The above examples are all illegal in the society we live in. Underage smoking and drinking, Drug use and drug possession, and prostitution are all strictly illegal in Malta. However if we had to take a look at other countries, we may find that some of these illicit actions are considered to be the norm in their society. A recent trip to Amsterdam showed me that walking into a bar that is full of smoke coming from lighted spliffs of cannabis is as normal as walking into a walking into a bar that is full of cigarette smoke here in Malta. Holland has the most tolerable laws regarding soft drug use in the whole world promoting the fact that drug use is a matter of personal choice and not a matter of political or social judgment. Marijuana is the most widely used drug in the world and even though there is absolutely no proof that the long-term negative effects of the drug are no different than the effects of cigarettes there is a strong adversity against the use of the drug in almost every country that condemns drug use in the laws they put out, even though the drug can be effectively used to combat the pains of arthritis or muscular dystrophy. The Dutch society accepts drug use just like we accept cigarette use and alcohol consumption. Does that make the Dutch society deviant? To most other societies this may be true but only because we are used to be living in an environment where drug trafficking is kept well under our noses and out of our sight because of the strict laws against it.
Because of the over population problem in China, there are many laws that have taken place that may come as a shock to most of us. Every married couple is obliged to have only one child and are given a contract to sign stating that if they do agree to comply and only have one child throughout their whole marriage then the couple will benefit from a lot of advantages given to them by the government like child benefits, a better pay and so on. If the couple refuse then there lives would be made a misery, they would lose their jobs and automatically will not be entitled to any future benefits. What' s more, if the child born is a girl then the married couple are expected to give up the baby and leave it the doctor's hands to be put in a room at a freezing cold temperature and left to die there of either cold, thirst or hunger. Again if the couple obliges to this act then they are entitled to more benefits submitted by the government and those who don't are of course entitled to less. Many of us would be horrified by these measures which must be extremely desperate ones made by the Chinese government to try and control the Chinese population and since most of the Chinese population agree with this fact, they also agree with these laws that have been passed on.
It is true that a society may encourage deviance and that society's sanctions and norms, are made by no one but the general society itself. It is true that some people may find the society's sanctions and norms to stifling to live in and may be tempted and pushed to rebel against them. However as Durkheim said, it is also possible that deviance in itself can encourage social change and social views. Durkheim claimed that deviant people push a society's moral boundaries, suggesting alternatives to the status quo and encouraging change. Moreover, as Durkheim said, today's deviance may become tomorrow's integrity and morality. He also said that responding to social deviance promotes social unity and that people characteristically react to serious crime with overboard outrage just like the Americans protested in respond to the terrorist attack last September 11th. And finally deviance confirms and verifies the moral boundaries and cultural sanctions and norms. Without deviance, these sanctions or norms would not be distinguished and nobody would recognise a virtue from a vice because there simply would not be any vices. Deviance helps us make moral choices.
As we have seen in these few paragraphs, deviance, as well as conformity is shaped by a society. Deviance varies according to social norms. No action is deviant; it only becomes deviant when applied in relation to certain norms, just like marijuana being legal in Amsterdam and illegal in most parts of the globe. We have also seen that people become deviant as others define them that way and that rule making and rule breaking involve social power. It is one thing to state a person as a criminal or a person of deviant behaviour, but is it quite another thing to try and understand the person's deviance excluding the sanctions and norms of the society he is living in.
Rachel Azzopardi Carbonese