Keywords: Deviant behavior / stigmatization Ruthless Criticism

Source: Hochschulzeitung (November 1990); Sozialistische Gruppe – Erlangen/Nürnberg

Deviant behavior / stigmatization

The generally accepted judgment about criminals, gays, junkies, etc., is that they are “asocial” people who put themselves outside society and therefore have to blame themselves when they are treated accordingly in our society. A scientifically educated critical thinker does not want to accept this moral condemnation: these “careers as social outsiders” are “socially constructed”; these people merely display “deviant behavior” and often only become what they are through “stigmatization.” With these sociological categories, one wants to have named certain mechanisms for social functioning in a completely value-free and objective manner which necessarily results in hobos and junkies. It’s hard to doubt that this enlightened judgment is really any better than the moral condemnation of the popular psyche since it always imagines that sociological terminology provides a plausible explanation for such social phenomena.

“Deviant behavior”

A sociological dictionary provides the following information about the term “deviant behavior (deviance)”:

“A designation of behavior that does not conform to prevailing norms and values . . . The main example of deviance is criminality as defined by law enforcement agencies. However, the term also refers to the stigmatizing characteristics and behavior of the physically, mentally, or psychologically disabled, as well as members of racial, national, political, or sexual minorities.”

The behavioral quality of “deviant” is therefore supposed to be a characteristic of lives as different as those of guest workers, gays, or wheelchair users. Their respective particularity, the different interests granted or denied to these people in society, is of no further interest to sociology – the social situation of these people is not supposed to have anything to do with their respective particularity, but supposedly results from the fact that they are not acting the way the norm wants them to. Sociology attaches this (logically speaking) purely negative and completely external determination of deviation from the norm to people as their essential characteristic. Regardless of whether they are disabled, hobos, or hippies – it’s no wonder that it’s all the same (and equally important) to the sharply analyzing gaze of sociology with its not at all moralizing, but strictly scientific, judgement of “not conforming to the norm.”

“The deviant reveals himself by not reacting typically . . . Typical is what is considered normal.” (Berger/Berger, We and society, p. 208)

This is pretty weak in terms of explanatory value because it is purely tautological: deviance is shown by the fact that such people “do not react typically,” i.e. they deviate. Nor does one know anything more about the second part of humanity: those who are the others, who are different in that they behave “typically” or “normally.” The content and characteristics of this “typical” behavior should not play a role here either, because “typical” is what is considered “normal.” One certainly knows nothing more about a behavior dubbed “deviant” than that it belongs to a group of similarly designated actions – but in this way the various social phenomena with which the sociological category is illustrated at least have a place within an imagined order. This order, which is sociologically assumed here, is not brought about by a real order-making power (jurisdiction, property system, welfare state decisions), but is a very secret mechanism by which individuals sort themselves. As negative as the information may be that someone is not behaving normally, sociology wants it to be positive: he does not simply deviate, but rather he is a deviant, deviant behavior is expressed in him; he “shows himself” to be a deviant because he deviates. A small ‘because’ is quickly introduced: The deviation is doubled into 1. the deviance and 2. the deviant nature of the deviant as the reason for it. When sociology expresses its interest in sorting people, it does not want its invented categories of deviation or conformity to be attached to individuals, but rather that they should already be categories according to which they supposedly sort themselves. The people should carry within themselves an imperative according to which they are sorted. Sociology has opened the door to its creation of the deviant species by using the negative definition of “deviance” to remove any content, reason, and purpose from “deviant” acts at the outset. And once it has crossed out all the purposes that deviants pursue, this theory is free to claim deviance itself as the purpose actually pursued by the deviant, loyal to its master, the real state power, which in its jurisprudence always discovers a lot of “criminal intent” in its lawless subjects:

“Criminality is an actively oriented behavior in which the need for deviation dominates over the need for conformity.” (Dictionary of Sociology)

This means that in the world of sociology, people’s actions are determined by very strange purposes, which turn a bank robber into the rather sad figure of someone who satisfies his triumphing actual need for “deviation” through burglary – he could just as easily have grown a beard or become ill. Anyone who wants to pursue the purpose of “deviation” would have to go completely mad – what should he deviate from? From everything? When should he start? Before getting up or after? Or should he not get up at all? It’s absurd! And yet this is precisely what the category of “deviant behavior” identifies as the content of human action. So it is not just that it has come up with the monotonous idea of explaining the purpose of action by the absence of “conformity,” but the behavioral quality also includes a judgment about the nature of the affected people themselves: they want to be “deviants”! The claim that members of society should not simply be sorted according to the normie criteria of virtuousness, but should instead be judged using sociological categories in a more objective and value-free manner, proves to offer an alternative categorization with the same result – it’s alternative only in that the “deviants” are not morally condemned and called upon to improve. Instead, humanity can be assured of the fundamental necessity of falling into one of the two categories, normal or deviant – after all, society is made up of these two types of people. Anyone who uses this pair of terms to make fun of our society does not want to know what it’s about. They are not interested in the necessities that people obey, nor the purposes they pursue, nor the standards by which people in this country have to prove themselves on a daily basis. All this has long since been checked off with the terms “standard-compliant behavior” and transforms everything that drives humanity, what it must do or wants to do or does not want to do, into a sorting mechanism.

The wonder of “stigmatization”:
the deviant adapts – to his stigma

A competing sociological theory is not satisfied with this explanation of deviance out of deviationism – where is society, which for sociologists is ultimately always somehow behind it? The other theory, in contradiction to the inner necessity of the deviant’s will, asserts an external necessity for the deviance: the social mechanism of stigmatization is what makes deviants truly deviate. In sociology, “stigmatization” is understood to mean the following:

“Attribution of a stigma, the categorization of a person by socially or group-specific, negatively valued attributes, i.e. by characteristics that discredit them socially. For example, a person is stigmatized if they are categorized (e.g. in social welfare files or personal papers) as ‘illegitimate’ or ‘previously convicted.’” “Stigma, a characteristic by which a person differs negatively from the standards of physical, psychological, or social normality applicable to the category of person to which they belong, which jeopardizes their social identity and thus excludes them from full social acceptance. In our society, for example, characteristics such as ‘blind,’ ‘illegitimate,’ ‘previously convicted’ act as a stigma.”

Everything becomes the same in this sociological category too – regardless of whether people with a criminal record are criminalized by the state for the rest of their lives; whether men with protruding ears have a harder time with women; whether illegitimate couples are made to feel the moral delusions of some of their fellow human beings; whether the capitalist demand for the profitable usability of the workforce makes life even harder for the disabled than it already is . . . it’s all the same: a typical case of “stigma.” So this has nothing to do with explaining any part of social reality, the difficulties people face. In society, as the theory of “stigmatization” sees it, people are more concerned with belonging to categories, forming groups, and in turn assigning themselves to them. Their social identity lies in the fact that they fit exactly into the respective category and assure each other of this. However, some people do not fit the characteristics of the category to which they nevertheless belong. Their social identity is at risk. Those people who are then stigmatized are thus defined in contradictory ways: on the one hand, as those who behave deviantly, and on the other as those who want to be recognized as full members of the group from which they deviate. At least one thing is achieved with this image: No matter how people who do not act as required are treated, sociology is finished with them. Because they can always be subsumed under sociological categories. Sociology is biased for the ruling relations precisely because it does not deal with them – our society is also a society and as such an expression of the eternal natural relationship between the two sides of homo sociologicus: humans as category-creators for the humans who deviate from their categories. In this respect, the stimatization theory can take the gesture of protecting the victims of “stigmatization,” with which it appears, and stick it somewhere else: namely, it proves the judgment of “deviants” right, not morally, but theoretically. “Stigmatization” assumes that one wants to know various characteristics about people themselves, according to which they sort themselves into normal and deviant. No stigmatizing characteristic (e.g. “criminal record”) without the corresponding deviant characteristic of the person (criminal). On the other hand, it is only supposed to be the assignment of these attributes that really makes people deviants:

“The public attribution of deviant status and, in its wake, social isolation and exclusion further diminish the deviant’s already slim chances of social recognition and esteem and make conformist alternatives for action increasingly difficult to achieve . . . He joins those who are also defined as ‘deviant’ and increasingly adopts the cultural pattern of a deviant role.”

A mechanism with an astonishing logic: if you view and treat a “deviant” as such, then you make it difficult for them to no longer be such, so that they of all people then become “conformists” and behave completely in line with the expectations you have of them. Only a “role owner” can achieve something like that. On the other hand, it’s amazing how he manages to anticipate and do exactly what is expected of him despite his “social isolation and exclusion”... The lack of “social recognition and appreciation” that he supposedly receives is also highly dubious in terms of its explanatory content. Since when has anything in this country depended on being appreciated by one’s neighbor? It has been proven that nobody can live on it. But in the world of sociology one does! There are people walking around who have nothing more important to do than to assure each other of their mutual appreciation or to deny it, except for a few people who do exactly nothing of the sort. So what is the reason for the “outsider career”? On the one hand, the person in question must already be a “deviant” in order to be stigmatized as such. But this is only the condition for their final deviance. The actual reason is the process of “stigmatization.” This category thus asserts an alternative necessity of “deviant behavior” to the theory of “deviance due to deviance” – albeit a necessity that denies necessity in terms of its content: a stigmatization that is actually unfounded and inappropriate, which is carried out by society and at least leaves open the question of whether it could have been avoided. Thus, the two categories of “deviant behavior” and “stigmatization” result in a splendid theoretical merry-go-round: when asked about the reason for deviant behavior, the former ultimately ends up with the randomness of whoever nature has endowed with such an inclination – but surely that can’t be! Here the category of “stigmatization” is keen on a necessity for how it came about – albeit a necessity that already presupposes the deviant along with his natural randomness.