Underdogs, Delinquents, Rebels: A Sociology Of Transgression

NEW CYA Course


Norms and laws constitute the ethical contours of our societies, yet deviance from norms is as old as societies themselves. Transgression – a concept defined as conduct that breaks rules, exceeds boundaries or social limits, or even breaks the law – is situated at the limits of acceptable behavior. At various moments in history moral transgression has been deemed as criminal and/or pathological and as such transgressors were harshly punished, either via the legal route or via social exclusion. Transgression is central in processes such as labelling, stigmatization, and criminalization and historically it has played a key role in consolidating and enforcing norms. In all types of societies, some groups are systematically situated outside the normative order, for instance, minority groups have played this role in modernity. “Good” and “bad”, “moral” and “immoral”, “normal” and “abnormal”, “conformity” and “subversion” are binaries produced through this process, which attributes the desirable characteristics to the dominant group and the undesirable to those who are perceived as deviants across different historical and social contexts.

Yet, despite its ambiguous relationship to lawfulness and normality, transgression elicits a great deal of fascination: outlaws, rebels, underdogs, deviants, delinquents, outcasts, and their subcultures have often captured the imagination and their stories are being represented in various art forms, from cinematography to literature and contemporary art. What makes these stories of non-conformity attractive? How is the deviant self produced? And can we distinguish between a positive and a negative outcome of a transgression? When does the suspension of order, the disruption it causes, opens up potentialities?

In search of these answers, we will explore the meaning of collective transgressive acts: from abiding to local codes of honor which prevail over the formal law, to strategies of survival, to resistance to marginalization, to performances of masculinity and femininity, and to the counter-narratives invented by those who “deviate”, transgression constitutes a field which cannot simply be addressed by the idea of “crime” and associated discussions about “prevention”. Adopting a sociological perspective which gives emphasis on the social construction of meanings, this course proposes to comprehend transgressive acts by taking into account both the dominant moral narratives about transgression, as well as the ways these are resisted, appropriated or re-interpreted by the deviant subjects.

Greece, our gate to the exploration of transgression is a country with a rich cultural tradition of resistance to forms of authority, and a particular perception of unlawfulness where laws are not thought as set in stone but as malleable and negotiable. As such, we will address the factors that such perceptions and attitudes have historically prevailed, while also using Greece as an exemplar to understand transgression in different cultural and social contexts.

This is an interdisciplinary course, drawing mainly from the sociological toolkit, while also being receptive to contributions from cognate disciplines which can shed light to the questions raised and discussed, namely anthropologyy and criminology.

We will examine significant aspects of modern manifestations of transgression, which include:
• Vendettas and local codes of honor
• Bandits and rebels
• Gangs and the “badass” culture
• Prison subcultures
• Animal fights and the gambling culture
• Boxing and the culture of fighting sports
• Gender and transgression: drag queens and the performance of gender
• Musical subcultures: Hip hop, rebetiko, tango, flamenco, and the subcultures of the ports
• Sociology of mafias
• Transgression in cinematography: a sociology of noir

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  • Rosa Vasilaki

    PhD (U of Bristol) Doctorat (Ecoles des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales)