Our Concept of Conformity

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The history of asylums relates to our concept of conformity and deviance through understanding how aspects of the social environment influence the behavior of individuals. Sociological theorists of deviance focus on particular factors that cause deviant behavior, and how removing or changing factors in the environment will change the levels of deviance. The history of asylums and other institutions of social control created structural changes in the U.S. and European societies. The history of the totalistic features of asylums and institutions value the distinction of separations between the classes of individuals. Those who live behind the bars and those who supervise them.

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The inmates usually view their staff as strict, unfair and condescending whereas the staff view the inmates as untrustworthy, dangerous and inferior. Goffman comments, “It is important to add that the institutional plan and name comes to be identified by both staff and inmates as somehow belonging to staff, so that when’ either grouping refers to the views or interests of ‘ ‘the institution,’ by implication they are referring to the views and concerns of the staff” (Goffman).

Our society produces people that conform to the rules. We need people to follow the rules so society is not chaotic. Social control is maintained through formal or informal sanctions. Similarly to the history of asylums the Stanford Prison experiment can be compared to the strict separation of inmates and authority figures. The guards in the experiment had to promote and enforce their authority over the inmates in order to maintain control and order within the prison. Informal sanctions were imposed by the guards providing foundation for formal social control. Another way the history of asylums relates to our topic of conformity and deviance is through the inmate culture.

Asylums served as a type of institutional social control of difference. They used to only house the mentally ill individuals but now housed the social deviants of society. Race, gender and social class placed an important role in what was considered to be deviant or normal. Asylums were segregated by race and sometimes gender. Women were often institutionalized for failing to adhere to the gender norms. For example, if a women was overly sexual or a prostitute she would be institutionalized. The history of asylums propose ideas about deviance change over time, along with ideas about how to enforce conformity.

When examining the history of deviance we observe events that affected society and how an individuals social identity benefits them. The reading Another Voice: She Did it All for Love by Marcia Millman explores the history and culture of rule breaking and deviance. Millman states, “When we arrive at the study of interpersonal government we enter a world of analysis that is especially important for understanding the experiences, for when individuals do not have official titles, formal positions, or other safeguards to cover and protect them (like money), the unofficial and informal interpersonal gestures and maneuvers take on a weightier meaning” (Millman pg.272). This gives us a better understanding of the power of interpersonal relationships. Both Goffman and Millman provide evidence to explore the relationships between outsiders and insiders, deviants and conventionalists as they face daily life challenges.

The OER reading analyzes the influence social class and status can have on an individuals experience in a given place. Critics argue Goffman never mentioned the special treatments patient Ezra Pound received while institutionalized for mental insanity. Pound, a highly respected American poet, proves that celebrities and social elites are entitled to more freedom and control. Pound was declared ill-equipped to stand trial due to reasons of insanity. Even though he did not seem the slightest bit insane to psychiatrists, Pound’s social status created his release to freedom. Irvine quotes, “The enduring cultural resonance of Asylums, and asylums themselves, reveals historical shifts in approaches to social outsiders and strangers, and bespeaks abiding concern about the intersections of individual troubles and social problems” (Irvine 2018). The history of asylums give sociologists a better understanding about how and why deviance changes over time. Differences in how and whether or not to enforce conformity changes while we advance in time.

Thomas Gieryn’s article A Space For Place in Sociology applies the relationship between place and behavior, belief, and change. He suggests that place, “stabilizes and gives durability to social structural categories, differences and hierarchies; arranges patterns of fate-to-face interaction that constitute network-formation and collective action; embodies and secures otherwise intangible cultural norms, identities, memories and values” (Gieryn 2000:473). Place sustains difference in hierarchy by routinizing our daily schedules that exclude and divide groups of people. This could involve employe and employer relationships or racial and class segregations. Places reinforce hierarchy by extending or constraining opportunities to groups of people in poor economic areas.

The next concept the OER reading of Asylums examines is the importance of place. Goffman emphasizes that place matters regarding the effectiveness of treatment and healing. Psychiatric institution architecture, “prioritized peaceful and natural surroundings for asylums” (Irvine 2018) that was argued to be beneficial to the patients’ emotional healing. Deviance scholars argue that deviance is organized by, and carried out within, specific places. “He defined “total institution” as the collapse of boundaries between sleep, work, and play, where “all aspects of life are conducted in the same place” (Irvine 2018). Asylums and institutions are isolated areas disconnected from society which serves as a means of social control. Some patients become so comfortable and connected in the institution it makes them unable to function in the outside world.

The article Disorders Without Borders by Nikolas Rose comments on the effects physiatrist have on medicalizing disorders. “Critics suggest that many diagnoses, especially those ‘on the borders’, are judgements of social deviance or problems of living that have no place in psychiatry…need not originate in dysfunctions and some that is clearly the result of conflict with others or with society” (Rose 2008:251). The expansion of psychiatric categories and diagnoses create social stigmas against those who are unable to function according to the norms and expectations of society. Pharmaceutical companies play a big role in the medicalization. They don’t only make drugs to treat diseases but they also construct new diseases to fit the products they are claiming to treat. Thus challenging diagnostic labelling as a form of social control.

The OER reading also explores the effects medicialization and the creation of the DSM IV had on patients and society as a whole. Advertisements of a new drug Thorazine was marketed as a solution to a wide variety of symptoms including rage, violence, agitation, stress and alcoholism. It especially targeted and reinforced gender and racial norms. The drug was marketed to rebellious women to sooth them back to the kitchen and to control “assaultive and belligerent” (Irvine 2018) African Americans.

Other social norms that were often recognized as disorders that needed medicalizing were homosexuality and feminists. “The anti-psychiatry movement challenged a politics of stigma and labelling that pathologized non-conformity and individual differences” (Irvine 2018). Behaviors that were seen as deviant were now being marketed as mental disorders. Medical companies sell the product of normality to vulnerable populations that want to fit in.

One interesting idea I learned about asylums was that there is a wide generalized range of total institutions form boarding schools to prisons. The main factor that assimilates these institutions is the influence it has over the individuals under complete authority. Another concept I found interesting was the effect medicalization had on the institutions. Similarly to the Americanization of Mental Illness reading, the introduction to a drug that can alter frowned upon behaviors changed the system of institutions. I found this interesting because in modern day we still have controversies over the medicalization of certain disorders. Even back in the 1900’s drugs were advertised in the same way we see them on tv today. Promoting the drugs as a solution to a wide range of behaviors from aggitation to alcoholism.

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Our Concept Of Conformity. (2021, Dec 30). Retrieved October 3, 2022 , from

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