Essay On Social Deviance

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Sociology: A Research Paper on Social Deviance

Social Deviance can be defined as activities and behaviours that are not at par within the known and expected social standards. Social deviance is also known to engender anger and resentment and in many occasions also engenders the desire for punishment usually in a significant segment of a particular culture or society. Most people consider a deviant behaviour to be a behaviour that takes place in a negative manner or that breaks the law. In sociology, however, a deviant behaviour is usually referred to as an ‘unexpected' or a ‘different' behaviour, and that departs from the norms of a particular cultural group or society. Crimes can be deviant or non-deviant depending on a society or a cultural group. An example is speeding which is considered as deviant by most people but in certain states in the United States, it is considered completely normal (CliffsNotes, 2015).

Theories of Social Deviance

There are various theories that have been used in the attempt to explain the different social deviances that have been experienced in the society and different cultural groups. The first theory is Edwin Suntherland's "Differential Association Theory". In this theory, a reference group is formed, and the people within this particular group provide norms of conformity and deviance. This particular group usually influences how people commonly look at the world as well as how they react. This theory applies to many deviant behavioural types such as in Juvenile Gangs. In this situation, the recruited gang members learn how to be deviant to the society and instead conform to the norms of the gang (CliffsNotes, 2015).

The second theory is the Robert Merton’s “Anomie Theory". The theory usually occurs when confusion arises due to conflicting social norms or in the lack of existence of a social norm. This theory has contributed majorly to the explanation of the forms of deviance in many societies and social group. It is particularly very important especially considering that new behaviours come up all the time that have not been placed on social norms already (CliffsNotes, 2015).

The third theory is Walter Reckless's "control Theory". In this theory, the outer and inner controls work against the deviant tendencies. A lot of people in many occasions want to act in deviant ways, but internal forces such as their conscious, morality and integrity and external factors such as family, police and friends hold them back. These people, therefore, end up doing what the society requires from them and not their personal desires such as Politicians (CliffsNotes, 2015).

The final theory is the “Labeling Theory”. This theory concerns the meanings that are driven by people from actions, symbols, labels and reactions of each other. In this theory, behaviours are considered deviant only if the society lists them as deviant without which, they are considered as non-deviant. Examples of labeled persons include sex offenders, alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes (CliffsNotes, 2015)


Non-Criminal to Criminal

A major behaviour within the society and most cultural groups that was considered non-criminal earlier but is now a criminal offense is slavery. Slavery in the United States was legal in the 18th and the 19th century. It was practiced in the British North of America during the early colonial periods and was accepted by all the 13 colonies, which were present at the time of the declaration of independence in 1776. The Unites States government shipped their slaves from the continent of Africa. Most of the slaves in the United States government were African Americans, and they were forced to work in the plantations and in production companies as gardeners and blacksmiths respectively (History, 2015).

In the current world however after independence of the African countries the act of Slavery has stopped and is considered as a very big criminal act. Slavery is considered as an act that is morally wrong and also against the law. The United States government has illegalized these activities, and heavy penalties are given to any individual who exercises slavery of any kind. However, this act is still going on among world's biggest gangs with sex slavery topping the list (History, 2015).

This behaviour reflects the "Labeling Theory". This is because the United States government as illegal has labeled the act of slavery. Also, this behaviour partly depicts the "Differential Association Theory" in which the people who still take part in actions of slavery are gangs. These gangs operate under their own social norms, and the gang members have been incorporated to believe in these norms. This is regardless of whether the other society views them as wrong or not. These gangs have in the current world been seen to manage especially prostitution in various locations (CliffsNotes, 2015).

Criminal to Non-Criminal

A major act that was a crime in the past but has now been considered as a non-criminal act is killing in self-defense. The act of killing has generally been considered as a great criminal offense in a number societies and cultural groups. However, recent developments argue that killing in self-defense is not a crime. This has been adopted by several law courts and a lot of people who are accused of murder while in fact it was an act of self-defense have been let out on bail or given light charges (Findlaw, 2015).

Initially, murder was murder and whoever committed it and for whatever reasons faced heavy penalties. It has been listed by the laws in many countries, the United States of America inclusive as "Justifiable Homicide". Currently, killing is self-defense is universally accepted principle that a person is allowed to protect him or herself even if it means committing a crime such as murder (FindLaw, 2015).

This behaviour also brings out the aspect of “Labeling Theory”. This is because the law has listed that killing in self-defense is a justifiable homicide. A part of this behaviour also depicts the control theory especially inner control. The people who commit these crimes of killing in self-defense in a number of occasions usually have a feeling that they will be in greater danger, hurt or killed if they don’t kill their attackers first (CliffsNotes, 2015).


Different societies and cultural groups have different norms that they live by. These norms usually vary from community to community depending on social, political and religious backgrounds. An action that may be considered to be in agreement with one particular society may be deviant for another society's norms. Some behaviours also have not been listed within the social norms and are guided by the internal controls of the people who take part in them. The social norms are generally necessary for the smooth operations of the activities within the society.


CliffsNotes. (2015, May 27). Sociology: Theories of Deviance. Retrieved from
FindLaw. (2015, May 27). Self-Defense Overview. Retrieved from
History. (2015, May 27). Slavery In America. Retrieved from