Wayward Puritans Book Review

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As a sociologist, Kai T. Erikson looks at history as a reflection of changes in societal norms and expectations. Erikson re-visits his look at historical happenings of the Puritans in his novel “Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance”. By examining several “crime waves” throughout history, Erikson points out several aspects of how we see deviance. After researching Puritan lifestyle and the corresponding influences of deviance, Erikson explores the Antinomian Controversy, the Quaker Invasion, and the Witches of Salem Village.

In his first chapter, Erikson gives regard to a foremost leader in sociology; Emile Durkheim. As he notes, crime is really a natural kind of social activity. If crime is a natural part of society, there is definitely an indication that it is necessary, much like Darwin would argue that survival of the fittest is pertinent to the continuation of a species. Erikson claims that non-deviants come together in a phenomenal way to express outrage over deviants, therefore solidifying a tighter bond between eachother. This sense of mutuality, Erikson further explains, reiterates awareness to the common goals of the social organization at stake. In his analysis of “abnormal behavior”, deviance is defined as conduct which the people of a group consider so dangerous or embarrassing that they bring special sanctions against those persons. Furthermore, Erikson gives the title of “community” to this form of social unit.

Communities must have boundaries to succeed, whatsoever “success” means to that specific group of people. In this sense, communities are what Erikson calls “boundary maintaining”. Whether these boundaries are religious, political, or moral, they are points of reference to refer to during times of confusion. If these boundaries are only set in place to restrict deviance to a healthy minimum (or, for ambitious communities, diminish entirely), then can it be assumed that deviance is necessary to define a...
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