Violence and Youth

Like the outlaw, the crooked politician, and the pornography merchant, the men arrested for insider trading on Wall Street performed positive functions for society through their acts of deviance. In the 1980s, the financial community underwent rapid and profound change. A revolution in personal computers and telecommunications allowed brokers to engage in new activities for which few rules had been written. The scandal involving Boesky and others provided an opportunity to stop and consider the boundaries acceptable trading in stocks and bonds, and to reaffirm the ethical framework in which the financial community operates.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law Insider Trading and Securities Fraud Enforcement Act. It was designed to ensure fuller disclosures on the part of brokers and investment advisers and to strengthen enforcement of prohibitions against insider trading. The search for unethical “insider” dealings has since been extended to other areas of public concern, such as savings and loan associations. Just as deviance may help people reaffirm norms that are threatened, it may also serve as a catalyst for social change.

This was true of acts in defiance of racial segregation during the 1950s. Earlier social changes encouraged such defiance. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, African-American became increasingly integrated into the American economy. World War II saw many black Americans fighting alongside whites. Both economic and military integration made social segregation in schools, housing, transportation, and public facilities harder to accept. Some African-American responded by simply refusing to comply.

Thus in 1955, when Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Alabama, refused to move to the back of a bus where blacks were required to sit, she engage in an individual act of defiance and deviance. But this time, white attempts to punish the deviant and force her compliance did not have the usual affect of reaffirming traditional norms. Instead, Mrs. Parks’s action became part of a wider movement to bring the social position of African-Americans into line with other aspects of social change. (we discuss the black civil rights movement in more detail in Chapter 21.)

Whether deviance leads to reaffirmation of existing norms or serves as a catalyst for new ones depends in part on the type of society in which that deviance occurs (Ben-Yehuda, 1985). The structure of simple, traditional societies tends to produce a high degree of consensus regarding acceptable behavior. In such societies, the punishment of deviance usually leads to increased commitment to the status quo. Complex, modern societies, in contrast, tend to be heterogeneous – that is, there are many competing lifestyles and moral points of view.

“in such societies, values, norms, and moral boundaries are not given; they are negotiated” (Ben-Yehuda, 1985, p. 15). As a result, deviance can often lead to a renegotiation of norms and promote social change. There is an increasing concern is the high rate of violence displayed by adolescents. According to the United States Department of Education (1993), 16 percent of seniors reported that they had been threatened with a weapon at school; 7 percent said they had been injured with a weapon. One of every five high school students routinely carries a firearm, knife, or club.

Many teachers say they have been verbally abused, physically threatened, or actually attacked by students. And homicide remains the leading causes of death among African Americans, regardless of gender of age. In one recent study of high school students, aggressive and violent behavior was related to binge drinking and sexual activity in males, to any alcohol use and use of illegal drugs in White female, and to sexual activity in African American females (Valois & others, 1995). In the same study, the strongest predictors for carrying weapons were alcohol use and sexual activity.