SOC. 4th Edition. Benokraitis. Cengage Learning, 2014. ISBN: 9781133592129
Chapter 7 Deviance, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System
Chapter 8 Social Stratification
Chapter 9 Gender and Sexuality
Welcome to week three of SOC 250, Introduction to Sociology. This week we will come to realize the importance of the criminal justice system and how they deal with deviance and crime, as well as prevention and intervention. We will be learning about the purpose and importance of social stratification. In that process we will come to understand the social classes in America and the inequality across societies. In addition, we will review the concerns and challenges regarding gender and sexuality and identify the concerns regarding sexuality and human development.
Deviance includes traits or behavior that violates expected rules or norms. The word deviance has a derogatory connotation for the general public, but sociologists don’t make such value judgments. Instead, they are interested in understanding and explaining deviance. Deviance is universal because it exists in every society. Sociologists emphasize, however, that the key characteristics of deviance can vary quite a bit over time, from situation to situation, from group to group, and from culture to culture. Deviance can be a trait or belief rather than a behavior. Deviance is accompanied by social stigmas. A stigma is a negative label that devalues a person and changes her or his self-concept and social identity. Deviance varies across and within societies. What is appropriate or tolerated in one society may be deviant in another. Deviance varies across situations. What is seen as normal in one context may be stigmatized in another. Deviance is formal or informal. Formal deviance is behavior that violates laws. A major example is crime. In contrast, informal deviance is behavior that disregards accepted social norms, such as not dressing appropriately when attending a wedding reception. Perceptions of deviance can change over time. Many behaviors that were acceptable in the past are now seen as deviant.
What is Crime?
What comes to mind when you hear the word crime? Most of us typically imagine a murder or a violent physical attack, but such offenses constitute a minority of crimes. Crime is a violation of societal norms and rules for which punishment is specified by public law. Many sociologists are criminologists, researchers who use scientific methods to study the nature, extent, cause, and control of criminal behavior. Measuring crime may seem straightforward, but the task is not as simple as it appears.
The Criminal Justice System and Social Control
Social institutions such as the family, education, and religion try to maintain social control over moral misbehavior, whereas the criminal justice system has the legal power to control crime and punish offenders. The criminal justice system refers to government agencies, including the police, courts, and prisons, that are charged with enforcing laws, passing judgment on offenders, and changing criminal behavior. The criminal justice system relies on three major approaches in controlling crime: prevention and intervention, punishment, and rehabilitation.
Social stratification is the hierarchical ranking of people in a society who have different access to valued resources, such as property, prestige, power, and status. All societies are stratified, but some more than others. An open stratification system is based on individual achievement and allows movement up or down. In a closed stratification system, movement from one social position to another is limited by ascribed statuses such as one’s sex, skin color, and family background. Closed stratification systems are considerably more fixed than open ones, but no stratification system is completely open or completely closed.
Dimensions of Stratification
Within a social stratification system there is a social class which is a category of people who have a similar standing or rank in a society based on wealth, education, power, prestige, and other valued resources. Income is a critical factor of stratification, but it’s not the only one. Instead, sociologists use a multidimensional approach that includes wealth, prestige and power.
Wealth: Wealth is the money and other economic assets that a person or family owns, including property and income. Property comes in many forms, such as buildings, land, stocks and bonds, retirement savings, and personal possessions such as furniture, jewelry, and works of art. Income is money a person receives regularly usually in the form of wages or a salary but also as rents, interest on savings accounts, dividends on stock, royalties, or the proceeds from a business.
Prestige: A second dimension of social stratification is prestige, which is respect, recognition, or regard attached to social positions. Prestige is based on many criteria, including wealth, family background, fame, leadership, power, occupation, and accomplishments. For example, every college convocation acknowledges students who graduate cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. We typically evaluate others according to the kind of work they do.
Power: A third important dimension of social stratification is power, the ability of individuals or groups to achieve goals, control events, and main influence over others despite opposition. In every society, power is based on social class, but there are other sources of power. Another source of power is being charismatic or eloquent or having other traits that inspire large groups of people. Power is also tied to particular occupations like a police officer or judge for example.
What Affects Social Mobility?
According to many sociologists, vertical social mobility doesn’t always reflect people’s talents, intelligence, or hard work. Instead, much social mobility depends on structural, demographic, and individual factors.
Structural Factors: Macro-level variables, over which we have little or no control as individuals, affect social mobility in many ways. First, changes in the economy spur upward or downward mobility. During an economic boom, the number of jobs increases, and many people, including those on public assistance, have an opportunity to move up. Second, the number of available positions in particular occupations changes over time.
Demographic Factors: Demographic factors, which are usually interrelated, also affect social mobility. Three of the most important are education, gender, and race and ethnicity. Education is a critical factor in social mobility. Especially when the economy is slumping, people with college and graduate degrees fare better than those with a high-school education or less. Those who don’t graduate from high school often face long and frequent bouts of unemployment, must get by with temporary employment, and may move down the socioeconomic ladder.
Individual Factors: Because family background is a critical factor in social stratification, the best way to be upwardly mobile is to choose the right parents. For example, only 7 of the 44 U.S. presidents came from the lower-middle class or below. Abraham Lincoln, although born in a log cabin, had a father who was one of the wealthiest people in his community. And about a third of the students with low grades at Ivy League universities wouldn’t be there if their parents weren’t celebrities, well-known politicians, or others who donated at least $25 million to the school. Parents tend to socialize their children to assume an expected class position.
Contemporary Gender Stratification and Inequality
Sexism is widespread due to gender stratification, people’s unequal access to wealth, power, status, prestige, opportunity, and other valued resources because of their sex. We will look briefly at gender inequality in the family, education, workplace, and politics.
Gender and Family Life: Americans have more choices today, but is family life less gendered than in the past? There is probably not as much as we think. If Americans were free to do either, half of women and 68 percent of men would prefer to work outside the home rather than stay home to take care of their house and family. Few adults have this either-or choice, however. Instead, nearly three out of four married mothers are in the labor force, compared with two out of four in 1970.
Gender and Education: Many teachers and schools send gendered messages to children that follow them from preschool to college. When children enter kindergarten, they perform similarly on both reading and mathematics tests. By the third grade, however, boys, on average, outperform girls in math and science, whereas girls outperform boys in reading. These gaps increase throughout high school.
Gender and Politics: In 1872, Victoria Chaflin Woodhull of the Equal Rights Party was the first female presidential candidate. Since then, 36 women have sought the nation’s highest office. Unlike a number of other countries (including Great Britain, Germany, India, Israel, Pakistan, Argentina, Chile, and Philippines), the United States has never had a woman serving as president or even vice-president. In the U.S. Congress, 83 percent of the members are men.
At one time or another, all of us violate some of society’s rules. We have examined the characteristics of deviance and crime, discussed several sociological explanations of why people deviate, and then looked at institutional attempts to control and change rule-breaking behavior. Social stratification is the hierarchical ranking of people in a society who have different access to valued resources, such as property, prestige, power, and status. A good indicator of social class is socioeconomic status, an overall ranking of a person’s position in the class hierarchy based on income, education, and occupation. Our social class position, more than any other single variable, affects just about all aspects of our lives. Max Weber referred to the consequences of social stratification as life chance, the extent to which people have positive experiences and can secure the good things in life (such as food, housing, education, and good health) because they have economic resources. Most Americans believe in social mobility, a person’s ability to move up or down the class hierarchy. Many people use the terms sex and gender interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings. The terms are related, but sex is a biological designation, whereas gender and gender roles are social creations.
View the following video to review a simple explanation of social stratification. Then view a very short video on political systems.
What are political systems?
Benokraitis, Nijole V. (2014). SOC. (4th ed.), Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Schaefer, Richard T. (2013). Sociology: A Brief Introduction (10th ed.), New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Wildhagen, Tina. (2014). Unequal returns to academic credentials as a hidden dimension of race and class inequality in American college enrollments, Journal of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.
Reynolds, Jeremy. (2014). Perceptions of meritocracy in the land of opportunity, Journal of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.