Term Paper: Deviance in Society

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Deviance as a Sociological Term

The term 'deviance' is a difficult one to assess objectively. Its implications are of an act, pattern of behavior or psychology which reflects a clear and significant divergence from sociological norms. However, this is a definition that is inherently riddled with philosophical problems. Particularly, it is unclear exactly how these divergences are defined and who is entitled to define them. Yet, it is also typically clear that in cases where criminal behavior, violence or depravity of an extreme nature have occurred, some degree of deviance may be easily identified. This denotes that while there is a cause to define deviance as a way of understanding those divergences which reflect a direct danger to society or civil order, it has often been done at the expense of those whose personal lifestyle decisions may harmlessly diverge from societal norms. As we proceed with this discussion, this concern will be reflected in consideration of the manner in which this terminology is used to apply from a sociological perspective, using an array of different scenarios to recognize that deviance is often used simply as a way of identifying and excluding those that are different. Whether from an ethnic, cultural, aesthetic, recreational, professional, sexual or political perspective -- just to name a few contexts in which 'normalcy vs. deviance' is a construct through which power dynamics are defined -- the classification of deviance is taken to mean that one is to be judged not just as different but also as morally, ideologically or philosophically 'wrong' by virtue of this difference. The subjects examined below demonstrate that indeed, such categorization may be used to invoke a sense of informal hostility in mainstream populations against those of identifiable differences. The discussion will also demonstrate that in some ways, views of deviance are arbitrary and to be viewed simply as a product of prevailing but temporal cultural norms.

How have notions of identity changed over time in relation to tattooing and body piercing?

This is certainly a consideration that informs our understanding of tattoos and body-piercing, which have historically been affiliated with counterculture movements and groupings in the United States. These are fashion or lifestyle statements that today command an association with such alternative lifestyles as punk music and political scenes, biker gangs, sadomasochists and white supremacy movements. But they are just as often seen as permeating mainstream culture today, with body art possessing its own cultural implications apart from any specific movement. This points to the degree to which tattoos or body piercing cannot as a general and singular characteristic be used to group individuals or achieve a sense of identity. But research suggests that in addition to the fact that such demographics are still viewed collectively as identifying themselves through these symbols as being part of a deviant culture, there may be some empirical link between these symbols are participation in activities or behaviors which could be classified as deviant.

According to the research reported by Brann (2009), there is a direct research-based correlation between the presence of tattoos and/or piercing and a tendency toward what are termed as deviant behaviors. Brann reports that "tattooing for example was associated with high risk behaviors such as sexual intercourse, smoking, marijuana use and fighting as well as truancy in a survey of adolescents. Tattooing and body piercing are also more likely to be associated with behavioral eating disorder, gateway drug use and sexual activity in teens." (Brann, 1) These associations suggest that there are inherent risks in tattooing and body piercing that, once willingly conceded by the individual, are suggestive of a willingness to engage in other risk-taking behaviors. That said, the categorization of certain sexual behaviors or the use of marijuana as deviant helps to raise the very question at the center of our discussion, which denotes the subjectivity in identifying that which should be viewed as deviance.

Indeed, is a great sociological danger in using these features as a way of identifying the presence of problematic deviance. Indeed, such a generalization is not just irresponsible from the perspective of rationality but also has rooting in the threat of ethnocentric exclusion. Particularly, the view of tattooing and body piercing as being alternative or demonstrative of a deviant lifestyle are distinct to a conservative, white American culture. This stands in contrast to views of these symbols as mainstream spiritual, religious, political or artistic expressions. According to Brann (2004), "many cultures have used tattooing and body piercing as a form of body art and adornment. Body decor such as piercing or tattooing should not be considered a sign of psychiatric disturbance or deviant behavior. Although there are many that associate the practice of tattooing and body piercing with deviancy, body piercing and tattooing have actually been around for thousands of years." (Brann, 1)

This is to say that many tribal cultures, including native Americans, Caribbean Islanders and certain African or Aboriginal groups, may be linked to these practices as an expression of faith, political ranking, familial status or achievement in battle. Thus, to understand such symbols strictly as being demonstrative of deviant behavior is to overlook the importance of such symbols in cultures distinct from ours. Moreover, it threatens to obscure the process by which these practices had been largely stamped out of the mainstream in contexts where European colonial expansion engaged in a whitewashing of myriad tribal cultures. By the mid-20th century, the view in the United States for instance, that tattoos and body-piercing were a clear demonstration of affiliation with a deviant culture would demonstrate the extent to which those cultures in which these practices had been mainstream were now assimilated of extinct.

That said, the absence of these symbols in mainstream culture during the mid-20th century would lead to their adoption by groups and individuals choosing to explicitly define themselves in opposition to some overarching mainstream culture. It is thus that individuals had come increasingly to use tattooing or body piercing in such groups as the underground Neo-Nazi movements, which often pressure members into making this lifelong commitment by being branded with a swastika or SS tag, or punk movements, which though often pacifist in nature, used tattoos to symbolize an affiliation with radical politics, anarchy and rebellion against authoritarian government. In these contexts, it is clear that there has been a thrust over time on the part of those employing such symbols to case themselves as deviant insofar as they willingly and pointedly resist identification with cultural norms.

This may account for research cited above connecting the presence of these symbols with a tendency for deviant behavior. However, it is also the case that definitions have shifted, with just as many individuals making these decisions for strictly expressive or aesthetic reasons. In these cases, the broadly cast net of deviant classification is misused and threatens cultural or expressive freedom.

Discuss deviance and the emerging social controls in relation to the cyber realm.

The proliferation of web use amongst young users is raising greater awareness of the dangers presented by that which has been termed 'digital deviance.' The web creates particularly challenging ways of establishing identity, with user distortion making it increasingly plausible to project a virtual identity which is separate from, supplemental to or fabricated for the benefits of one's actual self. To those with the intent of deviant behavior that is pointedly abusive or harassing of another, social networks and other personal use opportunities have created a platform for online bullying that social controls have found difficult to address.

As the article by Weaver indicates, "in an age of technology, things are at one's fingertips at an instant. According to isafe.org, 'the internet is the new playground.' Not only do parents have to worry about his/her child on the literal, physical playground, but also on the virtual playground of the internet. Kids are targets 24/7. Technology has ushered in a new form of deviance, digital deviance." (Weaver, 1)

To an extent though, the challenges associated with curbing these threats are as complex as the threats themselves. Such is to say that for many web users, there is a fear that social controls as applied by the private corporations which are the most powerful brokers of private information on the internet may themselves manifest as a way of enforcing more culturally driven views on what is appropriate usage of web content. Such is to say that the most immediate recourse against 'digital deviance' is a tighter control over user information such as is possible for such firms as Facebook -- which compiles extensive biographical information, Google -- which monitors and archives user web searches, and ISP service providers -- which possess extensive records connecting individual users to specific IP Addresses. In cases where legal enforcement intervention becomes necessary, all of these are considered sources for such information. There becomes a greater danger when access to this type of sensitive private information is used for adverse commercial purposes or for the enforcement of political agendas.

Compare and contrast Sutherland's differential association… [END OF PREVIEW]

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