Deviant behavior refers to behavior that does not conform to norms, does not meet with the expectations of a group or of society as a whole. Shortly after birth, children begin to have experience with others. They are taught what he or she should and should not do, what is good or bad, and what is right or wrong. Learning habits that conform to the customs and traditions of the groups into which the child is born develops a system of values.
These values provide justification and motivation for wanting to do certain types of things that are approved or for wanting to refrain from behavior that is disapproved. Thus conformity results from a system of internal controls or restraints developed within the individual during the process of socialization. Besides internal controls, conformity is induced through external mechanisms -- pressures to meet the expectations of others. Each role carries with it a set of rights as well as duties to be carried out in our relationships with others.
Failing to meet the expectations associated with each role usually results in the application of sanctions. The form and severity of sanctions vary, depending on the type of group and on the degree of importance assigned to the fulfillment of certain expectations. The state represents the final authority within society and possesses a monopoly over the use of coercion to maintain order, to apply a variety of penalties for behavior that violates society's laws. There are about 780, 000 local, state, and federal law enforcement officers employed in some 20, 000 law enforcement agencies throughout the US. In the criminal justice systems, there are more than 16, 000 criminal courts handling about 12 million criminal cases annually; there are also approximately 9, 000 corrections agencies. About 2 million people are currently on probation in the US, approximately 400, 000 in jails, and over 880, 000 state and federal prison inmates.
Correctional agencies employ nearly a half million people at an estimated total cost more than $60 billion a year. Reliance on formal authority for the maintenance of order and social control tends to increase as societies become larger, more industrialized, and more urbanized. More informal social control mechanisms characterize of smaller and less complex societies. Even with various mechanisms for the maintenance of social control and conformity, deviance can be found throughout human history and in every society, with both negative and positive consequences. On the negative side, large-scale deviance may harm group stability; induce distrust and ill will; drain a society of important human and economic resources. Additionally, if deviance was to become the norm, it might weaken people's faith in and conformity to social norms and values.
Deviance may also have positive consequences. It teaches people what are acceptable social behaviors; thus, even the most highly disciplined and regimented, have -- and need -- social deviants. Deviance may strengthen group norms and values and reinforce their commitment to the group and its standards. Deviance may be both a sign and source of needed social change.
The Relativity of Deviance - Deviant behavior is behavior viewed as deviant and the degree to which these behaviors are considered deviant change over time. Consider: homosexuality, smoking by teenagers and women, the sale of patent medicines containing opium derivatives, drug use -- particularly that of marijuana and LSD. Place - Behaviors considered deviant vary from one society to another and also according to geographic area within the same society. Subcultures - Complex modern societies are usually composed of a multitude of subcultures based on class, occupation, race, and nationality. Each of these subcultures is aware of and conforms to many of the norms and values of the general culture. They maintain distinct values and norms that tend to distinguish their members from the larger society.
Because different subcultures hold at least some different norms, behavior considered deviant also varies from subculture to subculture. What is seen as conformity to the norms of the subculture may be viewed as deviant from the norms of the larger society. Deviant Behavior as Disapproved Behavior - Reactions of others to deviance range from social approval to severe disapproval. Certain types of behavior may constitute approved deviation such as qualities or achievements that far exceed the standards and expectations of others. When sociologists speak of deviant behavior, they are concerned with behavior that deviates from norms and expectations of others in a disapproved direction more that with behaviors that constitute over conformity to its norms.
Deviant Behavior and Social Tolerance - Reactions to deviance also vary by intensity. Each particular norm has a tolerance limit, the degree to which norm violations are tolerated or suppressed by a group (show overhead #20: "Attitudes Toward Homosexuality"). One's position within a group or society influences how others react to and judge one's behavior. Deviant behavior refers to those human acts that are socially defined by the group or society as deviant relevant to the norms of the group..