'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.
(Pontell, 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 evaluate a certain behaviour, is the primary point of focus as to what is considered deviant in a certain Culture, not the nature of the act itself. (Goode, 1990, pg 64) Furthermore Interactionists emphasise relativity from one individual to another within the same society. 'some circles may approve of marijuana use, for instance, while others condemn it.' (Traub, 1994, pg 303) There are two main elements in the deviance process, they are labelling and stigmatizing.
In the Interactionist theory, a certain act cannot be deviant itself, it firstly has to be labelled by members of society or a group as a 'deviant act.' 'Tannenbaum, describes the process of making someone criminal as a process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, emphasis ing, making conscious and self conscious' (An leu, 1991, pg 33) Stigmatizing is attaching a 'moral stain' to a certain person or group in society therefore spoiling their identity, even if it may not be a true stigma. It is commonly thought by the Interactionists, that people that are stigmatized as deviant, even if it is untrue, find it difficult to recover their self image, therefore falling further into deviant acts. Howard Becker found that people publicly caught engaging in a deviant act, are placed into a new status, one different from their own. (Traub, 1994, pg 304) The Process of identifying deviant behaviour is off course effected by the type of audience involved.
An audience could be one particular individual or a group of people observing and evaluating a certain deviant act. 'The critical variable in the study of deviance... is the social audience rather than the individual actor, since it is the audience which eventually determines whether or not any episode of behaviour is labelled deviant' (Goode, 1990, pg 61) The interactive perspective highlights three possible types of audiences. The first being 'society at large', everyone in the community sharing a common view of what they consider deviant behaviour.
The second type of audience is that of 'ones significant others', explaining that most people tend to share the same views of their close relative and friends. Lastly the third form of audience is that of 'official and organisational agents of social control', who are responsible for informing people what is considered a law breaking deviant offence. (Pontell, 1999, pg 130) In order to effectively explain deviant behaviour we have to look at how particular moral meanings are constructed. 'Notions of right and wrong come to be defined over time within specific social and cultural settings.' (Goode, 1990, pg 62) Howard Becker addressed the incredible effects that 'Moral Entrepreneurs' have on shaping public perceptions of deviance. Moral entrepreneurs are powerful groups who 'try to ensure that their understandings of particular actions become widely accepted.' (Goode, 1990, pg 64) Becker studied the incident of 'marijuana becoming a criminal offence', and how certain 'moral entrepreneurs' effectively shaped public perceptions of the typical marijuana user to that of a certain 'deviant.' This explains why certain behaviour's, like marijuana use, make a sudden turn to being defined as 'deviant.' Reflexivity is directly related to Charles Cooley and his theory of the 'Looking Glass Self.' As discussed earlier, it focuses on looking at ourselves through the eyes of other people. When people see us in a certain way, the views these people have by far have a sure impact on labelling possible deviant behaviour.
(Aggleton, 1987, pg 61) 'People who violate norms have to deal with the probable and potential, as well as the actual and concrete, reactions of respectable, conventional, law-abiding majority.' (Goode, 1990, pg 65) Interactionist theorists, in particular Howard Becker, argue that people who are stigmatized as both socially and morally unacceptable will have a tendency to turn to further rule breaking in the future. (Traub, 1994, pg 290) This is particularly noticeable in cases of Juvenile delinquency such as Aaron Cicourel's 1976 study. This study focused on what kind of juveniles would be brought to court and treated as a delinquent. Cicourel found that there was an obvious emphasis on certain stereotypical expectations such as their physical image. furthermore 'Being labelled may intensify one's commitment to a deviant identity and contribute to further deviant behaviour' (Goode, 1990, pg 66) Becker claims that the main reason why social deviance remains an on going problem in our society is because of the incredible 'stickiness of deviant labels.' 'Once a deviant label has been attached it is difficult to shake.' (Goode, 1990, pg 68) In the case of ex-convicts they may find employment very difficult, or ex-mental patients finding themselves still being viewed as unpredictable. These sticky labels also apply to such labels that are unconfirmed.
In the case of a young woman labelled as 'sexually promiscuous' even though the label may not have been earned through her actual behaviour. This woman will continue to be viewed as 'deviant' in her community because of this 'Sticky Label.' (Goode, 1990, pg 60) 'Labelling someone deviant, thus, may become 'A self-fulfilling Prophesy.' (Pontell, 1999, pg 5) This so called 'deviant person' becomes what they are being accused. The Interactionist perspective has of course encountered a lot of criticism from a variety of sources, the most common criticism comes from the Positivist sociologists, who say that labelling does not explain the etiology or cause of deviant acts such as drug addiction or rape. The Interactionist theory is considered to be only concerned with reactions to a deviant act, not the reason why they occur.
Some Interactionist theorists agree that their perspective does not look at the initial causes, or why people initially take part in deviant behaviour. It can be concluded that the Interactionist perspective is not a complete theory, and that it can only give a partial understanding of the causes of deviant behaviour. (Goode, 1990, pg 67-70) Conclusion In conclusion, The Interactionist perspective of deviance, may well explain why society today as in the past promotes deviant behaviour through negative judgement's, evaluations and reactions to certain behaviour's. The Interactionists claim that deviant behaviour can be looked upon as no more than what people in certain cultures label as 'deviant,' and that the Audience plays a vital role in controlling societies understanding of the 'definition of a deviant'. Although the Interactionist theory may not explain the initial causes of deviance, social phenomena such as drug use may well continue to be on going in our society due to the 'stickiness of labels' and 'the self-fulfilling prophesy' in which people grow into further careers of deviance, and the deviant cycle continues.
Bibliography Aggleton, P. (1987). Deviance. London: Tavistock PublicationsAnleu, S. L Roach. (1991).
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