Physical Characteristics As Deviance
(these ideas drawn from Goode, 2001-2008 chapter 13. See the disclaimer)
Erving Goffman: Stigma
Stigma as Master Status and a Moral Career
A stigma, or the "manifestation or outward appearance of an inner deficiency, that either has been or may be noticed, that results or would result in infamy and dishonor," (p. 327) becomes the possessor's master trait or status, from which everything about the person is interpreted. (i.e. Since many "normals" believe, "only defective, contaminated, sinners would break 'our' social norms and rules," the possessor of a stigma becomes defined as "not quite human" and like a chronic disease, his or her single negative trait becomes the controlling one. His or her master status.)
2 Paths for the Stigmatized
Physical Characteristics as a form of Deviance
Two ways of categorization:
Goffman: "Abominations of the Body"
Two Types of Physical Deviance:
1. Violations of Aesthetic norms- what people should look like- height, weight, the absence or presence of disfigurement.
Conformity to and Violations of Aesthetic Standards
- The most widely practiced form of voluntary body alteration, besides ear-piercing for women
- Symbolic Value- establishes the tatooee's "attachment to deviant groups"~guilt by association
- Changing aesthetic
There is a certain level of risk involved in tattooing, the level of association with deviant groups, results in everything from small hidden marks to face tattoos (3 Stooges man).
Are Tattoos becoming a sign of conformity?
1. A violation of physical aesthetic standards
2. Moral Dimension -obesity is often assumed to be a voluntary condition, or an outward manifestation of a character flaw-"The fat lack self control and are lazy. Therefore, they deserve their self-inflicted damnation".
In tribal and peasant societies, corpulence was associated with affluence. Today, are there a Black-White differences? Genetic?
C. Intersexuality: Possessing ambiguous genital characteristics
The Two Debates
1. "Essentialism v. Constructionism"
Essentialist, or the medical approach is held by much of the general public. The Evolutionary prerogative is that there are only two "true" sexes, male and female, So, Hermaphraditism is abnormal, a pathology in need of correction due to "biological destiny".
Constructionist- there may be more than one sex, persons with ambiguous genitals may in fact manifest a "mix" of the two sexes. Society, not nature forc es us to believe there are only two sex categories and therefore define hermaphrodite as a pathology.
2. "Nature v. Nurture"- a theory of how the material world works on the individual
Naturist, usually Essentialist, biology decides who we are- sexuality is fixed at birth- one "is male or female as a result of nature."
Nurturist, usually Constructionist, believe the human organism is a Tabula Rasa or blank slate onto which can be "written" any sexual message. One learns to become male or female through socialization. Sexuality can be assigned or reassigned- created through a combination of surgery, socialization, and artificial hormones
Nature Limits: Some aspects of social life may be fixed at birth. The utility of constructionism is affirmed by the random assignment of the sex through primitive contemporary procedures. This is a creature of sociology and technology, not the science of genetics. Should we allow a child with ambiguous genitals to grow up "as nature made them," and allow them to gravitate toward their own sexual destiny?
Leslie Fiedler: Freaks Prior to the 20c, freaks were defined as "Prodigies". Their differences were accepted as a tolerable form of physical eccentricity, rather than a source of contempt. It was modern medicine's arrogance, or hubris, that all deformities can be cured, which defined freaks as deviants.
Today freaks stir fear in normals' definitions of :
- Childhood Myths
- Sexuality and Gender
The freak projects our "infantile or adolescent traumas". They manifest or dramatize our "primordial fears about scale, sexuality our status as more than beast and our tenuous individuality."
2. Physical Incapacity- walking, seeing, hearing
Physical Disability as Deviance-a physical disability is deviant because it "violates institutional expectations" or is different form the physical characteristic possessed by the norm"als".
A Historical Perspective
Early Eras- Babies born with
deformities were defined as monsters and were thought to be predictors
of disastrous epidemics
Ancient Times- Babies born with deformities were killed
Plato- "Deformed and infirm children should be hidden away in a secret place"
European Middle Ages- "God did it"
Today those who possess the stigma of being physically disabled or handicap require "the attention of social agencies" Master Status?
But: Disability is socially constructed, the definitions are arbitrary and are based on social and cultural criteria, that is they are created by the agencies and general public, our norm continues to be stigmatization, or an Aversion, induced by the fear of realizing at any time, anyone could become physically disabled: Just World Hypothesis? Changes?
SO: Undesirable physical characteristics represent a form of deviance. They tend to attract stigma and generate a contaminated identity for their possessors. The fact that their possessors do attract stigma and condemnation is what defines deviance, hence they are deviants. There is a continuum of personal causality or responsibly for possessors of deviant characteristics, yet all are stigmatized.
Owner: Robert O. Keel email@example.com
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Last Updated: Monday, April 28, 2008 2:08 PM