Allies in Exile: Deviant Groups and Social Stigma

Cornell University
Department of Sociology
Instructor: James Kitts

This seminar is part of the John S. Knight Writing Program. Students will practice college composition, study some basic theories of deviance and social stigma, and learn to use university library resources, as they examine case studies of deviance and deviants.

Course Description

We all know that some people are different, because they don't act like us. Society labels those who step outside the bounds of "normal" behavior as deviant, sick, or immoral. Of course, the boundary between the regular and the bizarre changes over time, as yesterday's freaks and outlaws become today's heroes. How can we identify "true" deviance in a world of social innovations and cultural differences? In this seminar, we will address some central questions of deviance and stigma as we look at fringe groups in America. We will focus on churches that people have called cults, romantic relationships that people have called evil, and careers that people have called criminal. In tackling some present-day controversies, we will practice writing cogent expository essays.

Many of the groups discussed in this seminar are subjects of public or legal controversy. This web page will provide links to some of these groups, as well as organizations that oppose them. I encourage students to read critically and use this variety of course materials to develop and support their own views. These resources do not necessarily represent my opinions, those of the Cornell University administration, or the Department of Sociology.

The seminar plan is subject to change during the semester.

Required Texts

Pfohl, Stephen J. 1997. Images of Deviance and Social Control. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sociology Writing Group. 1997. A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers.
Strunk, W. and E. B. White. (1996) The Elements of Style.
Coursepack (at the Cornell Campus Store)

Part I - Introduction

What is Deviance?

Before we study sociological theories of deviance, we will read a few simple articles describing people or situations that sociologists might call deviant. With these in mind, we will invent and defend our own definitions of deviant behavior. This will be the focus of our first (short) paper.

Week #2 - Deviance: Essential or Arbitrary?

Many arguments in the study of deviance run into a fundamental question: Is deviance an objective fact or a subjective and arbitrary concept? We will examine various definitions of deviance, while applying this central question to the discovery (or invention) of homosexuality in Western culture.

Week #3 - Writing Workshop

Part II - Explanations of Deviance

Week #4 - Deviance as Sin or Selfishness?

Week #5 - Deviance as Sickness

Week #6 - Writing Workshop