Taboos, conventions and mores

The latest in my Learn Something Every Day series of lectures, taken from The Great Courses’ Explaining Social Deviance Lecture 1: Asking the Right Questions

Our societies have stated, written and/ore formalised rules called ‘laws’ but they also have bunches of unwritten, informal ways in which we agree to interact with each other.

Entire books are written on how to do business in other cultures because, as an outsider, it is disastrously easy to become deviant when you fail to comply with the many and varied subtleties of a different culture.

Hollywood likes to explore the impossibility of fully and successfully assimilating into different cultures in films like Tarzan, My Fair Lady, Aladdin and Slum Dog Millionaire but ultimately just reinforces how easy it is to fall outside of the social norms. And once outside it can be difficult to ever be accepted back in.

A person with a stutter becomes ‘deviant’ under the definition because they violate the informal rules of social discourse. We know in our hearts a stutterer can’t help it but conversation is supposed to flow, there’s supposed to be give and take, there’s supposed to be appropriate verbal and facial cues to help steer the conversation and when someone violates that it disrupts us and feels alien and the poor old stutterer gets tagged with the stigma of ‘deviance’ for no real fault of their own. They simply cannot participate easily in the social more we call ‘conversation’.

And no matter how we try, we can never fully un-condition our own upbringings and so on some level the person is branded. It takes an exceptional person on both sides of that situation to fully accept someone who cannot communicate according to social convention.