Deviant behavior is the branch of sociology that concerns itself with behavior that does not conform to social norms and values. It is often associated with the study of criminology as a subdivision of sociology.
What is Deviance?
Simply defined, deviance is behavior that does not conform to social norms and values, and in doing so elicits a negative response. Deviance encompasses both crime and otherness. Otherness is non-conformance with both formal and informal norms and values, whereas crime is specifically an infraction against norms and values that have been codified into law. The former type of deviance is based on the interpretation of the observer, unlike the latter which is based on established criteria.
There are a couple ways to classify deviant behavior; it can be formal or informal, and voluntary or involuntary. Depending on the situation and the norm or value being violated, different levels of deviance are achieved. For instance, an involuntary violation of an informal norm is far less offensive than a voluntary violation of a formal norm (i.e. Law). The distinction between formal and informal deviance rests in the definition society gives to the action, and the manner in which they do so. Formal norms and values would be laws, regulations, rules and codes of conduct, for example. Reactions to transgressions against formal norms and values are external to individuals in the form of punitive action, such as fines or imprisonment. Examples of informal norms and values includes customs and traditions. Reactions to informal deviance are typically internal to the individual. Consider walking into a building on a windy day, and the person ahead allows the door to slam shut on the follower. The follower would have an internal reaction. In addition, closeted homosexuals, who have trouble defining or accepting themselves, often have feelings of guilt or confusion. Not all deviance is a voluntary action. Physical and mental disabilities can be examined as deviant behavior, as they do not conform to the normal definition of a person. Often there are informal reactions to physical disability or mental disability, however from time to time there are formal sanctions imposed upon those who are disabled.
As with all subcategories of sociology, deviance is studied from a variety of approaches based on the key theoretical models of sociology. Although, other models may be developed specifically for the subject being studied. This is the case of the Chicago School approach. The popular approaches are as follows:
- Chicago School
- Social Control
- Symbolic Interactionism
- Conflict Theory
- Others (Feminist, Left Realism, Power-Control, etc.)
Subjective vs. Objective
There are competing perspectives on the subject of crime and deviance, including the nature of deviance as either subjective or objective. These perspectives are formalized in the various above approaches. The objective approach to deviance assumes that certain behaviors are naturally deviant, in that they go against widespread consensus in society. The affected norms are viewed as absolute. An example of a behavior classified as objective positivists view as deviant would be rape, murder, and theft. Other behaviors are not the object of widespread consensus, including marijuana use, and homosexuality. Subjective humanists view these behaviors as the objects of socially constructed norms and values, and are therefore constantly affected by some degree of flux.
- American Sociological Association
- Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association
- International Sociological Association
- Gomme 2002:3
- Leviticus 21