Chapter 7: Deviance
Sociology, A Canadian Perspective
Deviant individuals are those who do not abide/obey the laws/norms of society.
What Is Deviance?
Deviance is people, behaviours, and conditions subject to social control.
Social control is the various ways in which members of social groups express their disapproval of people and behaviours,
i.e. name-calling, ridicule, ostracism, incarceration, and killing.
Deviance can be defined by illustration, statistical terms, and harm.
Defining deviance by listing types of people or behaviours we think deserve the label, i.e. criminals, child molesters,
drug addicts, chronic liars, etc.
Who goes on the list versus who does not is subject to the who is listing it, time and place of listing
o they are incomplete
o They do not describe why some types of people/behaviours are and are not included
o Does not give a proper definitional criteria
In Statistical Terms
Suggests a more explicit definition of deviance
Makes a certain amount of sense to identify deviance by rarity, since many people we think of as deviant are, in a
statistical sense, unusual
Major problem is that we may tend to think of some people as ‘deviants’ in the conventional sense of ‘inferior’
Obscures distinctions between people who exceed and people who fall short of certain expectations
Equating deviant action with action that produces destructive outcomes
Similar to “by illustration”, listing murderers, thieves, liars, sexual abusers, etc.
Like statistical rarity however, equations of deviance with harm are fraught with difficulty – many deviants though
to be harmful may not cause harm i.e. mentally ill
We tend to reserve the label of ‘deviant’ in our society for other categories of people
Deviance as a Sociological Concept
Social interaction is the process by which people act and react in relationships with others.
Social group is a number of individuals who share a feeling of unity or are bound together by stable patterns of interaction;
two or more individuals who have a specific common identity and who interact in a reciprocal social relationships. Primary groups are small and involve direct personal contact, whereas in a secondary group, a member may not interact
with every other member.
Some sociologists think that it is useful to distinguish between the ‘ordinary deviance’ (i.e. little white lie, sporadic
abuse of alcohol, etc.) that most of us engage in and the ‘extreme deviance’ (white supremacist, endorsing adult-
child sexual contact) that only a small number of us commit
According to Erich Goode and D. Angus Vail, extreme deviance is behaviour that is so far beyond the norm that it
invites an extremely strong negative reaction from almost all sectors of the community
Objective v. subjective character of deviance
o Objective refers to particular ways of thinking, acting, and being
o Subjective refers to the moral status accorded such thoughts, actions, and characteristics
to be deemed as a deviant, a particular behaviour must not only hold the potential for being called deviant but also
must be labelled by powerful people
People often wish to keep their deviant behaviour secret to protect themselves from social reactions.
Some researches attempt to gain the confidence of the subjects by posing as one who shares their deviant status, which
involves extremely hazardous ethical dilemmas.
Discovery of Reportable Behaviour
If research subjects confide in the researcher and reveal information about illegal/harmful circumstances, does the
researcher have an obligation to report that wrongdoing to authorities?
This a situation of professional obligation, respecting the confidentiality of information versus social and moral obligation
to protect the safety of the public and research subjects.
Researchers shouldn’t take action that could result in harm to those who participate in the research – injunction includes
emotional, mental, and economic harm.
The Sociology of Deviant Behaviour
Objective refers to the behaviour/condition. Subjective refers to the placement of that condition by the members of society
in their system of moral stratification
Several theoretical problem areas include (1) causes and forms of deviant behaviour; (2) content and character of moral
definitions; and (3) issues that arise over deviant labels.
Strain Theory is a theory by Robert Merton that deviance results when people experience a gap between their aspirations
and their opportunities. Or a strain in resources forcing people to act in a deviant behaviour to attain goals they are
encouraged to achieve.
He argued that there is a malintegration of the cultural and social structures of societies.
There is a lack of fit between the cultural goals people are encouraged to seek and the means available to pursue
these goals creates a social strain which leads to deviant behaviour class barriers’ role in social life Failed to account for middle and upper class crime and deviance
Expanded by Richard Cloward and Llolyd Ohlin that there is a need to explain why different kinds of delinquent behaviour
patterns emerge three types of delinquency adaptations:
1. Criminal pattern, characterized by instrumental delinquency activities, particularly delinquency for gain where the
involved seek to generate illegal profits (i.e. theft, fencing of stolen goods)
2. Conflict pattern, characterized by the presence of ‘fighting gangs’ who battle over turf and neighbourhood
3. Retreatist pattern, organized around the acquisition and use of hard drugs
Cultural Support Theory
Cultural support theory focuses on the way cultural beliefs create and sustain deviant conduct. Or that culture supports
According to cultural arguments, people behave in ways that reflect the cultural values to which they have been exposed
and then internalize.
University attendance due to value of education - comes from a cultural setting that values education and learning
If conventional values support conventional behaviour, it should follow that deviant values support deviant
Edward Sutherland states that people become deviant because they have been exposed to learning experiences
and culture that make deviance more likely
Critics argue that the use of culture to deviance is tautological, cultural theories tell us that deviant beliefs and
values are the source of deviant conduct
E.g. corporate crime is rotted in a culture of competition which legitimates organizational wrongdoing
Control theory states that most types of deviant behaviour do not