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Chapter 1

SOC 2080 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Magical Creatures In Harry Potter, Social Control, Social Constructionism

Course Code
SOC 2080
Patrick Parnaby

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Chapter One Determining Deviance
Who is deviant?
Typically, “nuts, sluts, and perverts” and criminals are the dominant topics when it comes to listing
deviants but recently, research has moved towards broader notions of deviance (e.g., people who
illegally download music, people who are voluntarily childless)
Although using the term “deviance” in reference to our own individual pet peeves may be common
practice, the concept of deviance transcends the individual level and instead exists at the societal level
o Deviance describes characteristics of the broader society and sociocultural processes
o We each are a part of society, but social processes constitute more than the sum of their parts
(and more than the sum of each of our personal opinions)
o E.g., you might personally think country singers are deviant, but they are not deviant in
o Studying deviance requires that you move beyond your individual beliefs
How can we recognize deviance when we see it?
Dictionary definition of deviant “straying from an accepted norm”
o This definition seems straight forward enough, but it is not typically employed for academic
research or even common usage of the word
The study of deviance has historically been characterized by considerable disagreement over the
concept of deviance and this problematic definition
A broader shift in definitions has become evident over time older definitions have suggested that
there is an objective way of determining what is deviant, while more recent definitions deconstruct the
notion of objectivity and point out that deviance is necessarily subjective
o The subjective approach is sometimes called the contemporary approach
Objective views the presence of certain characteristics defines deviance, and by looking for these
characteristics, we can all identify deviance; subjective views there is no shared, observable
characteristic that can clearly tell us what/who is deviant or normal
o The distinction between objective and subjective is typically described as dichotomy
(contrasting and mutually exclusive); however, recent shifts in definitions often go beyond
this notion and instead combine aspects of both
Objectivism: Deviance as an Act
Emphasizes the assumption that there is something inherent in a person, behaviour, or characteristic
that is necessarily deviant all deviants have something in common that enables us to recognize them
when we see them
The characteristics that are most often talked about by objectivists are statistical rarity, harm, a
negative societal reaction, and normative violation
Statistical Rarity
This definition of deviance is not typically used for academic research, but more so in everyday
According to this definition, if a behaviour/characteristic is not typical, it is deviant (i.e., a minority of
people smoke so smoking must be deviant by this logic)
There are specific instances in which statistical rarity can be observed, but this definition of deviance
does have its limitations:
o We have to define rare is its prevalence less than 50%? Less than 30%?
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o Some behaviours are not statistically rare, but are still perceived as being unacceptable and
are subjected to control efforts (e.g., Grade 10s consuming alcohol is common but many say it
is not acceptable)
o Some behaviours are statistically rare, but are accepted in Canadian society (i.e., left-handed
people, sports prodigies, people who meet the recommended daily requirements for physical
activity, etc.)
These limitations suggest that it is more than rarity that determines what is considered deviant in our
society some believe it comes down to harmfulness
If an action causes harm, it is deviant this can include:
o Physical harm to others or oneself (e.g., assault, smoking)
o Emotional harm to others or oneself (e.g., emotional abuse, repeatedly dating partners with
o Social harm, which interferes with the smooth running of society as a whole (e.g., threatening
the safety of the population at large and the social order)
o A threat to the way we understand the world and our place in it; abstract and typically
religious notions of harm (e.g., Muslim women not covering their heads may be seen
differently by other Muslims)
The very idea of physical harm is not as clear as it might initially appear, and it has sometimes
changed (e.g., smoking was believed to not cause much harm, masturbation was believed to cause
great harm, marijuana was alleged to cause horrific violent crimes, etc.)
When it comes to the idea of interfering with the social order or threatening a belief
system/worldview, the limitations of defining deviance by virtue of harm become more evident:
o Whether or not society/a belief system is being harmed is subjective (i.e., is a Muslim woman
not covering up really a threat to the Islamic belief system?)
o During the 20th century, feminists faced such accusations but were they causing harm to
society or to beliefs?
Many would say these women weren’t harming society, but rather, they were
changing it
Others would say that by changing society, they were having a negative impact on
the social order of the time
Sometimes the reaction to a behaviour is more harmful than the behaviour itself (e.g., the Dziekanski
case, Emily Murphy’s racially-fueled arguments against marijuana use)
Many people recognize that harm is not the characteristic that makes something deviant, but it is one
of the characteristics
Societal Reaction
If the responses of society’s masses are primarily negative rather than positive, the person/act being
responded to is deviant seeing this negative societal evaluation enables us to determine who/what is
This raises some questions why does society react negatively to some actions/characteristics/people
and not others? Whose reaction counts? Do some people’s reactions count more than others? How
many individual negative reactions must exist before we can say that “society” is reacting negatively?
In the past, Canadian politicians have based their position on some issues on societal reaction (e.g.,
same-sex marriage) and some issues on other criteria (e.g., marijuana decriminalization)
determinations of who/what is deviant in Canadian society are based upon processes that go beyond
societal reaction
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