Deviance as Rebellion
  1. Coser, Lewis A. "Some Functions of Deviant Behavior and Normative Flexibility." American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 68, No. 2. (Sep., 1962), pp. 172-181. (JSTOR 10)
  2. Robert K. Merton. 1938. "Social Structure and Anomie." American Sociological Review Vol. 3, No. 5 (Oct., 1938), pp. 672-682 (JSTOR 11)
  3. Katz. J. 1988. "Ways of the Badass," from Seductions of Crime. (DRL 32pp)
  4. Paul Willis Interview
  5. Willis, P. 1981. Excerpt from Learning to Labor. (annotation)
  6. Lafer, Gordon. 2011. "Why Occupy Wall Street Has Left Washington Behind." The Nation, November 14, 2011
  7. John I. Kitsuse. 1980. "Coming Out All Over: Deviants and the Politics of Social Problems." Social Problems Vol. 28, No. 1 (Oct., 1980), pp. 1-13 (JSTOR) (annotation)
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In "Some Functions of Deviance and Normative Flexibility" (1962) Lewis Coser suggests ways that non-conformity can be beneficial or functional for groups. Among these are the idea that overly rigid groups can waste resources and create a destructive climate with too much social control

"…rigid and repeated rejection of deviants has serious dysfunctional consequences" (175b.7)

Coser also cites (176) the work of Kelley and Shapiro1 showing that deviance can be "appreciated" when a group recognizes that the deviance is pointing out to the group that its norms may be out of step with the external environment. He notes that even though deviance is officially proscribed there may be a prescribed bending of the rules in certain cases or even a preference for someone to "push the boundaries."

Coser then moves on (typical of him, the analysis gets more and more subtle as he goes along) to riff on an idea that comes up in Merton's anomie/strain theory (177). Merton was careful to distinguish criminal behavior — e.g., accepting institutionalized values of material success but rejection of institutionalized means by, say, taking what is not yours — which is basically driven by selfish and anti-social motives, from rebellious behavior — e.g., blocking traffic to protest the war — which is driven by pro-social motives (even if the dominant majority disagrees) that are "intended to serve group interests in a more effective manner than the conforming majority" (177b.2).

Coser goes on to quote himself:

"When all forms of dissent are [considered] criminal by definition, we are in the presence of a system which is ill-equipped to reveal fully the extent to which nonconformity, as distinct from crime, involves the striving forward on alternative moral basis rather than moral deviation."2

The big difference, he says, between an innovator and a criminal is that the former is trying to send a message and does so openly whereas the latter is usually trying to hide and not be noticed. You can, Coser says, "argue with an innovator but hardly with a criminal" (178a.2). His footnote at this point indicates where we are going with this: it's about Ghandi and civil disobedience. After some consideration of innovation in science as "non-deviant," the section finishes with mention of the Alvin Gouldner (one of the "bad boys" of 1960s conflict theory) observation that a social system characterized by excessive conformity may be doomed to entropy and decline:

It is high social entropy that the innovator, as an agent of change, helps to prevent (Coser 1962:179a.7).

…like Durkheim's individualist suicides, innovators may be sufficiently loosely tied to the system that they are free to see things differently (Coser 1962: 180)3

The article finishes with a consideration of time — in particular the way in which that which is deviant today may be lauded as heroic tomorrow. Coser's example is Joan of Arc — the transformation is from heretic to saint — but we have others, having only just recently celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday.


A second piece that we've read previously (I'm tempted to start the lecture with "Previously on Social Control…" in a deep TV voice) is Agnew's revision of strain theory4. Agnew reviews criticisms of "old" strain theories and mentions revisions these have given rise to and then he introduces a new idea. Old strain theories are built around the idea that social actors get frustrated when they can't get the good things that they want — when access to pleasure is blocked. Agnew builds on the complementarity of pleasure-seeking and pain-avoidance to generate the idea that "[t]he blockage of pain avoidance behavior … constitutes another major source of strain" (154.5).

Katz' Badass

Jack Katz is an urban ethnographer — formally in the same researcher category as Elijah Anderson — but he's also a phenomenologist and that's what sets him apart from other things we'll read. As he puts it, he wants to get at the "experiential foreground" rather than trying to explain behavior in terms of the empirical, causal background factors. This chapter is about street toughs, gang members, and other forms of (typically) adolescent male deviance. In a nutshell, Katz claims that the behavior is a response to a situation:

I have attempted to demonstrate that the details of the distinctive adolescent culture of the badass can be grasped as a series of tactics for struggling with what the adolescent experiences as a spatially framed dilemma-a challenge to relate the "here" of his personal world to the phenomenal worlds of others who he experiences as existing at a distance, somewhere over "there" (112).

A reading note. Lots of room for indignant response to Katz - how dare the outside ethnographer write these things? - and to zero in on specific observations, interpretations, or details that do not track with the reader's own experience. I find it useful to note these, but not to get hung up on them. Some readers reject the ideas here before zeroing in on them — suggesting that observing and describing is to disapprove and condemn. But what we are trying to extract here is ways in which behavior labeled deviant is affirmative reaction to negative situation — opression, discimination, lack of opportunity, etc.

Top Level Outline
  1. Intro (80)
  2. Being Tough (81)
  3. Being Alien (87)
  4. Being Mean (99)
  5. Foreground and Background: The Sex of the Badass (112)
Top Level Outline
  1. Intro (80)
  2. Being Tough (81)
  3. Being Alien (87)
    1. Street Styles (88)
    2. The Cholo (90)
    3. The Punk (94)
    4. The Animal and the Cool (97)
  4. Being Mean (99)
    1. Soulful Chaos (102)
    2. Paraphernalia of Purposiveness (104)
    3. Mind Fucking (106)
    4. The Bump (107)
    5. 'Whachulookinat?' (110)
  5. Foreground and Background: The Sex of the Badass (112)
Tweet Notes

Intro (80) Q: how is "being bad" actually accomplished? What can go wrong — that's how we recognize it as an achievement. Triple spatiality: you can't see me, where I am from, where I am going. At the end of the introduction Katz lands on core MECHANISM of being a badass:

To make vivid sense of all the detailed ways of the badass, one must consider the essential project as transcending the modern moral injunction to adjust the public self sensitively to situationally contingent expectations (81).

That is, the most general demand of society is to adjust oneself in public, to acknowledge that one's individuality, one's body, one's intentions are subsidiary to the collective of which one is a part. Those who do no feel a part, resent and reject it. Katz outlines three steps — being tough, alien and mean.
Being Tough (81) Refusing to admit to be subordinate to society. Still need to interact, but need constant expression of "but don't take this as me being social…."
Being Alien (87) Affirmative expression that I am from a subculture — that I HAVE a subculture.
Street Styles (88) Need to dramatize where one is from in walking, speaking, etc. DJR: mirror image of what appears to be the case in the dominant culture one feels excluded from. Cf. case of students who accuse professor of "constantly acting all elite and everything with the big words…." Insofar as emblematic of a subcultural world, what can one learn about the content of the culture?
The Cholo (90) "looking down at you from below" graffiti : deliberately inaccessible font. Show "that they are from a spiritually rich, morally coherent place that Anglo authorities, native Mexicans, parents, or conventionally styled peers may only grasp minimally"
The Punk (94) Appearance - display the hidden, dancing, inured to violence. Logic: recover alien quality in music, rock having gone mainstream and being "owned" by parents. Great paragraph at end of 96.
The Animal and the Cool (97) At any second, nature might break out — vs. the social. Cool as what's going on here is so not transcendent. Talking nonsense. Frats and sports.
Being Mean (99) Image and such not quite enough in world where you will be imitated and called on your alien-ness. You have to "mean it."
Next sections are about what there is that is attractive and compelling about the experience.
Soulful Chaos (102) "being fearsomely beyond social control"

celebrating hedonism as the underlying motivation for their violence, badasses avoid the interpretation that their violence is contingent on the prospect of extrinsic rewards and, therefore, ultimately controllable by others (103).

Note how even little kids intuitively know this stuff.
Paraphernalia of Purposiveness (104) "the weapons of the gang kid have a charm all their own" (105). "These things excite by attesting to a purpose that transcends the material utility of power" (106).
Mind Fucking (106) Why does "fuck you" have such power? Speaker penetrates to center of other but remains completely inaccessible.
The Bump (107) Entering another person's "here" and unapologetically. Capacity of any interactive bump to turn into moral showdown.
'Whachulookinat?' (110) Visual bumping. Line of sight as personal space.
Foreground and Background: The Sex of the Badass (112)

"…series of tactics for struggling with what the adolescent experiences as a spatially framed dilemma-a challenge to relate the "here" of his personal world to the phenomenal worlds of others who he experiences as existing at a distance, somewhere over "there" (112).

Willis' Boys

Critically important to be dismissive of rational, achievement orientation.

Lafer's Occupiers

Coming Out All Over

This article was Kitsuse's 1979 presidential address for the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP). In it he introduces the concept of "tertiary deviance" to describe certain kinds of "political" deviance. His argument partly parallels Coser's observation that there is a difference between non-conformity "for its own sake" and non-conformity that is undertaken with the intention of social change.

Now, admittedly, there are cases where the distinction is a subtle one and cases where the former hides behind the mantel of the latter. But we can save examination of these for later.

The term "tertiary deviance" is an extension of "secondary deviance" which is what happens when people who are labeled deviant commit further infractions (either because they internalize the label or because the label makes legitimate behavior impossible – as when an ex-con cannot get an honest job). The idea is that the "initial" primary deviance gets you labelled, the label gets you marginalized or oppressed, and then you engage in some sort of non-conforming behavior to protest not just the oppression, but also the original categorization of the primary behavior as deviant.

So, how is tertiary deviance not simply criminals engaging in more crime because they don't like the idea that their original behaviors are labelled crime? Is this just another case of soft-headed, liberal social science taking the side of the deviant?

Not exactly. To "qualify for the title" a few components are necessary. The main distinguishing criteria, I think, is the invocation of dominant social values as basis for legitimating the "we're not gonna take it anymore" stance.

We are reminded here of Syke's and Matza's "condemn the condemners" technique of neutralization, though the fit is not perfect. The political deviance Kitsuse describes goes beyond "who are you to say I'm deviant?"

And we are reminded of Donald Black's notion of "crime as social control" — though in a way that twists/extends what he was describing. Black means that some of what we read as crime is actually people settling conflicts and administering control "privately," as it were. There the conflict is usually interpersonal or inter-organizational. Here we are extending that logic to something like a dispute between "the wider society" (or the dominant society) and social groups or categories. Or maybe we could relax that and see it as inter-group.

We can also draw on Black's typology of social control. He lists penal, compensatory, conciliatory, therapeutic, prevention, and reform. Here we might see tertiary deviance as "crime as reform control" — response to deviance (the putative deviance against the group that created the primary deviance) aimed at changing social rules.

Kitsuse argues for extending our ideas of deviance to include activist rule breaking by people in social groups that are in one way or another "outcast" based on racial, ethnic, and sex categories; the political mobilization of "deviants" becomes a topic in the study of social control.

What do we learn? What questions do we ask?

  1. What techniques are used?
  2. Under what circumstances do groups unite and engage in tertiary deviance?
  3. When do these moves succeed?
  4. Can they (these moments) threaten society? Are they the moral Achilles heel of any truly free society?

There are, of course, strong echoes of Marx here. Tertiary deviance is when a deviant group becoming conscious of themselves as a group and attempting to take control of the stigma attached to them (recall Marx's distinction between class "in itself" and class "for itself" and the idea of "critical class consciousness").

The example from which the talk's title is derived is the formation of the homosexual "community" which began to say "yes, we are gay, but we are all over, and we deserve the same rights that everyone else deserves." Other examples of groups/categories that have engaged in such tertiary deviance include sex workers, transsexuals, poly-amorites, the deaf, HIV positives.

The concept of "coming out" and "fighting back" is a sociological conundrum. Such fighting back is putting into practice the ideas about cultural relativism that we've been teaching for the last generation or so, taking seriously the idea that "deviance is relative." But, also sociologically, we know that groups ARE defined by their boundaries and so it raises the question, "Where will it all end?" Should the pedophiles be able to organize against Megan's law? Are "drug dealers people too"? How far can adherence to a liberal democratic norm of tolerance lead a society? Is that the only irrevocable norm? Or is it too changeable? The best summary is provided by his closing lines:

What are the limits of cultural and social pluralism for the operational integration and symbolic coherence of liberal democratic societies? Is such an integration and coherence necessary, is it desirable, and is it, finally, possible to achieve? These are the larger issues that lend significance to the proliferation of deviant populations and their organized activities to claim legitimation.

Humor as Subversive Deviance

In "So Who's Deviant?" (1963) Lenny Bruce, a comedian and social critic who had more than few run-ins with the law5, riffs on the illegality and immorality of marijuana as compared to this, that, and the other behavior. Why do we include it here? Humor, as it turns out, can be a social vehicle in which norms that may either have outlived their usefulness or be more useful to some groups than others or be rife with contradictions can be "deviantly" handled in a manner that allows the rest of society to reconsider them.