Deviance in Society Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Abortion is the process determining the fate of a mother and a child who is not only unwanted but also is deprived of the opportunity to view the way the world is. All issues revolving around abortion have a strong connection with ethics, the "rules or standards governing the conduct of a person or the members of a profession" (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary) or ethics are also defined as "a set of principles of right conduct" as well as "a theory or a system of moral values" (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary). Hence, these carefully formulated rules and policies determine "the actions or reactions of a person in response to external or internal stimuli" thereby energizing behavior of the all human beings and motivating them to act accordingly (American Heritage Dictionary). Abortion, by some is considered the right of a woman or of the parents of the unbidden child, by some a crime and by many others a debatable and a highly controversial issue. The section that adheres to the latter stance also terms abortion a deviant behavior. Whether abortion is or is not a deviant behavior is out of the scope of our current discussion. For this reason we shall focus on why abortion is considered a deviant behavior and what is the role of labeling theory in this connection. Let us first understand what exactly is deviance and how sociologists define the term.

When the word Deviance is mentioned somewhere, we automatically assume that some abnormal or eccentric behavioral pattern is under discussion. This is because majority of researchers and sociologists link deviance with socially unacceptable activities and thought pattern. For this reason, most of us use deviance as an essential tool to separate the right and acceptable behavior from its evil counterparts. But the truth is that deviance doesn't exist in its negative form only, there are certain positive shades to it, which can only be understood if we delve deeper into this subject.

Thus the most important thing is to first focus on the way sociologists have defined deviance because this will help us understand why deviance is not always problematic even if most of the activities that fall under its umbrella bear visible signs of non-conformity.

Howard S. Becker observes that deviant behavior is intricately connected with labeling:

Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an "offender." The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label. (p. 9)

In every society and every culture, there are certain norms and regulations, which lay the very foundation of social order. If however, these norms are rejected and someone tries to deviant from the normal path, social order is threatened which can turn people against the traitors and this is when their behavior is labeled as eccentric or queer.

Erich Goode whose work in this connection is considered invaluable defines deviance in these words, "[Deviance is] behavior or characteristics that some people in a society find offensive or reprehensible and that generates -- or would generate if discovered -- in these people disapproval, punishment, condemnation of, or hostility toward, the actor or possessor." (Goode 29)

From this it follows that deviant behavior is not always connected with socially unacceptable activities but some section of the general public find it condemnable. In order to understand the real meaning of deviance, it is extremely important to make original observations about this kind of behavior instead of following the centuries-old theories. Deviance is usually connected with all types of anti-social activities and to certain extent, this is correct too. But to assume that deviance is only about criminal activities is to limit the scope of this study and all that it encompasses. Therefore the best way to understand deviance is to associate it with 'defiance', which destabilizes an established social order.

Abortion comes in this category of deviance. The person who decides to abort a pregnancy and disregards society's opinion about the matter essentially commits an act of defiance. By terminating her pregnancy, a woman defies the traditional and conventional social setup. For this reason, pro-life quarter maintains that termination of pregnancy is criminal act and all criminal actions are a form of deviance.

This quarter maintains that every child whether born or unborn has a right to life and health, therefore it is absolutely immoral for her mother to deny him this right especially when the child has not even entered the world. In other words, this section feels that if a mother has the right to life and if she can terminate the pregnancy because of her health, how can she be allowed to deny her unborn child his right to life. It is extremely important to understand that there is nothing wrong with the views of this quarter because though it may appear to be based on religious beliefs, this view is actually developed on the lines of civil rights. There are certain people in this section that would probably be atheists and still against abortion, this is because they feel that termination of pregnancy is another name for murder.

Edwin M. Schur (1965) writes:

Available evidence indicates that the women seeking abortions are of all races, religions, and socioeconomic classes; many are married, and often already mothers. Under the laws of the various American states -- which generally permit abortion only when medically necessary to save the mother's life -- most of these abortions are illegal. Because inducing abortion does usually contravene existing legal norms, it may be considered a form of deviant behavior." (p. 12)

Because this section calls abortion a form of deviant behavior, it has also developed certain strategies to crush this type of deviance. This often gives rise to abortion-related violence. Not only do pro-lifers repeatedly participate in rallies and demonstration, but also some extremists among this group would actually target anti-abortions clinics and there have been several cases of arson and violence.

David Whitman (1998) writes about anti-abortion violence that has peaked during the last few years:

While most types of antiabortion violence have ebbed over the years, disruptive tactics like picketing, hate mail, and bomb threats reached record highs in 1997. The most common tactic, by far, is picketing -- NAF reported more than 7,500 incidents of picketing during 1997. Clinics in 21 of 43 states surveyed by NAF last year reported weekly or daily protests." (2)

There are many social, biological and psychological theories of deviance which explain that deviant behavior is something that people learn through their interaction with others. Most sociologists are of the view that people develop certain personality traits by staying in the company of people with those characteristics. This is known as the social learning theory and it links deviance with criminal behavior in these words, "People learn criminal behavior through the groups with which they associate. If a person associates with more groups that define criminal behavior as acceptable than groups that define criminal behavior as unacceptable, the person will probably engage in criminal behavior" (Leighninger 331)

In other words, social learning theory maintains that criminal behavior is not inherited but it is embraced through social interaction. This theory thus considers deviance a result of one's interaction with a certain type of environment. Applying this theory to abortion, we can say that in some cases, social factors play an important role in a mother's decision to terminate pregnancy. For example, women without a steady relationship or marriage would often choose not to give birth to a child because of numerous social reasons. In this way, we can say that abortion can be explained with the help of social learning theory.

Labeling theory on the other hand blames people and their social rules for contributing towards the development of deviant behavior. This theory mostly discusses criminal activities and illegal drug use and maintains that rigid social rules are directly responsible for the development of 'eccentric' personality traits. Calhoun writes, " Labeling theory also helps explain the longer-term consequences of a deviant label on a person's social identity." In other words, this theory says that people indulge in socially unacceptable activities because they suffer from certain labels from a very young age.

When studying abortion from the perspective of this theory, we can say that labeling may not be the sole cause of abortion. It does affect a person's decision and we notice that those who have been considered defiance from a very young age are likely to indulge in deviant activities more often than others. The reason why labeling theory cannot be successfully applied to abortion is because of varying reasons existing behind a person's decision to terminate pregnancy. For example if a mother of four decides to terminate her fifth pregnancy because of medical and health reasons, then labeling theory doesn't come into play at all. However if a teenager who is known for making irrational…

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