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Introduction to the Sociology of Deviance




Otherness, Order and Social Control:

(The following section is based on my reading and paraphrasing of the work of Stephen Phofl: Images of Deviance and
Social Control: A Sociological History, McGraw-Hill, 1994.)

We perceive and understand the physical and social world based on a shared sense of order
(predictability): the meanings we attach to people, things, and actions. "Otherness" (differentness)
challenges our assumptions, our taken-for-granted sense of normalcy and naturalness

• At a basic "gut" level it calls into question our basic beliefs and ideas: It threatens us.
• At a social level it challenges the social order: the existing web of relationships, values,
reality and meaning

Some form of Control is necessary to help maintain Order:

• Internal/socialization.
• External: a system of norms, sanctions and enforcement.

Deviance is problematic, yet essential and intrinsic to any conception of Social Order. It is
problematic because it disrupts; it is essential because it defines the confines of our shared
reality; and it is intrinsic to a conception of order in that defining what is real and expected,
defining what is acceptable, and defining who we are- always is done in opposition to what is
unreal, unexpected, unacceptable, and who we are not ("We defines They"). If we can accept the
reality of change, then designations of deviance are crucial in locating the shifting boundaries of
our socially structured reality.

And, when we define someone or some group as deviant- we strengthen our own position and
simplify our response to the "other": ignore, expunge, destroy, or rehabilitate them. We convince
ourselves of our own normalcy by condemning and controlling those who disagree. Deviance is a
phenomenon situated in power: Winners are the good and the normal; Losers are the sick, the
crazy, the evil (and they often accept the "label").

Deviance, therefore, exists in opposition to those who attempt to control it-- to those who have:

Winners: Organize social life

Losers: Are controlled (executed, shamed, jailed, hospitalized, cared for). They are just not treated

Deviance is not a matter of the cost or consequences of a particular behavior, or the behavior
itself. Deviance is a label (PROCESS) used to maintain the power, control, and position of a
dominant group.

Deviance is a negotiated order. Deviance violates some groups assumptions about reality (social
order). It violates expectations. The definition of deviance defines the threat and allows for
containment and control of the threat. The definition of deviance preserves, protects, and defines
group interests and in doing so maintains a sense of normalcy. Deviance is a product of Social

Interaction: Act itself, Actors, Observers, Rules and Rule Enforcers

• What are the rules (norms)?: Situational and social

• Who makes the rules?: Power
• Who enforces the rules?: Organizational and individual interests
• Who breaks the rules?

Howard Becker: "Moral Entrepreneurs: The Creation and

Enforcement of Deviant Categories" (in Pontell, 2005)
Who makes the rules? Moral entrepreneurs:

Crusading Reformers

• A mission: personal or social.

• New rules-- New deviance.
• Paternalism ("help the less fortunate," add to their own power).
• Concern with the rule itself- Ends vs. Means: Reliance upon "experts" (lawyers, doctors,
• Experts bring own interests into play: modifies the original intent of the crusader.

Rule Enforcers

• Once a new rule (law): Then institutionalization- an Agency (police, FBN, etc)
• Agency's interest and motives? Detachment- not concerned with the content of the rule, but
with enforcement: The rule is a JOB.
• Need to continue to maintain justification for the existence of the JOB: Crime is increasing at
a decreasing rate.
• Day to day reality: Need for maintenance of position on the street. Respect.
• Official deviance often becomes, not rule breaking, but lack of respect for rule enforcer.
o Demeanor
o Discretion
o The "Fix": 'Amateurs get caught'
o Enforcers have little stake in the content of the rule, they often develop their own
evaluation of the importance of the rule in light of the contingencies of their daily

Enforcers and Creators: Often at odds==> Leads to a new crusade. Deviance "re-

Gary Marx: "Ironies of Social Control" (in Pontell, 2005)

• Deviance and social interaction: Reactions to deviance change the shape of deviance.
• Not just "secondary deviance," but in the course of attempts to control rule enforcers give
new meaning to the reality of deviance- foster "Primary Deviance."

• Escalation:
1. Increase frequency, seriousness (high speed chase, runaway->probation->new violation->delinquent)
2. new categories(carjacking)
3. increases skill level of 'criminal'
4. violations linked to enforcement ("buy money," 'scared straight,' "the usual suspects")
• Non-Enforcement
• Covert Facilitation

Robert Scott: "The Making of Blind Men" (in Pontell, 1993)

• The problem of blindness does not stem from preconceptions about blindness, it is an effect
of introducing the factor of blindness into interaction: Strained Interaction
• The Socialization of the Blind
1. Stereotypes the sighted have: Blindness as "Master Status"
2. Stigma
3. Ambiguity and communication problems
4. Disrupted interaction"Confirms" status and stigma:"Looking-Glass-Self"
5. Further problem: Social Dependency- Power and Social Exchange

• 1 and 2: force the blind to recognize their 'differentness' and creates a social identity that is
either accepted or rejected by the blind (in either case they are forced into responding to the
stigma, and "becoming" a "Self" based on their response. This imposes uniform behavioral
patterns on the blind, which in turn feed the stereotypes........
• 3, 4, and 5: Provide further evidence of 'differentness,' deny feedback, and relegates the
blind to a subordinate position.

Net result: Heterogeneous population becomes homogeneous.

Stephan Pfohl: "The 'Discovery' of Child Abuse" (in Pontell, 2005)

Societal reaction to (and therefore individual reaction o) deviance is a complex social-cultural-
historical process based on shifting definitions, organizational interests and professional
expertise. The "reaction" and the "deviance" are mutually interrelated phenomenon. In the
discovery of child abuse we see the culmination of these processes in the production of a new
medical syndrome in 1962: Battered Child Syndrome. Significant elements which led up to this
discovery include:

• Changes in:
1. The social image of children.
2. Assumptions that formed the basis of our understanding of the "causes" of deviance.
3. The organization of Social Control
• The social organization of the medical profession:
1. ER doctors were unaware, unwilling (perhaps) and restrained by confidentiality and
fear of loss of control.
2. Pediatric Radiology and Psychodynamic Psychiatry were removed from the
immediacy of the situation and stood to gain in professional status: The most
idealized mission of the profession: "To label as illness what was not previously
labeled at all, or labeled in some other fashion."

• Once "medicalized" the idea spreads: Interests of social workers, lobbying efforts of the
medical profession, and the role of the media.
• Resistance was weak: Labelers==> Middle class, 'removed' from abusers. Abusers==> Lower
class; no power.
• With continued acceptance==> further spread and continued medicalization. Definition of
abuse has broadened, and need for treatment has become a preventive reality.
• 1993: 50,000 calls in the State of Missouri.
• 2003: 108,685 calls

Societal reaction==> Norms==> Deviance==> Societal reaction==> Revised norms==>

More deviance.............

So, What is Deviance?

Owner: Robert O. Keel
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Last Updated: Monday, January 29, 2007 1:22 PM