During the entire history of humankind there have always been debates concerning what is normal or at least admissible for the member of the society. The question arisen concerned the behavior or general rules of dress code. Moreover, the mores and folkways, deeply instilled in collective conscience, assigned the rights and duties of everyone according to one’s social status (stratum), income level, sometimes also, religious confession, as well as age, ethnic origin or even gender. People who did not wish to obey the prescribed rules were stigmatized, expelled from the community or even imprisoned and sentenced to death (everything depended on the stringency of the broken rule). All the aforementioned details are depicting the boundary to which the society is ready to tolerate the deviation that occurs in spite of the political regime, economic system, justice and other factors. However, what is hidden inherently behind the notion of deviation?
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From sociological perspective, this problem should be studied in terms of deviance (or deviant behavior). The scholars agree mainly that deviance is the violation of norms legitimized by a particular community, be it a small village or a megalopolis. Another issue is the relative pattern of this definition, as the perception of ‘normality’ differs from culture to culture. It is not the act itself, but the reaction to it that makes it deviant (Rowell 82).
Taking into account the codified norms, a new actual issue appears which is called ‘crime’. According to the form of statute, it is the violation of any law adopted by the legislative body. One of the basic assumptions in the study of criminal behavior is that the violation of the criminal law represents deviation from other norms as well. The criminologist in the research usually proceeds on the premises that the criminal law embodies important social norms and mores, which are shared by the vast majority (Quinney 132). The line of demarcation between these two notions lies in the domain of sanction. Obviously, the subject of crime is always supposed to be arrested and punished whereas simple deviant act may only encounter a wave of social disapproval.
This research specifically is devoted to the question of extreme body modification in contemporary American society. Inserting this term into the paper, the definition should be given. Thus, it is the deliberate body alternating for any non-medical reason, predominantly pursuing aesthetic goals. It may include piercing the whole body, plastic surgery, tattooing, body art, and other forms. Another issue of scientific interest is the reasons, which encourage people to do this. The variability of them ranges from creating a shock reaction in the social milieu up to the religious rites (for example, circumcision in different cultures). Still, this research paper is supposed to elucidate the main tendencies in American society; therefore, various religious minorities will be set apart, and the target audience will consist of major adults who have at least one tattoo or more than two skin punctures on their body.
A predominant question implies the choice of research methods. If taking into account the low level of studies provided within this subject area, it is preferable to apply for qualitative methodology, that is to say, in-depth interviews with the target audience as well as unobtrusive measures, for example, hidden observation (Rowell 18).
If having a glance at theoretical frame suitable for this project, the first one to superimpose is the concept of cultural relativism. In brief, it is the understanding of people from the framework of their own culture, that is to say, being objective (Rowell 33). The aim of the research is to submerge into the conscience of people who have dared to modify their bodies up to the limit, which results in social disapproval. From the deviance theory, it is a kind of norm violations, but culture studies stress on another issue concerning the topic. For example, dramaturgy of Erving Goffman can be a tool for explaining the challenge the body modificators impress with their practices.
Last, but not least to mention, is the interaction within the group. If such deviants form a kind of subculture, there is obviously a special type of group interaction and group dynamics, as well as constant practices of reproducing the adopted schemes. In this way, a social construction of reality is the most suitable explanation as it claims to define people as real because of their background assumptions and life experiences (Rowell 59).
All in all, this research is aimed at revealing the latent patterns of behavior of those challenging the traditional social views and norms, staying however within the pale of law. Thus, the intended study might be a first step towards the debunking of stereotype that the so- called ‘freaks’ are exposing some kind of mental disorder. Instead, this qualitative survey may launch a new discussion towards the limits of individual and communal tastes if the main stress is on cultural aspects and the unique identity of the stigma bearers.
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