What Is Deviance?
From a sociological perspective, deviance (the violation of norms) is relative. What people consider deviant varies from one culture to another and from group to group within the same society. As symbolic interactionists stress, it is not the act itself, but the reactions to the act, that make something deviant. All groups develop systems of social control to punish deviants, those who violate its norms. Pp. 212216.
How do sociological and individualistic explanations of deviance differ?
To explain why people deviate, sociobiologists and psychologists look for reasons within the individual, such as genetic predispositions or personality disorders. Sociologists, in contrast, look for explanations outside the individual, in social relations. Pp. 216217.
The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective
How do symbolic interactionists explain deviance?
Symbolic interactionists have developed several theories to explain deviance such as crime (the violation of norms that are written into law). According to differential association theory, people learn to deviate by associating with others. According to control theory, each of us is propelled toward deviance, but most of us conform because of an effective system of inner and outer controls. People who have less effective controls deviate. Pp. 217220.
Labeling theory focuses on how labels (names, reputations) help to funnel people into or away from deviance. People who commit deviant acts often use techniques of neutralization to continue to think of themselves as conformists. Pp. 220223.
The Functionalist Perspective
How do functionalists explain deviance?
Functionalists point out that deviance, including criminal acts, is functional for society. Functions include affirming norms and promoting social unity and social change. According to strain theory, societies socialize their members into desiring cultural goals. Many people are unable to achieve these goals in socially acceptable waysthat is, by institutionalized means. Deviants, then, are people who either give up on the goals or use deviant means to attain them. Merton identified five types of responses to cultural goals and institutionalized means: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Illegitimate opportunity theory stresses that some people have easier access to illegal means of achieving goals. Pp. 224229.
The Conflict Perspective
How do conflict theorists explain deviance?
Conflict theorists take the position that the group in power (the capitalist class) imposes its definitions of deviance on other groups (the working class and the marginal working class). From the conflict perspective, the law is an instrument of oppression used to maintain the power and privilege of the few over the many. The marginal working class has little income, is desperate, and commits highly visible property crimes. The ruling class directs the criminal justice system, using it to punish the crimes of the poor while diverting its own criminal activities away from this punitive system. Pp. 229231.
Reactions to Deviance
What are common reactions to deviance in the United States?
In following a "get-tough" policy, the United States has imprisoned millions of people. African Americans and Latinos comprise a disproportionate percentage of U.S. prisoners. In line with conflict theory, as groups gain political power, their views are reflected in the criminal code. Hate crime legislation was considered in this context. Pp. 231236.
Are official statistics on crime reliable?
The conclusions of both symbolic interactionists (that the police operate with a large measure of discretion) and conflict theorists (that the legal system is controlled by the capitalist class) indicate that we must be cautious when using crime statistics. Pp. 236237.
What is the medicalization of deviance?
The medical profession has attempted to medicalize many forms of deviance, claiming that they represent mental illnesses. Thomas Szasz disagrees, claiming that they are problem behaviors, not mental illnesses. Research on homeless people illustrates how problems in living can lead to bizarre behavior and thinking. Pp. 237239.
What is a more humane approach?
Deviance is inevitable, so the larger issues are to find ways to protect people from deviance that harms themselves and others, to tolerate deviance that is not harmful, and to develop systems of fairer treatment for deviants. P. 239.