Sociological Analysis of the Saints and the Roughnecks Essay

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¶ … Saints and the Roughnecks" from a Sociological Viewpoint

There are numerous sociological concepts and theories that can be used to analyze William J. Chambliss' article the Saints and the Roughnecks. The article describes two groups of high school students, both of whom engage regularly in delinquent behaviors, but are perceived and treated entirely differently by society. The Saints are the rich, well-mannered delinquents who seem to get away with just about everything, and the Roughnecks are the poor, ill-mannered delinquents who are constantly getting in trouble with their teachers, the law and the community in general. Chambliss sets out to try and determine what types of sociological forces are at work that cause these boys to be perceived and treated so differently. He also extends his observations to the boys' post-high school years, noting that just as society had estimated, most of the Saints went on to lead successful, productive lives while most of the Roughnecks continued their deviant behaviors through adulthood and ended up, by most societal standards, as failures.

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One sociological theory that seems to apply to this scenario very well is labeling theory. Essentially, labeling theory is based on the premise that if an individual is repeatedly told that he is 'something' negative, such as a loser or a criminal, then he will eventually come to fulfill those labels. Labeling theory is a theory of deviance that is largely based on the effect labels have on one's self-esteem. It is believed that negative labeling, when combined with the low-self-esteem that it often creates, can lead to deviant and even violent behaviors. On the other hand if you are repeatedly told that you can do anything you want with your life, that you are smart or that you are powerful, you will eventually fulfill those labels. Obviously, the theory assumes that those who become antisocial and deviant are the ones who are victims of negative labeling.

Essay on Sociological Analysis of the Saints and the Roughnecks Assignment

The Saints not only have the moniker of a privileged and virtuous gang, but they have the image and the background to earn them the label of "good" despite their "bad" behavior. Because the Saints come from wealth, they have nicer appearances, nicer cars and better manners than the Roughnecks. They are able to use these advantages to charm their way in and out of situations and therefore keep their labels as good and successful in tact. These boys are repeatedly told that they are going to make something of themselves because they have good grades and speak well and stay out of trouble with the law. It does not matter that the reason they have good grades is that they cheat. It is not important that the reason they speak well is because they were lucky enough to be born to the upper middle class (through no fault or effort of their own). And no one seems to care that the reason they have stayed out of trouble with the law is not because they do not break the law on a regular basis, but rather because they have learned to use the advantages they were given in life to their benefit. The Saints self-esteem is consistently reinforced with positive labels and accolades, which allows them to succeed in life.

The Roughnecks, are of course, in the complete opposite situation. They do not have the fancy clothes and flashy cars and affluent charm of the Saints. They are labeled as roughnecks, which essentially means, in modern lingo "trailer trash." Teachers expect them to fail, so they fail. Policemen expect them to cause trouble and break the law so they are primed and ready to arrest them when they do. These boys are consistently told that they will amount to nothing and thus, in accordance with labeling theory, this is exactly what happens.

Another sociological theory that could applyto the Saints and Roughnecks scenario is Travis Hirschi's Social Control Theory, also known as Social Bonding Theory. Hirschi's theory highlights the relationship between how well people bond socially with one another and how likely they are to commit anti-social behaviors. Unlike some other theorists, Hirschi's concern was not what drives people to commit antisocial behaviors but rather what causes people to avoid them.

According to Hirschi, people tend to engage in antisocial behaviors when they have not formed strong social bonds with family members and peers. This is because it is those social networks that usually prevent people from pursuing unacceptable behaviors because they do not want to alienate or disappoint those people with whom they have bonded. So when an individual has not formed these types of strong bonds, there is nothing to prevent him from acting out on his anti-social inclinations. Hirschi believes that we all have these inclinations, however the strength or weakness of our social bonds are what drive us to either conformity non-convention.

Adolescents are particularly susceptible to antisocial behaviors as a result of inadequate social bonds because adolescence is a critically important conduit between late childhood and early adulthood. Teenagers themselves often see adolescence as an exciting time, a time of new power and more independence. But some teenagers feel that it is also a daunting time, filled with persistent concerns about their self-identity and self-worth. While drugs, alcohol, crime and other antisocial behaviors can help to mask some of those fears and self-doubts, they can also create additional doubts based on the fact that their behaviors are socially unacceptable.

An interesting point here is that both the Saints and the Roughnecks had formed very strong bonds with one another. They functioned together as a group and they committed delinquent acts as a group. So they were not deficient in peer bonding. Therefore, the social bonds that these boys are lacking would have to be family-related, if Hirschi's theory is to apply. There is really no information given in the Chambliss article about the boys' relationships with their families. However, for Hirschi's theory to be accurately applied to the Saints and the Roughnecks, one would have to assume that the bonding between these boys and their families was inadequate.

A third possible sociological explanation for the Saints and Roughnecks scenario is Robert Merton's Strain Theory. The basic premise of this theory is that people are driven to achieve certain goals that are laid out by society as the norm. However when obstacles get in their way and keep them from achieving those goals (for example they want a college education but cannot afford it) then they turn to deviant behaviors such as drugs and crime.

According to strain theory, also known as anomie theory, there are five possible reactions to the normative goals prescribed by society. These are 1) conformity (acceptance of the goals as well as the means); 2) innovations (acceptance of the goals but rejection of the culturally prescribed means); 3) ritualism (rejection of the goals but acceptance of the means); 4) retreatism (rejection of both the goals and means); and 5) rebellion (rejection of both the goals and means as well as substituting them with new goals and means).

Whichever one of these reactions an individual chooses, will shape their subsequent behaviors. If they choose a path that causes too much strain between who they are and what they want to be, then they will opt for deviance in some form. One of the reasons that this theory fits in particularly well with the situation described in the Chambliss article is that it places a great deal of emphasis on economic security as the key indicator of internal satisfaction.

Chambliss too seems to believe that the socioeconomic status of the boys was a primary driver of how they were perceived and treated in society. In fact each of the explanations he gives at the end of the article to explain the sociological… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Sociological Analysis of the Saints and the Roughnecks.  (2010, November 21).  Retrieved January 25, 2021, from

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"Sociological Analysis of the Saints and the Roughnecks."  21 November 2010.  Web.  25 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Sociological Analysis of the Saints and the Roughnecks."  November 21, 2010.  Accessed January 25, 2021.