Deviance
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Deviance

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Summary

Deviance refers to behaviors that violate social norms. There are three major theories for why deviance happens. The Differential Association Theory states that deviance is learned through interactions with other deviants. The Labeling Theory proposes that labeling an individual as a deviant causes confirmatory deviant behaviors. The Strain Theory suggests that deviant behaviors result from a disconnect between a person’s goals and their means for achieving those goals.

Key Points

  • Deviance
    • Deviant behaviors violate social norms
    • Major Theories
      • Differential Association Theory
        • Deviance is learned through association with other deviants
          • Exposure to other deviants normalizes deviant behaviors and norms
      • Labeling Theory
        • Labeling an individual as a deviant causes confirmatory deviant behaviors
          • Primary deviance (small norm violation) leads to a deviant label and social stigma, causing secondary deviance (more serious violation) once internalization of the label occurs
      • Strain Theory
        • Deviance results from strain due to disconnect between goals and means for achieving goals
          • People resort to deviance when they are blocked from attaining culturally established social goals (e.g. economic success)


Examples

Differential association can been seen in the normalization of carrying firearms when spending time in a gang. Spending time with other deviants (gang members) leads to belief that carrying firearms (deviant behavior) is “normal” and expected.

Labeling can be seen when large scale deviant acts (e.g. murder) are usually precipitated by smaller deviant acts (e.g. hurting animals) and social isolation. Labeling is the basis of a criminal record system, designed to identify and catch deviants at the point of minor deviance.

Strain is seen in the motives of a bank robber. A person may want a lot of money (goal), but has no means of achieving this goal. So instead, he robs a bank (deviant behavior) to relieve the strain created by this disconnect between goals and means.