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Explaining Social Deviance

Explaining Social Deviance

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Explaining Social Deviance

Course No. 675
Professor Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.
Emory University
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Course No. 675
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Course Overview

Why do some people commit crimes, use the wrong fork, or speak out of turn? How does a society determine when a crime has been committed, which fork to use, and who should speak when? How have we tried to explain deviance and create categories of deviants? What has been the role of race and class in these definitions?

How do deviants reconcile their behavior with society's norms? What have been the contributions of Freud, Durkheim, Lombroso, and modern literary criticism to our understanding of deviance and conformity?

How is the practice of science itself an example of deviance and conformity?

A Framework for Defining Deviance

This set of 10 lectures examines the complex topic of deviance and how major sociological theories have attempted to define it and understand its role in both historical and modern society.

Professor Paul Root Wolpe introduces deviance as "a complex, often ambiguous, social phenomenon that raises numerous questions about how a varied and often arbitrary set of characteristics can be used to name the same idea.

"Certain theories provide a framework for examining how religion, societal norms, power relations, and personal values and beliefs are often used to determine which personal characteristics and behaviors are labeled deviant and, by default, which individuals, groups, or behaviors are sanctioned in societies," he says.

The application of those definitions has a direct impact on areas of social life, including the mental health profession, systems of deterrence, the judicial system, and the arts. Who do we medicate, educate, incarcerate?

Dr. Wolpe is the author of the textbook Sexuality and Gender in Society and the end-of-life guide In the Winter of Life. He has won several teaching and writing awards and was named "Outstanding Professor at Penn" by the Panhellenic Council at the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition, Dr. Wolpe is the first chief of bioethics for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He is a regular columnist on biotechnology for the Philadelphia Inquirer and appears frequently in broadcast and print media, including MSNBC, CBS and ABC Evening News, Dateline, and The Jim Lehrer Show.

Explore Western Theories of Deviance

Intended for those with some understanding of sociology, this course traces Western theories of deviance from classical demonism to constructionism.

Deviance and criminology. The first lecture introduces the topic of deviance and explores its relationship to criminology, then goes on to outline the three major perspectives of deviance: absolutist, objectivist, and subjectivist.

The absolutist perspective is based on the acceptance of universal norms of morality. The objectivist perspective explains deviance as a variation from established societal norms. The subjectivist perspective views deviance as the result of societal reactions to certain individuals, groups, and behaviors.

The concept of demonism. Lecture 2 explores the concept of demonism in both its classical and modern forms. As an example of an absolutist perspective, demonism bifurcates the world into good and evil, with evil often being characterized as supernatural in nature.

Tracing the history of demonism from the Middle Ages to contemporary examples of Satanism, Professor Wolpe illustrates how demonism has often been used to explain and categorize bad behavior when no other explanation is available.

Deviance and pathology. Deviance as a form of pathology is the focus of Lecture 3. Beginning with the early work of Cesare Lombroso and ending with contemporary arguments supporting racial hierarchy theory, Professor Wolpe analyzes the influence of science on sociological thought.

You examine background information on the IQ controversy, the eugenics movement, and Social Darwinism as well as their effects on other aspects of American social life.

Social disorganization. In Lecture 4 Professor Wolpe examines the first sociological theory of deviance, social disorganization. This theory, which gained prominence at the University of Chicago in the 1920s, contends that deviance is a result of the breakdown of a society's ability to regulate itself and to solve communal problems.

It is the first theory to move away from individualistic views of deviance and consider the role of social structure in deviant behaviors. Social disorganization firmly established fieldwork and empirical research as mainstays of sociology.

Durkheim and Merton. An overview of the work of Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton constitutes the bulk of Lecture 5. While not in agreement as to the role of deviance in society, both sociologists agree that it serves a function, as do all social structures and institutions.

You explore anomie, or the breakdown of social morality, as either causing or preventing deviance.

Learning theory. Lecture 6 is devoted to learning theory, the theory of deviance that examines the influence of subcultures on individual behavior. In this lecture, Wolpe describes how differential association, identification, and reinforcement socialize people into particular norms and behaviors, including the behavior system of deviance.

Professor Wolpe outlines ways that deviants negotiate living in two cultures, normative and deviant, using Sykes's and Matza's techniques of neutralization.

Control theory. Lecture 7 on control theory moves away from the question, "Why do people deviate?" to the question "Why do people conform?" You find included in this analysis the idea that most people are in constant discord with society, but through a process of social bonding they commit to the normative behaviors and rules of conduct.

Based heavily on the idea that people are all inherently motivated to deviate, the concept of deterrence plays a key role in control theory.

How society reacts to deviance. In Lectures 8 and 9, Wolpe concentrates on societal reactions to deviance, outlining how deviance has been both constructed and labeled in society.

In Lecture 8 Wolpe describes mental illness and homosexuality as forms of involuntary, noncriminal deviance, to illustrate the dynamics of labeling theory.

Lecture 9 provides background information on the influence of Karl Marx on conflict theory, a theory that continues to view labeling as an integral part of what is viewed as deviant, but which includes the added dimension of a dominant ideology.

You explore the key components of constructionism, claims making, and image making using contemporary examples from art, advertising, and political ideology.

Inherent to the constructionist perspective of deviance is the problematic nature of social truth, which Wolpe illuminates in his discussion of social problems as a form of claims-making activity.

Theories of sexual deviance. The final lecture applies the theoretical perspectives discussed in this course to sexual deviance.

From the demonistic perspective of sex as sin to the constructionist view of sex as claims making, Wolpe illustrates how each theory explains sexual deviance and how those explanations continue to influence contemporary thought.

Professor Wolpe concludes with reasons why science, as a social institution, must be constantly deconstructed and analyzed as a social process that is susceptible to its own form of claims making.

Professor Wolpe concludes the series by discussing the role of science in society and the responsibility of each individual as "moral entrepreneur."

"The most important job people have as members of society is to challenge definitions of deviance," he states.

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10 lectures
 |  46 minutes each
Year Released: 1994
  • 1
    The First Step—Asking the Right Questions
    In this opening lecture, the topic of deviance is introduced as a complex social phenomenon that raises numerous questions about how a varied and often arbitrary set of characteristics can be used to name the same idea. x
  • 2
    Demonism—The Devil's Children and Evil Empires
    Classical demonism illustrates the absolutist perspective of deviance by dividing the world into good and evil. Classical demonism has re-emerged as an explanation for deviance in modern society. Modern demonism continues to divide the world into opposing forces—those who know what is right and those who do not. x
  • 3
    Deviance as Pathology—I'm OK, You Are Twisted
    The pathological perspective of deviance is based on the assumption of a difference between those who are deviant and those who are not. Scientific thinking attempts to explain this difference through racial hierarchy, heredity, intelligence, and genetics; despite its contention that deviance must be viewed empirically, it is still highly moralistic and discriminatory. x
  • 4
    Social Disorganization—Deviance in the Urban Landscape
    The first sociological theory of deviance emerged from the University of Chicago in the 1920s. Despite its inherent bias and circular logic, the social disorganization theory established fieldwork and empirical research as mainstays of sociology. It was also the first theory to suggest that individuals are influenced by the structure of the social world in which they live. x
  • 5
    Functionalism and Anomie—Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
    Functionalism suggests that deviance is necessary for a society to create moral boundaries and a collective conscience that goes beyond any individual. Two different but influential views of deviance and anomie are explored: Emile Durkheim's view which states that deviance prevents anomie, and Robert Merton's view that anomie is a result of deviance. x
  • 6
    Learning Theory—You Have to be Carefully Taught
    The premise of learning theory is that deviance is not an isolated process; people are socialized into particular behavior patterns and norms of the subculture to which they are exposed. Learning theory attempts to explain the roles that differential association and identification play in the socialization process and how adopted behaviors are reinforced and rewarded. x
  • 7
    Control Theory—Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child
    The principle of control theory is that people are inherently motivated to deviance, and it is only because of social bonds and the fear of punishment that they do not act on these instincts. The role control theory has played in both historical and contemporary thinking on deterrence is also explored. x
  • 8
    Labeling Theory—Is Deviance in the Eye of the Beholder?
    Labeling theory suggests that there is no fundamental difference between someone who is deviant and someone who is not; people simply act, and it is society that determines whether or not behavior is deviant. This theory provides insight into how nonvoluntary, noncriminal behaviors such as mental illness become viewed as a form of deviance. x
  • 9
    Conflict and Constructionism—Every Step You Take, I'll Be Watching You
    Competing interests that are part of all human interactions are the focus of constructionism and conflict theories. The explanation of deviance as pathological or as a result of certain social interactions gives way to a view of deviance that is more explicitly ideological in nature. To understand deviance, it is not the "deviant" who needs to be analyzed; it is the creation of deviance that must be deconstructed. x
  • 10
    Case Studies—Sex and Science
    Because every society devotes much time and energy to determining what is sexually proper and what is taboo, this lecture discusses sexual deviance as an example of how the theories discussed in this course continue to resonate in modern thought. It is the role of science in society and the responsibility of each individual as "moral entrepreneur" to constantly negotiate the meaning of deviance. x

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Your professor

Paul Root Wolpe

About Your Professor

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D.
Emory University
Dr. Paul Root Wolpe is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics, a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. Dr. Wolpe also serves as the first bioethicist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he is responsible for formulating policy on...
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Rated 4.2 out of 5 by 32 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by A 2-for-1 offer. Audio download. Dr Wolpe's EXPLAINING SOCIAL DEVIANCE is really two things in one: • It examines "deviance", a very broad concept that includes everything from criminality to smaller habits that grate on others. Elvis Presley's dance moves and hair style, for example, started out as deviant until they became the very definition of cool for his generation. • It is an introduction to sociological thinking. Wolpe examines behaviors that also have medical, psychological or economic facets which he mostly ignores. His interest is society, an entity that is both outside us — pressuring through a wide range of threats from mild ridicule to prison — and yet also "inside" through the values and language we internalized during childhood. As this course only has 10 lessons, you should think of it as provocative pamphlet; a product designed to jolt you out of old ways of thinking. It is a first step; not a comprehensive overview of every facet of deviance. __________________ More specifically, Wolpe states that deviance is usually discussed from 3 perspectives: absolutist, objectivist and subjectivist. The first is pre-sociological and very old. ABSOLUTISM: Rules, "our" rules especially, are valid for all time, all societies and in all circumstances. Indeed, ancient or primitive societies considered them divine. It follows that rule-breakers are EVIL, cursed by God. They fill absolutists with instinctive fury. Murderers are obvious candidates. But gay men in certain circumstances also arouse much disgust. So do women driving a car in Saudi Arabia. Note that Wolpe does not mean that absolutists are foolish or that murder and gay rights are good. His only point is that absolutism is a poor explanation for social rules. Something else is at work here. OBJECTIVISM: Societies evolve rules to avoid chaos. It can be important things like property rights or less earth-shaking rules such as which washrooms are reserved for women. The goal is social order, justice, the promotion of prosperity, whatever. It follows that all rules are man-made, negotiable in time, and continually "tested" by unhappy social elements. That is how rules are reformed and youth is socialized. Otherwise, scofflaws are segregated from the group for the purpose of reform. But are societies always this rational? SUBJECTIVISM: Even assuming that objectivism has some truth to it, there is a "gamesmanship" element to rule application as various groups vie for power, prestige or resources. A large number of youths, for example, shoplift a few times. Most outgrow it or stop after one arrest. If you are poor or part of a despised minority, however, you might do a little jail time. You are "labeled", part of the system, an unlikely hire, a prime suspect should the police seek information about other crimes. The police, like any organization, are judged by their success rate. Businesses sell. The police resolve cases. Add to that a court system that encourages plea-bargaining to lighten its load, and abuse is possible. Labeling can become a self-fulfilling liability. ____________________ These are simple examples to illustrate Wolpe's main points. Sociology is long on theory and famous for the way is can express common-sense observations in impenetrable jargon. At the same time it is the theoretical foundation behind the activities of our educators, social workers and penal reformers. __________________ Presentation was fine. So was the course guide. Some contributors got all worked up because Wolpe extends social "gamesmanship" to the hard sciences in lesson 10. I would respectfully invite them to check out TTC's SCIENCE WARS where the same point is made by a respected historian of science. Neither course denies that there is a non-social reality "out there" that ultimately corrects mistakes, but in the short run, scientific work is subject to the politics of group dynamics, what sociology is all about. Understanding sociology can have a huge impact on your perception of everyday experience. This course is an OK introduction. Other strong suggestions, should you feel so inclined, are 2 short books: Peter Berger's "Invitation to Sociology" and Randall Collins' "Sociological Insight". Recommended. March 16, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Perhaps Dated but Informative Available as audio only, no course materials. The speaker is engaging and throws out a lot of information but I felt it dealt with too much of the history of deviance. Still worth listening to. January 2, 2017
Rated 4 out of 5 by Great for Driving to For my job, I had to move an hour away from my girlfriend. Whenever I drive to her house to visit, I play these lectures on my iPod, since the same playlists get boring at times. It's very easy to follow along while driving. My biggest concern was getting lost in the theories because I couldn't take notes or follow along in the study guide. Thankfully, the lectures were laid out simply enough to where it wasn't distracting to listen and pay attention. I'll be honest, this isn't the most memorable course for me, but that could easily be because I has listening to the audio version and not watching the video. But, it's still really good content, and I would highly recommend for someone looking to learn more about sociology. September 22, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by The Liberal Social Theory Presentation An excellent presentation of the liberal perspective. It does not matter if Professor Wolpe is wrong on matters, that is not the point. He did a good job in sincerely presenting his point of view. In the division of Absolute thought, Objective thought, and Relative thought, Professor Wolpe has the issue of Absolute thought wrong. This is not his fault but rather how liberal sociologists think about the issues. They cannot understand conservative thought, so they demonize conservatives. Since about 1990, most of these issues have been redefined in two areas. The first area is law schools, where professionals are very clear about how to evaluate social issues. Their approach is most often objectivist as to legal theory, but once the law is set, absolute as to how to apply the law. This is universally agreed upon in public discourse and policy with a few exceptions. The other area is finance and economics, which is now highly determinative of where people live, where they attend school, and their employment prospects. This has been driven by law and economic theory. An example is in application of recreational drug use, the law that surrounds drug use and the response of society: Drug use creates social barriers, which are exacerbated in legalization in the "Nash/Schelling" equilibrium, and we are seeing this in Colorado in the micro motive and macro social behavior. Absolutist/Moralist: Choose between jobs or drug use, and the conservatives choose to work. Objectivist/Amoralist: Follow the market amorally and the moderate manager drug tests. Relativistic/Immoralist: Say drug use is okay, and the liberal hourly employee works for someone else. After a few Nash/Schelling rounds: Absolutist/Moralist: Most high power professional groups constantly discuss drug use as abuse and unprofessional, from medicine, to law, to teaching to accounting, nearly all professions have strict codes. Objectivist/Amoralist: Managers claim what happens in Colorado stays in Colorado, they do not mean this. What they mean is that they hire people when they need them, and they use cost benefit analysis, and those who use drugs are useful, but will never get promoted. Relativistic/Immoralist: You either own your own business and set your own rules, like a sole proprietor liberal, or you work a low paying job in a franchise, like fast food, or light construction, or in a coffee shop, where they don't ask and they don't tell about drugs use as the rule. This model exactly explains the sociological structures and outcomes that we are seeing in the ages 16-28 cohort, and this issue is constantly making the national news. The claim of sociology is that they could define, observe, and to some degree predict social behavior. In this case, and in many cases, they seem to justify liberal behavior that is felt to be disruptive in general society, with constant "demonism" and exaggerations of moderate and conservative responses. The reason the course is valuable, is that you get to listen to and trace the intellectual source of these dysfunctions, like listening to Marxists speeches on the "dialectic" after the period Maoism ends, realizing, that stable people do not act radically evil over time, but seem to come to some similar conclusions over time, leading North Korea and Iran and Cuba to be politically outliers. Sociologically, most people in those societies are not deviant or that different, but they have to adapt to political deviancy, which is exactly what Reagan meant when he called the Soviet Union the Evil Empire as a rhetorical call phrase, but the lack of liberal understanding led this very accurate statement to be seen as an over simplification. In this light, the course is very valuable to see another viewpoint. May 24, 2016
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