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Sociological View On Deviance And Drug Use

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Introduction

What can a sociologist tell us about deviance, and drug use that we do not already know? If there is anything distinctive about the sociologist view, it is their emphasis on social context. One of the central ideas of all human experience is meaning. Meaning is something imposed and socially made-up, and has two features: it is both external and internal. Meaning is assigned externally to objects and behavior by social cooperation. But it is also assigned by the individual (internal): it is arrived at as a result of a private act of choosing on the individual’s part. The same behavior, the same phenomenon, the same material reality, can mean completely different things to different people, or to the same person in different contexts. Meaning is an acknowledgment. It is superimposed on a phenomenon, a reality. It does not happen naturally. Anything may have multiple meanings, depending on one’s point of view. Human action is surrounded with meaning, and just about everything we do is evaluated, thought about, mulled over, judged and interpreted.

How do social definitions, interpretations, and meaning impose on deviance, drugs, drug effects, and drug related behavior? Are the same drug realities defined and interpreted in vastly different ways? How do contextual features change the relevant characteristics of drug use?

To understand drug use as a deviant behavior, we must first understand what deviance is, or how it becomes labeled as deviant.

Human deviance is just as characteristic of society as is conformity. Every human group, no matter how consistent stable and well integrated, must somehow respond to such problems as drug use, mental illness, violence, theft, and sexual misconduct, as well as to other similarly difficult behaviors. Problems of deviance inevitably are defined as being a real or perceived threat to the basic core values of the society. For whatever reasons, some persons act, at times at least, in so bizarre, outlandish, abhorrent, dangerous, or merely unique and annoying a manner that they cannot readily be tolerated. For the most part, human behavior does follow the social norm but there are occasional individuals whose behavior does not agree with the practices of society. These individuals have developed a general attitude or specific interest which society does not encourage.

In a society which emphasizes a sense of the group or community, an independent-minded individual may be looked upon as lacking loyalty, among cultures that have tendency toward understatement and non verbal communication, frankness may not be appreciated. Women and young people who are outspoken may be considered aggressive or disrespectful. In most cases, socialization effectively develops conforming citizens. However, human nature and society are too complex for us to expect absolute uniformity. Deviation does occur.

Understanding deviance involves, at a basic minimum, at least three dimensions. It is apparent that every society defines behaviors that are to be labeled as deviant and restricted as desirable. Deviance may be commonplace and even widespread, so some explanations or theories must be offered for the existence and persistence of such deviant behavior in the face of negative social sanctions. There would be little reason to define, sanction, and explain deviance without also doing something to, for, or with the deviant in order to correct, deter, prevent, and or punish him. Every society, then defines, explains and acts with regard to deviance. So who defines the deviant? What are the circumstances that make an act deviant? And according to whom?

Theories attempt to explain a general class of phenomena: Why people use drugs? Most theories only focus on a particular feature of the phenomena of drug use: the illicit drugs themselves; alcoholism; the addiction; the drug experience (how-vs.-why); the individual who uses; and how society views drug use.

"This literature review will use a selection of available documents on the topic, which contain information, ideas, data and evidence written from a particular standpoint to fulfill certain aims or express certain views on the nature of the topic and how it is to be investigated, and the effective evaluation of these documents in relation to the research being proposed."

{Chris Hart, Doing a Literature Review, 1998, p.13}. This paper will focus on the labeling theory applied to deviance and drug-related deviance.

Labeling Theory

A group of labeling theorists began exploring how and why certain acts were defined as criminal or deviant and why other such acts were not. They questioned how and why certain people consequently became defined as criminal or deviant. Such theorists viewed criminals not as evil persons who engaged in wrong acts but as individuals who had a criminal status placed upon them by both the criminal justice system and the community at large. From this point of view, criminal acts thus themselves are not significant; it is the social reaction to them that are.

Deviance and its control then involve a process of social definition which involves the response from others to an individual's behavior which is how an individual views himself.

Labeling theory focuses on the reaction of other people and the consequent effects of those reactions which create deviance. When it becomes known that a person has engaged in deviant acts, she or he is then set apart from society and thus labeled, "whore," thief," "abuser," "junkie," and the like. Becker noted that this process of segregation creates "outsiders", who are outcast from society, and then begin to associate with other individuals who have also been cast out (Becker, 1963). When more and more people begin to think of these individuals as deviants, they respond to them as such; thus the deviant reacts to such a response by continuing to engage in the behavior society now expects from them.

Howard Becker developed his theory of labeling (also known as social reaction theory) in the 1963 book Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. Becker's theory evolved during a period of social and political power struggle that was enlarged within the world of the college campus. Liberal political movements were embraced by many of the college students and faculty in America. Howard Becker harnessed this liberal influence and adjusted Lemert's labeling theory and its symbolic interaction theoretical background. The

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