September 20, 2011
-This is the only lecture where we specifically discuss deviance. Beyond that, we talk about a kind of deviance, which is
crime. Parts of this lecture overlaps a lot with the text book.
What is deviance?
Are you deviant? Am I?
Who commits deviance? Why?
Who commits crime? Why
What is the difference?
Who defines deviance?
Who controls it?
-What is the difference between crime and devince? Crime is punishable by law, deviance isn’t necessarily punishable
(wearing a weird outfit for example).
-Deviance is often affected by context.
-Is thought deviance? Deviance is often subjective.
-Is it deviant to hold religious beliefs? Maybe not. What if someone held specific religious beliefs? What if someone had
specific premonitions that came true? What would it take to believe him? We have n element of subjectivity in play, and he
would have to be right almost all the time. However, for the most part, you would be quite skeptical with what he said.
-While we may not have a plan, we would be a little bit skeptical, and the guy would have to be quite accurate. So in
regards to thought and belief, if this guy met people a thousand years ago would they be more likely to believe it? Yes.
-The language of legitimacy in contemporary society is science, rationality etc. 3000 years ago, we didn’t have an
underlying population who held scientific beliefs. You had people who were apt to storytelling.
-Thus, there is a cultural specificity of deviance that varies over time and place and when the ideas emerge play a big
part. No Christian would doubt that Jesus walked the earth, but if someone said today that demi gods walk the earth, we
would be skeptical. That’s the ambiguity of deviance and this illustrates how perceptions of deviance have to do with when
the ideas emerged.
The Ambiguity of Deviance
Which of these is most deviant?
1. Killing someone
2. Organ trafficking
3. Demolishing a building full of people
-In the military, the goal is to use maximal force against an opponent, similar to fighting sports.
Demolishing a Building?
While some consensus may form around definitions of deviance, it is often found in ‘the eye of the beholder’
-Think of 911, most would think of this as a highly deviant act. Some may not. Deviance is all about context.
Deviance is often temporally and culturally situated
-What about wife burning? In some cultures, insufficient dowry is punishable by wife burning. Witch burning as well.
….so, how do you define deviance?
Definitions of Deviance
• Common conditions determine what is normal or deviant
• Statistical minority represents deviance
o E.g. Most teens drink and commit crime, so non-drinking, non-criminal teens are deviant (huh)?
-Most young people experiment with booze, drugs, crime, etc. Because most of them do it, does that mean the rest are
deviant? According to this definition, yes, because it is outside of statistical range. This definition is thus problematic. It
only looks at the actions, but not the meaning.
• Deviance results from a value judgment based on absolute standards
• Absolute moral order- normal is good, and there is something obviously bad in each deviant act.
o E.g. Religious proscriptions against homosexuality (It’s “just wrong”)
-Durkheim and consensus approached to society is the equivalent of the absolutist definition. It results from value
judgments of what is absolutely right or wrong. Normal is good, things that are abnormal is not good.
-Incest would be an example because no matter what the context or circumstance, there is continuity of a consensus
belief and everyone will agree. -The problems with this definition is that there is no gray area in the middle. Everyone will not absolutely agree on right or
wrong. It doesn’t leave room for relativism.
• Deviance is a social product
• Whatever people react to and label as deviant becomes deviant
o E.g. MADD - drunk driving as a serious social ill
-Whatever people react to and label, is deviant. If people don’t react to it and don’t label it, and don’t catch you, it isn’t
deviant. Madd had to work hard to make drunk driving a social problem. It wasn’t always that way. They worked hard to
have it labeled deviant.
• Deviant label depends on what the group thinks should and should not occur
• Can change from situation to situation, and over time
• Values are plural - not absolute
-This is the middle ground. Deviance doesn’t have consensus of values, it is flexible, it varies over time and place. This is
the general definition of deviance that we will use in the course (mostly). Deviance is a violation of social norms, and a
clear and vocal majority have to agree that something is deviant (but not all). It also has to draw sanctions and reactions.
If no one reacts, it isn’t deviant.
Definition of Deviance
1. The violation of social norms - behavioural codes that guide people into actions and presentations of self that
conform with social expectations
2. Agreement about norms may not be universal, but a clear and vocal majority must agree
3. Violating norms draws reactions and sanctions
-The problem with the relativist definition is it doesn’t answer what it is that people are reacting against, If everyone is
reacting against it, isn’t it a social norm? That’s why this definition is better, because it allows for some consensus.
1. Prescientific Approaches
2. Classical Approaches
3. Biological Approaches
• Parables and Myth
Describe and explain deviance and its consequences
E.g. Icarus, children’s stories
-This has to do with stories that describe the consequences of deviance. Many stories and parables have an underlying
moral ethic designed to teach the difference between right and wrong.
-Little red riding hood, for example, has the moral lesson of “don’t talk to strangers”.
• Deviance and suffering as beyond human control
• Actions of the gods, hostile spirits
• Not entirely predictable or preventable
-Deviance and suffering are beyond human control, unpredictable, and deviance is supernatural and outside the bounds
of human control. Poseidon, was a God, and back then, people always made an offering to him before going sailing just to
avoid him sinking their ship.
• Supernatural forces act through weak or willing people to cause harm
• Eg. crop failure, murder, illness, weather
• Temptation: devil facilitates evil
• Possession: control by devils
Eg. mental illness, birth defects, vices blamed on violation of supernatural law
-Supernatural forces act through people who are weak (easily influenced) or willing. Things can happen though these
individuals, people can die, they can cause crops to die, draughts, etc. Thus, droughts weren’t becaue of extreme weather
conditions, they were because of supernatural forces.
-Temptation implies human agency, and the devil works through you if you are willing. Thus, if you go outside the natural
order, you are inviting the supernatural.
-According to this perspective, natural disasters don’t happen. They are the result of supernatural forces.
• Religious paradigms or nonsecular governments
• Nonconformity cast as sinful
• Afflicted are condemned • Eg. apostasy, premarital sex, interfaith marriage, heresy
-Sin is more contemporary in that it also works today. Where nonsecular governments exist and where religious forces are
prominent, certain acts become cast as sinful.
Discredit beliefs of other faiths
-This has to do with recasting other groups as demonic or sinful and discrediting the beliefs of other groups. Thus, there is
nothing inherently truthful of any religion. Thus you have to fight to discredit the other religions to get people to convert to
• Belief in spirits and magic
• Recast as subversive conspiracy
-Pagan beliefs held sway in Europe a long time ago, even when Christianity was dominant. There was also a belief in
magic. However, at some point, the church began to recast magic as subversive an redefine it as a massive conspiracy
an thus witches should be persecuted. People believed in magic and some magic was good magic, but it was then recast
and all magic was considered bad magic.
• Evil, the taint of satanism and the occult
• McMartin nursery school, Martensville daycare
• Torture, human sacrifice, cannibalism, sex act