Who is Kai T. Erikson?June 25, 2021
Kai Theodor Erikson is an American sociologist considered an authority on the social consequences of disasters.
He served as the 76th president of the American Sociological Association.
Kai T. Erikson, who is considered one of the important names of functionalism, was especially interested in deviance and deviant behavior. Examining three waves of crime at different times in a Puritan community settled in the USA in the 17th century from a structural functionalist point of view, Erikson tried to show how the crime rate functioned positively by integrating the system over time (Cuff et al., 1989 59).
‘Deviation’ or ‘deviant behavior’ is a violation of social rules, non-compliance with norms. Crime, on the other hand, is the state of opposing the norms that are formally included in the laws, that is, crime is also a deviation.
According to Erikson, since societies are systems, they must also have boundaries that limit them and separate them from other systems and the environment. These are moral boundaries and mechanisms that ensure the protection of accepted and expected behavior patterns within the society itself. When members of the society exceed these behavioral limits, social control mechanisms such as laws, police force and mental health institutions come into play (Cuff et al., 1989 59).
Erikson thinks that the way to determine what the moral limits of human behavior are in a given society is to examine deviant behavior and the group’s response to deviant behavior. According to Erikson, every society needs deviant behavior and perpetrators, because deviant behaviors enable the limits of non-deviant behavior to be revealed, remind members of the society what behaviors are considered appropriate, and thus help maintain social consensus. For this reason, all societies try to have deviant behavior/crime at a certain and constant level, because only in this way can they protect their moral boundaries regarding behavior and pass them on to the next generations (Cuff et al., 1989: 60).
In his study of the Puritans, Erikson concluded that each of the three different waves of crime he examined was an attempt by society to define its own boundaries. Erikson, who showed that in the first two of these waves of crime, the Puritans were against the society they were in, and in the last wave of crime they punished those who were against them, Erikson explains the reason for this change in the attitudes of the members of the Puritan community with the change in the value orientation. shows that it causes the members of the group to change their value orientations. Thus, Erikson reveals that societies determine what constitutes deviant behavior according to their own special standards, and therefore, as the society changes, the moral boundaries, that is, the boundaries of acceptable and expected behaviors, also change (Cuff et al., 1989: 59).
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer Yıldırım
Source: T.C. ANADOLU UNIVERSITY PUBLICATION NO: 3781, OPEN EDUCATION FACULTY PUBLICATION NO: 2595