Debating Deviance: Moral Dilemmas

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One of the interesting things about the sociology of crime and deviance at a-level is that it invariably throws-up a range of what we might term “moral dilemmas” – acts that, while they might strictly and legally be called crimes, may be motivated more by an altruistic aesthetic – such as the desire to “right a moral wrong” or provide a wider community benefit – rather than, for example, simple personal gain.

These moral dilemmas – such as the one provided by this article (This student put 50 million stolen research articles online. And they’re free) – offer a good opportunity for students to debate the concept of deviance on a number of levels, such as:

• how and why is it socially constructed?

• deviance and power considered in terms of how, why and in whose interests laws are created, policed and enforced

• deviance and harm (such as financial, personal and wider-social).

In this particular example the “moral dilemma” revolves around the axis of the commercial copyright of academic journals (the right to publish – and make money from – scientific research) and the idea that scholarly research – much of it paid-for through the public purse – should be freely-available for everyone to view, criticise and develop. The article raises some interesting questions and provides a selection of arguments – both for and against Intellectual Property Rights – that form the basis for debate about both crime and deviance.

These debates can be conducted through written work (such as an essay) or through classwork (such as a structured debate – and if you want an example of how to structure a classroom debate take a look at the ShortCutstv On Trial booklet).

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