"Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label" Becker. How have symbolic interactionists applied this idea to explain the presence of deviancy in society?

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"Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label" Becker. How have symbolic interactionists applied this idea to explain the presence of deviancy in society?

The definition of the word 'deviant' is explained as; (a person or thing) deviating from normal behaviour. This automatically assumes that 'normal' behaviour is the correct and appropriate actions of society; therefore those who do not conform to this are seen as deviant. The concept of deviance is a relative term, meaning its fluid rather than fixed, changeable rather than static. One can discern that the idea of what is deviant according to the above classification is continually up for reinterpretation depending on the context in which it's set in. for example in the 1950's homosexuality was viewed by the majority of society as an illness but today as a legitimate and accepted lifestyle choice. Symbolic interactionist's translation of 'deviance' is that it is socially constructed, retaining a remnant that is so central to sociologists such as Beccaria, that the social realm is 'constructed' by actors. Becker (1974 pg 51)1 argues that 'deviant action is not an unknown, mystical force but that in fact 'we see that social rules, far from being fixed and immutable, are continually constructed anew in very situation.'

Deviance according to deviance and labelling theories is the non-conformity with a set of norms accepted by a significant number of people in society. Early theorists had been biological and psychological in nature and located the cause of deviance in individual wrongdoing with nothing whatsoever to do with society. The theories were positivistic in that the believed and sought definitive causes of deviancy. Functional theories argues that a structural tension exists disturbing the normal functioning of society. This condition combined with a lack of moral regulation creates the environment where the individual turns to deviance. A critique is that it assumes that the norms are accepted universally. Conflict theories such as Marxism, argue that deviance arises due to class differentials and the capitalist control of productive resources and mainstream ideas usually relayed through agencies such as the media which create a false consciousness amongst the masses. Its major critique is the fact that conflict exists within social groups and classes. The labelling theoretical perspective emerged from studies in the field of criminology. Becker (1974) contends that the labelling theory is not looking for the origins of deviance but rather to 'focus the attention on the way the labelling places the actor in circumstances which make it harder for him to continue the normal routines of everyday life and thus provoke him to "abnormal" actions.' (pg 42) His stance is that the labelling process gives a disposition towards acting in a certain way but certainly not always so. This approach points the researcher to study the drama of moral rhetoric and action, and the way that formulations of 'deviance are made, accepted, rejected and fought over' (pg 47). Especially important in this process are those with the power to make the label stick. The deviant act is therefore not just an isolated act but takes place in a complex web of involvement with others. The concept of collective responsibility seriously challenges those who state that deviance results from individual psychological orientation and as such is akin to an interactionist's theory of deviance.
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As its name suggests, interactionism is concerned with interaction, which means action between individuals. The interactionist perspective seeks to understand this process. Interactionists place particular emphasis on the idea of the self. They suggest that individuals develop a 'self-concept', a picture of themselves, which has lan important influence on their actions. A 'self-concept' develops from interaction processes, since it is in a large part a reflection of others towards the individual; hence the term 'looking glass self 'coined by Charles Cooley.2 He posed the idea that actors tend to act in terms of their self-concept. Thus if they ...

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