Deviants And Crime Essay Example - (2023)

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The person who deviates distinctly from the norm is called a deviant. A deviant may also be defined as the person whose attitudes and behaviors go against the set societal norms or standards. Deviance is not age specific but it starts in the early ages of human development and if it goes unmarked, it ends up reaching a point of no return making an adult whose personality can be described by one word; a deviant. The act of deviance is learnt either by association with other deviants or by trying to give excuses to justify the acts of deviance leading to habit. Deviance and crime is one and the same thing.

This is because, when one goes against the set of norms in this case the formal rules called law, this is crime. Deviants defy both the formal and informal (Social) standards and norms. For example, a deviant may go against the social norms and commit an act of nose picking in public or against the law and break into private premises with an intention of stealing. Based on this, deviance is a subject of concern to both the socialists and the criminologists. These two professionals engage in a serious study of how norms are formed, changes that the norms undergo over time and the enforcement of norms.

The sociology of deviance can be summarized in three main theories i. e. symbolic interactionism theory, Structural functionalism theory, and conflict theory. These theories try to explain the causes of deviance. Stealing is one example of deviance that is a serious crime in the US today. People do not wake up one day and become thieves. Theft is a habit that is learnt at childhood and continues into adulthood. This paper seeks to define and develop a sociological theory that explains deviance from the symbolic interactionism theory perspective (Rodney, 2007:pp 48)

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Symbolic Interactionism Theories

All the theories under this class are of the view that deviant behavior is learnt. As a result of the learning, the deviant behaviors eventually become part of an individual’s personality or character. The theories under this class include Sutherland's differential association theory, Gresham Sykes and David Matza's neutralization theory and Tannenbaum and Howard Becker’s labeling theory. Sutherland's differential association theory proposes that criminal and deviant behaviors are not inherent in individuals but they are only learnt.

It amplifies the common belief that all human are created good. Every individual is inherently good but society makes them bad. The learning of criminal or deviant behaviors is the same as the learning of other behaviors such as saying “thank you” when one gives a compliment or gives a favor. The learning process comes as a result of interaction between people or groups of people through the use of symbolic communication. The symbolic communication may also include ideas and attitudes that are transferred from one individual or group to another.

If the symbols used in the communication are favorable and desirable than the converse, then an individual or group embraces deviance communicated by the symbols, ideas or attitudes and will tend to be oriented to of deviant behaviors more than any other behavior (Lanier, 2004 pp. 162-163). Taking theft as an example of deviant criminal behavior, we realize that if individual associated with an individual or group who steal or hold the idea of stealing more favorable than unfavorable, and the association is intimate, then motives ideas, attitudes , techniques etc that are favorable to stealing are learned.

Once this learning occurs and incase there is a need, then one will tend to steal and in this way we say that this criminal and deviant act of theft has resulted from symbolic interaction. The Neutralization theory, just like the name suggests, sets out to explain the ways that the deviants eventually kill their guilt conscience through rationalization. Some of the rationalizations used include the denial of responsibility of the deviant action aimed at making the criminal feel better.

Denial of responsibility is simply an argument that the offender had no option and that any other person put under the same circumstances would have acted the same way the offender did. Continued denial of responsibility eventually kills the guilt conscience making the criminal cold and to have a propensity of committing the crime again. For example, if a criminal steals and accepts responsibility, then there is some guilt that comes with the acceptance and this guilt has a reform component. Failure of accepting responsibility rules out possibility of reform and thus high probability of committing the crime again in future.

Other defense mechanisms or rationalizations used include the denial of damage and denial of victim. Denial of damage or injury refers to the reasoning that the criminal act did not hurt anybody and thus the offender is not morally wrong. This reasoning is based on the elementary conviction that if an action doesn’t cause any harm to others, then it is morally right. On the other hand, denial of the victim is an argument that the victim deserved the deviant act due to his /her perceived lack of morals by the offender. Denunciation of his denouncers is yet another rationalization used by deviants or criminals to protect their actions.

It is an argument that those who denounce their actions have the potential of committing same or similar acts or they also commit similar acts and as such they are hypocrites. Denunciation of denouncers makes the offender feel better about his actions and it too blocks reform thus opening up a possibility of future criminal acts. Finally, appeal to higher loyalties involves positive reinforcement of the criminal act by what he beliefs in. The criminal argues that some values surpass the law or traditions and thus the criminal construes the values to be more important than the law.

For example, if one steals because he is starving, he has done nothing because he believes in saving life. To him, life is more important than the law. Generally, under this theory, criminals rationalize criminal acts by neutralization (Lanier, 2004 pp. 168- 9). The labeling theory is a popular one which has been used not only in sociology but also in psychology. The psychological labeling theory, in a layman’s language states that if you continually call a child names, say a thief, the child will end up becoming one. Frank Tannenbaum and Howard S.

Becker proposed the labeling theory in the sociological context. They said that the act of society creating rules whose violation amounts to defiance causes deviance in itself. If society says that the people who take other people’s property without permission are thieves and thieves are not good people, this definition amounts to labeling. The labeling represents the negative attitude the society holds against a deviant such as a thief and makes the offenders to internalize the label and try to act out the label by carrying out actions that conform to the label.

For example labeling of a thief, makes the deviant such labeled to internalize this label and carries out acts of theft in a bid to conform to the label. This theory lies at the boundary of symbolic-interactionism and conflict theory. The conflict theory orientation of this theory proposes that the society wield power to create norms and label deviants. A good example is the prison system which labels the convicts of theft to a point that these theft convicts also begin to view themselves as thieves (Giddens, 2006 pp. 525-7).

In a bid to reinforce the reinforce Edwin Lemert proposed the idea of primary and secondary deviation. He construed primary deviation to be the deviance before the deviant is labeled as such. Secondary deviance on the other hand is the acts of deviance that come after the primary deviance as a reaction to the societal institutions that have power to set norms and to label. Lemert explains further how one moves from primary to secondary deviation and finally to assumption of the role of the label he/she has been given.

The transition between these stages starts when an offender commits a deviant act for the first time prompting the society to administer some disciplinary penalties on him. If the disciplinary penalties administered on the primary deviant do not manage to stop the crime, the offender may act the same crime or deviance again thus prompting even harsher punishment from the society. The harsh punishment makes the offender to resent the society or the institution in the society that administers this harsh punishment. The resentment sets pace for more crimes with the institution reining harsher and harsher punishment on the offender.

As the number of crimes increases the society, apart from the punishment given to the offender, lavishes stigma too on the offender. This stigma marks the labeling g stage. The stigma sandwiches the offender between a rock and a hard place where he has no option than accept the role prescribed by the label. In a bid to fulfill the role, the offender acts out the role prescribed in the label and this constitutes the secondary deviance. Secondary deviance hardens the criminals courtesy of the labeling act by the society

Primary and secondary deviance is witnessed in the American legal system when a first time offender receives lesser punishment as compared to a second or multiple time offender of the same crime. For both the offenders, say thieves, the punishment is meant to reform them. The multiple time offenders get a harsher punishment because the society feels that the first- time punishment was not sufficient enough making the offender commit a second crime. The second time offender is more likely to commit the crime the third time that the first time offender is to commit a second crime.

The implication of this primary and secondary deviance can be applied in the prison system where the criminals are supposed to be viewed as good people except fore the crimes they have committed. They should not be condemned but subjected to rehabilitation. This is necessary because it has been witnessed that the harsher the punishment, the deeper the deviance and the higher the probability of the crime or deviance being repeated again (Hanson, 2005, P75). In conclusion, the reformation of criminals should not be harsh and inhuman.

The harsh and often inhuman punishments we witness in our American prisons were put in place to scare the larger good population away from crime. It is evident that this intention has blatantly failed and thus there is need for an alternative strategy. This is necessary because if people are no longer scared of that harsh and inhuman punishment, then they will automatically engage in criminal activities. This is the same as threatening a person who doesn’t fear death with death. This won’t achieve any end at all. However, removal of such harsh and inhuman punishment may trigger the same response that its existence triggers; resistance.

What will happen if people know that the punishment given after a crime is lighter than before? The US government represented by the prison system is at a cross road and there is dire need to try a punishment devoid rehabilitation approach as opposed to the harsh punishment. Just like labeling has the impact of acting out, positive labeling may create desirable reformation in the criminals. The society too needs to be sensitized so as to respect the innate goodness of the criminals such as to avoid stigmatization that has led to the hardening and resistance of the criminals.


  • Rodney, Stark Sociology; Biological Theories of Deviance (10th edition) Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2007
  • Newman, Graeme Crime and Deviance: A Comparative Perspective. Michigan: Sage Publications, 1980 pp127-135
  • Giddens, Anthony Sociology. Polity Publishers, 2006 pp 525-7
  • Lanier, Mark Essential Criminology. Westview Press, 2004. pp 168-9

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What is an example of deviance and crime? ›

Examples of deviance include walking nude in public places, offering or receiving prostitute services, wearing red suits during funerals, marriage underage. The examples of crime include murder, rape, house-breaking, shoplifting, prostitution.

What is the difference between crime and deviance essay? ›

Deviance alludes to a behaviour, which does not adhere to the norms and values of the society and if it is discovered, it may result in negative sanctions. On the other hand, crime refers to the intentional commission or omission of an act which is considered as socially harmful or dangerous, and punishable by law.

What are some good examples of deviance? ›

Adult content consumption, drug use, excessive drinking, illegal hunting, eating disorders, or any self-harming or addictive practice are all examples of deviant behaviors.

What are 3 factors that influence deviance? ›

Causes of Deviance in Society
  • Broken Family and Improper Socialization.
  • Lack of Religious Education and Morality.
  • Rejection by Neighborhood.
  • Lack of Basic Facilities.
  • Parentless Child.
  • Mass Media.
  • Urban Slums.

How can crime and deviance be explained? ›

While the words “crime” and “deviance” are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences. Committing a crime violates social laws, while deviant behavior violates social norms and rules. However, deviant behavior can also tiptoe over the line of criminal behavior.

How does crime and deviance affect society? ›

The Effects of Deviance on Society

It can weaken established social norms, and create division and disorder. But it also has other functions which are not necessarily harmful and may actually be beneficial to society.

Can something be deviant but not a crime? ›

An act can be deviant but not criminal i.e. breaking social, but not legal, rules. Examples, of this include acts that are seen as deviant when they occur in a certain context, such as a male manager wearing a dress to the office or someone talking loudly in the middle of a concert.

What is a crime but not deviant? ›

Some illegal acts are not necessarily seen as deviant. For example, parking cars on double yellow lines or using a mobile phone whilst driving, even though these activities are against the law. - Deviance refers to behavior that does not conform to a society's norms or rules.

Is deviance or crime important to human society? ›

Émile Durkheim believed that deviance is a necessary part of a successful society and that it serves three functions: 1) it clarifies norms and increases conformity, 2) it strengthens social bonds among the people reacting to the deviant, and 3) it can help lead to positive social change and challenges to people's ...

What are 10 examples of deviant behavior? ›

What are some examples of socially deviant behavior? Examples of formal deviant behavior, which violates codified laws, include rape, murder, domestic violence, robbery, assault, assault, arson, vandalism, fraud, drug abuse, and animal cruelty.

What are the 5 types of deviant behavior? ›


What are the 4 types of deviance? ›

According to Merton, there are five types of deviance based upon these criteria: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. Structural functionalism argues that deviant behavior plays an active, constructive role in society by ultimately helping cohere different populations within a society.

What are 4 positive effects of deviance? ›

Deviance clarifies norms by exercising social control to defend its values; society defines, adjusts, and reaffirms norms. Deviance can be a temporary safety valve. Deviance increases unity within a society or group. Deviance promotes needed social change.

What determines if a behavior is deviant? ›

In general, in the psychological sciences, deviant behavior is usually referred to a set of actions or individual actions that violate social and psychological, moral norms, rules and principles adopted in the society; behavior that causes psychological, physical, social and moral damage to both the individual and the ...

What are the two main functions of deviance? ›

Deviance has several functions: (a) it clarifies norms and increases conformity, (b) it strengthens social bonds among the people reacting to the deviant, and (c) it can help lead to positive social change. Certain social and physical characteristics of urban neighborhoods contribute to high crime rates.

What is the relationship between crime and deviance? ›

Codified laws are norms that are specified in explicit codes and enforced by government bodies. A crime is therefore an act of deviance that breaks not only a norm, but a law. Deviance can be as minor as picking one's nose in public or as major as committing murder.

Why is it important to study crime and deviance? ›

The fact that both deviance and crime arouse negative social reactions reminds us that every society needs to ensure that its members generally obey social norms in their daily interaction. Social control refers to ways in which a society tries to prevent and sanction behavior that violates norms.

Is crime and deviance a social problem? ›

Book Description. Deviance is by definition a social problem. Since deviant behavior violates the normative expectations of a given group, deviance must be regarded as a problem for that group, since all groups of people want their norms to be enforced.

Does deviant behavior lead to crime? ›

Criminal behaviour is usually deviant, but not all deviant behaviour is criminal. The concept of deviance is more difficult to define than crime. Deviance includes both criminal and non-criminal acts, but it is quite difficult to pin down what members of any society or groups actually regard as deviant behaviour.

What are 3 behaviors that are deviant but not criminal? ›

Examples of non-criminal deviant behavior include speaking loudly during a theatre performance, wearing inappropriate clothing at church, picking your nose, or farting in public. Although these are not considered crimes and do not break any laws, they go against social expectations.

Is a crime always considered deviant? ›

Society sees most crimes, such as robbery, assault, battery, rape, murder, burglary, and embezzlement, as deviant. But some crimes, such as those committed in violation of laws against selling merchandise on Sundays, are not deviant at all. Moreover, not all deviant acts are criminal.

Is Jaywalking deviant? ›

Exploiting an AV, for example, by jaywalking in front of it, is, therefore, a specific form of human behavior often referred to as deviant behavior. Deviance refers to acts that break the social rules of those kinds of behaviors that are deemed acceptable by society.

How can a person be deviant without breaking the law? ›

A person can be deviant in many ways without breaking the law since deviance extends past breaking institutional rules. A person can dress in a way that no one else in the area dresses. They may wear unusual clothing and makeup that does not break laws, but makes them appear abnormal.

Can deviant behavior positive? ›

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviour and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers.

What causes an act to be deviant? ›

Deviant behaviour may be caused due to the individual inability or failure to conform to the social norms or the societies failure to make its components follow the norms set by it as normal behaviour. The inability to conform may be the result of a mental or physical defect.

What is deviance in today's society? ›

A deviant behavior in society is one that goes against social norms or laws established by society. Examples of deviant behavior in society may include alcoholism, underage drinking, eating disorders, and sex exploitation.

How does society deal with deviant behavior? ›

Rehabilitation (incarceration, mental hospitals, drugs, etc.) to “help” deviants conform to societal norms is the remedy. Punishing the deviant is an expression of collective indignation and reaffirms the rules.

How can deviant behavior positively affect society? ›

Positive deviance results in learning because those who can provide help can inspire others to do the same while those who need the aid will receive it — those in dire need will at least feel cared for while those that are in more prosperous situations can create a positive cycle.

What are the 3 types of deviant behavior? ›

Three broad sociological classes exist that describe deviant behavior, namely, structural functionalism, symbolic interaction and conflict theory.

Who is a famous deviant person? ›

Well-known examples of heroic deviants include icons of the Civil Rights movement like Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., who were treated as outcasts by the estab- lished structures of social control in their own day, only later to be vindicated by justice and history.

What is an example of crime? ›

Crime can involve violence, sex or drugs but also discrimination, road rage, undeclared work and burglary. Crime is any behaviour and any act, activity or event that is punishable by law.

Which is an example of deviance but not an example of a crime? ›

Answer and Explanation: Examples of non-criminal deviant behavior include speaking loudly during a theatre performance, wearing inappropriate clothing at church, picking your nose, or farting in public. Although these are not considered crimes and do not break any laws, they go against social expectations.

What is an example of something that is deviant But isn't a crime? ›

An act can be deviant but not criminal i.e. breaking social, but not legal, rules. Examples, of this include acts that are seen as deviant when they occur in a certain context, such as a male manager wearing a dress to the office or someone talking loudly in the middle of a concert.

What are the five types of deviance? ›

According to Merton, there are five types of deviance based upon these criteria: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. Merton's typology is fascinating because it suggests that people can turn to deviance in the pursuit of widely accepted social values and goals.

What are the 3 most common crimes? ›

List of the Most Common Crimes in the United States
  • Property Crime. Property crimes include burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. ...
  • Violent Crime. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. ...
  • Potential Consequences in New Jersey. ...
  • Your Options Following a Criminal Charge in New Jersey.

What are the main 3 factors of crime? ›

The Crime Triangle identifies three factors that create a criminal offense. Desire of a criminal to commit a crime; Target of the criminal's desire; and the Opportunity for the crime to be committed. You can break up the Crime Triangle by not giving the criminal the Opportunity.

What are the 7 types of crimes? ›

  • Drug Crimes.
  • Homicide.
  • Criminal Attempt, Conspiracy, and Aiding and Abetting.
  • Federal Crimes, Cybercrimes, and Juvenile Crimes.
  • Sex Crimes.
  • Theft Crimes.
  • Traffic Offenses.
  • Violent Crimes.
Oct 15, 2022

Is deviant behavior always a crime? ›

Deviance is closely related to the concept of crime, which is law breaking behaviour. Criminal behaviour is usually deviant, but not all deviant behaviour is criminal.

What is a deviant behavior in society? ›

A deviant behavior in society is one that goes against social norms or laws established by society. Examples of deviant behavior in society may include alcoholism, underage drinking, eating disorders, and sex exploitation.

What are examples of deviant behavior in school? ›

Many cases of pupils' deviant behaviour have been reported and witnessed in the school. More common ones involving the pupils include truancy, breaking and stealing petty items, bullying, hooliganism and disobedience to authority.

What are 2 acts that were once considered deviant but are now considered acceptable? ›

Tattoos, vegan lifestyles, single parenthood, breast implants, and even jogging were once considered deviant but are now widely accepted.

What are two major theories of deviance? ›

Strain theory and social disorganization theory represent two functionalist perspectives on deviance in society.

What are the four major functions of deviance? ›

You'll review how Durkheim emphasized the way that deviance has its purpose in society; it helps define cultural norms, clarify moral boundaries, bring people together, and encourage social change.

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