Social deviance theory is a field of sociology that examines the causes and consequences of deviant behavior. Deviant behavior is any behavior that violates social norms, which are the rules and expectations that govern behavior in a particular society.Social norms can be formal or informal.Formal norms are codified into laws, while informal norms are unwritten and based on social customs and traditions.
Social deviance theory is important because it helps us understand why people engage in deviant behavior and the impact that this behavior has on society. Social deviance theorists also examine the ways in which society responds to deviant behavior, including through social control mechanisms such as law enforcement and punishment.
Key Theorists and Their Work
There are many different social deviance theories, each of which offers a unique perspective on the causes and consequences of deviant behavior. Some of the most influential social deviance theorists include:
There are many different social deviance theories. Some of the most important theorists and their work are discussed below.
Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of social deviance theory. He argued that deviance is a normal and necessary part of society. He believed that deviance served several functions, including:
It reaffirms cultural values and norms.
It clarifies the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
It promotes social solidarity by bringing people together to react against it.
It stimulates social change by forcing people to question and reevaluate existing social norms.
Robert K. Merton
Robert K. Merton was an American sociologist who developed a theory of deviance called strain theory. He argued that deviance is caused by the strain that people experience when they are unable to achieve culturally valued goals through legitimate means. Merton identified five different ways that people can adapt to strain:
Conformity: Accept both the goals and the means to achieve them.
Innovation: Accept the goals but reject the legitimate means to achieve them.
Ritualism: reject the goals but accept the legitimate means to achieve them.
Retreatism: reject both the goals and the legitimate means to achieve them.
Rebellion: Reject both the goals and the legitimate means to achieve them and substitute new goals and means.
Howard S. Becker
Howard S. Becker was an American sociologist who developed a theory of deviance called labeling theory. He argued that deviance is not a property of behavior but rather a label that is applied to people by others. Becker believed that the labeling process can have a profound impact on people's lives, as it can lead to stigma, discrimination, and criminalization.
Other important theorists
Other important social deviance theorists include:
Edwin H. Sutherland developed the differential association theory, which argues that deviance is learned through interaction with others who are already deviant.
Albert K. Cohen developed the subcultural theory, which argues that deviance can be caused by membership in a subculture that values different norms than the mainstream culture.
Richard Cloward and Lloyd A. Ohlin developed the differential opportunity theory, which argues that deviance is caused by a lack of legitimate opportunities to achieve success.
Examples of social deviation
Examples of social deviance include:
Crimes such as murder, theft, and assault
Drug use and addiction
Homosexuality and other sexual orientations
Religious beliefs and practices that differ from the mainstream
Here are some specific examples of how social deviance theory has been applied in the real world:
Crime prevention: Social deviance theory can be used to design crime prevention programs that target the root causes of crime, such as poverty and lack of opportunity. For example, a crime prevention program might provide job training and educational opportunities to young people in high-crime neighborhoods.
Drug treatment: Social deviance theory can be used to develop drug treatment programs that focus on the underlying social factors that contribute to drug use, such as peer pressure and social isolation. For example, a drug treatment program might provide participants with support groups and counseling to help them address the social challenges in their lives.
Mental health care: Social deviance theory can be used to develop mental health care programs that focus on the social factors that contribute to mental illness, such as stigma and discrimination. For example, a mental health care program might provide participants with support groups and advocacy services to help them navigate the social challenges of living with mental illness.
Homelessness prevention: Social deviance theory can be used to develop homelessness prevention programs that target the root causes of homelessness, such as poverty and a lack of affordable housing. For example, a homelessness prevention program might provide financial assistance to people who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Social deviance theory is a complex and evolving field of study. Social deviance theorists have developed a wide range of theories to explain the causes and consequences of deviant behavior. These theories have helped us to better understand the phenomenon of social deviance and its impact on society.