History of the Sociology of Deviance


Code of Hammarubi

"The most complete and perfect extant collection of Babylonian laws, developed during the reign of Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC) of the 1st dynasty of Babylon. It consists of his legal decisions that were collected toward the end of his reign and inscribed on a diorite stela set up in Babylon's temple of Marduk, the national god of Babylonia. These 282 case laws include economic provisions (prices, tariffs, trade, and commerce), family law (marriage and divorce), as well as criminal law (assault, theft) and civil law (slavery, debt). Penalties varied according to the status of the offenders and the circumstances of the offenses.

"The background of the code is a body of Sumerian law under which civilized communities had lived for many centuries. The existing text is in the Akkadian (Semitic) language; but, even though no Sumerian version is known to survive, the code was meant to be applied to a wider realm than any single country and to integrate Semitic and Sumerian traditions and peoples. Moreover, despite a few primitive survivals relating to family solidarity, district responsibility, trial by ordeal, and the lex talionis (i.e., an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth), the code was advanced far beyond tribal custom and recognized no blood feud, private retribution, or marriage by capture.

"The principal (and only considerable) source of the Code of Hammurabi is the stela discovered at Susa in 1901 by the French Orientalist Jean-Vincent Scheil and now preserved in the Louvre."1

Social control in Greece

"Greek law codes2 : It was not many years after the Cylon affair that the Athenian lawgiver Draco gave the city its first comprehensive law code (perhaps 621). Because of the code's extreme harshness, Draco's name has become a synonym for legal savagery. But the code (the purely political features of which are irrecoverably lost to the 20th century short of some lucky inscriptional find) was surely intended to define and so ameliorate conditions; the Athenian equivalents of the "bribe-eating basileis" of the Boeotian Hesiod's poem could still dispense a rough, but no longer arbitrary, justice. Further than that it is not safe to go; Draco's code, like that of the statesman and poet Solon (c. 630-560), was destroyed by antidemocrats in the late 5th century. A detailed constitution foisted on Draco has survived in the treatise called the Constitution of Athens, attributed to Aristotle and found on papyrus in 1890. This says much about the psychology of 411 BC and little about the situation in 621.

"Ostracism was political practice in ancient Athens whereby a prominent citizen who threatened the stability of the state could be banished without bringing any charge against him. (A similar device existed at various times in Argos, Miletus, Syracuse, and Megara.) At a fixed meeting in midwinter, the people decided, without debate, whether they would hold a vote on ostracism (ostrakophoria) some weeks later. Any citizen entitled to vote in the assembly could write another citizen's name down, and, when a sufficiently large number wrote the same name, the ostracized man had to leave Attica within 10 days and stay away for 10 years. He remained owner of his property. Ostracism must be carefully distinguished from exile in the Roman sense, which involved loss of property and status and was for an indefinite period (generally for life).

"Ostracism3 is said by Aristotle, in his Constitution of Athens, to have been introduced by Cleisthenes in his reform of the Athenian constitution after the expulsion of Hippias (c. 508 BC), but the first use of it seems to have been made in 488-487 BC, when Hipparchus, son of Charmus of Collytus, was ostracized. After Hipparchus, four more men, the last of them being Aristides, were ostracized before the amnesty in 481, preceding the invasion of Xerxes I. The institution was invoked less frequently after the Persian Wars, falling into disuse after it was used ineffectively, probably in 417, to resolve the political impasse caused by the rivalry of Nicias and Alcibiades. Roman law

"exile and banishment4 : prolonged absence from one's country imposed by vested authority as a punitive measure. Exile and banishment probably originated among early peoples as a means of punishment. The offender was made an outcast and deprived of the comfort and protection of his group. Exile was practiced by the Greeks chiefly in cases of homicide, although ostracism was a form of exile imposed for political reasons. In Rome, exile (exsilium) was originally a means to circumvent the death penalty. Before a death sentence was pronounced, a Roman citizen could escape by voluntary exile. Later, exile applied to all gradations of expulsion, whether it was temporary or permanent and whether citizenship was lost and property confiscated or not. In general, the Romans determined punishment by class: banishment was for the upper classes and forced labour for the lower."

"From the Anglo-Saxon penalty of outlawry, English law developed the practice of banishing criminals as an alternative to capital punishment. By the 18th century, European countries were removing criminals to penal colonies in America, Australia, and Siberia (see penal colony). In the 20th century, political reasons became a frequent basis for exile. See also deportation."

Deviance and social control in the old testament5

"Hebraic Law: body of ancient Hebrew law codes found in various places in the Old Testament and similar to earlier law codes of ancient Middle Eastern monarchs—such as the Code of Hammurabi, an 18th-17th-century-bc Babylonian king, and the Code of Lipit-Ishtar, a 20th-century-bc king of the Mesopotamian city of Eshnunna. The codes of both Hammurabi and Lipit-Ishtar are described in their prologues as imparted by a deity so that the monarchs might establish justice in their lands. Such law codes thus had the authority of divine command."

"The laws of the Hebrews were conceived in the same manner. Two types of law are noted in the Hebrew law codes: (1) casuistic, or case, law, which contains a conditional statement and a type of punishment to be meted out; and (2) apodictic law, i.e., regulations in the form of divine commands (e.g., the Ten Commandments). The following Hebraic law codes are incorporated in the Old Testament: (1) the Book of the Covenant, or the Covenant Code; (2) the Deuteronomic Code; and (3) the Priestly Code. (See casuistry.)"

"The Book of the Covenant, one of the oldest collections of law in the Old Testament, is found in Exodus 20:22-23:33. Similar to the Code of Hammurabi, the Covenant Code is divided into the following sections: (1) a prologue; (2) laws on the worship of Yahweh; (3) laws dealing with persons; (4) property laws; (5) laws concerned with the continuance of the Covenant; and (6) an epilogue, with warnings and promises. In both the Code of Hammurabi and the Covenant Code, the lex talionis (the law of retribution)namely, the "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" lawis found. The substitution of financial compensation or a fine for the literal punishment, however, was allowed."

"The Deuteronomic Code, found in Deuteronomy, chapters 12-26, is a reinterpretation or revision of Israelite law, based on historical conditions as interpreted by the 7th-century-bc historians known as the Deuteronomists. Discovered in the Temple at Jerusalem in 621 BC, the Deuteronomic Code attempted to purify the worship of Yahweh from Canaanite and other influences. The greatest sin was considered to be apostasy, the rejection of faith, the penalty for which was death. The Deuteronomic Code is divided into the following sections: (1) statutes and ordinances, especially related to dealings with the Canaanites and worship in the Temple in Jerusalem alone, to the exclusion of the high places (see high place); (2) laws (known as sabbatical laws) concerned with the year of release from obligations, especially financial; (3) regulations for leaders; (4) various civil, cultic, and ethical laws; and (5) an epilogue of blessings and curses."

"The Priestly Code, containing a major section known as the Code of Holiness (in Leviticus, chapters 17-26), is found in various parts of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and most of Numbers. Emphasizing ceremonial, institutional, and ritualistic practices, the Priestly Code comes from the post-Exilic period (i.e., after 538 BC). Though most of the laws of the Code of Holiness probably come from the pre-Exilic period (pre-6th century BC), the laws reflect a reinterpretation encouraged by the Exile experiences in Babylon. Purity of worship of Yahweh is emphasized."

Early modern

Poor laws, vagrancy laws. (see also Chambliss)

Poor Law6 : in British history, body of laws undertaking to provide relief for the poor, developed in 16th-century England and maintained, with various changes, until after World War II. The Elizabethan Poor Laws, as codified in 1597-98, were administered through parish overseers, who provided relief for the aged, sick, and infant poor, as well as work for the able-bodied in workhouses. Late in the 18th century, this was supplemented by the so-called Speenhamland system of providing allowances to workers who received wages below what was considered a subsistence level. The resulting increase in expenditures on public relief was so great that a new Poor Law was enacted in 1834, based on a harsher philosophy that regarded pauperism among able-bodied workers as a moral failing. The new law provided no relief for the able-bodied poor except employment in the workhouse, with the object of stimulating workers to seek regular employment rather than charity. The growth of humanitarian feeling in the 19th century helped to mitigate the harshness of the law in practice, and the phenomenon of industrial unemployment in the 20th century showed that poverty was more than a moral problem. The social legislation of the 1930s and '40s replaced the Poor Laws with a comprehensive system of public welfare services.

III. Modern

1. Scientific Criminology in the late 19th Century

  1. Italian Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), one of the first scientific criminologists, whose theories were related to Darwinian theories of evolution. His investigations of the skulls and facial features of robbers led him to the hypothesis that serious or persistent criminality was associated with atavism, or the reversion to a primitive stage of human development.7
  2. American Sheldon put forth a theory of “somatotypes” or body types, suggesting that crime and delinquency was more common among muscular, athletic persons (mesomorphs) than among tall, thin persons (ectomorphs) or soft, rounded individuals (endomorphs).
  3. Mostly discredited but came back as interest in “super males” in recent decades — so-called XYY males (characterized by the presence of a surplus Y chromosome) may be more likely to be involved in criminal behaviour than the general population – and more recently medical researchers looking for things like a violence gene.8
  4. “Twin studies” have lent some support for a biological explanation but two important facts need to be pointed out.
    1. First, the relationship tends to SLIGHTLY favor biology over environment, but when we turn this around and try to figure out what the implications are we tend to invent solutions that are based on much stronger associations.
    2. Second, even born criminals are not constantly criminal. In fact, even the worst criminals spend most of their time obeying social rules. This suggests that even if genes were to be pinned down exactly, we’d still not have a magic bullet for eliminating crime from society.
  5. Note the logic in these theories: there is something constitutionally different about individuals who violate norms. Application of appropriate technology can identify these individuals so that they can be changed, watched, isolated, or eliminated. Pro-active social control.

2. Status Politics and the importance of symbols in 19th Century America

When you look across time at what a society “gets up in arms about” you sometimes notice something interesting: it’s not the “what” of the behavior but the “who.” That is, behaviors are sometimes called deviant more because of who does them than of what they are.

Sociologist Joseph Gusfield looked at the several temperance movements which arose in the US at the beginning and end of the 19th century, and early in the 20th in his book Symbolic Crusade. His interpretation of these events showed how “deviant behavior” sometimes arises as a byproduct of the rise and fall of status groups in a society and the competition between them.

Defining Status: social honor and prestige.

Certain issues in our recent history — such as the flouridation controversy, the threat of domestic communism, school curricula (condoms or not, sex education, prayer in school), and the temperance movement, or even the abortion debate — "may seem to generate 'irrational' emotions and excessive zeal if we fail to recognize them as symbolic rather than instrumental, pragmatic issues." (Gusfield, p. 11) That is, the conflict they involve is a sort of stand in for contests of social honor between groups which aren't about benefiting materially one way or the other from the outcome of the controversy. Conflict along this dimension is very real, even if it is difficult to get a handle on. As Gusfield writes: "When a society undergoes profound changes, the fortunes and the respect of people undergo loss or gain. We have always understood the desire to defend fortune. We should also understand the desire to defend respect. It is less clear because it is symbolic in nature but it is not less significant."

Gusfield "reads" the Temperance Movement (and other moral enterprises) as "[t]he efforts of an old middle class and of those who have built their self-conceptions on their values to defend and restore their lost prestige…." He asks what "social conditions made the facts of other people's drinking so galling to the abstainer and the need for reformist action acutely pressing to him." (p. 4) His answer is:

These conditions are the development of threats to the socially dominant position of the Temperance adherent by those whose style of life differ[ed] from his. As his own claim to social respect and honor are diminished, the sober, abstaining citizen seeks for public acts through which he may reaffirm the dominance and prestige of his style of life. (p. 4)

Central to Gusfield's argument is the notion of "political acts as symbolic acts." The flurries and furies over issues like temperance are not occasional abberations in the American political process, but one of its most "characteristic processes." The official adoption of the values of a particular group in law, or other government actions that take the group's values into account "symbolize the position of groups in the status structure," and "seemingly ceremonial or ritual acts of government are often of great importance to many social groups." "Being acts of deference or degradation, the individual finds in governmental action that his own perceptions of his status in the society are confirmed or rejected." (Gusfield, p. 11)

An important aspect of this is that it doesn't necessarily matter whether new laws like Prohibition are uniformly obeyed. They accomplish their effect primarily in the fact that they happen. In our own time we see how important a ban on gays in the military is to some people even if a complete sweeping of gays from the military is not. What is important in these cases is that even if "deviants" are getting away with breaking the law, it is their — the dominant group's — law that they need to avoid. (p. 8)

Another way of saying this is to say that these are symbolic acts. Gusfield writes: "It is useful to think of symbolic acts as forms of rhetoric, functioning to organize the perceptions, attitudes, and feelings of observers." (p. 170) [See Kenneth Burke's A Grammar of Motives.] We contrast here the rhetorical and the instrumental effects of an action. Thus I can announce a tax increase, but couch it in such a way that you feel good about doing your part to help the country. As Kenneth Burke put it, these uses of language function "to sharpen up the pointless and blunt the to sharply pointed." (quoted by Gusfield, p. 170)

What this leads us to is the realization of how much symbolic work is involved in norm changes that result from status conflicts. The groups involved spend a tremendous amount of energy battling in the fields of rhetoric. We might be tempted to call it not real, but it is certainly very real in its consequences. As ethereal as "spin" is, the deftness with which it is applied this evening between about 9:30 and midnight may have profound effects on the future of the country. But that is getting a little away from our topic. Let's turn to Becker's notion of moral entrepreneurship and take a look at what some of this status politic work or we might even call it symbolic work is and how it works.

In addition to a "reading" of the temperance movement, Gusfield offers a little theory of the relationship between the changing fates of economic classes and changing social norms. As social classes die off — the Northeast middle class in our own time perhaps — they expend their last bits of social energy trying to rescue some sense of their lost social respect. "Social systems and cultures," Gusfield writes, "die slowly, leaving their rear guards behind to fight delaying action.… A heightened stress on the importance of tradition is a major response of such 'doomed classes.'" (p. 9)

3. E. A. Ross and the “Discovery” of “social control”

Social Pathology and Social Disorganization

4. Durkheim and the normality of crime

  1. (a) Even in a society of angels there would be crime.
  2. (b) What is sociologically interesting is when crime rates go up or down. This signals that stuff is going on in a group or society.

5. Durkheim and suicide: first theory of self and society – Anomie

  1. (a) In Suicide, Durkheim put forth a radical theory about why people kill themselves. After dismissing purely external explanations (such as the weather) and qualifying internal psychological ones (such as having a suicidal tendency) he argued for a theory of social integration: people are more likely to kill themselves when they are either too loosely or too tightly connected to their societies.
  2. (b) • Durkheim then associates these with different forms of suicide:


e.g., jumping on grenade
e.g., honorific, ritualistic suicide such as hari-kari (SP?)
"excessive individualism," "cult of the individual," "goallessness,"
Sudden loss of sense of social regulation, e.g.:economic disasters and surges in prosperity

6. Structural Theories of Deviation – Deviation as Normal Adaptation to Environment

  1. (a) Sub cultural Theories
    1. Both “law abiding” and criminal “values” are learned from people around you. Criminals are merely acting the way they’ve been taught to act.
  2. (b) Techniques of Neutralization
    1. Deviants and non-deviants share culture but deviant is able to redefine behavior so it fits with social values
      1. 1) denial of responsibility
        1. - unintentional
        2. - due to causes beyond one's control
        3. - allows one to deviate without making a frontal assault on norms
      2. 2) denial of injury
        1. - mala per se vs. mala prohibita
        2. - no one is hurt by action or victim can well afford it
      3. 3) denial of victim
        1. - victim transformed into wrongdoer, into deserving it, etc.
        2. - perpetrator thinks of self as avenger
        3. - Robin Hood syndrome
    2. 4) condemnation of the condemners
        1. - see condemners as hypocrites, etc.
    3. 5) appeal to higher loyalties
        1. - conflict of loyalties solved at the expense of victim or loyalty to law and society in favor of smaller group to which purpetrator owes some kind of allegiance. Psychologically we sometimes see people trying to take credit for their being faithful to the smaller group.
        2. These techniques are extensions of patterns of thought already expressed in society. Bending the rules is a normal social behavior that we find all across the social system.
  3. (c) Control Theory
      1. Deviant behavior is result of breakdown of (self) control. Research should look at why some folks have stronger learned controls than others.
  4. (d) Anomie

Merton’s Anomie – the pursuit of legitimate ends by illegitimate means.

Adaptation Cultural Goals Institutionalized Means Examples
Conformity accept accept
Innovation accept reject Robber barons, "smarts," wheeling/dealing, tolerance for rogues, much white collar crime, organized crime. Expect among lower class?
Ritualism reject accept Is it deviant? Giving up. "I'm not sticking my head out?" "Don't aim high and you won't be disappointed." Expect among lower middle class?
Retreatism reject reject Probably least common. Psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, tramps, drug addicts. Failure leads to giving up on the goals as well as the means. Dropping out.
Rebellion replace replace Reject status quo and actively attempt to set up alternative goals and means.
  1. (e) Labeling theory Kitsuse / Becker / Erikson
    1. No behavior or person is inherently deviant. When we label folks as deviant, they are treated as deviant. Self-fulfilling prophecy. Hard for ex-con to get a job. Person known as trouble-maker. Leads to concept of secondary deviance – you start acting like you are labeled and your deviant identity causes continued deviance– and amplification of deviance – the system hardens you, makes you more stigmatized, teaches you more how to be deviant.

IV. Summary – Approaches to Deviance

  1. 1. Bad culture
    1. (a) Lack of acculturation, cultural lag, social disorganization
    2. (b) Lack of control
    3. (c) Exposure to deviant influences
  2. 2. Innate character flaws
  3. 3. Mismatch between opportunities and aspirations
  4. 4. Reaction to labels
  5. 5. Legitimate expression of conflict