Deviance or aberrance underscores any form of misdemeanor towards the generally acceptable principles or norms in any given society. Some factors to consider when defining deviance include gender, location, social status, and age. For instance, the crying of women in public in reiteration to emotional moments is not considered deviant in most societies. On the other hand, the crying of men in public places amounts to deviance in some societies, as it is against the norm for men to cry.
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Today in the United States, the crying of men in response to celebrations or achievements is a norm. In addition, a person laughing loudly at a funeral service is deviant, but when the same happens in a wedding or a political rally, it becomes the norm. In terms of status, an influential person can avoid protocols of a long queue waiting for security check to enter a building, but an ordinary person would be branded deviant for trying to do the same. Being deviant does not qualify one as a criminal, as some deviant acts are admirable; for instance, risking one’s life to save a drowning baby or representing one’s nation at war. Endangering one’s life is against the norm of the society.
I would like to take a case were I am involved in asking for alms along the streets. In the United States, people are hardworking and determined to what they do. People live individualistic lives in many cases and they do not expect to be bothered by strangers in any way. Although begging is not a crime, the society does not advocate such behavior.
However, I decided to go to the streets on one evening, dressed indecently, and I sat on a busy footpath blocking a large portion of the way. People forced their way through and even some decided to pass in turns to avoid collision. I pretended not to be bothered, as continued pleading with passersby to fill my bowl with the little they had. Couple of hours passed by and nobody bothered to drop a penny. I realized that I had some notes in my side pockets and I decided to drop them into the bowl and see how people would react now that some Good Samaritan had previously ignored the norm and contributed to the idle person on the street.
Surprisingly, the scheme worked out, as several people dropped a few notes and some entered the shops around to get some foodstuffs for the beggar. As the night entered, the street was abandoned. The few people around decided to take alternative pathways perhaps due to security reasons. The opportunity to flee without anybody suspecting the mischief arrived and I took off. On my way home, I passed by a nearby mall and I dropped the few notes I had begged to a kitty intended for a charity foundation.
On the following evening, I felt a bit familiar with what to expect on the street. I hired a local electrician to install a surveillance camera at the same position I was begging the previous day. This move was intended to capture the scene, and thus enable later analysis of the people’s reactions. I repeated the act for two days before quitting. On the fifth, day I called my two friends, Tom and Kimberly, to meet in my room and narrate my social experiment to them. No one believed me until I played the clips. Tom did not believe the clips either as he claimed that he needed to see the experiment in action before believing it.
Social class vs. deviance
It was an arduous task for me to change what I knew was against the norm. In addition, pretending to be comfortable with my pauper-status was a nightmare. First, I had to dress indecently and go to the streets to beg for money from strangers. It was against my principles to do what I knew was wrong, but I had to compromise for the sake of the experiment. Interestingly, at one point, it felt normal to beg and I even wondered why nobody went out to the streets to make a kill out of it. However, thinking of what society expected of me, I felt like revealing my story to the people I was doing injustice.
Being of high social class, nobody expected to see me on the streets borrowing, and thus I had identified an unfamiliar location where nobody would probably recognize mer. The media was not interested in covering my story since it was a simple story of deviance. Newsmakers report on big crimes forgetting that such crimes emerge from the small social deviance acts that happen every other day.
Deviance as a social construct
After watching the clips and revisiting my thoughts, I realized that nobody was willing to donate anything when the bowl was empty. After I placed some money in the bowl, people started donating. This move implied that people could be misled easily into changing their perspective on what amounts to deviance. If begging is repeated several times, it might no longer be termed as deviant in the society. At first, people might react negatively, but with time, they get used to seeing it happen and it becomes the norm. People tolerating deviant behavior qualify it as a norm through social construct.
My friends were stunned, and they even threatened to abandon me if I posed as a beggar any other day. On the first day of my begging expedition, people looked angered and they almost stepped on me, but I was not bothered because I expected the society to react harshly. Reactions involved negative sanctions such as raised eyebrows, frowning, avoiding eye contact, and clicking. I did not expect anything different from what I experienced. The comprising nature of human beings makes the work difficult for the agents of social change. People will always develop social problems no matter how much we wish away such problems (Carl 232).
Societal response to deviance
Engaging in a deviant act in begging is weak and irresponsible. Taking a portion of what others have tired for is an act of wickedness regardless of the fact that you did not use force. In essence, you manipulate people to think that the society is unfair and that they have a lot which should be shared to you. A young energetic person begging is a sign of a dysfunctional society with an inevitable bleak future.
On a similar case, I relate to previous behaviors, which changed with time depending on people perspectives. In the United States, during the early days of the 1950s, playing loud music in buses and residential areas was a norm; however, if you tried the same behavior today people would see you as an uncultured being. These are the same people, but at certain period, somebody felt irritated by the loud music and made others realize the same, and thus laws were enacted to control the level of noise in public places. With time, the norm has graduated to deviance and ultimately to a crime.
The functional theorist view of deviance
This theory describes deviance as a way of answering to a social call or factor. For instance, Emile Durkheim identified deviance as an important social expectation. Functionalists claim that deviant behaviors help the society to differentiate what is expected of them as conformers. Deviance develops to bring the necessary change (Carl 236). For instance, driving under influence of alcohol can result in massive deaths due to accidents. This behavior has occasioned the enactment of strict traffic rules, which have subsequently saved many lives.
Seeing people engage in negative sanctions when I was begging on the streets sent the signal that what I was doing was anti-social. This aspect opens one’s mind to think of other acceptable and legitimate ways of making money.
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Critique of Merton’s theory of Anomie
I do not agree to Robert Merton’s theory of anomie. He talks of social instability defined by a society of haves and have-nots. In addition, he talks of some people having defined goals to success and creating the means through hard work and education. He goes ahead and describes the poor as having blocked access to their ends. However, he fails to identify who blocks their way or who provided the means for the haves. It is all about hard work and perception. Rebels are guided by choice and the same applies to the conformists. If I decided to go back on the streets and start begging as a means of livelihood, the proponents of this theory would label me an innovator. This aspect means that agree to the common goals of society, but I am not willing to work or use legitimate ways to get money.
According to Carl, “punishing deviant people reminds them what the society expects of them and what to expect if they cross the boundaries of behavior expectations” (238). In addition, different societies operate autonomously when forging ways of instilling compliance. Conformist societies engage both positive and negative sanctions. Positive sanctions “encourage people to keep abiding by the norms” (Carl 241). For instance, a smile or a warm hug from others is a way of encouraging the positive spirit. In my case, negative sanctions such as clicking and frowning were meant to drive me from the streets.
Several questions emerge from my case. For instance, does it have to get to the extent of receiving negative sanctions from society? Do the non-conformists lack a sense of self-control or they deliberately disobey the norms? Apparently, some people cannot hold or delay gratification to a tempting circumstance and they end up being deviant or even criminals. These people have low self-control and ultimately they stand out as wicked in the eyes of society. The conformists usually have high levels of self-control, as they can delay their urge or even do away with it if it does not yield what is expected of them.
For instance, assume someone is in a wedding party and after a long wait in the queue to get some delicacies, s/he realizes that little is left and s/he may end up missing his/her share. People with low self-control will not hesitate to avoid the queue or even scramble for some food. On the other hand, those with self-control will withdraw and seek alternative ways of gratifying their hunger or cravings.
After examining various kinds of deviance and different generalizations of the behavior, it suffices to conclude that each society has developed diverse ways of responding to deviant behaviors. What qualifies as deviant behaviors in one society may be norms in other communities. Some social theorists do not agree on external factors such as environment, age, and gender among other related factors that are connected to laying the blame of non-conformity on a person.
People fail to adhere to norms deliberately just to satisfy their desires because in many cases, they know nothing will be done to them in retaliation. However, such kind of thinking is tantamount to impunity. I concur to this school of thought because I believe in determinism and hard work as means to the desired end. The other school of thought is composed of relativists and it argues that the act of deviance is dependent on external factors coupled with how society views the situation.
However, despite the varying views, we conclude that the way the society responds to deviance is central in understanding deviant behaviors. In my opinion, deviance is a big societal ill in spite of people choosing to tolerate the behavior. I do not agree with people who tolerate deviance by accepting it as a norm and I would rather advocate criminalizing such uncultured behavior.
Carl, John. Think Sociology. 2nd ed. 2011. Upper Saddle River: Pearson. Print.