Deviance is a concept that sociologists use to mean different forms of human conduct defined by members of a social system as illegal, wrong, immoral, bad, or worthy of punishment. Sociology of deviance, therefore, studies the social forces, as well as, procedures that lead to the formulation of the above evaluative standards, their violations, and the aftermath to such violations. It is the study of behaviors seen as illegal and conduct that are disapproved by a society, for example, mental illness, suicide, drug abuse, and some forms of sexuality. Suicide or suicidal behaviors are examples of issues concerning sociology of deviance. The sociology of deviance looks into any existing relationships among many forms of deviance. This paper looks into the whole area of the sociology of deviance. In summary, the sociology of deviance covers the study that exists among both criminal and non-criminal violations of societal norms. Moreover, it covers the general themes that concern deviance in broad terms.
Themes and theories
The most basic themes encompass the facts that the forms of conduct that fall under such categories vary from time to time and depend on the society. Furthermore, there exists a larger social consensus on the indecency of some behaviors than others. In addition, some individuals or groups within a society exert more authority on the definitions or forms of punishments to some forms of deviance that the rest. Lastly, involvements in some forms of behaviors are disapproved and shaped by factors such as social learning, variable socialization, social control mechanisms, as well as other social influences or limitations.
Besides the above themes, there is an agreement of various sociological theories of deviance. Three classes of theories seek out to explain variations in deviant behaviors: structural-cultural strain, cultural conflict-differential association, and social disorganization. The three types of theories have their own characteristics. They all cover different features of societies, categories of people or societal groupings with the aim of explaining different real behaviors.
The concept of social disorganization sought to explain the union of many forms of deviant behaviors in recognizable ecological fields. Quick changes were disorganized as disintegrative forces led to a collapse in teaching as well as learning of social rules. Edwin Sutherland used this concept to explain the increases in crime that came with the change of peasant and preliterate societies. Later on, Sutherland expounded his theory to explain the conflicting definitions of both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors as crucial to the distribution of crime within a social environment (Sutherland, 34-56). He also explained the way people associated in different ways, thereby depicting different definitions. Differential association proposed that an individual ends up delinquent because of many definitions that favor breaking the law over definitions that do not favor the breaking of the law. These propositions covered criminal and delinquent behavior.
In 1938, Robert K. Merton expounded on Durkheim’s argument by explaining that economic problems and uncertainty could make people commit suicide since rules that govern behavior have become unstable, and ambitions get out of hand. Merton goes on to say that, high rates of deviance are from anomic social systems (Merton, 123-4). These systems strongly emphasize economic success together with unequal opportunity in order to be successful. The use of illegal means to attain success is seen as one adaptation to this kind of disorganization. It is a response used by the lower classes in life because of dashed ambitions. However, Merton states other ways that this group can use to adapt. Some of them give up in life and resort to the use of drugs, mental illness or suicide. Others decide to rebel or try to change the system. Many other theorists have followed the same logic by Merton.
Constructionist, radical, and feminist critiques
According to casual theories, there exist real and observable differences in behavior which go against shared norms that are determined by measurable characteristics of groups, people, or society. However, a common perspective on deviance focuses on the construction and use of deviant labels as well as the repercussions. This view is termed labeling theory, interactionist theory, and constructionist theory.
Social constructionists refer to deviance as subjectively problematic and not objectively given (Rubington and Weinberg, 45-7). The constructionist perspective is opposed to quantitative and traditional options known as realism, absolutism, positivism or naturalism. Two critics of this theory include Young, Quinney, Platt, Chambliss and Mankoff. They challenged the traditional criminological theories before discovering the source of problems that face the society in the capitalist economic and political systems. Crime among the poor was because of their economic misfortunes. They have no other options except resorting to criminal activities.
Feminist critiques have also added to the argument and criticized the way research focuses on the male species together with natural science methodologies that dominate the sociological study of deviance. According to them, sociologists have ignored female crime and that the existing patterns are the results of differential law enforcement by gender. Furthermore, the theories that explain male crime ignore the female world and its dimensions. They also ignore female experiences as well as survival tactics they use like runaway and prostitution. Some of the critics propose that the main theme here should be social arrangements and conducts that go against the rights of individuals. Radical critics state specific set of normal behaviors that define rights or justice as the most universal or objective standard for judging the extent of problematic behavior. Individuals who advocate for justice or rights usually place emphasis on universal rights. Such rights may even include non-human life.
There have been three newly proposed conceptions of deviance. Firstly, the concept of deviance should cover positive deviance and admired deviance. Secondly, paternoster and Tittle’s explanation of deviance as an infringement of middle class norms. Thirdly, Title’s explanation of control balance theory should include a variety of other forms of deviance.
Positive deviance, admired deviance, and negative deviance
According to deviance textbooks, behavior that is adapting to social norms can end up disapproved. Attempts aimed at following the norms can move into the realm of deviance. Positive deviance refers to overconformity that comes about in a confirmatory manner such as saints (Heckert and Heckert, 23-4). Deviance admiration comes about when the society evaluates deviance. The category that an individual falls in will be different depending on the groups within the society. The two also propose that, it is crucial to understand why nonconformity or underconformity ends up in negative or positive evaluation depending on the place or era. Some sociologists also argue that deviance can serve positive purposes. According to crime textbooks, crime is an example of a criminal event that can bring individuals together and form a group.
Middle class norms
Tittle and Paternoster’s work on Social Deviance (2000) seek to delineate middle class norms as well as behaviors that go against such norms. They propose the following dominant norms: privacy, group loyalty, prudence, responsibility, honesty, courtesy, peacefulness, moderation, participation, and conventionality. They state that the merits and demerits of the above list.
Control Balance theory
According to Merton, conformity to standards, when there are no other options available appear to be a form of deviance known as ritualism. Charles Tittle argues that people can be deviant, when there is a balance in their control ratio. Deviance follows submission when an individual has no freedom of action. Submission is a deviance, since the person is not willfully obedient.
The best ways for future revitalization include properties of deviant phenomena approach to deviance, experimental demonstration that studying non-criminal deviance improves the study of criminal conduct. Sociologists should expand their energies to reduce the specialties within the discipline of sociology. There should be a careful study of the tensions present in the field of sociology by use of dialog, which should represent positivistic and qualitative approaches.
Application of basic sociological concepts
Most sociological perspectives share the notion that social learning, social control mechanisms, and variable socialization determine forms of disapproved behavior. Socialization is the attempt to teach or learn norms and societal values appropriate to social functions. In addition, key social roles are in terms of specific social institutions.
In conclusion, there are features in this field of sociology of deviance that need focus to generate new interest and research problems. Focus should be towards interrelationships among characteristics of deviant behaviors when detected in different ways. This century calls for sociologists to focus on perspectives that assume variations in forms of deviance among people over time.