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. 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.

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."

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. At that point, Lemert refers to "secondary deviance." (at p. 200) - From pp. 199-203 of 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 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 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 (cf. George Herbert Mead 1934). As the work of Erving Goffman 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.

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. 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.

Stigmatization Among Probationers - Andreas Schneider ; Wayne McKim
Journal of Offender Rehabilitation Volume:38 Issue:1 Dated:2003 Pages:19 to 31
Abstract: An identity theory perspective defines stigma as negative labeling, which may either come from others or from within an individual. 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. The results indicate that probationers perceived stigmatization to originate mainly from employers, and also from law enforcement officials and the community in general. This primary stigmatization was counterbalanced by the probationers’ perceptions of themselves and from the support of friends and family members. 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. In closing, the authors suggest that although the lack of stigmatization may be indicative of the success of the probation program in West Texas, it may also be indicative of its failure. Criminal justice processes may be viewed as so commonplace as to have lost their ability to make an impression on offenders in this area. Future studies should include samples of juvenile offenders.