Deviance

Deviance

Deviance refers to behaviors that violate social norms.

Learning Objectives

Define deviance and explain the nature of deviant behavior

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Deviant behavior may violate formally-enacted rules or informal social norms.
  • Formal deviance includes criminal violation of formally-enacted laws. Examples of formal deviance include robbery, theft, rape, murder, and assault.
  • Informal deviance refers to violations of informal social norms, which are norms that have not been codified into law. Examples of informal deviance include picking one’s nose, belching loudly, or standing unnecessarily close to another person.
  • Deviance can vary dramatically across cultures. Cultural norms are relative, which makes deviant behavior relative as well.

Key Terms

  • Formal Deviance: Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violate social norms, including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime), as well as informal violations of social norms (e.g., rejecting folkways and mores).
  • deviance: Actions or behaviors that violate formal and informal cultural norms, such as laws or the norm that discourages public nose-picking.
  • Informal Deviance: Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violate social norms, including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime), as well as informal violations of social norms (e.g., rejecting folkways and mores).

Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violate informal social norms or formally-enacted rules. Among those who study social norms and their relation to deviance are sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists, all of whom investigate how norms change and are enforced over time.

Deviance is often divided into two types of activities. The first, crime, is the violation of formally enacted laws and is referred to as formal deviance. Examples of formal deviance include robbery, theft, rape, murder, and assault. The second type of deviant behavior involves violations of informal social norms (norms that have not been codified into law) and is referred to as informal deviance. Examples of informal deviance include picking one’s nose, belching loudly, or standing unnecessarily close to another person.

Deviance can vary dramatically across cultures. Cultural norms are relative, which makes deviant behavior relative as well. For instance, in the United States, Americans do not generally impose time-based restrictions on speech. However, in the Christ Desert Monastery, specific rules govern determine when residents can and cannot speak, and speech is banned between 7:30 pm and 4:00 am. These rules are one example of how norms vary across cultures.

Current sociological research on deviance takes many forms. For example, Dr. Karen Halnon of Pennsylvania State University studies informal deviance and focuses on what she calls “deviance vacations,” whereby people of a given socioeconomic status voluntarily enter a different, often lower, social strata. One example involves heterosexual white males who become drag queens on weekends. This behavior represents a luxury, because heterosexual white males can afford to make a temporarily shift, knowing that they may subsequently return to the comforts of their prevailing socioeconomic status. Other examples include performers who may affect deviant behaviors in order to gain credibility with an aim to increasing commercial profits.

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Merton’s Social Strain Theory: This diagram depicts Robert K. Merton’s Social Strain Theory.

Norms and Sanctions

Norms are social rules of behavior, and a sanction is a form of punishment against violation of different norms.

Learning Objectives

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Deviance, or the violations of social norms, can be easier to identify than the norm itself. For this reason, deviance frequently provides a tool to learn about norms.
  • Norms and deviance always depend on the culture in which they exist.To study norms and deviance, one must contextualize the action, or consider the action in light of all of the circumstances surrounding it.
  • Norms can be formal, as in the case of laws, or informal, as in the case of codes of etiquette. Formal deviance results in legal sanctions, such as fines or prison, while informal deviance results in social sanctions or stigma.
  • The violation of a folkway leads to the development of a preference rather than stigmatization. When a more is violated, on the other hand, it results in a more serious degree of social sanction.
  • Informal deviance, or violation of unwritten, social rules of behavior, results in social sanction, or stigma.
  • A folkway leads to the development of a preference rather than stigmatization.
  • When a more is violated, it results in a more serious degree of social sanction.

Key Terms

  • folkway: A custom or belief common to members of a society or culture.
  • stigma: A mark of infamy or disgrace.
  • More: A way to refer to norms that are widely observed and have great moral significance. Mores include an aversion for societal taboos, such as incest or pederasty.

Norms are the social rules that govern behavior in a community. Norms can be explicit (such as laws) or implicit (such as codes of polite behavior). Norms can be difficult to identify because they are so deeply instilled in members of a given society. Norms are learned by growing up in a particular culture and can be difficult to learn if one does not grow up in the same social milieu.

The act of violating a social norm is called deviance. Individuals usually have a much easier time identifying the transgression of norms than the norms themselves. For example, few Americans would think to tell a sociologist that it is a social norm to hold the door open for a fellow pedestrian entering a building if within a particular distance. However, someone might remark that another person is rude because he or she did not hold the door open. Studying norms and studying deviance are inseparable endeavors.

Like deviance, norms are always culturally contingent. To study norms and deviance, one must contextualize the action, or consider the action in light of all of the circumstances surrounding it. For example, one cannot merely say that showing up nude to a job interview is a violation of social norms. While it is usually social convention to show up in some manner of (usually professional ) dress to a job interview, this is most likely not the case for someone interviewing to be a nude model. To understand the norm, one must understand the context.

The violation of social norms, or deviance, results in social sanction. Different degrees of violation result in different degrees of sanction. There are three main forms of social sanction for deviance: 1) legal sanction, 2) stigmatization, and 3) preference for one behavior over another. Formal deviance, or the violation of legal codes, results in criminal action initiated by the state. Informal deviance, or violation of unwritten, social rules of behavior, results in social sanction, or stigma. Lesser degrees of social violation result in preference rather than stigmatization. While society might deem it preferable to show up to most job interviews wearing a suit rather than casual attire, you will likely not be out of the running for the job if you are wearing khakis rather than a suit. However, should you show up nude to most interviews, you would likely be stigmatized for your behavior, since it would be such a drastic departure from the norm.

We say that the norm that governs wearing professional rather than casual attire to a job interview is a folkway because its violation results in lesser degree of social sanction—the development of a preference rather than stigmatization. The norm that governs wearing clothing to most job interviews, rather than showing up nude, is a more because its violation results in a more serious degree of social sanction.

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Misogyny in Billboards: This billboard has been defaced in order to highlight the sexual norms behind the advertisement.

Deviance and Social Stigma

Social stigma in deviance is the disapproval of a person because they do not fit the require social norms that are given in society.

Learning Objectives

Describe the meaning of stigma through the work of two sociologists

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Social stigma is severe social disapproval of a person because of a particular trait that indicates their deviance from social norms.
  • Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of the social sciences, began to address the social marking of deviance in the late nineteenth century.
  • Erving Goffman presented the fundamentals of stigma as a social theory, including his interpretation of “stigma” as a means of spoiling identity. By this, he referred to the stigmatized trait’s ability to “spoil” recognition of the individual’s adherence to social norms in other facets of self.
  • Without a society, one cannot have stigma. To have stigma, one must have a stigmatizer and someone who is stigmatized. As such, this is a dynamic and social relationship.

Key Terms

  • stigmatized: Subject to a stigma; marked as an outcast.
  • stigma: A mark of infamy or disgrace.
  • deviance: Actions or behaviors that violate formal and informal cultural norms, such as laws or the norm that discourages public nose-picking.

Social stigma is the extreme disapproval of an individual based on social characteristics that are perceived to distinguish them from other members of a society. Social stigma is so profound that it overpowers positive social feedback regarding the way in which the same individual adheres to other social norms. For example, Terry might be stigmatized because she has a limp. Stigma attaches to Terry because of her limp, overpowering the ways in which Terry might be social normative–perhaps she is a white, Protestant, or a heterosexual female with a limp. The limp marks Terry, despite her other traits.

Stigma plays a primary role in sociological theory. Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of the social sciences, began to address the social marking of deviance in the late nineteenth century. Erving Goffman, an American sociologist, is responsible for bringing the term and theory of stigma into the main social theoretical fold. In his work, Goffman presented the fundamentals of stigma as a social theory, including his interpretation of “stigma” as a means of spoiling identity. By this, he referred to the stigmatized trait’s ability to “spoil” recognition of the individual’s adherence to social norms in other facets of self. Goffman identified three main types of stigma: (1) stigma associated with mental illness; (2) stigma associated with physical deformation; and (3) stigma attached to identification with a particular race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc.

While Goffman is responsible for the seminal texts in stigma theory, stigmatization is still a popular theme in contemporary sociological research. In Conceptualizing Stigma (2001), sociologists Jo Phelan and Bruce Link interpret stigma as the convergence of four different factors: (1) differentiation and labeling of various segments of society; (2) linking the labeling of different social demographics to prejudices about these individuals; (3) the development of an us-versus-them ethic; and (4) disadvantaging the people who are labeled and placed in the “them” category.

Ultimately, stigma is about social control. A corollary to this is that stigma is necessarily a social phenomenon. Without a society, one cannot have stigma. To have stigma, one must have a stigmatizer and someone who is stigmatized. As such, this is a dynamic and social relationship. Given that stigmas arise from social relationships, the theory places emphasis, not on the existence of deviant traits, but on the perception and marking of certain traits as deviant by a second party. For example, theorists of stigma care little about whether Emily has a psychiatric diagnosis, but rather on how Sally perceives Emily’s psychiatric diagnosis and, subsequently, treats Emily differently. Stigma depends on a another individual perceiving and knowing about the stigmatized trait. As stigma is necessarily a social relation, it is necessarily imbued with relations of power. Stigma works to control deviant members of the population and encourage conformity.

Be Aware: End the Stigma Against Mental Illness: Be Aware is an awareness campaign that aims to end the stigma against mental illness.

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The Stigmatization of Homeless People: Homeless people are regularly stigmatized by society for being unemployed while living in the streets.

Deviance and Technology

Advances in technology have resulted in new forms of deviance as well as new forms of control.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the impact of technological innovation on forms of deviance and social control

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Cyberloafing refers to the use of high-speed internet by employees for personal use instead of work-related purposes.
  • Production deviance refers to the behaviors of deviant employees that have a negative impact on the overall productivity of the organization.
  • Property deviance refers to cases in which workers damage an employer’s property without authorization.
  • Property deviance typically involves theft, but it may include sabotage, intentional errors in work, and the misuse of expense accounts.

Key Terms

  • Property Deviance: Property deviance is “where employees either damage or acquire tangible assets…without authorization”. This type of deviance typically involves theft but may include “sabotage, intentional errors in work, misusing expense accounts”, among other examples.
  • cyberloafing: The use of computers by employees for purposes unrelated to work.
  • sabotage: A deliberate action aimed at weakening an enemy through subversion, obstruction, disruption, and/or destruction.

As technology has opened up a new space for cyberculture, new forms of deviance and social control have appeared. Some individuals use technology as a means of deviating from more traditional cultural norms. For example, in the United States, employees in offices are encouraged to remain productive and efficient, letting their minds wander off-task as little as possible. In the past decade, most companies have installed high-speed internet access as a means of improving efficiency. However, employees often reappropriate the internet access to avoid work by using social networking sites. Such procrastination and corporate inefficiency stemming from internet access is called “cyberloafing. ”

In addition to new forms of deviance in traditional cultural mores, new forms of deviance have arisen within cyberculture. New technologies result in new standards of how to engage with them. The behaviors of deviant employees ultimately have a negative impact on the overall productivity of an organization. For this reason, all of these behaviors are considered production deviance. More serious cases of deviant behavior involve property deviance. Property deviance refers to workers damaging an employer’s property without authorization. This type of deviance typically involves theft but may include sabotage, intentional errors in work, and the misuse of expense accounts.

Just as new forms of deviance have come about as a result of technological advances, so too have new means of controlling deviant populations. In reaction to cyberloafing, companies have developed new technologies to monitor employees’ computers and restrict social networking during the workday. These methods include installing proxy servers to prevent programs from accessing resources like Internet Relay Chat, AOL Instant Messenger, or online gambling services. Other practices include strict disciplinary measures for employees found cyberloafing, and carrot-and-stick measures, such as providing free or subsidized Internet access for employees outside of working hours. Technology is used in policing to monitor formal deviants and encourage conformity to the law and social norms.

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Slacking and Snacking at Work: Misusing company resources to conduct personal business, such as online shopping.

The Functions of Deviance

Deviance provides society the boundaries to determine acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in society.

Learning Objectives

Describe how structural functionalism views the relation between deviance and social change

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Deviance provides the key to understanding the disruption and recalibration of society that occurs over time.
  • Systems of deviance create norms and tell members of a given society how to behave by laying out patterns of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
  • Deviance allows for group majorities to unite around their worldview, often at the expense of those marked as deviant.
  • Social parameters create boundaries between populations and lead to an us-versus-them mentality within various groups.
  • Being marked as deviant can actually bolster solidarity within the marked community as members take pride and ownership in their stigmatized identity.
  • Some traits will be stigmatized and can potentially cause social disruption. However, as traits become more mainstream, society will gradually adjust to incorporate the formerly stigmatized traits.

Key Terms

  • structural functionalism: The structural-functionalist approach to deviance argues that deviant behavior plays an important role in society by laying out patterns of what is acceptable and unacceptable. These social parameters create boundaries and enable an us-verus-them mentality.

What function does the notion of deviance play in society? Sociologists who identify with the tradition of structural- functionalism ask this type of question. Structural functionalism has its roots embedded in the very origins of sociological thought and the development of sociology as a discipline. A structural functionalist approach emphasizes social solidarity and stability in social structures. Structural functionalists ask: How does any given social phenomenon contribute to social stability? This cannot be answered without addressing this question of deviance.

For the structural functionalist, deviance serves two primary roles in creating social stability. First, systems of deviance create norms and tell members of a given society how to behave by laying out patterns of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. In order to know how not to unsettle society, one must be aware of what behaviors are marked as deviant. Second, these social parameters create boundaries between populations and enable an us-versus-them mentality within various groups. Deviance allows for group majorities to unite around their worldview, at the expense of those marked as deviant. Conversely, being marked as deviant can actually bolster solidarity within the marked community as members take pride and ownership in their stigmatized identity, creating cohesive units of their own.

From a structural-functionalist perspective, then, how does society change, particularly in regards to establishing norms and deviant behaviors? Deviance provides the key to understanding the disruption and recalibration of society that occurs over time. Some traits will be stigmatized and can potentially cause social disruption. However, as traits become more mainstream, society will gradually adjust to incorporate the formerly stigmatized traits. Take, for example, homosexuality. In urban America 50 years ago, homosexual behavior was considered deviant. On the one hand, this fractured society into those marked as homosexuals and those unmarked (normative heterosexuals). While this us-versus-them mentality solidified social identities and solidarities within the two categories, there was nevertheless an overarching social schism. As time went on, homosexuality came to be accepted as more mainstream. Accordingly, what originally appears as a fracturing of society actually reinforces social stability by enabling mechanisms for social adjustment and development.

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Four Mechanisms that Regulate Our Behavior: Our behavior in our everyday lives is regulated by social norms, law and policy, technology and design, and market forces.