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Language and Assumptions

sara.gladwin's picture

Language has been something we’ve been considering in all three classes, and so language has been in the back of my mind while doing most of the readings. I especially noticed language when I was considering the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy reading. I couldn’t stop thinking about the importance of the rhetoric we use to help shape ideas and formulate the way we see people. The language of the cognitive behavioral therapy paper really seemed like an important factor in how patients are treated; the underlying assumption is that all those who engage in deviant and antisocial behavior are mentally unsound and must be rehabilitated with particular methods to lead them toward a path of stability. I felt like the words chosen were so revealing: “dysfunctional” “anti-social” “irrational” “thinking error.” The last one especially struck me as interesting; it felt as though what was being discussed was not a human being but a computer or piece of machinery. I felt like there was an overwhelming sense of negativity that surrounded the words and implied something general and “true” about the offender’s internal dialogue and behavior. There was a sense that simply rehabilitating someone’s behavior would solve all of their problems in the “outside world” and I have trouble swallowing that. I think it does not speak to the depth of reasons behind criminal activity. There is also a clear hierarchy created in the juxtaposition of the sound mind and the unsound mind; the sound mind is able to “interpret” and re-assemble the unsound mind and therefore assumes authority over the unsound mind’s agency and identity.

My concern with the language is not about whether or not cognitive behavior therapy is the “right” approach or that it “works” but more so that the language they use sets up general assumptions that deviant behavior is a direct correlation to a mind that must be fixed or treated. The language puts a certain type of person at the mercy of another, more “competent” person’s diagnoses. It really made me think about whether or not there is a way to speak that does not put so much distance between those who are “mental unwell” and those who are “normal.”



Sharaai's picture

When speaking about deviance

When speaking about deviance and the way that it is spoken about, the sociologist Howard Becker jumps into my mind. ( I know this is not our reading but I feel like it is very relevant). Becker talks about deviance and how society views deviance. He talks a lot about who is being deviant and who is labeling the deviance and this comes to connect with Ellsworth’s idea of “mode of address”. How someone views an object or person and what position they are coming from can greatly influence how the rest of the world sees them. When speaking about behavior, calling someone mentally “ill” is saying that the label-er is mentally “normal”. That their outside ‘world is all sync with its self and this one person is completely “irrational”. This use of language is so important in how human beings are represented to each other and to the outsiders of their worlds.

When it comes to Colored Amazons, badger crimes is a case where the deviance is viewed in two lenses and the parties are judged differently for an act they both have participated in. The women were committing an act of violence and theft when the men approached them for illegal sexual acts. When the cases were brought to court (in the end), the men were judged a lot more harshly for it. Not simply because they were looking to pay for sexual favors but because it was with a black woman and that was completely against a white man’s supposed moral. Weirdly, the men began to decrease their own reports of the crimes once they became outsiders in their society for their actions.