"Defining deviancy down” was the title of an essay by New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan in The American Spectator (vol. 62, no. 1, winter 1993, pp. 17-30). The subtitle was “How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior.”
New York City’s crime rate had increased under Mayor David Dinkins, partly leading to the election of Rudolph Giuliani. The phrase “defining deviancy down” took off in the popular culture of 1993, cautioning citizens not to decrease standards but to increase them.
Wikipedia: Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003) was an American politician and sociologist. He was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected with the Democratic Party three times (in 1982, 1988, and 1994). He declined to run for re-election in 2000. Prior to his years in the Senate, Moynihan was the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, and a member of four successive presidential administrations, beginning with the administration of John F. Kennedy, and continuing through Gerald Ford.
ERIC (Education Resources Information Center)
ERIC #: EJ478731
Title: Defining Deviancy Down: How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior.
Authors: Moynihan, Daniel Patrick
Descriptors: Behavior Standards; Crime; Crime Prevention; Criminals; Definitions; Deinstitutionalization (of Disabled); Elementary Secondary Education; Family Structure; One Parent Family; Role Models; Social Behavior; Social Control; Social Problems; Sociology; Violence
Source: American Educator: The Professional Journal of the American Federation of Teachers, v17 n4 p10-18 Win 1993-94
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Pub Types: Opinion Papers; Journal Articles
Abstract: Asserts that the amount of deviant behavior in American society has increased beyond levels the community can afford to recognize and that society has been redefining deviancy to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized and accepting as normal behavior that considered abnormal by earlier standards. Redefinition is categorized as altruistic, opportunistic, and normalizing. (SLD)
The University Standard
Defining Deviancy Down
Written by Josh Dirkse
“Defining deviancy down” is a commonly known phrase coined by the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1993, Moynihan wrote a report entitled, “How We’ve Become Accustomed to Alarming Levels of Crime and Destructive Behavior,” in response to the sharp increase of violent deaths apart of the so-called “culture of crime” in the early 1990s.
The report’s subtitle stated above explains the result of the concept of “defining deviancy down.” Moynihan argues that American culture and politics, with an increase in deviant behavior, redefines deviance and lowers the “normal” level of deviancy warranted by the increase in such behavior. In layman’s terms, with an increase in violent behavior, some crimes become normal and only extraordinary crimes are of interest to us.
Moynihan’s idea was relevant in 1993, and I feel it is now re-emerging in relevancy in our present time. With the recent rash of violence that has plagued Milwaukee, our state and our country, we are again at risk of applying Moynihan’s argument to our present situation.
Defining Deviancy Down
June 16, 2004 1:35 PM
Defining Deviancy Down In 1993, one of our greatest statesmen, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D- N.Y.) published one of the most important pieces of social theory entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” Moynihan started from Emile Durkheim’s proposition that there is a limit to the amount of deviant behavior any community can “afford to recognize” (called the “Durkheim Constant"). As the amount of deviancy increases, the community has to adjust its standards so that conduct once thought deviant is no longer deemed so. Consequently, if we are not vigilant about enforcing them, our standards would be constantly devolving in order to normalize rampant deviancy. Shortly after Moynihan’s article, Charles Krauthammer offered his now-famous response to Moynihan’s article in which he argued that the corollary is that society can also “define deviancy up.”
Moynihan’s theory has been applied to movies, courage, dress codes, sexual indiscretions, corporate behavior, and possibly even to webpages. One might feel compelled to ask, “Do standards even mean anything?” Today, the debate still rages about where we ought to be defeatist about the devolution of standards, or whether we can right the boat by establishing base principles and fight to raise standards up.
posted by Seth (63 comments total)
28 December 1992, Washington (DC) Post, “Defining Deviancy Down” by William Raspberry, pg. A15:
There are other examples of “defining deviancy down,” as Moynihan puts it, including the “deinstitutionalization” of mental patients, lowered expectations for school performance and the growing acceptance of criminal violence. Reminder: The 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” which merits two entries in the World Book Encyclopedia, consisted of seven gangsters being killed by four rival gunmen. Comparable violence, which might occur any weekend in Washington or Los Angeles, has been redefined as very nearly normal.
1 October 1993, New York (NY) Times, “On My Mind” by A. M. Rosenthal, pg. A31:
This is the world’s most exciting and creative city; the others are vanilla. But it is suffering from a civil, moral, and political disease that can kill it dead. It is called “defining deviancy down.”
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan named it. His genius lies in the ability to spot something that troubles us but that we never quite spelled out—then guiding the fingers of our mind right to it.
“There is always a certain amount of crime in our society,” he wrote. “You need to know what is deviant in order to know what is not.”
3 January 1994, New York (NY) Times, Transcipt of inaugural speech of Mayor Giuliani, pg. A18:
If we have, in the words of Senator Moynihan, defined deviancy down, now we will instead raise standards and have greater expectations for the behavior of our people.
Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(5) (1994) 99-112
“Defining Deviancy Down”: How Senator Moynihan’s Misleading Phrase About Criminal Justice Is Rapidly Being Incorporated Into Popular Culture *
Andrew Karmen **
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The City University of New York
“Defining deviancy down,” the catchy alliteration coined by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) is the 1990s equivalent of “permissiveness” in political rhetoric about crime and criminal justice. The term implies that the problem is public tolerance of intolerable behavior and that the solution is resurrecting traditional standards by stepping up repression of underclass conduct. But this critique sidesteps the possibility that some activities formerly considered deviant which are now widely accepted were unjustly stigmatized in the past. Also totally ignored is the opposite tendency of “defining deviancy up,” in the sense that deviant behavior that went unpunished in the past is now subject to penalties. Police brutality, hate crimes, date rapes, wife-beating, child abuse, indiscriminate corporal punishment, and other depredations by persons of greater power and privilege against people of lesser status are no longer considered acceptable. A recognition that the balance of power has shifted in a more egalitarian direction corrects Moynihan’s one-sided and negative depiction that standards of conduct in American society have drifted downward in the last generation.
* This article is a revision of a paper delivered at the meeting of the Northeast Association Of Criminal Justice Sciences in Newport, Rhode Island, June 1994.
** Dr. Andrew Karmen is an associate professor in the sociology department of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University in 1977. He is the author of Crime Victims: An Introduction To Victimology, 2nd Edition (Wadsworth, 1990) and has written articles about victims, auto theft, vigilantism, drug abuse, police use of deadly force, and the 1950 Rosenberg atom spy case. [End page 99]
New York City • Names/Phrases • (0) Comments • Wednesday, February 13, 2008 • Permalink