When a new life is brought into the world, does the infant have to go through a deviant aptitude test to ascertain whether the child is going to act outside of the accepted social norms of that society? Genetics are still some way from being able to allude to this, but perhaps one could envisage a future where this is realised, and becomes the accepted norm. However do we really know whether a person is born with deviant aspects within them or is if a learnt behaviour?

Cesare Lombroso (1876) whom was influenced by Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution popularised the theory of a born criminal through biological determinism, believing that an individual has physiognomic attributes or deformities which equate that person to having criminal behaviour in them. By using a method called positivist science, he hoped to find out whether criminality was inherited, then the born criminal could be distinguished by physical atavistic stigmata, such as, large jaw; low sloping forehead; high cheekbones; hawk-like nose; fleshy lips and insensitive to pain.

This was Lombroso’s attempted to introduce a scientific methodology, so a person can predict whether that individual is going to have criminal behaviour, and if so isolate that individual. In Lombroso’s own words: “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! ” (Carrabine, 2004, p36) Years later, Charles Goring, an English physician who took an interest in Lombroso’s theories, decided to examine more closely some of his conclusions.

Goring studied thousands of prisoners in British jails. He compared their physiological traits to members of a military unit, the Royal Engineers. Goring found no substantial differences between the two groups. He published the results in a book called The English Convict in 1913. Goring proved that atavism had no scientific support and the data he gathered essentially discredited Lombroso’s idea of a “born criminal” forever. Edwin H. Sutherland (1939) released a series of four explicit statements called Principles of Criminology.

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He came up with nine theories to support his posit, he suggested that criminal behaviour was a learnt trait and not biological as Lombroso argued. In summary, he believed that an individual’s associations are determined in a general context of social organization (for instance, family income as a factor of determining residence of family and in many cases, delinquency rate is largely related to the rental value of houses) and thus “differential group organization as an explanation of various crime rates is consistent with the differential association theory”

In a global society one could assume that a violation of norms or a deviant act by an individual would be looked upon the same by everyone. Not so, given the diverse cultural and language differences. In Iran, drinking alcohol is a very serious violation of social norms, in most of Europe is would be somewhat deviant not to drink alcohol, and it would be quite deviant to refuse an alcoholic toast at a host’s table. So is deviant behaviour a direct result of subcultural differences perhaps?

Subcultural theories define deviance in terms of a subculture within a social group. The theorists argue that certain groups develop differing norms and values. An example would be juvenile gang culture where it is seen to be cool to carry knives and beat up individuals; they are encouraged and rewarded by their peers. Other members of society might view these actions as immoral and deviant. Albert K. Cohen (1955) focused his studies upon the delinquency subculture, looking at gang culture, the slum areas which had developed a distinct culture due to the lack of economic and social chances.

He argued that it was collectivism and not individualism was fuelling delinquent behaviour, ten years after World War 2. Cohen (1958) explained this as a Strain Theory (i. e. society rebelling against the norms and values of that culture). This theory stems from the idea that at the time, there was an underlying feeling of status frustration due to the young striving to achieve academically, the working class dissatisfaction to obtain this edification and finally the evolving middle class believing the system had let them down, and they were being culturally deprived.

Hence the revolutionary theory of delinquent subculture, the working class collectively coming together due to the problems of the lower working classes achievements. “The delinquent subculture not only rejects the mainstream culture, it also reverses it” according to Haralambos (2008, p325) Cohen’s words echo this, “the delinquent subcultures takes its norms from the larger culture but turn them upside down” (ibid). Walter Miller (1958) agreed with Cohen that there was a delinquency subculture, but his argument sided with the theory that it was down to the lower classes way of life.

Several other theorists studied gang culture, but in regards of environmental and economic class. Fredric M. Thrasher (1927) studied gangs in a methodical way. Along with functionalists such as Durkheim and Merton, he summarized that delinquent behaviour was due to environmental conditions, and more importantly the adolescence years of mischief the individual interacts with. Finally to summaries subcultural theories, Stanley Cohen (1972) conducted a study in East London, during the early 1970s.

He examined two subcultural youth movements that reacted to the evolving community of the era. Suggesting two things, the MOD culture appeared to be a reaction which was due to the new ideological influences within our lives, they wanted to be able to show they had money, and wasn’t afraid to spend it, whereas the skinheads culture was a throwback to a more traditional working class community. Cohen theorized that the youth are unable to make complete changes in society, but with collectivism can bring about resistance in particular circumstances to dominant social norms of society.

The assumption is that a capitalist society attempts to achieve hegemony by using the cultural values of society for their own benefit. Dominion is obtained by adults, which is enforced through a series of cultural and financial institutions, such as mortgages and credit cards; the youth are the weakest point of society. Critiques of a plausible subcultral theory include Steven Box (1981) whom questions Albert K. Cohen’s stance that mostly juveniles offend, who previously accepted the social values of society. Box suggested there was an underling feeling of antipathy to certain classes that were wholly psychological: … Adherents to another viewpoint were more inclined to favour the idea that deviants suffered from a psychological defect, although again there were differences of opinion on the nature of this flaw.

To behavioural psychologists, deviants were individuals whose personalities were not amenable to the ‘normal’ processes of social learning; to numerous thinkers with a psychoanalytic leaning, the deviant was perceived as a person whose weak super-ego had abdicated control to a riotous id; to the vocal middle-class intelligentsia, caught in the rising fashion of psychiatry, all deviants were insane. (Box, 1971, p3) When Howard S. Becker finally published his works on labelling theory called “Outsiders” in 1963, this was a phenomenological application, that social groups create deviance by making the rules. So an individual labelled a trouble maker by his peers at school will have little choice but to conform to this summary. As mentioned previously different social groups have differing ideals on what is a deviant act and what isn’t. In the Dominican Republic witch doctors are a social construct, they act as a social judge, doctor, counsellor and in some cases a paranormal zealot.

In the western world, we believe such beliefs as superstitious nonsense, medicine is applied scientifically, and on the whole the spiritual persona is not treated. Those more natural appliers of social coherence would perhaps believe we are naive and narrow minded when coming to the application of medicine, and so both giving a separate labelling theory. Western society being seen as the more dominate group could be observed as being the most successful in regards to labelling in this argument, as Becker suggests, “The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied to; deviant is behaviour that people label. (Haralambos, 2008, p334).

Jock Young’s (1971) labelling and marijuana is a prime example of this theory, he studied hippies who used the drug. Finally one of the most prominent individuals in regards to deviance is Robert K. Merton, a functionalist who introduced the “Modes of Adaptation”. This included conformity which he recognised as the most common type of the five. During this mode, people strive to obtain success. Innovation is the substantial change in the perspective of the people whose mode is still in conformity and that of whom has shifted to innovation.

Next rebellion completely rejects the story that everybody in society can achieve success and have embraced a rebellious state. Retreatism is identified by Merton as the escapist response, this occurs when people become practical dropouts of society. Finally ritualism, the individual realises that they have no real value or chance to advance in society and they concentrate on retaining what little they have. Hence perhaps those individuals of society decide to become deviant, whether through looming criminality.

Perhaps this could be observed as embellishing subculural differences in society. Are people just born deviant? This theory is still to be proved from a plausible scientific understanding, which can be readily understood by society. Until that time, we are still in the dominion of the guessing game over an individual’s destiny, perhaps that Irish playwright and poet Samuel Beckett knew something we didn’t when he said “What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes” (1974, p60).


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