Sociology of Deviant Behavior
Sociology 3200-Robert Keel, Instructor
As indicated in our class discussion following the development of Social Disorganization Theory at the University of Chicago during the early Twentieth century, questions concerning the accuracy of a broad, integrated and consensual value and normative system emerged. Rather than conceptualizing deviance as a problem of the stress and strain related to a weakening of social control, the idea, rooted in a Marxist image of social inequality and competition, of the social system being constituted by diverse cultural groups with conflicting interests, values, and norms emerged. Within the Conflict perspective, deviance is conceptualized not as abnormal behavior brought on by faulty socialization or normative ambiguity, but as a normal, political process brought about by inter-group struggle for dominance.
Thorsten Sellin (1938) emphasized the cultural diversity of modern industrial society. For Sellin, law embodied the normative structure of the dominant cultural/ethnic group. The criminal law contains the "crime norms," inappropriate behavior and its punishment, reflecting the values and interests of the groups successful in achieving control of the legislative process. The "conduct norms" of other, less powerful groups reflecting their specific social situations and experiences often come into conflict (Culture Conflict) with the crime norms. This leads to the production of deviant or criminal definitions surrounding the everyday behavior of the individual members of these less powerful groups. Sellin indicated that as society diversified and became more heterogeneous, the probability of growing and more frequent conflict, therefore deviance, would increase.
George Vold (1958) continued to expand on these ideas. Rather than attempting to explain crime as individual law violation, Vold suggests an understanding of the social nature of crime as a product of group struggle. Humans are by nature social beings, forming groups out of shared interests and needs. The interests and needs of groups interact and produce competition over maintaining and/or expanding one groups position relative to others in the control of necessary resources (money, education, employment, etc.). This competition is expressed as a political struggle/conflict with the group most efficient at controlling political processes obtaining the authority to pass laws that limit the fulfillment of minority group needs.
In 1969, Austin Turk developed a general conflict theory of crime. Turk draws on the analysis of modern society presented by Ralf Dahrendorf. Dahrendorf expanded on Marxism's emphasis on the social relations of production as a key to understanding power and focused on the struggle in a modern industrial society for institutional authority. This is power that is embedded in the structural relations characteristic of a given society, legitimate power often divorced from ownership of productive forces, power in the social institutions that dominate everyday life; the authority vested in groups who control key positions in religious, educational, governmental, and even family relations. This authority can be linked to economic position, but it is not necessarily dependent upon it. Turk:
...examines authority-subject relationships within institutions with little concern for overarching or overlapping authority-subject relationships across institutions. Within this general framework, Turk focuses on legal conflict and criminalization. Specifically, he asks the following two questions:
1. Under what conditions are authority-subject cultural and behavioral differences transformed into legal conflict?
2. Under what conditions do those who violate laws (norms of the authorities) become criminalized? In other words, under what circumstances are laws enforced? (Liska, 1987: 178)
Turk's answer to these questions is summarized a set of six propositions. (The following is taken from Liska, 1987:178-180)
In answer to the first question above:
Proposition 1: Conflict between authorities and subjects occurs when behavioral differences between authorities and subjects are compounded by cultural differences.
Proposition 2: Conflict is more probable the more organized are those who have an illegal attribute or engage in an illegal act.
Proposition 3: Conflict is more probable the less sophisticated the subjects.
The probability of enforcement can be conditionalized as:
Proposition 4: The probability of enforcement of legal norms increases as the congruence between the cultural and behavioral norms of authorities increases.
Proposition 5: The lower the power of the resisters (subjects), the higher the probability of enforcement.
Proposition 6: The lower the realism of norm violators (resisters), the higher the probability of enforcement. (emphasis added)
Turk presents a picture of crime and deviance in a modern, complex and heterogeneous society as an ongoing struggle. Equilibrium is difficult, if not completely impossible to achieve. The behavior of any group, and perhaps most importantly, the cultural meaning and significance attached to the behavior is destined to provoke a negative reaction from another group. In particular, authority groups will continuously strive to maintain and expand there control over societal resources by defining the activity of "subject groups" as threatening (therefore deviant and/or criminal), to the existing order (implicit here is the idea that the existing order is the order, the only legitimate order).
Ralf Dahrendorf, Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1959).
Allen Liska, Perspectives on Deviance, 2nd edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987).
Thorsten Sellin, Culture and Conflict in Crime (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1938).
Austin Turk, Criminality and Legal Order (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1969).
George Vold, Theoretical Criminology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958).
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Last Updated: Thursday, July 14, 2005 1:41 PM