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Biological explanations and social constructionist theories of deviance

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Sociologists and researchers throughout history, have tried to determine why significant numbers of people in a community or society non -conform or violate norms, how these norms are created and how they change over a period of time. (Kendall, 2008). A number of biological explanations and social constructionist theories have developed over the ages. Biological explanations are seen as in the individual in their genetic make up, personality or behavior. Where as social constructionist theories are focused on deviance occurring in social factors external to individual people.

Biological explanations dominated in the early twentieth century. Social construction theories consist of Robert Merton’s strain theory, Durkheim’s theory of anomie and the labeling theory. Theories of biological explanations included cesare Lombroso theory of atavism and XYY theory. ( Andersen & Taylor , 2007) Social construction explanations are based on sociologists seeing deviance as a result of social factors over biological factors.

Sociologists see deviance as not always being a bad thing, it can be a positive adaptation to a situation. Deviance is praised in some subcultures or situations. Binge drinking in students is seen as harmful but students binge drink as it is encouraged by sub culture even though students know that it is harmful. Behavioral patterns seen as deviant can become normal behavior without realization that a deviant act as just taken place. ( Andersen & Taylor, 2007).

Example, ” the practice of employing domestic workers without reporting their wages is deviant-indeed, illegal- but is commonly done. ” ( Andersen & Taylor , 2007, p. 169). This act is commonly done and is not always seen as taking place in a deviant act. What is defined as deviant can change over time example of this is tattoos and piercing were seen as ‘ gang related’ and are now seen as a fashion statement among teenagers but may still be seen as a deviant act to the older generations in society.

Deviance in sociologist’s perspective can appear in two ways. Formal deviance breaks laws and in place rules in society. Informal deviance breaks behavior that is seen as deviant by society, there are no set rules in place, example, binge drinking, smoking, tattoos etc. ( Andersen ; Taylor , 2007).

In Durkheim’s writing the ‘ division of labor in society’ he talks about the theory of anomie. Anomie is a social condition where people in society are unsure on how to act as the norms lose their importance. As social bonding decreased in a community, deviance increased and societies became disorganized. Durkheim proposed two concepts of social solidarity, which showed societies at different stages of evolution and development. As society evolved from basic mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity deviance started to occur.

First mechanical solidarity, societies evolved from a simple, non-specialized form and were less developed. In the mechanical solidarity people behave and think alike and more or less perform the same work tasks and have the same group-oriented morals, religion and social aspects. Organic solidarity is a highly complex, specialized form. In organic solidarity people become more complex, or organic, work also becomes more complex. People are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal. The move from mechanical societies to organic societies resulted in cultural difference and large contrast in norms and values.

The preexisting solidarity breaks down and bonds are weakened, which then creates deviance. Durkheim believed that resultant bonding is what makes crime and deviance so necessary in society. (Hemmens & Tibbetts, 2010). Example of this is ” the fastest way to have a group of strangers bond is to give them a common enemy, which often means forming into cliques or ganging up on others in the group. In a group of three or more college roommates, for example, two or more of the individuals will quickly join together and complain about the others. This is an inevitable phenomenon of human interaction and group dynamics, which has always existed throughout the world across time and place”.

(Hemmens & Tibbetts, 2010, p. 21). Robert Merton developed a social constructionist theory called the strain theory. His theory was developed from Durkheim’s theory of anomie. Strain theory stated that deviance occurs when gaps begin to form between goals put in place by society and how people can reach and achieve these goals. In a well-established society the goals and the means to achieve these goals are balanced.

People use accepted means to reach the goals in place. When the balance between the goals and reaching these goals is out of balance deviance occurs. Society does not provide enough opportunities for everyone to succeed . An example of this is class structure, upper class in society are more likely to achieve society’s goals as they hold more power.

To achieve success is to achieve economic success, this is done by achieving a good education and holding a good job. For the upper class this goal is more achievable than for the lower class. Lower class holds the same goals and values as the rest of society but struggle and has blocked opportunities for success; this results in structural strain, which then produces deviance. This also helps to explain the link between the high numbers of unemployment and crime. (Andersen & Taylor, 2007, ).

Merton strain theory consists of five ways people adapt and achieve cultural goals, conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, rebellion. Conformity is when people accept the approved goals and reach them in the right way. Innovation occurs when people accept and adapt to the approved goals but go the wrong way of achieving them. Gaining money through crime and drugs for example.

Ritualism is the opposite of innovation people; they give up on the approved goals but still go the right way to achieve the goals by being a hard worker to gain social respect instead of obtaining expensive material or wealth. Retreatism is where people do not accept the cultural goals or achieve them. Rebellion occurs when the goals and achievement are challenged. ( Tischler, 2007). Labeling theory explains how society defines acts of deviants and places a label on people; in turn these people accept the label given to them and act accordingly.

Labeling occurs when people with more power and status in a society label lower class people. If a police or a courtroom labels a person as a deviant or criminal this label sticks, as the police and court are higher up in the social status and have more power. Once a label has been placed on a person it is hard to escape it and recover back to a non-deviant identity. (Andersen & Taylor, 2007) ” Once a social worker or psychirast labels a client mentally ill, that person will be treated as mentally ill, regardless of his or hers mental state. Pleas by the accused that he or she is mentally sound are typically taken as more evidence of illness.

A persons anger and frustration about the label are taken as further support of diagnosis. ” (Andersen & Taylor, 2007, p. 179). Labeling theory points out that there are three stages that occur in the process of labeling, primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary deviance is the actual breaking of the law or norms.

Secondary deviance is the behavior that occurs from being labeled deviant, the person accepts the label and continues to act in the way they have been labeled. Tertiary is when the person accepts the label, but sees the label as not being normal and a non-deviant act. (Kendall, 2008). In contrast to social construction theories are biological explanations.

Biological explanations dominated in the early part of the twentieth century. Explanations are seen as in the individual, in their genetic make up, personality or behavior. Deviants break social norms because of the genes and traits they posse, these traits can be indicated by physical appearance such as body type or head shape. ( Aggleton, 1987).

Biological theorists believed that people that possessed these traits are not as advanced in the evolutionary process. Punishment would not work on these people as their criminal behavior was from biological factors. The way to treat these deviant people was through mental hospitals or death sentence. Criticism has surrounded biological explanations, which has lead to them being unpopular today.

They have been seen as racist and show a weak link between biology and behavior. (Andersen & Taylor, 2007). Cesare Lombroso was one of the first to research and develop a theory about deviance involving biological factors, which states that people are genetically born with criminal behavior. Lombroso’s theory of atavism was influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The theory of atavism is about criminals being “ throwbacks” to an earlier evolutionary period. The throwbacks behavior is non-human like and not appropriate to human beings.

Lombroso spent a lot of his life undertaking autopsies and studying the brain of dead prisoners. While examing a skull of a criminal Lombroso claimed he had made a discovery. He noticed a number of features, showing an ape like past rather than a human present. ( Hagan, 2011). “ At the sight of that skull, I seemed to see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a flaming sky, the problem of the nature of the criminal an atavistic being who reproduce in his person the ferocious instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals. ( Hagen, 2011, p, 117).

Lombroso concluded that physical signs, that betray their nature, could identify these people and their criminality was associated with an animal like body type. He went on to say that some types of criminals could be identified by physical appearance including, head size, hair colour and size of nose for example. Lombroso’s views dominated European criminology for 35 years. His writings then under went a lot of critics from scholars.

Scholars stated that normal looking people have committed crimes and violent acts, not just people with the features and characteristics that Lombroso suggested in his theory of atavism. (Hagan, 2011). Another biological theory that arose was the XYY theory in 1965. The XYY theory was said to occur when a male receives an extra Y chromosome at birth. Instead of having the normal XY set of chromosomes, X chromosome from the mother and a single Y chromosome from the father. From observations and research it was said that if a male possessed two Y-chromosomes, he was seen as prone to commit violent crimes.

Research suggested that males were higher to commit crimes with an extra Y chromosome, as males are more aggressive than females, therefore having two Y-chromosomes would produce a very aggressive individual. ( Tischler, 2007). Patricia Jacobs a Britain scientist, researched inmates in a Scottish prison and discovered that the XYY chromosome disorder was 20 times higher than in the general Scottish population. Richard Speck helped support the evidence of the XYY theory.

In 1966 he murdered 8 student nurses in Chicago. Richard was said to have the physical stigma associated with XYY disorder. Examples of the physical stigma are, tall, lean and pimpled. Later after the trail it was discovered he in fact did not have XYY disorder.

( Holmes, Maahs ; Vito, 2007). The XYY theory was later dismissed as it was estimated that 96% of XYY males lead normal lives. ( Tischler, 2007). Social construction and biological theories have both tried to explain why deviance occurs.

Biological explanations are seen as in the individual in their genetic make up, personality or behavior. Where as social constructionist theories are focused on deviance occurring in social factors external to individual people. Each of these views helped to contribute to the theory of how and why deviance occurs in society. Durkheim’s theory of anomie was a major social construction theory.

With the move from simple mechanical societies to large complex organic societies, norms lose their importance. Bonds are weakened which then create deviance. Robert Merton’s strain theory was developed on from Durkheim’s theory. Biological theories were dominate in the early twentieth century, but there has been criticism surrounding the findings of some of the biological theories, based on flawed research.

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