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Society's Definition of Deviance

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Submitted By cmwang729
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It is apparent that values in society continuously change and adapt over time. Deviance, which is defined by these values, also changes over time. Since the definition of deviance varies, the groups labeled deviant will also change in time. Generally, the powerful, the individuals who are part of the majority of the population, as well as agencies that we perceive as moral such as law enforcement, are the least stigmatized groups in society. The most stigmatized groups are the mentally handicapped and members of the transgender community where the degree of stigmatization is dependent on their mental capacity and whether or not their actions or beliefs are voluntary.

Deviance is an idea that is dependent on society’s values in a particular period of time. Since society’s values change over time, the definition of what is or is not deviant will alter over time. Since the idea of deviance is dependent on the values of the majority of society, the majority is less stigmatized. As well, individuals in a position of power are also less stigmatized since their interests must be satisfied for economic benefit. In general, society is rational and usually holds those with less mental capacity less responsible for any deviant behavior. Similarly, society holds those with less physical ability less responsible than the physically able.
For many years, homosexual individuals were subject to as much discrimination as the transgender community. Over time, however, society has become more open to different ideas including homosexuality. Twenty years ago, a television show or commercial that included homosexuality or dared to praise it was subject to much criticism. Now we are able to see gay and lesbian ideas all over the media such as racy music videos. It is now a source of pride to stand up for the gay community and to raise awareness to prevent discrimination. Topics of legalizing gay marriage are appearing in many headlines all over the world, and many provinces and states have already given homosexual individuals the right to marriage. As Gomme (2007) notes, “Definitions of what is deviant vary not only across societies and subcultures, but over time as well” (p. 8). What society believes is deviant behavior at one point in time will change as its values change.
Since what is considered deviant behavior changes over time depending on the current values of society, it is the group of individuals who hold the majority within our society that determine what is or is not acceptable behavior. This influential group tends to be the individuals who hold the most power in society. This idea is in line with the consensus approach which “envisages law as effectively mediating between the vested and competing interest of society’s rival factions” (p. 11). This means that autonomous governments will enact laws that serve the majority of its population. Typically, the majority of the population with similar values and beliefs are the middle and upper class members of society, and they are considered less deviant since they are conforming groups.
The idea that the rich and powerful are the group of individuals whose interests are best looked after, follows the conflict approach which “holds that the law disproportionately reflects the best interests not of the majority of citizens but of a minority of affluent and powerful people” (p.11). By making sure that the values of the elites in society are respected and instilled to society as a whole, governments will be able to “rely on the goodwill of powerful economic elites in order to stay in power” (p.11). In this scenario, the influential economic elites would be considered the least stigmatized. As well, the groups that these individuals least stigmatize will also be reflected in laws and regulations which also cause most of society to feel less negative against these groups. Even though some of these influential rich individuals commit white collar crimes, this deviance is typically less of an issue to society. Society tends to feel more negative toward deviance that directly affects another human being such as talking loudly in a library will affect someone’s ability to study, or hitting someone will physically hurt them. Essentially, the powerful and the rich, or members of the upper class population who are somewhat in control of what are rules and regulations, dictate which groups of people in society are most or least stigmatized.
Since what is considered deviant behavior changes over time depending on the current values of society, it is the group of individuals who hold the majority within our society that determine what is or is not acceptable behavior. This influential group tends to be the individuals who hold the most power in society. This idea is in line with the consensus approach which “envisages law as effectively mediating between the vested and competing interest of society’s rival factions” (p. 11). This means that autonomous governments will enact laws that serve the majority of its population. Typically, the majority of the population with similar values and beliefs are the middle and upper class members of society, and they are considered less deviant since they are conforming groups.
The idea that the rich and powerful are the group of individuals whose interests are best looked after, follows the conflict approach which “holds that the law disproportionately reflects the best interests not of the majority of citizens but of a minority of affluent and powerful people” (p.11). By making sure that the values of the elites in society are respected and instilled to society as a whole, governments will be able to “rely on the goodwill of powerful economic elites in order to stay in power” (p.11). In this scenario, the influential economic elites would be considered the least stigmatized. As well, the groups that these individuals least stigmatize will also be reflected in laws and regulations which also cause most of society to feel less negative against these groups. Even though some of these influential rich individuals commit white collar crimes, this deviance is typically less of an issue to society. Society tends to feel more negative toward deviance that directly affects another human being such as talking loudly in a library will affect someone’s ability to study, or hitting someone will physically hurt them. Essentially, the powerful and the rich, or members of the upper class population who are somewhat in control of what are rules and regulations, dictate which groups of people in society are most or least stigmatized.
The degree of stigmatization is dependent on the mental capacity of the individual performing the behavior. A toddler who throws a tantrum at the mall is subject to much less stigmatization than a grown man who acts similarly. The child, society agrees, has not developed self-control abilities and therefore is not responsible for what would otherwise be classified deviant behavior. The grown man, on the other hand, who society assumes has learned what is or is not acceptable behavior, is expected to be capable of self-restraint and his behavior would be considered deviant. In a similar example, according to Gomme (2007), “If someone present at a dinner defecates in his or her pants, the determination of this action as deviant is likely to be strongly influenced by the miscreant’s age” (p.10). This again reinforces the idea that the age of the offender determines whether or not their behavior is considered deviant.
The mental incapacity of the mentally ill on the other hand, continues to be a source of stigmatization. Mann & Himelein note that “research has shown that prejudicial attitudes about mental illness lead to discrimination in jobs and housing, and limit the amount of resources allotted to mental health services” (p. 1). Though the mentally challenged and the toddler both have little to no self-control, society believes the mentally ill are more dangerous than the toddler and many people are afraid of them. The mentally ill adult is more physically capable of dangerous acts such as murder. Coupled with an inability to control oneself, there is an uncertainty as to whether or not he or she will harm another human being. This uncertainty and risk causes much of society to continue to fear and negatively portray the mentally ill.
Not only is the degree of stigmatization related to mental capacity, but also whether or not the deviant behavior or idea is voluntary or involuntary. Transexuality is considered deviant, and transvestites are victims of stares and finger-pointing. The idea of being different, either physically or mentally, than what one’s physical characteristics display is considered deviant by much of society who are unable to understand or accept this idea. According to Jackson (1995), “[the] modern middle-class ‘normal’ and ‘well-adjusted’ heterosexuals are not self-realized individuals but subject positions taken up within a discursive system that delimits them within the very gendered identities it imposes upon them” (p. 34). It is a common perception of the public that to be transgender is a matter of personal free will and is a voluntary belief. Behavior and ideas that are considered voluntary and within one’s control but that deviate from societal norms are categorized as deviant since what is defined as deviant is dependent on what the majority of society deem as deviant.
It is difficult to say which groups in society are the most and the least susceptible to negative responses without such indications to become obsolete within a few years. Society’s values change over time and these values dictate what is right or wrong, deviant or not. This in turn, may change who is and is not considered deviant. Examples of homophobia and how society has become more and more acceptable of homosexuality show that society’s definition of deviance varies over time. Since the definition of deviance is dependent on the values of the masses, the masses who formulate these values are then considered the less deviant. Furthermore, powerful individuals in society whom the government must please are also least subject of negative responses because of their ability to influence policies. As well, agencies that are formulated to protect the common good are the least stigmatized by virtue of their status. Deviance is also dependent on the mental and physical capacity of the individual performing the behavior (or holding the idea). Furthermore, whether or not an act or belief is voluntary or involuntary also plays a role in whether or not society determines one to be deviant. Society holds those who perform deviant acts less responsible if their actions were involuntary. In general, deviance is in the eyes of the beholder, but the mental and physical capacity of the “deviant” would be considered prior to labeling him or her as a deviant.

References
Gomme, I.M. (2007). The Shadow Line: Deviance and Crime in Canada (4th ed.). Toronto, ON:
Nelson.
Jackson, E. (1995). Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation. Bloomingdale Indiana Press.
Klockars, C.B., Ivkovic, S.K., Haberfeld, M.R. (2006). Enhancing Police Integrity. Dordrecht,
The Netherlands: Springer.
Mann, C.E., & Himelein, M.J. (2008). Putting the person back into psychopathology: an intervention to reduce mental illness stigma in the classroom. Retrieved from: http://springerlink.metapress.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/content/d4043kn545181l56/fulltext.pdf Prenzler, T. (2009). Police Corruption: Preventing Misconduct and Maintaining Integrity. Boca
Taron, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.…...

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