Social control revisited

Date21 December 2010
Publication Date21 December 2010
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015003
Pages1-16
AuthorJames J. Chriss
SOCIAL CONTROL REVISITED
James J. Chriss
INTRODUCTION
Back in 2005 lawyers for the Milwaukee school board decided to exclude
Viagra and similar erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs from health coverage for
the teachers’ union because, well, they were simply too expensive.
1
And
besides, so the school board explained, such drugs are used primarily for
recreational sex and are not a medical necessity.
However, five years later representatives of the Milwaukee teachers’ union
began pushing once again for inclusion of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, and other
ED drugs in teachers’ healthcare coverage. Interestingly enough, asof August
2010, while many Milwaukee teachers had lost their jobs in an uncertain
American economy hovering around 9.5% unemployment nationally, the
Milwaukee Teachers’Education Association – the local teachers’ union – was
also making the case that the exclusion of Viagra is blatant discrimination
because ED is an ‘‘exclusively gender-related condition.’’ The school board’s
attorneys argued reinstating coverage for ED drugs would be disastrous for
the school district, because this particular drug benefit would cost $786,000
per year, which would be enough to hire a dozen first-year teachers.
This is an interesting twist on the strategy of claiming discrimination,
because in the past otherteachers’ unions have argued thatcoverage of Viagra
discriminates against females because most healthc are insurance programs do
not cover contraceptives or infertility treatment. It also illustrates the growing
tendency in modern society to view the aches and pains of everyday life as
Social Control: Informal, Legal and Medical
Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Volume 15, 1–16
Copyright r2010 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited
All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
ISSN: 1521-6136/doi:10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000015003
1
amenable to medical understandings and intervention. Indeed, in the past it
was common wisdom that with age men lose their sex drive and also that
sexual novelty is what keeps the flames of sexual passion burning. This means
that it is natural for men to losesexual interest as they age, and natural as well
that men in long-term monogamous relationships lose sexual interest in their
partners. Indeed, it is the charm of sexual novelty that led human beings
slowly to condemn incest and to invent rules of exogamy – the directive to
seek marital partners outside of the immediate kinship group or clan – to
overcome the earlier, primitive rule of endogamy (Ward, 1903, p. 201).
Yet, today, with ongoing medicalization, the aging process itself is now
considered a ‘‘disease,’’ and any diminution of functions – previously always
considered simply a natural aspect of aging, such as the waning of sexual
interest in men – now launches a search to restore proper functioning
and ‘‘health’’ by whatever medical means are available. Medicalization, or
the redefining of social problems as medical problems, is an important
aspect of the broader concept of medical control, which can be defined as the
use of medical understandings, terminology, and interventions to compel
compliance of individuals or groups to some standard of social conduct
(Chriss, 2007). Irving Zola (1972, p. 487) stated this as clearly as anyone
when he noted that medicine is ‘‘becoming a major institution of social
control’’ and that the labels ‘‘healthy’’ and ‘‘ill’’ are being made pertinent to
more areas of our human existence.
The study of social control has a long history within the discipline of
sociology, and in many respects its study could be considered coterminous
with the project of sociology in general. If we take Foucault (1973) seriously
with regard to the importance of naming things, social control was
first ‘‘named’’ by two of the early American sociologists: Lester F. Ward
(1841–1913) and Edward A. Ross (1866–1951). Indeed, Ross’s (1901) book
Social Control was the first book to include the term ‘‘social control’’ in
its title.
Interestingly enough, Ward (1883, Vol. 2, pp. 365–366) was an early
proponent of rehabilitation for those labeled criminal, and he even went so
far as to suggest that crimes are a disease of society and that they are largely
mental, to the extent that crime is due largely to ‘‘ignorance or error.’’ This
is consistent with the ancient Greek notion that crime and vice result from
ignorance and/or a lack of virtue (Chriss, 2007, pp. 64–65). According to
Ward, society advances only to the extent that its people are given access to
education, and as knowledge increases as a resource for the society as a
whole, sympathy or ‘‘fellow-feeling’’ will expand as well, and with it a
decline in crime. With greater knowledge of both the good and the bad, men
JAMES J. CHRISS2

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