Prescientific Approaches to Deviance
-We will examine the ways in which deviance was understthd in the prescientific period –before the transition to
rationalism and science (the enlightenment) in the 17 century.
-The earliest sacred myths illustrated the character of deviance and warned people about the consequences of excessive
control and excessive deviance.
-The spread and penetration of monotheistic religions led to a more causal, yet supernatural, explanation according to
which, the devil caused deviance and all other ills. Deviance was wrong and was understood (constructed) as evil.
Past and Present Representations of Deviance
Myths, Parables, and Stories
-Before the Enlightenment, people understood life in terms of myths, parables, and stories. Their experiences were
described and explained in nonscientific ways.
-Ethical messages were supported by collections of mythical tales about offences against the powers of creation or
against social regulation. These offences are not always intended or even known to the offender.
-Temptation and its consequences are central to many of these stories.
-Secular or magical stories also reinforce cultural images of deviance and control.
-Manu children’s stories are cautionary tales. These stories conform to the common cultural practice of warning and
admonishing to induce good behavior.
-Most of our secular tales are ambivalent about deviance, in that they do not regard it as unconditionally bad. This
ambivalence is reflected in the culturally universal trickster who circumvents the usual rules in disrespectful ways.
-Everything the trickster does is permeated with laughter, irony, wit, and deviance. The trickster takes many forms and is
usually masculine but also gender-bending. He doesn’t take the realities of the human world seriously. When he is
present, complacency and comfort are at risk.
-The trickster also encompasses darker, less human forces. He can take on animal forms or the shape of inanimate
objects; and he is violent, unpredictable, homicidal, and sadistic
-Thus, the trickster embodies the paradox of deviance –its attractiveness and dangers and also its many faces.
-They appear most popular at times of social change and their stories go back throughout history. Thus, the essential role
of the trickster is a contrary one that upsets the taken-for-granted order of things.
-Contemporary legends differ from those in the past in that they claim to be factual rather than fantastic. Through they are
believable, they are based on heresay rather than fact. Some are horror stories, while some, like the trickster tales, are
stories with a humorous, slightly ambiguous moral twist.
-Urban legends deal with understandings of deviance and control. They tell us that certain ways of living (deviance, or
lack of control) are likely to lead to bad things, and in the process they express our fears or desire for more order.
Early Explanations of Deviance: The Demonic Perspective
-The earliest attempts to explain the nature of deviance did not, as modern science does, seek causes in the empirical
world. Deviance was deemed to be caused by forces in the supernatural realm.
-Theoretically, the independent variables were supernatural forces, often demons or devils of some kind, who acted
through particular human beings to cause harm in the world.
-The many versions of the demonic perspective have changed over time, corresponding with different ideas about the
supernatural that may have been typical of that particular age and culture.
-The demonic deviant commits physically harmful acts that weaken the system while at the same time challenging the
order of things.
-This dualistic view of the world (good vs. evil) has a profound impact on conceptions of deviance from the Middle Ages to
the 1970’s and this only became challenged with the rise of postmodern alternatives.
The Pagan as Deviant
-In order to discredit other religions, dominant religions have demonized the other religion’s gods and treated their times of
ritual ceremony as occasions of demonic celebration.
-The pantheistic view of the world saw deviance and suffering as a phenomena that was beyond human control.
-In the monotheistic cosmos, however, human bear some responsibility for evoking ir giving in to the forces of evil.
-Thus, the two main paths to deviance in this view are temptation and possession. The devil tempts or possesses the
weaker human beings.
Examples of Demonic Deviance: Temptation and Possession
-The monotheistic explanation gives humans a role in invoking the forces of evil but still explains the wrongdoing in terms
of supernatural powers.
-Sometimes a person isn’t tempted into evil but experiences a sense of being taken over by destructive forces. The forces
may be conceived as demons lying in wait for the unsuspecting, weak, passerby.
-The two solutions to this demonic deviance were exorcism –cleansing of the individual of demonic influence or destroying
the demonic influence by purifying the individual through extreme suffering or death.
The Social Control of Demonic Deviance
-Exorcism is designed to cast out troublesome evil spirits. Exorcisms are often traumatic for the one being cured and can
result in death. Others are less demanding. Though it is no longer a dominant method of social control, it is still practiced.
-Historically, the authorities often executed those who “illegitimately” acquired supernatural powers and these executions
provided education entertainment for those who came to watch. The Witch Craze of the European Renaissance, 1400-1700
-Most societies have maintained beliefs about witchcraft and sorcery. Before C.E. 1000, Church canon law (Canon
Episcopi) held that it was un-Christian and illegal to believe in the reality of witches. From C.C.1000-1480, witches and
sorcerers were redefined and no longer looked at as harmless. They now became agents of the devil.
-The witch craze was like a collective psychosis or mania and its scale was incredibly broad and the impact was
devastating. Plagues, wars, and famines were likely to be followed by periods of witch-hunting.
Contributing Factors: The Inquisition and the Malleus Maleficarum
-Though the witch craze can be seen as a symptom of the new dualist (monotheistic) way of looking at the world, its
immediate sources were found within the dominant churches of the time. The witch craze began with the work of the
Roman Catholic Inquisition, then the Spanish Inquisition, then a later Roman Catholic Inquisition. All 3 of them took the
form of judicial bodies operating on the assumption that witchcraft was heresy of the worst kind and a special kind of
-Heresy was often interpreted as any resistance to the control of feudal authorities and could also exist entirely in the
minds of those appointed to hunt the heretics. Many of these witch hunters were later killed themselves.
-Kramer and Sprenger gave shape to the definition of witchcraft as a conspiracy. Their treatise (Malleus Maleficarum)
codified all that was then known and believed of witchcraft and set standards for the prosecution of witches. Their book
was divided into 3 parts in which they sought to convince readers that witches were dangerous, show how to identify a
witch by devil marks and other criteria, and outline the proper procedure for prosecuting a witch.
Treatment of the Accused
-Torture was needed to produce convictions because the Roman canon law of proof required evidence of two
eyewitnesses or a confession in order to convict.
-6 main methods of torture: 1) Ordeal of Water, 2) Ordeal of Fire, 3) The Strappado, 4) The wheel, 5) The Rack, and 6)
The Stivaletto. These tortures weren’t punishments but methods of interrogation.
-Witches were regularly subjected to ro