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Becker: “Outside” Essay

​a) According to Howard Becker, central fact about deviance is that “it is created by society. Becker does not mean that the causes of deviance can be derived from the social environment of the deviant or the “social factors” that causes an individual to engage in deviant behavior. Rather, Becker means that social groups create deviance by creating the rules or norms that must be adhered to and if they are violated—the violation will result in what the group deems as being deviance. Thus, the individuals who go against the norms or rules of a social group will be labeled as being an “outsider”. ​b) According to Becker, a deviant is an individual “to whom that label has successfully been applied”. He asserts that deviance is not a characteristic of the action a person commits; rather it is an outcome of the rules and sanctions used by others to an “outsider” or the reaction of others to an individual’s action. Deviant behavior is deviant when there is an audience that judges it as such. ​c) Becker states that “deviant” is not a homogenous category, because deviance in and of itself is a result of the reactions of others to an individual’s action. Therefore, while one social group may view a particular individual’s action as being deviant, another may not. Deviance is contextual; it depends on the audience that is judging the individual’s action.

One cannot assume that every individual who has been deemed as being a “deviant” are the same, because the processing of labeling individuals is not reliable. There are individuals who have been labeled deviant who have not broken a rule, such as individuals who are considered deviant because of their race or religion. Also, one cannot assume that the group of deviants contains individuals who have actually broken a rule, since there are individuals who may have escaped scrutiny and therefore are not included in the category of deviants. ​d) Whether people respond to an act as being deviant depends on several factors, such as the type of act that is committed, the setting in which the action is taking place, and the person committing the act. Deviant acts that are considered not to be illegal or that does not harming other individuals, such as having tattoos, dressing eccentrically, are sometimes overlooked or deemed as being not so bad. Whereas, deviant acts that tend to feature criminal behavior is usually judged seriously by individuals who do not partake in such behavior, such as child abuse, domestic violence, murder, or rape.

The setting in which the action is taking place plays a role in whether or not people will judge the act as being deviant. For example, if a woman decides to go to attend a church service in a provocative style of clothing, then she will be judged by the other parishioners as being deviant, because that particular social group has guidelines as to how individuals must look and conduct themselves while being in that particular setting. However, if that same woman were to go to a risqué club dressed in the same manner, she would not be seen as being a deviant, because that particular social group has its own guidelines as to how people look and conduct themselves. Lastly, the type of person committing the act plays a role in whether or not individuals will respond to that act as being deviant. For example, there can be two teenagers who decide to shoplift from a store. One of the teenagers comes from a middle-class family who lives in the suburbs, while the other teenager comes from a working-class family that does not live in such a nice neighborhood.

Since there are some individuals who automatically associate the poor to working class with very negative stereotypes, it would not be unlikely that the teenager from the working class family would be judged more severely than the teenager who comes from a middle-class family. ​e) Hughes’ concept of the “master status” applies to deviance in the sense that, if an individual possesses a deviant trait, other individuals may assume that he/she possesses all of the negative traits that goes along with that one particular trait. Also, an individual having the status of being a deviant has the ability to override all of the other statuses that individual possesses. For example, a man may have the status of being a father, husband, and a social worker. However, if he becomes incarcerated due to a drug charge, his status as a convict will override all of his other statuses in the eyes of many people. Even after he is released from prison, he will be seen as an ex-convict first and foremost, and then as the other statuses that he possesses.

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