Sunday, December 24, 2006

Lecture 1: Definitions of Deviance

Lecture 1: Definitions of Deviance
Deviant Survival Guide
Copyright 2006 by drewkitty

Lawyers and political scientists have long distinguished between acts which are illegal because they are inherently evil (mala in se) and those acts which are criminalized because they are contrary to society's views (mala prohibido). For example, murder is considered evil in itself, where prostitution (to pick one of many examples) is unlawful for moral and social control reasons, including the prevention of other crimes. Social scientists have extended this concept to include DEVIANCE.

While the term "deviant" is used as a pejorative or insulting term, DEVIANCE in social science is a descriptive term for an exact sociological phenomena. Certain persons, actions or behaviors are defined by the larger, mainstream society as being deviant; and the mainstream society reacts by marginalizing, separating and even punishing the deviants.

The concept of "labelling theory" has been brought forward to suggest how deviants come to self-identify as deviant. If a person is given a negative label, not only do other people start to react to them accordingly, but the person modifies their own behavior to either conform to (the natural reaction) or rebel against the stereotype. Either way, their behavior is being modified by the societal stereotype. It is not necessary that the person actually fit the label: “the mere act of being labeled is sufficient to force the person either into or away from the label's mold."

There are quite a few deviant groups out there. Punks, stoners, furries, geeks, nerds, sci-fi fans. And deviant groups within deviant groups: skinheads, tweakers, plushyphiles, "Trekkies," dweebs, etc. It seems to be an inescapable part of human nature for any group to sort itself into the "in group" and the "out group," and the former to wield its power and influence accordingly.

In order to avoid being labeled as deviant, many people with unusual interests, hobbies, fetishes or other outside-the-mainstream pursuits choose to conceal their abnormal behavior in the workplace, in family life, or in other settings.

The most dramatic -- and radical -- change in deviance has occurred with the spectacular rise of the gay movement. Consider that in a mere forty years, the state of being sexually attracted to the same gender has transited from a rigidly enforced criminal act ("gay bars" were routinely raided and all parties present arrested), to socially disapproved and unlawful but not enforced, to decriminalized but ostracised, to marginally acceptable, to legally protected in some areas and celebrated in others, to grudgingly accepted by the mainstream American society.

This has given other deviant groups high hopes of having their own particular issue or interest legitimized in the mainstream. Size awareness groups have been trying for some years to prompt societal recognition of discrimination based on weight -- but fat people are still the safest target for a humorist's jokes.

The rise of the Internet as a means of anonymous interpersonal communication has made it exponentially more easy for deviant groups to interact with each other, commingle, and form new and strange sub-groups of many types and sorts.

These two major sea changes -- the rise to prominence of a formerly criminalized deviant group, and the potential for networking created by the Internet -- have set the stage for a veritable explosion in not only deviant groups themselves, but the types and nature of the deviance portrayed. Thus we have:

-- literal "vampires" who drink human blood in groups

-- groups who are trying to lower the age of consent and legalize pedophilia

-- odd sexual perversions that nearly defy description, many which strike mundanes as bizarre and not sexually arousing ("pony play," "wrapping," "vore")

One common argument used by opponents of deviant groups is the "slippery slope" argument. This is the belief that if one behavior is tolerated or decriminalized, a similar behavior will become more "thinkable" or likely to actually occur. As an example, one of the arguments against recognizing gay rights was that it would make it more likely that children would be sexually abused if gay fathers adopted sons.

The slippery slope argument actually recognizes a valid sociological point, that there is in fact a range of tolerance of deviant behaviors.

Indifference -- "I don't care what they do, as long as they do it to someone else."

Distaste -- "That's disgusting, but if that's their thing, just keep it off of me."

Mild Disapproval -- "I think it's disgusting, but none of my business, as long as I don't have to actually talk to one of them."

Strong Disapproval :“ "That's not right. I'd tell them what I think of disgusting people like that."

Criminalization :“ "That ought to be illegal. There should be a law."

Some criminal behaviors actually are socially tolerated. In the hockey rink, we tolerate behavior that would result in immediate arrest for assault with a deadly weapon off the ice. Frat boys who are partying down might be cited for a noise violation, where gang members are searched and warrant checked for wearing the wrong colors, then ending up in jail for the same behaviors as the frat boys.

However, some deviant behaviors which are lawful can carry very negative consequences.

Crossdressing from male to female is an excellent example. Outside of certain very limited social contexts (Halloween, the stage), a crossdresser in public who is detected can expect not just nasty comments, but possibly a beating or even sexual assault.

Also, interpersonal conflict between members of deviant groups may have a very different dynamic than those in mainstream society. One or both parties may fear being "outed" at work or home; the police may be disinterested or even tolerant of violence "among those freaks"; or the need for cohesion to defend against external threats may be so high that mortal enemies who share the same deviant mode are willing to cooperate

Regardless of the specific deviant acts involved, society's reaction to deviance has a number of interesting similarities.

Detection: a deviant must first be detected. Some forms of deviance are ignored as
long as they are not noticed. Others are actively sought out for punishment.

Deterrence: when a deviant is recognized as such, the first goal is to discourage or deter the deviant either from their behavior, or from the public exhibition of their behavior.

Sanctions: once deterrence has failed, various sanctions may follow. This may involve friends and family, school, employment :“ or even involvement in the criminal justice system.

Deviance is defined by society. This concept is essential to the understanding of deviance:
"DEVIANCE is the product of society's (over)reaction to a behavior or characteristic :“ DEVIANCE is NOT the product of that behavior or characteristic on its own."

So the negative consequences of being labeled a deviant do not arise from being gay, or having purple hair, or reading unusual materials in the school library, or hanging out in groups and wearing odd silver uniforms. The negative consequences arise when other members of society see your purple hair, silver uniform, or same-sex flirtation and react according to their own beliefs and prejudices.

Deviance is separate and distinct from insanity. A deviant is recognized as having a (abnormal) goal that they pursue in ways that reasonably might lead to their goal. A pervert that looks up women's skirts might carry a video camera and a mirror and go wander in public libraries. An insane person might carry a banana and a pumpkin and go around looking for books to smash them between -- but this is clearly regarded as insane as opposed to deviant. The former will be arrested. The latter might be ignored, or shunned, or taken into civil custody as a danger to themselves or others. A crazy person's behavior lacks sufficient internal consistency, or rational relationship between goals and means, to be classified as deviant.

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