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Deviant Is More Than a Label

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Essay title: Deviant Is More Than a Label

Whatever the term deviance creates , in general it is popularly assumed that 'deviants' are individuals who are somehow less capable, less socially responsible, less adjusted, and consequently less useful to society than their more fortunate, upright and 'normal' fellows ( Social Deviance in Australia, p 4). In the case of Aboriginal drinking, alcohol is the main source of criminalisation and incarceration. This public labelling gives the individual an entirely new status- one which tends to dominate the person's self conception. Once this assumes a 'master status' it becomes the major reference for personal identity and relegates all to other 'normal' characteristics to a subsidiary status. This process insures that characteristics such as sexual preference, comes to intrude upon and influence almost their entire existence. Once identified publicly, (homosexuals), the person is treated differently and expected to behave differently (Study guide p18). The creation of deviance according to Merton is seen as the responsibility of society ( or the law abiding and respectable members of society) and of the official agents of social control ( police, magistrates, social workers, teachers, judges, doctors and psychiatrists) ( Social Deviance in Australia p 5). Merton draws attention to the causal significance of social, economic and cultural factors of all kinds in pushing or pulling certain types of individuals into courses of action which involved rule breaking. Interactionists', however, like Becker are primarily concerned with the role social control plays in the social production of deviance, which may take two main forms- rule making and rule enforcing. As Becker (1963:9) writes: 'social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitute deviance... and by applying these rules to particular people and labelling them outsiders. While Quinney states that crime is created. He refers to the social definition of deviance, to the fact that the system of government we have created for ourselves was and is constructed by those who have titled authority and power. Control is exerted through a variety of institutions run by and for the elite (Mass media, education, religion). It is those who are in power who define what is seen as deviant behaviour.

Robert Merton strongly believes that the problem of deviants is created by a social structure that presents the same goals to all its members without giving them equal access to achieve them. According to Merton it is this lack of integration between what the culture expects and what the structure permits that causes deviant behaviour (Robert Merton Website). Merton points out that there are particular goals which are strongly emphasised by society. Society puts a strong emphasis on the correct means in which to reach those goals (such as education, hard work etc,.). However not everyone has equal access to the legitimate means to attain those goals. The"Social structure" of American society limits the ability of certain groups to satisfy those appetites. The result is "a definite pressure on certain persons in the society to engage in nonconformist rather than conformist conduct". Merton points out that the culture of any society defines certain goals it deem "worth striving for". The most important aspiration in American society, is to obtain wealth. Accumulated wealth is generally equated with personal value and worth is associated with a high degree of prestige and social status (Criminological theories p 135-136).

Merton argues that American culture specifically encourages all individuals to achieve the greatest amount of wealth. American culture is based on an egalitarian ideology that declares that all people have an equal chance to obtain wealth. Although all individuals are not expected to achieve this goal, all are expected to try. Those who do not may be unfavourably charcterised as "lazy" or "unambitious" ( Criminological theories p 136).

Cultures also state the appropriate norms, or institutionalised means, all individuals are expected to obey in pursuing the culture goals. These means are based on the values of society.

The preferred institutionalised means that should be used to achieve wealth include hard work, honesty, education, and deferred gratification. Merton argued that because all persons cannot be expected to achieve the goals of the culture, it is very important that the culture place a strong emphasis on the institutionalised means and the necessity of following them for their own value.

However, for particular groups a severe strain on the cultural values arises because (1) the culture places a disproportionate emphasis on the achievement of the goal of accumulated wealth

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