Outcome: Deviance

Define deviance and methods of social control

A thesaurus might list the following words about deviance: “abnormal, aberration, anomaly, weird, irregular, unnatural.” Most references attest to the nature of deviance as being something that violates normal behaviors, thoughts, or actions. But, is deviance weird/cool, positive/negative, desirable/undesirable, or good/bad?

For sociologists the answer is found by considering exactly who has the power and authority to define the behavior as being normal or deviant. Throughout history, the United States government, religions, education, media, and family types have influenced and shaped what is considered “normal” or “deviant” on subjects as insignificant as swimsuits on beaches and as significant as women having the same rights that men have. Deviance is considered at both of C. Wright Mills’ larger social and personal levels.

A personal level example might be considered with someone wearing a swimsuit on campus. Other students do not need to look at university, government, or media for approval on how they dress for class. They typically consider a source much more valuable to teenagers and young adults—their peers. If your friends wear swimsuits to class you may define the swimsuit issue as being normal among students who were your friends, yet deviant among students who run in different crowds. Since we typically value our own peer evaluations the most, we often defer to peer-based norms.

What you’ll learn to do:

  • Define deviance, and explain the nature of deviant behavior
  • Differentiate between methods of social control


The learning activities for this section include:

  • Reading: Deviance and Control
  • Video: The Importance of Deviants
  • Self-Check: Deviance