Each society defines deviance differently. Deviance is a relative issue and may
differ based on location, age, social status, and
Social control is a way society has of encouraging conformity to norms.
It consists of positive and negative sanctions.
Positive sanctions are socially constructed expressions of approval.
Negative sanctions are socially constructed expressions of
Symbolic Interactionist Perspective
The symbolic interactionist perspective is one of the main frameworks
that sociologists use to analyze society. Symbolic interactionists view society as a byproduct
of everyday social interaction.
Edwin Sutherland’s theory of differential association
asserts that deviance is a learned behavior that people learn from the different groups with
which they associate. Some people form deviant subcultures based on a shared deviance.
According to William Reckless’s control theory, people have
two control systems to keep them from acting outside society’s norms: inner and outer
controls. Inner controls are internalized thought processes such as conscience.
Outer controls include people who influence us.
Travis Hirschi elaborated on control theory and identified four factors
that make individuals more or less likely to commit deviance. These factors are
attachment, commitment, involvement, and
Howard Becker’s labeling theory posits that deviant
behavior is that which society labels as deviant.
Edwin Lemert distinguished between primary deviance, the
initial act, and secondary deviance, the repeated deviance that occurs in
response to people’s reaction to the primary deviance.
William Chambliss’s study of boys he called the Saints and
Roughnecks showed the power of labeling.
Structural Functional Theory
Another sociological framework, the structural functional theory,
focuses on society as a whole rather than the individuals within society.
Deviance is a normal and necessary part of any society.
Émile Durkheim said that deviance fulfills four functions for society:
affirmation of cultural norms and values, clarification of right and wrong, unification of
others in society, and bringing about social change.
According to Robert Merton’s strain theory of deviance,
when people are prevented from achieving culturally approved goals through institutionalized
means, they experience strain that can lead to deviance.
Denied access to institutionalized means to success, poor people turn to
illegitimate opportunity structures.
Merton identified five reactions to goals and institutionalized means:
conformists, innovators, ritualists,
retreatists, and rebels.
The conflict theory is Karl Marx’s theoretical paradigm
that views society as struggle between groups over limited resources.
Conflict theory identifies two categories of people in industrialized societies: the
capitalist class and the working class. Those in positions of
wealth and power make up the capitalist class. The working class sells its labor to the
The two classes are always in conflict with one another. Capitalists establish the
norms of society; laws support them.
Members of the capitalist class are less likely to be considered deviant because they
make laws to benefit themselves.
Members of the elite are more likely to commit white-collar crime,
nonviolent crime committed in the course of their occupations.
According to Alexander Liazos, people we commonly label as deviant are
also relatively powerless.
The three general categories of crime are crimes against the person,
crimes against property, and victimless crimes.
Age, gender, social class, and race and ethnicity are categories that sociologists
use to create a criminal profile.