The moral structure of social control
Perceptions of crime seriousness have been studied since the 1960s. Characteristics of acts affecting these perceptions have been identified and the degree of agreement in seriousness judgements has been examined for a variety of behaviors. However, few attempts have been made to model perceived crime seriousness as a function of moral principles. The study of these principles resides in the philosophy of law, where libertarian, paternalistic, and moralistic doctrines have been advanced and debated. The extent to which legal philosophical discourse is reflected in the popular discourse on social control---a sociological question---remains largely unknown. In this study, I attempt a partial answer to this question in the substantive areas of drug use and sex. In particular, I model an alternative measure of seriousness perceptions (pleasure control attitudes) as a function of two components, perceptions of self-harm (representing paternalistic principles) and perceptions of immorality (representing moralistic principles). I test the corresponding hypotheses for six widely known drugs (alcohol, tobacco, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and marijuana) and for a variety of sexual behaviors (including incest, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, polygamy, bestiality, and commercial sex) using an electronic mail survey of a random sample of university students. Univariate analysis shows dissensus rather than consensus in the attitudes and perceptions of participants and that, with the exception of marijuana, control attitudes toward drug use reflect the existing legal code. Multivariate analysis shows that perceptions of self-harm and perceptions of immorality are moderately to highly correlated for both drug use and sex and that pleasure control attitudes are strongly affected by both constructs. Furthermore, I explore the concepts and relationships under investigation using data from in-depth interviews with seventeen participants. I report additional evidence that pleasure control attitudes are shaped by paternalistic and moralistic reasoning. I also explore the perceived content of these concepts and the mechanisms underlying their relationships and I inductively specify a variety of conceptual elements and relational conditions. Finally, I outline theoretical implications of these findings.
- Sociology