The word “deviance” is related
the root for “deviate” which means to wander off track. In sociology,
our concern is just as much with what keeps people on the line as it is
about people getting off it. ..
A deviation is a violation of a social
norm. The question then is just as much, “Why do we have and observe
social norms?” as “Why do we break them?” ..
What is the difference between deviance
and crime? Both are violations of social norms. A crime has an added
characteristic in that a law has been passed against it, making it a crime
or criminal offence. Not everything illegal is criminal; a parking
ticket is not a criminal offence; driving while intoxicated is. ..
Forces for Keeping Us
Inside the Lines ..
We start our search by considering control.
Social organisation means that people behave in predictable patterns, with
variety, perhaps, but within some boundaries. So the sociological
question is how are people kept within those boundaries?
When people see individuals behaving outside
the norm, in both senses (mathematical and sociological), they tend to
do things that not only reflect their judgement, but also tend to be aimed
at affecting the individuals engaged in the deviation. One response
is to exclude them from some social interaction. Punishment.
This can amount to bigotry, and can include removing rights of the individuals.
Another response is to engage in behaviour aimed at bringing the deviant
individual in line, to change her or his behaviour so as to conform to
the norms of the community.
The behaviour of other people can be a
set of forces that keep us in line. Their responses to our actions
can be as positive and negative sanctions, rewards and punishments.
Carrot and stick. If we act within their boundaries of expectations
and preferences, we are rewarded, and if we stray we are punished.
Because we are socialised the way we are,
our assumptions about what other people are thinking affects how we act.
Those sanctions, positive and negative, can work on us not even by how
others respond, but because of our assumptions about how others might respond.
The difference between deviance and crime
is that crime is a social deviance for which a law has been passed to forbit
it, and for the state to punish someone who breaks the tabloo. That
difference is basically the difference between gemeinschaft
Not every law is fair or based upon the will or consensus of the whole
popuation, and some actions may be technically illegal yet accepted among
the norms of the people. Some laws are not removed long after they
outlast their usefulness. It is still the law in Vancouver that horses
have the right of way over motor vehicles and pedestrians. Punishment
is the common legal response, but punishment is not a way to end crime,
even in the individual being punished. See Criminal
Who is a Deviate? ..
After I first was introduced to sociology,
I took a course in deviance. I thought I might learn what a deviant
is, how s/he got that way, and what society did about it. I was surprised
to discover that it was not so important what a deviant was as who had
the power to label someone as a deviant. What constitutes a deviant, where the
lines are drawn, differs from culture to culture, therefore from community
to community. The boundary judgements belong to the judgmental dimension,
If everyone in the community has exactly
the same notion of whether a person is a deviant or not, then the labelling
process would be straight forward. No disagreement. But it
is very rare to find even two persons in a community with the same precise
set of values, let alone everybody in the community.
Where there are differing ideas about where
to draw the lines, the community may recognise the authority of one person
or one category of persons, to decide. The person doing the identification
has the power.
One mechanism for identifying and responding
to persons to be labelled as deviates is the medicalization of deviance.
This is a mental manipulation which takes the eccentric and suggests that
the reason for the aberration is rooted in disease, or at least incomplete
health. It puts a biological origin on to the situation, an all too
common approach in this day of biological explanations for what are social
conditions or situations. Medicalization of deviance often
is a mechanism for putting the power of identifying a deviate onto those
trained in medicine, again putting a biological “cause” onto deviance.
Who has the control and how is it manifested?
Who us a deviate? What is a deviate? These are key questions
One element of differentiating different
kinds and degrees of breaking norms is what is represented by the difference
between harmless eccentricity versus dangerous crimes. The social
response, along a continuum between those extremes, is a continuity or
Social Change and Innovation
as Deviance: ..
Another aspect of deviation is its role
in social change. Urbanisation itself is social change, and urban
communities tend to change more rapidly than rural ones. However
social change may come about, whoever is first is a deviate − by definition.
Invention, discovery and innovation are all social deviations at first,
until they become the accepted social norms.
The classical example about which we learn
in secondary school is Galileo, when he was declared a heretic by the Catholic
church, for suggesting that the earth is not necessarily the centre of
the universe, because it goes around the sun.
As mentioned in Notes
on Religion, the concept of nothing as a positive entity and goal was
heretical to the church leaders in the Middle Ages. ..
The Arabs brought the concept of zero along
with their numbering system from India. The first Europeans to use
these were seen as deviants, heretics and criminals in their own communities.
In urban industrial and post industrial
societies, we value social change and new inventions, if they are useful.
We therefore value creativity more than in rural societies. Greater
creativity causes greater deviance, and faster social change. It
produces more variety of values, which in turn allows for increased accusations
of deviance, and greater culture conflict between sub cultures in a community.
For many reasons, cities have more deviants
than villages or rural areas, per population.
Overall, the sociological concern with
deviance is not a question of definitions but one of power.