Essay on COVID-19, Deviance and Social Control

Published: 2021/11/08
Number of words: 2171

The world has experienced many pandemics, but the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost all aspects of life; it has affected businesses and increased unemployment. Governments have been pushed to implement laws that ensure social distances and lockdowns. Individuals are today forced to walk with their mouths and noses covered. The social aspects that once strengthen the fabric of society have been suspended, and some have been criminalized. For instance, in the United Kingdom, people are fined for walking in proximity to each other (Sheridan, Andersen, Hansen, and Johannesen, 2020, p.71). In Australia, you can be jailed for attending a wedding with more than ten people. Therefore, it would be correct to say that the coronavirus pandemic has influenced our beliefs on behaviours that violate social norms; it has changed people’s understanding of acceptable social behaviours.

According to Akers and Jennings (2019, p.117), deviance describes the actions and behaviours that violate acceptable social norms. However, it is essential to note that social norms differ throughout societies and between cultures (Akers and Jennings, 2019, p.118). Social behaviour that may be viewed as deviant in one society may be expected and, more importantly, be praised in another society. Also, a society’s understanding of social norms and the collective perception of deviance changes over time, as observed in the current pandemic. Before the coronavirus outbreak, people continued with their lives naturally. In other words, people viewed instances such as handshaking and hugs as usual. However, people were forced to change their norms with the rise of the pandemic. For example, all Australian states initiated various lockdown (Australia’s state by state coronavirus lockdown rules and restrictions explained, 2020). Melbourne initiated a statewide mandatory mask policy. Citizens in this state were required to wear masks when in public. New South Wales banned social gatherings, only allowing a maximum of 10 people to gather to important events such as burials and weddings (Australia’s state by state coronavirus lockdown rules and restrictions explained, 2020). The federal government demanded all visitors who were visiting Australia to receive the flu vaccination, and more importantly, visitors were subjected to mandatory quarantine.

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These measures are appropriate; they ensure that people stay safe. However, in the context of acceptable social norms, one may wonder if the banned social behaviours were suitable in the first place. For instance, society placed great significance on the handshake. People believe that it is rude for an individual not to shake hands (Sklansky, Nadkarni, and Ramirez-Avila, 2014, p.2477). A firm handshake resembles an established tone and extraordinary abilities; it is an aspect of a strong first impression on a stranger (Sklansky, Nadkarni, and Ramirez-Avila, 2014, p.2477). The coronavirus pandemic has made individuals question the actual significance of a handshake.

Before the pandemic, it was considered kind to says, “God bless you” when another person sneezed (Songu and Onerci, 2013, p.144). This was particularly prevalent in western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. It was also viewed as an essential western tradition, and its origin is based on numerous ancient beliefs and myths (Songu and Onerci, 2013, p.144). Sneezing was significant as it allowed people to expel sin and evil spirits. However, this is not the case currently; sneezing is considered a considerable coronavirus symptom, and in some countries, employees are fired from their work for sneezing. Social distancing is also a core aspect in the pandemic as, according to the World Health Organization, it deters people from spreading the virus (COVID-19 advice, 2020). Before the pandemic maintaining an extensive distance from another person was a worrying sign of an underlying psychological problem. According to Shove (2010, p.1275), social isolation is a prevalent sign of depression.

Moreover, the fact that deviant social behaviours are currently accepted as the new way of life discredits the deviance theory of structural functionalism. Scholars who agree with this theory believe that deviance behaviours help distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour (Shove, 2010, p.1275). They believe that deviant behaviours play an active, constructive role in the society by connecting different population in a society. In other words, this theory agrees in the existence of both acceptable and deviant behaviours. However, and by analyzing the current state, it would be correct to say that neither exists. There are no proper or bizarre behaviours, but there exist behaviours that help in social sustainability. In simpler terms, “bad behaviours” can be used to promote the sustainability of a society.

The structural-functionalism framework remains relevant in the COVID-19 case as it confirms that the norms present in society serve a purpose. More importantly, each behaviour is essential for the perpetual existence of society as a whole. Accordingly, under this framework, social control may be imposed to direct individuals towards the desired behaviours (Shove, 2010, p.1276). In other words, society may alternate the mechanisms that establish society. In most cases, the government may implement rules and policies to promote the recommended new behaviours. An excellent example is when Scott Morrison, the current Australian prime minister, announced that individuals not adhering to coronavirus restriction could face hefty fines.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that the Australian government’s success in promoting social behaviours such as social distancing, wearing masks, and so on could not be possible without some form of social control. According to Griffiths (2017, p.97), social control is critical in promoting an orderly social life. Societies have to regulate and pattern individual behaviours to advance normative social orders. In most cases, societies are forced to use either informal or formal means of social control. For instance, religion has played a critical role in pushing individuals into accepting the recommended “safe” behaviours. The Australian catholic church, in particular, has been at the forefront. In numerous instances, the Australian catholic church archbishop, Mark Coleridge, stated that people, especially religious leaders, should help and direct their followers to conform with the COVID-19 guidelines. Australians laws have also been effective in maintaining social control. An excellent example, in this case, is the Australian Public Health Act 2020 (Colbert, Wilkinson, Thornton, and Richmond, 2020, p.440). The government, through this act, issued numerous directives. For instance, it limited individuals’ movement by requiring people to leave their houses in emergencies. In addition to restricting people’s movement, the government, by this act, banned public gatherings. The importance of this act is that it criminalized acceptable social behaviours. For example, individuals who violated these directives were either fined or imprisoned. In like manner, corporations that failed to comply were subjected to a fine of 55,000 dollars or more.

Another social control agency that helped promoted the COVID-19 restrictions and acceptable behaviour s in Australia is propaganda and the press. The media used messages and videos that greatly affected people’s perceptions regarding the coronavirus pandemic. The Health Belief Model, developed by social psychologist Irwin Rosenstock was particularly useful (Gerend and Shepherd, 2012, p.173). This model suggests that people’s beliefs regarding the dangers of certain diseases and their understanding regarding the effectiveness of the recommended behaviours can help predict the likelihood or the unlikelihood of them adopting recommended behaviour. Suppose people perceive a particular illness as dangerous, and the government prescribes a behaviour to curb the disease. In that case, the probability is that the individual will adapt to the recommended behaviours to be safe. The daily media updates regarding coronavirus deaths and new infection cases triggered fear, and hence to be safe many complied with the new safety measures. The fear or the belief created by the media led many into accepting the recommended social norms.

Promoting appropriate COVID-19 behaviours is essential, but it is critical to understand that this may lead to trends that will later affect societies. Simultaneously, easing restrictions could lead to an increase in crime, which may be the case in many cultures. According to Dumas, Ellis, and Litt (2020, p.356), the world may experience an increase in antisocial behaviours even after the pandemic. This idea is well explained under the labelling theory, which states that individuals’ identities and behaviour s are determined and influenced by the terms used to describe them (Mingus and Burchfield, 2012, p.99). Scholars who adhere to this theory understand that people become deviant as a result of others forcing them (Mingus and Burchfield, 2012, p.102). In other words, people will learn and adapt to the norms of social distancing, wearing a mask, and other recommended regulations even after the pandemic. The increasing antisocial behaviours may be the reason why there has been a spike in domestic violence. Many societies are now relaxing their coronavirus measures, and many public spaces are getting crowded. It is possible in these cases that some individuals will be annoyed with people who are not maintaining social distancing. Similarly, restaurants and pubs are now open, which means that alcohol consumption is more likely to increase. This is also a problem as it will result in more severe responses to frustration.

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It is even more likely that racially motivated hate crimes may increase after the coronavirus pandemic. It is important to note that surges in racially motivated hate crime have been experienced in previous epidemics, including the SARS, which occurred in 2003 (Gover, Harper, and Langton, 2020, p.651). There are currently reports suggesting that hate crimes directed to the Asian community are increasing (Gover, Harper, and Langton, 2020, p.651). As different societies ease their restriction, these incidences may increase and advance even further as people interact socially. The idea one gathers from these instances is that people will often find scapegoats or blame people in crisis. This will likely result in the Asian community being stereotyped, and many may fall victim to xenophobic sentiments. More importantly, as the pandemic persists, many will find ways to exploit others, and disturbing social norms apart from the ones recommended by the government may arise.

The coronavirus pandemic has, in many ways, influenced people’s understanding of deviance and social control. More importantly, it has changed individuals’ understanding of acceptable and deviant social behaviours. The previously unacceptable norms are today encouraged. Importantly, people have been forced to question their beliefs regarding social aspects such as shaking hands and their relevance in society. Before the coronavirus pandemic, handshaking was much valued, but today the very act can lead to imprisonment. In western civilizations, blessing someone after they coughed or sneezed was considered an act of kindness, but today it has been updated to assault. In other words, an individual can be prosecuted or jailed for sneezing or coughing in public. Significantly, people’s ideas about how social control and social change occurs have changed. The role of informal means of social control, including religion, has been evident in the pandemic. In like manner, the roles played by the media and other propaganda tools in promoting social change have been noted in the pandemic. Nevertheless, societies need both acceptable and deviant behaviours if it is to advance. Significantly, the lessons learned in this pandemic regarding social control and social change might help societies better coordinate and cooperate when dealing with future social issues such as crime.

References List

Akers, R. and Jennings, W., 2019. The social learning theory of crime and deviance. Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research, pp.113-129.

Colbert, S., Wilkinson, C., Thornton, L. and Richmond, R., 2020. COVID ‐19 and alcohol in Australia: Industry changes and public health impacts. Drug and Alcohol Review, 39(5), pp.435-440.

Dumas, T., Ellis, W. and Litt, D., 2020. What does adolescent substance use look like during the covid-19 pandemic? Examining changes in frequency, social contexts, and pandemic-related predictors. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67(3), pp.354-361.

Gerend, M. and Shepherd, J., 2012. Predicting human papillomavirus vaccine uptake in young adult women: comparing the health belief model and theory of planned behaviour . Annals of Behaviour al Medicine, 44(2), pp.171-180.

Gover, A., Harper, S. and Langton, L., 2020. Anti-Asian hate crime during the covid-19 pandemic: exploring the reproduction of inequality. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 45(4), pp.647-667.

Griffiths, J., 2017. What is sociology of law? (On law, rules, social control and sociology). The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 49(2), pp.93-142.

Mingus, W. and Burchfield, K., 2012. From prison to integration: applying modified labeling theory to sex offenders. Criminal Justice Studies, 25(1), pp.97-109.

Sheridan, A., Andersen, A., Hansen, E. and Johannesen, N., 2020. Social distancing laws cause only small losses of economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scandinavia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(34), pp.68-73.

Shove, E., 2010. Beyond the abc: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 42(6), pp.1273-1285.

Sklansky, M., Nadkarni, N. and Ramirez-Avila, L., 2014. Banning the handshake from the health care setting. JAMA, 311(24), p.2477.

Songu, M. and Onerci, T., 2013. Physiology and pathophysiology of sneezing and itching: mechanisms of the symptoms. Nasal Physiology and Pathophysiology of Nasal Disorders, pp.139-152.

The Guardian. 2020. Australia’s state by state coronavirus lockdown rules and restrictions explained. [online] Available at: 2020. COVID-19 Advice – Physical Distancing | WHO Western Pacific. [online] Available at:

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