The word deviance connotes odd or unacceptable behavior, but in the sociological sense of the word, deviance is simply any violation of society’s norms. Deviance can range from something minor, such as a traffic violation, to something major, such as murder.

Each society defines what is deviant and what is not, and definitions of deviance differ widely between societies. For example, some societies have much more stringent rules regarding gender roles than we have in the United States, and still other societies’ rules governing gender roles are less stringent than ours.

Relativism and Deviance

Deviance is a relative issue, and standards for deviance change based on a number of factors, including the following:

  • Location: A person speaking loudly during a church service would probably be considered deviant, whereas a person speaking loudly at a party would not. Society generally regards taking the life of another person to be a deviant act, but during wartime, killing another person is not considered deviant.
  • Age: A five-year-old can cry in a supermarket without being considered deviant, but an older child or an adult cannot.
  • Social status: A famous actor can skip to the front of a long line of people waiting to get into a popular club, but a nonfamous person would be considered deviant for trying to do the same.
  • Individual societies: In the United States, customers in department stores do not try to negotiate prices or barter for goods. In some other countries, people understand that one should haggle over the price of an item; not to do so is considered deviant.

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