Sociology Index


Secondary deviance refers to deviant behavior which flows from a stigmatized sense of self; the deviance is thought to be consistent with the character of the self. Any person's self can be stigmatized or tainted by public labeling. Secondary deviance is contrasted to primary deviance which may be behaviorally identical to secondary deviance though incorporated into a ‘normal’ sense of self.

One may get drunk because one sees oneself as enjoying a party. However, if one notices that friends are hiding their liquor, one may come to see oneself as a drunk and then continue to get drunk because one is a drunk. The first act is primary deviance and the second act is secondary deviance.

Primary deviance is engaging in the initial act of deviance and secondary deviance is the stage in which one internalizes a deviant identity by integrating the initial act of deviance into their self-concept. Charles Lemert suggests that deviance doesn't just happen, with a single instance of behavior. Lemert argues that there is first of all an act that deviates from the normatively expected behavior.

That first act probably brings a reaction from the social context because it violates norms. The reaction very often involves admonition not to deviate again, and even punishment. Lemert suggests that some instances of deviance in this pattern are probably simply clumsy and unintended. Punishment and admonition for those acts may provoke a sense of being treated unjustly.

After a series of such interdependent interactions, eventually the person begins to employ his deviant behavior or a role based upon it as a means of defense, attack, or adjustment to the admonitions and prohibitions that behavior provokes. That point, Lemert refers to as "secondary deviance." - Williams III and McShane's Criminology Theory.

Lemert (1967) made a further distinction between primary deviance, the initial rule-breaking act, and secondary deviance , the labelled person's response of defense, attack or adaptation to the problems caused by the social reactions to their initial deviance. Thus originally there may not be a separate group of 'deviant' (or 'shy') people, but rather we all drift in and out of deviant and conformist behaviour (Matza 1964), and only a minority of these rule-breaking acts reach the attention of others. When this does happen and a person is engaging in secondary deviance, it can be said that they are following a deviant (or moral) career - a set of roles and expectations shaped largely by the reactions of others. The individual's self identity is therefore vulnerable to social judgements and appraisals, and once again we see the constant interplay between mind, self and society (George Herbert Mead). As the work of Erving Goffman (1961, 1963) famously showed, when a person is labelled with a particularly 'discrediting' social attribute (such as shyness, perhaps), this can serve as a permanent mark or stigma upon their character. Stigmatising labels are hugely powerful in shaping our sense of who we are in relation to significant others and to the wider society, and so a moral career can be one of the most defining influences upon self identity.

Social Reaction and Secondary Deviance in Culture and Society: The United States and Japan (From Legacy of Anomie Theory: Advances in Criminological Theory, Volume 6, P 329-347, 1995, Freda Adler and William S Laufer, eds. - S G Vincentnathan
Abstract: Punitive sanctions are important in Japan where prison conditions are harsh by western standards and some offenders are interrogated without regard for their rights. Japan, however, has a much lower criminal recidivism rate than the United States. In explaining recidivism in the United States, the labeling or secondary deviance perspective has some merit. Most individuals in both countries share common perspectives unique to their own cultures. As an aspect of the individualism emphasized in the United States, the individual is taught to seek personal autonomy and self-importance. Contrary to the conventional labeling perspective that social reaction per se promotes secondary deviance, social reaction provides the context for aggravating secondary deviance. In Japan, the individual admires the society of which he or she is a part.

Stigmatization Among Probationers
Andreas Schneider ; Wayne McKim
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:38 Issue:1 Dated:2003 Pages:19 to 31
Drawing on the concepts of primary and secondary deviance provided by labeling theory, the authors set out to determine whether probationers experience stigmatization from within (secondary deviance) or from others in their community (primary deviance). Personal interviews were conducted with 97 current probationers in rural West Texas. Questions focused on probationers’ perceptions of how employers, family, the community, law enforcement, and friends viewed them as a result of their probation placement in order to establish the presence of primary deviance. Probationers were also asked about their perceptions of themselves to establish primary deviance. Probationers did not engage in secondary deviance to the extent expected due to the contradictions in the different forms of stigmatization.

An Empirical Evidence Test of Labeling Theory Using Longitudinal Data
MELVIN C. RAY, WILLIAM R. DOWNS - Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 23, No. 2, 169-194 (1986)
To test direction of causality among drug use behavior, informal labels, and formal labels. Baseline and follow-up data were collected..Results partially supported by the labeling theory proposition of secondary deviance among males, although changes are suggested in this proposition. Among females, drug use behavior was causally prior to labels, which contradicts secondary deviance.

The Shell, the Stranger and the Competent Other - Towards a Sociology of Shyness - Susie Scott, Cardiff Univ.
In contemporary Western societies, shyness appears to be an increasingly common experience, and yet its sociological relevance has been overlooked. Within psychology, the condition has been seen as an individual pathology, and there has been little attempt to relate this to the wider cultural context. The argument of this article is that shyness can be interpreted as both a privately felt state of mind and a publicly recognized social role. I revisit Mead’s conception of the self as an inner conversation between the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’, arguing that the shy actor perceives themselves as relatively unskilled in interaction by comparison to a ‘Competent Other’. It is then suggested that it is normal for people to drift into isolated episodes of shyness as primary deviance, but that in some cases the reactions of others can lead to a career of secondary deviance.