Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Deviance - Conceptualizations Of Deviance, The Relativity And Importance Of Deviance, Relationship Between Deviance And Crime, Summary

Deviance - The Relativity And Importance Of Deviance

deviant social regarded students

Most students of deviance regard it as a socially constructed phenomenon; that is, things regarded as deviant have no inherent pejorative qualities but instead are the objects of social processes in a given context that result in negative attributions. With the exception of those who employ an "absolutist" definition, scholars note that what is deviant behavior varies from group to group, from one time to another, and from one status to another.

Explaining such differences, including differences in legality, has been of prime concern to students of deviance because they believe the processes affecting social attributions of deviance are fundamental to the maintenance and operation of social groups. Émile Durkheim, regarded by many as the father of studies of deviance, called attention to a shifting scale of attribution by which societies adjust their conceptions of unacceptable conduct to the volume of specific behaviors that exist and can be managed. He pointed out that even saints recognize deviant behavior among themselves, although what they regard as deviant is usually quite saintly from the point of view of the outside world. Studies show that groups sometimes shift standards downward, expanding the supply of deviant behavior or enhancing the evilness of acts that were previously regarded as trivial (Erikson). The standards are also sometimes moved upward, reducing the number of things that are regarded as unacceptable or transforming behaviors that were once regarded as bad into acceptable conduct. This general process has been called "the elasticity of evil" (Cohen, 1974) or, when it specifically involves acceptance of things previously thought of as intolerable, "defining deviancy down" (Moynihan). Because transforming deviance into conformity or vice versa is a major means by which social change occurs, students of deviance try to understand the process and the conditions under which conceptions of deviance change.

In addition, Durkheim and his followers believed that the process of identifying and doing something about deviant behavior is normal, even essential for group emergence and maintenance. Much like pain is unpleasant but essential for the human body to protect itself from truly destructive conditions, so is deviance essential for group survival. Although scholars have not been able to demonstrate that identifying and managing deviance is necessary for social organization, they have shown that such processes are ubiquitous so that what is or is not deviant is highly variable, often in predictable ways. As a result, almost all students of deviance reject the idea that deviance is inherent to particular behaviors; rather, they see it as a quality conferred upon some behaviors or individuals by groups as they go about the business of social organization.

Moreover, the fact of being deviant is thought to influence whether people do it or not. For that reason most students of deviance have concluded that one cannot simply explain behavior that happens to be deviant in a given group and expect the explanation to apply to all such behavior in all contexts. Some go even further, arguing that specific forms of deviance in a given social setting, such as addictive drug use, cannot be explained in the same way that other forms of deviance in that context, such as fraud, are explained, nor can acts of crime be explained the same way acts of noncriminal deviance are explained. Such contentions have spawned a controversy concerning the potential value of general theories as opposed to theories aimed explicitly at one or another form of deviance. This controversy also bears on the relationship between criminology and studies of deviance.

Deviance - Relationship Between Deviance And Crime [next] [back] Deviance - Conceptualizations Of Deviance

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or

Vote down Vote up

almost 7 years ago

as a student of social work and community development why is it important to study management of social deviance

Vote down Vote up

about 7 years ago

I am using this material to cite in a report I am currently doing. I wanted to know who the author of this is and if it suitable to reference it under online encyclopedia.