Sociology Paper on The Social Construction of Deviance
In every society, there are activities that are considered norm and anything that does not conform to the activities is regarded as deviance. Deviant behavior mainly relates to sexual and social expectations of the society. The behavior may lead to socially unacceptable activities such as crimes and this affects the social and economic development of the society. In efforts to define the causes and prevention of deviant behavior in the society, different scholars have concluded that deviance is socially constructed. A socially constructed activity is one that is understood from the perception of value and norms upheld in the society. The values upheld by a particular society may differ from those upheld by another, thus the extent to which a behavior is deviant is relative (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 124). Deviance is thus a social construction because it is strictly defined by the normalcy of an action within a given society. To explain the social construction of deviance, this study discusses the concepts of collective consciousness and modern punishment developed by Emile Durkheim and Michael Foucault respectively. The study also highlights the similarities and differences between the two approaches.
Collective Consciousness by Emile Durkheim
The concept of collective consciousness is among the approaches that explain social construction of deviance. Durkheim argues that individuals are informed about their identity and a sense of belonging from the common beliefs, values and practices that are upheld in their societies (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 150). Actions that do not conform to the common standards are intolerable and the individuals are labeled deviant. The collective consciousness is a source of solidarity within a given society and it defines acceptable behaviors that are considered normal. The concept of collective consciousness explains the influence of societal standards in defining behaviors. This is the case with deviant behavior as it is defined by actions that are against what is considered normal by a particular society. Collective consciousness is formed by social forces that are external to the individuals. Individuals conform to these external forces within their social environment unconsciously.
Durkheim affirms that deviance is a social construction and that it plays important role in the society. Among the functions played by deviance is affirming cultural norms and values because the punishment for deviant behavior encourages individuals to abide with the social norms. Deviance also helps in drawing a clear boundary between right and wrong by clarifying the perception of actions based on the shared beliefs. Deviance also serves to unite the society as the shared beliefs give the members of the society a sense of belonging. Finally, Durkheim argues that deviance promotes social change by encouraging good behavior and discouraging negative one.
Modern Punishment by Michael Foucault
The concept of modern punishments relates to the evolution of punitive measures for criminal behavior over time. Foucault explains that in the past, the nature of punishments for unacceptable behavior was directed to the criminal’s bodies. However, the punishment approach changed and currently targets the criminal’s mind and psychological rather than physical torture (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 134). In the past, punishment was more related to the need by the offended parties to revenge but it evolved to more formal methods of maintaining peace and order. The common aspect of punishment in the past and the present is that it the extent to which actions are unacceptable depends on the shared beliefs. The standards used to define deviant behavior are socially constructed and so is deviance.
Similarities and differences between collective consciousness and modern punishment
One of the similarities between the two approaches is that they agree that deviant behavior is defined by the shared beliefs, values and practices in a given society. The approaches also agree that the social construction of deviance enhances order in the society. The other similarity between the two approaches is that they propose that deviance behavior is punishable.
Although the approaches agree that deviance is socially constructed, they differ in the methods used to define deviance. Collective consciousness approach cites that the degree to which actions are regarded as deviant is influenced by the emotions, but modern punishment approach cites that deviant behavior is defined by the hierarchical structure set up to maintain law and order. The other difference is that Foucault argues that deviance is defined by institutions of knowledge, but Durkheim argues that deviance is strictly defined by social norms in a society. ‘
In conclusion, it is clear that deviance is socially constructed based on the collective consciousness and modern punishment frameworks. Societies have varying values, implying that a particular behavior may be considered deviant in a particular community and normal in another one. This implies that it is important for individuals to learn about the values and beliefs that societies uphold to avoid deviant behavior. Deviance as a social construction is important in defining the acceptable and unacceptable behavior and this helps maintain order in the society. The punitive measures associated with deviance help discourage the behaviors, a fact that probably would not be possible if deviance was not socially constructed.
Goode, Erich and Nachman Ben-Yehuda. Moral panics: The social construction of deviance. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.