Social deviance is a term that refers to forms of behaviour and qualities of persons

that others in society devalue and discredit. So what exactly is deviance? In this

particular essay we are concerned with social deviance. Not physiological

deviations from the expected norm. In general, any behaviour that does not

conform to social norms is deviance. That is behaviour that violates significant

social norms and is disapproved of by a large number of people as a result.


For societies to run with some semblance of order the problem of deviance is

essential and intrinsic to any conception of social order. It is problematic because it

causes a disruption, but it is essential because it defines our boundaries as a

society. It is intrinsic to a conception of order in that defining what is real and

expected, defining what is acceptable, and defining who we are - always done in

opposition to what is unreal, unexpected, unacceptable and who we are not. If we

can accept the reality of change, then designations of deviance are crucial in

locating the shifting boundaries of our socially structured reality. (Erikson, 1964)


What is perceived as deviant behaviour is subject to change depending on our

position, place and time. Different cultures have different levels of social order and

control, therefore making what can be seen as a deviant behaviour in one culture

highly acceptable in another.


When we define someone or some group as deviant - we strengthen our own

position and simplify our response to the "other": we can ignore, expunge,

destroy, or rehabilitate them. We convince ourselves of our own normalcy by

condemning and controlling those who disagree. Deviance is a phenomenon

situated in power: Winners are the good and the normal; Losers are the sick, the

crazy, the evil. Deviance, therefore exists in opposition to those who attempt to

control it - to those who have power. (Phofl, 1994)


Deviance is not a matter of the cost or consequences of a particular behaviour, or

the behaviour itself. Deviance is a label used to maintain the power, control, and

position of a dominant group. It is a negotiated order. Deviance violates

some groups assumptions about reality (social order). It violates expectations. The

definition of deviance defines the threat and allows for containment and control of

the threat. The definition of deviance preserves, protects, and defines group

interests and in doing so maintains a sense of normalcy. It is a product of

social interaction. (Erikson 1964)


Sociologists have said that deviance is a social reality, that it is shared and learned

like any aspect of culture.


Emile Durkheim and other functionalists posed the notion that deviance is

functional. He asserted that:

1. Deviance acts as a safety valve

2. Deviance inspires creativity

3. Deviance creates social change

4. Deviance outlines boundaries and rules

5. Deviance can promote social solidarity. (Haralambos,

Holborn,van Krieken, Smith, 1996)


Chicago school sociologists believed that any region that was physically separated

from the others was viewed as a natural area. Within each of these areas are moral,

social and structural orders. That is, a set of customs, rules, or regulations that

control the process of competition and cooperation.


Theorists of the Chicago school believed that deviance resulted from disorganised

areas (which they believed would be characterised with physical deterioration,

economic deprivation, poverty, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, turnover,

alienation, high rate of suicide.). The weak community integration led to the

formation of and higher rates of deviance. Overtime these theorists backed away

from the idea that these areas are disorganised and instead argued that they were

differently organised. Deviance was a by-product of different social organisation.

This move allowed researchers to see deviant behaviour as something that was

caused by society and culture rather than individual defects. (Becker, 1963)


Society is a structure of relatively isolated subcultures, each with its own values,

norms, and way of life. In the context of this differential social organisation deviant

behaviour is created


Although crime seems to be ubiquitous, we often know very little about how our

perceptions of crime are created, maintained, or modified. We do know that there

is no single objective definition of crime. Our views about crime and criminals

are determined by our social milieu - this is the social reality of crime.


What is our informal consensual understanding of the reality