Deviance: A Research Paper
- Deviance is where individuals do not conform to a set of norms that are embraced by a large number of individuals in a society (Giddens and Griffiths, 794).
- Durkheim initially proposed the definition through a functionalist perspective (Clinard and Meier, 12). Specific concept developed in 1950s: Lemert (1-65) focused on behaviour that differed from what was expected, but included physical disability. Becker (1-12) saw deviance in terms of outsider groups.
- In this report, the different definitions of deviance and how it may explain social behaviour will be discussed.
- Four definitions of deviance according to four key concepts in sociology:
- Statistically deviance is simply behaviour that is opposed to the common definitions of normal (Henry, 16).
- Normative definition is that it varies between different contexts and times (Giddens and Griffiths, 797).
- Reactivist approach would suggest deviance is what the audience reacts to; if there is no reaction, there is no deviance (Clinard and Meier, 9).
- Absolutist approach: there are absolute standards, and only those actions are deviant that have always been defined as deviant (Higgins and Mackinem, 16).
- A challenge with these definitions is that they fail to encompass all the different ways we use the term. For example, norms may vary according to time and place: what is deviant in one place may not be in another (Clinard and Maier, 3).
- Deviancy is an ambiguous concept: there may be disagreements about what is ‘normal’ behaviour. For example, some may see homosexuality as deviant, others might see it wholly normal (Clinard and Maier, 4).
(2) Structural-functionalist definitions of deviance
- Socialisation is how norms are reinforced. Primary socialisation is through parenting and secondary socialisation is through school and other institutions (Wyness, 89).
- Durkheim (in Nisbet, 45-8) saw deviance as the way in which society evolved: it introduced new ideas into society, and it establishes where boundaries of appropriate behaviour lie. Deviance has a function in society by maintaining boundaries or by allowing society to shift to adopt challenges to the mainstream (Giddens and Griffiths, 797).
(3) Strain theory of deviance
- Strain theory is a part of the functionalist approach (Giddens and Griffiths, 797). Durkheim (in Anderson and Taylor, 172) suggested that deviance had an impact upon society, and based this on the study of how suicide varied based upon social integration. The more integrated people felt, the less likely they were to commit suicide (Anderson and Taylor, 172).
- Merton (in Herman, 62) considered deviance through the concept of anomie. Deviance develops in the structure of society: anomie is where the norms conflict and create strain. People respond to their position in society by following legitimate aims (conformity) or they use deviant adaptations to achieve their aims where the legitimate approach is not available to them.
- Albert Cohen (5-7) suggests that people who are frustrated with their role in life will join together with others, reject mainstream values,
(4) Conflict perspective (Marxist)
- Deviance is a method of control by indicating that some behaviours are a threat to social norms, whereas other crimes, such as white-collar crimes, are perceived as less threatening (Kitsuse and Spector, 408).
- In this perspective crime and deviance are closely associated, and power is exerted on others (Clinard and Meier, 85). This bolsters the rich and powerful in society.
- The efforts that are given to the social control are related to the perception of how much of a threat social deviance is seen to those in power (Shepard, 185).
- This can help explain why some street crimes are given a greater focus than white collar crimes, or how deviance is tolerated in the more powerful groups.
(4) Labelling theory of deviance
- Labelling theory stems from symbolic interactionism (Shepard, 182).
- Labels applied to deviant people. Labels may begin with the act, but are then applied to the person (e.g. a homosexual act makes a person homosexual).
- In some cases, people accept the label and begin to accept themselves as deviant (Tierney and O’Neill, 147). This idea is also followed by Becker (1-7) in his study of jazz musicians.
- This assumes that no act is fundamentally deviant, but is labelled as such, and then this label may be adopted or rejected by the subgroup. Deviance is created in the interaction.
- It can explain how some people may embrace their deviance, e.g. as a criminal or as a part of youth culture (goth/punk/hippy).
- Deviance affects society through our understanding of socialisation
- Socialisation is how norms are reinforced. Durkheim saw deviance as the way in which society evolved: it introduced new ideas into society, and it establishes where boundaries of appropriate behaviour lie (Giddens and Griffiths, 797).
- Deviance in young people represents an opposition to this process: Stanley Cohen’s (7-19) study of subculture in mods and rockers demonstrates how labelling may be celebrated by the subgroup.
- In some cases, deviance can be checked and people become normalised. In other cases, the deviance may challenge the norms and change what is considered normal in society (Giddens and Griffith, 794). However, this does not explain why some practices become deviant in the first place, and why some but not others change (e.g. homosexuality, or eating horse which is still taboo in some cultures).
- Deviance is associated with criminal behaviour.
- From a sociological perspective, criminal behaviour and deviance is closely associated (Giddens and Griffiths, 794).
- Crime is similarly defined to deviance: the structures of wealth and power in society define what opportunities may be available to different groups, and what is considered criminal may vary according to context and time (Clinard and Meier, 12).
- Criminal behaviour may be seen s the process of learning norms within a sub-group. The theory of differential association is that criminal behaviour is simply learned as a different form of development, but the norms learned are different to the mainstream (Orcutt, 354).
- Crime can be understood as the harmful effects of deviance: where deviance is permitted in society, crime is one potential expression of this.
- However, it is possible to tolerate high levels of deviance while having low levels of criminal behaviour (Giddens and Griffiths, 795).
- Deviance can be interpreted from a variety of perspectives.
- However, in many cases the danger is that it describes without explaining its process. Functionalism provides a reason for deviance, but other explanations such as symbolic interactionism do not.
- Very difficult to measure as it is a very ambiguous concept, functioning on social context.
- However, can help our understanding features of socialisation and crime.
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Becker, Howard S. Outsiders. London: Simon and Schuster, 2008.
Clinard, Marshall B., and Robert F. Meier. Sociology of Deviant Behavior. London: Nelson Education, 2015.
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Higgins, Paul, and Mitch Mackinem. Thinking about Deviance: A Realistic Perspective. London: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.
Kitsuse, John I., and Malcolm Spector. “Toward a sociology of social problems: Social conditions, value-judgments, and social problems.” Social Problems 20.4 (1973): 407-419.
Lemert, Edwin McCarthy. Social Pathology: A systematic approach to the theory of sociopathic behaviour. New York, McGraw-Hill, 1951.
Orcutt, James D. “Differential association and marijuana use: A closer look at Sutherland (with a little help from Becker).” Criminology 25.2, 1987: 341-358.
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Tierney, John, and Maggie O’Neill. Criminology: Theory and context. London: Routledge, 2013.
Wyness, Michael. Childhood and society. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Deviance: A Research Paper
Sociologists define deviance as a behaviour in which an individual does not conform to the set norms embraced by a larger portion of individuals in their respective society. As such, many sociologists have come up with the definition of deviance through different perspectives or theories in the sociological context. Giddens and Griffiths (794) articulates that deviance occurs when one fails to conform to set norms and/or an individual behaving in a manner that violates the social norms or enacted rules of a larger spectrum of individuals in a given society. These norms are essentially rules as well as expectations guide members of the society in their daily undertakings. Alternatively, structural-functional sociological perspectives propagated by the Durkheim concept, a concept developed in the 1950s, enunciates deviance as a behaviour that differs from what is expected inclusive of physical ability (Clinard and Meier 12; Lemert 1-65). With further perspective in the definition of deviance, this paper will focus on the different definitions of discussing and outline how deviance explains the social behaviour.
The Four Sociological Definitions of Deviance
Henry (16) argues in a statistical approach that deviance is a type of behaviour that is opposed to the standard definitions of normal behaviours as depicted in a given group of individuals or community. On the other hand, the normative definition of deviance as stipulated by Giddens and Griffiths (797) approach the definitions of deviance through the difference in the various context and times. In this case, deviance is identified as desecration or violation of the set norms held in a particular societal circle. A normative approach to the definitions of deviance define norms as a standard regarding the what human beings do, say, think or not think under given circumstances. (Heckert and Heckert 451). Third, reactivist perspectives articulate that deviance can be explained as what individuals or audience will react to. As such, it explains further suggesting that there is no deviance if the audience does not react (Clinard and Meier 16). Last, there is an absolutist perspective indicate that there is the existence of absolute standards, and those actions that deviate from these standards are defined as deviant actions, hence deviance (Higgins and Mackinem 16). Arguably, the above definitions have faults in encompassing the different ways in which human beings use the term “deviance”. As such, norms vary accordingly to place and time as Clinard and Meier (3) suggest that what is seen as deviant in one place might differ from another place. As an ambiguous concept, the definitions of deviance differ regarding what is perceived as a “normal” behaviour. Case in point, some societal groups, might consider homosexuality as deviant behaviour while other communities or groups might consider it as a normal behaviour (Clinard and Meier 4).
Structuralist-Functionalist Perspectives on Deviance: Durkheim Concept and Strain Theory
The structuralist-functionalist approach lies in the understanding of the concept of socialisation and/or social integration. Grbich (520) defines socialisation as how norms are reinforced in a community or a given group of people. As such, primary socialisation is geared through parenting and secondary socialisation, also defined as social integration is geared through schools and other institutions (Wyness 89). Under the structuralist-functionalist approach, individuals who are integrated are referred to as ‘altruistic’, while those who are less integrated are referred to as ‘egoistic’. Furthermore, individuals who are regulated are referred to being ‘fatalistic’ while the unregulated are categorised as ‘anomie’. As such, in exploring the Durkheim concept, social deviance is attributed to these extremes of the social bond or integration. For example, in the case of suicide, an altruistic individual will commit suicide for the good of the community, and on the other hand, an egoistic individual will commit suicide to eliminate self-due. Durkheim (in Nisbet, 45-8) saw deviance as the way in which society evolved: it introduced new ideas into society, and it establishes where boundaries of appropriate behaviour lie. Deviance has a function in society by maintaining boundaries or by allowing society to shift to adopt challenges to the mainstream (Giddens and Griffiths, 797).
Strain Theory on the other lies within the paradigm of functionalist approach (Giddens and Griffiths 797). Robert K. Merton’s Strain Theory lies within the Durkheim concept of anomie. Merton (in Herman, 62) considered deviance through the concept of anomie. Deviance develops in the structure of society: anomie is where the norms conflict and create strain. People respond to their position in society by following legitimate aims (conformity), or they use deviant adaptations to achieve their aims were the legitimate approach is not available to them. Cohen (5) suggests that people who are frustrated with their role in life will join with others, reject mainstream values.
Durkheim explains anomie as a situation where individuals are confounding to the social norms (Andersen and Taylor 172). Merton further suggests that anomie is a state where the individual’s social goals do not correspond to his legitimate ways to achieve them (Andersen and Taylor 173). As such, Merton asserts that the one’s response to the societal expectations and how one pursues their goals are essential in understanding deviance. As such, he contends that collective action is triggered by a strain or stress in an individual that comes up from the unparalleled nature of the societal goals and the means/ways of achieving their goals (Ziyanak 4).
Conflict theory asserts that the social group or organisation acts in a way that each, as well as its group, strives to maximise their benefits. In a way to this, social change is inevitable. As such, this perspective defines deviant behaviours as actions that are not in-line with the social institutions. Kitsuse and Spector (408) suggest that deviance can be seen as a method of control through an indication that some behaviours are a threat to the social norms and other crimes such as white-collar crimes are perceived as less threatening to society. Even though Karl Marx did not talk about deviant behaviour, he explained more about alienation that causes conflict that further causes deviant behaviour. Conflict theory directly links crime and deviance with power practised on others, as such, it creates a rift between rich and poor and the powerful and powerless (Clinard and Meier 85). Shepard (185) further asserts that the efforts that bare entitled to the social control are relative to the perceptions of the extent to which a threat of social deviance is seen to the powerful. As such, this analogy explains the reason behind individuals putting more focus on street crimes than on white collar crimes.
Labelling perspectives in sociology were propagated by Howard S. Becker and Frank Tannenbaum which is regarded as a fundamental façade of symbolic interactionism. Becker believed that communities or societal groups create deviance when they make rules that when infarcted leads to deviance (Darity 299-300). As such in this theory, labels are applied to deviant individuals and these labels begins with actions and then applied to persons. For instance, stealing as an act labels one a thief. Tierney and O’Neil Maggie (147) postulates that as people begin to the label, they begin to accept themselves as deviant individuals. This analogy was actively used in Becker’s study on jazz musicians (Becker 218). Therefore, this analogy acclaims that no act is essentially deviant, as such, when labelled and such a label might be adopted or rejected by a given societal group. In the process of interaction, deviance is created. As such, this analogy explains the underlying analogy as to how individuals embrace their deviance for example as a criminal or as a part of a youth culture such as hippy, goth, or punk.
Deviance and The Society
From Durkheim’s explanation of deviance behaviour, it is evident that it introduced new ideas to the understanding of socialisation and/or social integration. Furthermore, its establishes the lines between appropriate and inappropriate behaviours. Cohen (7-19) studies of subculture in mods and rockers clearly depicts how the young people represents an opposition in the process of socialisation as it clearly brings the analogy on how labelling can be celebrated in a sub-group.
Most cases predispose individuals to the need to check deviance and individuals become normalised. Furthermore, deviance might pose a challenge to norms that might lead to making these deviance a norm (Giddens and Griffiths 797 ). Alternatively, does not support the explanation as to why some actions or practices become deviant and why some but not others change such as homosexuality and eating horses, which are considered as taboos in other societal groups.
Association Between Deviance and Criminal Behaviours
Giddens and Griffiths (794) suggest that there is a close relationship between criminal behaviour and deviance. As such, Clinard and Meier (12) suggest that crime can be defined correspondingly to defiance. As such, the structures of power and wealth in the society will dictate the opportunities available to different groups or sub-groups in the society, as such, what is considered a crime varies according to the time and context. Akers (230) asserts that criminal behaviour can be seen as a process of learning within a society. As such, Akers (240) argues on the grounds of differential association that criminal behaviour is learned as a different form of development, but norms learnt are different to the mainstream. As such, it is suggested that a community or society can tolerate high levels of deviance while having low levels of criminal behaviours (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 111).
From the different perspectives of defining deviance it evident that
many sociologists find it hard to explain the process of deviance but rather
functionalists provide why individuals become deviant,
unlike symbolic interactionism. Deviancy is an ambiguous concept within the
social context. As such, with Durkheim analogy regarding social integration, it is evident that the prolific
tags in the manner individuals socialise
will define their tendency to become deviant and vice-versa. Furthermore, in
understanding the underlying concepts of deviance,
it helps us understand the dynamics of crime, socialisation and/or social integration.
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