Profiles of punishment and privilege: Secret and disputed deviance during the racialized transition to American adulthood

John Hagan*, Holly Foster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This paper combines Glenn Loury's (The anatomy of racial inequality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002) thought experiments about racial inequality with Howard Becker's (Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York, NY: Free, 1963) typology of deviance to guide the analysis of three waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results reveal the racial anatomy of punishment and privilege during the transition to American adulthood. Our analysis points to a substantial pool of white American youth and emerging adults whose partying behavior is a prevalent form of unsanctioned secret deviance. These disproportionately white and economically advantaged secret deviants contrast with a smaller but significant number of African-American youth and emerging adults who dispute their designations by the juvenile and criminal courts as official deviants. While the privileged position of a party subculture may in social-psychological terms be enabling and even empowering for youthful and affluent white Americans, the selective punishment of other forms of drug activity and delinquency is disabling for African-Americans in profound and less recognized ways. The importance of the data presented in this paper is to expose the comparative probabilities of black and white punishment and privilege. The results reveal concealed racial conventions involved in the construction of the American collective conscience, which Loury identifies as a source of our cognitive imprisonment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-85
Number of pages21
JournalCrime, Law and Social Change
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Sep 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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