Offending the other: deconstructing narratives of deviance and pathology

Flowers, Paul and Langdridge, Darren (2007). Offending the other: deconstructing narratives of deviance and pathology. British Journal of Social Psychology, 46(3) pp. 679–690.



Narratives of homophobia and the repathologization of gay men now emerge and coalesce in often unconsidered ways. Within this paper, we present a deconstructive analysis of a recent paper published within the British Journal of Social Psychology (Crossley, 2004) and highlight how a narrative of repathology emerges through the selective appropriation of particular textual sources. By employing pathological constructions of sexual conduct between men; focusing upon singular homogenized constructions of gay men and simplistic constructions of health promotion and through a process of reconstructing HIV as a gay plague and it is possible to embroider a moral tale which constitutes a further deviant ‘othering’ of gay men. We contend that by employing (functional) discourses of ‘unconscious motivation’, together with a constellation of disclaimers, caveats and tokenistic pluralization, it becomes possible for psychologists to engage in homophobic knowledge production whilst maintaining an identity as a (dis)interested professional. Our analysis raises issues pertinent to all social psychologists engaged in ‘suspicious’ research on ‘the other’. To this end, we expand our critique by employing ideas from Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology to provide more general discussion of ethical and constructive ways of engaging in textual analyses of persons outside one's own tradition.

In this paper, we explore the emergence of a particular, yet familiar, discourse of gay men as pathological and deviant. Our focus is a recent publication within this journal: ‘Making sense of “barebacking”: Gay men's narratives, unsafe sex and the “resistance habitus”’ (Crossley, 2004). We were interested in how such a pathological narrative (constructing gay men as wilfully deviant across time) was constructed within this particular paper, and also within the particular context of contemporary social psychology. We provide a counter, or deconstructive narrative, which illuminates the productive work of Crossley's text in producing a pathological gay male subject.

Our paper, although closely tied to the specific text of Crossley (and indeed the substantive issue of HIV/AIDS it engages) also highlights several general issues for social psychologists. Later, we look beyond the particularity of Crossley's (2004) work and, by engaging with the hermeneutic phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur, seek to raise more general issues of concern for ‘suspicious’ (Ricoeur, 1970) social psychological research on ‘the other’. In an era in which data are increasingly diverse and the subject of social psychology increasingly wide ranging, we aim to provide a timely reminder of the ethical obligations that we feel to be an essential part of the research process.

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