SOCIAL PROBLEM: ACT OF DEVIANCE AND CRIMINAL ACTIVITY
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1, KJV). [Citation from the first verse, of the first chapter of the book of Genesis, as translated in the King James Version.]
Traditionally studies of crime and deviance arise from the formation of beliefs and ideologies enforced by the society such as popular prescriptions or proscriptions. Deviance is actually evolved due to dynamic relativity extant in different societies or varied cultures which shape up the trends or traits of behaviour which govern and control the lives of the people. Power also plays a significant role in defining deviance as the powerful groups have the ability to influence and impose their own pre-defined adjective of normality and deviance on common mass. Majorly deviance does not imply what one does but whether it is accepted or opposed in the social practices of the society we live in. According to the established theories of Merton's strain/anomie theory in sociology which covers the 5 different types of actions, namely, conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, rebellion.
Inspired by the deductions arrived at by George Herbert Mead and his work on symbolic interactionism, several sociologists namely, Becker, Lemert, and Taylor began to scrutinize the correlations between those who were committing deviant or criminal acts and those who sought to control these acts such as police, legal services, social workers, etc. The aspects which radicalised several sociological views include:
- the relative nature of deviance and crime
- the processes by which an act becomes labelled as deviant
- the process by which a person becomes a deviant or criminal
- what happens to a person once they have been labelled as deviant
- who controls the process of labelling acts as deviant or criminal
- the defining of acts and people as deviant as a form of social control.
Ontological relativism states the existence of concept (e.g. God, sorcery, individuality, addiction) is basically entangled as a conceptual system, which may turn out to be true for some people, but not for all. Howard S. Becker (American sociologist) implicated and established a definition of culture as “the shared understandings that people use to coordinate their activities” to dance musicians, marijuana users, and students. Becker’s most famous book, Outsiders (1963), viewed as a representation of clear turning point in the study of sociology interpreted deviance as the outcome of cultural traits involving correlative interaction between people whose occupations insists either committing crimes or catching criminals. Joel Best questions the definition of “Deviance” which describes it as the crime, discrimination and poverty arising to social conditions that have been found to be harmful to individual and/or social well-being and termed it as objective. Whereas subjectivist approach attributes the processes where some social conditions are established as social problems. They are referred to as constructionists since they deal with the "social construction of social problems." Best notes that the constructionist approach to social problems is relatively novel. Constructionists view social problems as claims-making activities, and scrutinize what claims-makers say about conditions, not the conditions themselves. Best theorizes and studies typical phenomenological fashion, and social problems in claims-making activities. Best notes that claims-makers construct any social condition as many different social problems.
THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIAL PROBLEMS
The study here covers the relative dynamics of the use of marijuana or drugs amongst Americans and its impact on the society instantiated by Joel Best’s Constructionist Stance. It revolves round the following basic queries and explanations:-
- Why some things become defined as social problems while others do not? Spector and Kitsuse, for example, use the term "claimsmaking," defining social problems as "the activities of individuals or groups making assertions of grievances and claims with respect to some putative conditions." This definition emphasizes the activities, the claims-making. In this view, social problems are not conditions; conditions are merely the subjects of claims. Hence, considering the objective status of those conditions is irrelevant, we can conceive that use of marijuana is not a victimless crime. In 2001, an estimated 15.9 million Americans aged 12 or older were current illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview. This estimate represents 7.1 percent of the population aged 12 years old or older.  [Excerpted from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration September 5, 2002 Drug Abuse in America: 2001]
- Identify the claimsmakers as well as specific interests at stake in the claims being put forth and what tools are utilized by claimsmakers? Considering the issue of drug abuse or on use of marijuana in America, this social problem according to claims-makers can be constructed in the following categories:-
- As a moral problem, a lack of respect for traditional values of self-respect, independence and self-sufficiency.
- As an educational problem, for example, and that it would attenuate if individuals were exposed to more positive social influences and educational programs.
- As a medical problem, and that it could be dealt with more effectively as a public health rather than a criminal matter.  [Referred From SOC 3290 Deviance: - Lecture 13: The Social Constructionist Perspective]
- How are these claims presented? Some focus on addicts' potentially lost chances for a fulfilling career. Many refer to how the treatment of drug addicts from poor neighborhoods is simply another hypocritical instance of a capitalist society placing the poor at a disadvantage despite its own promotion of drugs for just about any problem.
- What connections do claimsmakers draw between the so-called social problem and society at large? We should ideally keep in mind the two aspects of this drug abuse can bring in, firstly the families of addicts the principal victims - children born in poverty, raised by mothers who are ill-prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood; parents who have been stolen from, cut off from their loved ones and fearful of what might happen to them, secondly the costs to society as a whole (e.g. loss of potentially productive workers, inflated welfare rolls, and the cycle of poverty).
- What are the consequences of this so-called social problem being labelled as such? Specifically, and in some respects echoing the “moral entrepreneurial process” outlined by Howard Becker and the “value conflict” perspective of Fuller and Meyers, Spector and Kitsuse go on to develop a model of claims-making activities centred around four stages: (i) "collective attempts to remedy a condition that some group perceives and judges offensive and undesirable"; (ii) recognition of, and response to, these claims by "governmental agencies or other official and influential institutions"; (iii) re-emergence of claims in response to the actions of official institutions; and (iv) claimants' "contention that it is no longer possible to 'work within the system'..." and their attempts to develop alternative institutions. They refer to this as the “natural history of social problems.” Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug. In 2001, it was used by 76 percent of current illicit drug users. Approximately 56 percent of current illicit drug users consumed only marijuana, 20 percent used marijuana and another illicit drug, and the remaining 24 percent used an illicit drug but not marijuana in the past month. Therefore, about 44 percent of current illicit drug users in 2001 (7.0 million Americans) used illicit drugs other than marijuana and hashish, with or without using marijuana as well.  [Excerpted from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration September 5, 2002 Drug Abuse in America: 2001]
- Are these consequences distributed equitably across society, or do some groups bear a greater burden than others? The percentage of the population using illicit drugs increased from 6.3 percent in 1999 and 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2001. Between 2000 and 2001, statistically significant increases were noted for the current use of marijuana (4.8 to 5.4 percent), cocaine (0.5 to 0.7 percent), pain relievers (1.2 to 1.6 percent), and tranquilizers (0.4 to 0.6 percent). A change in NHSDA questions on hallucinogens caused the estimated rate of use of this category of drugs to increase from 0.4 to 0.6 percent between 2000 and 2001.  By using such illicit drug as marijuana one is actually hurting everyone around – even people are silent witnesses unknown to the addict. One should think about the people in your life who depend on him/er. Specifically as a responsible human being one should be aware of the public safety of others when confronted with intoxicated drug users. Marijuana affects safe driving skills, such as alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time, as well as makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and signs on the road. Hence we should be aware of addicts using drugs and snatch them out from their addiction to bring them into the light of overall development of human spirit and society’s welfare. Concluding with Best’s arguments we can state that, despite its difficulties, the constructionist perspective can be useful, both for would-be claims-makers and social problems analysts. In short, constructionism has become a useful, active research tradition - one which holds the promise of general theories of social problems.