October 16, 2006


Caption: Warning: this rooster may be deviant.

Every so often, El Cabrero teaches an evening sociology class somewhere far from the campus of his beloved alma mater.

Most of the students are non-traditional, working on a degree while balancing family and work.

Perusers of Goat Rope will perhaps not be surprised to find that one of these offering is "Deviance and Social Control" (with emphasis on the former). Deviance is a huge topic and can include everything from serial killers to political dissidents.

There are lots of interesting theories about deviance but one of the most interesting was developed by the late great Robert Merton, who was a professor at Columbia for many years and died in 2003.

Merton made many contributions to the social sciences. He was famous for calling for and developing what he called "theories of the middle range," which bridge the gap between studies of minute empirical details and grand theories that try to explain life, the universe and everything.

His theory of deviance was first published in a 1938 article titled "Social Structure and Anomie" and is still very influential. In simple terms, it has to do with the "American Dream" of material success and the difficulties of actually trying to achieve it.

That will be the subject of the next post.


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