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Introduction to Deviance

In the context of sociology, the term "deviance" refers to those behaviors or actions that infringe social norms. It is a behavioral characteristic of an individual that is not abiding by a code of conduct. Though deviation is a negative connotation, in some situations deviation is characterized by a positive aspect. Because infringe of social norms always is not negative activity. The behavior of an individual may not be considered as negative activity and may be accepted positively, even though a social norm is infringed by that individual. A social norm is not universal in nature. It may vary from society to society. In a society, a certain deviation is a punishable offense while in other societies it may not be an offense. So, the term "deviance" is relative, which depends upon the social structure where it is being committed.


In contemporary culture, sociopaths and psychopaths are popular deviants. Both of these are personality disorders characterized by antisocial behaviors. Sociopaths and psychopaths live in a society like other normal people. But in particular situations their cruelty becomes so devastating that other people around them suffer the consequences. The root of psychopathy is internal factors that include genetic, biological, and psychological. Sociopathy is rooted in external social factors that include various family issues or social issues. Along with these factors, sociopathy is deeply related to the individual's inability to build a social relationship or inability to abide by social norms. This sociopath is a sort of deviant in modern society (Asquith, 2017).

Sociologist William Graham Sumner has defined deviation as an infringement of established social, cultural, or contextual norms including mores, folkways, or law. John Hagen (1994) had classified deviant acts as per their degree of harmfulness:

1. Consensus crimes: It is the most serious and dangerous deviance. This type of deviance or consensus crimes include sexual assault, murder. These activities are injurious, intolerable in the moral aspect, and these individuals who committed this type of crime are subjected by harsh penalties.

2. Conflict crimes: This type of deviance is not as serious as consensus crimes. Conflict crime refers to those activities of the individuals which are not dangerous or harmful for other person's life or wealth. Conflict crimes include smoking marijuana or prostitution and like these. these activities are subject to the disagreement of the public in society.

3. Social deviance: This type of deviance are generally are not illegitimate by themselves, but when these come to a wider field of society, they are considered as harmful or serious. These deviances include those behaviors of individuals that arise from the mentally disordered or illness or some times from addiction, abuse of serving staff, and more other activities like these.

4. social diversions: This type of deviance is not harmful to society. These are considered as deviance because these activities do not obey traditional social norms. Social diversions include skateboard riding on the footpaths, piercing on the face, too much tight clothing, and many other things like that. These behaviors are deviant because some people do not accept these, but there are also some people who like these behaviors.

Deviance is relative that varies from person to person or society to society. So, defining deviance in a straightforward way is not possible. Generally the definition of deviance is created following two main insights regarding the approach of sociology. Firstly, it has been defined by its social aspect. To determine what type of behaviors are deviance and what types are not, it is necessary to look into in that particular social context and the existing social norms, rules. Whether an activity is deviant or not, it depends on a society's existing view on that particular activity. Any activity is not deviant in itself (Thomas, Drawve & Thomas, 2018).

The second insight is that deviance is not inherent or intrinsic characteristics of individuals, rather these are the consequence of social processes. Cultural processes, legal processes, and political processes of a society determine whether an activity is deviant or not in that society. The moral entrepreneurs' interventions prevail in people in a society, what type of activities are deviance, and what is not. Moral entrepreneurs invent different tactics to impress people to think some activities of the individuals are actually deviant. One of these tactics is the creation of a moral panic. Thus, through the procedure of social interaction, some individuals are marked as deviants or they become convinced that they are deviant by the high authority of the society (Lanfear, Matsueda & Beach, 2020).

Defining a category of an individual or an activity as deviant, or convince a person that he or she is deviant, is not a simple event for the authority of society. It involves socialization procedure, which is a means of social control. Social control is practiced in every society all over the world. The main objective of social control is to sustain social order inside the society, by controlling the behaviors of the individuals. Society enforces some established rules and regulations among the people in their daily life. Society uses different means to enforce these established rules and regulations to the daily life of the individuals. One of these mechanisms is "sanction". Sanctions can be positive or negative. Positive sanctions are rewarded while the negative sanctions are punished by society. For example, the promotion of a person in the workplace for his or her special effort is positive sanction. When a person infringes a law, the law enforcement agency arrest that person for infringement of the law, which is negative sanction. There are other classifications of sanctions as well, informal and formal. Informal sanctions are characterized by direct social interaction, while formal sanctions are ways to recognize officially and enforcement of the violation of social norms (Salem & Lewis, 2016).

According to Black (1976), There are four major types of social control. Each style among four has defined deviance and the responses that are appropriate to the deviance. Four types of social controls are (1) Penal social control, (2) Therapeutic social control, (3) Compensatory social control, and (4) Conciliatory social control. All of these types have different notions of deviance and the responses against it.

In their book "Sociology", Anthony Giddens and Philip Sutton have described Deviation as antagonism of the individual to the particular social norms. There is a basic difference between deviation and crime. The deviation is characterized by breaking social norms while crime is related to breaking laws of the state. According to "new criminology" (1970), the deviation is an active response against the society's unequal system of capitalism (Giddens & Sutton, 2017). This "new criminology" is inspired by the Marxist view that has been criticized by Left Realism. The extent of the anti-social or criminal activities is not easy to assess, because there are several crimes, that are not reported, or even, are not detected. The majority of the crimes that are reported are committed by men. In those cases when women commit a crime and come under the criminal justice section, they always receive a treatment lighter than men (Sharkey, Torrats & Takyar, 2017).

Generally, the majority of the crimes regarding domestic violence have been recorded, are committed by the male against the female or children. Lesbian women and gay men in all societies experience emotional as well as physical attacks. Panic of crime is not always necessarily related to the crime, instead, the majority of panic is correlated with people's view of anti-social behavior, especially by the young generation which is not criminal in itself. Functionalism often emphasizes that deviances and crimes are consequences of is the underprivileged social system, though there is not sufficient evidence to support this view. There is an association between street crimes like assault, robbery, and the underprivileged, but these are not the majority of the overall crimes that take place in society, even these crimes are not most serious in terms of environmental, personal, or overall social effect.

On the other hand, crimes, that committed by powerful and wealthy people are a costly problem in the overall social aspect, while they are not detected, recorded, or punished in all cases. Prisons are supposed to perform some self-contradictory tasks, that are rehabilitation, punishment, and control people. But, recently community correction or community punishment is being considered as an effective restorative procedure of justice. Community correction provides the facility to grow awareness among deviants or the offenders about the impacts of their activities on the victims. For this reason, the majority of non-custodian punishments recently involves a community-correction sentence. In this system, deviants or offenders live in their community circumstances with their family and friend circle while performing some service for the community, under the control of the court and other law enforcement agencies (Caruana, 2018).

Conclusion on Deviance

Deviance is not accepted by the majority of people in a society, though it is not a serious crime. The perception of social people regarding the deviances and deviance vary society to society. There are various arguments regarding the definition and the responses in the context of deviance in society. From the above discussion, it is clear that, if society provides its individuals proper and undisturbed domestic and family life to all of its individuals, then the rate of deviance will be decrease significantly. For this reason, community correction is a better option to rectify the behavior of the deviants. Because this system provides them a chance to change their social behavior, while living an undisturbed domestic life with their family, instead of prison.

References for Deviance

Giddens, A., & Sutton, P. W. (2017). Essential concepts in sociology. John Wiley & Sons.

Asquith, N. L. (2017). Crime and Deviance. The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Theory, 1-16.

Thomas, S. A., Drawve, G., & Thomas, J. M. (2018). Exploring the generality of the influence of institutional isolation among youth on crime. Deviant Behavior, 39(7), 852-867.

Lanfear, C. C., Matsueda, R. L., & Beach, L. R. (2020). Broken Windows, Informal Social Control, and Crime: Assessing Causality in Empirical Studies. Annual Review of Criminology, 3, 97-120.

Salem, G. W., & Lewis, D. A. (2016). Fear of crime: Incivility and the production of a social problem. Transaction Publishers.

Sharkey, P., Torrats-Espinosa, G., & Takyar, D. (2017). Community and the crime decline: The causal effect of local nonprofits on violent crime. American Sociological Review, 82(6), 1214-1240.

Caruana, R. (2018). Community Corrections' service delivery model: An evidence-based approach to reduce reoffending. Judicial Officers Bulletin, 30(6), 57.

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