The idea of a group who hold the same opinion have similar links in thought, therefore a ‘mutual influence’ can occur between members. This may explain the activities of deviant groups, if each of the group already have similar ideas of what they enjoy doing e. g. those who may like to smoke and take longer or extra ‘cigarette breaks’ at work, this concept and time spent involved in this activity is encouraged by one another as this break allows them to talk and escape from the work they ought to be doing.Whyte’s study ‘Street Corner Society’ (1993) looks at the deviant behaviour of the social structure of groups of men and boys in the Italian slums in Chicago.
This study was one of the first deviant groups researched with an interactionist perspective (Cloward 1961). The study showed what life for these men was like through the context of their social groups which were arranged through their ‘hanging out’ on street corners.The group had their own language, own symbols and own ways of communicating to each other, which is a process of learning by the younger members from the older members for them to be accepted into this society. These ‘street corner’ cultures are ‘judged by standards different from their own group’, in this down and out society, they are looked down upon by the rest of the USA as being a poverty stricken, crime infested and a deviant area, which is very different to the way they view themselves.They are considered deviant because of the differences in the way they live life; hanging out on street corners, unemployed or in low paid jobs (Whyte 1993:xvi) It seems that those outside this community just consider the street corner slums as an outside group which due to its own fault breeds deviant beings, whereas there could be many other factors involved with the reason for the behaviour.In this study, Symbolic Interactionism focuses on the idea of meaning brought about through human interaction, this idea is suited to the method of participant observation used in this study, to better understand a culture’s inner workings Goffmans (1998) writing: ‘Stigma’ introduces the idea that for one to deviate from the norm in some way, they are stigmatised and labelled. He states ‘while some symbols present essentially positive information about an individual or group, stigma symbols, highlight negative debasing information’.
Goffman does not refer this definition to one of deviance but this can be applied.When one commits one act of deviance such as a youth is seen to steal a small item from a shop, a stigma is then attached to this person, and may possibly if lives in a small community live with this stigma for many years. Goffman’s theory is linked to Becker’s ( idea of ‘labelling theory which could be applied to the street corner society. As those outside of their deviant group label them; such as politicians and local leaders, they then start to fulfil this label as they cannot see the possibility of ever bettering themselves from these slums, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.Becker’s study ‘Becoming a Marihuana User’ (1953, Nov) enquired into the process of one becoming a marihuana user. Becker disregards the theory that sociologists like Meyer and Muscovite (Becker 1953, Nov) propose, that the individual comes to be a user of marihuana because of a predisposition behaviour that they already have acquired. Becker instead, suggests that deviant behaviour had to be learned by social experiences which the user sees the meaning behind the use of marihuana as being desirable.The user needs to learn to engage within the activity through interactions with other users through learning the process of smoking, and all the symbols and meanings attached with the right way to do it.
The user needs to ‘develop a conception of the drug as an object which can be used for pleasure’, only when this is achieved, will the user want to continue with their marihuana activities. The user learns from other users what the effects of smoking marihuana should feel like, this knowledge from other users enables the new user to act appropriately and feel like they are apart of this group.Yet the user will only continue to use marihuana if he associates the effects with being pleasurable, and he sees the meaning behind this as positive. This whole process is dependant upon the users interpretation and attached meaning to the marihuana use and this thus determines its continuation. To conclude, Symbolic Interactionism is an idealistic way to look at how society can work, it helps to provide humans with meaning and explanation for different meanings and languages in the surrounding culture due to the subjective nature of humans.This theory when applied methodologically to cases of deviance allows understanding and space for differences to the way individuals react to different symbols portrayed, in a way that a structural definition of deviance would not.
Symbolic Interactionism also allows for the definition of deviance to be changeable dependant upon the different societies where human interaction takes place in a different way, this is important as no one society is the same.Bibliography Blumer, H (1994) Symbolic Interactionism; New York and oxford: Oxford University Press. Goffman, E (1998) Stigma (pp 108-113) in March, I, R. Campbell and M. Keating (eds). Classic and Contemporary Readings in Sociology; Harlow: Addison Weley Longman Ltd.
Becker, H (1953, Nov) Becoming a Marihuana User, in: American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 59, No. 3 Becker, H (1963) Outsiders in the studies of Deviance; London: Free Press of Glencoe. Mead, George Herbert (1934) Mind, Self and Society ed. Morris, Charles; Chicago: University of Chicago.Cooley, C (1907, March) Social Consciousness (pp 675-694) in The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 12, No.
5. Whyte, William Foote (1993) Street Corner Society (fourth edition); Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dewey, Robert E (1977) The philosophy of John Dewey : a critical exposition of his method, metaphysics, and theory of knowledge; The Hague : Martinus Nijhoff.
Cloward, Richard and Ohlin, Lloyd (1961) Delinquency and Opportunity: A theory of Delinquent gangs; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd.