Chapter 6 – Deviance
What is Deviance?
o Deviance is a behavior that strays from the norm
• Deviant just means different from the norm, the usual
• Deviant does not mean bad, wrong, perverted, sick, or inferior in any way
• Deviant is a category that changes with time, place, and culture
• Deviance is about relative quantity not quality
• Definitions of deviance often reflect power
Overt and Covert Characteristics of Deviance
o Overt Characteristics: the actions or qualities taken as explicitly violating the
o Covert Characteristics: the unstated qualities that might make a group a target
• For example: age, ethnic background, and sex
Three Categories of Deviance
1. Strain Theory
2. Subcultural theory
3. Labeling theory
1. Strain Theory
o Robert Merton developed strain theory as an explanation for why some
individuals “choose” to take on deviant lifestyles.
o His theory was developed in regards to real life circumstances inhibiting
attainment of “the American dream”. The American Dream is the idea that, no
matter the circumstances or background, you can work hard to achieve great
o Strain theory helps to explain why some individuals choose not to attain
commonly recognized societal goals such as middleclass success.
2. Subcultural Theory
o Albert Cohen challenged Merton’s ideas. He stressed the class aspects of status
o Individuals from lowerclass backgrounds can become socialized into an
o Delinquent subculture values that which is rejected by the mainstream. These
subcultures aren’t innate or unchanging, but learned.
4. Labeling Theory o Howard Becker developed labeling theory to explain how labels are
o Labels may take on a master status, a status that dominates all others
The Contested Nature of Deviance
o There is seldom total agreement within a culture about what is deviant
o Contested Deviance is known as “conflict deviance”
o Conflict Deviance is a disagreement among groups over whether or not
something is deviant (e.g., marijuana laws)
Social Constructionism versus Essentialism
o Social constructivism proposes that elements of social life – including deviance,
as well as gender, race, and other elements – are not natural but are established or
created by society or culture.
o Essentialism argues that there is something “natural”, “true”, “universal”, and
therefore “objectively determined” about these elements of social life.
Stigma and Deviance
o Stigma is a human attribute that is seen to discredit an individual’s social identity
o Goffman in his work on stigma, Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity
(1963), identified three types of stigma:
1. Bodily Stigma: physical deformities
2. Moral stigma: blemishes of individual character
3. Tribal stigma: transmitted through group association.
o The other is
o An image conjured up by dominant culture within a society or by a
colonizing nation of the colonized
o The way the dominant group describes another group as being different
and in some way inferior
o To racialize deviance is to link p