Chapter 8: Deviance and Social Control
What is Deviance?
• Ageneral definition: “deviance” refers to any violation of norms
• According to Howard S. Becker, sociologists are concerned not with the act itself, but the
reactions to the act – those reactions are what make something deviant.
• Hence certain acts that are viewed as conformist by those committing them, may be
interpreted as deviant by those who witness them
• Example: Carol Stack’s study of matriarchal families in the South in All our Kin
• Deviance is relative; “what is deviant” varies from society to society and group to group.
• Aspecific form of deviance, crime (the violation of rules that have been written into law),
is also relative.
• Although deviance is typically associated with behaviors, it can also include violations of
ability (such as blindness) and appearance (such as obesity).
• Sociologist Erving Goffman used the term “stigma” to refer to “blemishes” that discredit
a person’s claim to a “normal” identity.
What is the purpose of social control?
• By making behavior predictable, norms make social life possible. Consequently, all
human groups develop a system of social control with formal and informal means of
• One important means of social control are negative sanctions, which can range from
frowns to capital punishment.
• In general, the more seriously the group view a norm, the harsher the penalty for
• An especially effective negative sanction within primary groups and small communities
is shaming, which typically involves subjecting a “rule breaker” to public ridicule,
humiliation, and/or condemnation.
• Sociologist Harold Garfinkel used the term “degradation ceremony” to refer to formal
attempts to brand someone as an outsider. This may involve bringing an “offending”
individual up before a group, forcing that individual to account for his or her actions, and
then taking steps to strip that individual of his or her identity as a group member.
• Shaving the heads of French women accused as Nazi collaborators.
• Court TV programs who denounce offenders or lenient judges.
• Web sites that list identities and information regarding sex offenders
Symbolic interactionists, functionalists, and conflict theorists each have their own sets of
theories for understanding and analyzing deviance and social control:
I. The Symbolic Interacionist Perspective on Deviance and Social Control
• For the symbolic interactionist approach on deviance, the focus is on memberships in
groups and how groups affect behaviors.
o A. DifferentialAssociation Theory Claims that people learn to either deviate from or conform to society’s
norms through the different groups with whom they associate
What we learn influences us toward or away from deviance
Hence, deviance is learned
Families, friends, neighborhoods, and subcultures with which people
associate teach us attitudes that, in turn, translate into conforming or
Research indicates that delinquents are more likely to come from
families who get into trouble with the law
According to one study of 25,000 delinquents locked up in high-
security state institutions, 25% had a father who had been in prison,
25% a brother or sister, 9% had a mother, and 13% percent had some
Research demonstrates that delinquency tends to be clustered in
certain neighborhoods with children from these neighborhoods more
likely to become delinquent than children from other neighborhoods
Although groups influence behavior, symbolic interactionists also
stress that they do not determine behavior. People are not destined to
think and act as their groups dictate.
o B. Control Theory
According to control theory, people generally avoid deviance because
of an effective system of inner and outer controls.
Two control systems work against people’s inclinations to deviate.
People’s inner controls include their internalized morality—their
conscience, religious principles, ideas of right and wrong, fears of
punishment, feeling of integrity, and desires to be a good person.
People’s outer controls consist of other significant people in their
lives, such as their family, friends, and police, who influence them not
The stronger an individual’s bonds are with social structures, such as
the family or school, the more effective their inner controls are.
These bonds are based on attachments (feeling affection and respect
for people who conform to the dominant norms of society),
commitments (having a stake in society that you don’t want to risk,
such as family, employment, and reputation) involvements (investing
time and energy into legitimate activities), and beliefs (believing
deviant behaviors are morally wrong).
These components summarize one’s level of self-control with deviant
behavior reflecting a lack of self-control.
o C. Labeling Theory
People are assigned labels (names and reputations) that become part of
their self-concept, which, in turn, channels them toward conforming or
More people resist the negative labels other people try to pin on them.
Labels can be powerful… Label can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, working to open
doors of opportunity for individuals who are assigned positive labels
and, conversely, closing doors of opportunity for individuals who are
assigned negative labels
In a study of delinquent boys, Sykes and Matza were able to identify
five “techniques of neutralization” that people use to resist negative
labels and rationalize their deviant behavior.
Denial of responsibility (“I’m not responsible because..”)
Denial of injury (“Nobody really got hurt.”)
Denial of victim (“The person deserved what he or she got.”)
Condemnation of the condemners (“Who are these people to
Appeal to higher loyalty (“I had to stick up for my family,” or “I had
to help out my friends.”)
Although most people resist being labeled deviant, some group
members revel in it.
Youth cultures and rebelliousness through music, clothes, and/or
Example from text: outlaw bikers, such bikers, who see the world as
“hostile, weak and effeminate,” and pride themselves on looki