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Lecture 7 Deviance

Lecture 7: Deviance
Lecture 7: Deviance
Deviance is defined as non-conformity to a set of norms.
Crime is the breaking of laws.
Deviance is a violation of established contextual, cultural, or social norms,
whether folkways, mores, or codified law. W. Summer (1906).
Folkways are norms based on everyday cultural customs concerning practical
matters like how to hold a fork.
Mores are more serious moral injunctions or taboos that are broadly
recognized by a society, like incest taboo.
Codified laws are norms that are specified in explicit codes and enforced by
government bodies.
Crime is therefore an act of deviance that breaks not only a norm, but a law.
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Deviance consists of those acts that do not follow the norms and expectations
of a particular social group.
Deviance may be positively sanctioned (rewarded), negatively sanctioned
(punished) or simply accepted without reward or punishment.
Deviance is culturally determined, and culture change over time and vary
from society to society.
John Hagen (1994) provides a typology to classify deviant acts in terms of
- their perceived harmfulness
- The degree of consensus concerning the norms violated
- And the severity of the response to them.
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The most serious acts of deviance are consensus crimes about which there is
near-unanimous public agreement.
Acts like murder and sexual assault are generally regarded as morally
intolerable, injurious, and subject to harsh penalties.
Conflict crimes are acts like prostitution or smoking marijuana, which may be
illegal but about which there is considerable public disagreement concerning
their seriousness.
Social deviations are acts like abusing serving staff or behaviours arising from
mental illness and addiction, which are not illegal in themselves but are
widely regarded as serious or harmful. People agree that they call for
institutional interventions.
Social diversions like boys wearing pants way below their buttocks displaying
their underwear, facial piercings that violate norms in a provocative way but
are generally regarded as distasteful but harmless, or for some, cool.
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The big question is “What is deviant behavior?” which cannot be answered in
a straightforward way.
The two key insights of the sociological approach to deviance (which
distinguishes if from moral and legalistic approaches) are:
1. Deviance is defined by its social context. To understand why some acts are
deviant and some are not, it is necessary to understand what the context
is, what the existing rules are, and how these rules came to be established.
If the rules change, what counts as deviant also changes. Whether an act
is deviant or not depends on society’s definition of that act. Acts are not
deviant in themselves.
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2. Deviance is not an intrinsic (biological or psychological) attribute of
individuals, nor of the act themselves, but a product of social processes.
The norms themselves, or the social contexts that determine which acts
are deviant or not, are continually defined and redefined through ongoing
social processes – political, legal, cultural etc.
One way in which certain activities or people come to be understood and
defines as deviant is through the intervention of moral entrepreneurs. Becker
(1963) defined them as individuals or groups who, in the service of their own
interest, publicize and problematize “wrongdoing” and have the power to
create and enforce rules to penalize wrongdoing.
One of the tactics used by moral entrepreneurs is to create moral panic
about activities, like marijuana use, that hey deem deviant.
A moral panic occurs when media-fueled public fear and overreaction lead
authorities to label and repress deviants.
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The key insight is that individuals’ deviant status is ascribed to them through
social processes.
Individuals are not born deviant, but become deviant through their
interactions with reference groups, institutions, and authorities. Read page
The process of classifying kinds of people is a social process that Hacking calls
“making up people” and Howard Becker calls “labelling” (1963).
Crime and deviance are social constructs that vary according to the definitions
of crime, the forms and effectiveness of policing, the social characteristics of
criminals, and the relations of power that structure society.
Part of the problem of deviance is that the social process of labelling some
kinds of persons or activities as abnormal or deviant limits the type of social
responses available.
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The major issue is not that labels are arbitrary or that it is possible not to use
labels at all, but that the choice of label has consequences. Who gets labelled
by whom and the way social labels are applied have powerful social
Social Control:
All societies practice social control, the regulation and enforcement of norms.
- an organized action intended to change people’s behavior (Innes 2003).
The underlying goal of social control is to maintain social order.
One means of enforcing rules are through sanctions. Positive sanctions are
rewards given for conforming to norms e.g. a promotion at work for working
hard. Negative sanctions are punishments for violating norms e.g. being
arrested for shoplifting. Both types of sanctions play a role in social control.
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Sociologists also classify sanctions as formal or informal which can be negative
or positive.
Informal: If a student swear in class he/she may draw disapproving looks from
other students and probably be sent out of the class (negative). On the other
hand you may give an old lady your seat on the bus and attract approving
glances from passengers. (positive)
Black (1976) identifies four key styles of social control.
1. Penal social control: prohibits certain social behaviours and responding to
violations with punishment.
2. Compensatory social control: offender pays a victim to compensate for a
harm committed.
3. Therapeutic social control: involves the use of therapy to return
individuals to a normal state.
4. Conciliatory social control: aims to reconcile parties of a disp
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Theoretical Perspectives
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Emile Durkheim believed that deviance is a necessary part of a successful
society. It challenges people’s present views (1893) e.g. when black people
challenge discrimination and segregation in the U.S. He noted that when
deviance is punished, it reaffirms currently held social norms, which
contributes to society.
The social disorganization theory asserts that crime is most likely to occur in
communities with weak social ties and the absence of social control. A person
is not born a criminal but becomes one over time, often based on factors in his
or her environment. Travis Hirschi’s control theory states that social control is
directly affected by the strength of social bonds.
Many people would be wiling to break laws or act in deviant ways to reap
rewards of pleasure, excitement, and profit etc. if they had the opportunity.
Anomie is a "condition in which society provides little moral guidance to
individuals". It is the breakdown of social bonds between an individual and the
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• a state or condition of individuals or society characterized by a
breakdown or absence of social norms and values, as in the case of
uprooted people.
• Normlessness
• Émile Durkheim described anomie which is a state of relative normlessness
or a state in which norms have been eroded. A norm is an expectation of
how people will behave, and it takes the form of a rule that is socially
rather than formally enforced. Thus, in structural functionalist theory, the
effect of normlessness whether at a personal or societal level, is to introduce
alienation, isolation, and desocialisation, i.e. as norms become less binding
for individuals. Individuals thus lose the sense of what is right and wrong.
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Sociologist Robert Merton expanded on Durkheim and developed a strain
• Robert King Merton was an American sociologist who argued that society
can encourage deviance to a large degree. Merton believed that socially
accepted goals put pressure on people to conform. People are forced to
work within the system or become members of a deviant subculture to
achieve the desired goal. Merton's belief became the theory known as
Strain Theory. Merton continued on to say when individuals are faced with a
gap between their goals (usually finances/money related) and their current
status, strain occurs. When faced with strain, people have five ways to
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1. Conformity: The majority of people in society choose to conform and not to deviate. They pursue their
society’s valued goals to the extent that they can through socially accepted means.
2. Innovation: Those who innovate pursue goals they cannot reach through legitimate means by instead using
criminal or deviant means.
3. Ritualism: People who ritualize lower their goals until they can reach them through socially acceptable
ways. These “social ritualists” focus on conformity to the accepted means of goal attainment while
abandoning the distant, unobtainable dream of success.
4. Retreatism: Others retreat from the role strain and reject both society’s goals and accepted means. Some
beggars and street people have withdrawn from society’s goal of financial success. They drop out.
5. Rebellion: A handful of people rebel, replacing a society’s goals and means with their own. Rebels seek to
create a greatly modified social structure in which provision would be made for closer correspondence
between merit, effort, and reward.
As many youth from poor backgrounds are exposed to the high value placed on material success in capitalist
society but face insurmountable odds to achieving it, turning to illegal means to achieve success is a rational,
if deviant, solution.
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Conflict Theory
Critical sociology/Conflict Theorist looks to social and economic factors as the
causes of crime and deviance. Unlike functionalists, conflict theorists don’t see
these factors as necessary functions of society, but as evidence of inequality in the
As a result of inequality, many crimes can be understood as crimes of
accommodation, or ways in which individuals cope with conditions of oppression
(Quinney 1977).
Predatory crimes like break and enters, robbery, and drug dealing are often simply
economic survival strategies.
Personal crimes like murder, assault, and sexual assault are products of
the stresses and strains of living under stressful conditions of scarcity and
Defensive crimes like economic sabotage, illegal strikes, civil disobedience, and ecoterrorism are direct challenges to social injustice.
The analysis of critical sociologists is not meant to excuse or rationalize crime, but to
locate its underlying sources at the appropriate level so that they can be addressed
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Conflict theorist do not see the normative order and the criminal justice
system as simply neutral or “functional” with regard to the collective interests
of society.
Institutions of normalization and the criminal justice system have to be seen
in context as mechanisms that actively maintain the power structure of the
political-economic order.
The rich, the powerful, and the privileged have unequal influence on who and
what gets labelled deviant or criminal, particularly in instances when their
privilege is being challenged.
As capitalist society is based on the institution of private property, for
example, it is not surprising that theft is a major category of crime. By the
same token, when street people, addicts, or hippies drop out of society, they
are labelled deviant and are subject to police harassment because they have
refused to participate in productive labour.
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In his book The Power Elite (1956), sociologist C. Wright Mills
described the existence of what he dubbed the power elite, a small
group of wealthy and influential people at the top of society who
hold the power and resources. Wealthy executives, politicians,
celebrities, and military leaders often have access to national and
international power, and in some cases, their decisions affect
everyone in society. Because of this, the rules of society are stacked
in favour of a privileged few who manipulate them to stay on top. It
is these people who decide what is criminal and what is not, and the
effects are often felt most by those who have little power. Mills’s
theories explain why celebrities such as Chris Brown and Paris Hilton,
or once-powerful politicians such as Eliot Spitzer and Tom DeLay, can
commit crimes with little or no legal retribution.
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Crimes committed by the wealthy and powerful remain an underpunished and
costly problem within society.
White-collar or corporate crime refers to crimes committed by corporate
employees or owners in the pursuit of profit or other organization goals.
They are more difficult to detect because the transactions take place in private
and are more difficult to prosecute because the criminals can secure expert
legal advice on how to bend the rules.
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Feminist view
Women who are regarded as criminally deviant are often seen as being doubly
deviant. They have broken the laws
but they have also broken gender norms about appropriate female behaviour,
whereas men’s criminal behaviour is
seen as consistent with their aggressive, self-assertive character. This double
standard also explains the tendency to
medicalize women’s deviance, to see it as the product of physiological or
psychiatric pathology.
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• Before feminism, women were invisible in the sociological perspective. Crime by women
was explained by saying females criminals were a ‘special case’ and were a result of sexual
promiscuity or biological deviance. Essentially sociology didn’t accept that normal women
committed crime.
• Feminists say that this ignorance of female crime is because society is patriarchal and is
focused on men, ignoring the women. So feminists argue that the issues that other
perspectives debate aren’t the really important ones, the biggest problem is that women
are ignored.
• Bias in the criminal justice system
• A vast amount of research has looked into the way in which the criminal justice system
might be gender bias.
• Carlen found, using qualitative research on Scottish sheriffs and judges, that sheriffs were
less likely to imprison women whom were good mothers but were more likely to punish
single mothers or mothers with children in care.
• Allen found that females are treated more leniently for motoring offenses.
• Also, women who conform to the judges’ perspective of femininity were more likely to get
lesser sentences.
• This suggests that the feminist view that there is gender bias in the criminal justice system
is true.
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Symbolic Interaction
Symbolic interactionism is a theoretical approach that can be used to explain
how societies and/or social groups come to view behaviors as deviant or
conventional. Labeling theory, differential association, social disorganization
theory, and control theory fall within the realm of symbolic interactionism.
• Labeling Theory
Although all of us violate norms from time to time, few people would consider
themselves deviant. Those who do, however, have often been labeled
“deviant” by society and have gradually come to believe it
themselves. Labeling theory examines the ascribing of a deviant behavior to
another person by members of society. Thus, what is considered deviant is
determined not so much by the behaviors themselves or the people who
commit them, but by the reactions of others to these behaviors. As a result,
what is considered deviant changes over time and can vary significantly across
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Sociologist Edwin Lemert expanded on the concepts of labeling theory and
identified two types of deviance that affect identity formation. Primary
deviance is a violation of norms that does not result in any long-term effects
on the individual’s self-image or interactions with others. Speeding is a
deviant act, but receiving a speeding ticket generally does not make others
view you as a bad person, nor does it alter your own self-concept. Individuals
who engage in primary deviance still maintain a feeling of belonging in society
and are likely to continue to conform to norms in the future.
Secondary deviance occurs when a person’s self-concept and behavior begin
to change after his or her actions are labeled as deviant by members of
society. The person may begin to take on and fulfill the role of a “deviant” as
an act of rebellion against the society that has labeled that individual as such.
For example, consider a high school student who often cuts class and gets
into fights. The student is reprimanded frequently by teachers and school
staff, and soon enough, he develops a reputation as a “troublemaker.” As a
result, the student starts acting out even more and breaking more rules; he
has adopted the “troublemaker” label and embraced this deviant identity.
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Edwin Sutherland: Differential Association
• In the early 1900s, sociologist Edwin Sutherland sought to understand how
deviant behavior developed among people. Since criminology was a young
field, he drew on other aspects of sociology including social interactions and
group learning (Laub 2006). His conclusions established differential
association theory, which suggested that individuals learn deviant behavior
from those close to them who provide models of and opportunities for
deviance. According to Sutherland, deviance is less a personal choice and
more a result of differential socialization processes. A teen whose friends are
sexually active is more likely to view sexual activity as acceptable.
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• Travis Hirschi: Control Theory
Continuing with an examination of large social factors, control theory states that social
control is directly affected by the strength of social bonds and that deviance results from a
feeling of disconnection from society. Individuals who believe they are a part of society are
less likely to commit crimes against it.
Travis Hirschi (1969) identified four types of social bonds that connect people to society:
• Attachment measures our connections to others. When we are closely attached to people,
we worry about their opinions of us. People conform to society’s norms in order to gain
approval (and prevent disapproval) from family, friends, and romantic partners.
• Commitment refers to the investments we make in the community. A well-respected local
businesswoman who volunteers at her synagogue and is a member of the neighborhood
block organization has more to lose from committing a crime than a woman who doesn’t
have a career or ties to the community.
• Similarly, levels of involvement, or participation in socially legitimate activities, lessen a
person’s likelihood of deviance. Children who are members of little league baseball teams
have fewer family crises.
• The final bond, belief, is an agreement on common values in society. If a person views
social values as beliefs, he or she will conform to them. An environmentalist is more likely
to pick up trash in a park, because a clean environment is a social value to him (Hirschi
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Associated Theorist
Deviance arises from:
Strain Theory
Robert Merton
A lack of ways to reach socially accepted goals by
accepted methods
Social Disorganization Theory
University of Chicago researchers
Weak social ties and a lack of social control; society
has lost the ability to enforce norms with some
Cultural Deviance Theory
Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay
Conformity to the cultural norms of lower-class
Conflict Theory
Associated Theorist
Deviance arises from:
Unequal System
Karl Marx
Inequalities in wealth and power that arise from the
economic system
Power Elite
C. Wright Mills
Ability of those in power to define deviance in ways
that maintain the status quo
Symbolic Interactionism
Associated Theorist
Deviance arises from:
Labeling Theory
Edwin Lemert
The reactions of others, particularly those in power
who are able to determine labels
Differential Association Theory
Edwin Sutherlin
Learning and modeling deviant behavior seen in
other people close to the individual
Control Theory
Travis Hirschi
Feelings of disconnection from society
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Little, W. & McGivern, R. (2014) Introduction to Sociology – 1st Canadian
Edition. OpenStax College