Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance Howard S. Becker (New York: Free Press, 1963)
Symbolic interactionism • Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theory based on the idea that people act in accordance with shared meanings, orientations, and assumptions • Focus is on etiology (vsepidemiology), the process by which a person becomes deviant • e.g., labeling theory
Labeling theory • Labeling theoryassumes that public labeling, or branding, as deviant, has adverse consequences for further social participation and self-image • the most important drastic change is in public identity, which is a crucial step towards building a long-term “deviant career”
Master status • master status is a status that assumes priority, overrides other status considerations • “…possession of one deviant trait may have a generalized symbolic value, so that people automatically assume that its bearer possesses other undesirable traits allegedly associated with it” (199) – i.e., auxiliary traits • Becker gives example of race – Still the case? Or are we in a “post-racial” society? • Or do we need to look at the intersection of race and socioeconomic status?
…deviance a self-fulfilling prophecy • If the master status is deviant, deviant identification becomes the controlling one • self-fulfilling prophecy • due to being excluded from participation in most other conventional groups • due to the “treatment,” which may itself produce increasing deviance
Why do people engage in a deviant activity such as using marihuana? • Conventional explanations are psychological, based on psychological traits that predispose one to deviant behavior, i.e., • deviant motivations deviant behavior • Becker argues that instead of the deviant motives leading to the deviant behavior, it is the other way around: the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation
Psychological explanations are not sufficient to account for marihuana use • Theories based on the existence of some predisposing psychological trait have difficulty in accounting for the many users who do not exhibit the trait or traits which are considered to cause the behavior • Psychological theories have difficulty in accounting for the great variability over time of a given individual's behavior with the drug • The same person will at one time be unable to use the drug for pleasure, at a later stage be able and willing to do so, and still later again be unable to use it in this way • These changes, difficult to explain from a theory based on the user's needs for "escape," are understandable as consequences of changes in his conception of the drug
Learning the Technique • The first step to becoming a user is learning to use the proper smoking technique so that use of the drug will produce effects in terms of which one’s conception of it can change • Only when this was learned was it possible for a conception of the drug as an object which could be used for pleasure to emerge
Learning to Perceive the Effects • Being high consists of two elements: • the presence of symptoms caused by marihuana use • the recognition of these symptoms and their connection by the user with his use of the drug • In this way marihuana acquires meaning for the user as an object which can be used for pleasure
Learning to Enjoy the Effects • Marihuana-produced sensations are not automatically or necessarily pleasurable • The taste for such experience is a socially acquired one, not different in kind from acquired tastes for oysters or dry martinis • What was once frightening and distasteful becomes, after a taste for it is built up, pleasant, desired, and sought after • Enjoyment is introduced by the favorable definition of the experience that one acquires from others • Without this, use will not continue, for marihuana will not be for the user an object he can use for pleasure.
Becoming a “marihuana user” requires learning: • learning to smoke the drug in a way which will produce real effects • learning to recognize the effects and connect them with drug use (learning to “get high”) • learning to enjoy the sensations s/he perceives Suggests deviance is often learned, and not something innate