Young Men’s Deviance as Feedback to System Error

Until recently I struggled with some missing link in my three decades of clinical fieldwork research among and lecturing/writing about young men in trouble.

Their disordering communication patterns (deviancy) had some important meaning. It signaled something vital for the context in which it occurred. But for what or whom? How to ‘read’ their ‘abnormality’?


Anthropologist Peter Harries-Jones on a Bateson Conference in Oslo 2013 offers a thorough analysis how feedback and ‘whistle blowing’ are linked together in ‘getting real’ on the global ecological crisis.

Feedback is powerful but rather misunderstood and underrated idea/concept in social (and biological) science.

Powerful while feedback is indispensable to systemic ways of perceiving and analyzing human systems (families, schools, corporations) as both social & biological systems.

Bateson claimed that all biological systems, while being directed at ‘balancing towards ‘steady states’ can, by all kind of influences, easily enter ‘runaway states’. The latter meaning …these systems become damaging and destructive to themselves, to the organisms being part of it, and to their environments.

Families in their transgenerational patterns, like divorce and domestic (physical/psychological) violence, are in a way ‘runaway systems’ lacking fundamental feedback dynamics.

A system tending to enter or being in a runaway state, to become  self-correcting again, should welcome and allow feedback.

But most of the time feedback appears as incomprehensible, as inconvenient, as annoying and as disruptive to daily routines and self-evident ways of thinking and acting in our comfort zone.

The concept of feedback is powerful because it explains, in an ‘experience-near’ way, deviant/troubling behavior of young men in a number of contexts: disrupting family stability, learning- and psychiatric disorders, school dropout, public and school violence, drug abuse, criminalization and radicalization.

In 2014 I presented a paper on the second conference on Taboo in Durham UK in which I redressed (parts of) young men’s ‘deviant and resistant’ behavior as signaling ‘systemic errors’. see PPT ‘MEDIATORS BETWEEN TABOOS & THE SACRED

When their troubling behavior is only addressed as ‘abnormal to be domesticated, corrected, rehabilitated and resocialized’ the ‘feedback’ potential to correct errors in the family- and school-system is lost.

From my long term clinical experiences with young men their families and (most) professionals, caring/working with troubling/troubled adolescents, are open to this kind of systemic thinking.

How can we (parents/professionals/scientists) invite, seduce, force ‘nationalizing’ systems (schools, psychiatric & youth care and incarcerating institutions) to take (parts of) young men’s socalled deviant behavior as feedback to correct system errors in institutions of which they are part of?

In The Netherlands an accessible and family-child friendly model, to revitalize the self-correcting capacities of family systems, is available and spreading in many youth care contexts. It is coined as ‘Beschermjassen‘ (Protective Wrapping).

Restoring feedback signaling in the family (history) is crucial in the model.

This approach was initiated by the transcultural system therapist/thinker Kitlyn Tjin A Djie and developed from her own and her colleagues’ experiences as youth care practices. The transitional model is an important integrated part of her approach. Together we developed from our numerous (gender-complementary) experiences during educating groups of transcultural family therapists the concept of ‘transitional space‘ (Van Bekkum e.a. 2010).

Tjin A Djie wrote four books (in Dutch) of which ‘Familieziel’ (2013) is in translation into English. The transitional model offered in the site is a major active ingredient in the “Protective Wrapping” approach.

Dirck van Bekkum for the last five years worked on expanding this transcultural systemic approach with an clinical-anthropological perpective on ‘troubling young men’ as feedbackers and whistleblowers of systemic errors in nationalizing institutions mentioned above.

Papers on Family and Community Continuity (2015), on Mimetic and Ethnecentric Reflexes (2015) and on First and Second Nations (2016) are in progress.