Sociology: Techniques of Neutralization In Advance

Introduction to Thoughts Going In

I found myself, in these readings gravitating toward psychological perspectives, yet felt put at greater ease in awareness of sociological frameworks within with the material is presented. I can tell you that a great many individuals I know and am friends with across various walks of life and associated social statuses who had been subjected to child molestation, most certainly fit the characteristics of post-traumatic stress disorders, socially unaccepted behavioral excesses, sexualized behaviors, self-esteem deficits, and suicidal ideations (as cited in Thio et al., 2018, p. 109). My own father, who had molested my sister, was certainly marked by a lack of social “attachments and… relations” (Bolen, 2001), and while diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder (MPD; now dissociative identity disorder [DID]) in older diagnostic criteria, at the time it was not well accepted. My father had been molested, and he himself was molested as an older man. When I read that men who had been molested as boys “are more likely to act out their smoldering anger from the sexual traumas by becoming rapists or child molesters themselves,” what stood out was “smoldering anger” (Thio et al., 2018, p. 110)—yes, this is exactly what it felt like. Yet, what I didn’t realize is that this behavior was in advance of anticipated outcomes. I missed an entire point so subtle in Thio’s text. 

Deviancy Explained

Growing up, in summers especially, my father did isolate me from my sisters just as Lawson’s (2003) study revealed in empirical evidence (pp. 697-699). I had to walk away reading that, regarding gratification, “avengers intended to harm the child or someone who loved the child…” (p. 699); my sister is my best friend, the explanatory power is profound (this is called rationalization; it’s a defense mechanism). The entirety of justification offered is a pattern that was experienced, and was replicated (i.e., generalized through linguistic fractal recursivity [Irvine & Gal, 2000]) in my family, where “sexual” is an interchangeable indicator for any form of assault. Me and my family lived this. So, in short, Lawson’s identification of isolation, gratification, and justification seem to offer explanatory power to life experiences exemplified. I wonder how many others out there have experienced this as well; I’m sure there are many.

Techniques in Advance

 I can tell you that I avoided much of this material in the past forty-five years, because I grew up around it, and suffered self-stigma, and courtesy stigma for it. Yet now, I feel that it is more helpful to share and talk about, along with studies because these studies are indeed encompassing of a reality and behavior, both individual and social, experienced. When reading DeYoung’s (1989) assessment of NAMBLA, I found myself jotting margin notes on techniques of neutralization (Sykes & Matza, 1957). I spent hours studying this, realizing that these techniques work in advance of normalizing deviancy, rather than as reaction (p. 666-667). All this time, I had thought that these behaviors, sensed intuitively, yet without words for the behaviors, were an attempt to address the past. I look at the behavior of the molesting father, who I did not know as such during the time, and came away last evening reflecting on denial of a victim (me) as my father had played an avenger, transforming a victim (for taking lunch money out of his coin jar once) into a wrongdoer (p. 668), suddenly realizing that my father’s deviancy swept me right up into his own deflections—no wonder I received so much assault for doing something wrong. What I find odd is that it let him express a hyper-masculinity that I see in Kimmel & Mahler’s (2003) assessments of triggered white boys. With this history, it was easier to read NAMBLA’s positions, justifications, and excuses, seeing these behaviors more directly for what the behaviors are doing—seeking normalization. DeYoung’s (1989) closing on reinforcing the basic social processes (BSPs) of labeling theory, accounts, linguistic styles (in delivery), and acceptance (p. 124) made it worthy to read references in more detail on these topics, at minimum for therapeutic benefits, and at maximum for generativity. 

Sad Tales & Self-Fulfillment

Fast forward to time in the military after high school, and phone calls home: my father’s behavior falls right into “accounts” (Scott & Lyman, 1968). Regarding accounts, I initially found exemplars of “sad tales” and “self-fulfillment” (p. 52) hard to stomach due to a dominant norm (it was the 1960’s) seemingly trying to hold onto cisgender white male-dominant culture by tolerating systemic socio-economic constraints (promulgating sad tales) and failure to offer acceptance (allowing self-fulfillment) of minorities (i.e., blacks & Hispanics), women, hippies, and gays. Yet continued study, and reflection, in fact did reveal these justifications of sad tales and self-fulfillment at play in deviancy of child molestation. My father too had used these “sad tales” and “self-fulfillment” justifications when I was in the military, and I listened, without words returned. The stories are horrible as I had first heard them, yet the technique of neutralization, now knowing that it worked in advance of normalization, brings pause. To add to the complexity, the five speaking styles (pp. 55-57) in delivering accounts, oft put me into a formal style of son to father, waiting for a turn to speak, yet now I know that this diminished inclusion; listening to a monologue of the sad story and his search for self-fulfillment through a family accepting of his own search for an identity sans stigma. I felt this monologue effect in Thomas’ (2014) Secrets of the Vatican and felt as if some of the interviews heard might just be sad stories in advance of covert future behavior—courtesy stigma. I wonder if PBS would consider a longitudinal study of those in the show.

Stigma Management as a Vehicle of Many Theories

Durkin’s (2008) topic of stigma management through deviance disavowal more clearly articulated the progression at work in techniques of neutralization, and other theoretical constructs (e.g., accounts, aligning actions etc.). The text is full of illuminating references for sociological studies (p. 662-664). Suddenly it makes sense why Thio et al. (2018) is presenting text in this order; the examples, such as Durkin’s (2008) analysis of strategies by child molesters (pp. 666-670), DeYoung’s (1989) analysis of strategies by NAMBLA (pp. 115-124), Thompson et al.’s (1998) disclaimers (pp. 275-277) and accounts (pp. 277-284) by priests accused of pedophilia really drives home this behavior operating in advance, to include my own assessment of strategies potentially employed in Thomas’ (2014) Secrets of the Vatican. I found Durkin able to grasp hold of a plurality of theoretical constructs to offer a memetic device, organizing the whole, yet I felt more interested in exploring the originating papers of what Durkin [pronoun unknown] was organizing.

Motives: Speaking of “In Advance”

One final note that reflected that concept that these techniques for neutralization work in advance, is embedded in Stokes & Hewitt’s (1976) presentation of aligning actions. I can see why “motive” is such a strong affair of consideration in legal and sociological frameworks: “Mills’ concept of motive was intended to correct a more psychologistic version that saw motives as movers of conduct somehow located within individuals and to call attention to the crucial interplay between consciousness of self and of environment” (p. 845). In fact, to this, I prefer to offer Mill’s own words after Stokes & Hewitt’s: “Motives are imputed or avowed as answers to questions interrupting acts or programs. Motives are words. Generically, to what do they refer? They do not denote any elements ‘in’ individuals. They stand for anticipated situational consequences of questioned conduct” (Mills, 1940, p. 473). This is a huge correction to forty-five years of cursory, surface-level understanding. What a wake-up call. “Questioned conduct” is of utmost revelation, and what is questioned conduct other than conduct on a dimension of the known repugnant to an unknown novelty? This is very helpful to understand.

Regarding Stigma of Sex Offenders & A Tiny Issue in Tewksbury & Lees (2006)

Regarding all the aforementioned and personal experiences, I do think that Holmes’ idea of punishing the crime, not the criminal is ideal. I also think that time served, is crime exonerated, however do realize that society is not so ideal. Look around. Not surprising. The core categories identified by Tewksbury & Lees (2006) as 1) relationship difficulties, 2) employment difficulties, 3) harassment, and 4) stigmatization and persistent feelings of vulnerability (p. 319) seem grounded, but the harassment category begs for a more appropriate category because as titled, it is very misleading. Tewksbury & Lee explicitly state that these are anticipated fears (p. 325), and that “the fears of harassment are common among RSOs; however almost without exception the fears and apprehensions of RSOs were unfounded, at least in the degree to which they anticipated harassment” (p. 326). The better and more fitting title, to align it to the other titles would be “Harassment Anticipation”, which would offer better summarized explanatory power in alignment with Durkin’s (2008) umbrella of stigma management, and the techniques of neutralization working in advance. If someone summarized this article and it reached the public, this error might lead to an expectation that RSOs are experiencing harassment at greater levels than evidenced. That said, harassment is evident, but these four core categories are from the RSOs’ phenomenological perspective of deviance.

A Curious Confound in Mackelprang & Becker

Now, one paper was so far omitted in review, and here is a takeaway, is it possible that in Mackelprang & Becker’s (2017) assessment of attractiveness affect in sex offenses by teachers, that society itself has been conditioned to expect event scripts of deviance disavowal for males and unattractive females, and that perhaps… the experiment tested for something different than intended? Namely differential social expectancies put upon males and females for their own socially normalized justifications, excuses, disclaimers, techniques of neutralization etc.? I think further research in evaluating event scripts of these behaviors might yield some interesting results; further studies are recommended. Besides, Ms. Anderson’s denial of a sexual relationship and that someone else “must have stolen her phone and sent the sexual text messages to him” (pp. 391-392; i.e., denial of responsibility), leading to crying and “shouldn’t have done it, but I really loved him. He wants to marry me” (p. 392; i.e., denial of injury), leading to “I just couldn’t help myself” (p. 392; appeal to biological drives) assuredly are incongruous to behaviors expecting of different stigmas, in advance (e.g., differentiations of script expectancies of beautiful/not-beautiful females and males/females). Maybe the guilty or not-guilty verdict was merely on the trustworthiness of testimony aligned to social expectation—trust is effectively… subject to stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminations; this is more likely Occam’s Razor at work. 

Daily Life

This week’s readings were huge, and worthwhile! Looking forward to reading others’ findings! This is all very relevant and applicable!


Bolen, R. M. (2001). Child sexual abuse: Its scope and our failure. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

DeYoung, M. (1989). The world according to NAMBLA: Accounting for deviance. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 16(1), 111-126.

Durkin. (2009). There must be some type of misunderstanding, there must be some kind of mistake: The deviance disavowal strategies of men arrested in internet sex stings (2008 presidential address). Sociological Spectrum, 29(6), 661–676.

Irvine, J., & Gal, S. (2000). Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Regimes of Language: Ideologies, polities, and identities (pp. 35-84)School of American Research Press.

Kimmel, M. S., & Mahler, M. (2003). Adolescent masculinity, homophobia, and violence. American Behavioral Scientist, 46, 1439-1458.

Lawson. (2003). Isolation, gratification, justification: Offenders’ explanations of child Molesting. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 24(6-7), 695–705.

Mackelprang, E., & Becker, J. V. (2017). Beauty and the eye of the beholder: Gender and attractiveness affect judgements in teacher sex offense cases. Sexual Abuse, 29(4), 375-395.

Mills, C. W. (1940). Situated actions and vocabularies of motive. American Sociological Review, 5, 904-913.

Sykes, G. M., & Matza, D. (1957). Techniques of neutralization: A theory of delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664-670.

Stokes, R., & Hewitt, J. P. (1976). Aligning actions. American Sociological Review, 41, 838-849.

Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. (2006). Perceptions of sex offender registration: Collateral consequences and community experiences. Sociological Spectrum, 26(3), 309–334.

Thio, A., Taylor, J., Schwartz, M. D. (2018). Deviant behavior, 12th edition. Pearson.

Thomas, A. [Director] (2014). Frontline: Secrets of the Vatican [Documentary]. US Public Broadcasting System.