What is Deviance?
All societies have norms that govern acceptable behaviour and mechanisms of social control—
systematic practices developed by social groups to encourage conformity and to discourage deviance.
Deviance is relative and it varies in its degree of seriousness: some forms of deviant behaviour are
officially defined as a crime—a behaviour that violates criminal law and is punishable with fines, jail
terms, and other sanctions.
Becker: deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the
application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender.
The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied. Deviant behaviour is the behaviour
or persons so labelled
Norms of evasion: whenever the mores or laws forbid something that many people strongly wish to do
so, norms of evasion are likely to appear. These are the patterns of behaviour people break away the
mores without openly challenging them
deviance is both a threat and protection to social stability
deviance threatens order and predictability leading to
confusion in common values of the society
mores lose their compelling power
individuals feel insecure and confused
deviance also allows cultural adaptation to social change. In that sense deviant behaviour represents
future adaptations in their beginnings. A changing society needs deviant behaviour if it is to operate
What are some of the key problems with biological and psychological explanations?
Most people who commit deviant acts aren’t consitently deviant
Most deviant acts are committed by people who are basically normal & do not have marked
One is usually diagnosed as mentally ill because of one’s deviant behaviour
Sociological Perspectives tend to claim that:
deviance exists only in relation to cultural norms, no thought or action is inherently deviant;
people becomes deviant as others define them that way;
both norms and the way people define situations involve social power: norms and laws are devices to
protect the interests of the powerful
Theories of Deviance: Strain Theory
According to strain theory, people feel strain when they are exposed to cultural goals that they are
unable to obtain because they do not have access to culturally approved means of achieving those goals.
Problems: assumes that official statistics on crime is reliable; fails to account for middle-class and upper-
class crime and deviance; ignores gender dimension. Cultural Support Theory:
Cultural support theory focuses on how cultural beliefs create and sustain deviant behaviour.
Deviance is learned in the same way as conformity—through interaction with others.
According to Sutherland, learning the ‘specific drives, motives, attitudes and rationalizations’ is essential
to becoming deviant.
People need to learn how to believe that deviant behaviour is acceptable despite the reality that many
people consider the behaviour as repugnant.
Problems: Cultural support theory is criticized for being tautological (circular reasoning).
Cultural theories tell us that deviant beliefs and values are the sources of deviant conduct, but it is
difficult to know people’s beliefs and values.
Inferring values and actions from behaviour is problematic.
Control theorists believe that deviance occurs because people have opportunities to deviate and they
find such opportunities rewarding.
The central question they consider is not ‘why do some people deviate’?, but ‘why don’t people
Hirschi argued that the probability of deviant behaviour increases when a person’s ties to society are
weakened or broken.
Hirschi has argued that deviance is best understood as behaviour that results from impulsivity in people.
They possess low self-control.
Problems: ignore the role of motivations in deviance; focuses mostly deviant behaviour among the
Transactional Character of Deviance:
Most of the theories we summarized so far focus on individuals when explaining deviant behaviour.
Others believe attention should be directed to situations rather than individuals.
Luckenbill has argued that murder is the result of situations in which people feel offended and turn to
The ‘Facts’ of Deviant Behaviour:
Sociologists have demonstrated that deviance is not randomly distributed throughout society. Rather, it
is highly correlated with gender, age, class, and ethnicity.
Males are more likely to be involved in disapproved behaviour than are females.
Males are more likely to be involved in crime.
Feminists have argued that sociological literature has tended to ignore the deviant behaviour of
Age is strongly asso