Author: Ilana Redstone Akresh

The Dangers of Defining Deviancy Up

In 1993, then-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan published an essay entitled “Defining Deviancy Down,” in which he argued that understanding the shift towards more permissive attitudes regarding crime and violence is crucial to their reduction. Specifically, he asserted that the redefinition of norms around deviant behavior (or “defining deviancy down”) had collectively shaped society in unintended ways, resulting in a desensitization to what might have once been considered shocking. By way of illustration, Moynihan referenced the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago—the notorious gangland execution of seven men committed during the prohibition era. He reminded his readers that those killings had elicited universal public outrage, and then contrasted that reaction with a contemporary example: “On the morning after the close of the [1992] Democratic National Convention in New York City in July,” he wrote, a headline reported “3 Slain in Bronx Apartment, but a Baby is Saved…A mother’s last act was to hide her little girl under the bed.” These were also execution-style killings, but they were greeted with only a barely discernible nod of …

Kimmel and Conflict Theory: Sociology Turns Its Lens onto One of Its Own

Michael Kimmel is a Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at SUNY Stony Brook who has recently been embroiled in a controversy regarding sexual harassment complaints. He is well-known in disciplinary subfields as a researcher on masculinity who has written several books, including Guyland and Manhood: A Cultural History. Only very recently has he been accused of sexual harassment and professional misconduct — charges that are currently under investigation by the American Sociological Association. A desire to sort out the charges being levied, which are based on language as opposed to physical contact, prompted Kimmel to request a six-month delay of his receipt of the Jessie Bernard award from the American Sociological Association. The first coverage of the charges against Kimmel was published on August 1 in the Chronicle of Higher Education, through which anonymous complaints about his professional conduct were made public. Then came the August 10 Inside Higher Ed piece, which was based on named complainant Bethany Coston’s medium.com account of her interactions with Kimmel when she was a graduate student. Coston is now …