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Justifiable Conduct

Justifiable Conduct: Self-Vindication in Memoir

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Justifiable Conduct
    Book Description:

    How do memoirists make their work interesting, daring, exciting, and unorthodox enough so that they attract an audience, yet not so heinous and scandalous that their readers are unable to empathize or identify with them? InJustifiable Conduct, renowned sociologist Erich Goode explores the different strategies memoirists use to "neutralize" their alleged wrongdoing and fashion a more positive image of themselves for audiences. He examines how writers, including James Frey, Susan Cheever, Roman Polanski, Charles Van Doren and Elia Kazan, explain, justify, contextualize, excuse, or warrant their participation in activities such as criminal behavior, substance abuse, sexual transgressions, and political radicalism.Using a theory of deviance neutralization, Goode assesses the types of behavior exhibited by these memoirists to draw out generic narratives that are most effective in attempting to absolve the actor-author. Despite the highly individualistic and variable lives of these writers, Goode demonstrates that memoirists use a conventional vocabulary for their unconventional behavior.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-1027-6
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    THOUGH NARRATING life stories is a universal human enterprise, such tales are expected to unfold in a certain way and according to certain conventions. Memoirs representaccountsrather thanreflectionsof reality. And yet, they offer a stand-alonedimensionof reality. The reality they presentisthe constructed account. You would be wise to be suspicious of the assertion, in that presidential memoir you’re reading, that the chief executive never lied to the American people—but the fact that the authorsaidit is a fact, and a reality in its own right. All humans tell stories about their lives...

  6. 2 Autobiography and Memoir
    (pp. 14-42)

    WHEN DID AUTONARRATION—the chronicling of one’s own life stories, or memoir and autobiography—begin? The origin of such complex social practices and institutions is usually lost in the mists of time; moreover,what the question meansis not as straightforward as it seems. “Telling one’s life story”—themeaningof what that entails—is exquisitely bound up by historical time, society, culture, and social location; even the seemingly simple act of self-expression is a socially constructed product. But ancient historical materials that areautobiography-likedo survive. (Of course, the antiquity of strictlyoralnarration of life stories cannot be...

  7. 3 Autonarrating Transgression
    (pp. 43-63)

    THE DEVIANCE CONCEPT, born in the 1920s out of research on urban decay and disorganization, remained a mainstay of the sociological curriculum for decades. But by the 1970s, radicals and Marxists began questioning the concept’s viability (Liazos, 1972; Taylor, Walton, and Young, 1973). By the 1990s to the early 2000s, the assault had become something of an avalanche, with some of these challenges, from a left-wing perspective, by inventing a genealogy of the field, arguing that the sociology of deviance had died (Sumner, 1994), while others, adopting a conservative, essentialistic, right-wing stance, asserted that the field had abandoned a moral...

  8. 4 Criminal Behavior
    (pp. 64-93)

    CRIME MEMOIRS provide an abundance of insight into the author’s interpretations, motives, and feelings about illegal behavior; in turn, the writer’s imagized audience provides a spur to those interpretations. When Jack Henry Abbott tells us about his abuse at the hands of the criminal justice system, he hears a coterie of leftists and other critics of the criminal justice system encouraging him and digs deeper into his treasure trove of stories of atrocities visited upon his rebellious spirit and all-too-human flesh. Joseph Bonanno, Eddie Bunker, and even Jordan Belfort—all had their followers, supporters, admirers from near and far. But...

  9. 5 Substance Abuse
    (pp. 94-112)

    OF ALL THE POPULAR “deviance” memoir genres, perhaps alcoholism elicits the least justificatory and the most redemptionist stance. Few alcoholics proclaim that they wish to remain compulsive, destructive drunks; nearly all, by the time they pen their life stories, have stopped their heavy drinking, most have stopped drinking altogether, and the great majority write that abstinence served as a salvation or redemption for which they are grateful. And the memoirs they produce bear testament to heavy alcohol consumption’s destructive power: ruined marriages; wrecked careers; alienation from friends, family, and children; suicide attempts; car crashes and accidents of every conceivable description;...

  10. 6 Sexual Transgressions
    (pp. 113-144)

    SEXUAL ACTIVITIES provide a rich, fertile greenhouse of specimens of transgressive behavior; in few areas of social life can a member of virtually any society engage in so many varieties of normative infringements. Though some critics, most notably Alexander Liazos (1972), have complained that sociologists of deviance devote too much attention to sexual violations, the fact is, all of us are subject to a great many sexual norms, and erotic unconventionality is likely to get us in trouble. Most of us love a good sex scandal, and many of us consider past or current sexual violations as a disqualification for...

  11. 7 Political Deviance
    (pp. 145-167)

    ODDS ARE that a randomly chosen infant born into an American family will grow up to hold political views that more or less fit into the ideological mainstream: a not-too-strongly committed Democrat or Republican, a liberal, a middle-of-the-roader, or a conservative—somewhere along that spectrum. But if we turn our attention to the statistical minority, the “tails” that trail off at both ends of that continuum, we will find ideologies that convention regards as unacceptable, wrongheaded, even harmful. When members of the society radically or sharply depart from the hump of the normal curve, the interested observer is likely to...

  12. 8 Accounting for Deviance
    (pp. 168-184)

    C. WRIGHT MILLS intended “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive” as an analysis of “observable lingual mechanisms of motive imputation and avowal.” The very act of explicating motives for our actions itselfhasmotives; the reasons why wedothings are separate and distinct from the reasons why weexplainthe things we do and thewaywe explain the things we do. Under certain circumstances, people are motivated to verbalize theirmotivesfor doing things. Scott and Lyman (1968) argue that the most important of such circumstances—those thatcall foran account—is that actors believe that audiences...

  13. References
    (pp. 185-192)
  14. Index
    (pp. 193-199)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 200-200)