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Related: aberrant - abnormal - deviation - deviant Modernism - difference - radical - transgression

Contrast: normal


Differing from a norm or from the accepted standards of a society.

Deviant behavior

Deviant behavior is behavior that is a recognized violation of cultural norms. Formal and informal social controls attempt to prevent and minimize deviance. One such control is through the medicalization of deviance.

Crime, the violation of formally enacted law, is formal deviance while an informal social violation such as picking one's nose (although that is becoming rather normal by now) is an example of informal deviance. It also means not doing what the majority does or alternatively doing what the majority does not do. For instance, behaviors caused by cultural difference can be seen as deviance. It does not necessarily mean criminal behavior.

An example of a group considered deviant in the modern United States is the Ku Klux Klan. Milder examples include Punks and Goths. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deviant_behavior [Apr 2005]

Sociology of deviance

The sociology of deviance is the sociological study of deviant behavior, the recognized violation of cultural norms, and the creation and enforcement of cultural norms. The Sociology of deviance is related to, but also distinct from the field of Criminology.

The field of deviance is primarily defined by the theories used to explain deviance.

Listed below are some theories and perspectives used by sociologists to explain deviance:

Labeling Theory
Howard S. Becker, a leading sociologist in this field, theorized in 1963 that "social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance."

Strain Theory
Robert K. Merton discussed deviance in terms of goals and means as part of his strain/anomie theory. He postulated that an individual's response to societal expectations and the means by which the indivual pursued those goals were useful in understanding deviance. Acceptance of both goals and means is defined as conformity (e.g. founding a business to achieve the American goal of wealth and materialism). Acceptance of the goals and rejection of the means is described as innovation, which can be positive or negative (e.g. acquiring wealth by robbery would be negative, while inventing a new business method would be positive). Rejection of the goal and acceptance of the means is ritualism - going through the motions, such as the disillusioned Milton in the movie Office Space (although his ritualism later changed to a mix of innovation and rebellion). Rejection of both the goal and means is retreatism - a homeless person is often cited as an example. Rebellion is a special case, where the individual rejects both the goal and means and actively attempts to replace them with other systems which are more acceptable. Anything other than conformity is a form of deviance from the accepted societal norms of behavior. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociology_of_deviance [Apr 2005]


  1. The Deviant's Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets by Ryan Mathews, Watts Wacker [1 book, Amazon US]
    Mathews and Wacker explain that, by definition, "deviant" and "deviance" refer to "someone or something operating in a defined measure away from the norm....[therefore] everything that is different is deviant." They go on to observe that positive deviance can be a "force for transformation" whereas negative deviance can be a "source of unspeakable evil." In the context of this volume, deviance "irrigates the imagination; offers an inexhaustible font of new ideas, products, and services; and in the end, is the source of all innovation, new market creation, and, for business, ultimately represents the basis of all incremental profit. Deviance equals innovation and innovation equals opportunity. Opportunity creates markets that in turn are destroyed by deviance." Mathews and Wacker assert that deviance follows a linear pattern: Fringe > Edge > Realm of the Cool > Next Big Thing > Social Convention > Cliché > Icon or Archetype or Oblivion. Robert Morris for amazon.com

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