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Social Construction of Deviance. Best (10) on Social Constructionism Reality (our understanding of the world around us) is socially constructed. People make sense of the world through a process of developing understandings Our understanding of reality changes

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social construction of deviance

Social Construction of Deviance

Best (10) on Social Constructionism

Reality (our understanding of the world around us) is socially constructed.

People make sense of the world through a process of developing understandings

Our understanding of reality changes

Our understanding is shaped by words and conceptual categories that shape meaning and facilitate sharing these meanings

social construction of deviance2

Social Construction of Deviance

Best on Social Constructionism

Flexible perspective to study “deviance”

Provides for an analysis of power in the study of deviance, and improves traditional conflict approaches

The importance of “claimsmaking” – What is truth with a capital T? Do we live in an era of truthiness?

Kitsuse and Specter (1977) “Social Construction of Social Problems”

Becker 1963 “Outsiders”

social construction of deviance3

Social Construction of Deviance

Becker (1963) Moral Entrepreneurs

The development of rules in American society is a process

It involves a variety of social actors:

Rule Creators: Moral Crusader

Absolute universalism about a given behavior

Benevolent motives (do-gooder; busybody - WCTU)

Upper echelon of society (adds credence to their moral advocacy – follow our rules & you, too, may be like us)

Focus of crusade is targeted toward behavior associated with lower status groups

Developing public awareness of social problem

Crusaders more interested in Ends than the Means

Rise of experts (professionals) in making rules (sometimes undermines original motive)

18th Amendment (1919)

Smoking ban?

social construction of deviance4

Social Construction of Deviance

Becker (1963) Moral Entrepreneurs

Rule Enforcers

Purpose: To administer new rules that result from moral crusade

Motives of enforcer sometimes undermine the benevolent motives of the social movement: rules provide a basis for their being

2 primary tasks:

1) justify their existence: a paradox to show effectiveness & continued need

2) win respect – respect is often a justification for rule enforcement: importance of discretion (use of cop violence justified?)

Results in selective enforcement (through discretion)

social construction of deviance5
Social Construction of Deviance

Conrad: Notes in the Discovery of Hyperkinesis

What is Hyperkinesis?

Who benefits from this discovery?

What is Medicalization?

How does it contribute to social control?

Is it more common in certain types of societies?

Last 2 Aspects:

  • Individualization of Social Problems
  • De-politicization of Deviance

What are the implications of externalizing the “cause” of a person’s deviance?

From “Badness” to Sickness

social construction of deviance6

Social Construction of Deviance

Reinarman (14): Drug Scares

2 Observations:

Drug use is a constant feature of human society

Drug laws and enforcement are a feature of societal concern about drug use & problems

Historical examples:






Crack cocaine

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Social Construction of Deviance

7 Steps to Construction of Drugs as Morally Bad:

Kernel of truth

Media magnification

Politico moral entrepreneurs

Professional interest groups

Social context of conflict

Linking of drug use to a dangerous class

Scapegoating social problems on drug use and associated dangerous class

culturally specific theory of drug scares

Silver bullet approach

  • Emphasis on Self Control
  • Consumer Culture
    • Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Weber)
      • The meaning of hard work changed as a result of religious shift from Catholicism to Protestantism
      • Catholicism: Work was in the name of God
      • Under Luther and especially Calvin: Religious ideology is tied to material success; Uncertainty of being saved/heaven
      • Lack of success => Work harder (requires self control)
      • Products become symbols of hard work, status & religious reward
      • This cultural shift helps explain the rise of Capitalism. Reinarman says it’s at the heart of the American Drug Problem

Culturally Specific Theory of Drug Scares:

more on moral panics
More on Moral Panics
  • Blowing Smoke: Status Politics and the Smoking Ban (Tuggle and Holmes)
      • What status(es) does the smoking ban revolve around?
      • Connection between status and moral value?
      • Strategies of control: Assimilative; Coercive
      • Medical versus normative assaults
  • Moral Panics: The Case of Satanic Day Care Centers (DeYoung)
      • Function of moral panic?
      • Peak of concern about daycare is historically specific?

Time period of study?

      • 5 elements to panic: 1) Timing; 2) Target & Trigger; 3) Content; 4) Spread; 5) Denouement