Sociology Focus
Author: Ami Stearns

“Boston Strong” & the Functions of Deviance

The bombs that exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon represented the extreme of what would be defined as a deviant action. As the initial shock wore off, Bostonians “circled the wagons”. Soon the phrase, “Boston Strong” became symbolic of the determined mood of solidarity sweeping the Massachusetts city. In this post, Ami Stearns uses the theory of moral boundaries to suggest that the Boston Strong movement serves to clarify deviant boundaries at the same time as it brings societal groups closer together. Boston-area Samuel Adams Brewery releases a limited edition batch in celebration of the Boston Marathon every year. Named the Boston 26.2 Brew, the light-bodied beer is “worth crossing the finish line for,” according to the company’s blog. In light of the tragedy at this year’s event, Samuel Adams Brewery has plans to rename their marathon brew “Boston Strong 26.2 Brew,” and is requesting a trademark on the phrase “Boston Strong” These two words now adorn Yankee Candles (tea-scented), car magnets, shoelace plates, t-shirts, hats, wristbands, and were even spelled across the LED screens of Boston’s public busses the week of April 22nd. A Celtics player scribbled “#BostonStrong” on his Nikes and the words were displayed on the Red Sox’ video board during a game. Boston citizens have been writing “Boston Strong” on signs, penning the words on their clothing, and tattooing the phrase on their bodies. On Twitter #BostonStrong appeared half a million times in the week following the explosion at the finish line   “We are one. We are strong. We are Boston. We are Boston strong,” proclaimed the Red Sox announcer on April 20th. When the smoke cleared from the double explosions that rocked the Marathon’s finish line, the citizens of Boston emerged with resilience and determination echoed in the Sox announcer’s mantra. Diane Sawyer noted that Bostonians wished to give the world a message in the face of tragedy, a message about solidarity and pride in their city Terroristic acts are attempts to disrupt societies, threaten stability, and literally terrorize individual citizens, but often the results are completely opposite. Kai Erikson (1966) wrote a book about the witch hunts in puritanical New England called “Wayward Puritans,” arguing that acts of deviance actually help strengthen a society’s solidarity. In the event of an act of terror, citizens are able to collectively point to the deviance and identify the behavior as morally wrong. In doing so, the group comes together in opposition to the deviance and grows stronger than they were before. When Bostonians can point to the deviance involved in bombing innocent people on their own turf, they are in essence standing together as they define what is moral and what is immoral. This is a functional view of deviance, first suggested by Emile Durkheim and later fleshed out in Erikson’s book. This view sees deviance as serving a practical purpose in societies. Without deviance occurring, how else does an individual in a group know what the group believes is wrong and what is right? How can a group stand together if there is nothing to stand against? “Boston Strong” is the rallying cry of a group of citizens who now feel more pride, solidarity, and stability within their city. Sometimes a deviant act, no matter how tragic or reprehensible, can actually serve to strengthen the bonds of a city that is half a million “strong.” Dig Deeper:
  1. Do you think it is illogical to suggest that deviant acts in a society contribute to solidarity and stability?
  2. Can you find evidence of a similar “Boston Strong” movement that occurred in New York City after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center?
  3. Has a member of your family or close friends ever been hurt or threatened? Did this incident pull your family or peer group closer together or further apart?
  4. Watch the following “Good Morning America” clip. What evidence do you see of Bostonians grouping together to present a united, strong, and stable front?
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