Lecture 09 - Social Psych



(Adapted from Petee 1987 Sociology 530 paper; Handbook of Social Psychology; Handbook of Sociology)

I. "Typological," or "Criminal types" theories. Say criminals are different from noncriminals physically and/or psychology.

A. Lombroso's "positive" school of criminology. (200 years old.) Said criminals are characterized by stigmata - abnormalities such as an asymmetrical cranium, irregular teeth, a flattened nose, scanty beard, low sensitivity to pain. These represented a degeneration into a savage type. because of their predisposition, criminals were seen as unable to abstain from crime unless unusually good life circumstances intervened. Empirical evidence failed to sustain this view - criminals and noncriminals did not differ on these physical traits.

B. Various other typological approaches have since been tried. Intelligence testers" - (H.H. Goddard) - saw criminals as mentally deficient, unable to appreciate the consequences of behavior. According to Goddard, almost all criminals were feebleminded and almost all feebleminded persons were criminal. "Criminal somatypes" (William Sheldon) - attempted to differentiate criminals from noncriminals based on body type. Hooton, in the 1930's, claimed to show that criminals were biologically inferiority. Problem is that he compared criminals with Harvard University students, and some thought that wasn't a fair comparison.

C. Latest variation of this is represented in Wilson and Herrnstein's Crime and Human Nature. This 1985 book argues that constitutional factors can have an effect on criminality. They note that the average offender differs from non-offenders in physique, intelligence, and personality.

II. "Social Organization" theories - these argue that variations in crime rates are due to variations in social organization. Suggested that deviance emerged from social change, particularly rapid changes and the social disorganization they produced.

A. Cities have gotten a lot of negative attention.

1. A classic 1920's work, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, argued that traditional societies have low levels of crime and deviance because of their personal and communal social controls. The city is more disorganized than the traditional societies from which many Immigrants derived, leading to an increase in deviance.

2. "Chicago School" (Park and Burgess, Shaw and McKay) - Studies of Chicago in the 1920s showed that delinquency varied widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. Rates were generally highest in the low-rent areas in the center of the city. Some areas had high rates for more than 50 years, despite an almost complete change in ethnic composition. The researchers concluded that delinquency rates were more likely to be a function of social conditions than of individual traits.

3. These types of studies were criticized on various grounds. While cities do have higher rates of some types of crime, it is not clear that social disorganization is responsible. More importantly, there is a strong anti-lower class bias in this work; white collar and corporate crime are ignored.

B. Merton's theory of anomie. Merton was interested in whether certain types of societies would be more or less likely to generate deviant behavior. He speculated that the societies most prone to deviant behavior would be those in which the greatest emphasis was placed on achieving specific goals (e.g. monetary success) but in which legitimate means for reaching those goals were unavailable to some sectors of society. (Legitimate means include education, working hard, making wise investments.) Hence, according to Merton, deviance is the result of an almost universal cultural desire for material security, success, and comfort on one hand, and limited opportunities to achieve these things on the other hand.

Merton defines anomie as a confused, normless state of the individual faced with the dilemma described above. This state of anomie increases the likelihood that crime will be used to reach desired goals. There are five general responses to goal attainment:

1. Conformist - The individual accepts both the legitimate cultural goals of success and the institutionalized or conventional means for reaching these goals. (Goals +, Means +)

2. Innovationist - The individual accepts the goals but employs illegitimate means for attainment. You want the culturally valued things (such as money) but you don't accept the societal norms for achieving these things. (Goals +, Means -). EX: Burglars, fences, loan sharks.

3. Ritualists - individual abandons the goals of society, but nonetheless continues to abide by institutional norms. (Goals -, Means +). EX: Poorly paid clerk who never misses a day of work - he has given up on the goal of success, but continues to follow appropriate means.

4. Retreatists - individual rejects both the goals and the means of society. An individual often enters this mode after repeated failure in the conformist mode. (Goals -, Means -). EX: Alcoholics, drug users.

5. Rebellion mode - The individual withdraws allegiance from society, which he/she sees as unjust, and seeks to establish a new, modified society. (Goals +/-, Means +/-). EX: Hippies, Russian revolution.

Critique of Merton:

1. More appropriate to monetary crimes than deviance generally

2. Again has an anti-lower class bias - because they have less resources, the poor should be less likely to commit crime. Official statistics greatly overstate offense rates among the poor, which make the theory look better than it really is. Self-report measures of crime show little correlation between social class and criminality.

III. Functionalist approaches. Argues that deviance is functional for society.

A. Durkheim

1. Said crime and deviance serve important, latent functions for society. Crime is ubiquitous and inevitable.

EXAMPLE: Prostitution obviated the need for "mutual complementariness" of sexual desire; provided a social service to those otherwise deprived of sexual satisfaction (thus diminishing sexual aggression); and allowed the maintenance of a double standard that protected the "virtue" of the respectable woman and thereby the structure of the family. "The upright might rail against the whore...but only her presence allowed society to 'reduce the sexual irregularities of respectable women' and avoid a Hobbesian state of sexual promiscuity and licentiousness.

EXAMPLE: Racketeering was a "natural response" to the peculiar features of the New York dock land, performing the function, which other agencies could not do, of stabilizing a chaotic market and establishing an order and structure in the industry."

EXAMPLE: Urban political machines were often the targets of reformers; but functionalists argued that they were the product of a structural context which made it difficult, if not impossible, for morally approved structures to fill essential functions. The machine and its boss prevented the unraveling of an overly fragmented, legalistic, and bureaucratic operation.

B. Societal reaction perspective - says reaction to deviance is a major source of moral instruction in a society.

1. It has been argued that crime waves can be generated by fluctuations in societal concern rather than by actual changes in criminal behavior. "Men who fear witches soon find themselves surrounded by them...It is not always known whether fear creates the deviance or deviance the fear.

2. Viewed in this light, social reactions to deviance and confrontations with individual deviants provide other members of a society with important information about normative prescriptions and proscriptions in the society. Confrontations with deviants draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

IV. Socialization approaches

A. A number of theories stress the groups within which deviance occurs and the socialization processes by which deviant lifestyles are created. These theories are generally more appropriate for achieved forms of deviance (crime, prostitution, drug use) than for those that are ascribed (physical handicaps, mental retardation)

B. One of the most influential socialization theories is Sutherland's theory of differential association. This theory holds that deviance is learned in much the same way that lawful or conforming behaviors are learned. According to the theory, each person is surrounded by people, definitions, norms, and behavior patterns that differ in that some are favorable to law violation while others are not. Whether or not a person becomes deviant will be a function of the relative mixture of these procriminal and anticriminal experiences. A person becomes deviant because of an excess of definitions favorable to violations of the law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law.

V. Conflict theories

A. Argue that economic and class interests affect deviance. Deviantization is a tool of the most powerful groups in society. Illegal acts are those which threaten the "ruling class" interests. The law is a coercive weapon of the state's dominant class. Crime rates appear to be high among the poor because the criminal laws were written by the rich AND because crime is a rational response to social inequality. Instead of thinking of crime as impulsive or pathological, conflict theorists tend to regard many crimes as highly rational given the inequitable distribution of wealth.

B. The strongest support for conflict theory lies in the difference between street crime and white collar crime. Sutherland examined court cases involving anti-trust violations, false and misleading advertising, unfair labor practices, embezzlement and fraud. He concluded these offenses were generally more costly and injurious to public safety and street crime, but these offenses seldom received heavy criminal sanctions - or often any criminal sanctions at all. Virtually all the participants (the offenders, the regulators, the judges) treated these offenses as if they were not real crimes.

C. Hence, it is argued that deviantization is more a function of vested political interests than of the objective harmfulness of the deviantized behavior.

VI. Labeling theory approaches.

A. Most theories emphasize events and variables prior to a person's entry into deviant behavior. Some theories say the deviant is different from the conforming person because the process of socialization has been incomplete or ineffective. Criminals have not internalized society's norms; or, they have adopted the norms and values of a deviant subculture. Deviance is an objective phenomenon - an act either is or is not deviant.

Labeling theory is primarily concerned with the social processes by which individuals are labeled as deviant, and with the effects of these labels on the deviant and non-deviant alike. As Becker put it, "deviant behavior is behavior that people so label." The meaning of an act as deviant or not is a matter of negotiated agreement, and it should not be assumed that acts are either deviant or not. They are deviant or not if people agree that they are or are not.

B. A deviant label dominates the way the person is perceived. Deviant labels tend to override all other aspects of the individual in terms of salience and perceived importance. (EX: Rapist, murderer, mental patient. Murder may have taken ten seconds of a person's life, yet that label dominates them.) All perceptions tend to be affected by the label.

EX: Rosenhan's study of pseudo mental patients - everything the pseudo patients did was interpreted in light of their illness.

C. Labeling affects the labelee. Labels tend to compound or exacerbate the behaviors that prompted the label in the first place. By treating the individual as a deviant, the individual comes to see herself or himself as a deviant. A prostitute comes to think of herself only as a prostitute, a murderer only as a murderer. Self-fulfilling prophesy.

D. There are numerous examples that illustrate that deviance is socially determined, rather than anything innate.

1. Alcohol was criminalized during prohibition and decriminalized after

2. The American Psychiatric Association used to list homosexuality as a "sexual deviation." In 1973, it declared that homosexuality by itself does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder.

3. There has been a medicalization of deviance. For example, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and alcoholics have come to be regarded as sick rather than merely criminal. Medical intervention has replaced punishment for many forms of deviance.

4. The bible says thou shalt not kill - yet killing is considered permissible in many instances (wartime, self-defence).

5. Prior to 1937, few states had laws against marihuana, and there was little public concern. There was no perceived breach of the social order until the Federal Bureau of Narcotics succeeded in creating such a public definition.

E. Why do these changes in labeling occur?

1. Often groups organize who wish to deviantize a previously non-deviant behavior. EX: Prohibition. Teenage drinking.

2. In other cases, the labelees try to liberate themselves from the deviant label. EX: Gay activists led to the APA's change.


I. Overview. Erving Goffman's 1963 book, Stigma, examined the lives of the disabled and the handicapped and others that possessed "stigma".

A. Had case studies of the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the disfigured. Includes a wide variety of stigma, but all have in common the fact that the stigmatized individual possesses an "undesired differentness" and is therefore "disqualified from full social acceptance."

B. Illustrated two central concerns:

1. the strained nature of the interactions between the stigmatized and the unstigmatized

2. the burdens born by the stigmatized in terms of the management of these interactions and the selective disclosure about the nature of their stigma.

II. Types of stigma.

A. Discredited vs. discreditable. Goffman distinguishes the discredited from the discreditable. "Does the stigmatized individual assume his differentness is known about already or is evident on the spot, or does he assume it is neither known about by those present nor immediately perceivable by them? In the first case one deals with the plight of the discredited, in the second with that of the discreditable.

1. Discredited stigma include deformities, gross physical handicaps, and other manifest disabilities. Discredited individuals are forced to deal with their stigma in virtually all interactions.

2. Discreditable stigma include criminal history, sexual deviance, epilepsy, homosexuality, and other invisible conditions. Their interaction management strategies are more complex. They may decide to inform no one about their stigma; they may decide to reveal it to selected individuals or only late in a relationship; or they may make the non-obvious stigma a matter of public knowledge.

EX: For most epileptics the strategy of selective concealment is pursued in preference to total secrecy. One function of disclosure is therapeutic: the individual can overcome some of his/her feeling of isolation by sharing information. Can also do "preventive telling" - telling makes it possible for intimates to recognize a seizure and not be shocked by it. Can also tell friends how to respond to the seizure (e.g. do not send for an ambulance). Can also use telling to test the strength of a developing relationship - "If they are going to leave, better it be sooner than later."

B. Another way of categorizing stigma:

1. Abominations of the body - physical deformities, scars, conspicuous disabilities. These usually make their possessor discredited, though some can be concealed.

2. Blemishes of individual character - alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, addiction, record of imprisonment. These tend to be discreditable.

3. Tribal stigma - race, nation, religion - tend to contaminate all members of a family. These may or may not be conspicuous.

C. Because of these different types of stigma, the effects of stigma on the lives of their possessor's is highly variable. Ex-prisoners, homosexuals, some amputees, and others may be able to "pass" - i.e. to interact as if they did not possess these forms of stigma.

III. Consequences of stigma.

A. Any stigma can become a master status and provide the basis for a number of irrational global attributions. Goffman says we tend to impute a wide range of imperfections on the basis of the original one. For example, people shout a the blind as if they were deaf or speak slowly to stutterers as if they had trouble comprehending. Some stigmas, like obesity, are used to make attributions about the personality, character, and general competence of the stigmatized individual.

B. Interactions between the stigmatized and unstigmatized are strained. The unstigmatized impute unhumanness to the handicapped.

1. Most unstigmatized individuals respond to stigma with strong affects: aversion, anxiety, fear, loathing, panic, flight. Most of the emotional reactions that stigma produces in unstigmatized individuals are negative.

2. Even nominally positive reactions like sympathy or charity may be experienced by the stigmatized as negative, condescending, and patronizing since they imply that the individual merits pity or requires assistance.

3. The handicapped also feel strained in their interactions with the un-handicapped. Will engage in longer interactions with members of their own kind.

C. When one's stigma is known, a wide range of behaviors are regarded as symptomatic and attributed to it. Ex-mental patients are afraid to engage in vigorous arguments with their intimates or co-workers for fear that any strong affect will be seen as a symptom. Similarly, when the mentally retarded experience any problem, this problem is likely to be explained in terms of their intellectual competence - even if this problem occurs commonly among the unstigmatized.

D. The stigmatized person has less privacy and can be approached, touched, interrogated, or invaded at will. The physically handicapped are routinely stared at. They are often offered assistance, when such assistance is unnecessary or embarrassing. They may be asked about their lives by complete strangers - "Do you have a gland problem? How did you lose your legs?"

E. Because they themselves have extensive practice at concealment, the stigmatized are better than normals at detecting the discreditable. The deaf may be better at identifying other deaf people. Some stigmas may be recognizable because they produce consistent coping strategies - e.g. the illiterate may ask others to read things for them by explaining that they forgot their glasses.

F. Discreditable individuals may use an unwritten code to recognize one another. Since discreditable stigma is, by definition, closeted, it may pose for the possessor the problem of how to meet similar others. Unidentified male homosexuals, for example, may identify and communicate by means of nonverbal communication - e.g. mutual eye contact, which is different from the momentary glances permissible between heterosexual men.

The Making of Blind Men

Robert Scott (1969), in his book The making of Blind Men, argued that the social identity, roles, and behavior of the blind are socially constructed through socialization experiences, rather than somehow being inherent in the physical condition of being unable to see. The overwhelming majority of people who are classified as legally blind can, in fact, see. Yet the reactions of others to them cut them off from normal interaction, "demoralizing and humiliating them" and profoundly altering their public identities and sense of themselves.

Agencies of social control, whose primary task is the management and containment of blindness, contribute greatly to the "making of blind men." Here, people who have difficulty seeing learn how to behave like blind men. People who can see come to behave as though they cannot; from a heterogenous population homogeneity is eventually created.

In theory, most blindness agencies endorse a restorative approach, seeking to prepare the blind for an independent & relatively normal existence. In fact, Scott showed there was a pervasive tendency to encourage passivity & dependence. This occurs because (1) blindness workers have few career options (2) sensitivity to community pressures to segregate the blind.