Abnormality and Deviancy

Abnormality and Deviancy

Table of contents:
1. Introduction
2. Abnormality vs. normality
3. Deviancy
4. Cultural relativism and universalism of abnormality and deviancy
5. Conclusion
6. References

troduction
Basically, the concept of a norm plays a very important role in the contemporary society since the departure or deviation from the norm in the behavior of an individual, his actions or thoughts often lead to labeling such a behavior as abnormal or even deviant. At the same time, the definition of the concept of normality as well as concepts of abnormality and deviancy may differ consistently depending on the socio-cultural context in which these terms are analyzed. In addition, it is necessary to remember about a significant degree of subjectivity in the process of the definition of normality and abnormality or deviance.
On the other hand, abnormality and deviance produce a profound impact on the relationships of people since an individual whose behavior is considered to be abnormal or deviant is likely to be isolated from the society or, at least, have significant problems in the process of communication and socialization. In fact, people whose behavior or views are characterized as abnormal or deviant are often doomed to the isolation and often they become outcasts. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that sometimes such an isolation or marginalization of people which have certain abnormalities or whose behavior is deviant are not always justified and it does not really reveal the essence of an individual. Often, such people are labeled as socially dangerous but, in actuality, they may represent no danger for their social environment and, instead, they may need the help of healthcare or social services as well as the help of the community to get integrated and lead a normal, socially acceptable life.
Abnormality vs. normality
First of all, it should be said that the concept of abnormality can be defined only in the context of the concept of normality since these two concepts are antagonistic and antonymous to each other. However, at this point several difficulties arise. To put it more precisely, the definition of the concept of the norm is not as simple as might have seemed to be at first glance because the concept of a norm is formed on the basis of the existing social norms, standards and traditions, which define social relations and the lifestyle of people. At the same time, these norms and, hence, the concept of the norm can vary in the course of time because of profound changes that naturally take place in the society.
Furthermore, the definition of the concept of normality heavily relies on the perception of social norms by each individual. It proves beyond a doubt that social norms will never work if they are imposed on an individual and evoke strong opposition among a large part of the society. For instance, the dominance of some ideology may lead to the formation of norms and standards which may be hostile for a specific society. Consequently, these norms will more likely be rejected by a part of the society that will inevitably lead to the conflict between two parts of the society and the definition of the concept of normality, being based on the concept of a norm, will be extremely problematic. In this respect, it is possible to refer to historical examples, such as the Civil War in the US. On the one hand, white Americans living in Southern states perceived slavery as a norm and, therefore, the violation of basic rights of slaves was a norm as well as the oppressed position of African Americans and the lack of personal freedom. On the other hand, for Americans living in Northern states slavery and its norms were absolutely unacceptable and were rather abnormal than normal. Hence, in such a context, it is difficult to clearly define what normality is.
In addition, it is necessary to remember about the different dimensions in which the concept of normality, as well as abnormality, may be defined. For instance, normality and abnormality may be defined from sociological, anthropological, and psychological points of view.
Nevertheless, it is possible to give the basic definition of the normality and abnormality, while the latter will naturally derive from the former. Traditionally, normality is defined in psychological terms as “conforming to that which is characteristic and representative of a group; not deviating markedly from the average or typical” (King, 1998). At the same time, from the legal point of view, normality is defined as “the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and to control their [individuals’] own behavior” (King, 1998). In such a way, the concept of normality is based on the idea that the behavior, actions, lifestyle and ideas of an individual basically meet the norm. On the other hand, it should be said that the norm, itself, may also certain difficulties because the norm may vary consistently throughout the time and highly depends on the socio-cultural context.
On the basis of the definition of the concept of normality, it is naturally possible to define the concept of abnormality, which, a priori, should be the opposite to the definition of the concept of normality. To put it more precisely, the concept of abnormality implies that abnormality is a “departure from the norm or the normal” (King, 1998). In fact, this is a common view on the concept of abnormality since the idea of the departure from the norm is a key part of the definition of the concept of abnormality. For instance, Ian Parker agrees that abnormality “lies outside the definition of the norm” (1995). In such a way, the concept of normality is based on the norm and an individual and his behavior may be defined as normal as long as he meets the norm, which includes a set of standards, rules and traditions, accepted by the society. In contrast, an individual and his behavior may be defined as abnormal of he departs somehow from the norm.
However, it is obvious that such a view on the concept of normality and abnormality is very conventional since it highly depends on the norm, which is not a constant notion. In other words, norms can vary in time as well as it can vary depending on the socio-cultural environment and, consequently, concepts of normality and abnormality may vary respectively. In such a context, it is possible to arrive to paradoxical situations when the behavior which used to be viewed as abnormal becomes a norm or vice versa. For instance, it is possible to name various rites of initiation of teenagers which used to be a norm, even in western societies, while today they are rather exceptional and in western societies they are viewed as abnormal. Moreover, often the concept of abnormality is quite discriminatory because the abnormality may be caused by certain physical drawbacks or disability, such as visual impairment, for instance. Consequently, an individual with a disability is likely to be defined as abnormal since he cannot meet the norms simply because of his disability (Russell, 2008). Obviously, such an approach based on the norm as the milestone of concepts of normality and abnormality is far from perfect, if not to say, erroneous, but it is a commonly accepted approach to the definition of concepts of normality and abnormality.
Deviancy
The concept of deviancy is closely intertwined with the concept of abnormality because deviancy also implies a sort of abnormality. In such a context, these concepts may be viewed as homogeneous. To put it more precisely, the concept of deviation, similarly to the concept of abnormality, also implies the departure from the norm. This is probably the key factor that makes both concepts abnormality and deviancy similar. In fact, deviancy is based on the idea that the behavior of an individual does not meet the socially acceptable norms, while his actions are a deviation from the norm. However, in such a context, it is impossible to distinguish abnormality and deviancy, though these concepts are different.
In order to understand this difference, it is necessary to analyze in details both concepts and dwell upon effects, including social effects, of both abnormality and deviancy. In this respect, it is important to underline that abnormality does not have any negative connotation. In actuality, abnormality is just a departure from a norm and it does not represent any serious threat to the social environment of an individual. In fact, it is rather a problem of an individual himself or herself rather than the problem of society. This is actually why abnormality often leads to the isolation of an individual or his exclusion from the normal social life. At the same time, the marginalization of an individual occurs under the impact of not only his abnormality but also by the attitude of society to the abnormality at large. What is meant here is the fact that a departure from a norm may lead to a different reaction of people from fear to pity and naturally, the reaction of people on the departure from a norm may define the extent to which an individual with an abnormality will be isolated or excluded from the society.
Speaking about deviancy, it should be said that it is quite different from abnormality because it implies the deviation from a norm which may represent a threat to the social environment of an individual. As a rule, people, whose behavior is defined as deviant, tend to anti-social behavior and violation of socially accepted rules and norms. In fact, even though the deviancy is a violation of a norm, unlike abnormality, deviancy necessarily implies some negative outcomes or violation of socially acceptable norms. In this respect, deviancy is, to a significant extent, similar to crime, but the concept of deviancy is different from crime because the concept of deviancy is larger and implies the violation of not only legal but rather socially acceptable norms. As a rule, such a violation of the existing norms is intentional and often the deviant behavior is characterized as sociopathic behavior (Parker, 1995).
The key difference between deviancy and abnormality is the effects of both since abnormality does not have such a negative connotation as deviancy because the latter is perceived by society as behavior or actions that are socially dangerous, while abnormal behavior or actions are perceived as a departure from a norm, which is just a different but not necessarily socially dangerous behavior. In this respect, it is necessary to distinguish the factors that contribute to abnormality and deviancy since abnormality may be determined by certain health problems, for instance, or by some beliefs of an individual, while deviance is caused by the intention or desire of an individual to violate the existing social norms as a form of protest or as a means of gaining a better or higher social position, or simply to improve the self-esteem of an individual.
At the same time, it should be said that deviance, being closely interrelated to anti-social behavior, has drawn the attention of specialists to the research of this problem. As a result, various theories emerged, which explained the essence and causes of deviance. In this respect, it is possible to name theories supporting physiognomic beliefs, based on Lombroso’s ideas, according to which deviancy may be defined on the basis of the analysis of physiological peculiarities of an individual or on the basis of his look or facial appearance (Machuca, 1998). Also, it is possible to name Sheldon’s theory based on genetics which explains deviant behavior of people by inherited factors since deviant people are genetically predisposed to certain type of behavior, including deviant behavior. Today, sociological theories of deviancy are also very popular since they explain deviancy by social factors and influence of society on individual. For instance, in terms of sociological theories, a deviant behavior of an individual may be determined by his poverty which forces him to violated social norms to gain better position in society.
The theoretical ground of abnormality is probably not so fundamental but it distinguishes the non-violent nature of abnormality, while deviancy implies anti-social behavior or actions, which violate the existing norms.
Cultural relativism and universalism of abnormality and deviancy
At the same time, it is worth mentioning the fact that both abnormality and deviancy are highly dependent on the socio-cultural environment since it is the socio-cultural environment which actually defines the norm, which, as it has been already mentioned above is the key notion of both abnormality and deviancy. It is not a secret that different cultures have different views on the concept of a norm. As a result, social norms may vary depending on the society. For instance, it is possible to trace considerable differences in views on the norm in different social environments. In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that Durkheim, while analyzing the concept of deviancy, pointed out that “no act is inherently deviant in and of itself. Deviance is defined socially and will vary from one group to another” (Deviance and social control, 2008). In fact, the same may be said about abnormality since the concept of norm varies from one social group to another.
Basically, it is possible to take into consideration the concept of disability, which perfectly reflects the difference in views of different cultures on abnormality and which reveals that the views on abnormality may vary within one and the same socio-cultural group in the course of time in the process of its development. In fact, disability is associated with abnormality in many societies. However, western societies tend to change their attitude to disability as abnormality, though a few decades ago the position of disabled people was inferior even in the most developed western countries such as the US or the UK. Today, the attitude to disability has changed in western societies and it is not viewed as abnormality. Instead, people with disabilities got larger opportunities to lead a normal life, get education, work, etc. On the other hand, in less developed societies, disability is still viewed as abnormality that leads to the exclusion of people who have some health problems.
On the other hand, there are certain universal concepts which are viewed as abnormal or deviant. Basically, these concepts refer to main humanistic values which are accepted as a norm in the overwhelming majority of societies. For instance, human life or taking care of children are considered to be as the major values in many societies and any departure from the norm in this regard, for instance, abandoning children, is considered to be abnormal or in more serious cases as deviant.
Conclusion
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the concept of abnormality and deviancy are based on the departure from a norm, which is a key notion that actually distinguishes abnormality and deviancy from normality. On the other hand, abnormality and deviancy are different since the latter implies the violation of social norms which leads to negative effects for the social environment of an individual, while abnormality does not necessarily imply any social danger of abnormal behavior, which is rather different from a norm but not dangerous.

References:
Deviance and Social Control. (2008). Retrieved May 21, 2008 from <http://www.people.vcu.edu/~jmahoney/deviance.htm>
King, A. (1998). Mental Health, Abnormality and Labeling Theory. Retrieved May 21, 2008 from <http://www.usingenglish.com/weblog/archives/000005.html>
Machuca, M.R. (1998). Faces of Madness: Seeing Abnormality through Photography. Retrieved May 21, 2008 from <http://astro.ocis.temple.edu/~ruby/aaa/milton.html>
Parker, I. et al. (1995). Deconstructing Psychopathology. London: Sage.
Russell, M. (2008). Disability and Capitalism. Retrieved May 21, 2008 from <http://tokyoprogressive.org/~tpgn/index3.files/dencity/capdisabil.html>