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Film Assignment Essay


PS 217 lllm AsslgnmenL Lssay Shahul 088016A12

Das Experiment, a German Iilm, is a movie representation oI the StanIord Prisons Experiment
conducted in 1971. The experiment was conducted to analyse and determine the causes oI conIlict
between guards and prisoners. This controversial experiment was completely Iilmed and some
excerpts were made available to the public. Though the movie, Das Experiment, was not an exact
depiction oI the real experiment, it did not Iail to pronounce the changes and experiences that the
individuals involved in the experiment went through. In this essay, I will use events in the movie to
discuss the concept oI deviance. I will also use examples Irom the movie to illustrate role-taking and
role-making. Finally, I will examine the extent oI objective and subjective eIIects visible in the Iilm.
Deviance is a social construction (Hewitt, 2009). Deviance is a category allocated to person with
respect to this action that is thought to present a threat to social order. Persons in this category are
stigmatised and punishment is oIten sort out Ior them. It is important to understand that deviance is
classiIied not according to one`s actions but rather, according to the perception oI that action by others
in set society. At this point, it would be necessary to also highlight that social order is the collective
acceptance oI normative and cultural practices by individuals in set society or group.
BeIore any analysis is done oI the movie, it is important to acknowledge that society` in this context
has two layers. One is in the setting oI the experiment, between the guards and the prisoners. The
other is that oI the participants and the scientists conducting the experiments.
In the layer involving the prisoners and guards, the social order is set by the guard. The movie had, in
total 8 guards who had to ensure the prison was run in an acceptable manner with 12 prisoners Ior the
duration oI the experiment. There is an expected structure to the social order in this layer where power
rests in the hands oI the guards and the prisoners are to be subservient to the guards. On the layer
between the scientist and participants, the participants are expected to maintain the social order oI
abiding by the rules set by the scientists.
As deviance is very much a Iorm oI classiIication, it is labelled onto persons. This labelling can be
theorised and broken down into Iour distinct processes. Namely, these Iour process are, banning,
detecting, attributing and reacting.
PS 217 lllm AsslgnmenL Lssay Shahul 088016A12

To explain the Iour processes better, I will use the prisoners` second meal time` scene where the
guards and the prisoners are all in the same room in very close proximity.
The Iirst process, banning, reIers to the condemning oI certain actions as undesirable. This entails the
enactment oI rules, regulations, norms and law that is to be agreed upon by individuals in a society or
a group. These rules, regulations and norms very oIten enIorced, both oIIicially and unoIIicially, by
persons abiding by them. In the scene, the prison guards lay down the banning on not Iinishing one`s
The second process, detecting, reIers to detection oI the action that is condemned to be deviant. Hence
this action has to be, to a certain extent, observable. This detection can be done through structural
means such as surveillance or attributional means such as association to a stigmatized group. In the
scene, the guards have almost absolute surveillance on the prisoners. There are many guards standing
at various corners oI the room looking at the prisoners constantly. The prisoner engaging in the earlier
mentioned banned act by not drinking his milk is easily observable and is picked up by the guards
The third process, attributing, reIers to the inIerence on the motivation behind the action. This oIten
happens with the normalization, through neutralization with accounts and excuses, oI the action. In
the scene, the guards attribute the deviance label to the prisoner by claiming that he is just making up
his intolerance to milk and that he is trying to deIy their orders.
The Iorth process, reaction, reIers to the outcome oI the deviant act. This can maniIest in a myriad oI
ways depending on the situation and context. In the scene, one particular guard use Iorce and the
threat oI violence to Iorce the prisoner to Iinish his milk. This was a Iorm oI punishment Ior the
prisoner Ior not obeying the rules that the guards had implemented. Here, the reaction depended
greatly on who had power over the other. The guards, with the power oI authority mandated on them
through the experiment, where able to react upon the prisoner with the action they seemed Iit. The
prisoner, even though he has problems consuming dairy products, Iinishing his milk is also a reaction
as he is on the other polar opposite on the power spectrum when compared with the guards.
PS 217 lllm AsslgnmenL Lssay Shahul 088016A12

Deviance is very much a process and is Iluid. It has eIIects that are objective and eIIects that are
subjective. Objective eIIects oI deviance mostly aIIect social relationships while subjective ones
aIIect the selI within. The objective eIIects oI deviance cannot be clearer than the last portion oI the
movie when the experiment was criticised as unethical and immoral by the public and the lead
scientist was taken into custody. As the lead scientist was engaged in this socially acclaimed deviant
act, his relationship with society, his peers and his standing in his Iield oI proIession has taken a
Erving GoIIman, in his The Presentation oI The SelI in Everyday LiIe` (GoIIman, 1959), described
liIe as akin to a perIormance. This perIormance has characters that have speciIic purpose and meaning.
GoIIman, through Role-Taking, says that we take up these roles such as teachers and student to
Iunction in society. We saw this in the movie too when the prisoners and the guards took up their
roles Ior the experiments. But, it is also necessary Ior these roles to be established and agreed upon by
society to Iunction. This is when Role-Making comes into play, where the roles are deIined. This was
also noticeable in the movie when the scientists proIiled how the guards should act and how the
guards proIiled the prisoners should act.
In conclusion, deviance is subjective. In everyday liIe, it is dependent greatly on the dominant
ideology present. It is labelled onto others and there is a stigma attached to the deviant ones` that is
hard to shake oII. Punishment Ior deviant behaving also varies Irom disapproving glares to state
sanctioned harm. As society itselI is always changing, deviance too is a process that is hardly constant.
It evolves together with the ideologies that people adhere to continue with their daily lives and
maintain their social order without disruptions.
(1,124 Words)

PS 217 lllm AsslgnmenL Lssay Shahul 088016A12

Works Cited

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PewlLL ! (2009) 5elf ooJ 5oclety A 5ymbollc lotetoctloolst 5oclol lsycboloqy 8osLon Allyn 8acon