Sociology on deviance


Deviance: the sociological facts!

Why does a man mistreat his wife? Why does a woman steal make-up from a store? Why does a child bully the other child? Why does someone unleash their dog in places where it is not allowed to unleash your dog? Why does someone spit chewing gum on the streets? These are all examples of deviant behavior. We are all guilty of some of them, because even the smallest things like going through a red light or stealing a piece of candy at Kruidvat can be defined as deviant behavior. That is actually a really funny story, I once did that and one of the workers there got really really pissed! I even had to pay 5 cents for that piece of candy. All kinds of things can be seen as deviant behavior, so this raises the next questions: what is deviant behavior exactly and why am I talking about this?

What exactly is deviant behavior?

Deviant behavior, or deviance, is behavior that differs from the norm. This behavior is against the principles of the society and is seen by others as inappropriate behavior. As I said, deviance doesn’t always have to be a crime. It also contains (in my case) little things like stealing a piece of candy. Deviance turns into a crime when there is a punishment related to it. Deviance is related to time, place (culture) and status. This means that what is seen as deviant behavior depends on the time we live in (some things, like chopping of hands or someones head, used to be okay in for example the Middle Ages, but are now seen as deviance), the place where we are (this has something to do with different cultures: in every culture people see different things as deviance) and our status (people of the highest class see other things as deviant behavior than the people in the lowest class). Besides the fact that everyone sees deviant behavior or deviance different, there are four sociological perspectives that also have a different view on deviance. I think these perspectives are interesting and that’s why I wanted to share them with you guys! Maybe you can explain after reading this article why I stole that piece of candy……

What are those four perspectives and how do they see deviance?


Society is viewed as a complex system in this perspective, made up of small pieces which cooperate with each other. This cooperation ensures stability and solidarity in society. There are three kinds of functions in this perspective: manifest functions, latent functions and dysfunctions. Manifest functions are the intended consequences of actions that you take to achieve something. Latent functions are the unintended consequences. An example: when a neighborhood wants a clean neighborhood, they cooperate to clean the streets. The manifest function is to have a clean neighborhood. The latent function is social cohesion, because all the people work together to achieve the same goal. When a latent function is not something positive like social cohesion but is something negative, it is called a dysfunction.

According to this perspective, deviant behavior is a dysfunction. Deviance is the result of lack of moral consensus, lack of common goals and lack of social control. So, in my case, I stole that piece of candy because I don’t have a moral consensus, no common goals and there is no social control. Auch, this perspective isn’t really positive for me!

Conflict theory

This perspective focuses on power relations, inequality and problems. Society is viewed as a place where all different kinds of groups have different interests. Because of these interests, the chance of a conflict is always present. These conflicts do not always have to be negative, sometimes conflicts lead to a positive change. This could be for example social change. Social change is sometimes desirable, because it may lead to positive improvements.

According to the conflict theory, deviance is the result of social inequality. It can be solved by creating equality among members of a society. This social inequality can be caused by yourself. This is called the relative deprivation theory (devised by Robert Merton). According to this theory, you compare your own situation with that of another (something like the grass is always greener on the other side). This encourages deviant behavior. Why? Because you are jealous! You can either envy the other person and try to make their lifes difficult (this can be seen as deviant behavior) or you can try to compare with them. This isn’t always possible, when you don’t have the money for example you might steal some money or something (again, this is deviant behavior!).

According to this perspective, the worker at Kruidvat and I had different interests. I was craving for a piece of candy and the worker was trying to manage the store and was thereby trying to maintain control. That caused a conflict, when he got pissed and I had to pay for it. Apparently, I felt inequal because Kruidvat had all kinds of candy and I had zero candy! Interesting…


This theory focuses on interactions between people of a society. These interactions consist of the transmission of symbols (verbal or nonverbal). Symbols are messages with a meaning.

There are two theories according to this perspective on deviance: the differential association theory and the labeling theory. The first theory assumes that you have a bigger chance of exhibiting deviant behavior when there are bad influences in your life (like bad friends or family). The second theory contains two steps: primary deviance and secondary deviance. The first step, primary deviance, is about getting a label that says that you show deviant behavior. This doesn’t affect your identity. The second step, secondary deviance, does on the other hand effect you identity. In this step, you accept your label and you begin to behave like the label says.

So, according to this theory I have some bad influences in my life! This is actually true, my dad used to steal pieces of candy from the shop so that’s why I did it as well I guess.. And the labeling theory sounds also true to me, when the worker got pissed and yelt at me like a was a criminal, I truly felt like a criminal. However, it’s not like I am about to steal more stuff and act like a criminal!

Rational choice theory

This theory assumes that you make a choice that is the best option for you. It assumes that individuals make a cost/benefit analysis and pick the best option. It’s all about self-interest, and individuals act from an economic point of view.

According to this theory, there are two options you can choose from: show deviant behavior or don’t show deviant behavior. Which option you choose depends on which option has the most benefits. The control theory (from Hirschi) is part of the rational choice theory. The control theory contains four things: attachment (the more social relations someone has, the lower the chance of showing deviant behavior), commitment (the more value is placed on common activities, the lower the chance of deviance), involvement (the more time for hobbies, the lower the chance of deviance) and belief (what kinds of norms and values someone has determines wheter you show deviant behavior).

The best option at that moment for me was to steal that delicious candy because I was hungry and I really like candy. Was I only thinking about myself? Hmm.. Maybe! I’m not sure about the control theory either, I don’t think I have too little attachment, involvement or belief.

So now you know the sociological facts about deviance! Next time you wonder why someone shows deviant behavior, try to see it through one of these four perspectives! And now you know all the reasons why I stole that piece of candy…

By Lena van de Lande





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