▪ a quality of how others reactto whatsomeone does.
Relative: How behaviour is classified(from killing someone at one extreme towiping your nose on your sleeve at theother) always involves moralinterpretation – beliefs about “right”and “wrong” that categorise behaviourusing subjective rather than objectivecriteria. For this reason definitions ofdeviance frequently vary over time andbetween socieites.
How people react to behaviour is acrucial variable. If there is no publicreaction - no-one is pursued,processed or punished - an offender is,as far as anyone knows, law-abiding.
This means ‘criminals’ are onlydifferent to ‘non criminals’ when theyare publicly labelled as such.
In the UK, for example, homosexualitywas a crime until 1967, while for mostpeople in contemporary Britain thisbehaviour is now seen as neithercriminal nor deviant. There are,however, groups within our society -particularly some religiousfundamentalists - who still see it asdeviant.
• criminal and deviant.
• not criminal, but deviant.
• neither criminal nor deviant.
The act of "killing another individual“ can be defined and interpreted as:
• Criminal - such as deliberately killing someone in the course of robbing them(murder).
• Deviant, but not necessarily, criminal - in Switzerland, for example, "assistedsuicide" (helping someone take their own life) is not a criminal offence (it may beclassified as murder in the UK).
• Neither criminal nor deviant: In times of war, a soldier killing an enemy soldier isseen as a duty, rather than deviant.
Different societies may have different concepts of crimeand deviance. In the UK, it's normal to maintain a circle ofspacearound our body extending roughly 60cm and wefeel uncomfortable if people enter this personal spaceuninvited – their behaviour is deviant if they do so.
Other cultures often interpret things differently - inArgentina, for example, personal space can be so smallas to be almost non-existent.
For Cohen (Folk Devils andMoral Panics, 1972), a moralpanic exists when: "A condition,episode, person or groups ofpersons emerges to becomedefined as a threat to societalvalues and interests“.
Moral panics ‘soften up’ public opinion so people are prepared to acceptrepressive social controls(such as new laws).
Demands for a moral clampdownrelate particular forms of devianceto wider issues of morality – the“underlying causes” of youthdeviance being a result of a lack ofdiscipline in the home and school,for example.
Moral crusades involve various mediataking up arms against a particular typeof deviant, based on moral objectionsto their behaviour. Paedophiles are arecent example; others include “benefitscroungers”, “illegal immigrants” and“ecstasy-fuelled raves”.
The draft Communications Data Bill(2012), for example, massively extendsthe police and security service’s ability tolegally intercept and monitor “privateinternet communications” (such asemail) on the basis of “combattingterrorism and paedophilia”.
The label "criminal”, for example,carries with it a range of associatedcharacteristics given to the deviant- they may be considered morally,socially and psychologicallydeficient, untrustworthy, deviousand the like).
The label “thief”, for example, carrieswith it a range of meanings thatshape how we see and treatdeviants. We may, for example, beless inclined to trust someonelabelled as a “thief”.
When a deviant label is successfully applied, subsequentbehaviour is interpreted in the light of the label. But some labels– what Becker(1963) calls master labels andstatuses - havegreater significance than others.
Attracting a deviant label such as ‘rapist’, for example, or
These labels are so powerful that everything about a person -their past, present and future - is reinterpreted in the light of thelabel and their status is changed accordingly.
‘paedophile’ gives those so-labelled a new and unwanted status.
A significant feature of labelling is how it shapes identities:
• Social identities relate to the characteristics assigned to a labelby a particular culture. In our society different characteristics areassigned to labels like “thief” and “law-abiding” that definebehaviours for and perceptions of, these statuses.
• Personal identities relate to the different ways individuals, withtheir different cultural histories, interpret a label. Not all “law-abiding people” interpret the label in the same way.
The outcome of a labelling process is neither pre-definednor certain. Just because someone tries to attach a labeldoesn’t mean they will be successful. Labels can be:
An individual may be able to reject adeviant label in a range of ways – fromdemonstrating their behaviour doesn’tdeserve it, through questioning thevalidity of the label in realtion to
their behaviour, to questioning the
right of those doing the labelling toimpose such a label.
This may be achieved by successfullyarguing a deviant label should not beapplied to everyone in a group. Allegationsof police corruption, for example, may bedeflected by the argument that while asmall minority may be corrupt, this labelshould not be applied to all police officers.
Labels can be negated (or their effectneutralised) in a number of ways –from disputing the right (or ability)of someone to impose alabel, tochanging the behaviour thatattracted the original label.