'Discuss how one of the sociological theories of deviance can be used to explain social phenomena, such as pornography, drug use, suicide and disability.' By Vanessa Neil 1 - Introduction 2 - A Brief background to the Interactionist Perspective 3 - More recent developments in the Interactionist Perspective 4 - Using the Interactionist Perspective to explain social phenomena 5 - Conclusion Introduction Deviant behaviour has sadly been a ongoing occurrence in society throughout history, more noticeably in life today. Sociologists have been provoked to study and form theories in order to try and explain why social phenomena such as suicide, prostitution and drug use occur in our society. The Interactionist Perspective, known to many as the Labelling Theory, is interested in social processes and examines deviant behaviour using such methods as social typing. The Interactionists emphasise the role that meanings play in the creation of deviant behaviour and gain a greater understanding of what it means to commit actions that others label as deviant.
A Brief background to the Interactionist Perspective In order to discuss how the Interactionist theory can be used to explain deviance, it is necessary to understand the historical development and approach of this theory. The Interactionists firstly believe that there are no behaviour's that are intrinsically deviant. Secondly, Deviant actions are simply those which are defined as deviant within a certain culture or setting. Therefore Interactionists focus on social processes by which certain behaviour's become known as deviant and the consequences for those who are labelled deviant. (Aggleton, 1987, chp t 4) The Interactionist approach was at its height during the 1960's and 1970's, shedding a whole new, fresh perspective on the study of deviance.
Here in Australia research on deviance was basically Functionalist and Positivist, Until 1970 when more critical approaches, like the Interactionist perspective began to appear. (Sargent, Nill an & Winter, 1997, pg 387) Interestingly the origins of the Interactionist approach go back as far as 18 th century Philosophers, arguing with Positivist's about how to best explain social behaviour. In 1938, professor, Frank Tannenbaum first observed the actual reactions to certain behaviour's, rather than on behaviour's themselves. Furthermore, there were a number of sociologists around the 1930's whom more formally commenced what is known today as the 'Interactionist perspective of Deviance'. Charles Cooley and the 'looking Glass Self', William Thomas and the 'Definition of the situation', George Herbert Mead and the 'Development of the self.' (Aggleton, 1987, chp t 4) Charles Cooley and his 'looking Glass self' notes how people tend to think they appear to others and the judgement's these people may make on us. This concept is very important in how we, ourselves, tend to act in certain situations and how we see ourselves.
(Pon tell, 1999, pg 50) Therefore People who perceive that others think they display so called 'deviant behaviour' will live up to this judgement and continue to behave in this way in the future. William Thomas and his 'Definition of the situation' is a continuation of Charles Cooley's study. Thomas argues that Situations defined as real become real in the deviant's consequences. In 1923, Thomas conducted a study of a young woman who turned to Prostitution, she concluded that this was the only way she could financially provide for herself. (Aggleton, 1987, pg 51) 'This suggests that the perceived judgement's of others have a powerful role to play in confirming self-identities and the behaviour that can follow from these.' (Aggleton, 1987, pg 51) George Herbert Mead and his 'Development of the self' is responsible for a number of concepts which provide the foundations of what the Interactionist Theory is about. Mead focused primarily on the way in which we as humans interpret the world we live in through the use of symbols, images, sounds, smells, etc.
'By interacting symbolically with significant others (people close to us), we learn to 'role-take', taking on board first of all, the roles of significant others towards us, but eventually the more general expectations of society at large.' (Aggleton, 1987, pg 53) More recent developments in the Interactionist perspective In the 1960's, sociologists such as Herbert Blummer, Erving Goffman and Howard Becker went on to develop further the ideas and theories the earlier Interactionist sociologists had made. Herbert Blummer, a student of George Herbert Mead, continued to study the concept of 'Interpretation'. The notion of 'interpretation' became fundamental to the Interactionist approach, Blummer arguing that 'acts only become deviant once they have been interpreted by others as such.' (Aggleton, 1987, pg 53) Erving Goffman brought about vital research concerning the idea of 'social identity', which distinguishes 'Personal qualities that remain constant across different situations' (Aggleton, 1987, pg 65) Goffman also looked at the reaction of others towards us, especially negative judgement's that others make. According to Goffman, this causes 'damaged or 'spoiled' identities being forced upon people. He names this process Stigmatization. Howard Becker was responsible for two vital processes in the Interactionist analyses of deviance.
Firstly that of a 'deviant career', implying that people tend to 'pass through a series of stages in becoming deviant.' (Traub, 1994, pg 304) Secondly Howard Becker was interested in the 'Process by which certain acts get labelled as deviant', ideally the most important aspect in the Interactionist approach to deviance. (Aggleton, 1987, pg 55) Edwin Lemert brought about a critical distinction between Primary and Secondary deviation. Primary deviation being either of Biological (eg deafness) or Social (Delinquent behaviour) origin. Secondary deviation on the other hand arises from the reactions of others towards primary deviation. Lemert quotes 'Secondary deviation refers to a special class of socially defined responses which people make to problems created by the societal reaction to their deviance. 'As you can see a social reaction to primary deviation can have a profound impact on the construction of a deviant identity.
Using The Interactionist Perspective to explain social phenomena With an insight into the background of the Interactionist perspective, conclusions can now be drawn as to how this particular theory of deviance is able to explain social phenomena in our society. The Interactionist theory can ideally be broken down into six topic areas in order to more easily analyse deviant behaviour. These areas are Relativity, Audiences, Construction of moral meanings, Labelling and Stigma, Reflexivity and finally The self fulfilling prophesy. Defining what is considered as 'deviant behaviour' varies considerably amongst different cultures and groups. As commented on earlier, the most important characteristic of a deviant act, according to Interactionists, is how a particular society views it, and how these people react to it, most importantly to the person who enacts the deviant act. Some people may regard deviance as a behaviour that harms others, or a behaviour that offends God, while others may see that all criminal offences in general are justified as forms of deviant behaviour.
'Is adultery Deviant? Not in some societies, like the Lepcha of Sikkim, a tiny state in northern India. The Lepcha tolerate and even encourage adultery.' However in other societies like Saudi a Arabia, adultery is considered by far, a most deviant act. People caught are severely punished and even stoned to death. (Goode, 1990, pg 58) The meaning of the action to those people who witness and e.