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Deviance and Social Control

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Essay title: Deviance and Social Control

Deviance is any infraction of norms, whether the violation being minor as jaywalking or as significant as raping someone. So you and I every day violate these societal norms no matter how big or small they may be. The heart of deviance is best explained by sociologist Howard S. Becker (1966), “It is not the act itself, but the reactions to the act, that make something deviant.” Different groups have different norms, maybe something deviant to a particular person may not be deviant to another (Henslin 2005: pg. 134). This principle holds within a society as well cross-culturally. A specific form of deviance is a crime, or the infringement of rules that are written laws. Like the norms, a crime in one culture can be applauded by another. To be considered deviant a person does not have to do anything directly. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) coined the term stigma to “refer to the characteristics that discredit people” (Henslin 2005: pg. 135). These can incorporate violations of norms of aptitude (blindness, mental illness, deafness) and norms of appearance (obesity). No human group can subsist without norms, because “norms make social life possible by making behavior predictable” (Henslin 2005: pg. 135). Without these norms, society would be in a state of social chaos. Norms structure the fundamental guidelines for how we should play in our “roles” and interact with other people. Norms produce social order, an individual group’s traditional social measures. As a result, social control is the direct and indirect means of imposing norms that were developed by human groups. A disapproval of deviance is a negative sanction, which can vary from frowning at someone for breaking folkways to capital punishment for breaking mores. Contrastly, a positive sanction is to recompense people for complying with the norms. Sociologists can explain this idea of deviance and consequences of it in three perspectives: symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict theory.

A basic principle of symbolic interactionism is, “We act according to how we interpret situations, not according to blind dispositions” (Henslin 2005: pg. 138). Sociologists emphasize that people learn deviance. Edwin Sutherland created the term differential association to point out that we learn to deviate or comply to the norms of society mostly by different groups we relate to. Family is crucial for teaching us attitudes, it makes it obvious that families make a big difference in we learn deviance or act in conformity. Sociologists have found that more delinquents have a bigger tendency to come from families that have trouble with the law. Most parents want to move out of “bad” neighborhoods because they know that if their own children have “bad” friends, they will be more likely to be “bad” as well. Symbolic interactionists highlight that we are not destined by our group memberships to think and act as our groups determine. But, we do “help to produce our own orientations to life”. (Henslin 2005: pg. 139). In my experiences, just because some particular individual is a certain group, that doesn’t necessarily predict how they will end up as a person. For instance, in the movie Stand and Deliver, a group of working class Latino high school students are expected to fail because they are associated and stereotyped in a certain category of failure. But in fact, with proper help and guidance, they all pass their Advanced Placement Calculus tests. There are everyday occurrences that prove the symbolic theory concerning social groups and deviance. Sociologist Walter Reckless (1973), who thought of the control theory, stresses that two control systems work against our incentives to deviate. Our inner controls also include our inner morality, for example; our conscience, religious values, ideas of right and wrong. Inner controls intrinsically also include fears of castigation, integrity and the want to be a “good” person. Outer controls on the other hand comprise of people, friends and authority, who influence us not to deviate. A good example of this is my life would be the issue of drinking. Even though I do not drink alcohol personally, it is very tempting to do so. Everyone seems to drink, and at times I get pressured to do so. But fortunately, I turn down the peer pressure. In the case of labeling theory, which concentrates on the importance of labels (names, reputations) that people give us. “Labels tend to become a part of our self-concept and help to set us on paths that either propel us into to divert us from deviance” (Henslin 2005: pg. 140). Going back to the label of the students in the movie of Stand and Deliver, the students were labeled as “stupid, poor and useless”. But in fact, as we can see, that is not the case and succeeded despite the criticism of outsiders and sadly, the insiders of the school system as well.

When one thinks of deviance, it’s the dysfunctions

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