(This article explains positive deviance. It is a sociological description of a labour strike, one of the coursework in a Sociology course: Deviance and Social Control.)
Societies evolve and develop, and their progression processes underwent gradual to swift social changes over time, by which Karl Marx sees them in the context of conflicts. Inequality and injustices in society are the foundations of societal conflicts, driving forces of social deviance. Stephanie Ehret (23 September 2020) takes on the dictionary meaning of deviance as “someone who deviates from an accepted norm.” However, deviance’s definition changes with time depending on its view: either objective or subjective. Yet, it is generally observed as a negative perception of a person’s behaviour in public, portraying violations of well-established social norms.
In its strict sense, deviance is negative or harmful because it connotes non-conformity to existing general norms, enacted laws, traditions, and beliefs, among equally accepted social standards. Nevertheless, this essay will describe deviance from a positive perspective. Deviance is positive if the refusal to conform to specific standards results in successful social reform, for example, a strike action. Strike action, commonly known as labour strike or strike, is a work stoppage or walkout caused by a mass or collective refusal of workers to report at work due to several grievances. This paper focuses on the nature of strike action as deviance and its repercussions on social change. More than that, this essay will explore how strike, as deviance, is “socially typed” as positive and how it challenges the present-day dominant moral codes that reify or concretize them, for instance, justice or fairness. The discussion will also describe the social control of deviance, the controlling authority, and the deviance dance’s forces at work.
Let us take the Ontario Teachers’ series of strikes before the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic onset as the platform to outline deviance in an optimistic viewpoint explicitly. Teachers, both elementary and secondary, went on the streets to express their disgusts on the “Education that Works for You Plan” of the Ontario government. The issues at stake include but are not limited to changes in the education set up, mandatory e-learning for high school, insufficient support for special education and full-day kindergarten, and change in the hiring process rule by merits versus seniority (“A Closer Look,” 2020). Teachers assert that various budget cuts on education will further stretch the already strained classroom resources, which harms the Ontario province’s reputation on quality education. Indeed, those changes imply long term ramifications on the province’s entire educational system.
Let me present the comparative effects or salient points of a strike as social deviance. On the one hand, teachers’ shared decision for work stoppage makes the school, as a social institution, dysfunctional. The abandonment of their positions and non-performance of their social roles are detrimental to schools’ functions as learning institutions. During the strike, teachers exhibited negative deviance on its term and their oath of service and undertakings. On the other hand, teachers’ public expression of their grievances is a collective action for grounding the just and fair legislation. The street becomes an arena for voicing out and airing teachers’ predicaments and unveiling school setting realities. Thus, the teachers’ strike action illustrates that deviance is functional and real, testing society’s boundaries. It demonstrates that specific rules may not work or may no longer work and need to be changed (Bereska, 2018, p. 38). At this point, strike action challenges today’s dominant moral codes of justice and fairness called for by the teachers’ labour strike.
Nonetheless, controlling social deviance brings back the situation to a typical social equilibrium state. How does this kind of deviance socially control? Here, a moral entrepreneur plays an important role. The moral entrepreneur manufactures public morality by bringing the social issue to public awareness and facilitates moral conversion (Stephanie Ehret, 2020); for example, a politician. The politicians are the primary group of the modern society vested to invoke, revoke, and determine legislation and social policy implementation (Bereska, p. 24). This particular social control act begins at the negotiation table, where representatives of parties temporarily or permanently settle the issues through a bargaining agreement. In the former example, debates and negotiations between the Ontario Teachers’ union representatives and Premier Doug Ford, as a moral entrepreneur, with his council occurred for possible solutions to the teachers’ claims.
The interactions, negotiations, and debates are the deviant dance’s essential steps among groups who perceive a behaviour or characteristic differently to categorize as deviant (Bereska, p. 21). Deviance dance is an idea that there are contrasting views, debate, and resistance on any specific person, action, or characteristic socially typed as deviant (Bereska, p. 300). In the previous example, the teachers and their strike action are low tension deviance because they acted peacefully. Given the labelling theory, teachers’ strike is in a category of primary deviance as an act of occasional rule-breaking (Stephanie Ehret, 7 October 2020; Bereska, p. 71). The dance around the deviance was like a country line dance, which shows agreement on the issue and the actions to be taken, thus moving in the same direction to reach a common goal. Due to the disruption of the Covid-19 epidemic, the deviance dance is still on ongoing delays in the negotiation process.
Considering the above discussions, I argue that the teachers’ party and the government are both deviances. I posit the occurrence of two deviance types concerning the objective-subjective continuum: provocative deviance and proactive deviance. On the one hand, the government represents the provocative deviance when introducing changes to the conventional terms of running the local education system. By employing the government’s authority and power, political leaders can become deviance in amending laws and public policies. Thus, provocative deviance challenges objectively those directly affected by the act. It represents the continuum’s objective side that recognizes the adverse societal reaction, harm, statistical rarity, and violation of social norms (Bereska, p. 291). Referring to the teachers’ protest, the Ontario government did not conduct proper public consultation, particularly with the (teachers’) party directly affected by the proposed changes.
On the other hand, the teachers’ party demonstrates proactive deviance by organizing a concerted strike. Proactive deviance, then, refers to the preemptive reaction of the directly harmed or affected party. It submits to the continuum’s subjective side that focuses on the social processes of perceiving certain people, actions, or characteristics as deviant and must be treated accordingly (Bereska, p. 292). In this sense, a labour strike or protest is a deviance, which is socially accepted and an exercise of the teachers’ rights, upholding justice and equality. In general, a strike is a wake-up call showing something is wrong in a system that needs to be fixed or resolved. It is a kind of positive deviance that makes a difference – a change for the common good. At some point, deviance is a mere expression of one’s rights and freedom suppressed by the legal system and social norms.
Bereska, Tami. (2018). Deviance, Conformity, and Social Control in Canada. 5th Edition. Toronto: Pearson Canada
Ehret, Stephanie (23 September 2020). “Contextualizing Deviance and Social Control.” (Powerpoint Slides) SOCI 2610: Deviance and Social Control [lecture]. Trent University.
Ehret, Stephanie (7 October 2020). “Theorizing Power and the Power of the Social.” (Powerpoint Slides) SOCI 2610: Deviance and Social Control [Powerpoint lecture]. Trent University.
A Closer Look at the 2020 Ontario Teachers’ Strikes. (18 March 2020). Teach Request. Retrieved: 08 December 2020, URL: https://www.teachrequest.com/blog/a-closer-look-at-the-2020-ontario-teachers-strikes