When individuals share a particular form of deviance, they often form a deviant subculture, a way of living that differs from the dominant culture and is based on that shared deviance. Within the deviant subculture, individuals adopt new norms and values and sometimes feel alienated from the larger society. They end up relying more on the group to which they feel they most belong. When an individual becomes a member of a deviant subculture, the members of his immediate group often become his primary source of social interaction. The deviant feels comfortable among others who have also been rejected from the dominant society.
Example: People released from prison often find that the dominant society does not welcome them back with open arms, and they often drift toward other ex-convicts to attain a sense of belonging and purpose, thereby forming a subculture. This deviant subculture helps to explain why rates of recidivism, or repeated offenses by convicted criminals, are so high. The ex-convict subculture sanctions and encourages further acts of deviance.
Sociologist Walter Reckless developed the control theory to explain how some people resist the pressure to become deviants. According to control theory, people have two control systems that work against their desire to deviate. Each person has a set of inner controls and outer controls.
Sociologist Travis Hirschi elaborated on the control theory. He identified four elements that would render an individual more or less likely to commit deviance: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.
A key aspect of the symbolic interactionist perspective of deviance is labeling theory. First proposed by sociologist Howard Becker in the 1960s, labeling theory posits that deviance is that which is so labeled. No status or behavior is inherently deviant until other people have judged it and labeled it deviant.
Example: Some parents absolutely prohibit physical punishment of children, such as spanking, while other parents regularly use physical punishment to enforce household rules. Are parents who spank their children deviant? The answer depends on what is considered acceptable behavior within that given household, or within the greater society in which the family lives. Though spanking is inherently neither right nor wrong, it is subject to the often harsh judgment of others.