Sociological Concept of Deviance

Sociological Concept of Deviance

Deviant behavior is any manner of action that is divergent to the prevailing norms in a society. It can be classified in two major ways, the normative and the relativistic perspectives. The theories that define deviation in sociological terms can therefore be grouped according to these two approaches.

The normative perspective is the oldest approach defining deviation in sociology. It focuses on the behaviors that infringe social norms or the persons who engage in such conduct. The first theory was developed by an American sociologist, Merton Robert. He proposed that deviant behavior is based on two criteria, a person’s individual belief in attaining their goals and a person’s motivation in order to achieve their goals (Krohn & Ebooks Corporation, 2009). Merton further classified that this typology is subdivided into five types, rebels, conformists, retreats, innovators and ritualists. This theory states that people can decide to turn to deviant behaviors in pursuit of their individual beliefs or goals. For instance, I have witnessed a friend who deals in drugs. He agrees that making money is a cultural goal but defies the proper methodology for acquiring it.

Conversely, relativistic behavior refers to the manner of a person that is defined to be deviant by the social audiences. This approach focuses on the definition that is relative to the way people in the society have reacted. Three theories follow this approach in defining deviant behavior. The first theory is structural functionalism. This theory argues that deviant behaviors help in conjoining different communities through the constructive roles that it plays. This vital function helps the society to affirm the cultural and social norms of the members in the community. Moreover, the theory defines deviance as a means of change in the society because it creates a social imbalance, which helps the society to work towards restoring equilibrium.

Secondly, conflict theory is used in describing deviance in the sociological concept. This theory suggests that deviant behavior results from political, social and material inequalities of a social group. Certain groups are bound to act defiantly in reaction to these inequalities. Groups act out in protest of their rights. For example, my fellow students and I rioted in protest of the poor conditions of our lecture halls to the dean of students. Labeling theory is the third sociological concept that defines deviant behavior. This particular theory refers to the labeling of individuals as being deviant because they belong to a group that exhibits nonstandard behaviors. It argues that people become deviant because they have been forced to have such an identity. For instance, I decided to shave my hair just as the punks do but I was shocked when several people inquired whether I used hard drugs. As a result, a person may adopt the attitudes, behaviors and actions that are related to the deviant label imposed onto them.

The normative approach is the most convincing approach. This is because deviant behaviors start with an individual. Therefore, the social strain typology is most appropriate in defining deviant behavior. It focuses on a particular individual and the characters that they display. For instance, it breaks down its definition further by grouping people in relation to their behaviors that may result to deviant behaviors. This theory states that the conformists are people who believe in the normative means of attaining their goals and the cultural aims in the society. Ritualists consider the already established rules but they do not abide by the social norms. Conversely, innovators accept cultural goals but deny the methodology used. Retreats reject the cultural goals but accept the methodology employed whereas rebels reject both the goals and the methods used to attain them. The behaviors of this group of people constitutes deviant manner in the society. It is evident that they form the basis of the other sociological theories that explain deviant behaviors.



Krohn, M. D., & Ebooks Corporation. (2009). Handbook on Crime and Deviance. Dordrecht: Springer.



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