Deviance involves breaking a norm. If you were the only male in a college classroom full of women, you probably wouldn't be considered deviant. However, if a man were to use the woman's restroom, we would regard him as deviant. That is because deviance is not merely departure from the statistical average.
It implies violating an accepted rule of behavior. Many deviant acts go unnoticed or are considered so trivial they warrant no punishment. However, people who are observed committing more serious acts of deviance are typically punished, either informally or formally (Brym, Lie 2003: 145). Informal punishment is mild. It may involve raised eyebrows, gossip, ostracism, shaming, or stigmatization. When people are stigmatized, they are negatively evaluated because of a marker that distinguishes them from others (Brym, Lie 2003: 145).
Formal punishment results from people breaking laws, which are norms stipulated and enforced by government bodies. For example, criminals may be formally punished by having serve time in prison or perform community service (Brym, Lie 2003: 146). Sociologist John Hagan usefully classifies various types of deviance and crime along three dimensions. The first dimension is the severity of the social response.
At one extreme, homicide and other very serious forms of deviance result in the most severe negative reactions, such as life imprisonment or capital punishment. At the other end of the spectrum, some people may do little more than express mild disapproval of slight deviations from a norm, such as wearing a nose ring (Brym, Lie 2003: 146). The second dimension of deviance and crime is the perceived harmfulness of the deviant or criminal act. While some deviant acts, such as rape, are generally seen as very harmful, others, such as tattooing, are commonly regarded as being of little consequence. Note that actual harmfulness is not the only issue here. Perceived harmfulness is (Brym, Lie 2003: 146).
The third characteristic of deviance is the degree of public agreement about whether an act should be considered deviant. For example, people disagree about whether smoking marijuana should be considered a crime, especially since it may have therapeutic value in treating pain associated with cancer (Brym, Lie 2003: 146). According to Norm Sheehan (2001: 3) in assessing deviant acts committed in our social group we use causal explanations, what made one of us do this? Explanations of internal causation require an evaluation of our moral center, because in attempting to understand deviant behavior we must address our culpability through affiliation to someone like us who has behaved this way. Therefore, within a social group the causal aspects of deviance from a moral norm focus on the individual deviance and the depravity of the perpetrator who must be condemned.
This condemnation of the individual allows more venial conclusions to be made concerning the culpability of the group. The perpetration of child abuse within the dominant culture by a priest, for example, does not lead to general call to ban religion. The priest is condemned for what he did, because of who he is. What makes the criminal life so attractive to so many young men and women? In general, why do deviance and crime occur at all? Sociologists have proposed dozens of explanations. However, we can group them into two basic types. Motivational theories identify the social factors that drive people to commit deviance.
Constraint theories identify the social factors that impose deviance (or conventional behavior) on people. Let us examine three examples of each type of theory (Brym, Lie 2003: 156). When looking at explaining the causes of deviance, Robert Merton's strain theory, argues that cultures often teach people to value material success. Just as often, however, societies don't provide enough legitimate opportunities for everyone to succeed (Brym, Lie 2003: 157). As a result, some people experience strain. Most of them will force themselves to adhere to social norms despite the strain (Merton called this "conformity").
The rest adapt in one of four ways. They may drop out of conventional society ("retreat ism"). They may reject the goals of conventional society but continue to follow its rules ("ritualism"). They may protest against convention and support alternative values ("rebellion").
Or they may find alternative and illegitimate means of achieving their society's goals ("innovation") -that is, they may become criminals. The American Dream of material success starkly contradicts the lack of opportunity available to poor youths, said Merton. As a result, poor youths sometimes engage in illegal means of attaining legitimate ends (Brym, Lie 2003: 157). A second type of motivational theory, known as sub-cultural theory, emphasized that adolescents are not alone in deciding to join gangs. Many similarly situated adolescents make the same kind of decision, rendering the formation and growth of the Crips and other gangs a collective adaptation to social conditions. Moreover, this collective adaptation involves the formation of a subculture with distinct norms and values.
Members of this subculture reject the legitimate word that, they feel, has rejected them (Brym, Lie 2003: 157). The literature emphasized three features of criminal subcultures. First, depending on the availability of different subcultures in their neighborhoods, delinquent youths may turn to different types of crime. In some areas, delinquent youths are recruited by organized crime.
In areas that lack organized crime networks, delinquent youths are more likely to create violent gangs. Thus, the relative availability of different subcultures influences the type of criminal activity to which one turns (Brym, Lie 2003: 157). A second important feature of criminal subcultures is that their members typically spin out a whole series of rationalizations for their criminal activities. These justifications make their illegal activities appear morally acceptable and normal, at least to the members of the subculture (Brym, Lie 2003: 157).
Typically criminals deny personal responsibility for their actions. They condemn those who pass judgment on them. They claim their victims get what they deserve. And they appeal to higher loyalties, particularly to friends and family. The creation of such justifications and rationalizations enables criminals to clear their consciences and get on with the job.
Sociologists call such rationalizations techniques of neutralization. In short, Techniques of neutralization are the rationalizations that deviants and criminals use to justify their activities. Techniques of neutralization make deviance seem normal, at least to the deviants themselves (Brym, Lie 2003: 169). Finally, although deviants depart from mainstream culture, they are strict conformists when it comes to the norms of their own subculture. They tend to share the same beliefs, dress alike, eat similar food, and adopt the same mannerisms and speech patters (Brym, Lie 2003: 158).
The main problem with strain and sub-cultural theories that they exaggerate the connection between class and crime. Many self-report surveys find, at most, a weak tendency for criminals to come disproportionately from lower classes. Some self-report surveys report no such tendency at all, especially among young people (adolescents) and for less serious types of deviance (Brym, Lie 2003: 158). Apart from exaggerating the association between class and crime, strain and sub-cultural theories are problematic because they tell us nothing about which adaptation someone experiencing strain will choose.
Even when deviant subcultures beckon ambitious adolescents who lack opportunities to succeed in life, only a minority joins up. Most adolescents experience strain and have the opportunity to join a gang reject the life of crime and become conformists and ritualists (Brym, Lie 2003: 158). Sociologist Edwin Sutherland, addressed both the class and choice problems by proposing a third motivational theory, which eh called the theory of Differential Association (Learning Theory). The theory of differential association is still one of the most influential ideas in the sociology of deviance.
In Sutherland's view, a person learns to favor one adaptation over another due to his or her life experiences or socialization. Specifically, everyone is exposed to both deviant and non deviant values and behaviors as they grow up. If you happen to be exposed to more deviant than non deviant experiences chances are you will learn to become a deviant yourself. You will come to value a particular deviant lifestyle and consider it normal.
Everything depends, then, on the exact mix of deviant and conformist influences a person faces (Brym, Lie 2003: 158). Significantly, the theory of differential association holds for people in all class positions. For instance, Sutherland applied the theory of differential association in his research on white-collar crime. He noted that white-collar criminals, like their counterparts on the street, learn their skills from associates and share a culture that rewards rule breaking and expresses contempt for the law (Brym, Lie 2003: 158).
Motivational theories ask how some people are driven to break norms and laws. Constraint theories in contrast, pay less attention to people's motivations. Constraint theories by definition, identify the social factors that impose deviance (or conventional behavior) on people (Brym, Lie 2003: 168). The Labeling theory suggests that deviance results not just from at the actions of the deviant but also from the responses of other, who define some actions as deviant and other actions as normal.
If an adolescent misbehaves in high school a few times, teachers and the principal may punish him or her. However, his or her troubles really begin if the school authorities and the police label him or her a "delinquent." Surveillance of his or her actions will increase. Actions that authorities would normally not notice or would define as the little consequence are more likely to be interpreted as proof of his or her delinquency. The school may eventually socialize him or her into a deviant sub-culture (Brym, Lie 2003: 159). Overtime, immersion in this deviant subculture may lead the adolescent to adopt "delinquent" as his or her master status, or overriding public identity. More easily than we may care to believe, what starts out as a few incidents of misbehavior can get amplified into a criminal career because of labeling (Brym, Lie 2003: 159).
All motivational theories assume people are good and require special circumstances to make them bad. A popular type of constraint theory assumes people are bad and require special circumstances to make them good. For, according to Control theory, the rewards of deviance are many. The control theory holds that the rewards of deviance are ample.
Therefore, nearly everyone would engage in deviance if they could get away with it. The degree to which people are prevented from violating norms and laws accounts for variations in the level of deviance (Brym, Lie 2003: 168). Sociologists have applied control theory to gender differences in crime. They have shown that girls are less likely to engage in delinquency than boys because families typically exert more control over girls, supervising them more closely and socializing them to avoid risk. Sociologists have also applied control theory to different stages of life, . Just as weak controls exercised by family and school are important in explaining why some adolescents engage in deviant or criminal acts (Brym, Lie 2003: 160).
Labeling and control theories have little to say about why people regard certain kinds of activities as deviant in the first place. For the answer to that question, we must turn to conflict theory, a third type of constraint theory (Brym, Lie 2003: 160). The Conflict theory, in brief, maintains that the rich and the powerful impose deviant labels on the less powerful member of society, particularly those who challenge the existing social order. Meanwhile, they are usually able to use their money and influence to escape punishment for their own misdeeds. However, according to conflict theorists, definitions of deviance, and also punishment for misdeeds are always influenced by who's on top (Brym, Lie 2003: 161). And so we see that many theories contribute to our understanding of the social caused of deviance and crime.
Some forms of deviance are better explained by on theory than another. Different theories illuminate different aspects of the process by which people are motivated to break rules and get defined as rule breakers. Our overviews should make it clear that no on theory is best. Instead, taking many theories into account allows us to develop a fully rounded appreciation for the complex processes surrounding the social construction of deviance (Brym, Lie 2003: 161). Power is a crucial element in the social construction of deviance and crime. Power, is "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his or her own will despite resistance" (Brym, Lie 2003: 148).
An "actor" may be an entire social group. Relatively powerful groups are generally able to create norms and laws that suit their interests. Relatively peerless social groups are usually unable to do so. The powerless, however, often struggle against stigmatization. If their power increases, they may succeed in their struggle (Brym, Lie 2003: 148). Brym, Robert J.
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