Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

I have to write an essay on Blaming The Victim: The Art of Savage Discovery, by William Ryan, and I'm having trouble understanding the ideological process he discusses, including the exceptionalistic and universalistic viewpoints. Please explain both processes.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Steps to Blaming the Victim

Ryan specified four steps that comprise the process of victim blaming. The first step is to identify a social problem, such as income inequality. The second step requires an investigation of anyone affected by the problem to determine what makes them different from society in general. This may include cultural differences, race, or religion. The third step is to declare those identified differences as the source of the problem itself. In the fourth and final step of victim blaming, a bureaucratic intervention is planned to address the differences in the victimized group rather than the problems affecting them.

According to Ryan, most people who engage in victim blaming are operating with good intentions. Most of them believe themselves to be engaged in philanthropy by attempting to solve the problems facing the victim. However, by placing responsibility for the perceived social issue on the victim, these idealists often derail more productive lines of inquiry that could identify the actual cause of the problem. By victim blaming, they are effectively delaying any genuine solution to the problem and placing the burden of guilt upon the victim.

The Exceptionalist Viewpoint

The exceptionalist approach or viewpoint is described by Ryan as the idea that problems occur to specific groups of people in an unpredictable way. Exceptionalist arrangements are "private, local and exclusive." In some cases, these problems are seen as a result of individual defects, while in others they are caused by seemingly unusual circumstances. These problems require specific solutions tailored to the individual. A charity offering services to those involved in a localized environmental disaster in an impoverished area is an example of an exceptionalistic solution, and it supports Ryan's assertion that exceptionalism can be used to reach some positive social goals, despite its shortcomings in a bureaucratic system. In this example, only those who have been affected by a specific disaster are given economic support that would be beneficial for the community in general.

The Universalistic Viewpoint

The universalistic viewpoint is essentially the opposite of the exceptionalist viewpoint. It is reflected in public arrangements, legislated, and inclusive of a wide group of people. This viewpoint supports the idea that social problems are caused by harmful arrangements in the community or in society as a whole. As a result, the universalistic problem solver attempts to address the universal problems that cause individual hardship. These problems are predictable and they do not imply any defect in the individual who suffers from them as they affect the broader community as well. Education reform is an example of a universalistic approach to problem solving, while the exceptionalist counterpart would be a charity offering services exclusively to children whose parents fall below a certain income level. Universalistic solutions address underlying inequalities in a systematic and universal manner.

According to Ryan, victim blaming occurs when exceptionalist thinkers fail to recognize universalistic problems. As a result, they apply policies and solutions based on exceptionalist ideas to problems that affect many different people and are not unusual in nature. Victim blaming leads to the justification of cruelty because it places the responsibility for a universal problem on the perceived shortcomings of the affected group or individual. By blaming the victim, society is no longer held responsible for its own faults and there is no incentive to change the systems that are causing social issues.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team