SOC101Y1 Lecture Notes - Premarital Sex, Homicide, Conflict Theories
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SOC212H1 September 12th 2012
In sociology, the term deviance is hard to define because it relies on the definition of
other terms. By definition, a deviant act is one that veers away from social norms. But what is
considered normal in society? Each group, ethnicity, race, and so on has their own definition for
what constitutes normal behaviour. For example, in African culture, it is normal to put spaces in
ones ear lobes, but this act is considered deviant in Canada. Whether an act is accepted or not by
people in a certain group, they change based on time and place.
There are instances where the lines are blurred between what is deviant and criminal, and
what is not. For instance, murder is by all means considered a very deviant act in almost all
nations, but there are exceptions where murder is considered, more or less, to be a norm. In war,
it is a normal occurrence to murder another person, whereas if this act were to be committed
outside of the battlefield, it would be anything but commendable. There are also cases of self-
defense where murder is not considered to be a deviant act. In Southern México, for example, the
person who was ambushed and killed was believe to be the guilty party; it was believe they
brought the violence on themselves. The homicide, in this case, was a reaction to a crime, and
not a crime itself. As is the case in some south-eastern countries, where it is believe that a rape
victim is at fault. In summary, context matters! Deviance can change over time and place, and
certain acts, although they may be the same, have different repercussions if they are in different
The definition of deviance cannot be taken for granted as it varies from place to place.
Smoking marijuana, smoking in public places, pre-marital sex, and having children before
marriage were, at one time or another, believed to be deviant acts. As societies views about
these issues change, so too does the definition of deviance. Deviance, therefore, is not a random
occurrence. It reflects the interest of the majority of society and the ruling elite. The elitists in
society, Howard Becker argued, created and defined deviant behaviours and forced people who
complied with these notions into the groups. Certain individuals were labeled based on how they
looked, dressed or acted. These people were then shunned by society and cast aside as outsiders.
A deviant person, therefore, is one who a label has successfully been applied to. Deviant
behaviour, in summary, must be labeled and applied to a certain group of people, and is therefore
based on social construction.
Joel Best was a sociologist who studied why over the years, Halloween has become such
a fearful holiday for parents. His findings revealed that the media elaborates on minor incidents
and makes them seem as though they are common occurrences, when in fact they are very rare.
Over the span of 25 years, Best found that there were only 76 incidents, and only one of which
resulted in death (and it was a domestic assault). The media overplays how dangerous candy
can be, how dangerous being out at night alone can be, and how Halloween has become more of
a sadist holiday, when in fact, the rate of accidents in very low. Best concluded that Halloween
sadism is highly over emphasized in the media. Deviant acts have become associated with
Halloween over the years, hence the growing concern for the safety of children around this
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