The paradoxes of diversion

The book Outsiders, Howard Becker, inaugurated in the 60s, a new current sociological, the study of various forms of departure from the social norms, it is not always associated with the crime.

Source: Z Magazine Culture | By Marcelo Pisarro.

Las paradojas de la desviación

Question: What about Mozart?

Answer: What about Mozart?

Question: What happens with the murder?

Response: What about the murder?

It could be suggested that when responding to the question with the same question, to which is added a slight tilt of the shoulders, is a step closer to the studies on diversion. What about Mozart? It is a genius. What about the murder? Is wrong. Yes, good. Mozart is a genius only if you are interested in the colours, if you like the classical period of western music, or if it seems you are a genius because you heard all your life that is a genius. The murder is paid for with prison if –let’s say– atropellas with the car of an elderly woman defenseless that came out of the supermarket only there because you liked the hat that he wore. But if you kill many people in a war probably give you medals, the dignitaries you can narrow the hand and the girls want to go with you to the bed. Go, you’ll be a hero.

Mozart and the murder is deviate from the normal (either by the genius, whether it is so punishable), and the very acceptance of this statement represents the construction of procedural and relational of certain labels: “normal”, “deviant”.

A deviation from the norm exceeds, therefore, the fact of committing a criminal act. You can rob a bank, that means you go to jail and be labeled as delinquent. But you can also see unicorns on the street, what it means to go to the asylum and be labeled as crazy. Or burp at the table and be typecast as rude. Solve mathematical problems at a very early age and be categorized as a child prodigy. Make a goal with the hand in a game of football and be labeled as a cheater (or national hero is known). Thomas theorem: if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. If you define yourselves to someone as villero, if you post this tag, the consequences are real: should jobs bad payments, it will be an eternal carrier of your face, you may not be entering certain dance halls.

Probably few will disagree with these propositions: that the social groups establish rules, which they hope to put them into practice, which define what is right and wrong, the permitted and the forbidden, the normal and the deviant, which they call the social actors according to compliance or non-compliance of these rules. However, until half a century ago, the deviation was studied academically from another perspective: as a social problem to solve. A deviant was a criminal and a criminal it was that the institutions in charge of determining what was a criminal, had been labelled as such. No one is asking: what is a deviant? Rather: what do we do with the deviant?

Although he had a history (Frank Tannenbaum in 1938, Edwin M. Lemert in 1951), the paradigm shift came in 1963 with the publication of the Outsiders, the book of the sociologist american Howard S. Becker.

Outsiders was different from these approaches in several ways, ” explains Becker in the foreword of the edition just published, the Twenty-first Century–. One of them is that it was written a little more clear that the academic texts usual. I don’t arrogo credit for it. I had good teachers, and my mentor, Everett Hughes, who supervised my dissertation and phd with whom I worked in close collaboration in subsequent research projects, was a fanatic of the clear texts. The insisted that it was totally unnecessary to use empty terms, and abstract, when there were simple words to express the same thing. So my reflex was to always look for the word more directly, the short phrase and the mode is declarative”.

Becker, companion studies of Erving Goffman, flirting with the nascent symbolic interactionism, educated in the tradition of urban sociology of the Chicago School (Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess, George Herbert Mead, W. I. Thomas, Hughes), investigated the consumption of marijuana among college students, the life of the musicians that played in bars for minor, inadvertent transgressions of daily life. Outsiders became a small classic of the social sciences, and although by the time Becker turned a blind eye to the topic, it is still taking as a reference the sociology of the deviation, and the initiator of the theory of labelling. It does not do much grace.

Since then worked in several specialties of sociology, in particular of the art, and wrote good books on the methodology of science, about music, about scientific writing. Next to Outsiders, the Twenty-first Century also published in Spanish Tricks of the trade, book of 1998, with lots of tricks of sociology: “Now you know all, or most, or, in any case, a great number of the tricks that I know. Read about these tricks won’t make you all too well. You may be entertained. You may learn something. But, in reality, will not know how to make them. In reality will not be of you. The only way to learn to do these tricks and get hold of them is to convert them into a daily routine. In other words, practice. As the pianist practices the scales. As the golfer practices the swing. Do not let pass a single day without doing any of them (or rather, several)”.

Each two-by-three somebody is going to touch the doorbell to ask by Outsiders or by the deviation or by the tags. Becker closes the piano (an accomplished jazz pianist) and responds –by e-mail in this case– good win the same questions. You have to practice.

-There is a consensus that “Outsiders” is a book “classic”. Isn’t it terrific to have written a classic book?

-Yes and no. Life goes on, and I somehow stopped working with the problems that were Outsiders. So now, when people ask me for the book, I must confess that it was written in a different era, and that since then he has worked a lot on those questions and that I am not familiar with the discussions. On the other hand, of course it is nice to know that something I wrote is still read and arouses curiosity. I made that book to satisfy my own intellectual curiosity and that is the greatest gratification.

– What is a book “classic” in the social sciences?

-This is a problem of labelling in and of itself. It seems to Me that a classic –this is one definition among many others possible– is a book that tells the readers something that until then did not know, maybe it offers a new way of looking at things that were not up to that time, and that continues they are subject to useful over time.

-In such a case, what he told them to “Outsiders” to the readers? What tradition believes that broke, he continued, started, or resumed?

-The study of evil behavior had become dominant in a specialty that is called criminology, that was very much connected with the police, courts and prisons, and took their problems as her own. The sociological tradition key contains the notion (due to the sociologist american W. I. Thomas) that the situations that people define as real have real consequences, that people define situations in a certain way and that other people are affected when they do. The “labelling” was a restatement of that idea in areas that had been dominated by the criminology. So it could be said that Outsiders resuming an old tradition in these areas. And added, to the problem in question, something more than supposed violations of the criminal laws: including rape of all kinds of rules in all kinds of situations.

-However, in everyday practice, does it not follow relating to “deviation” with “criminality”?

-No, I think people understand this difference. Surely thanks to the work of my classmate of Chicago, Erving Goffman.

-Some acts as deviant but are crime. We speak not of Mozart, but of murder. How do you articulate the academic knowledge of the deviation with the public policy?

-I never had much hope in that there could be a serious dialogue between the social sciences and the policy. The people who exercise the power are not usually in the pursuit of knowledge; they seek arguments to keep their political measures. So that the attempt to take seriously what the social sciences have learned is usually to be condemned.

-From a sociological perspective, what is the scope of the concepts of “labeling” and “deviation”?

-It seems to Me that an overall approach to correct is the idea of “definition”, to categorize things and to describe to the members of that category. People do it all the time, in all kinds of situations. For example, for many years working mainly in the sociology of art, and the application of that same type of thinking in this area allows us to observe and identify research problem is those who define what kind of objects and activities are “art”.

– And what is the limit of this idea?

-The point at which it does not help to understand things better.

-Does not seem very satisfied with the ‘theory of labelling’ of which it is responsible.

-I never liked that expression, because what the term was referring to was not a theory. Rather, it was a way of looking at things, and not loaded with all the baggage that implies a theory.

-In addition to the ‘theory of labelling’, his name and his work are related to the symbolic interactionism, urban sociology, Chicago school, etc What it is with these tags?

-A colleague once said to me: “you’re Not a very good ‘ista’, don’t you think?”. I wanted to say: no allegiance to any school of thought. It is quite just, a charge for which I pled guilty. I don’t let others define what I do or who I am with labels like these. I just accept being called a “sociologist”.

-You always insist, it does so in “Tricks of the trade”, the importance of the practice. Do I need to keep remembering it?

-Always it is necessary to relate the activities with the ideas, the sociology is not a collection of disembodied ideas, but a search activity, thinking, writing, discussion. We do best our activities if we do time and time again in many types of situations. In this sense, sociology is no different from playing the piano.

-Thinking about your trick of Wittgenstein (to separate the contingent from the nuclear of an idea), what can we take away the text, sociological, and still continue to have a text sociological?

-I believe that we can subtract the professional affiliation of the author (that is the way that anointed thee as sociologists to artists such as Hans Haacke, Georges Perec, Italo Calvino or Davin’antin); the presence of references clearly labelled as Marx, Weber and Durkheim, that have become almost obligatory in contemporary sociology; and others. I was always in favour of each of which does things as you see fit, and then have to deal with the problems created by its own version of the sociological work. Do you know the old saying? “Take what you want… and pagalo”. If, between us, we tried all the possibilities, we maximize the chances that you do a good job.

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