Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. Deviance and Moral Boundaries: Witchcraft, the Occult, Science


Ben-Yehuda, Nachman. Deviance and Moral Boundaries: Witchcraft, the Occult, Science
Fiction, Deviant Science and Scientists. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

The author suggests, following C. Wright Mills, that the study of deviance is chaotic and
paradoxical. He traces this confusion to Durkheim's formulation that deviance is simultaneously
dynamic and static (as is society). Deviance elicits response (sanctions) which are designed to
promote an awareness of norms while simultaneously allowing for the development of new
norms, new behaviors. In this, deviance is evolutionary, a developmental construct as well as a
static one. In his book, using four examples of deviance, Ben-Yehuda suggests how these
behaviors may be understood as both static and dynamic. His four fields of study are: witchcraft,
occult science, science fiction, and deviant science and scientists.

He understands witchcraft as a result of the turmoil of an age. Anomia prevailed in the late 14th,
15th and 16th centuries and witchcraft was one reaction/response. There are several components
in the institution of witchcraft. The conservative elements included the Dominicans who were the
chief inquisitors. Witchcraft's dynamic elements were its adjustments to the changes in society:
demographic, religious, sexual, and the search for new solutions to the early forms of
industrialization. Ben- Yehuda's arguments are all post hoc. He argues, for example, that it was
in those areas where the Church had grown weakest that the Inquisition overreacted. If that were
true, the sorry history of the Spanish Inquisition would not be what it is. The author simply
ignores Spain.

He interprets the popularity of the occult and science fiction as a reaction to contemporary
rationality and bureaucracy. Indeed, science fiction may be the result of stultifying science and
overblown rationality.

His deviant science includes a variety of things from Jung and Pauli's ideas on synchronicity
(Kammerer is not cited), Hoyle's origins of life, Pauling's claims for vitamin C, and Eysenck's
work in psychology. He mentions William R. Corless. Of course, there is Condon's work on

His deviant scientists include: Spector, Summerlin, Blondlot, Lysenko, Kammerer, and Jay Levi.
He relies heavily on Zuckerman in interpreting deviance in science. By page 198, he is clearly
paraphrasing me (reference is to The Dark Side of Science) and without attribution except once. I
note too, in his description of the Gamow, Alpher and Herman affair, that he quotes extensively
from Weinberg (several pages) but provides only a single reference. I wonder if this is what he
considers licit science?

Referring back to C. Wright Mills, Ben-Yehuda suggests that deviance may be one method of
accounting for the motives of individuals: those who want to get somewhere must frequently
invent new pathways.