Social Deviance Meaning

Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violatesocial norms, including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime), as well as informal violations of social norms (e.g., rejecting folkways and mores).

 It is the purview of sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists to study how these norms are created, how they change over time and how they are enforced. Norms are rules and expectations by which members of society are conventionally guided. Deviance is an absence of conformity to these norms. Social norms differ from culture to culture.

For example, a deviant act can be committed in one society that breaks a social norm there, but may be normal for another society.

Viewing deviance as a violation of social norms, sociologists have characterized it as “any thought, feeling or action that members of a social group judge to be a violation of their values or rules” or group “conduct that violates definitions of appropriate and inappropriate conduct shared by the members of a social system.

The departure of certain types of behavior from the norms of a particular society at a particular time and “violation of certain types of group norms where behavior is in a disapproved direction and of sufficient degree to exceed the tolerance limit of the community.

Deviance as reactive construction Deviance is concerned with the process whereby actions, beliefs or conditions come to be viewed as deviant by others. Deviance can be observed by the negative, or a stigmatizing social reaction of others towards these phenomena.

An example in many societies would be sexual acts that stray from opposite-gender interactions. Criminal behavior, such as theft, can be deviant, but other crimes attract little or no social reaction, and cannot be considered deviant (e.g., violating copyright laws by downloading music on the internet).

People may have a condition or disease which causes minor segments in a society to be potentially alienated, such as having HIV, dwarfism,facial deformities, or being obese. Deviance is relative to time and place because what is considered deviant in one social context may be non-deviant in another (e.g., fighting during a hockey game vs. fighting in a nursing home).

Killing another human is considered wrong except when governments permit it during warfare or for self-defence. The issue of social power cannot be divorced from a definition of deviance because some groups in society can criminalize the actions of another group by using their influence on legislators.

Sociology of deviance – the processes that divide society into different types of people and the social effects of these processes Deviance implies an alleged breach of a social norm.


There are two ways of studying deviance as a social phenomenon:

Approach deviance as objectively given;

Approach deviance as subjectively problematic


Deviance as objectively given:

delineate the norms of society under study and regard any deviation from these norms as “deviant”; make 3 assumptions There is widespread consensus in the society in the realm of norms; this widespread agreement makes it relatively easy to identify deviance Deviance typically evokes negative sanctions such as gossip or legal action; Punishment meted out to the deviant reaffirms for the group that it is bound by a set of common norms.


Major questions raised by this approach are:

What sociocultural conditions are most likely to produce deviance?

Why do people continue to deviate despite the negative sanctions that are brought to bear on them?

How can deviance best be minimized or controlled?

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By Hassham

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