The Nature of Deviance
In all societies the behavior of some people at
times goes beyond that permitted by the norms.
Social life is characterized not only by
conformity but by deviance, behavior that a
considerable number of people view as
reprehensible and beyond the limits of tolerance.
- Social Properties of Deviance
Deviance is not a property inherent in certain
forms of behavior; it is a property conferred
upon particular behaviors by social definitions.
Definitions as to which acts are deviant vary
greatly from time to time, place to place, and
group to group. We typically find that norms are
not so much a point or a line but a zone.
Deviant acts also can be redefined, as has
happened in recent years in the United States.
Most societies can absorb a good deal of
deviance without serious consequences, but
persistent and widespread deviance can be
dysfunctional. But deviance may also be
functional by promoting social solidarity,
clarifying norms, strengthening group
allegiances, and providing a catalyst for change.
- Social Control and Deviance
Societies seek to ensure that their members
conform with basic norms by means of socialcontrol. Three main types of social control
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processes operate within social life: (1) those
that lead us to internalize our society’s
normative expectations (internalization),
(2) those that structure our world of social
experience, and (3) those that employ various
formal and informal social sanctions.
Theories of Deviance
Other disciplines are concerned with deviance,
particularly biology and psychology.
Sociologists focus on five main theories.
- Anomie Theory Émile Durkheim
contributed to our understanding of deviance
with his idea of anomie. Robert K. Merton
built on Durkheim’s ideas of anomie and social
cohesion. According to his theory of structural
strain, deviance derives from societal stresses.
- Cultural Transmission Theory
A number of sociologists have emphasized the
similarities between the way deviant behavior
is acquired and the way in which other
behavior is acquired—the cultural transmission
theory. Edwin H. Sutherland elaborated on this
notion in his theory of differential association.
He said that individuals become deviant to the
extent to which they participate in settings
where deviant ideas, motivations, and
techniques are viewed favorably.
- Conflict Theory Conflict theorists ask,
“Which group will be able to translate its
values into the rules of a society and make
these rules stick?” and “Who reaps the lion’s
share of benefits from particular social
arrangements?” Marxist sociologists see crime
as a product of capitalist laws.
- Labeling Theory Labeling theorists
study the processes whereby some individuals
come to be tagged as deviants, begin to think of
themselves as deviants, and enter deviant
careers. Labeling theorists differentiate between
primary deviance and secondary deviance.
- Control Theory Control theory attempts
to explain not why people deviate but why
people do not deviate. Travis Hirschi argued
that young people are more likely to conform if
their bond to society is strong. This bond has
four parts: attachment, involvement,
commitment, and belief.
Crime and the Criminal Justice System
Crime is an act of deviance that is prohibited
by law. The distinguishing property of crime is
that people who violate the law are liable to be
arrested, tried, pronounced guilty, and deprived
of their lives, liberty, or property. It is the state
that defines crime by the laws it promulgates,
administers, and enforces.
- Forms of Crime An infinite variety of
acts can be crimes. Federal agencies keep
records on index crimes—violent crimes
against people and crimes against property.
Juvenile crime is crime committed by youth
under the age of 18. Organized crime is
carried out by large-scale bureaucratic
organizations that provide illegal goods and
services in public demand. White-collar crime
is crime committed by relatively affluent
persons, often in the course of business
activities. Crime can be committed by
corporations and by governments. In victimlesscrime no one involved is considered a victim.
- Measuring Crime Statistics on crime
are among the most unsatisfactory of all social
data. A large proportion of the crimes that are
committed go undetected; others are detected
but not reported; and still others are reported
but not officially recorded.
- Drugs and Crime Drugs and crime are
related both directly—selling, using, and
possessing illegal drugs all are crimes—and
indirectly—drug involvement often leads to
other sorts of crimes. Drug problems can be
dealt with by recognizing that addiction is a
brain disease. Other approaches include
continued prohibition, depenalization, or
- Women and Crime A growing
percentage of youth and adults in the criminal
population is female. One-quarter of the youth
arrested in the United States are girls; overall,
one in five arrests are female. Girls are more
likely than boys to be arrested for such offenses
as running away from home.
- The Criminal Justice System The
criminal justice system is made up of the
reactive agencies of the state that include the
police, the courts, and prisons. Despite the
declining crime rate in the United States, the
prison population has been steadily climbing.
There have been four traditional purposes
of imprisonment: punishment, rehabilitation,
deterrence, and selective confinement. Capitalpunishment is the application of the death
penalty for a capital offense. Criminal
offenders also may be subjected to probation,
parole, fines, victim restitution, community
service, or in-house arrest.