Lemert Beyond Mead

Lemert, Edwin "Beyond Mead: The Societal Reaction to Deviance," Social Problems 21:457-467.

This article is partly a response to a review essay by Peter Manning which appeared in Contemporary Sociology in 1973 (2:123-128 "Survey Essay on Deviance" — SSL HM1.C65).

Basic idea — societal reaction is a complex process. Lemert wants to go beyond Mead's concept of symbolic interaction to show how norm negotiation is a complex process involving individual, group and organizational actors (suggests that legislative activity might be a good model for it).

He starts out by laying out his understanding of societal reaction theory. He sees it as somewhat akin to social control, strictly contrasted with etiological theories. He "sought to show how deviance was shaped and stabilized by efforts to eliminate or ameliorate it." For Lemert, in contrast to some of his successors, the break with structural conceptions and the search for causes wasn't a complete one. He still saw it as coming down to the old problem of establishing connections between symbolic, social and physical systems without losing a sense of human beings as agents. (Giddens continues to work on this one!)

What Lemert doesn't want us to forget is that changes in morality and deviance defining procedures results from the interactions of groups. Norms don't represent the values of any one group, but rather their dilemmas, compromises, expeditious adherence to procedures, strictures of time and budgets, etc.

Also cites Schur, "Reactions to Deviance: A Critical Assessment," AJS 75:309-322.