CHAPTER 7: CRIME AND DEVIANCE
Because norms are difference around the world, deviance is relative. It occurs
not only when you break a norm, but when others have a negative reaction.
Deviance occurs when someone departs from a norm and evokes a negative
reaction from others, whereas crime is deviance that is against the law. A law is
a norm stipulated and enforced by government bodies.
Like deviance, crime is also relative—Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther
King Jr. etc. were all doing something illegal whereas the Nazis in Germany were
abiding by their laws.
Sanctions: acts of deviance are punished either formally or informally, if noticed.
o Informal punishment involved a mild sanction that is imposed during
face-to-face interaction, not by the judicial system (raised eyebrows,
gossip, shaming, stigmatization). People who are stigmatized are
negatively evaluated because of a marker that distinguishes them from
others and that is labeled as socially unacceptable (ex. racial
o Formal punishment takes place when the judicial system penalizes
someone for breaking a law (prison time, community service, etc.)
Types of deviance/crime vary by:
o Severity of the social response (from mild disproval to capital
o Perceived harmfulness (not just actual harmfulness—perceived
harmfulness, which changes over time).
o Degree of public agreement (when the public agrees if it is
deviant/criminal—even the social definition of murder varies across
There are four types of deviance and crime:
o Social diversions are minor acts of deviance that are generally perceived
as relatively harmless and that evoke, at most, a mild societal reaction,
such as amusement or disdain. Dying your hair purple would be an
example. People are apathetic or unclear if the act is deviant.
o Social deviations are non-criminal departures from norms that are
nonetheless subject to official control. Some members of the public
regard them as somewhat harmful while other members of the public do
not. They are usually subject to an institutional sanction. An example is a
boy wearing long hair in a school that mandates buzz cuts—the
institutional sanction is a humiliating public haircut.
o Conflict crimes are illegal acts that many people consider harmful to
society. However, other people think they are not very harmful. They
are punishable by the state. An example would be growing a long beard
in Russia under Peter the Great (the state punishment was a tax on
beards). o Consensus crimes are illegal acts that nearly all people agree are bad in
themselves and harm society greatly. The state inflicts severe
punishment for consensus crimes.
o Crime statistics are based on information collected by the police, but they
are problematic because much crime is not reported to the police,
particularly in victimless crimes (victimless crimes involve violations of
the law in which no victim steps forward and is identified—examples are
prostitution, illegal gambling, and illegal drug use). Official statistics are
also problematic because the police and the wider public decide which
criminal acts to report and which to ignore (ex. if the police decide to
start cracking down on drugs, more drug crimes will be reported).
o Self-reported surveys (surveys where respondents are asked to report
their involvement in criminal activities, either as perpetrators or victims)
are another method of measuring crime. They report approx. the same
amount of crime as official statistics, but with less violent crime. They tell
us that a majority of Canadians have engaged in some type of criminal
activity and a quarter of Canadians believe themselves to have been a
victim of crime.
o Indirect measures of crime are sometimes used as well—the sales of
syringes are a good index for the use of illegal intravenous drugs.
o Victimization surveys are surveys in which people are asked whether
they have been victims of crime. They examine householders’
experiences with crime, policing, prevention, and feelings of being
unsafe. Only 55% of victimization incidents are reported to the police,
and property crimes more than crimes against persons. These surveys
provide more details about victims but less about offenders.
To be labeled a criminal, you need to do more than commit a crime. It needs to
be observed, reported to the police, and felt to justify action (investigation,
report, arrest, hearing, arraignment, trial).
Crime rates are declining for four reasons:
o There is a substantially larger corps of better trained and equipped law
enforcement and correctional officers, including new community policing
initiatives, refinement of case management methods, improvements in
o Demographics: young men are most prone to crime, but the Canadian
population is aging and the number of young people in the population
has declined. The pool of people at high risk of criminal behaviour has
o The male unemployment rate has been lower, and traditionally poor
economic conditions contribute to a higher crime rate (which occurred in
the 1980s and the 1990-1991 recession, but the economy has grown
since then and unemployment has been down). o Declining crime rates could be linked to the legalization of abortion (this
is controversial). It could have occurred because there are fewer
unwanted children in the population, who are more prone to criminal
behaviour because they have less parental supervision/guidance.
o Males committed 82% of crime, 18% was committed by females.
o 15 to 24 year old age cohort is most prone to criminal behaviour.
o Race and incarceration:
Aboriginals are only 3 percent of people over the age of 17 in
Canada, but they are 18% of admissions to provincial/territorial
and federal prisons (especially in Prairie provinces). Aboriginals
could be overrepresented in prisons because:
A disproportionately large number of them are poor (and
poverty and its handicaps are associated with elevated
Because Aboriginal tend to commit street crimes (includes
arson, breaking and entering, assault, and other illegal acts
disproportionately committed by people from lower
classes), which are generally more detectable than white-
collar crime (an illegal act committed by a respectable,
high status person in the course of work).
The police and courts may discriminate against aboriginal
Contact with Western culture has disrupted cultural life
which has led to a weakening of social control over
Many people think the same factors are at play in the high
incarceration rates of black Canadians.
Surveys (in Toronto) have shown that older and better-educated
whites and Asians with no criminal record are significantly less
likely be stopped for police searches than are younger less well-
educated whites and Asians. But age/education/lack of criminal
record doesn’t insulate blacks from searches—it made them more
likely. This suggests the police are keeping a closer eye on blacks
with education and money.
Explaining deviance and crime:
o Symbolic interactionist approaches: they focus on identifying the social
circumstances that promote the learning of deviant and criminal roles.
Learning: Howard S. Becker’s study of marijuana users established
that becoming a deviant/criminal is learned in social context. He
found a three stage learning process—learning to smoke the drug
in a way that produces real effects, learning to recognize the
effects and connect them with drug use, and then learning to enjoy the perceived sensations. You have to pass through all
stages because failing to pass through a stage meant failure to
learn the deviant role and become a regular user. He found that
learning any deviant or criminal role requires a social context
where experienced deviants teach novices tricks of the trade.
Through more exposure to these deviants, you will come to value
the lifestyle and consider it normal. The relative availability of
different types of deviants and criminals influences the type of
deviant or criminal role a delinquent youth learns.
Labelling: Labelling theory holds that deviance results not so
much from the actions of the deviant as from the response of
others, who label the rule breaker a deviant. People are not
always labeled a deviant if they deviate from norms, and some
people who have done nothing wrong could be labeled as
deviants. Labelling plays an important part in who is caught and
charged. Labelling can be a self fulfilling prophecy because police
and judges tend to be harsher on adolescents who come from
divorced families, and then sociologists and criminologists use this
data, “proving” that children of divorce are more likely to become
o Functionalist explanations: they focus on the social dysfunc