deviance? How is It Defined--and Why?:  What is Deviance? How is It Defined--and Why? Five, Naïve and Misleading Definitions of Deviance (any why they are naïve and misleading):  Five, Naïve and Misleading Definitions of Deviance (any why they are naïve and misleading) -People vary considerably on the criteria they use to define or characterize deviant behavior. -Often, individuals rely on one (or more) of the following five definitions of deviance that may be considered naive or misleading: The Absolutist Definition:  The Absolutist Definition This position states that the defining quality of deviance can be found in the very nature of the act/attitude/characteristic itself. In this view, deviance is intrinsic to certain phenomenon. Further, this view argues that what is deviant is not shaped by people but is determined by God (or perhaps, nature). Deviance is seen as being the same in all times and all places -Of course, many lay persons also subscribe to this definition of deviance. -From a sociological perspective, the key problem with the absolutist definition is that we know empirically that judgments of what is deviant varies from time to time, place to place, culture to culture. Because of the variability of ‘deviance’ across time and place, most sociologists favor a relativistic view of deviance. In other words, most sociologist believe it is people, not God or nature, that define what is deviant in. Psychological/Psychiatric Abnormality:  Psychological/Psychiatric Abnormality Many people assume that those who are deviant are psychologically or psychiatrically abnormal or defective. However, research indicates that most deviant individuals are unlikely to meet the criteria for mental illness or abnormality. While many persons who are mentally disordered are, in fact, considered deviant (e.g. schizophrenics, manic-depressives, psychopaths), many forms of mental disorder have become less deviant or non-deviant in recent years (e.g. depression, anxiety disorders). The Statistical Definition:  The Statistical Definition This definition argues that deviance can be defined by a phenomenon’s statistical rarity–rare events are deviant. However, this definition contradicts actual experience because many statistically rare behaviors, attitudes, or characteristics are not defined as deviant (skydiving, vegetarianism, belief in reincarnation, red hair) -Further, some events are quite common and are still considered deviant (adultery, obesity, poverty, being pimple- faced). Therefore, statistical rarity is not a good criteria for deviance. Deviance as Harm:  Deviance as Harm This definition suggests that what is “harmful” is deviant. This definition, however, fails to account for the fact that many harmful acts are not considered deviant such as boxing, eating too many unhealthy foods, and releasing toxic industrial emissions into the environment (there are often limits in terms of the amount of waste that can be released legally. In other words, many kinds of harmful waste can be legally discharged into the air, soil, and water). Further, this definition fails to account for the fact that many acts (both deviant and non-deviant) that are thought to be “harmful” are better thought of as having a “risk potential” or “harm potential.” In other words, many acts have “harm potential” but do not actually result in harm for the individual (or those around the individual). Examples include driving or riding in a car (easily has some one the highest harm potentials of any activity on this list), drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, using a drug (legal or illegal), riding a bike, mountain climbing, skateboarding, raving, going out to a bar or dance club, having either unprotected or “protected” sex, watching the television, eating at a restaurant, taking a shower, etc, etc, etc. Criminal Behavior as Deviance:  Criminal Behavior as Deviance Some would suggest that deviance is defined by the criminal nature of an act. Again, however, such a definition fails to adequately describe deviance because Many actions that are considered deviant aren’t criminal (swinging/partner swapping, getting tattooed, satanic worship) Some ‘criminal’ actions are not necessarily treated as ‘deviant’ by the general society (cheating on one’s income tax, speeding, not scraping one’s windshield, walking around with a buzz on) Summary: Five Naïve, Misleading Definitions of Deviance:  Summary: Five Naïve, Misleading Definitions of Deviance In sum the problem with these definitions of deviance is that (1) some forms of “deviance” may not conform to any of these definitions --and– (2) some attitudes, behaviors, or characteristics would seem to fit within these naïve, misleading definitions and, yet, are are not defined or treated as deviant by society in general. Two Fruitful (but flawed) Sociological Definitions of Deviance (Part 1):  Two Fruitful (but flawed) Sociological Definitions of Deviance (Part 1) [1] The Normative Definition of Deviance States that any behavior that violates a general norm is an act of deviance–even if others do not know about the deviant act. Differs from the absolutist position on deviance because the norms in question are associated with a particular place and time (normative definition IS relative). Turns on two key (and not totally correct) assumptions First, it assumes that there are clear, unambiguous norms. Second, it assumes that deviance involves a clear-cut violation of these norms. Problems with the Normative Definition of Deviance:  Problems with the Normative Definition of Deviance Norms are not always clear and unambiguous (consider the difference between the norms of different religious denominations, different generations, or different ethnic groups). Norms may contradict one another (there is a norm to be ‘nice’ to friends/family, and a norm against lying; there is a norm that says we should ‘keep to our own business’ and a norm that says we should report domestic violence; there is a norm against divorce and norms that say adultery is grounds for divorce). Problems with the Normative Definition of Deviance:  Problems with the Normative Definition of Deviance Not all violations of norms are clear-cut (is getting copies of previous exams cheating? Is downloading music from Music City (Morpheus) a copyright infringement? Is having sex with an intoxicated person rape?) There may be exceptions, contingencies, or extenuating circumstances that would change the perception of an act as being deviant (for example, is a man cross-dressing at Halloween deviant? Is being partially nude or flashing one’s tits at Mardi Gras deviant? Is a teenager deviant if his/her parent gives them a beer to drink?). Finally, the normative definition fails to distinguish between violations of norms that are trivial and go largely unnoticed (such as a woman not shaving her legs or underarms) and those that are more serious and result in negative reactions from others (such as pedophilia). Two Fruitful (but flawed) Sociological Definitions of Deviance (Part 2):  Two Fruitful (but flawed) Sociological Definitions of Deviance (Part 2) [2] The Reactive Definition of Deviance The reactive definition of deviance adopts an even more relativistic approach than does the normative definition. This definition states that the key characteristic of deviance is found in the real negative reactions of others to an attitude, behavior, or condition. In this definition of deviance, acts that violate norms but that do not result in negative reactions from others are not deviant at all. In other words, the reactive definition states that behavior, attitudes, or conditions are not deviant unless and until they are known about and have been negatively reacted to. -Most sociologists discount the reactive definition of deviance in favor of the normative definition. Problems with the reactivist definition of deviance:  Problems with the reactivist definition of deviance The reactivists position ignores secret attitudes, behaviors, or conditions that would be negatively reacted to if they were known by others. This definition fails to distinguish between those who are actually deviant–but not known about--and those who are not deviant. This definition fails to define behavior as deviant even when the person engaging in the behavior knows that s/he would be judged deviant–and treated negatively–if it were discovered. Finally, the reactivist definition denies the possibility that there is an predictability regarding what attitudes, behaviors, or conditions will be treated as deviant. The problem with the reactivist position is illustrated by Erving Goffman’s distinction between people who are already perceived as deviant and, therefore, have a “discredited identify”– and those people who have a discreditable identities because they are deviant but haven’t yet been discovered. Concealment as an aspect of (some) deviance::  Concealment as an aspect of (some) deviance: The failure of the reactive definition of deviance to acknowledge “secret deviance” may, in part, by corrected by the realization that deviant behaviors may be party defined by the individual’s own reaction to their behavior–namely, their efforts to conceal the attitude, behavior, or characteristic from others. In this sense, an attitude, behavior, or characteristic that is not known about by others could still be defined as deviance under the reactive definition to the extent that the (potentially) ‘deviant’ person him/herself reacts to their own deviance by attempting to conceal it. WHAT IS DEVIANCE: A MODEST RESOLUTION TO THE NORMATIVE / REACTIVE DILEMMA:  WHAT IS DEVIANCE: A MODEST RESOLUTION TO THE NORMATIVE / REACTIVE DILEMMA In important respects, both the normative and reactive definitions of deviance are correct. However, neither the normative or reactive position alone seems totally correct because both discount important aspects or types of deviance. Goode (2000) argues that one way out of this problem is to use a “soft” or “moderate” reactive definition of deviance which combines the strengths of both the normative and strict reactionist perspectives. According to this definition deviance is an ABC that is likely to result in negative reactions from others who observe or otherwise learn about the deviance. Situational vs. Societal Deviance:  Situational vs. Societal Deviance The moderate reactive definition calls for the need to distinguish between societal deviance and situational deviance; We may also need to distinguish a third type of deviance: individuated deviance -Societal Deviance: those attitudes, behaviors, or conditions that are widely recognized to be deviant and are likely to be negatively reacted to by many (or perhaps most) of society’s members. (e.g. Adultery, use of “crack,” “ecstasy,” “Acid,” and other substances perceived as “hard drugs.” (marijuana’s status is less and less clear), infanticide, necrophilia.) -Situational Deviance: those attitudes, behaviors, or conditions that are negatively reacted to by an “audience” in specific times, contexts, and places. Individuated Deviance. A sub-type of situational deviance in which most people in a given situation don’t define what’s going on as deviant yet, an individual or small group of individuals who are present do define what’s going on as deviant. Societal and Situational Deviance (cont):  Societal and Situational Deviance (cont) On the one hand, some attitudes, behaviors, or conditions may be instances of societal deviance but not situational deviance because those who are aware of the act don’t see the act as deviant. (homosexuality, cross-dressing, theft, use of pornography, use of drugs, having multiple sexual partners, even environmental crimes, financial fraud). On the other hand, some attitudes, behaviors, or conditions that are not societally deviant may be situationally deviant (kissing in certain contexts, not being of a specific religion, failing to be a Kentucky basketball fan, playing musical instruments in certain contexts or places, using profanity). To help answer the question of what is likely to be societally deviant and/or what is likely situationally deviant one can perform a “mental experiment” in which we imagine a how different individuals and groups of people would respond or react to a given attitude, behavior, or characteristic. The Nature and Locus of Deviance:  The Nature and Locus of Deviance Deviance occurs everywhere, in every corner of society, in every social class, among all educational levels, etc. Within any given profession or occupation or any given walk of life there are behaviors that are considered deviant. However, attitudes, behaviors, or characteristics that are likely to be characterized as societal deviance are more likely to be found in certain social locations rather than in others Historically, as well as today, persons who are more likely to be considered deviant by the society at large to be deviant are more likely to be found among certain groups of people such as the poor, the undereducated, and minorities. Deviance and Relativity:  Deviance and Relativity Definitions of deviance are largely relative–that is, they vary according to time and place. Variation cross-culturally Variation within a society at the same time (owing to subcultural definitions of deviance and the often ambiguous nature of norms) Historical variation within the same society However, variability in deviant definitions is not infinite. Some ‘deviance universals’ do appear to exist–although the particulars within such universal forms of deviance vary. Virtually every society has norms against murder–but what constitutes murder can vary considerably. Virtually every society has incest taboos–but what is defined as incest can vary considerably. Virtually every society forbids the theft of another’s property (but, again, what constitutes theft may vary). In sum, by approaching deviance from a “moderate reactivist” perspective we can be more sensitive to the variability and relativity of deviant definitions.

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