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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What is Deviance?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - 0 Comments

For sociologists, the term deviance does not mean perversion or depravity. Deviance is behaviour that violates the standards of conduct or expectations of a group or society. In Pakistan, alcoholics, gamblers, rapists, and atheists would all be regarded as deviants. Being late for class is categorized as a deviant act; the same is true of dressing too casually for a formal wedding. On the basis of the sociological definition, we are all deviants from time to time. Each of us violates common social norms in certain situations.
Deviance involves the violation of group norms that may or may not be formalized into law. It is comprehensive concept that includes not only criminal behaviour but also many actions not subject to persecution. The public official who takes a bribe has defied social norms, but so has the college student who refuses to sit in an assigned seat or cuts class. Of course, deviation from norms is not always negative, let alone criminal. A member of the police force who exposes corruption and brutality present within the force is deviating forms the norms of the force.
As we noted earlier, deviance can be understood only within its social context. A nude photograph of a man or woman may be perfectly appropriate in a medical college but would be regarded as completely out of place in an elementary school classroom.

Is Law a Major Source to Prevent the Crime from Society?

Law and Society
Some norms are considered so important by a society that they are formalized into laws controlling people’s behaviour. In a political sense, law is the “body of rules made by government for society, interpreted by the courts, and backed by the power of the state”. Some laws, such as the prohibition against murder, are directed at all members of the society. Others, such as fishing and hunting regulations, are aimed primarily at particular categories of people. Still others govern the behaviour of social institutions (Securities and Exchange Agency, for example). Despite such differences, all types of laws are considered examples of formal social norms.
Sociologists have become increasingly interested in the creation of laws as a social process. Laws are created in response to perceived needs for formal social control. Sociologists have sought to explain how and why such perceptions are manifested. In their view, law is not merely a static body of rules handed down from generation to generation. Rather, it reflects continually changing standards of what is right and wrong; of how violations are to be determined and of what sanctions are to be applied.
Sociologists representing varying theoretical perspectives agree that the legal order reflects underlying social values. Therefore, the creation of criminal law can be a most controversial matter. Should it be against the law to employ illegal immigrants in a factory, to have an abortion, or to smoke on an airplane? Such issues have been bitterly debated because they require a choice among competing values.
It is important to underscore the fact that socialization is the primary source of conforming and obedient behaviour, including obedience to law. Generally, it is not external pressure from a peer group or authority figure that makes us go along with social norms. Rather, we have internalized such norms as valid and desirable and are committed to observing them. In a profound sense, we want to see ourselves (and to be seen) as loyal, cooperative, responsible, and respectful of others. In our society, people are socialized both to want to belong and to fear being viewed as different or deviant.

Informal and Formal Social Control

The sanctions used to encourage conformity and obedience – and to discourage violation of social norms – are carried out through informal and formal social control. Informal social control, as the term implies, is used by people casually. Norms are enforced through the use of the informal sanctions described in earlier chapters. Examples of informal social control include smiles, laughter, rising of an eyebrow, and ridicule.
Techniques of informal control are typically employed within primary groups such as families. Individuals learn such techniques early in their childhood socialization to cultural norms. Since these mechanisms of social control are not formalized, there can be great variation in their use even within the same society. For example, imagine that a teenager is sated in a crowded bus in a seat. A rather frail-looking elderly man gets on the bus and has nowhere to sit; yet the teenager does not move. One nearby passenger may scowl at the teenager; another may stare until the teenager becomes uncomfortable, while a third may verbalize the control mechanism by telling the teenager to get up.
In some cases, informal methods of social control are not adequate in enforcing conforming or obedient behaviour. In the example above, the teenager might look away from the scowling and staring passengers and might tell the third person, “Mind your own business!” At this point, passengers might enlist the aid of the bus-driver – whose occupational role carries with it a certain authority – in an attempt to force the teenager to give up the seat. Formal social control is carried out by authorized agents such as police officers, physicians, school administrators, employers, military officers, and managers of any organization. As we have seen, it can serve as a last resort when socialization and informal sanctions do not bring about the desired behaviour.
Societies vary in deciding which behaviours will be subjected to formal social control and how sever the sanctions will be. In the nation of Singapore, there are fines of $625 for littering, $312 for eating on the subway, and $94 for failing to flush a public toilet. In 1992, Singapore banned the sale of chewing gum, and 514 people were convicted of illegally smoking in public. Although a law has not yet been passed, Singapore’s government has officially criticized people who come fashionably late for dinner parties; such behaviour is viewed as a “growing problem with wide implications for productivity”. Sadly, all of the above mentioned undesirable behaviours which are being tried to be eliminated or at least be curtailed in Singapore are very much present in our society and go unnoticed like routine activities.
It is important to emphasize that formal social control is not always carried out only by government officials in response to violations of the law. Certain subcultures within a society exercise formal social control to maintain adherence to their distinctive social norms. For example, in the villages of Pakistan especially in the interiors of Sind, any person (mainly women) caught to be having an illicit relationship is killed by her male family members in the name of honour.

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