Sociology: Posts

Blog post by Erich Goode, the author of Deviant Behavior

Erich Goode discusses his inspirations behind his book, Deviant Behavior and how it has grown over the years with each edition. 

I spent my graduate years at Columbia University. In spite of the fact that Robert K. Merton was the central figure in the department—years earlier, he had published the most-cited article in the field of deviance, in fact, for a time, in sociology generally, “Social Structure and Anomie”—the Department of Sociology there offered no courses in criminology, nor any on the sociology of drug use, nor on the subject of deviance. (Too practical and social-worky, I suppose.) I did my dissertation on social class and church participation (of all topics!), and accepted my first full-time job at New York University, eventually moving to Greenwich Village. But walking through Washington Square Park, I realized that its visitors consumed a fair amount of marijuana, igniting an “Ah-hah!” experience for me: Why don’t I conduct a study of marijuana use?

I put together an interview schedule, gathered a “snowball” sample of 200 users, examined the results, and wrote a book discussing my findings—The Marijuana Smokers, published by Basic Books. I was invited to discuss the subject at a number of conferences, at some point deciding that if I’m an expert on marijuana use, ergo, I must be an expert on drug use, and decided to write a text on that subject. In addition, I reasoned, that must also mean that I’m an expert on social deviance, and so, began teaching that course at Stony Brook. It was very popular, attracting hundreds of students—as I recall, 750 at its peak.

However, I had problems finding appropriate reading materials for the course. Students felt that assembled packets of photocopied material were disjointed and incoherent; in addition, problems with copyright brought an end to this practice. Even anthologies did not provide enough continuity and clarity to the material to warrant continuing to adopt them; the same proved to be the case when I assigned a series of short paperback books discussing aspects of deviance. At some point, I was forced to recognize that I had to write my own textbook.

It has to be both structural and interactionist, I told myself, had to include chapters on specific forms or widely-practiced instances of deviance—some drawn from the media (“ripped from the headlines”)—it had to be theoretically and conceptually consistent throughout, and written in a lively, accessible style, with lots of examples. And it should, I insisted, avoid a narrow, simplistic, theoretical or mechanistic formula. In its second edition, I also hit on supplying personal, first-hand accounts by enactors of deviance to illustrate the principles in each chapter. Over the years, I have conducted a number of original research projects centered on deviance, the findings of which I infused into the deviance text—including several drug use surveys, a participant observation of a fat civil rights organization, attitudes toward and belief in paranormalism, case studies of moral panics, the self-justification of deviance by memoir writers, surveys on sexual behavior and identity, and an experiment focused on placing personal ads and analyzing the responses.

In addition, I have continued to use my contacts with people who engage in unconventional behavior to solicit personal accounts— whether self-composed or in the form of an interview from them—which describe what activities they engage in, why they think they do it, and what consequences this behavior has. Most of the accounts in the most recent edition of Deviant Behavior (11/e) are new. Deviant Behavior has gone through a substantial number of changes over the years—it’s more eclectic than it used to be, and more pedagogical, it’s better-written (I hope), I work harder at obtaining the accounts, I’ve deleted certain chapters (prostitution and homosexuality, for example), and added a few as well (poverty and tribal stigma). In putting together this edition, I’ve tried to respond to some of the latest developments with respect to crime and deviance and discuss their relevance for the principles and generalizations in the field of deviance studies. For instance, stop and frisk police practices, the issue of “missing” black men, racial disparities in sentencing, green criminology, the exiting of gay sex from deviance, faculty-student sex, the most recent developments in drug use and incarceration on drug charges.

Writing and revising Deviant Behavior over the years, having it out there, in print, being adopted by dozens of instructors, receiving feedback from them, knowing that it is liked by some of them, feeling satisfaction that I’ve done a pretty good job at discussing the field, seeing changes in the material world as well as changes in ways sociologists and society looks at that world, finding new ways of talking about what I consider the most interesting field of sociology—it’s all been an extremely exciting adventure that I feel fortunate to have experienced. I’m very glad I had that “Ah-hah!” experience so many years ago.  


Erich Goode is Sociology Professor Emeritus at Stony Brook University; he has taught at half-dozen universities and is the author of eleven books. During his career, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lady Davis Teaching Fellowship, the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the SUNY-wide Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching.