Good Theoretical Perspectives On Deviance Essay Example
Deviance is human behavior that violates accepted collective social norms. It can range from formal crimes like murder, to informal violations and unacceptable behavior like not bathing, or nudity in public. Every society has its own norms and these standards change and evolve over time (Downes, 2011). There are a number of sociological theoretic frameworks that analyze deviancy.
Merton saw deviancy as a reaction to unfulfilled social goals (Hammond and Cheney, 2007). Anomie occurs when a person wants to meet societal goals – such as a college education, a good job, or a nice house – and they are not able to reach the goals. They are unable to attend college, they are unemployed. There is a strain on the individual when they are disconnected from society and its accepted goals. These individuals are frustrated and turn to deviancy, such as theft, rioting or drug abuse. Merton divides reactions to anomie, some individuals “innovate” and sell drugs and resort to crime. Other accept dead end jobs and conform to society, while others drop out or rebel (Mork, n.d.). Merton’s explanation is primarily economic and seems to involve the “American Dream” and the consequences of it being unavailable to parts of society.
Functionalists start with the premise that society is a positive collective unit. Conflict theory frames society in a much different way. They believe the socioeconomic classes are basically at war, engaged in a constant struggle for limited resources. Conflict theorists assert that deviancy is caused by the inherent inequality that exists in capitalist societies (Mork, n.d.). Deviancy exists in all classes of society, but the wealthy elite are not punished the same as the powerless because they create the laws, control the legal system and can afford attorneys to keep them out of jail. White collar crime, for example, is punished much less severely than crimes committee by the poor. Furthermore, deviancy (crimes, for example) are defined by the elite, who also control the institutions that administer justice for crimes (Downes and Rock, 2011). The elite can control what is considered deviant and criminal and this is another form of they way they use norms to control the lumpenproletariat.
The interactionist perspective focuses on communication, symbols and meaning and looks at how deviancy is learned through interaction and communication. Sutherland’s differential association theory states that individuals learn to be deviant through associations with deviant peers. (Mork, n.d.). Criminals are not born, they learn to be deviant by engaging and interacting with deviants. Becker and Tannenbaum’s labeling theory asserts that individuals become deviant because of a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that occurs when they are externally labeled as deviants (Hammond and Cheney, 2012). The label makes the individual believe they are criminal and changes the way they interact with society. Furthermore, once labeled, society treats the individual like a deviant, which encourages more deviant behavior. Other interactionist theories focus on deviants justifications which make the believe their deviancy is correct behavior or they have no choice but engage in deviancy (Mork, n.d.). For example, a gang member might believe because they grew up in a gang neighborhood, they had no choice but be a member. Furthermore, now that the gang is their family, they must engage in deviancy out of loyalty. Deviancy becomes a kind of norm for them (Downes and Rock, 2011).
Downes, D. M., & Rock, P. (2011). Understanding deviance: A guide to the sociology of
crime and rule-breaking. Oxford University Press.
Hammond, R. J., & Cheney, P. (2012). Intro to Sociology.
Mork, B. (n.d.). Theories of Deviance. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from