Sociology Index


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 it into their self-concept. Edwin Lemert's 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. A person's self can be stigmatized or tainted by public labeling according to labeling theory. Secondary deviance is contrasted to primary deviance which may be behaviorally identical to secondary deviance but is incorporated into a normal sense of self. Lemert suggests that deviance doesn't just happen, zap, with a single instance of behavior. He argues that there is first of all an act, perhaps mischievous, that deviates from the normatively expected behavior. 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, according to George Herbert Mead. As the work of Erving Goffman famously showed, when a person is labelled with a particularly 'discrediting' social attribute, this can serve as a permanent mark or stigma upon their character.

One may, as primary deviance, get drunk several times because one sees oneself as enjoying a party. However, if one notices that friends are hiding their liquor during visits to their house, secondary deviance gets triggered, one may come to see oneself as a drunk and then continue to get drunk because one is a drunk. The first acts are primary deviance and the second act is secondary deviance. That first act probably brings a reaction from the social context, since it violates norms. The reaction often involves admonition not to deviate again, and perhaps punishment. Other acts, and reactions, continue to occur. Lemert wisely suggests that some instances of deviance in this pattern are probably simply clumsy and unintended. Punishment and admonition for those acts may very well provoke a sense of being treated unjustly. Lemert argued that primary deviance is often a temporary transgression in which perpetrators have no conception of themselves as deviant.

After a series of such interdependent interaction, 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. At that point, Lemert refers to secondary deviance. - Williams III and McShane's Criminology Theory.

Lemert 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 reaction 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 behavior (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 Shell, the Stranger and the Competent Other - Towards a Sociology of Shyness - Susie Scott, Cardiff University.
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. It is 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.

Stigmatization Among Probationers - Andreas Schneider ; Wayne McKim
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:38 Issue:1 Dated:2003 Pages:19 to 31
Abstract: Drawing on the concepts of primary deviance 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. The results indicate that probationers perceived stigmatization to originate mainly from employers, and also from law enforcement officials and the community in general. As a result, probationers did not engage in secondary deviance to the extent expected due to the contradictions in the different forms of stigmatization. The support of family and friends is thus extremely important in destabilizing the stigmatization of others.