Social Theories and Prostitution

In 1937 Kingsley Davis authored “The Sociology of Prostitution”.

In the article Davis concludes that prostitution serves an important and possibly latent function in society. Davis believes that men have a need for sexual experimentation and adventure. Davis’ theory is that prostitution fills a void for men. Married men cannot look to women whom may be interest in love or marriage since they are already committed (meaningful) so they look to women who will fulfill their sexual desires without attachment (meaningless). “The demand is the result of a simple biological appetite.When all other sources of gratification fail, due to defects of person or circumstance, prostitution can be relied upon to furnish relief” (Davis, 753). Prostitution in a latent sense saves marriages and allows men to fulfill their sexual desires.

“Prostitution embraces an economic relation, and is naturally connected with the entire system of economic forces” (Davis, 749). One societal function that prostitution fills is a release for those who desire the prostitute (latent) and a source of income for the prostitute (manifest). The foundation to the functionalist perspective is that everything occurs for a reason.It is necessary for a society to have rules and laws to abide by, society lives in a consensus. It is important to understand the need for there to be social memebers whom do not conform to society; in this case prostitutes. Since prostitution is against the law in the United States except for in Nevada then prostitution helps in the validation of law enforcement personnel. Since there are social actors not abiding the law there is a need for the police and sheriff’s departments to control the criminals.

For a society to function there are rules and rule breakers. There can’t be one without the other.Symbolic interaction is yet another sociological perspective that has been used to explain prostitution. “The term symbolic interaction refers, of course, to the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between human beings” (Farganis, 334). According to Herbert Blumer “human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another’s actions” (Fargainis, 334). Blumer focused on individual relationships. He felt that the reaction that occurs is not a conscience reaction.

The reaction is based on the meaning and concepts the action has.The theory of symbolic interactionism claims that an individual’s self-image develops through social interaction. The self-image is decided based on the social situations and how others acted in the situation. The labeling theory in the simplest form believes that “deviance does not exist independently of the negative reaction of people who condemn it” (Pfohl, 345). This means that an act or action would not be considered deviant unless a person or group believes it to be. What may be acceptable here in the United States may be considered deviant in another country and vice versa.For example in the United States prostitution is against the law in all states but Nevada however prostitution “is completely legal in 22 countries including Austria, Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, and Columbia ” (http://www.

onlineschools. org/blog/stats-on-prostitution/). A persons actions are not deviant until they are labeled as so. This theory focuses on why some behaviors are seen as deviant while others are considered acceptable. There is not a universally accepted method of determining what is deviant and what is not; it varies from place to place.An unforeseen consequence of labeling is that the labeled individual becomes a victim of the label. This theory focuses on three concerns; the social historical aspect of deviants, the applications of labels to some people while others are not, and the consequences of labels.

The roots of this perspective can be traced to the early 1900’s following an essay by George Herbert Mead. In his essay Mead claimed that labels divide a society between those who are accepted and those who are considered deviant. In 1951 Edwin Lemert wrote a book called Social Pathology where he added to the initial thoughts of Mead.Lemert felt that other sociological theories failed to explain the consequences and impacts of labeling. “The socially visible deviations within a group, community, or society stir its members to a wide variety of expressive reactions and attitudes, depending upon the nature of the deviations and the expectancies of the conforming majority. Admiration, awe, envy, sympathy, fear, repulsion, disgust, hate, and anger are felt and manifested by those confronted by departures from their sanctioned ways of behaving” (Lemert, 54).Lemert’s theory divided deviance into two categories; primary and secondary deviance.

Primary deviance is when a person has received the label however does not accept it; he or she can justify and or rationalize their actions. Secondary deviance happens when the person accepts their deviant label. He or she then thinks of themselves as a deviant. Approximately, ten years later; in the 1960’s the concept was expanded upon yet again by Howard Becker, John Kituse, Erving Goffman, and Kai Erikson.Howard Becker the author of the 1963 book Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance wrote “deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is one to whom the label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label” (Becker, 9). A social group determines what is considered a deviant behavior.

Under this concept a group of people decided that prostitution is a deviant act and therefore prostitutes are deviants. Without the deviant label there would not be the shame of prostitution.The labeling theory foundation is that an act is not deviant unless a person or group labels it as so. “Another point to this theory is that no acts of deviance can occur unless there is a witness to the actions. “Labeling refers to the process by which deviants are defined by the rest of society” (Pfohl, 351). Once a person is labeled they may accept the label and continue their lives down the deviant path. There are two forms of labeling; formal and informal.

An example of formal labeling is that made by law enforcement personnel. Formal labels are influenced by stereotypes, race, gender and also appearance.An example of Informal labeling can include scandals and banishments from social settings. After one is labeled they may try to prevent family and friends from finding out about their act of deviance. The term stigma warrants mentioning. Stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a person, a personal quality, or a personal circumstance” (Oxford Reference). Members of society apply a stigma to other social actors whom are perceived different based on appearance or situation as in the stigma attached to prostitutes.

“Some people are cast into roles which constrain their abilities to manage positive impression of themselves.Such persons are stigmatized, the bears of what Goffman describes as a spoiled identity“(Pfohl, 354). Stigma includes the negative attitudes, mistreatment and even prejudice for being a prostitute. “By definition of course we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances” (Goffman, 22). This may include being ostracized from family and friends and also from the community. Stigmatized people generally keep to the company of others who are stigmatized or who may support them.

This can be seen in the brothels of Nevada and the streets of New York. “We use specific stigma terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning” (Goffman, 22). The symbol that the stigma represents is understood as a negative concept. The prostitute doesn’t proudly say “I am a prostitute” as a lawyer would say “I am a lawyer”. Social actors hear the term prostitute and immediate detest her. One profound aspect of the labeling theory is the self- fulfilling prophecy. The standards he has incorporated from the wider society equip him to be intimately alive to what others see as his failing, inevitably causing him, if only for moments to agree that he does indeed fall short of what he really ought to be” (Goffman, 26).

When a social actor is labeling a deviant they begin to believe they are deviant and begin acting as such. If an individual is constantly criticized and put down they begin to see themselves in a negative light. They begin to feel their self-worth and capabilities reduce and begin living the lifestyle of a deviant member of society.If the prostitute is ridiculed he/she will begin to believe they are less of a human. Once the prostitute begins to believe she/he is a deviant then the secondary deviance is inevitable. Secondary deviance is “When a person begins to employ his deviant behavior or role based upon it as a means of defense, attack, or adjustment to the overt and covert problems create” (Prohl, 354). Regardless of the reason for the initial deviation once a person is labeled a deviant they are more likely to continue on the deviant path; any deviance that follows the initial act is considered secondary.

Prostitution is considered the primary deviance then the use of illegal drugs would be the secondary deviance. One similarity between functionalism and symbolic interactionism that stands out is that in functionalism a moral or immoral act is labeled as such and thus compels a social actor to go in search of a prostitute to fulfill the immoral acts. Functionalism focuses on the needs that are being filled through prostitution whereas symbolic interactionism focuses on why the term prostitute is seen as negative and also how this label of being deviant leads to secondary devianceA difference between functionalism and symbolic interactionism is that functionalism focuses on society on a macro level; the big picture of society. Symbolic interactionism focuses on social actors on the micro level; how individual social actors interact with one another socially. Prostitution can be viewed from all sociological perspectives however this paper limits the explanation to functionalism and symbolic interaction. Through the functionalist perspective prostitution serves a need in society.

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