Chapter 1: Social Deviance
Deviance: Behaviours, beliefs or characteristics that many people in a society find
or would find offensive and which excite, upon discovery, disapproval, condemnation,
hostility or punishment.
The process by which the actors, the believers and the possessors
character is tainted, stigmatized, and inferiorized.
Denying the reality of deviance is entirely mistaken for three reasons:
We can find widespread agreement that certain acts and beliefs are wrong
What is regarded and reacted to as wrong is not simply about firm
society-wide consensus, but also about how certain social circles of people
feel and what they do in specific situations and contexts
Some disagreement prevails even about widely accepted norms
There are 4 necessary ingredients for deviance to take place
A rule or norm must exist
Someone must violate that norm
An audience must be presont, someone who judges the normative
violation to be wrong
There must be a measurable likelihood of a negative reaction by that
audience (criticism, disapproval, censure, stigma)
When we say that in American Society, generally, prostitutes, political radicals, and
atheists tend to be looked down upon and regarded as deviants, this does not mean
that we necessarily agree with the judgement. It means that as sociologists, we
recognize that certain negative consequences are likely to result from announcing
this to a cross section of society
The terms deviant and deviance are absolutely non-pejorative: the are
descriptive terms that apply to what others think and how they react.
Deviance is an analytic category: it applies in all spheres and areas of
human life: it is a trans-historical and cross-cultural concept
Societal and Situational Deviance
Societal Deviance: composed of those actions and conditions that are
widely recognized, in advance and in general, to be deviant (hierarchical)
o High degree of consensus
o Hierarchical/Vertical: The people with the most power get to say
what is deviant and what is normal. Certain acts, beliefs and traits
are deviant society wide because they are condemned by the
majority, the post powerful members of society
This raises the question of the dominance of one category
or society over another. Some groups are more powerful,
influential and numerous than others
Social scientists say that a dominant belief or institution is
hegemonic: it holds swat over beliefs held or institutions
supported by less powerful social groupings
Situational Deviance: does not exist as a general, society-wide quality,
but in actual, concrete social gatherings, circles or settings.
o A given act, belief or trait can be a normative violation in one
group/society, and conformist in another.
o Mosaic/Horizontal: society/societies are mosaics of separate and
independent collectivities of people who do not influence each
This is compatible with the situational definition of deviance
Low consensus deviance: what fetches condemnation in one
social circle produces indifference or even praise in anotherABCs of Deviance
Attitudes: unpopular, unconventional beliefs that may or may not
manifest themselves into actions
o Holding unconventional, unorthodox, or unpopular beliefs may be
regarded as cognitive deviance
Behaviour: any overt action (including the failure to act) that is likely to
attract condemnation, hostility or punishment.
o Actions speak louder than words. A dishonest character is revealed
or manifested mainly by dishonest behaviour, a weak will and an
inability to resist temptation.
Conditions: physical characteristics or traits that likewise, make someone
the target of an audiences disapproval.
o Possessing unconventional, unacceptable physical traits is deviant.
If the disabled receive negative social reactions from the abled,
they are deviant
o Achieved Status: some statuses are achieved, like graduating
o Ascribed Status: statuses which are not achieved, but are thrust
upon an infant at birth. Being born into a certain family is an
Tribal Stigma: a form of deviance that automatically discredits someone because
they belong to a racial, national or religious category of humanity.
Relativity: The sociology of deviance is relativistic. Deviance changes based on who
the audience is, what time period it is and where you are.
Essentialism: sees deviance as a specific, concrete, phenomenon