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Kai Erikson: Deviance and system maintenance


Erikson examines a 17thcentury Puritan settlement in Massachusetts. He regards it as a self-contained social system and tries to show how the crime rate can serve a positive function in maintaining its integration over time. In his study, Erikson examines three different crime waves: the Antinomian controversy of 1636, the Quaker persecutions of the 1650s and the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. He saw each of them as attempts by the members of the community to redefine the boundaries of their society. Erikson claims that this society in deciding what was deviant was defining its own particular standards. By focusing on particular types of deviance, the Puritans were defining for all to see the boundaries of expected and valued ways of behaving. In doing so, the community’s normative unity, its way of life was being clarified. Through his analysis of these three different crime waves the scholar suggests that as the community changed as its boundaries of the acceptable and unacceptable changed, so the waves served to provide moments when the community members could look at themselves and reaffirm their shared values. The analysis believes that a society probably needs deviants because as long as some members are considered deviants by the rest of the society, attempts to control them set boundaries of acceptable, expected behavior for all other members. If the deviance is publicly recognized and punished then it serves to remind the members of a community or a society what their proper standards are .It serves to maintain the social consensus. Societies then will ensure they have enough of it; they will produce a steady level of deviance to ensure the maintenance of their boundaries.