D&N: Lec 2 – Definitions and Methods
Recent Problems at York
Student refuses to participate with women on religious grounds
Professor response: Defer to school
School’s response: Support religious position
Media response: Supports women’s rights and warns of future discrimination
The point? Allows for debate and redefinition of societal values and institutional
Diversity in the discipline
Sociology as a very diverse discipline
Few accepted truths or methods compared to physical sciences or even similar disciplines like
anthropology or psychology
It seems likes you can study anything and call it sociology.
Example: “Pictures of Pigeons” Jerolmack
Looks at the introduction of pigeons to North America and their place in modern cities
Human interference makes them better adapted to the city.
Sociology? They reflect our own patterns in the city.
Pigeons as a reflection of human social organization
What is Deviance?
Deviance as a residual category: What’s left over.
Broad definition: Actions met with disapproval and some sort of social control
No single definition used for this course: Defining deviance will depend on the theories and
How do we know deviance when we see it?
Origins in common sense: Even important scientific theories can start with a gut reaction.
Compare to our own frame of reference, Sociologists must take a step back.
Perspectives on Defining Deviance
Absolutist: Widespread consensus on right and wrong informed by a “collective
Relativist: Different groups have different definitions. Context becomes important in definition
Social power: Tied to Marxist ideas. Laws are created and applied to protect the interests of
Some issues not present in other types of behaviour.
Tendency to hide their actions
Some flaunt their status due to a specific agenda
Both reflect the “elusive quality of deviance” Deviance is hard to understand because of it’s
hidden or obscured nature.
Often protective of information
Deviants rarely analyze their own behaviour
May be defensive or reactionary about their behaviour
Often engaged in dangerous activities. Risk for the researcher Statistical Vs. Theorretical Generalizability (Horsburgh)
Statistical: relies on probabilistic sampling
Claims that observed patterns can be applied to those people not studied.
Theoretical: Relies on in depth investigation
Claims that concepts and theories can be applied to scenarios and contexts not studied
Both are scientifically rigorous and useful
One on one, panel, paired
Focus on personal interpretations of deviance (their own or others’)
Range from set questionnaires to semi-structured to open ended
Can allow the deviant to express themselves in their own words.
Allows questions to be formulated as you go.
Can allow the researcher to develop a rapport with the deviant.
Deviants can often be misleading or secretive ex: gamblers
Possibility of leading the respondents. Rules of normal conversation don’t apply
Typically low sample sizes may bring into question the statistical generalizability of the study.
Researchers have to focus on the theoretical generalizability of their findings.
Example: Patricia Adler
Drug dealers next door
Spent more and more time with the man and his clients / colleagues
Started lending money and writing letters of reference to help with legal problems, even started
looking after his kids.
Looks in depth into the deviant careers of very small number of participants (usually one).
Often involves tracing the biography or career of the deviant
Looking for insight on how the individual makes sense of their position in society
Amazing amount of detail
Greater information on the mirco processes involved in larger observed trends
Some forms of deviance are very hard to study
Lacks statistical generalizability
Dependence on research subjects makes for a complicated relationship
Difficult to “triangulate” the information: Verification from different viewpoints
Demand on time and resources
Spending time with deviants as they do their deviance Comes from anthropology: immersion in tribal life
Adopt a role within the group: Tearoom trade: Watchqueen
Exposure to the everyday life of the people that you are studying
Exposure to unknown dimensions of deviance