Outsiders - Howard Becker


Deviant careers as a result of subcultures and society

Irene de Groot

Recently I have been reading Outsiders by Howard Becker. In this blog I will reflect upon his theories and link it to my personal and present day life.

Outsiders provided some good theories on the concept of deviance. Deviance is linked to the subcultures we belong to. Norms within one subculture may differ from the norms in another subculture. Therefore, there is a possibility that one commits an act that can in one subculture be seen as deviant, but can be acceptable in another. A person who acts deviant might also simply not be aware of the rules in a different subculture.

According to Becker, there is this concept of a deviant career. The first step of this career is actually carrying out a nonconforming act. Such an act does not always result in an ongoing pattern of deviance. However, the chances of the development of such a pattern do increase once the person is caught. Here is where society comes in. The person gets labeled as deviant and is often also treated like that. This loss of society’s faith in and sympathy for a person is a drive to continue acting deviant. It isolates the person from more conventional groups. A person can thus turn to unconventional groups in which people share the same kind of deviance. These groups share a deviant subculture in which the members are likely to pursue their deviant behavior.

This idea that a group has a tremendous amount of influence on an individual seems quite likely to me. The steps of the deviant career which Becker describes sound fair. Subcultures do have an impact on its individual members. When I apply this theory of deviance to my own life, I can see the resemblance. For example, someone I know has committed a deviant act. He was caught while engaging in drug trade. Although he is actually an intelligent and loving person, he rolled into it through his network of ‘friends’. The first time he did this, he was immediately labeled as a criminal. Due to the fact that he was not accepted in society anymore, he turned back to his so called friends. Therefore he entered the deviant subculture of drug trade and thus continued doing it.

Myself I am a member of certain subcultures as well, of course, such as fandom. I do not feel like fandoms would be labeled deviant, though. You could say however that that particular view is my perspective and I do not know of the way other subcultures perceive fandom culture. I suppose it also depends what kind of fandom one belongs to. Becker also makes a distinction between a master and a novice in a certain subculture. Within fandom culture, I would say I am a master. Yet it is hard to define what makes someone a master as opposed to a novice.

The book Outsiders was published in 1963, since then many things have changed. In his book Becker labels homosexuals as deviant, to give an example. Present day homosexuality is still a topic of discussion, but the amount of tolerance has highly increased. If a person appears to be homosexual, that person would not necessarily lose his job and status as Becker suggests. The same thing goes for people with a darker skin color. Another thing that has changed is the upcoming of the online world. Through the internet it has become so much easier to join new subcultures. It is easy to communicate with people all around the world and thus are different subcultures more accessible now. Being deviant might be something more easily done now that advice, examples and justifications are scattered everywhere around the web.