Deviance is behavior that some people in society find offensive and which excites, or would excite, if it were discovered, disapproval, punishment, condemnation, or hostility. Deviance is behavior that is likely to get you into trouble. Deviant behavior is outside the bounds of the group or society (Goode, 1997:37).
Many times during a day we disagree with people, but we don't usually label those we disagree with as deviant. Deviance is not simply behavior. It involves a moral judgment. Deviance involves a judgment made by somebody. Actually, any act can be defined as deviant (See Henslin, 1999:192).
It's not possible to isolate certain acts and find them universally condemned by all societies as deviant acts (Not even murder or incest). Even within a given society, behavior defined as deviant continually undergoes redefinition.
Deviance, furthermore, is relative to time and place. It is not possible to find something that is absolutely condemned by all societies. Behavior that is deviant in one society may not be in another. Even within one society, what is deviant today may not be deviant tomorrow.
Three examples that highlight the relative nature of deviance are provided below:
Usually it is. But, is murder wrong when it is done in self-defense or in warfare? Vietnam veterans were taught to be efficient killers for war, but could not control themselves when reintroduced into civilian life.
For years, the ruling party in South Africa viewed him as a "dangerous political deviant." To most South Africans, those who are Black, Mandela is a revered leader of the freedom movement (see Kornblum, 1988:201).
The social status of a bandit, particularly one whose activities have political overtones, is ambiguous. To those who are being robbed, as the bandit gains status (and wealth and power), the bandit is seen as even more deviant. To the poor, however, bandits are sometimes seen as rebels who reject the normal roles that poor people are expected to play. Through their bandit activities people like Pancho Villa are able to display courage, cunning, and determination (See Kornblum, 1988:212).
Definitions of mental disorders occur in much the same fashion that other forms of deviance receive their definitions. Many times the definition is quite vague and varies "depending on the culture, audience, and context." Behavior alone does not add up to mental disorder. Context is important (Eitzen, 1986:456-7).
If a poor woman shoplifts a roast, people call her a common criminal. On the other hand, if a rich woman steals a roast, her deviant status is kleptomaniac -- a form of mental illness.
If a woman is sexually promiscuous, she might find herself labeled as a nymphomaniac, while a man is a stud, macho, swinger, etc.
A man may be punctual and obedient during the week while he is at work, but on Saturday afternoon he raises hell while watching the afternoon foot ball game. Both behaviors, while appearing contradictory, are "normal" in their respective contexts. But, if he took Saturday's behavior to the office he would find himself labeled as strange and he might even get fired. On the other hand, passive behavior at a Saturday afternoon football game would be considered a social drag and his peers would not want to watch football with him anymore.
Abstinence for two years after marriage in the West would be viewed as weird and grounds for annulment. Such behavior is, however, required for newlyweds in the Dani Tribe of New Guinea. Sexual activity for the Dani before two years would be viewed as sexual deviance.
People used to be burned at the stake for engaging in behavior that most twentieth-century people see as normal.
For a long time the Western view of deviance has been strongly influenced by the church's view which dates back to the 4th century. Religious Explanations are the oldest of all explanations for deviance. Goode (1997:65) notes that from the beginning of time to roughly the 1700s, the most dominant explanations of deviance invoked visions of evil spirits. The deviant is seen as morally deprived and perhaps possessed by the devil. The cause is seen as residing inside the individual.
Evil spirits possess the victim. Alcoholism is seen as a weakness, mental illness is seen as irresponsibility, criminal and deviant acts result from giving in to our evil nature, sexual deviance is seen as moral depravity, and rebellion is seen as immaturity. In each case the cause of deviance lies within the individual.
It is easy to blame individuals. Societal-based problems are difficult to understand and even more difficult to correct. People seem to prefer what is easiest. Even today, people have trouble understanding that the cause of conditions they do not like may, in fact, be social in origin.
Solutions used to correct demonic possession seem bazaar. Holes were drilled in the head of hosts to let the evil spirits escape. Exorcisms were also employed. The witches of Salem were brutalized! Demonic possession lost it popularity around the 1700s.
The positivist school of the second half of the 19th century argues that deviant behavior was dictated by forces beyond the control, or even the awareness, of individuals. Positivists argued that biological abnormalities provided valid explanations for deviance. In essence, genetic predispositions create inborn tendencies to commit deviant acts.
According to the positivist philosophers, only through scientific inquiry could one understand the forces that drive society.
Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909), a well-known positivist, argued that physical abnormalities that afflict people cause them to pursue deviant (or criminal) activity. Lombroso argued that criminals were throwbacks to some sort of pre-human. Lombroso (in Kendall, 1998:191) called these criminal types Atavists. He claimed that prisoners had "low foreheads and smaller than normal human cranial capacities" (1998:191). Lombroso thought that he could predict deviant behavior based on skull and body types.
Biological explanations for deviance are almost useless. There is no consistent evidence that supports the belief that social temperament is related to body type. This approach ignores the interactions of the individual with the environment. Research shows that most people, who have suspect genetic traits, are not deviant. Furthermore, the vast majority of criminals do not have irregular genetic patterns.
Perhaps the very fact that people look different than the general population draws attention to those people. When that individual does something deviant, attention is already focused upon that individual. Previous suspicions become justified.
A new type of sociobiological theory tries to apply positivist philosophy to street crime. The general argument here is that it requires stamina to be a criminal so those people with the most stamina will be more likely to commit crimes. This would include the young and men.
Other biological theories look for links between higher rates of aggression in men to levels of testosterone or chromosomal abnormality. This research, however, produces no consistent findings (Kendall, 1998:192).
Functionalist theories focus on the preservation of social order. Deviance helps maintain social cohesion and the collective conscious.
1. Deviance Contributes to Social Order
Durkheim emphasized the importance of deviance in society as a tool for boundary maintenance. The media, who reports on deviance and the accompanying punishment, serve to educate the public by restating society's rules. Punishing violators reaffirms the rightness of society and its rules.
Rituals play a role in boundary maintenance (see Henslin, 1999:211). A group that discovers a deviant in their fold will attempt to "mark" that deviant for everyone can see. The individual is called before the group to account for his or her deviance. People will testify against him. The individual is found guilty. Finally, an effort is made to strip the individual of his or her group membership. An example of degradation ceremonies is a court martial where a guilty officer is publicly stripped of his rank. The officer is forced to stand at attention while the insignia of his rank is ripped from his uniform (Henslin, 1999:211).
2. Deviance Contributes to Social Change
Deviance is an important element of social change because it offers alternative definitions to what is right. Sometimes the alternative becomes acceptable and it may even become the dominant view.
Durkheim noted that the death of Socrates paved the way for intellectual freedom. Much of the civil and human rights legislation, as well as public sentiment, have been influenced by the behavior of those whose actions were originally judged to be in violation of the law or accepted moral convention. For civil rights, deviant behavior called attention to inadequacies in the existing system of race relations. Today's crime may be tomorrow's accepted behavior.
3. Dysfunctional Deviance
Functionalists (Goode, 1997:100-101) like to concern themselves with those forms of deviance that assist in maintaining the social order. Dysfunctional deviance would be those types of deviance that threaten the social order. I suppose some forms of political deviance might be considered here.
Kendall (1998:193) suggests that one functionalist perspective raises the question, why don't people engage in more deviance than they do? An assumption of Control Theory is that people have a strong desire to be deviant. Control theory assumes that people are hedonists.
Henslin (2004:143) suggests that people often do not engage in deviance because they have outer containments emanating from a supportive family and friends. Significant others reinforce the idea that deviance is wrong. People also have inner containments such as self-control and a sense of responsibility that reduce deviance.
Anomie or Strain Theory:
In the early and mid-1900s the Chicago school emerged and shifted the emphasis away from individual pathology to social structure. It represented an attempt to uncover the complex relationship between deviance and neighborhood. The Chicago School discovered the highest rates of deviance in neighborhoods that were considered transitional in that there was a lot of in-0 and out-migration. According to the Chicago perspective, entire neighborhoods had become disorganized.
The transitional neighborhood where one would expect to find deviance according to the Chicago school has the following characteristics:
Frederick Thrasher found a greater number of gangs in transitional neighborhoods than in more stable neighborhoods. He noted that the gang is a social creation. The gang is the way people organize themselves to cope with disorganized neighborhoods. The gang functions in two ways. First, it offers a substitute for what society fails to give. Second, it provides relief from suppression and distasteful living conditions. In this respect the gang fills a gap and affords an escape at the same time.
There is a bias associated with the Chicago school perspective. "Disorganization" uses middle-class points of view.
1. Research that followed the Chicago school found that, in fact, ghetto neighborhoods demonstrate a lot of organization. The kind of organization found in poor neighborhoods, however, is simply different from that found in middle-class neighborhoods.
Example: The Role of the Church in Black Communities.
2. Furthermore, many of the activities viewed as deviant in poor communities, were also committed in middle-class suburban areas.
Differential association is the first of two Interactionist perspectives. Goode (1997:87-90) contends that Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory is one of the more important theories in the study of deviance. It arose as a critique to those theories that sought biological explanations for deviance. According to differential association theory, people learn to be deviant (see Henslin, 1999:198-99).
Goode (1997) maintains that one learns deviance the same as one learns to brush their teeth. People learn to be deviant by associating with people who are deviant. Criminal knowledge, skills, values, traditions, and motives are passed on by word of mouth.
People develop deviant life styles when they deferentially associate with people who support norm violations. It is not especially necessary for people to associate with actual criminals, all that is needed is that criminal definitions are common.
The earlier in life that one is exposed to deviant attitudes, the greater the chance the individual will learn and internalize those attitudes.
The more one associates with deviants, the greater the chance the individual will develop deviant attitudes and skills.
As with all perspectives, this one has it pet biases. In this case, the critique centers on the proposition that deviance is learned. Not all deviance can be accounted for using this assumption.
- Some individuals, in fact, create deviance anew.
- Certain types of crime (or deviance) do not fit the differential association pattern. Crimes of passion are a good example. Also, upper-class crimes may fit here. Wartime black market activities may also fit.
- Further, many people are exposed to deviance, but are generally law abiding.
Illegitimate Opportunity Structure
In order to be a successful at anything, one has to have opportunity. In order to be a successful teacher, one has to have access to college and teaching opportunities. One might call access to college and teaching opportunity, a legitimate opportunity.
In order to be a successful criminal, one has to have an "opportunity" to engage in crime. A person cannot just decide to be a criminal. He/she would be a miserable failure because he/she does not have contacts. Henslin (2004:149) notes that in poor neighborhoods, people have an unusually high access to illegitimate opportunities to engage in robbery, theft, drug dealing, etc.
Henslin (2004:144) argues that labeling theory focuses in the names and reputations of names or reputations given to people when they engage in certain types of behavior. Kendall (1998:196)argues that "delinquents and criminals are people who have been successfully labeled as such by others."
Labeling theory calls attention to two kinds of deviance.
This refers to the act of breaking a rule.
Henslin (2004:146) notes that sometimes people become more deviant as a result of being labeled as deviant. This happens because the label becomes a part of the person's self-concept.
Secondary deviance is the process that occurs when a person who has been labeled a deviant accepts that new identity and continues the deviant behavior (Kendall, 1998:196).
According to Henslin (2004:146), labels open and close doors. Once a person is labeled as deviant, often that person is forced to have almost exclusive contact with other deviants.
Saints and the Roughnecks
Under the topic of the power of labeling, Henslin (2004:146) provides a study where a group of troubled kids are labeled as Saints and Roughnecks. The Saints were treated positively and none had future arrest records while the Roughnecks were treated as if they were degenerates, and later on experienced numerous problems with the police.
The community defines deviance. People, as they interact, define what is appropriate and what is not. Some people in the community have more power than other to define deviance. People who occupy high positions within economic and political sectors are in a better position to determine what laws are enacted and to enforce their definitions of deviance.
The upper class is in a better position to determine what crimes are seen as serious and they tend to point to problems associated with the lower classes. Organizations with financial backing are better equipped to present its impressions of deviance.
Eitzen, D. Stanley and Maxine Baca-Zinn
1986 Social Problems. (3rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1989 Social Problems. (4rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1992 Social Problems. (5rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1994 Social Problems. (6rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1997 Social Problems. (7rd Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1997 Deviant Behavior (5th Ed.) Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Henslin, James M.
1999 Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach, (4rd Ed) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
2004 Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach, (5th Ed) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
2006 Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach, (6th Ed) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
2008 Essentials of Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach, (7th Ed) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1998 Social Problems in a Diverse Society. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
1988 Sociology. Harcourt Brace.
Thrasher, Frederic Milton
1963 The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.