new deviancy theory

new deviancy theory

a ‘radical’ approach to the study of DEVIANCE which has presented itself as an alternative to ‘positivist’ approaches which suggested that one could ‘scientifically’ establish biological, physiological, psychological or social determinants of deviance, and that a scientific approach necessitates an ‘objective’ and non-political stance. Against such deterministic perspectives, new deviancy theory emphasized an interactionist approach which took the understanding of the meanings of deviant actors, and the ‘social construction’ of deviance, as central. The common starting point for practitioners of new deviancy theory was LABELLING, emphasizing SOCIETAL REACTION rather than ‘human nature’ as a determinant of deviancy. Emerging in the late 1960s and early 70s, new deviancy theory argued that it was crucial to understand the political implications of deviance, and that the political stance of the researcher should be made explicit. The predominant politics of new deviancy theory were libertarian and hence anti-authority. Typically theorists ‘took the side’ of the deviant against various ‘forces of reaction’: the family, the police, courts, prisons and the state. This political stance had several consequences. One was an emphasis on the damaging effects of social control – an interest in prisons, for example, which emphasized the brutalizing effects of incarceration and the fact that imprisonment did not deter offenders. Other typical areas of interest were the users of‘soft’ drugs (Young, 1971), and studies debunking popular myths about ‘young hooligans’ (Cohen, 1971). As Young later acknowledged, they tended to take ‘easy’ topics and frequently ignored the devastating effects of crime, e.g. on women, black people and the working class. For all this, new deviancy theory has been highly influential in developing later criminological approaches. These developments are summarized in Young (1988), and for a selection of papers showing a different line of development see Cohen (1988). see also NATIONAL DEVIANCY CONFERENCE.
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