Issues in the Study of Deviance
We can enrich our lives with vicarious experience –that is by living (in our heads) the
apparently more exciting or interesting lives of others –or by investigating them and
discovering that our own lives are preferable.
Reform as a research motivation has its own dangers
First, our search for reform policies sometimes outruns our tested knowledge
The currently popular assumption that lack of self-esteem causes delinquent behavior
can result in programs that produce proud delinquents rather than ex-delinquents
Second, the belief that understanding means excusing often interferes when reform is the
Third, reform impulse also ignores the fact that many kinds of deviance are not as
harmful as they are made out to be.
The historical record shows us that many things that were deviant a generation ago (such
as women going to medical schools) are now seen as precursors of social change and
signs of the growth and adaptation of society to new conditions.
Academic Views of Deviance
In the 1930s sociology and social psychology were used as tools to deal with social
problems such as unemployment, mental illness, family breakup, delinquency and crime.
Many of these problems of troubled and troubling people were related to phases of
industrial capitalism (such as the Great Depression) and oncoming (but not yet
Deviance is often equated with typicality or deviation from a common centre. This
conception is represented in the bell (or Gaussian) curve or normal distribution
Functional Harm: occurs when deviance has a negative effect on the way that a
particular system works
Harmfulness does not distinguish or define deviance
One way of looking at the normative definition of deviance is to look for the normative
standard that governs the behavior. For each form of deviance, at least one standard is
The normative dominance of capitalist forms of enterprise over alternative forms has
often meant that people who prefer to involve themselves in noncompetitive, nonprofit,
environmentally conscious types of enterprise have, at least until recently, been
subjected to deviance labels.
When people are designated as deviant, they have often been “getting away with it”
(whatever it was) for a long time before the final change in their status from normal to
deviant. Behavior that violates rules is not deviant if the individual is not subject to these particular
A second problem with the normative violation definition is that being deviant does not
mean one escapes from all demands concerning the behavior
The moderately conforming citizen probably has more freedom than do many deviants or
criminals, who must deal not only with the forces of law and order but also with the often
brutal social controls of the subculture or underworld.
A third problem with the use of normative standards to define deviance is that the most
visible regulations are not always the most powerful codes of behavior operative in a
The written rules, religious precepts, and even laws of the land do not always represent
the effective “common values” of society
Deviance is sometimes defined in terms of the social response it evokes
We can look at the issue of response under 4 headings: negative response, tolerant
response, denial and romanticization
If a particular behavior typical elicits criticism or punishment, it is deviant in the eyes of
those who respond this way
Deviants can be identified by the ridicule, scorn, exclusion, punishment, discrimination,
fear, disgust, anger, hate, gossip, arrest, fines, confinement, or other negative reactions