Sociology 204 Writing Assignment Option 3: A Deviant Act

We can focus on four elements to understand deviance as a social construction: norms, contexts, interaction, and punishment. And the construction of deviance also always involves power. In this writing assignment you will identify a single, specific action that is defined as deviant and analyze it using this framework. The question that your paper will use this framework to answer is: How does this construction of deviance reflect dynamics of social power?

You can pick pretty much any deviant act (i.e., an act or actor that an audience labels as deviant) that you want, big or small, real or fictional (so an example from a tv program or movie is fine, as is one from the news or your own experience). Not all choices will be as easy to write about though, as you need to be able to talk about all four of the elements involved in the construction of deviance and how they shaped the situation you are writing about. You should pick a specific episode or situation, not a category of situations (for example, you could write about a specific encounter with the police reported in the news but not about police stops in general).

Questions that you may want to think about in coming up with your case and argument for the paper include: why was the act constructed as deviant? Why was the audience that defined it as deviant able to do so? Why did the person do the deviant act? Did they not know? Not care? Have different priorities? Was it a violation of a single norm (rule) or a cluster of norms? Were there contradictory norms? What were the most important social contexts involved? What did the punishment look like? Why did it take the form that it did? To be clear, you don’t need to answer all of these questions. Rather, they are meant to be helpful to you in thinking about how to analyze the deviant act that you are focusing on and especially to make sure that your analysis allows you to answer the central question of this paper: How does this construction of deviance reflect dynamics of social power?

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