What is Deviance?

According to a simple definition, Deviance is the “recognized violation of cultural norms” (Macionis 2006). We can also say that deviance describes actions or behaviors that violate cultural norms including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime) as well as informal violations of social norms (e.g., nose-picking or piercing). Society tries to control deviance through the implication of Social Control.

The main question that a person encounters while studying deviance and social control is that, Is deviance a psychological factor or a societal phenomena? It seems very much agreeable opinion that it is our society that defines certain boundaries for our actions. If we cross those boundaries, we are deviant people. It possibly cannot be a psychological factor. For example in our village boys having long hair or with a pony tail are considered obnoxious and deviant. Now they are not actually causing any harm to any other person. They are just doing what they like. But if the society is resistant in accepting their actions, they are labeled as deviant people. So it is the society that defines standards of conformity and non-conformity for us.

Emile Durkheim made a very strong and controversial claim in The Rules of Sociological Method.  He said that “no act is inherently deviant in and of itself. Deviance is defined socially and will vary from one group to another”. Here the role of power also comes into play i.e. the group that is more powerful in a certain society will decide what acts are deviant. And in order for that power to be applicable, majority of the people should acknowledge and accept that power. It should not be implied by force and coercion, or by illegitimate means. It is the same acknowledged power that makes Sati acceptable in India, Wani in Pakistan and Cannibalism practicable in certain societies while they are taboos in others. It is only a matter of societal acceptance. If a couple has a child out of wed-lock in America that might not be a big issue. But if same thing happens in Pakistan, that couple might get killed.

Similarly there are other examples on the international scenario of deviance. For instance, the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s “edict of death” against Salmon Rushdie for writing Satanic Verses. Who declared Rushdie a criminal? Whose laws did he break? In Iran he’s condemned to death and in Britain he suffers nothing more than literary criticism. Same action is taken differently in two different societies.

Overall, both psychological and societal researches view differently at deviance. While psychological researches present a limited view point, societal researches explore how conceptions of right and wrong initially arise, why people define some rule breakers but not others as deviant, or what role power plays in shaping a society’s system of social control.

So we can conclude that deviance can be better explained as a social product rather than a psychological or biological phenomenon.     

By Atique (183/10)


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