In the 1970s, Jock Young carried out research into labelling and marijuana users
In the 1970s, Jock Young carried out research into labelling and marijuana users, He suggested that police reaction to marijuana users can ‘fundamentally alter and transform the social world of the marijuana smoker’ - In the 1970s, Jock Young carried out research into labelling and marijuana users introduction. In response to this, and in light of the recent debate concerning the legislation of cannabis, I intend to look at the acceptance of drug use within different cultures, and investigate how these varying levels of acceptance can affect both the drug user and the culture or society within which they reside.
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Sociological Context and Concepts
This proposal is a partial reworking of Jock Young’s study of marijuana users in London, 1971, where he showed how police reaction to ‘hippy’ marijuana users affected the way in which the drug users behave. This is related to Howard Becker’s labelling theory (1963) which suggests that the way observers ‘label’ an individual or a group of people can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby ‘the deviant identification becomes the controlling one’. In simplistic terms, the person becomes the label.
Young argued that police response to marijuana users as ‘dirty, scruffy’ deviants actually pushes them into that role, they no longer feel a conventional part of society, and so become more unconventional as a reaction.
A recent article, ‘A Tale of Two Drug Cultures’ by Phil Smith (2000), shows how prevailing lenient attitudes towards cannabis use in British Columbia has led to a culture where, ‘tokers surprised by the police are more likely to hear, “Sir, could you please roach that joint”, than, “you’re under arrest, dirtbag,”‘ and ‘lithe and tanned young women…discuss their international seed-selling businesses…they are doing well by marijuana…Life is good.’ This is a very different picture to that painted by Young’s deviant drug users.
This proposal intends to look at this issue on a much wider scale, looking at the behaviour of cannabis users across different cultures. The issue of decriminalization of cannabis is in much debate currently, and societies have taken varying stances in their opinion on what is and is not acceptable. The study will look at cultures across the world where cannabis use is accepted, ignored, labelled as deviant behaviour and/or unheard of, and assess the attitudes of wider society, and how the drug users themselves react to this. If Young’s claim is correct, then we should be able to show a difference in behaviours where there is a difference in the opinion of, or reaction to, marijuana smokers.
In order to do this, we need to identify what is meant by ‘marijuana user’ – the attitudes of an observer towards someone who smokes cannabis only very occasionally may be very different to their attitude towards someone who is a regular user of the drug. However, what is considered regular in one society or culture may not be in another, so possibly the best way to obtain data that is comparable is to observe people who identify themselves as regular users within their own society.
Research Methods and Reasons
The nature of this study, at least concerning the drug users themselves, will be largely observational. Any relationship between the experimenter and those being observed may affect results, due to observer influence; therefore a significant part of the data obtained will be observational. Although this qualitative approach leaves all variables outside the control of the researcher, and thus a cause and effect relationship may be difficult to establish, it allows for results in which a more natural pattern is expected to emerge.
In the case of collating opinions from wider society, a sample frame will be drawn from the electoral roll of each society within the study, and a method of random sampling will be applied to draw a sample population relevant to the size of the actual population.
To obtain the data from the respondents, questionnaires containing both closed and open questions will be used. The use of open questions will allow for richer, more valid data, whereas the closed questions will allow for some degree of categorisation of data. These interviews will be given to the participants by the experimenter with an explanation. Participants are thus provided with a context within which to answer the questions, and the ethical issue of informed consent is solved. Also, questionnaires which are given rather than sent out generally have a much higher response rate, and also higher validity; people who respond to ‘through-the-door’ questionnaires tend to be a particular type – those who have the time and the inclination to fill out questionnaires.
A pilot study will be used – a small scale preliminary conducted beforehand to check the practicability of design.
The selection of the ‘marijuana user’ sample will be much harder, precisely because it is frequently seen as a deviant activity, and illegal in most societies. The researcher will largely have to rely on detective work and information from those of wider society to find a group of marijuana users to observe. For the purpose of this section of the proposal, issues of randomisation will be ignored – in most cases, the size of the sample in relation to the size of the population will be so small that random selection will have very little effect on the results.
The users will be questioned in largely unstructured interviews, which will come after a period of observation; the purpose of which is to observe the attitudes and behaviour of the drug user when unobserved by wider society.
There are a number of problems using questionnaires. There is the problem of interpretation – respondents may interpret questions differently and respond in the way that they understand. This can result in a difference in answers, which may not correspond to a real difference in opinion.
The validity of the answers may be reduced by the inability or unwillingness of respondents to provide detailed and accurate replies. This could be due to demand characteristics – the respondents reply in a way that they think is appropriate.
The observational aspect of the study may also have problems with validity, due to researcher bias. What the researcher observes, and interprets this observation to mean may not reflect individual views. The way people think is not always reflected in the actions they take. It is important, especially in terms of observations, that anonymity is kept. This is due to social desirability bias – people are unlikely to present themselves in a way that may be interpreted as ‘wrong’ if they are identifiable.
The unstructured interviews can be criticised for a lack of reliability where there is the possibility again of interviewer bias. From a positivist perspective, unstructured interviews can be criticised as not being scientific – the interviews can not be repeated.
Perhaps the biggest problem lies in the approach of the researcher to the observation participants. It might be that by asking questions, the interviewer causes people to question their own actions. Ethical issues linked to this need to be carefully considered by the researcher, and in the wording used.
There is also an ethical question concerning the legality of the drug. Obviously, to force people to smoke the drug during the study would be ethically wrong, but as the study looks at people who have already chosen to smoke cannabis, there seem to be few ethical considerations.