Gibbs Social Control

Gibbs, Jack P. "Conceptions of Deviant Behavior: The Old and the New," Pacific Sociological Review 9:9-14.

Gibbs covers "the old" by running through a short historical typology. The oldest theories of deviance were basically biological. The idea was that some people are inherently criminal and the goal was to figure out who they were, how they got that way and what to do about them.

Then came "analytic" theories. These include a shift in emphasis from the actor as deviant to the act as deviant, and an attempt to define crime independently of legal criteria. Now some acts were inherently deviant and injurious to society. We got definitions like Garafalo's (1914) idea that deviant acts were those that violated sentiments of pity and probity. Later Sellin (1938) proposes the idea of "conduct norms." This whole line of thinking represents an attempt to base morals and norms in something social. DJR: A problem is that it remains an attempt to base scientific research on the norms of the dominant society by showing that those norms are somehow natural. But, Gibbs points out, it remains true that some acts are deviant only because they are proscribed.

Thus, we reach the new conception. This is, of course, labeling theory. Gibbs does the usual KEB* dance and then goes on to misinterpret labeling theory in a big way. He concentrates on the idea that acts are not inherently deviant. He ends up saying that the new conception is "relative in the extreme" and that it eschews the idea that there are acts that are deviant in all societies. Biggest problem here is that he misses the point of labeling theories — that we focus on the process of deviance labeling — and treats it as if it were an etiological theory. He asks questions about variations in incidence from society to society, among persons, and in what is deviant from society to society. That is, he asks the new conception to answer the questions of the old conception. What he should do is wake up and realize that the new conception is telling him to ask a few new questions.

His last complaint is that the new conception claims that societal reaction is a criterion of deviation. Basically, Gibbs' problem here is that he has a "norm stick" up his ass. Toss him a norm and he'd probably shut up, but he is afraid that the new conception won't let him play with his norm anymore. He wants to "identify deviant behavior by reference to norms, and treat reaction to deviation as a contingent property." But, as Kitsuse (I think, it might be Plummer) argues, when it comes down to operationalizing norms it is ultimately in terms of societal reaction.