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Is the sociology_of_deviance_still_relev


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This an article of Erich Goode on whether the study of the sociology of deviance is still alive or dead today.

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Is the sociology_of_deviance_still_relev

  1. 1. Does the Death of the Sociology of Deviance Claim Make Sense? Author(s): Erich Goode Source: The American Sociologist, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Fall, 2002), pp. 107-118 Published by: Springer Stable URL: . Accessed: 16/01/2015 10:35 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact . Springer is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The American Sociologist. This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  2. 2. Does theDeath of theSociology ofDeviance Claim Make Sense?1 Erich Goode Colin Sumner (1994) argued that the sociology of deviance "died" in 1975. This paper critically examines Sumner's argument and finds that itdoes not mean what ithe claims itmeans. In fact, it is about a decline in the supposed ideological function of the field for the ruling elite and not its declining intellectual vitality.Miller, Wright, and Dannels (2001) claim to test Sumner's argument and find some empirical support for it.This paper findsWright et al. s tests flawed and suggests alternative explanations for their findings. Some implications of this issue for the current state of the field are discussed. While the sociology of deviance has declined in theoretical vitality since the 1960s and 1970s, it leaves a legacy of influence in other fields, it remains an ongoing academic enterprise, it still attracts a fair number of students, and its textbooks are cited in the field of sociology. In the humanities and social sciences, academic fashion is a most fickle beast. Fad and fashion have characterized attention to subject matter, concepts, theories?even entire fields. Topics drift in and out of a discipline's focus of attention, and every few decades, theories once regarded as cutting edge come to be seen as pass?. In sociology, alienation, "mass society," and collective behavior have fallen victim to the fickleness of intellectual fad. In psychiatry and clinical psychology, Freudian psychoanalysis gives way to psychopharma cology, but resurfaces in the humanities. In the empirical social sciences,Marxism deflates, but is retrofitted to serve in less data-relevant venues. In the humanities, postmodernism becomes ascendant. In criminology and deviance studies, social disorganization theory,pre eminent before the Second World War, all but disappears by the late 1940s, but in the late 1980s, makes a comeback (Bursik and Grasmick 1993). Anomie or strain theory, the leading approach in the late 1950s and early 1960s, soon comes to be regarded as discredited, but within a quarter century, experiences a renaissance (Messner and Rosenfeld 1997). The social sciences, Michel Foucault reminds us, are discursive disciplines. This means both that discredited theories are rarely completely abandoned, and that fad and fash ion will determine their fate. In the natural sciences, theories are overturned or ab sorbed by later developments. Newton's theories tell us exactly how and under what conditions physical bodies move. If they had failed to predict, theywould have been of Address for correspondence: Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University ofMaryland, Col lege Park, MD 20742. I would like to thank Barbara Weinstein, Nachman Ben-Yehuda, William J.Goode, Alex Thio, Craig Forsyth, Carolyn Henderson Meier, Sabra Home, Robert K. Merton, Alphonse Sallett, and the office of the American Sociological Association for their comments and assistance. Joel Best generously made available tome themanuscript of his forthcoming book on the topic of this paper. We don't agree on all points, but my reading of his book strengthened this paper's arguments. Goode 107 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  3. 3. interest only to the antiquarian. In contrast, thework ofMarx and Freud transcends the accumulation of disconfirming empirical data. Their writings never quite go away, de spite twists and turns in intellectual fad and fashion, because they supply "a paradig matic set of terms, images, and concepts which organize thinking and experience about the past, present, and future of society" (Rabinow 1984: 15). Marx and Freud, along with Foucault?as well as the best representatives of our craft?do not quite fail to predict because they do more than simply predict. They offer a vision, more literary than scientific, of how society is put together, how itworks, and what itsdynamics are. They organize our discourse and thinking about the social world (Goode 2001: 1). I intend tomake six points here, some of which will be argued inmore detail than others. One, a preliminary statement: Deviance is a universal, trans-historic, cross-cul tural analytic concept, no different from gender, stratification, interaction, and culture; everyone, including theman and woman on the street, including even advocates of the "deviance is dead" thesis, uses the concept implicitly in their understanding and expli cation of how social relations operate. The sociology ofdeviance is the studyof deviance? an entirely different matter altogether. Two, many of the same charges leveled at the sociology of deviance have also been lodged against the entire field of sociology; we must understand the former within the context of the latter.Three, Colin Sumner's "obitu ary" for the sociology of deviance (1994) ismisleading and disingenuous in that it does not saywhat itpretends to say. Four, Miller, Wright, and Dannels' "tests" of the "death" of the sociology of deviance (2001) are flawed. Five, in spite of the fact that it is less likely to generate "big," influential theoretical ideas, the sociology of deviance is an ongoing (albeit relatively small) enterprise with respect to research, textbook produc tion and sales, and undergraduate enrollments.2 And six, like sociology in general, the sociology of deviance has been guilty of what Joel Best (2001) refers to as "giving it away" for free, that is, the field has generated ideas that have influenced other fields in ways that have remained unacknowledged. First, my preliminary point: Deviance is an analytic concept, much like gender, strati fication, race, crime, and socialization. It is a palpable, though constructed, real-world phenomenon that can be located and analyzed. In contrast, the sociology ofdeviance is a field of study.The "sociology of deviance"?the sociological study of real or supposed violations of normative expectations?may be an increasingly unfashionable or decreas ingly innovative area of study, but deviance will always be with us. Even if sociologists stop studying deviance, the real or supposed violations of norms and reactions to actual and potential violations of normative expectations will eternally remain as a fundamen tal element in the dynamics of societies everywhere. Norms are universal, and they are violated in every institutional sphere in every society that has ever existed, throughout the entire stretch of human existence. And reactions to these normative violations, real or supposed, take place everywhere. Actors may not call what they do when they pun ish, shun, or condemn whom they regard as wrongdoers, but "deviance" seems an ap propriate sociological term for behavior that calls forth such reactions. And if it is not called "deviance," what should it be called? To imagine that "deviance" will disappear when sociologists stop studying it represents a form of magical, wishful thinking. Is Sociology Dead? As a prelude to this discussion, consider the debate over the supposed intellectual decline of the parent of the sociology of deviance?sociology itself. It is no secret that 108 The American Sociologist /Fall 2002 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  4. 4. the entire field of sociology is not as fashionable as itwas in the 1960s and 1970s. Joel Best (2001) argues that sociology's academic prestige has always been low, in part be cause it has been guilty of "giving it away," that is, generating subfields and major concepts that have been reconstituted as, or incorporated into, other fields. One need only cite demography and criminology, Best says, to name entire fields that owe their origin to sociology, not tomention public opinion polling and concepts such as social mobility, charisma, the self-fulfilling prophecy, status symbol, role model, peer group, and significant other, to appreciate the fact that sociology has been a "wellspring for ideas that have spread widely and have proven to have considerable utility" for practitio ners in other fields (111). In this respect, the field of sociology has triumphed over the fickleness of academic fad and fashion by spawning influential intellectual progeny. Contrary towhat many observers might predict, with respect to student enrollments, surprisingly, the field of sociology seems to be holding its own. The number of bachelor's degrees granted each year in sociology in theUnited States has been roughly 25,000 for a half-dozen years, a bit below the 1970-1975 peak, which was in the 30-35,000 range, but a substantial comeback from the mid-1980s, when itwas only 12,000 to 13,000. The production of Ph.D.s climbed from 260 in 1966 to 734 a decade later, and has bounced around somewhere between 632 (1979) and 448 (1990) for nearly a quarter-century; in 2000, 615 Ph.D.s were awarded in sociology in the United States. Still, the field has not been thought of as "where it's at" formore than a generation. Pundits by the score have offered diagnoses to explain the field's shrinking intellec tual appeal. Sociology: no longer "thinks big" (Patterson 2002); is guilty, as we saw, of giving away its best ideas to other fields (Best 2001); isn't scientific enough (Cole 2001); is too scientific, that is, attempts to ape the natural sciences and in so doing, refuses to accept a "postmodernist" turn (Ellis and Bochner 2001); is insufficientlymulticultural (Henry 2001) ; has become so fragmented and specialized within subfields that it lacks a disciplinary core (Becker and Rau 1992). There are nearly as many views on the matter as critics, and some of these diagnoses directly contradict one another. The fact remains, many observers believe, the field of sociology is a shadow of its former self in intellectual vitality and in the richness of its research endeavors. At one time, most of the articles appearing in nearly every issue of the field's flagship journal, theAmerican Sociological Review, could be read with interest and profit by most sociolo gists. Today, this is no longer true.Most articles appearing in a given issue of theASR are of interest only to a tiny coterie of specialists. (Specialization or stagnation? The answer depends on whom one asks.) As a former editor of a major sociology journal told me recently,most of the articles published in sociology journals were accepted "because readers couldn't find anything wrong with them." An exploration of the decline of the vitality of the sociology of deviance must be contextualized within the framework of the decline of sociology generally. What Exactly Was Summer's Claim? Colin Sumner (1994) claims that the sociology of deviance has died. It is no longer a vital or viable field, he argues, and has not been for close to a generation. For themost part, its practitioners have abandoned the intellectual territory and research program once laid out by itspioneers. Researchers stillwork in the field, he admits, textbooks are stillwritten and published under its rubric, and students still enroll in courses with the title "deviance" or some such equivalent, but the field is a "corpse rather than a corpus of Goode 109 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  5. 5. knowledge" (ix). Over the years, "combatants...have completely demolished the ter rain," which, he says, is now "barren, fruitless, full of empty trenches and craters, lit tered with unexploded mines and eerily silent....It is now time to drop arms and show respect for the dead" (ix). What do these eloquent but overwrought and fanciful metaphors refer to?What exactly is the nature of Sumner s claim? A close reading of Sumner's thesis reveals that he does not mean what he claims. In fact, his argument is not about the death of an academic field at all. Instead, it is a theory about the origin and function of that field, and the argument that the field no longer serves the supposed function it once served. Its collapse, says Sumner, was brought on by its inability to serve its prior ideological function. In other words, Sumner is not putting forth an empirically testable hypothesis. Instead, he is guilty of a bait-and-switch scheme inwhich metaphor and rhetoric substitute for data and analysis. Here is Sumner's argument. It startswith the assumption that the ruling elite follows the ideas and research of the academy very closely and makes use of those ideas to maintain hegemony. Social control, Sumner argues, is buttressed by theories generated by intellectuals and academics. Until the late nineteenth century, the powers that be made use of the concept of "degeneracy" to keep troublemakers in line and maintain control over the masses. But with the dawn of themodern age and a correspondingly more sophisticated and diverse public, a simple characterization of wrongdoers as de generates became less and less plausible and, therefore, less effective as an instrument of social control. "Degeneracy" came to lack the ring of truth;moral absolutism no longer worked. The masters and rulers needed a more flexible instrument. Conveniently, along came Durkheim, who argued that we should tolerate milder forms of deviation and repress more serious forms?which is to say, crimes. In this conceptualization, says Sumner, a field of study was born?the sociology of deviance. In other words, the field of deviance was born to serve as "ideology." The sociology of deviance, he argues, "was a rational, liberal-minded attempt to make the society of the powerful more economic, more predictable, more humane and less chaotic" (301). From the end of the nineteenth century, when Durkheim developed his notion of deviance?in effect, to serve society's masters and rulers so that they could control, repress, and establish hegemony over thewrongdoers and troublemakers of theworld? to roughly 1975, the field of deviance was a going concern. But then, Sumner claims, something happened. The field was no longer able to serve its original ideological func tion. It is important to note that, in Sumner's argument, what "died," supposedly, was his characterization of the field?that is, the sociology of deviance no longer served its original purpose. It is this putative Durkheimian conception of deviance?an instru ment in the hands of the powerful to control the unruly masses?that died. (A case could be made for the argument that Sumner's analysis is a grotesque misreading of Durkheim, who yearned for a return to the charms of pre-industrial society, but I'll leave that for the theorists to debate, if such topic interests them.) Or so Sumner claims. Sumner is not clear on exactly what killed off the field. Sometimes he argues that it was the critiques of the "new" criminologists that demolished the field of the sociology of deviance (vii). Radicals, Marxists, critical theorists, and the "new" criminologists annihilated it, critiqued it to death (Gouldner 1968; Liazos 1972; Taylor, Walton, and Young 1973), and all that remained was a corpse. In other places, he argues that the field died because society itselfhas changed. Beginning in the 1960s, Sumner claims, it became clear (towhom is not explained) that theworld "was falling apart at the seams..., 110 The American Sociologist /Fall 2002 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  6. 6. revealing the ugly, unconscious repressions of centuries" (301). Once "the accumulated wounds, scars and violations of an epoch...burst through in the late sixties, social devi ance became meaningless" (301). Sumner does not explain how or why this supposed realization rendered social deviance "meaningless"?nor even what the statement means in the first place?but that is Sumner's argument. Sumner's claim that the sociology of deviance "died" is akin to a disappointed millenarian claiming that Christianity had died because his or her apocalyptic predic tion of the end of theworld did not come to pass in the year 1000 or 2000. In Sumner's scheme of things, entire fields are saturated with their own inner yet contradictory logic; everything is "pregnant with its contrary" (62). In the 1930s, he says, both the United States and Germany "yearned to defeat the forces of degeneracy." The United States, he explains, "was to find its solution in social nationalism," while Ger many found its solution inNational Socialism (75). In 1939, a book entitled Social Deviation was published. Its author was named John Ford. How appropriate, says Sumner, since both deviation and cars are mass-produced (129-130). As I say inmy review of Sumner's book (1995: 1630), with parallel word plays such as these, one could prove almost anything. Sumner claims that a new field of study, the sociology of censure, has now replaced what was once the sociology of deviance. He does not explain what makes the study of censure radically different from the study of deviance?which concept, ifwe read devi ance research carefully, was always an aspect of what the sociology of deviance was all about anyway. The two are two sides of the same coin. "Censure" sounds verymuch like "condemnation," which, to the interactionist sociologist, constitutes deviance. The care ful reader suspects that Sumner is playing a shell game here, substituting one term for another, then pretending the terms refer to radically different phenomena?when in fact, they are variations on a theme. In Sumner's scheme of things, the death of the sociology of deviance is not about numbers; it is not about citations or enrollments or publications. Sumner's argument is about the ideological role of the field and its collapse as a justification for and a rational ization of social control. The study of deviance was about maintaining hegemony, not about investigating a particular social phenomenon. Any attempt to grapple with the Sumner thesis must address his argument, not some imagined version of it. Miller, Wright, and Dannels' Tests of the Sumner Claim3 Miller, Wright, and Dannels (2001) subjected Sumner's argument towhat they refer to as an "empirical test"4 and "found some support" for his claims. They do not test what I describe above as the Sumner thesis?fortunately, for that thesis may very well be untestable. Instead, they look at the intellectual and theoretical vitality of the field, which theymeasure by the citations inworks on deviance to scholars who are known primarily as deviance specialists. Are most of these citations from within the field? And are the citations in the most influential works in the field recent?Miller, Wright, and Dannels answer both questions in the negative. The scholars who are most frequently cited between 1993 and 1999 inworks on deviance are "not primarily known for studies in the sociology of deviance," but are mainly criminologists. And of the field'smost frequendy cited works, only two that are clearly locatable as falling within the tradition of deviance were published after 1975. "These findings seem to show the declining influence of scholarship in the sociology of deviance," they argue (43). Goode 111 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  7. 7. Of Miller, Wright, and Dannels' two "tests," surely the former, citations to works outside of deviance studies per se, is fatally flawed, and for two reasons. First,Miller et al. base their argument on a time line, that is, that the sociology of deviance is declining in vitality. However, the number of references to studies in this field to the work of criminologists does not refer to changes over time at all. It is entirely possible that in the decades prior to the 1990s, more than half the references in the sociology of deviance were also to works by non-deviance specialists. In fact, it is even possible that the per centage was higher in earlier decades because the community of deviance specialists was smaller then and, consequently, the body of work from which itsmembers could draw was correspondingly smaller. But in fact, the authors never explore the issue they claim to have tested. Which brings us to the second fatal flaw inMiller, Wright, and Dannels' test of the vitality of the sociology of deviance: the number of its practitioners, especially in com parison to the field of criminology. In addition to being a field that has delineated a particular conceptual and theoretical arena, criminology is a profession, and huge field at that?a development that has taken place only within the past quarter-century. And it happens that taking the introductory criminology course is now a stepping-stone to a desirable, attractive career. In contrast, conceptual and theoretical scope aside, the soci ology of deviance is quite a small field, and taking a course in it is not a path to a profession of any kind. Here are three indicators of this size difference of these two fields: number of subscribers to the leading journal of each field; the number of text books published in each field; and the number of students enrolled in the courses offered by each field. In 2002, therewere 4,181 paid subscribers to the flagship journal of theAmerican Society of Criminology, Criminology. In addition, there are dozens of other criminology and criminal justice journals. The only journal devoted more or less exclusively to devi ance, Deviant Behavior, has only 632 paid subscribers, a number less than one-sixth the size of the subscribership of Criminology. It is true thatDeviant Behavior is not allied with any professional association, while Criminology is?but that field is the field* of criminology itself,which emphasizes my point. Among the 3,700 titles listed under Amazon's "criminology" entry, I counted over 100 basic, full-length criminology and criminal justice textbooks. In contrast, Miller, Wright, and Dannels cite only seven standard deviance textbooks, of which two,Ward, Carter, and Perrin (1994), and Curra (1994), are out of print. Miller et al., also do not mention several standard texts (Heitzig 1996 and Little 1995), and the fact that two deviance readers are billed as "text-readers" and are used as textbooks (Adler and Adler 2003; Rubington andWeinberg 2002). No matter; the number of texts in the field of criminology ismassively greater than that in deviance. One estimate by a college textbook editor (Carolyn Henderson Meier atMcGraw Hill) has it that the yearly enrollment in introductory criminology is 255,000, while the number of enrollments in deviance is 100,000. Another estimate (Sabra Home of Wadsworth) holds that 180,000 students take criminology at the introductory level and 80,000 enroll in deviance. The discrepancies between these two estimates are fairly small, and for them, the ratio between deviance and criminology is almost identical. It is important to note that, first, these estimates do not include criminal justice, a subject that draws even more students than criminology, especially at the community and four year college level, and second, colleges and universities offer a large array of courses beyond the introductory criminology level, at both the undergraduate and graduate 112 The American Sociologist /Fall 2002 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  8. 8. levels,whereas there are almost none in deviance. (A very few, such as Duke and Mary land, offer two deviance courses?one introductory and the second, more advanced.) It is possible that five times as many students enroll in criminology and criminal justice courses than in deviance courses.5 The fact remains that, in comparison with criminology, deviance is a relatively small, orphan field. Hence, it is not surprising that roughly half of its citations originate from outside its ranks. By the fact of size alone, statistically speaking, this could have been predicted, just as in-group versus out-group interactions, friendships, and marriages are determined in large part by group size. Itwould be truly startling if thiswere otherwise; itwould, in fact, be a violation of predictable statistical patterns. Add to that the fact that deviance and criminology overlap in theoretical underpinnings and subject matter, any finding other than what Miller et al. found would be anomalous and lacking in credibility. But the fact is, by their first test, the evidence simply does not saywhat the authors claim it says. In fact, conceptually and theoretically, criminology can be thought of as a subfield of the sociology of deviance, since both deal with infractions of the norms and reactions to infractions of the norms, "deviance" studies the infraction of informal norms and reactions to such infractions, while "criminology" studies the infraction of formal norms and reactions to such infractions. It is an accident of the job market and differing theoretical orientations and research methodologies that separates them?not dissimilar or contradictory conceptual or theoretical foundations. At first glance, Miller, Wright, and Dannels' second "test" of the declining theoretical and intellectual vitality of the sociology of deviance?the fact that themost-often cited works under its rubric tend to have been written more than a generation ago?seems to have more relevance to their argument than their first test. Indeed, the fact that only two of thirty-one of the field's most often cited works were published later than 1975 would appear to be convincing evidence that the sociology of deviance is theoretically dormant. Upon closer inspection, however, this measure founders, once again, on the shoals of the brute force of numbers. With the exception of the natural sciences, where genuine discoveries are made and old paradigms are demolished, never to return, in practically any field, a small number of foundational works are routinely cited in a substantial proportion of itspublications. It is extremely difficult for any recent work to break into the charmed circle of the thirty-onemost-often cited works in the field. (As I said above, this is especially the case for a field, like deviance, that stands next to a much larger field whose works attract close to half of the citations in itspublications.) Why? The fact is, it ismuch more difficult for a single work to become as influential or as foundational as was once the case. Because of the number and variety of publications in the field, over time, citations become increasingly dispersed to a wider and wider range of works. In the field of deviance studies, in the 1960s and 1970s?and before?it was possible to publish work thatwas regarded as innovative and original,work that came to be cited by a substantial number of practitioners. Into the 1980s and 1990s, that became increasingly difficult. Today, it is virtually impossible to become another Becker?let alone another Durkheim?in the sociology of deviance. If he were working today in-the sociology of deviance, even Howard S. Becker could not be another Becker. This has virtually noth ing to do with the decreasing intellectual vitality of the sociology of deviance. The fact is, it is increasingly difficult to produce a work that is regarded as making an original contribution to the field. I am not arguing that the theoretical work produced during Goode 113 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  9. 9. the 1960s and 1970s was not original, or was less original than work produced today. Indeed, that earlier work was enormously innovative in that it represented a sharp break from established, traditional perspectives, and, ifwe are to judge by citations, in its time, produced an powerful impact on the field. But originality is relative, bound by time and place, as these pioneers would agree. Nonetheless, today, it ismore difficult to conceive of ideas thatwould both represent a sharp break with current approaches and would be embraced by a major sector of the field in the same way that the earlier writings did. Has the Sociology of Deviance Declined in Intellectual Vitality? I am convinced that the field of the sociology of deviance is not as theoretically innovative as it once was, but Miller et al. have not made a convincing case. Their first "test" is fatally flawed and their second is far from impeccable. In their second test, they never answer the nagging question: Is the tendency of the field to cite early, pioneering works more true for the sociology of deviance than formost other fields?We do not know, because Miller, Wright, and Dannels do not make any comparisons. It is entirely possible that the sociology of deviance has declined in theoretical originality, innovativeness, and the production of foundational works that chart new territory and attract new adherents. But as compared with what other disciplines? And disciplines of what size? It would have been more convincing had Miller et al. compared deviance with fields such as the sociology of education, medicine, and occupations. Has deviance been less innovative over time than they have? If so,why? What are the factors, variables, or conditions that produced this stagnation? Miller et al. never explain. Randall Collins argues that the social sciences generally "won't become high-consensus, rapid-discovery science" (2001)?thereby simultaneously affirmingMiller, Wright, and Dannels' find ing and dismissing its relevance for the sociology of deviance. In this respect, the sociol ogy of deviance is no different from all the social sciences, a point that is glossed over in Miller et al.'s argument. Miller, Wright, and Dannels are correct in their assessment that deviance is no longer the intellectually and theoretically dynamic, innovative field itwas in the 1960s and 1970s. Fewer influential "big" ideas are being generated within its ranks. This has nothing to do with Sumner's fanciful theory about how the field once justified the status quo and no longer does. My speculation is that there are at least two reasons for this. The first is that, like sociology generally, the field of deviance studies is far less likely to pursue "big" ideas. Perhaps a demarcation of the field helps explain why this is the case. In Outsiders, Becker argues that there are twoways of looking at deviance; although he does not use these terms, they are the essentialistic/positivistic and the construction ist/experiential perspectives. Positivism assumes that deviant behavior is a pregiven entity with a coherent com mon thread; hence, people who engage in such behavior, or social structures inwhich such behavior is common, possess characteristics or traits in common that can be iden tified and used to explain deviance, that is, to answer the question, "Why do they do it?" (1963: 3-4). This perspective encompasses social disorganization, anomie or strain, learning, social bonding or control, and self-control theories. Constructionist theories are not as interested in questions of etiology, or the causa tion of deviant behavior as a pregiven entity. Instead, they are concerned with the cir 114 The American Sociologist /Fall 2002 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  10. 10. cumstances under which certain behaviors, or people, become labeled as deviant. After all, definitions of and reactions to behavior vary over time, from one society, social situation, and social context to another. In addition, some people labeled as deviant have not violated a norm, that is, they are "falsely accused" and thus, for them, the "Why do they do it?" question ismeaningless and misleading. Hence, to the construc tionist, the dynamics of the labeling process?the construction of the categories, the application of the labels, the reactions of conventional society, the interaction between labelers and labelees, and the reactions and experiences of persons so labeled?are far more interesting than the "Why do they do it?" question (Becker 1963: 8-18). This distinction between the essentialist/positivist and the constructionist positions serves to distinguish fundamentally different and distinct enterprises. One major por tion of the researchers in the field engage in an enterprise not essentially different from that of positivistic criminologists; hence, the reliance on citations from that field. In this first or positivist mode, the "deviance" of a given form of behavior is assumed, taken for granted, or in the background. What is sought is an explanation forwhy some people engage in it, or why it ismore common under certain conditions than others. This enterprise is criminology's domain. Given that field's greater size and prestige, as well as the greater clarity in the etiology of higher-consensus street crimes than formost forms of deviance, it should come as no surprise that positivistic theories of nonnormative behavior are more likely to grow out of criminology than deviance studies. Hence, it is unlikely that a deviance specialist will generate a theoretical framework accounting for nonnormative behavior thatwill be cited by a major proportion of the field's researchers and authors. In fact, nearly all ofMiller, Wright, and Dannels' most often cited works that are in the positivistic vein were written by criminologists. A second major portion of the field engages in close-up, detailed, "thick-descriptive," ethnographic studies ofmicro-scenes whose members and participants define and expe rience the world inways that are revealing and instructive. In this constructionist/ experiential mode, we find studies of exotic dancers, homosexual bathhouses, outlaw motorcycle clubs, rodeo groupies, tattoo parlors, cock fighters, deer poachers, and pedophiles. The point, these constructionist researchers argue, is not to study rare and exotic specimens of humanity for their own sake, but to understand the dynamics of processes that transcend the particulars of the local situation?such as culture and sub culture, stigma, deviance neutralization, deviant socialization, deviant identity, stereo typing, formal and informal social control, and the role of power in defining and main taining definitions of deviance (Rubington andWeinberg 2002; Adler and Adler 2003; articles in the journal Deviant Behavior). The enormous productivity of these research ers, as well as the diversity of theirwork, means that no single work is likely to stand head and shoulders above the others; hence, enter the charmed circle of the two or three dozen most-frequently cited works. It is in this second, more ethnographic and con structionist mode that criminology has made very few inroads. In fact, scholars who work in this domain ask and pursue questions that criminologists rarely ask.6 The second reason for the decreasing creativity in the sociology of deviance is that, as Best says with sociology generally, deviance specialists are guilty of "giving it away" for free. In his discussion of citation patterns, Robert Merton refers to "obliteration by incorporation" (1979). In a given field, or in related fields, some ideas, once innovative, have become so taken-for-granted that it is no longer appreciated how original they once were; hence, an "obliteration of the source of ideas, methods, or findings by their incorporation in currently accepted knowledge." At a certain period in its history, the Goode 115 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  11. 11. sociology of deviance generated or highlighted a host of interesting ideas, concepts, and theories that seeped out into and influenced allied fields, eventually becoming incorpo rated into their practitioners' thinking about how the social world works. (The same could be said about a number of theoretical approaches, such asMarxism, that could be said to have "died," yet their best ideas became "obliterated" by being incorporated into the way practitioners of other disciplines conceptualize social reality.) A few of these concepts include: stigma (which has influenced disability and transgender studies); anomie (social theory and sociology generally); the contingencies of labeling (ethnic studies); social disorganization (criminology); the social construction of non-hegemonic definitions of reality (postmodernism); the sociology of the underdog (queer theory); the outsider or "the other" (postcolonialist studies); themedicalization of deviance (the sociology of medicine); deviance neutralization (autoethnography and narrative stud ies); moral panics (collective behavior, criminology, social problems, and communica tion studies).7 The sociology of deviance did not necessarily originate these concepts, but it did help catapult them onto the academic and intellectual map, and whether directly or indirectly, its discussions served to plant seeds that bore fruit in other disci plines. Conclusion It is likely thatmuch the same fate that befell sociology generally has befallen the sociology of deviance. The field lacks a central theoretical core, there are no intellectual assumptions that tie its practitioners into a coherent community, and the disagree ments among researchers concerning its legitimate subject matter are profound. In fact, for the sociology of deviance, the positivist-constructionist splitmay very well have been fatal to the coherence of the discipline. And just as in the academy generally, sociology lacks prestige; among sociologists, deviance specialists lack prestige. It's possible our low prestige is a "courtesy stigma," that is, it stems in part from the fact thatwe are tainted by the stigma of our subjects. Consider Liazos' contemptuous subtitle (1972)?"nuts, sluts, and preverts," an obvious aspersion on some of the people we study and, there fore, the researchers who study them. But an enormous amount of research continues to be conducted under the banner of the sociology of deviance, undergraduates continue to take and be interested in the course, and textbooks on the subject continue to be published and continue to sell at least modestly well. It is true that no new earth-shattering theoretical breakthroughs have been made from within the field for some time, and thatmuch of the field's impetus stems from a field that used to be conjoined with the sociology of deviance, that is, criminology. It is possible that this is inherent in the very nature of the deviance concept, that is, once the insight ismade that stigma and labeling take place, no furthermajor theoretical devel opment is possible. Or it is possible that the field has simply fallen victim to the vagar ies of fad and fashion. None of this, however, adds up to the bumper-sticker slogan "the sociology of deviance is dead." As small, underfunded, marginal fields go, the health of the sociology of deviance is surprisingly good. Its representatives say,with Mark Twain, that the reports of its death are "greatly exaggerated." Notes 1. It might be tempting to dismiss the argument of this article as the reaction of a scholar who discovers that he is amedium-sized frog in a shrinking pond. Let me assure the reader that before I read Miller, Wright, 116 The American Sociologist /Fall 2002 This content downloaded from on Fri, 16 Jan 2015 10:35:09 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
  12. 12. and Dannels (2001), Iwas aware of my subfields diminishing vitality. I have been discussing thematter with colleagues for at least a decade. I also wrote an extremely unflattering review of Sumner's "death of sociology" tract in a major journal more than a half-dozen years ago (Goode 1995). As formy ranking in Miller et al.'s table of the "67 Most-Cited Scholars" in 263 representative publications in the sociology of deviance (49), frankly, I am flattered to be included in such distinguished company. 2. Best (2003) refers to these indicators as "minimal signs of life." I disagree. For instance, in the decade between 1986 and 1995, several of the field's textbooks received a substantial number of citations in the Social Science Citation Index (Goode 1997). As I say, "this sounds like the field makes substantial use of textbooks in its scholarly production" (3). 3. The title ofMiller, Wright, and Dannels' article is: "Is Deviance 'Dead'?" As I say above, "deviance" will and can never be dead, because deviance is an essential and ineradicable component of human behavior. What they mean is, "Is the Sociology of Deviance Dead?" 4. In a private communication, Nachman Ben-Yehuda suggests I ask why do we not find Sumner's, Miller's, Wright's, and Dannels' names among the sixty-seven most often cited scholars in the field. And why don't one or more of these most-often cited scholars launch the kinds of "the death of the sociology of deviance" critiques that are offered by the less-often (or not-at-all) cited scholars? Three possible explanations: One, insiders rarely question why they rank high on a particular positively-valued dimension; two, outsiders resent their position in a field and, therefore, question the viability and validity of that field; three, outsiders are simply more numerically common than insiders and are more likely to do everything and anything, including question the vitality of that field. 5. Hendershott (2002, 1) claims that, as chair at theUniversity of San Diego, she could not convince a single faculty member in her department to teach a course on deviance because "No one wants to teach about a discipline that died a generation ago." I checked the course listings of the twenty-five most prestigious universities in the country, and sixteen (just under two-thirds) listed a course on deviance. In addition, I checked the enrollments of deviance courses from the 1970s to today in a dozen or so colleges and universities around the country and found no decline in the number of students taking this course. (I intend to publish my findings in a forthcoming paper.) It's not clear how Hendershott's colleagues came to their conclusion, but quite obviously it is not shared by the sociology faculty at most of the country's best universities. To be plain about the matter, someone's teaching these courses and someone's taking them. 6. Best (2003) makes an overlapping point by arguing that one reason for the decline of the field is the fact that historically, its scholars and researchers have been unable to agree on a definition and a delineation of its subject matter. 7. I have not addressed the possible impact of those twin 1960s and 1970s bugaboos?the supposed pejorative connotations of the term "deviance" and the fact that the field does not deal with the evil deeds of the top dogs and fat cats (Gouldner 1968; Liazos 1972) because these points were not a central point in Sumner or Miller et al. Hence, a critique of them here would take this discussion outside the issues engaged by these authors. Nonetheless, however misinformed, these two beliefs are strongly held in some academic circles, and they may have contributed to the field's decline. Moreover, accepting these two fanciful beliefs predisposes one to the view that the sociology of deviance is "dead." But that is the topic of another paper. 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