Comparative Deviance: Perception and Law in Six Cultures

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Comparative Deviance represents a systematic attempt to survey public perceptions of deviant behavior cross-culturally: in India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Yugoslavia and the United States. There is extensive diversity in both law and perception concerning such deviances as taking drugs, homosexuality, and abortion, yet there is evidence for a basically invariant structure in perception of deviance across all cultures. Within the countries studied in this volume, Geraeme Newman discovers that the strength of religious belief and urban rural background accounted for major differences in the perception of deviance - when differences were identified.Contrary to popular academic opinion in the United States, Newman finds that those countries with the most liberal laws on deviance (i.e., the least punitive sanctions) are also those highly economically developed and least totalitarian (United States and Italy). But when public opinion is considered, the public favors harsher punishments than the law provides. In contrast, in the developing countries of India, Iran and Indonesia, where penal sanctions are more severe, public opinion is much more liberal. The crucial question is the role criminal law plays in the process of modernization: whether law is a stable cultural influence, round which public opinion wavers in a startling fashion, depending on the stage of modernization.These findings challenge many assumptions of conflict theory in sociology, of cultural relativism in anthropology, and of ethical relativism in moral philosophy. All findings are examined in relation to research on modernization, social development, and the evolution of law. These fundamental issues are thus important to many different disciplines across the board.