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The Context of Deviance

Write an Essay on Deviance, Difference and Conformity.

The concept deviance is one of the most prominent sociological discussions that has received significant illumination by various authors. It is conceptualized as the tendency or practice by individuals or a group of individuals that is contrary to the societal norms. In other words, deviance is seen as a negation of the societal set standards of how one should behave. Several sociological theories explain deviance, and one fact that stands out is that deviance is a significant aspect of the society. It is a dominant issue in the society hence it is not easy to have a utopian society free of deviance or deviants. Some of the theories that explain deviance include; Robert Merton's cultural strain theory (a development of the functional structuralism theory), labelling theory, social control theory, and the theory of differential association. In this sense, therefore, this paper discusses how the sociology of deviance continues playing a useful role in the social world.

Durkheim, the father of sociology, underpins the importance of deviance as maintaining order in the society. Durkheim thus based his works on the structural, functional theory. The theory sees the society as a complex structure made up of other structures that must cooperate to maintain the function and stability of the entire society (Little et al. 2012: 10). These interrelated parts include both social structures and social functions. Durkheim, therefore, perceives deviance as an important aspect of the society. He thus posits four roles played by deviance within the society. According to him, deviance; affirms cultural values and norms, promotes social change, acts as a unifying factor, and judges between wrong and right (Little et al. 2012: 16).  Durkheim also highlights another concept of social solidarity as an essential element that holds the society together. In this view, he argues that societies evolve from the mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. The central point that marks this transition is the division of labour.


According to him, a society characterized by mechanical solidarity is a rather simple society with low division of labour, high religious commitment, and people with shared roles and responsibilities (Little et al. 2012: 33). Conversely, an organic society is complex and defined by secularism, individualism and higher division of labour. For this reason, a society characterized by organic solidarity has a strong sense of interdependence. However, despite Durkheim's earlier support for deviance being an important aspect of the society, in his contextualization of the social solidarity, he de-emphasizes its significance and instead focuses on the role of division of labour. Such an undertaking suggests that deviance is an unfashionable concept in the Durkheimian model of social solidarity and thus cannot be applied in the context of Australia which is depicted as a modern diverse and progressive society. Nonetheless, even if the model supports the notion of the death of deviance sociology, it is quite evident that deviance is still and continues to be present in the societies (Feinberg, 2016: 296). Moreover, though some argue that the sociology of deviance died some years back, then if one must talk about it, they ought to talk about it in terms of resurrection (Taylor, Walton and Young, 2013: 33).

The Significance of Deviance in Maintaining Order in Society

The sociological approach to deviance provides two fundamental insights. Firstly is the contextual definition of deviance. Secondly, deviance is not inherently a psychological or biological element of an individual but is a product that results from social processes (Clinard and Meier, 2008: 321). These two insights according to Shulte (2001: 132) conclude about the inevitability of deviance. Borrowing from the former insight, for instance, an act may be termed as deviant in one context but not in another. Therefore, the understanding of a deviant and nondeviant act calls for contextualization of a given context, the existing rules, and the establishment of the rules (Feinberg, 2016: 296). Essentially, when a set of given rules change, that which is defined as deviance also changes. Moreover, Feinberg (2016: 297) and Roach (2006: 23) argue that rules and norms change from one culture to the other, and so do the notions of deviance. Deriving from the second insight, it is clear that the contexts of norms and values that determine the deviant and nondeviant acts are continuously defined and redefined by some social processes that include cultural processes, political processes, legal processes, and religious processes among others (Roach, 2006: 32).


Various theories explain deviance and therefore ascertain its existence and continuity. The affirmation of these theories in itself is a depiction that sociology of deviance is not dead but resurrected in the social world (Downes, Rock, and McLaughlin, 2016: 19).  The structural strain theory was developed by an American sociologist, Robert Merton. Merton saw deviance as emanating from the tension caused by the culturally defined goals and the means of achieving them. According to Merton, society is made up of the culture and the social structures. The former provides the goals while the latter provides means through which the goals are attained. An ideal society, people, use the socially acceptable ways to achieve the goals. In other words, there is a balance between the means and the goals. On the other hand, deviance results whereby the goals and means do no balance. Another theory that explains deviance is known as the labelling theory. The theory assumes that there is no natural criminal act. In this notion, therefore, the proponent argue that criminality is interpreted by law (Downes, Rock and McLaughlin, 2016: 23). Additionally, deviance is not a characteristic of any group or individual. It rather results from the relationship between non-deviants and deviants. Labelling of criminality to an individual by others acts as a precipitating factor that drives one into deviant behaviour.

Social Processes and the Notions of Deviance

In addition, Travis Hirschi developed the theory of social control. Hirschi proposed that deviance results from a weakened social bond that a person or group is attached (Tepperman, L. and Tepperman, 2010: 11). According to this theory, people pay substantial attention to what others say about them hence conforming to the social expectations (Pratt and Cullen, 2000: 44). The theory also posits that socialization results in conformity to the social norms. Nonetheless, deviance always occurs when the conformity is broken (Schmalleger and Volk, 2013: 19). The theory differential association by Edwin Sutherland maintains that people develop criminal behaviour through interacting with others. From these relationships/interactions, people learn the values, attitudes, motives and techniques of criminal behaviour (Pratt and Cullen, 2000: 46). The scrutiny of Sutherland's theory implies that deviance or deviant acts occur as a result of the learning experience as well as the social influence. In general, when one considers the theoretical explanations of the causes of deviance, it becomes evident that these causes are manifested in the societies (Schmalleger and Volk, 2013: 56). The sociology of deviance, therefore, is not dead so as long as its causes are evident in the society. 


According to Miller, Wright and Dannels, (2001:43, 56), the declaration by some scholars that the sociology of deviance is dead is mere exaggeration and allegations. The centrality of their sentiment is based on the fact that the commentators (about the death of the discipline) are scholars in other fields but not sociology. In their scrutiny of one Sumner's study subtitled Obituary (1994), Miller, Wright and Dannels, (2001:43) argue that they evaluated the study works and scholars cited regarding the sociology of deviance. The scholars, therefore, examined the published research notes, journals, articles and textbooks. Their research indicated that more than one-half of the scholars cited were researchers in other fields, mainly criminology, and not in the sociology of deviance. Nonetheless, they also noted two sources whose scholars studied sociology of deviance. Although this number may have been used to show the declining scholarship in the sociology of deviance, one would argue that the intention was not to declare its death.

Similarly, Goode (2003: 510) is opposed to the proposition on the death of sociology of deviance. He connotes that his colleagues in colleges held the view that the discipline was long gone. In his assertion about the existence and relevance of the sociology of deviance Goode (2003: 511) remarked that the concept of deviance and course of deviance was still vital and relevant. He also noted that his textbook on deviance was not only selling pretty well but had also been edited several times and translated into Hebrew. Similarly, other books on deviance particularly his colleagues' (McCaghy, Capron, and James (2003): Clinard and Meirer (2001): Thio (2003): Adler and Adler (2003) and many others were highly selling. Additionally, Goode rubbished the "plot" on the death of sociology of deviance by arguing that the study of the death has attracted insignificant attention as opposed to whether it still exists. He maintains that with the increased number of students enrolled in studying sociology of deviance shows its revival and that the connotation that the discipline is death symbolizes bias (Doode, 2003: 520).


In summary, the study and understanding of the sociology of deviance borrow mostly from the many theories that illuminate it. It is clear that whether the issue whether the sociology of deviance died is disputable.  The paper has illustrated how the sociology of deviance still has its roots in the social world. Additionally, theories that explain deviance show how deviant behaviour occur and persist in the society. The acts of deviance are still observable in the society hence one cannot dismiss the relevance of the field. Although some scholars may contend that the sociology of deviance ceased existing, this paper has clearly shown that there is the resurrection of the same.

References

Clinard, M.B. and Meier, R.E., (2008). Sociology of Deviant behaviour 13th ed. Belmont CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Downes, D., Rock, P. and McLaughlin, E., (2016). Understanding deviance: a guide to the sociology of crime and rule-breaking. Oxford University Press.

Feinberg, S.L., 2016. The Death and Resurrection of Deviance: Current Ideas and Research. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 45(3), pp.296-297.

Franzese, R.J., (2015). The Sociology of Deviance. Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Goode, E., (2003). the macguffin that refuses to die: an investigation into the condition of the sociology of deviance. Deviant Behavior, 24(6), pp.507-533.

Little, W., Vyain, S., Scaramuzzo, G., Cody-Rydzewski, S., Griffiths, H., Strayer, E., Keirns, N. and Mcgivern, R., (2012). Introduction to Sociology-1st Canadian Edition. BC Open Textbook project.

Miller, J.M., Wright, R.A. and Dannels, D., (2001). Is deviance" dead"? The decline of a sociological research specialization. The American Sociologist, pp.43-59.

Pratt, T.C. and Cullen, F.T., (2000). The empirical status of Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime: A meta?analysis. Criminology, 38(3), pp.931-964.

Roach, A.S.L (2006). Deviance, conformity and control (4 ed). Frenchs Forest, N.S.W. : Pearson Longman

Schmalleger, F.J. and Volk, R., (2013). Canadian criminology today: Theories and applications. Pearson Education Canada.

Shulte, A., (2001). Theories of Deviance. Teaching Sociology, 29(1), p.132.

Taylor, I., Walton, P. and Young, J., (2013). The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. Routledge.

Tepperman, L. and Tepperman, A.,(2010). Deviance, crime, and control: beyond the straight and narrow. Oxford University Press.

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