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Deviance– Any action/behavior that deviates from what people generally accept as normal. Good or bad depending upon the individual.

Social Strain Theory-the amount of deviance in a society depends on whether that society has provided sufficient means to achieve culturally defined goals. Ex. in the U.S one of the goals is financial success is one of the strongest culturally defined goals the means of achieving it involves getting an education, the American dream working hard to achieve it, go to school, get good grades, graduate, get good job, and succeed, this is called conformity, this isn’t an option for all money.


Strain Theory

Failure to achieve the American dream lies at the heart of Robert Merton’s (1938) famous strain theory (also called anomie theory). Recall from Chapter 1 “Sociology and the Sociological Perspective” that Durkheim attributed high rates of suicide to anomie, or normlessness, that occurs in times when social norms are unclear or weak. Adapting this concept, Merton wanted to explain why poor people have higher deviance rates than the nonpoor. He reasoned that the United States values economic success above all else and also has norms that specify the approved means, working, for achieving economic success. Because the poor often cannot achieve the American dream of success through the conventional means of working, they experience a gap between the goal of economic success and the means of working. This gap, which Merton likened to Durkheim’s anomie because of the resulting lack of clarity over norms, leads to strain or frustration. To reduce their frustration, some poor people resort to several adaptations, including deviance, depending on whether they accept or reject the goal of economic success and the means of working. 


Merton was proposing a typology of deviance based upon two criteria: (1) a person’s motivations or his adherence to cultural goals; (2) a person’s belief in how to attain his goals. According to Merton, there are five types of deviance based upon these criteria:

  • Conformity involves the acceptance of the cultural goals and means of attaining those goals.
  • Innovation involves the acceptance of the goals of a culture but the rejection of the traditional and/or legitimate means of attaining those goals. For example, a member of the Mafia values wealth but employs alternative means of attaining his wealth; in this example, the Mafia member’s means would be deviant. Innovators are people who accept the goal of pursuing material wealth but use illegal means to do so, including robbery, burglary, and extortion. Helps to account for the high crime rates among the nation’s poor, who may see no hope of advancing themselves through traditional roads to success. Innovation- using illegitimate means to reach the goal. Meaning you will resort to organized crimes if needed to obtain that goal.
  • Ritualism involves the rejection of cultural goals but the routinized acceptance of the means for achieving the goals. Ritualist-Deep devotion to the rules because they are the rules and giving up on the goal.
  • Retreatism involves the rejection of both the cultural goals and the traditional means of achieving those goals, ex. person basically drops out of society rejecting both the conventional means and goals.
  • Rebellion is a special case wherein the individual rejects both the cultural goals and traditional means of achieving them but actively attempts to replace both elements of the society with different goals and means. Rebellion-rejection of goals and means but in the context of a counterculture one that supports the pursuit of new goals according to new means

Agnew, R. (2007). Pressured into crime: An overview of general strain theory. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.

Social Control– Attempts by society to regulate people’s thoughts and behaviors in ways that limit, or punish, and deviance.

Negative Sanctions– negative social reactions to deviance.

Positive Sanctions– positive affirmative reactions, usually in response to conformity.

Informal Norms– making fun of food, complimenting you on a paper, and commenting on bright purple hair all examples of Folkways usually involves when someone breaks them it involves negative sanctions

Formal Sanctioning– when norms are codified into law, and violation almost always results in negative sanctions from the criminal justice system the police, the courts, and the criminal justice system.

oals , the means of achieving it involves getting an education, the American dream working hard to achieve it, go to school, get good grades, graduate, get good job, and succeed, this is called conformity, this isn’t an option for all money.

Diff. Association Theory– who you associate with makes deviance more or less likely.


Differential Association Theory

One popular set of explanations, often called learning theories, emphasizes that deviance is learned from interacting with other people who believe it is OK to commit deviance and who often commit deviance themselves. Deviance, then, arises from normal socialization processes. The most influential such explanation is Edwin H. Sutherland’s (1947) differential association theory, which says that criminal behavior is learned by interacting with close friends and family members. These individuals teach us not only how to commit various crimes but also the values, motives, and rationalizations that we need to adopt in order to justify breaking the law. The earlier in our life that we associate with deviant individuals and the more often we do so, the more likely we become deviant ourselves. In this way, a normal social process, socialization, can lead normal people to commit deviance.

Sutherland’s theory of differential association was one of the most influential sociological theories ever. Over the years much research has documented the importance of adolescents’ peer relationships for their entrance into the world of drugs and delinquency (Akers & Sellers, 2008). However, some critics say that not all deviance results from the influences of deviant peers. Still, differential association theory and the larger category of learning theories it represents remain a valuable approach to understanding deviance and crime.

Sutherland, E. H. (1947). Principles of criminology. Philadelphia, PA: J. P. Lippincott.


Control Theory– self-control as a way of avoiding deviance, ability to anticipate the consequences of their actions.


Social Control Theory

Travis Hirschi (1969) argued that human nature is basically selfish and thus wondered why people do not commit deviance. His answer, which is now called social control theory (also known as social bonding theory), was that their bonds to conventional social institutions such as the family and the school keep them from violating social norms. Hirschi’s basic perspective reflects Durkheim’s view that strong social norms reduce deviance such as suicide.

Hirschi outlined four types of bonds to conventional social institutions: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

  1. Attachment refers to how much we feel loyal to these institutions and care about the opinions of people in them, such as our parents and teachers. The more attached we are to our families and schools, the less likely we are to be deviant.
  2. Commitment refers to how much we value our participation in conventional activities such as getting a good education. The more committed we are to these activities and the more time and energy we have invested in them, the less deviant we will be.
  3. Involvement refers to the amount of time we spend in conventional activities. The more time we spend, the less opportunity we have to be deviant.
  4. Belief refers to our acceptance of society’s norms. The more we believe in these norms, the less we deviate.

Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Labeling theory– Labeling theory (also referred to as societal reaction theory) analyzes how social groups create and apply definitions for deviant behavior.

Labeling Theory

If we arrest and imprison someone, we hope they will be “scared straight,” or deterred from committing a crime again. Labeling theory assumes precisely the opposite: it says that labeling someone deviant increases the chances that the labeled person will continue to commit deviance. According to labeling theory, this happens because the labeled person ends up with a deviant self-image that leads to even more deviance. Deviance is the result of being labeled (Bohm & Vogel, 2011).

This effect is reinforced by how society treats someone who has been labeled. Research shows that job applicants with a criminal record are much less likely than those without a record to be hired (Pager, 2009). Suppose you had a criminal record and had seen the error of your ways but were rejected by several potential employers. Do you think you might be just a little frustrated? If your unemployment continues, might you think about committing a crime again? Meanwhile, you want to meet some law-abiding friends, so you go to a singles bar. You start talking with someone who interests you, and in response to this person’s question, you say you are between jobs. When your companion asks about your last job, you reply that you were in prison for armed robbery. How do you think your companion will react after hearing this? As this scenario suggests, being labeled deviant can make it difficult to avoid a continued life of deviance.

Labeling theory also asks whether some people and behaviors are indeed more likely than others to acquire a deviant label. In particular, it asserts that nonlegal factors such as appearance, race, and social class affect how often official labeling occurs.

Chambliss, W. J. (1973). The saints and the roughnecks. Society, 11, 24–31.

Émile Durkheim: The Functions of Deviance

As noted earlier, Émile Durkheim said deviance is normal, but he did not stop there. In a surprising and still controversial twist, he also argued that deviance serves several important functions for society.

First, Durkheim said, deviance clarifies social norms and increases conformity. This happens because the discovery and punishment of deviance reminds people of the norms and reinforces the consequences of violating them. If your class were taking an exam and a student was caught cheating, the rest of the class would be instantly reminded of the rules about cheating and the punishment for it, and as a result they would be less likely to cheat.

A second function of deviance is that it strengthens social bonds among the people reacting to the deviant. An example comes from the classic story The Ox-Bow Incident (Clark, 1940), in which three innocent men are accused of cattle rustling and are eventually lynched. The mob that does the lynching is very united in its frenzy against the men, and, at least at that moment, the bonds among the individuals in the mob are extremely strong.

A final function of deviance, said Durkheim, is that it can help lead to positive social change. Although some of the greatest figures in history—Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. to name just a few—were considered the worst kind of deviants in their time, we now honor them for their commitment and sacrifice.

Émile Durkheim wrote that deviance can lead to positive social change. Many Southerners had strong negative feelings about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, but history now honors him for his commitment and sacrifice.


Definition of Terms


Deviance – a behavior, trait, belief, or other characteristic that violates a norm and causes a negative reaction (page 153)

Social control theory – a theory of crime, proposed by Travis Hirschi, that posits that strong social bonds increase conformity and decrease deviance (page 155)

Innovators – individuals who accept society’s approved goals but not society’s approved means to achieve them (page 156)

Ritualists – individuals who have given up hope of achieving society’s approved goals but still operate according to society’s approved means (page 156)

Retreatists – individuals who renounce society’s approved goals and means entirely and live outside conventional norms altogether (page 156)

Rebels – individuals who reject society’s approved goals and means and instead create and work toward their own (sometimes revolutionary) goals using new means (page 156)

Social control – the formal and informal mechanisms used to elicit conformity to values and norms and thus promote social cohesion (page 156)

Differential Association theory – Edwin Sutherland’s hypothesis that we learn to be deviant through our associations with deviant peers (page 157)

Labeling theory – Howard Becker’s idea that deviance is a consequence of external judgments, or labels, that modify the individual’s self-concept and change the way others respond to the labeled person (page 158)

Cyberbullying – the use of electronic media (web pages, social networking sites, e-mail, Twitter, cell phones) to tease, harass, threaten, or humiliate someone (page 158)

Primary deviance – in labeling theory, the initial act or attitude that causes one to be labeled deviant (page 160)

Secondary deviance – in labeling theory, the subsequent deviant identity or career that develops as a result of being labeled deviant (page 160)

Tertiary deviance – redefining the stigma associated with a deviant label as a positive phenomenon (page 160)

Self-fulfilling prophesy – an inaccurate statement or belief that, by altering the situation, becomes accurate; a prediction that causes itself to come true (page 160)

Stereotype Threat – a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which the fear of performing poorly—and confirming stereotypes about their social groups—causes students to perform poorly (page 160)

Stereotype Promise – a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in which positive stereotypes, such as the “model minority” label applied to Asian Americans, lead to positive performance outcomes (page 161)

Stigma – Erving Goffman’s term for any physical or social attribute that devalues a person or group’s identity and that may exclude those who are devalued from normal social interaction (page 161)

Passing – presenting yourself as a member of a different group than the stigmatized group to which you belong (page 162)

In-group Orientation – among stigmatized individuals, the rejection of prevailing judgments or prejudice and the development of new standards that value their group identity (page 162)

Outsiders – according to Howard Becker, those labeled deviant and subsequently segregated from “normal” society (page 163)

Deviance Avowal – process by which an individual self-identifies as deviant and initiates her own labeling process (page 163)

Crime – a violation of a norm that has been codified into law (page 165)

Criminology – the systematic scientific study of crime, criminals, and criminal justice (page 166)

Uniform Crime Report – an official measure of crime in the United States, produced by the FBI’s official tabulation of every crime reported by more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies (page 166)

Violent crime – crimes in which violence is either the objective or the means to an end, including murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery (page 166)

Property Crime – crimes that do not involve violence, including burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson (page 166)

Cybercrime – crimes committed via the Internet, including identity theft, embezzlement, fraud, sexual predation, and financial scams (page 166)

White Collar Crime – crime committed by a high-status individual in the course of his occupation (page 167)

Deterrence – an approach to punishment that relies on the threat of harsh penalties to discourage people from committing crimes (page 170)

Retribution – an approach to punishment that emphasizes retaliation or revenge for the crime as the appropriate goal (page 170)

Incapacitation – an approach to punishment that seeks to protect society from criminals by imprisoning or executing them (page 170)

Rehabilitation – an approach to punishment that attempts to reform criminals as part of their penalty (page 170)

Criminal Justice System – a collection of social institutions, such as legislatures, police, courts, and prisons, that creates and enforces laws (page 170)

Capital Punishment – the death penalty (page 172)

Positive Deviance – actions considered deviant within a given context but are later reinterpreted as appropriate or even heroic (page 172)





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