Deviance and Crime


Deviance refers to behaviors and conditions that violate our expectations about “normal people”.

Unemployment, drug addiction, physical handicaps, shortness, obesity, divorce, nudists, smokers, alternative sexual lifestyle.

Conceptions of deviance:

  • Statistical—deviation from average
  • Absolutists—violates values, morality
  • Reactivist—behavior that gets noticed
  • Normative—violation of norms

Deviance and Crime:

  • Deviance is socially defined
  • One particular category of deviance is crime—acts that violate our culture’s formal norms or laws
  • The definition of deviance and crime is a form of social control—any and all efforts to prevent and or correct deviant behavior, to limit our behavior

Defining Deviance:

  • Sociological research into crime and deviance asks several important questions:
    • How is deviance or criminal behavior defined?
    • How are people defined as deviant?
    • How does a person become deviant?
    • Why do people participate in deviant behavior?
    • Why is there deviance?
    • Why doesn’t it go away?

How is deviance defined?

  • Conflict perspective. The norms of society reflect the interests of the rich and powerful—deviant labels are applied to people who interfere with the operation of capitalism.
    • Behaviors that threaten capitalist operations are more likely to be considered deviant

Why is there deviance?

  • Structural-functionalism. Durkheim wrote that deviance is a necessary element of social organization.
    • Affirms cultural values and norms
    • Clarifies moral boundaries
    • Brings people together
    • Encourages social change

How are people defined as deviant?

  • Labeling Theory. Deviance and conformity result not so much from what people do but from how others respond to these actions
    • No act is inherently deviant
    • Society defines certain behaviors as deviant, labels individuals as deviant, and treats them as outcasts
    • There are two kinds of deviance: Primary and Secondary
    • Stigma of label makes deviant “visible”

Why do people participate in deviant behavior?

  • Strain Theory (Merton). The extent and kind of deviance depends on whether a society provides the means to achieve cultural goals.
    • Deviance arises from particular social arrangements
    • Conformity lies in pursuing conventional goals through approved means

Why do people participate in deviant behavior?

  • Social Control Theory. Social control depends on anticipating the consequences of one’s behavior and internalizing the social controls of society.
    • When norms aren’t internalized, people are more likely to turn to criminal behavior.
    • Social controls work better in certain circumstances.

How does a person become deviant?

  • Differential Association/Deviant Subcultures. A person’s tendency toward conformity or deviance depends on the amount of contact with others who encourage or reject conventional behavior
    • Deviance is learned.


Types of crime:

  • “Street crime” or “common crimes”
  • Crimes against person
  • Crimes against property
  • Victimless crimes
  • White collar crime—crimes committed by middle and upper class people during course of their business and social lives
  • Corporate crime—committed by corporation on behalf of corporation
  • Organized crime—provide and profit from illegal goods

Measuring Crime:

  • How do we know what type of crime is most “harmful”?
    • Costs of crime: direct loss of property, transfer of property, costs of criminal violence, illegal expenditures, enforcement costs, prevention and protection costs
  • How do we know how much criminal activity is taking place?
    • Police reports (FIRs) vs. Victimization surveys


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