Social deviance is a term that refers to forms of behavior and qualities of persons that others in society devalue and discredit. So what exactly is deviance? In this essay we are concerned with social deviance, not physiological deviations from the expected norm. In general, any behavior that does not conform to social norms is deviance; that is behavior that violates significant social norms and is disapproved of by a large number of people as a result. For societies to run with some semblance of order the problem of deviance is essential and intrinsic to any conception of social order. It is problematic because it causes a disruption, but it is essential because it defines our boundaries as a society. It is intrinsic to a conception of order in that defining what is real and expected, defining what is acceptable, and defining who we are - always done in opposition to what is unreal, unexpected, unacceptable and who we are not.
If we can accept the reality of change, then designations of deviance are crucial in locating the shifting boundaries of our socially structured reality. (Erikson, 1964) What is perceived as deviant behavior is subject to change depending on our position, place and time. Different cultures have different levels of social order and control, therefore making what can be seen as a deviant behavior in one culture highly acceptable in another. When we define someone or some group as deviant - we strengthen our own position and simplify our response to the 'other': we can ignore, expunge, destroy, or rehabilitate them. We convince ourselves of our own normalcy by condemning and controlling those who disagree.
Deviance is a phenomenon situated in power: Winners are the good and the normal; Losers are the sick, the crazy, and the evil. Deviance therefore exists in opposition to those who attempt to control it - to those who have power. (Phofl, 1994) Deviance is not a matter of the cost or consequences of a particular behavior, or the behavior itself. Deviance is a label used to maintain the power, control, and position of a dominant group. It is a negotiated order. Deviance violates some groups assumptions about reality (social order).
It violates expectations. The definition of deviance defines the threat and allows for containment and control of the threat. The definition of deviance preserves, protects, and defines group interests and in doing so maintains a sense of normalcy. It is a product of social interaction.
(Erikson 1964) Sociologists have said that deviance is a social reality, that it is shared and learned like any aspect of culture. Emile Durkheim and other functionalists posed the notion that deviance is functional. He asserted that: 1. Deviance acts as a safety valve 2. Deviance inspires creativity 3. Deviance creates social change 4.
Deviance outlines boundaries and rules 5. Deviance can promote social solidarity. (Haralambos, Holborn, van Krieken, Smith, 1996) Chicago school sociologists believed that any region that was physically separated from the others was viewed as a natural area. Within each of these areas are moral, social and structural orders. That is, a set of customs, rules, or regulations that control the process of competition and cooperation.
Theorists of the Chicago school believed that deviance resulted from disorganized areas (which they believed would be characterized with physical deterioration, economic deprivation, poverty, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, turnover, alienation, high rate of suicide. ). The weak community integration led to the formation of and higher rates of deviance. Overtime these theorists backed away from the idea that these areas are disorganized and instead argued that they were differently organized. Deviance was a by-product of different social organization. This move allowed researchers to see deviant behavior as something that was caused by society and culture rather than individual defects.
(Becker, 1963) Society is a structure of relatively isolated subcultures, each with its own values, norms, and way of life. In the context of this differential social organization deviant behavior is created. Although crime seems to be ubiquitous, we often know very little about how our perceptions of crime are created, maintained, or modified. We do know that there is no single objective definition of crime.
Our views about crime and criminals are determined by our social milieu - this is the social reality of crime. What is our informal consensual understanding of the reality of crime? What is the perception arising from everyday commonsense information gained from interactions and conversations with family members and friends, the input from newspapers and television and so on? The informal view of crime is reflected by such factors as age, social class, and geographic locale. (Giddens, 1997) In contrast to this informal construction there is the formal consensual reality, one that is constructed by 'crime experts' - people who make a living by reacting to crime (such as law enforcement agents), or studying crime (criminologists) disseminate information in the form of crime statistics, books, articles, editorials, and government publications. There are numerous theories on crime and deviance, some more valid than the rest. According to Edwin H. Sutherland, crime could be linked to what he called differential association (Sutherland 1949).
It put forth the notion that a society contains a myriad of subcultures, some tend to accept and even encourage illegal activities, whereas others do not. People turn to crime when found in prolonged association with others who partake in criminal activities. In these particular groups their crime is not seen as a highly deviant behavior. (Giddens, 1997) Robert K. Merton similarly links and emphasizes the normality of the criminal (Merton 1957). He saw the concept of anomie as the key to constructing a highly influential theory of deviance.
Durkheim first introduced the notion of anomie, and suggested that anomie exists when there are no clear standards to act as a proficient guide for behavior in a social setting. He believed that in these circumstances people begin to feel anxious and lost; therefore Durkheim concluded that anomie is one of the social factors that leads individuals to suicide. Merton adapted the concept of anomie to refer to the strain put on individuals' behavior when accepted norms conflict with social reality. (Giddens, 1997) The labeling theory is considered to be one of the most important approaches to the understanding of criminality. Labeling theorists do not see deviance as a certain set of characteristics pertaining to an individual or group, but they see it as a process of interaction between deviants and non-deviants.
According to their theory, we must find out why one is given the label of a deviant in order to understand deviance itself. (Haralambos, Holborn, van Krieken, Smith, 1996) It seems that it can be concluded that deviant behavior cannot be seen to be based entirely on the individuals involved. It is a social problem, brought about by the differing views and values instilled in each culture and society. Amazonian Indians walk around without any clothing, to them this is not a deviant act, in modern western society this is indeed an act of great deviance and one might find themselves arrested for it. So depending on the state of social order and associated norms acts of deviance differ greatly. Reference List Becker H.
S. , Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, Free Press, New York, USA. Erikson K. T. 1964, Notes on the sociology of deviance, in The Other Side: Perspectives on Deviance, Free Press, New York, USA. Giddens A.
, 1997, Sociology 3 rd edition, Polity Press, UK. Haralambos M. Holborn M. van Krieken R. & Smith P.
, 1996, Sociology- themes and perspectives, Longman, Melbourne, Australia. Phofl S. 1994, Images of Deviance and Social Control: A Sociological History, McGraw-Hill, USA. Social Deviance.