The Body & Mind – Sociology & Deviance Lecture Notes
Physical Characteristics of Deviance
Appearance Obesity Trends in the U.S.
Expression, fitness, and the body Ask: Can undesirable physical characteristics be regarded as a form of deviance? Most sociologists would argue that absolutely physical characteristics factor into being known as a deviant or not. There is an underlying principle that sociologists examine when looking at physical characteristics as holding a “right or wrong” quality. Within the framework of social stratification (layers) we find those qualities that society deems desirable and those qualities that society deems less desirable or even heinous. Let us first examine Social Stratification- the creation of layers (strata) of a population, who possess unequal shares of scarce desirables, the most important of which are income, wealth, power and prestige. Wealth- all the economic resources possessed by an individual or group. Power- the ability to control the behavior of other’s even against their will. Prestige- Social recognition, respect and admiration that a society attaches to a particular status. Social Stratification is a “ranking system” Another text calls it “Structured Social Inequality”
---Draw Stratification Diagram on Board---
(Values) Social Worth
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- Invite students to describe attributes they think determine our “status” or “rank” by physical characteristics. When students give a category briefly discuss what would be seen as a “positive/high” and “negative/low” form of that category. As you can see, we often place a value (whether you feel it right or wrong) on the physical appearance that one another has. One sociologist who was most interested in this idea of presentation of self was Erving Goffman. In 1963, Goffman wrote the book, Stigma – Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Here he wrote a variety of ways we are graded. Stigma: is the manifestation or outward appearance of an inner deficiency, one that either has been or may be noticed, which results or would result in infamy and dishonor. Goffman argues that some who has been stigmatized is a blemished person, disqualified from full social acceptance. When this is an extreme blemish, it may even become the one single trait that defines how you know the person – a MASTER status.
Goffman doesn’t say that all stigma comes from the physical, he also says there are plenty of ways to become stigmatized as an individual with no outward problems. Stigma that appears as violations of notions of proper behavior and belief and that which is physical- he refers to as abominations of the body- the various physical characteristic. Central to many early and primitive examinations of physical deformity in children was the idea of the god or devil argument being involved. Specifically in medieval days, God was often perceive to be the creator and thus those who were born with deformity were often seen as a monster, unholy, or a child of the devil. Today there is more fluid examination of physical deformity where the church may say that it is a child of God, others argue a science argument that deformity is a biological problem only. **At the core of the discussion of physical characteristics is really the notion of Aesthetic norms. Aesthetic norms represent standards that dictate how people out to look: their height, weight, attractiveness, coloration, possession of the requisite limbs and organs (and no more), the absence of disfigurement, the absence or presence of specific more or less permanent body adornment or alteration (scarification, tattoos, lip plugs, elongation of the ear lobes, neck, etc). There is the second side to the physical norms which relates to bodily impairments. A bodily impairment impacts a major life function such as walking, seeing, hearing, etc. We see it as “normal” to be able to see, hear, eat, walk, sleep, and if you are unable to do this then you are “different” or outside the norms. How do these things change over time?
Marilyn Monroe vs. Others now??? Children’s Appearance Study Physical appearance can then also be tied to a host of other deviance and labeling. A famous study on children’s misbehavior was conducted in 1972 where participants were shown various pictures of different children (some ugly and some pretty- by the standards then). If the child’s behavior was mild, (stepping on a dog’s tail) the sample groups were not influenced by the children’s look. But when the misbehavior was more serious (throwing stones at a dog, causing it to yelp and limp away) for the unattractive children, members of the sample regarded this as a serious character flaw; for the attractive children the sample of college students tended to be more lenient and indulgent, to give them the benefit of the doubt, passing off their misbehavior as trivila;. Then they were asked to comment on the children, the ugly children were often regarded in a poor manner, while the attractive children were discussed in a positive light. Workplace Ugly/Cute In the workplace, study after study, shows that often a more attractive person will be hired over one who is obese, has a deformity, etc. Work done by less attractive people is evaluated more negatively than work done by more attractive people; people tend to work less hard for more unattractive people than for attractive people, and something that is lost is less likely to be returned to the owner if they are physically less attractive.
Physical Disabilities discussed Disability, like behavioral deviance, is socially constructed, produced, or created. This does not mean that the physical conditions on which judgments of disability are based are created by the society. Rather, it does mean that the definition demarcating a given condition as a disablement, and judgment that a specific case or person belong so the general category of disablement are to some degree arbitrarily based on social and cultural criteria. There are definitions that are socially constructed and then legally reinforced as well.
If you are to obtain a disabled license plate or placard, who decides if you are disabled? -Doctor Who tells the Doctor? -American Medical Association Who tells the American Medical Association? -The public, the legislature, key policy makers
Many sociologists would argue that we often forget that we give things meaning, through our interactions. Famous to this argument is Berger and Luckmann who wrote the book, “The Social Construction of Reality” ***They were interested in how it is possible that subjective meanings become objective facticities. How is it that our words, our meaning that we assign to a disability then becomes a fact. Being “disabled” isn’t a hard objective fact, it can change, it can be redefined.
1- Externalization (we continue to produce it beyond us, through our everyday interactions)
2- Objectivation (we approach everyday life as ordered, prearranged reality, it appears to be set-up and in place, very matter of fact and routine, not something we change).
3- Internalization (we legitimate it by our words, our thoughts, we are socialized by peers, parents, education, etc).
ASK - Think about this, what if tomorrow we found that having one less arm actually made you medically more happy, you had endorphin rushes, you had amazing sex life, whatever, would it be a disability? Is disability subjective or is it objective? DISCUSS In all of the above cases we have been discussing things that are beyond our personal choice- you often don’t decide to have one less leg or arm. Now let’s talk about CHOICE CHARACTERISTICS Choice Characteristics Tattooing is probably the most widely practiced form of voluntary body alteration. In many societies of the world, of course, getting a tattoo is not only accepted, it is normatively demanded. In western society generally and in the United States specifically, people who “choose to modify their bodies” by getting a tattoo “violate appearance norms” Tattooing is deviant not only for its direct symbolic value, it is also deviant because people who wear a tattoo tend to be symbolically connected with deviant groups and categories. What do I mean by this? What are some categories and groups? Piercing – similar to tattoo, which piercing are okay and for who? BRAINSTORM Sometimes there can be situations where it starts as not a choice characteristic and then the person adopts the persona, often labeled as a “freak” due to it. i.e. bearded lady at circus, sideshows, mystified by the unnatural or violation of our standards.
Obesity in America Obesity represents a prime example of an abomination of the body that Goffman spoke of, that violates aesthetic standards and if often perceived to be the “fault” of the person. The majority of people who are not fat feel that the obese became fat because they are gluttonous and lazy- that is, because they eat too much and don’t exercise enough. Thus I would say, double layers of stigma- glutton and for aesthetics. Today, being obese often carries a stigma and in fact can easily be a master status for someone who is far over standards of weight. Often this makes obese Americans the object of derision and harassment for their weight. In spite of all the stigma and deviant labels on obesity, Americans are gaining weight over time, yet the irony is that we are a weight obsessed society. Let’s look at trends in obesity first, and then dive into the weight obsession end of the spectrum. OBESITY IN AMERICA SLIDE DECK Let’s also take a look at the focus on fitness. The standards and scale of desirability for females especially in the U.S. has been leaning more and more towards extremely thin figures. Is a body builder who is too fit deviant? A person that is too skinny? Bogardus Social Distance Scale Activity With all the talk of society and those who are deviant. Let’s examine one last issue. The personal level of acceptance you have for particular groups of people.