Sociology: Deviance

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Deviance
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the behavior, ideas, or attributes of an individual or group that some people in society find offensive.
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Examples of deviance
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staring at a stranger in an elevator, talking to oneself in public, wearing outlandish clothes, robbing a bank, methodically shooting dozens of students on a college campus
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Structural-functionalist perspective of Deviance
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– They argue that deviance, as a class of behaviors, is not always bad for society and may actually serve as a useful purpose. – \”What are the functions of deviance?\” – affirms cultural values and norms – reaction to deviance clarifies moral boundaries and promotes social unity – deviance encourages social change
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Absolutists Definitions of Deviance
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-rests on the assumption that all human behavior can be considered either inherently good or inherently bad. -Attribute or behavior that defines person as \”deviant\” is considered essential part of his or her character -don’t see deviant people as ordinary members of society. -make judgements about deviants based on strongly held stereotypes, which consequently fall heavily on members of ethno-racial minorities in US society. -Oversimplified view can result in harsher treatment of those considered damaged by deviant trait, compared to someone considered \”respectable.\” (oversimplified view of the drug ring was hurting a guy who just wnted to cook)
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Relativist Definitions of Deviance
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– rests on the assumption that deviance is socially created by collective human judgements and ideas – Deviance is in the eye of the beholder. – Different people or groups can have dramatically different interpretations of the same event.
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Deviance Definitions
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– A key factor is who is defining (one culture’s terrorist is another culture’s freedom fighter) (this is also very important to relativists).
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Definitions of Deviance who are most likely to perservere
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– those that have the support of influential segments of the population or have widespread agreement among the members of that society.
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The Definition of Deviance that is Most Applicable to both Perspectives (and the elements)
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Behavior (how people act), ideas (how people think), or attributes (how people appear) that some people in society – not necessarily all people – find offensive, wrong, immoral, sinful, evil, strange, or disgusting. This definition has three important elements: expectation (some sort of behavioral expectation must exist), violation (some violation of normative expectations – can be real or alleged), and reaction (an individual, group, or society must react, and most likely lead to some sort of response – avoidance, criticism, warnings, punishment, treatment, etc)
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Strain Theory
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– How do people become deviant? (the structural functionalist perspective tells us that it is in society’s interest for everyone to strive for success so that the most talented people will occupy the most important positions) – Robert Merton – Deviance occurs when culturally approved goals cannot be achieved by culturally approved means – he argues that the probability of committing deviant acts increases when people experience a strain between these culturally defined success goals and access to legitimate means by which to achieve them (ex: the despair after sudden hardship can lead to anger and violence)
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Edwin Sutherland
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– symbolic interactionism – argues that individuals learn deviant patterns of behavior from the people that they associate with regularly (friends, family, peers)
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Deterrence Theory
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– symbolic interactionism – this theory assumes that people will be prevented from engaging in deviant acts if they judge the costs of such an act to outweigh its benefits – concentrated on identifiying the most effective punishment to prevent deviance. – assumes people are rational decision makers
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Labeling Theory
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– Who gets to define what is deviant? – argues that deviance is a consequence of the application of rules and sanctions to an offender. – a \”deviant\” is an individual who has been successfully labeled as such – behaviors are deviant only when society labels them as deviant – deviant labels can impede individuals’ everyday social lives by forming expectations of them in the minds of others – One benefit of having power – ability to resist label
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Outcome of Labeling
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– the process of being singled out, defined, and reacted to as deviant changes a person in the eyes of others and has important life consequences for the individual. The reaction can be rejection, suspicion, withdrawal, fear, mistrust, and hatred. – Cities around the country sometimes use humiliating labels as an alternative to incarceration (Warning: A Violent Felon Lives Here) – Potential employers often refuse to hire ex-convicts, even when the crime has nothing to do with the job requirements. – Deviant labels are so powerful that a mere accusation of dangerous activity can taint a person’s character (Andrew Speaker thought to have TB, but didn’t actually have it, and still gets death threats today)
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Conflict Theory on Deviance
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– they say that the definition of deviance is a form of social control by more powerful people over less powerful ones – States that who or what is labeled deviant depends on power of group and individuals
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Linking Power, Deviance, and Social Control
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– int he US society, the main means of controlling those who behavior don’t fit to the norms established by the powerful are criminalization and medicalization. – Labeling people either as criminals or sick people gives socially powerful people a way to marginalize (treat as insignificant) and discount certain people who chalenge the status quo.
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Criminalization
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– the process by which certain behaviors come to be defined as crimes – the official definition of an act of deviance as a crime – usually offend majority of people in a society – basically, poor people are more likely to be criminalized – that is, officially defined as crimes in the first place. – when politicians say they are going to get \”tough on crime\” they are typically referring to street crime – burglary and robbery cost the us 3.8 billion a year – the total cost of white collar crimes like corporate fraud, bribery, or embezzlement amounts to perhaps as much as 500 billion a year
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Conflict Perspective on Criminalization
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– According to the conflict perspective, most societies ensure that those offenders who are processed through the criminal justice system are members of the lowest socioeconomic class. – When wealthy/powerful individuals are tried for capital crimes, they are usually able to afford effective legal representation. Poor people in such cases are often represented by public defenders who don’t have the resources to get investigative work.
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Social Reality of Crime
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– Followers of conflict perspective point out that powerful groups often try to foster a belief that society’s rules are under attack by deviants and that official action against them is needed (so govt cracks down on crime) – through mass media, dominant groups influence the public to look at crime in ways that are favorable to them. Such coverage creates a way of seeing crime as a social reality. We accept the \”fact\” that certain people are a threat to the well-being of the entire society and therefore a threat to our own personal interests.
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Corporate crime vs. Street crime
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– US people think street crime is our worst social problem and that corporate crime is not as dangerous or costly. – Exploitative practices of corporations can actually put US people in more constant physical danger than do ordinary street crimes – Corporate and white-collar crimes also pose greater economic threats to US citizens than does street crime. – White collar crimes like corporate fraud, bribery, embezzlement, insurance fraud, and securities fraud cost about $500 billion a year. – street criminals are not likely to avoid any criminal prosecution simply by \”cooperating with the investigation\”, where as large corporations engage in such activities every day and most aren’t even prosecuted.
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Medicalization of Deviance
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– when deviance is medicalized, it becomes a behavior defined as a medical problem or illness that needs to be treated – individual problem rather than a social problem – it is one of the most powerful forces in defining deviance today because, throughout the 20th century, it gained in prestige, influence, and authority. – alcoholic is no longer a sinner but a victim – enormous public appeal – what happens, newman argues that if we focus on this individual problem too much, it removes scrutiny of societal level problems as we rely on experts to \”treat\” or \”fix\” the deviant individuals
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Individualizing Complex Social Issues
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– when inconvenient behavior is translated into an individual sickness, medical remedies become a convenient tool for enforcing conformity and upholding the values of society. – parents who want \”better children\” – well adjusted, well behaved, sociable, high performing, academically adept, etc. parents who don’t want their children to have these characteristics become suspicious
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Depoliticizing Deviance
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– the process of individualizing and medicalizing social problems robs deviant behavior of its power to send a message about malfunctioning elements in society.
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The Social Deviant (studying deviance)
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Two ways of examining deviance: A. deviance as objectively given (1. Consensus on deviance…2. Negative sanctions associated with that deviant activity…3. Punishment reaffirms group bonds) B. Deviance as subjectively problematic (1. Symbolic interactionist approach…2. Focus on process of deviance…3. Focus on social treatment of allged deviance…4. Examines variety of contrasting definitions of the social action being considered)
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The War on Drugs
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– Capitalizing on the \”drug menace\” as a personal and societal threat is a common political tactic in the US
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Redheads as Deviant Types
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– form of involuntary deviance – data based on interviews with redheads about their social lives – interviews showed that being born a redhead had negative consequences that the labeling theory suggested (character, confidence, and competence called into question) – stereotypes: flaring temper, clown, irish/scottish, men are wimpy, sun-challenged – impact of labels: self-fulfilling prophecy, conflict in labels – For redheads, their bifurcated social treatment \”makes for lowered self-esteem, a pronounced sense of being different, and a feeling of being the center of attention. As adults, however, redheads come to accept their hair color and even appreciate how it has shaped them.\”

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