Examples of Deviance in Sociology

Examples of Deviance in Sociology


Deviance is defined as actions or behaviours that break informal social norms or formally enforced rules in a sociological environment. People who engage in deviant behaviour are frequently labelled as “bad people,” and their actions are condemned.

This blog post will explain what deviance in sociology is, theories of deviance and examples of deviance in sociology. As you read along, remember that our qualified writers are always ready to help in any of your assignments. All you need to do is place an order with us!

Norms and Sanctions

Norms are societal rules of conduct, and sanctions are punishments for breaking such rules.

Norms are the social rules that regulate how people behave in a group. Norms can be explicit (such as laws) or implicit (such as customs). Because norms are so firmly ingrained in members of a society, identifying them can be challenging. Growing up in a certain culture teaches you norms, which can be tough to pick up if you didn’t grow up in the same social environment.

Violations of social norms, often known as deviance, are met with social consequences.

The severity of the transgression determines the severity of the sentence. 

For transgression, there are three basic forms of social sanction:

1)  Legal consequence, 

2) Stigmatization, 

 3) Preference for one behaviour over another.

Formal deviance, or breaking legal codes, leads to state-sanctioned criminal action. Social penalty, or stigma, is applied to informal deviance or breaking unwritten social rules of behaviour.

The Functions of Deviance

Deviance provides two key functions in the structural functionalist’s view of social stability. First, deviant systems establish norms and instruct members of a society on how to act by laying out patterns of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. To understand how to avoid upsetting society, one must first understand what acts are considered aberrant. Second, these social factors establish boundaries between populations and foster an us-versus-them mentality among different groups. At the expense of those labelled as deviants, deviance permits the group majority to rally around their ideology. Being labelled as a deviant, on the other hand, can strengthen communal solidarity by allowing individuals to take pleasure and ownership in their stigmatized identity, resulting in the formation of self-contained units.

According to a structural-functionalist, deviance is the key to understanding the disruption and recalibration of society that occurs across time. Some characteristics will be stigmatized, posing a risk of social disturbance. However, as previously stigmatized qualities become more mainstream, society will gradually shift to include them. Consider the issue of homosexuality. Homosexual activity was deemed aberrant in 1950s metropolitan America. On the one hand, this split society into those who were labelled as homosexuals and those who were not (normative heterosexuals). There was an overall social schism notwithstanding the us-versus-them mentality, which consolidated social identities and solidarities within the two categories.

Relativism and Deviance

Deviance is a relative concept, and deviance standards shift depending on a variety of conditions, including the following:

  • Location – A person speaking loudly during a church service is likely to be regarded as a deviant, whereas a person speaking loudly at a party is unlikely to be. Taking another person’s life is normally regarded as a deviant act, although killing another person is not deemed deviant during combat.
  • Age- A five-year-old can cry at a store without being labelled a deviant, but an older child or an adult cannot.
  • Social Status – A famous actor can skip to the front of a huge line of people waiting to get into a popular club, but a non-famous individual trying to do the same would be considered deviant.
  • Individual Societies – Customers in department shops in the United States do not try to bargain or barter for goods. People in several other countries understand that haggling over the price of an item is expected; failing to do so is regarded as deviance.

Theories of Deviance

Differential-association theory

The environment, according to this theory, has a significant role in determining which norms people learn to break. People in a given reference group, in particular, supply norms of conformity and deviance and hence have a significant influence on how other people view the world, including how they react. Parents, teachers, preachers, relatives, friends, coworkers, and the media are all socializing forces that influence people’s norms. In other words, people learn criminal behaviour, like any other behaviour, by their interactions with others, particularly in close groupings.

Differential association theory can be used to explain a wide range of deviant behaviour. Juvenile gangs, for example, establish an environment in which young people learn to be criminals. These gangs pride themselves on being countercultural, and they promote violence, retaliation, and criminality to obtain social prestige. As they accept and comply with their gang’s conventions, gang members learn to be deviant.

The field of criminology has benefited from differential association theory’s focus on the developmental character of criminality. Folks pick up on deviance from the people they hang around with. On the other hand, critics of the differential association theory contend that the theory’s ambiguous nomenclature makes it unsuitable for social science research methodologies or empirical validation.

Labelling theory

Labelling theory is a sort of symbolic interaction that studies the meanings people derive from one other’s labels, symbols, behaviours, and reactions. According to this idea, behaviours are only deviant when society labels them as such. As a result, the line between deviance and non-deviance is determined by conforming members of society who regard certain acts as deviant and then assign this label to individuals. Labelling theory investigates who assigns which label to whom, why they do so, and what happens as a result of their actions.

Politicians, judges, police officers, medical experts, and other powerful people in society generally apply the most significant labels. Drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, delinquents, prostitutes, sex offenders, retarded people, and psychiatric patients are just a few examples of labelled people. Being classified as a deviant might have far-reaching implications. According to social research, people with negative labels have lower self-esteem, are more prone to reject themselves, and may act deviantly as a result of the label. Unfortunately, even in the face of opposing information, people who accept others’ labels—whether true or incorrect—find it difficult to change their minds about the labelled person.

In 1973, William Chambliss published a famous research on the impact of labelling. His two groups of white male high school students were both involved in delinquent behaviours such as stealing, vandalism, drinking, and truancy on a regular basis. The members of one gang, which Chambliss dubbed the “Saints,” were never arrested, but the police had frequent run-ins with members of the other group, which he dubbed the “Roughnecks.” The Saints’ guys hailed from respectable backgrounds, got good marks and reputations in school, and avoided getting caught when breaking the law.

When confronted by the authorities, the Saints avoided being labelled “deviants” by being polite, pleasant, and contrite. The Roughnecks, on the other hand, hailed from lower-income households, had bad reputations and grades in school, and were unconcerned about being caught while breaking the law.

The Roughnecks were easily classified as “deviants” by others and themselves because they were angry and insolent when confronted by the authorities. In other words, while both groups committed crimes, the Saints were considered as “good” because of their courteous manner (attributed to their upper-class backgrounds), and the Roughnecks were seen as “bad” because of their arrogant behaviour (attributed to their lower-class backgrounds).

Anomie theory

Anomie is the state of being perplexed when social norms clash or don’t exist at all. Robert Merton coined the phrase in the 1960s to characterize the disparities between socially acceptable goals and the availability of resources to attain them. For example, Merton emphasized that while achieving money is a primary objective for most Americans, not all Americans, particularly members of minority and disadvantaged groups, have the financial resources to do so. Those who find the “road to riches” closed to them feel a sense of anomie as a result of an impediment to their pursuit of a socially acceptable objective. When this occurs, people may engage in aberrant behaviour to achieve their aims, revenge against society, or just “make a point.”

Anomie theory’s main contribution is its capacity to explain a wide range of deviations. The emphasis on the role of social dynamics in the creation of deviance is likewise sociological. On the negative side, the generality of the anomie theory has been questioned. Critics point out that the theory is silent on the process of learning deviance, as well as the internal motivators for deviance. Anomie theory, like differential association theory, does not lend itself to precise scientific investigation.

Cultural Deviance Theory by Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay

Conformity to the dominant cultural norms of lower-class society, according to cultural deviance theory, leads to crime. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay (1942) looked at the early 1900s crime patterns in Chicago. They discovered that violence and crime were highest in the city center and steadily dropped as one walked further out into the suburbs. Shaw and McKay found that this trend matched Chicago residents’ movement patterns. New immigrants, many of whom were destitute and illiterate in English, were housed in the city’s neighbourhoods. Wealthier people relocated to the suburbs as the city population grew, leaving the less fortunate behind.

Shaw and McKay came to the conclusion that a higher crime rate was linked to socioeconomic position and race and ethnicity. The blending of cultures and ideals resulted in a smaller community with a variety of deviant beliefs, which were passed down from generation to generation.

Robert Sampson and Byron Groves have put Shaw and McKay’s notion to the test and expanded on it (1989). Poverty, ethnic variety, and family breakdown were found to have a high positive link with the social disorder in specific areas. They also discovered that social disorganization was linked to high rates of crime and delinquency, often known as deviance. Sampson’s recent research with Lydia Bean (2006) yielded similar results. Juvenile violence was linked to high rates of poverty and single-parent households.

Control theory

Both inner and outside controls, according to Walter Reckless’ control theory, function against deviant inclinations. People may wish to act in deviant ways on occasion, but the majority do not. Internal restraints include conscience, morals, integrity, morality, and the desire to be a “good person,” as well as external restraints like police, family, friends, and religious authority. These inner and outward limitations, according to Travis Hirschi, establish a person’s self-control, which keeps them from behaving against social norms. Proper socialization, especially early in childhood, is essential for establishing self-control. Children who lack self-control may go on to commit crimes and engage in other deviant actions as adults.

Although theory argues that persons labelled as “criminals” are most likely members of subordinate groups, others say that this oversimplifies the reality. They use wealthy and powerful businesses, politicians, and other criminals as examples. Conflict theory, critics contend, does little to explain the reasons for deviation. Proponents, on the other hand, argue that the idea makes no attempt to investigate etiologies. Instead, the theory analyzes the links between socialization, social regulation, and behaviour, as it argues.

Examples of Deviance Behaviors


It refers to the act of lying and misleading other people. To make money or for personal advantage, the offender will engage in a deviant activity.

Drug trafficking

Drug trafficking entails the distribution or sale of illegal narcotics such as marijuana and heroin. Because these offences are illegal, the offender will be imprisoned.

Tax evasion

It is defined as defrauding the government by evading or underpaying taxes. For certain offences, the criminal may face prison time.

Public nuisance

The contempt for public order and tranquillity characterizes this abnormal behaviour. The culprit causes shambles in the streets by tossing rubbish all over the place or playing loud music late at night.

 Cruelty to animals

Animal cruelty is defined as the intentional harming, torturing, or killing of animals for the purpose of entertainment. Animal cruelty is regarded as a precursor to aggressive behaviour.

Vandalism to private or public property

People who engage in this type of criminal activity will write their names, initials, or other words on public property, such as walls. These vandals want to be recognized by all.


The act of fabricating or changing a document in order to deceive others is known as a forgery. Banknotes, immigration paperwork, and legal documents will all be forged by the perpetrator.


Sexual intercourse without consent is referred to as rape. Rapists are convicted of rape and sentenced to life in prison. This can be a crime committed against a stranger, a partner, or anybody else.

Burglary, robbery, and theft

These are crimes that involve breaking into people’s homes or other property with the intent to steal. Armed robbers and thieves annoy members of society as well as legislators.


Any sort of violence towards a person or another living creature is included in this type of aberrant behaviour. For acts that result in physical damage, the offender is sentenced to prison. For example, hitting a friend in the face might land you in jail.


Arson is a form of aberrant activity that involves the destruction of property. The arsonist decides to set fire to buildings or dwellings. Typically, arsonists want financial gain from their acts. They can, for example, set fire to properties in order to claim insurance.

Human trafficking/Trafficking of children for prostitution

Kidnapping, transportation, and trading of persons for sexual exploitation are all part of it. The majority of human traffickers target schools, where they abduct naive children.


Murder is defined as the intentional killing of another person. It occurs when someone kills another person on purpose. In some nations, this offence is punishable by imprisonment or the death penalty.

Domestic violence

It is defined as a partner’s abuse of power and control through harmful sexual, physical, or emotional behaviours. The victim suffers extreme trauma as a result of this form of aberrant activity. If appropriate measures are taken, the abusers will find up in prison.


Bribery is when a person deviates from the norm by offering money, privileges, or special favours to someone in a position of power. Bribery is used to sway people’s opinions.

 Drug abuse

The illegal or improper use of drugs is referred to as drug abuse. Abusers of drugs become addicts, and their lives are ruled by their need to consume more and more drugs.

Unlawful gatherings

Unlawful assemblies are acts of deviance that involve a large group of people acting outside the law.


When a driver follows another car excessively closely, this is known as tailgating. Because the offender refuses to slow down or pass the vehicle in front of him, he produces a traffic bottleneck.

Air pollution

The release of dangerous gases into the atmosphere causes air pollution. The offender is unconcerned about the consequences of their acts; they discharge harmful chemicals.

Possessing/distributing indecent material

The production, dissemination, or ownership of things that are regarded as offensive constitutes this deviance. Nudity and sex actions may be present in these materials.


Sleeping in public locations or begging are examples of aberrant behaviour. It is termed vagrancy when a person has nothing to do since he does not wish to work. For failing to settle down and contribute to the economy, the offender is imprisoned.

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