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Ironies of Social Control: Authorities as Contributors to Deviance Through Escalation, Nonenforcement and Covert Facilitation

Gary T. Marx
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/800300 221-246 First published online: 1 February 1981

Abstract

Current theoretical approaches to the study of deviance and social control tend to neglect a crucial level of analysis: the specific situation within which rule breaking occurs. I analyze the nature and sources of three types of interdependence between rule enforcers and rule breakers: escalation, nonenforcement and covert facilitation. Each involves the possibility of deviance amplification and illustrates—from the labeling perspective but at a level not previously considered—the ironic insight that authorities often contribute to the deviance they set out to control. I also consider current trends and the implications of this perspective for future theory and research, arguing that social control must be seen as a cause of primary as well as secondary deviance.

“[Civil politics] requires an understanding of the complexity of virtue, that no virtue stands alone, that every virtuous act costs something in terms of other virtuous acts, that virtues are intertwined with evil.”

Edward Shils

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