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Conformity and Deviance. What is deviance? Theories of deviance. What is deviance?. “nonconformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society” (p. 133). What is deviance?. Everyone violates norms. So who is deviant?

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conformity and deviance
Conformity and Deviance
  • What is deviance?
  • Theories of deviance
what is deviance

What is deviance?

“nonconformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society”

(p. 133)

what is deviance3
What is deviance?
  • Everyone violates norms.
  • So who is deviant?
  • “significant” is the key word; deviants are significantly in violation of norms
what is deviance4
What is deviance?
  • If deviance too widespread, some might be “normalized”
  • Groups that significantly violate norms of the wider society: deviant subcultures
theories of deviance
Theories of deviance
  • Biological
  • Psychological
  • Sociological
biological theories
Biological theories
  • Attempts to link physical traits with behavior go back to 19th century (Lombroso)
  • Mid-20th century theories linking physique with crime also discredited
  • Ongoing attempts to find sources of criminal (esp. “psychopathic”) behavior in brain structure, but no evidence of genetic basis for deviance
psychological theories
Psychological theories
  • Psychopaths: withdrawn, emotionless, violent
  • These traits not restricted to criminals
  • Social response to the behavior just as important as the individual’s psychology; reciprocal effects
social control
Social control
  • Social control: social methods used to keep behavior within bounds
    • Sanctions: positive or negative, formal or informal reactions to behavior used to reinforce social norms
    • Ideally, people internalize norms through interaction with others (socialization)
  • Laws are the basis for external social control by the State
    • This tends to reinforce power of elites, according to “conflict” theorists
    • But even subcultures have their own norms; e.g., the code of the street
      • “a cultural adaptation to a profound lack of faith in the police and the judicial system…” (Anderson, 34)
      • “The code of the street thus emerges where the influence of the police ends and where personal responsibility for one’s own safety is felt to begin.” (ibid)
sociological theories
Sociological theories
  • Durkheim
  • Merton
  • Differential association
  • Labeling
  • Social control theory
durkheim why is crime normal
Durkheim: why is crime “normal”?
  • A certain level of deviance is functional
    • Allows for innovation (adaptive function)
    • Promotes boundary maintenance
      • Helps us recognize what is normal (affirms norms;)
      • Enhances social solidarity
  • Therefore we can’t (or shouldn’t) completely eliminate deviance
  • Too much deviance, widespread acceptance is “pathological”; anomie (dysfunctional)
durkheim and deviance
Durkheim and deviance


Norms affirmed; social solidarity enhanced.






Normal people

merton structural strain theory
Merton: structural strain theory

Socially approved goals (values)

Socially approved means (norms)

Unequal access creates “structural strain”

Individuals experiencing structural strain must choose a “mode of adaptation” to the resulting anomie.

sutherland differential association
Sutherland: differential association
  • Criminal (deviant) behavior is learned in primary groups where norms differ from those of wider society
  • Similar to Becker’s (1953) work on marijuana use, but Becker’s later (1963) study developed labeling theory (Giddens:140)
differential association
Differential association

Dominant culture social norms

Deviant subculture social norms


becker labeling theory
Becker: labeling theory
  • One learns how to smoke dope through a subculture
  • Deviance is a process of interaction between deviants and nondeviants (Giddens, 140)
  • Social structure gives some people the power to define others as deviant; e.g., “potheads”
  • The label is a stigma; a mark of social disgrace that changes social interaction and self image
lemert labeling theory
Lemert: labeling theory
  • Primary deviation: an initial act that violates social norms
  • Secondary deviation: the individual comes to accept the label, and acts accordingly
labeling theory
Labeling theory

Powerful interests


Primary deviation

Label accepted

Secondary deviation

control theory new criminology
Control theory (new criminology)
  • Evidence that many crimes are situational, based on opportunity;
    • This results in “target hardening” in richer areas
    • Poorer sections left with more crime
    • Broken windows theory
macro to micro saints and roughnecks
Macro-to-micro: Saints and Roughnecks
  • Class structure affects how deviance is handled
  • Similar behavior results in different outcomes
  • “saints” and “roughnecks” were labels
  • Labeling theory most widely used in sociology