Sex, Drugs and Public Hangings
A series by Spiralbound.net on social deviance and punishment in the United States and Europe
Introduction to the study:
Since exploring the reasons for social deviance is, in many ways central to the discipline of sociology, it stands to reason that there already exists a relatively large amount of work surrounding the various ways people, and cultures respond to deviance. Many criminology articles address the vast differences in incarceration rates amongst various countries. In his 1992 article, “The case for going Dutch: The Lessons of Post-War Penal Policy”, For example, David Downs compares Dutch and British prisons. He states that in 1950, the two countries had roughly the same incarceration rate, and goes on to show that, by 1975, the Dutch had managed to cut their prison population to less than half, while the British had doubled theirs with no reduction in crime rates. (Heiner pp. 244, 245) Moreover, entire text are frequently written about the vast differences in social policy between nations. For instance, William A. Schabas’s book “The abolition of the death penalty in international law” goes into great detail about how the international community is making progress away from the death penalty, as well as provides a comparative analysis of both American and European human rights law. (Schabas)
Generally this study is about the ways people of different cultures approach social deviance in their society. It becomes more unique in its specifics, however, when I set out to answer two basic questions across a spectrum of cultures. First, do people of a given country feel their government should implement various public policies in order to help the “deviant” individuals of their society better fit into the cultural mainstream? And secondly, under what circumstances do these people feel a given public policy is appropriate? (If, for example, government should fund all medical care, or limit services to include only treatment which has been deemed necessary.) The purpose of this framework is two fold. First, it provides concrete, quantifiable data about which social programs and policies are publicly accepted in each country, and secondly, it provides the research subject with the opportunity to add input about what he or she feels are the limitations of social policy, thus qualifying their answer.
Why conduct such a study? Many reasons; the most notable of which being educated decision making when it comes to writing public policy. Every day lawmakers are asked to come up with policy which defines the ways criminals, single mothers, the poor and homeless people will fit into society. To look past the ways other cultures approach similar problems; to ignore the mistakes they have made in the past, refusing to learn from them would epitomize the term “thinking in a box”. By conducting such a study, it becomes possible to not only document the ways other cultures respond to deviance, but to analyze that data within the framework of symbolic interactionism and labeling theory, drawing conclusions as to why each country’s solution either does or does not work within its respective context.
Additionally, it is my hope that this study will take on a more general appeal. Speaking as a citizen of the United States, it seems far too easy for us to forget that other countries in the world may do things differently. This is not, because Americans are short sited, or unwilling to follow the examples set by others, but because we are, in many ways culturally isolated. America occupies a huge land mass, and aside from Canada and Mexico, we have no real direct contact with other nations. Thus, the social problems and solutions of other countries take on an abstract feeling of distance as cultural tunnel vision begins to set in.
By carefully explaining pertinent sociological theory and relating it to the real-world finding of this research, I intend to spark the interest of both social scientists, and the general readership alike. Thus, it is my hope that this body of work will lead its readers not only to understand the practical mechanics of labeling theory, but realize the fact that there are, indeed countless, perfectly valid ways of dealing with and thinking about social deviance.