Individuals in Society

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Table of Contents


Cultural Diffusion: Baseball in Japan

India's Sacred Cow: A Functionalist View

Conflicting Cultures

Value Conflicts

Nature versus Nurture

Social Networks in the US

Social Infrastructure

Little People of America

China and People with Disabilities

The Skinhead Counterculture

Pathology of Imprisonment

Deviance or Sport

Being a Hit Man

The Gentleman Bandit

George Murdock’s 70 Cultural Universals









Cultural Diffusion: Baseball in Japan

Baseball began in Japan in 1867 when a visiting professor from the US, Horace Wilson, taught his students at Kaisei School (now the University of Tokyo) how to play the game. The first formal game was put on in 1873 by another teacher from the United States. The popularity of the sport skyrocketed in 1896 after newspapers reported an unprecedented event:JAPANESE BASEBALL POSTER the First Higher School in Tokyo defeated a team of Americans living in Yokohama by a score of 29 to 4. In two subsequent rematches, the Japanese again beat the representatives from the United States at their own game. In the view of one Japanese historian, “Foreigners could not hope to understand the emotional aspect of this victory, but it helped Japan, struggling toward modernization after centuries of isolation, overcome a tremendous inferiority complex it felt toward the West.”

Japanese culture was receptive to baseball. The Japanese found the one-on-one battle between pitcher and batter psychologically similar to sumo and martial arts. Another visit by Americans — a 1934 tour by Babe Ruth and other baseball stars — led to the formation of professional baseball leagues in Japan. Today, baseball (or, as the Japanese call it, besuboru) is the country’s dominant spectator sport. Surveys indicate that one out of every two Japanese is a baseball fan, including the emperor. Each year, professional baseball attracts 12 million spectators and huge television audiences. Japan’s oldest and most successful team, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, draws standing-room-only crowds throughout its 130-game season.

Japanese baseball is an excellent example of cultural diffusion. While the structure of the game is similar to that of American baseball, the climate and texture of Japanese baseball have been deeply influenced by Japanese cultural values, such as self-discipline, self-sacrifice, politeness and respect for authority. After a solid defensive effort, such as a double play, a pitcher will turn and bow respectfully to his infielders. A pitcher who hits a batter accidentally will tip his cap.

Great emphasis is placed on wa (unity or team harmony). The Japanese are fond of the saying, “The nail that sticks up will be hammered down.” Consequently, any behavior viewed as overly individualistic or egotistical — violations of training rules, temper tantrums, moodiness, complaints to the media, attacks on umpires, salary disputes — is strongly discouraged. Team aspects of the game are valued highly: the home-run hitter is expected to make sacrifice bunts, the star pitcher to work as both a starter and a reliever.

The argot of baseball changes a bit when it crosses the Pacific Ocean. Hit by pitch becomes dead ball; the game-winning home run is a sayonara home run. Also, since umpires reverse the call of balls and strikes, a full count is 2–3 (two strikes, three balls) in Japan, not 3–2 as in the US.

One of Japan’s most famous baseball players, Hiromitsu Ochiai, stands out as an exception to the collective orientation of Japanese baseball. Ochiai — who led his leagues in home runs, runs batted in and batting average in both 1985 and 1986 — is the highest-paid player in the history of Japanese baseball. Yet many Japanese refer to him scornfully as a goketsu, or individual hero, and dislike him. Ochiai has skipped practices, has held-out for what is seen as an outrageously high salary and has brashly predicted that he will lead the league in home runs and batting average. Unlike previous stars such as Sadaharu Oh (who hit 868 home runs in his career), Ochiai does not fit the expected Japanese mold of the polite, deferential team man.

Baseball followers may be interested in some of the following aspects of baseball in Japan, some of which reflect the collective orientation of that culture: Players are not introduced before games individually but as a team, players often make less than their managers, and foul balls hit into the stands are quietly returned to the ushers by the fans.

Japan’s emphasis on team harmony, however, has not led to full acceptance of foreign players. Two foreign athletes (known as gaijin) are allowed on each professional team. Some, notably Oklahoman Randy Bass, former American major leaguer Leron Lee and home-run-hitting Cecil Fielder, have had highly successful careers in Japan. Yet almost all gaijin complain that they are treated as nothing more than outsiders. “You’re an outcast, period,” noted Warren Cromartie. “You go 0–5 and it’s Yankee go home. You go 5–5 and nobody pays attention to you” (Whiting, p. 118).

Similarly, Cecil Fielder recalls that if a gaijin pitched and the team lost, “it was our fault. We didn’t do anything. But if they won, it was that they (Japanese) did it. No, no, no — we (gaijin) didn’t do it. The Japanese did it” (Muskat, p. 22).

In 1986, the executive committee of Japanese baseball voted unanimously to phase out all gaijin eventually, arguing that they are overpaid and unproductive — and that Japanese baseball should be played only by Japanese. However, in 1987, former Atlanta Braves star Bob Horner signed with a Japanese team and enjoyed spectacular success and great popularity. Nevertheless, the future of gaijin in Japanese baseball remains uncertain.

Chinese family with all their worldly possessions                                  

Photographer Huang Qingjun captures Chinese families with all their worldly possessions.

Optional Resources:

Cultural Change

Cultural Diffusion

Country Reports

World Civilizations

Japanese-American Cultural Exchange

Voice of the Shuttle: Cultural Studies Page

Sarah Zupko's Cultural Studies Center.


Cross-Cultural Communication

Canadian and American Values: #1, #2, #3

Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies












India's Sacred Cow: A Functionalist View

To an American tourist in India, the Hindu prohibition against slaughtering cows may appear to be an ignorant belief that stands in the way of progress. TheIndia's Sacred Cow cattle browse unhindered in street markets, eating oranges and mangoes while people compete for the meager food supplies.

Why is there such a devotion to the cow, or zebu, the large-humped species found throughout Asia and Africa? The simple explanation is that it is an integral part of Hinduism. Yet we know that many Indian people are often on the edge of starvation. Why has this practice, which appears to be manifestly dysfunctional, persisted for centuries?

Economists, agronomists and social scientists working from a functionalist perspective have found that cow worship is highly functional for Indian society. For example, the zebus perform two essential tasks: plowing the fields and producing milk. If eating zebu meat were permitted, families might be tempted to slaughter their cows for immediate consumption, leaving themselves susceptible to eventual ruin. In addition, zebus produce dung, which is recovered as fertilizer and as a fuel for cooking. (American scientists are even attempting to replicate this practice to help our society meet its needs for more energy sources.) Finally, the prohibition against slaughtering cows serves the function of assisting India's poor. Untouchables (India's lowest-status group) eat zebu beef in the secrecy of their homes. Thus, the prohibition against eating beef restricts consumption by most of the population while allowing the poorest sections to obtain vitally needed nutrients otherwise missing from their diet.

The tourist returns to the US with stories about the ignorant Indians. In reality, the tourist is ignorant of how functional cow worship is for Indian culture - and of how the West fails to learn from the wisdom of Indian traditions.

Optional Resources:

Marvin Harris' India's Sacred Cow

Why is the cow important to Hindus?

Selling the Sacred Cow: India's Contentious Beef Industry

Sacred Cow

PBS's India’s Sacred Cows












Conflicting Cultures

There has been a lack of total consensus on certain values in the US but the increased immigration from non-European nations during the 1990s has brought new attention to conflict. Old World habits are clashing with New World laws.

The following are four examples: Cruelty to animals or Asian cuisine? In Long Beach, California, charges were dismissed against two Cambodian refugees who clubbed a puppy to death and ate it because dog-meat is often food in Cambodia.

In 1996, two Iraqi immigrants - resident aliens but not citizens, aged 28 and 34 - married a pair of sisters in Lincoln, Nebraska. Shortly afterward, the men found themselves in jail because the girls were only 13 and 14, well below the state’s age of consent of 16 for marriage. They faced charges of rape and child abuse. The men were astounded to be prosecuted because their actions were in keeping with their cultural traditions. To some observers this situation seemed to support the argument that immigration must be restricted still further. However, in actuality, it should be noted that two states do allow 13-year-olds to marry.

Also in 1996, two Korean women - one a Methodist missionary visiting Los Angeles, the other the wife of a Chicago doctor - died from beatings as part of anchal prayer, or church rites to exorcise personal demons. The Chicago defendants were charged with the misdemeanor of battery and received probation.

National attention focused in 1996 on the case of a 19-year-old woman from Togo who told US immigration officials that she had fled her African home country in order to escape having her genitals cut off. The removal of the clitoris and the custom of infibulation, the stitching together of the labia to largely cover the vagina, is practiced in 28 African nations as a rite of passage. In these countries the practice varies widely in its prevalence and the severity of the incisions. It is largely done as a way to control women’s sexual behavior before marriage. Countries outside Africa vary in their handling of the situation. France has criminally prosecuted parents, while Canada has granted asylum to women seeking to avoid these procedures. In the US, after debate, the federal government initiated a ban, taking effect in 1997, on genital cutting. It is punishable by up to five years in prison. Furthermore, federal health agencies have been ordered to reach out to the immigrant communities and educate them about the harm of genital cutting. While many observers applaud this action, some believe that by focusing on the practice rather than handling it as an action covered by general statutes prohibiting violence against children, as France has done, the US is unfairly stereotyping Africans as people who mutilate their children. Furthermore, the federal government has not authorized any money for educational programs, which implies to some that the government is more interested in criminalizing a cultural practice than it is in assisting people in breaking with an ancient tradition.

Each of these situations raises two questions of cultural relativism: When do we freely allow a different cultural practice to take place and when do we invoke sanctions to discourage, prohibit or even punish the practice of norms different from our own?

Optional Resources:

Animal Sacrifice

Resolving Cultural Conflict in a Multicultural Environment

Cultural Conflict in Schools

Culture and Conflict

Articles about Cultural Conflict

Cultural Survival












Value Conflicts

In his study of American values, Robin Williams noted that many Americans see their own group as superior to others. Along with conflict theorists, he recognized that the value of group superiority clashes with other American principles. (See Williams, 1970, American Society, New York: Knopf.)

Similarly, Swedish social economist Gunnar Myrdal, in his monumental study, An American Dilemma, pointed to a contrast between the egalitarian moral precepts of the American creed (as expressed in such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights) and the nation’s racist attitudes toward blacks. (See Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, New York: Harper, 1944.)

This discrepancy between abstract principles and people’s actual behavior was tested by Frank Westie (“The American Dilemma: An Empirical Test,” American Sociological Review, 30 (August, 1965): 527–538.) He examined the contradiction between Americans’ general commitment to egalitarian principles and specific racial prejudices by questioning a sample of 103 White adults in Indianapolis in 1957. During the first part of the interview, subjects were asked if they agreed or disagreed with a series of 10 general value statements. These statements reflected people’s support for, or opposition to, the egalitarian American creed described by Myrdal. Then, in the second part of the interview, subjects were asked to respond to hypothetical (but plausible) situations designed to test the application of these general values to the feelings each of the subjects had about blacks. The interviewers did not indicate that this was a central purpose of the study.

Westie found great support for the abstract principles of the American creed. On the average, 81% of the sample endorsed such general value statements as “There should be equal opportunity,” “People should help each other in time of need” and “Recreational facilities should be available to all.” The first two received near-unanimous support; the third was approved by 63% of the sample.

In contrast, however, the responses to specific value statements tended to uphold Myrdal’s theory concerning the American dilemma, the contrast between the egalitarian principles of the American creed and the ugly reality of racism in the US. On the average, only 56% of the subjects agreed with these specific statements. For example, while almost everyone felt that people should help each other in time of need, only two out of three said they would be willing to take in for a night a black family whose home had been destroyed by fire. Examination of the responses to all 10 pairs of items revealed that only 13% of the Indianapolis adults were entirely consistent in applying the general principles to hypothetical situations involving blacks.

Westie’s study is not a conclusive indication of how Americans can simultaneously hold equality and group superiority as basic values. But the responses do suggest that people tend to compartmentalize their lives in a way that avoids value conflicts. They employ one set of values in situations that directly affect them, while endorsing a second set of values for other situations.

Conflict theorists point to research such as that done by Westie as evidence of a lack of consensus in American society. They argue that the existence of racial prejudice and discrimination reflects a clash between the values and interests of the powerful and the oppressed.

Optional Resources:

Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy

The American Dilemma: An Empirical Test

Differences in Values

Values in Conflict












Nature versus Nurture

The interplay between hereditary and environmental factors is evident in a fascinating study  involving a young chimpanzee named Gua. (See Winthrop Kellogg and Luella Kellogg, The Ape and the Child, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1933. See also Cathy Hayes, The Ape in Our House, New York: Harper, 1951.) In 1931 Winthrop and Luella Kellogg took Gua, then 7½ months old, into their home with the intention of rearing the animal in the same way as they were rearing their nine-month-old son, Donald. The two babies lived together as companions and playmates for nine months of the experiment. Kellogg and Kellogg attempted, as far as possible, to treat, feed, and clothe their two children similarly. The Kelloggs tried to teach skills to both Donald and Gua and did not train Gua as one usually trains a household pet.

Gua and DonaldWhat were the results of this experiment, other than the many strange looks the Kelloggs got from their neighbors as they went walking with Donald and Gua? For one thing, they noticed interesting differences in rates of development. Gua actually learned more quickly than Donald in areas requiring strength, agility and muscular coordination. For example, the chimpanzee climbed into a high chair at age 7½ months, whereas Donald could not fully accomplish this until age 18½ months.TWINS

However, Gua did not surpass Donald in all areas. Donald demonstrated a much better grasp of language and use of symbols. Initially, Gua seemed to understand comments such as “Open the door” better than Donald. Kellogg and Kellogg attributed this to Gua’s greater ability to move around. In terms of speech, they foresaw that Gua would not advance beyond a few rudimentary sounds. Even at this young age, the most significant aspect distinguishing the behavior of ape from that of child involved language skills.

Kellogg and Kellogg’s experiment reveals an intriguing interplay of hereditary and environmental factors. Biology seemed to limit Donald’s adaptation to walking and Gua’s potential for verbal and symbolic communication. On the other hand, socialization may well have stretched the chimpanzee’s language skills. Certainly this unusual research attests to the importance of nature in development.

Optional Resources:



Click on the icon to

connect to a You Tube

clip of Donald and Gua.




Click on the icon to

connect to a You Tube

clip of Donald and Gua.


Winthrop and Luella Kellogg

Nature vs Nurture

Center for Twin and Family Research

The Ape and The Child

This Guy Simultaneously Raised a Chimp and a Baby

A Contemporary Appraisal of Winthrop Kellogg












Social Networks in the US

Sociologist Peter Marsden used the 1985 NORC General Social Survey (GSS) to gain an overview of the features of social networks. Respondents in the national interview survey were asked to name all the people with whom they discussed important matters (family, finances, health, politics, recreation and so forth) within the past six months. Subsequent questions focused on the first five names mentioned, as a concession to time constraints. The respondents were asked to describe the relationship between themselves and each of their confidants as, say, especially close or total strangers. Items describing the respondent’s relationship with each confidant (in terms of closeness, frequency of contact, duration of acquaintance and the role relations) were included, as were questions asking for the sex, race or ethnicity, education, age and religious preferences of each confidant.

Among the findings was the distribution of network size: Comparatively large percentages of respondents reported that they had recently discussed important mattes with no one or with only one person. Nearly a quarter of the respondents had networks of zero or one, and thus had relatively little counseling support. Few respondents indicated that they had more than six discussion contacts; the mean and mode were three.

The networks drew heavily on kinship as a source of relationships. Respondents cited a mean of 1.5 relatives, slightly more than the 1.4 nonrelatives cited. There is substantial variability in the extent to which these interpersonal networks consisted of relatives rather than nonrelatives: 30% consisted only of people having some family relation to the respondent, while nearly 20% contained no family members. The average network had a proportion of relatives of 0.55. Marsden found this comparable with the level of kin composition found in previous surveys of large populations, including network items based on intense name generators.

The racial and ethnic homogeneity of the networks was pronounced; only 96 respondents (8% of those with networks of size 2 or greater) cited confidants with any racial or ethnic diversity; only 22% percent of the respondents had networks with alters of only one sex.

If anything, these estimates understate the extent of homogeneity in interpersonal environments because of the high kin composition of the networks, which had many ties bridging generations and many cross-sex links to spouses, siblings, parents and children. A higher proportion of kin is associated with greater age, educational and sexual heterogeneity. If these networks had been composed only of nonrelatives, they would have been substantially less heterogeneous in these respects than the detailed findings indicated. Kin composition does, however, tend to decrease racial and ethnic heterogeneity.

Overall, these descriptive figures suggest that interpersonal environments in which Americans discuss important matters are core networks, as the choice of a relatively intense name generator implies. They are small, centered on relatives, comparatively dense and homogeneous.

Optional Resources:

Social Network Analysis: A Handbook

Studying Social Interaction

Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades

Race and Americans’ Social Networks












Social Infrastructure

Social infrastructure is the glue that binds communities together, and it is just as real as the infrastructure for water, power or communications, although it’s often harder to see. Sociologist Eric Klinenberg says that when we invest in social infrastructures such as libraries, parks or schools, we reap all kinds of benefits. We become more likely to interact with people around us, and connected to the broader public. If we neglect social infrastructure, we tend to grow more isolated, which can have serious consequences.

The first time Klinenberg thought about social infrastructure was when he was a graduate student doing a research project about a terrible heat wave that took place in Chicago in 1995. It was a disaster that killed more than 700 people, and as a social scientist, Klinenberg was interested in understanding the patterns that emerged from it. The first pattern he observed was the most predictable, which was that poor or segregated neighborhoods on the South Sides and the West Sides of Chicago had the highest death rates by far. But when Klinenberg looked more closely at the patterns, something really puzzling emerged. There were a number of working class neighborhoods that demographically appeared as though they should have fared very badly in the disaster, but actually proved to be strikingly resilient, and even safer than some affluent neighborhoods on the North Side.Social Infrastructure

Even more interesting, there was a pair of neighborhoods where the demographics were identical and separated by just a street. They were neighboring neighborhoods, but one had an astronomically high death rate and the other was one of the safest places in Chicago. Klinenberg started spending time in the neighborhoods, and what he observed was that the places that had low death rates turned out to have a robust social infrastructure. On a daily basis, people got to know each other pretty well and used the social infrastructure to socialize. When the heat wave happened in Chicago, neighborhood residents knew who was likely to be sick and who should have been outside but wasn’t. This meant they knew whose door to knock on if they needed help. Meanwhile, in the neighborhoods that had really high death rates the social infrastructure was depleted. People were likely to stay home, a deadly thing to do during a heat wave.

Drawing on Klinenberg’s arguments, Alan Latham and Jack Layton developed the concept of social infrastructure as a way to research and to value the kinds of spaces and facilities that contribute to the public life of cities. Social infrastructure helps in recognizing the public dimensions of often overlooked and undervalued spaces. It draws attention to the breadth, depth and textures of sociality that can be afforded by different urban environments. In many cases, what counts as social infrastructure has primary functions other than to promote sociality. However, facilitating sociality is an essential component of how they manage to provide their primary function. Moreover, social infrastructures may exist to amplify connections within groups, and they can orientate people toward interacting across differences. For example, inclusively sociable spaces like restaurants, diners, hair salons, cafes and stores can build trust and community.

Central to this is that these sociable spaces serve distinct functions. Libraries are places to borrow books. Public pools are for swimming outdoors. Gyms provide space to exercise. Markets sell produce. Schools educate children. These are all important functions that people make use of while living in cities. Furthermore, they are spaces where people socialize and make connections with others. They are also - in different and varying ways - public spaces. They are spaces that are publicly accessible and spaces where people encounter strangers. Alongside publicly-provided facilities, there are social infrastructures that operate commercially but nonetheless have a public character. Spaces as diverse as farmers markets, bath houses and self-service laundries are sites of interaction with familiar and unknown others.

Infrastructure is an integral part of the urban fabric. It is the background networks and systems that support urban life. It is technological, material, social and political. Although often overlooked, infrastructures are a crucial part of how cities function. Further, infrastructures are entangled with how socio-economic disparities are maintained and perpetuated. Social infrastructure can be an important resource for the economically or socially marginalized. Commercial spaces designed for particular social groups (such as the LGBTQ+ community) have been important locations for community life, welfare and wellbeing. A good city is one where it is possible to make connections with other people, even be part of a community. Social infrastructure is an important way that social connection and public life happens in cities. Attending to the diverse spaces, facilities, institutions and groups that create opportunities for social connection can highlight overlooked and undervalued aspects of collective urban life. The social connections that are built and maintained through accessing social infrastructure have real material benefits and consequences. They generate a social surplus, encouraging trust, civility, encounter and common purpose.

Optional Resources:

Palaces for the People

Social infrastructure

Broken Windows theory 

Being Near Greened Vacant Lots Lowers Heart Rates












Profile: Little People of America

We have all heard of the legendary 33-inch-tall circus performer, Tom Thumb. Unlike this famous performer, most midgetsLITTLE PEOPLE OF AMERICA POSTER and dwarfs receive no fanfare; instead, they have significant social problems. As a result, the Little People of America (LPA) was established in 1957 to meet the special needs of our nation's little people.

Little people include two distinct groups: midgets and dwarfs. Midgets are perfectly proportioned miniatures who generally bear normal-sized children. Dwarfs, by contrast, have short arms and legs, normal-sized trunks and large heads. They are likely to pass their physical characteristics on to their children.

Little people in the US must make a number of psychological and social adjustments that people of average height never face. They are frequently seen as unemployable outside of the world of entertainment. Dating presents a special problem for little people who are isolated from others of similar stature. Our culture perpetuates many prejudices about people who look different from the norm and little people can face unjustified fear, ridicule, hostility and prejudice solely on the basis of their appearance.

The LPA has instituted a number of programs to solve these problems. For example, the organization maintains contacts with adoption agencies and alerts members when dwarfed children are available for adoption from normal-sized parents. The LPA provides information on how to modify automobiles and homes to make them more comfortable and practical for midgets and dwarfs. In addition, its meetings and annual conventions provide a pleasant way for the organization's 4,000 members to meet other little people and share experiences.

The LPA does not attempt to engulf its members; rather, it encourages people to live meaningful lives within the dominant culture. At the same time, members of the organization know that they have at least one place to turn to for assistance, understanding and support. At a meeting of Little People of America, a midget or dwarf can expect that his or her size — and problems — will genuinely be seen as normal.

Weinberg (1968) asked a number of members what they had gained through association with the LPA. One replied, "I have learned not to be afraid of other people because they are bigger than you." Another answered, "Friends, happiness and a million dollars worth of living."

Optional Resources:

Little People of America

Carl Cuneo's Chart on Theories of Inequality

Spectators Cheered as Entire Cambodian Midget Fighting League Squared Off Against African Lion

Lion in Wait












China and People with Disabilities

Having a disability is a master status found throughout the world. Sometimes its power surfaces in unusual ways. InA mentally disabled man in a crude dormitory for an illegal lime factory in Western Xinjiang, China. 1994, Fang Zheng was hailed as China’s discus champion among athletes with a disability. In his case, the disability that he had overcome was the loss of both legs. But the Chinese government barred him from international competition when Communist party officials learned that his disability occurred during the Tiananmen Square uprising of June 4, 1989, when students and workers were demonstrating for democratic reforms. His legs were crushed and later amputated when a Chinese Army tank ran him down and dragged him 30 feet as the tank plunged into the crowd to suppress dissenters.

Prior to the publicity associated with this event, sociologist C. Edward Vaughan evaluated public policy and the existing laws regarding people with disabilities in the People’s Republic of China. In 1988, China published its first five-year plan for the rehabilitation and education of people with disabilities. The Handicapped People’s Association, an organization sponsored by the Chinese government, participated in the preparatory work and discussions that led to the final document. The plan focuses on improving educational opportunities for people with disabilities and on strengthening special education programs. While the plan encourages all levels of government to enhance the employment, health, education and general welfare of people with disabilities, these policies are outlined in broad terms and lack specific goals.

In 1990, China’s national government issued the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Disabled Persons. This law was shaped, in part, through the advocacy efforts of the Disabled People’s Association. The law suggests that employers offer work opportunities to people with disabilities who pass entrance examinations. All levels of society are encouraged to offer access to people with disabilities, including access to cultural materials and transportation. To bring greater recognition to the contribution of people with disabilities, the third Sunday of every May was established as National Disabled Persons’ Day.

The new legislation prohibits public officials from violating the interests or rights of people with disabilities. It outlaws violent and insulting behavior aimed at the disabled, as well as mistreatment of people with disabilities by family members or caregivers. Unfortunately, as Vaughan observes, it will be difficult for many people with disabilities to obtain justice. Few attorneys available to represent disabled people in cases arising from the 1990 law. Most people with disabilities have limited economic resources and few connections to powerful public officials.

Optional Resources:

Law on Protection of the Disabled

China Disabled Persons' Federation

China: End Discrimination, Exclusion of Children With Disabilities

Inclusion of People with Disabilities in China

China Shines a Light on the Disabled

Communiqué on Major Statistics of the Second China National Sample Survey on Disability

Carl Cuneo's Chart on Theories of Inequality












The Skinhead Counterculture

Beginning in about 1968, a new counterculture surfaced in Great Britain. The Skinheads were young people with shaved heads who often sported suspenders, tattoos and steel-toed shoes. In part, Skinhead groups emerged as vocal and sometimes violent supporters of certain British soccer teams. These young people generally came from working-class backgrounds and had little expectation of making it in mainstream society. They listened to music that extolled violence and even racism, performed by such groups as Britain’s Skrewdriver, France’s Brutal Combat and the US's Tulsa Boot Boys.SKINHEADS

Most seriously, some Skinhead groups championed racist and anti-Semitic ideologies and engaged in vandalism, violence and even murder. Immigrants from India, Pakistan and the West Indies became a common target of Skinhead attacks. (There were, however, other Skinhead groups that were explicitly antiracist).

Throughout the 1970s, the Skinhead counterculture gradually spread from Britain to Europe, North America and Australia. It is difficult to measure precisely the size of this counterculture, since Skinheads do not belong to a national or international organization. Nevertheless, according to one estimate, there were 3,500 Skinheads in the US in 1993, and their numbers appeared to be growing. Skinhead groups in this country were responsible for at least 28 killings over the period 1987 to 1993.

While some Skinheads around the world adopt only the distinctive dress and music associated with this counterculture, most seem to espouse white supremacy and racial hatred. In almost all the countries where Skinhead groups exist, they have committed acts of reckless violence against racial and ethnic minorities, including Jews. In the 1990s, lesbians, gay men, the homeless and people with disabilities have also become targets of Skinhead attacks. It appears that Skinheads attack those viewed as weaker to bolster their own feelings of superiority.

Skinheads constitute a youthful counterculture that challenges the values of larger societies. While they claim an allegiance to history and to their (white) cultural heritage, their dress and music represent a symbolic rejection of the traditions of previous generations. Although Skinhead groups tolerate certain older adults, generally members of White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations, this counterculture nevertheless is dominated by young males who project a tough, macho image.

Optional Resources:

American Studies Web: Race and Ethnicity


I Used To Be a Neo-Nazi. Charlottesville Terrifies Me.

Inside the Mind of a Skinhead

Skinhead: What This Word Really Means

A Former Neo-Nazi Explains Why Hate Drew Him In - And How He Got Out

Skinhead Youth Subculture

Neo-Nazi or nice? Why movies keep getting skinheads wrong

The Racist Skinhead Project

Southern Poverty Law Center

Articles about Skinheads


Proud Boys

Proud Boys: A small, incendiary group chummy with Florida and its political figures

Proud Boys: Who are the far-right group that backs Donald Trump?












Pathology of Imprisonment

World Incarceration Rates If Every US State Were A CountryAn experiment at Stanford University provided a significant critique of the impact of a total institution. Philip Zimbardo and a team of social psychologists carefully screened more than 70 volunteers for participation in a simulated prison. It is important to stress that the two dozen males selected were mature, intelligent, emotionally stable college students from middle-class homes.

A student in the Stanford Prison ExperimentSubjects were paid $15 a day to live in a mock prison created in a classroom building. By a flip of a coin, half were arbitrarily designated as prisoners and the others as guards. The guards were allowed to make up their own rules for maintaining law, order and respect. The students designated as prisoners were unexpectedly picked up at their homes by a city police officer in a squad car, searched, handcuffed, fingerprinted, booked at the station house and taken blindfolded to the mock jail.

The results of this experiment startled prisoners, guards and researchers alike. After only six days (rather than the intended two weeks) Zimbardo and his colleagues, aware of the ethical implications of using human subjects, had to terminate the simulation because such frightening behavior had taken place. The student guards had begun to take pleasure in cruel treatment of prisoners. Physical punishment was prohibited, but the guards created their own forms of abuse, including solitary confinement, hourly roll calls throughout the night and removal of blankets from uncooperative inmates. About a third were tyrannical and arbitrary in their use of power; and the remaining guards did not interfere with this tough approach. At the same time, the prisoners meekly accepted not only their confinement but also their mistreatment. When their requests for parole were denied, these subjects merely returned quietly to their cells, where they cried hysterically.

This experiment serves as a sobering commentary on the possibility of improving prison life. Although Zimbardo argues for better training programs for prison guards, it appears that the guards themselves are prisoners of their social position as defined within the prison community and by society at large. Zimbardo’s participants were not subjected to the racism, sexual aggression and lethal violence that can be found in contemporary prisons. Therefore, it is all the more discouraging to read that four inmates were discharged prematurely because of “severe emotional responses.” Zimbardo’s research suggests that some of the problems found in prisons are inevitable and casts a disturbing shadow on hopes for reform of correctional institutions.prisoners

Optional Resources:



Click on the icon to connect

to the Stanford Prison Experiment.




Click on the icon to connect

to the Stanford Prison Experiment.




Click on the icon to connect

to the Stanford Prison Experiment.


Federal Bureau of Prisons by the Numbers

US Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still Powerful after All These Years

Stanford Prison Experiment Continues to Shock

Stanford Prison Experiment: Roles Define Your Behavior

Zimbardo: Stanford Prison Experiment












Deviance or Sport

A type of athletic contest is the subject of a clash in interpretations as to whether it constitutes sport or violence. In question are two rival organizations, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Extreme Fighting, which mount competitions between two combatants. These competitions take place in an octagonal ring surrounded by a chain-link fence, and the only rules are no eye-gouging or biting. Chokeholds, headbutts and rabbit punches to the brain stem are legal. So are knees to the throat and elbows to the kidney. The fight is over when a doctor intervenes or when a fighter taps out, slamming a hand repeatedly on the mat.

Although live audiences to such events, called extreme fighting, are limited, up to 350,000 households watched the competition between Dan “The Beast” Severn and “The Russian Bear” Oleg Taktarov at home on pay-per-view TV.

Several states and cities have passed legislation banning such events and, as word spreads, more are considering that option. The stated purpose of such events is to determine which form of the martial arts, judo, kickboxing, tae kwon do, jujitsu, kung fu or another discipline — is superior. Supporters defend this type of competition and note that it pays off business-wise. They argue that football is more violent and that the critics are elitist, merely reflecting their negative opinion of the millions of people in the US who compete in the martial arts.

The issues are not really new. What is defined as deviant in the realm of sport and entertainment? In different cultures boxing, bullfighting and cockfighting are variously cheered on or seen as criminal and barbaric.

Optional Resources:

Ultimate Fighting Championship



Click on the icon to connect

to a UFC clip.


Extreme Fighting



Click on the icon to connect

to an Extreme Fighting clip.













Being a Hit Man

Homicide violates a serious norm that is sanctioned with prison sentences and under some circumstances even with the death of the assailant. People who kill in a hot-blooded burst of passion can draw some comfort from the law, which provides lighter punishments for killings performed without premeditation or intent. But what about someone who kills repeatedly and intentionally, aware that these acts of homicide are unlawful?

Ken Levi interviewed over a four-month period a self-styled hit man (referred to as Pete from Detroit) who was serving a prison sentence. Being a hit man might seem to be a life without responsibility to society’s norms, but Pete emphasizes that he is strictly governed by a contract and failure to fulfill it carries severe penalties.

Pete and other hit men insist on big money because they know that less professional hired killers (such as drug addicts) who offer to work for low fees often receive a bullet for their pains. It is believed that people who would kill for so little would also require little persuasion to make them talk to the police. Therefore, his and other hit men’s reputation for charging high fees is functional; it helps them to carry out their tasks successfully and, not incidentally, to remain alive.

An important way for freelance hit men to view their work as appropriate is to reframe a hit. Erving Goffman describes frames (or breaks) as portions of a given situation. Often, norm violators will dissociate themselves from a frame; a prostitute, for instance, may remain absolutely detached, her mind miles away, when having sex with a client. Even surgeons partially dissociate themselves from their patients by having the patient completely covered except for the part to be operated on; this helps them to work in a more impersonal way. Pete, the hit man interviewed by Levi, goes through a process of reframing his hits; he reveals that afterward he can rarely recall a victim’s personal features. Also, he refers to his victims as targets, not people. Even at the time of contract, he specifically requests not to be told why the contract has been let because even though the motive might justify the hit, it would make the target more of a person.

Homicide is one of society’s mores. Pete knows that, but he accommodates this potentially discrediting feature of his life by emphasizing the new norms he must obey. Therefore he considers himself law-abiding, even if the laws are not those of the larger society. Similarly, he approaches the hit as just a job and thus goes as far as he can in denying his norm violation.

Optional Resources:

Inside the Mind of a Hit Man

The Goffman Page

The Erving Goffman Archives

If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You?

The Presentation of Self in Electronic Life: Goffman on the Internet (just for fun)












The Gentleman Bandit

Assume that an individual tries to pay his debts, loves his wife and children, believes in monogamy and fidelity, worships regularly, is a patriotic citizen and liked by everyone. Assume that individual has been a thief for over three years. Would you consider that person a deviant?

Lon Perry, of Houston Texas and known as the “gentleman bandit,” committed 105 robberies over a period of three years before he turned himself in to authorities. Perry seemed to have it all — he had a lovely wife, two children, a darling grandchild and a job related to the oil business with a salary of over $50,000 a year.

When an oil bust occurred in Texas, Perry lost his job at the age of 50. He couldn’t find employment. His savings began to dry up and he became depressed. At times he even thought of suicide. Finally, Perry found a solution to his dilemma — robbery, but only of specific victims who appeared to be able to afford the loss: businessmen who had expense accounts.

For three years, this soft-spoken man told his family that he had a night computer software job that took him to different localities throughout Texas and neighboring states. He emphasized that they could never reach him by telephone and called in regularly to assure them of his safety. Most of the time, he was at home with his wife and grandchild during the day, but at night he was out “working.”

Perry would stake out at first-class hotels, suitable candidates to rob. He would follow a person into a hotel, pretend to be a guest, travel with the person to his room and then promptly leave after a brief conversation. He would later return to the person’s room, gain entrance as a new friend and then proceed to rob the person.

As the “gentleman bandit,” Perry softly explained what he was going to do and tried to reassure his victims that he was not going to harm them in any way. He even smoothed some of his victims’ hair as he tied them up face down on the bed. Most victims appeared to like him despite the robbery. One victim simply asked him to change the television channel before he left the room with the victim’s money. Another victim had only $50 in his wallet and suggested that Perry go with him to the front desk to get more money. Perry did. In a 1990 television interview, one of Perry’s victims described him as the “most courteous, polite person I have ever met.”

Perry always took his victims’ business cards, recorded the amount of money he stole and solemnly vowed to himself that he would someday return the money. He never had the chance.

In 1991, a man by the name of Mike Harvey was identified and accused of being the “gentleman bandit” and was taken to jail. Harvey looked so much like Perry that, when all the publicity appeared about Harvey’s arrest, Perry decided he had to turn himself in to authorities. He did and eventually received a sentence of 35 years in prison. It’s most unusual for people to feel sympathy for a person who commits a crime but even his victims felt sympathy for Perry.

So … Do you consider Perry a deviant?

Optional Resources:

'Gentleman Bandit' Turns Self in After 100 Robberies

Gentleman Bandit

Polite Robber, Kind Till End, Goes to Police












George Murdock’s 70 Cultural Universals


 athletic sports

bodily adornment


cleanliness training

community organization


co-operative labor




decorative art


division of labor

dream interpretation


eschatology (end of the world ideas)




faith healing

family feasting



food taboos

funeral rites






hair styles




incest taboos

inheritance rules


kin groups

kinship nomenclature



luck / superstitions






penal sanctions

personal names

population policy

postnatal care


property rights

propitiation of supernatural beings (atoning sacrifice)

puberty customs

religious ritual

residence rules

sexual restrictions

soul concepts

status differentiation





weather control


Optional Resources:

American Cultural Traits, Values and Assumptions (PDF)

The Culture Wheel: A Graphic Organizer for Cultural Studies (PDF)

Universals of Culture

Layers of Culture

Cultural Universals

Do Cultural Universals Exist?




Copyright © 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   07/10/2024 1230

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