Theories of Deviance

Posted on: 10th May 2023


Requirements: cover page, 3 pages of content, reference page with at least 2 APA references: (you must use the references in the paper giving credit to the authors and on the reference page in APA )

The paper must be written in APA style of writing.

Rubric for Portfolio:

-20 for not using references in paper (this is plagiarism)

-20 for not have a reference page (this is plagiarism)

-10 for not having a cover page (name, name of course, date, topic and my name)

Topics (choice one of the following topics):

1) Different types of Deviances

2) Crimes of Interpersonal Violence

3) Theories of Deviances

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Theories of Deviance

Deviance is when someone does something different from what society normally accepts. People might think this is bad and not normal. Usually, anything illegal is also considered deviant, but not everything that is deviant is illegal (Rotenberg, 2018). People who engage in deviant behaviors, like thieves, drunkards, and people who buy prostitutes’ services, are known as deviants. The definition of deviance can vary depending on a person’s culture and norms. What is considered deviant in the USA might not be considered deviant in China. For example, female circumcision is considered bad in America, but it is not considered bad in Malaysia. Theories about deviance rely on the social context and pressure to understand why something is considered deviant. So, these theories are based on sociology. Scholars like Edwin Sutherland and Walter Reckless have developed different theories about why people break the law. These theories are called structural functionalism, labeling, and conflict theory. 

Differential Association Theory

Differential association theory is a theory that explains how people learn to break the law. According to the theory, people learn from the people around them. For example, a child starts learning what is right and wrong from those close to them. Different groups can determine what actions are considered deviant, which then influences how people view the world (Rebellon & Anskat, 2018). People who live in societies usually have norms that keep them from breaking the law. But some people think that this theory is not true because it has been scientifically disproven.

Conflict Theory

Walter Reckless’s theory discusses the relationship between socialization, social controls, and behavior. The theory argues that inner and outer controls can help to control any deviant tendencies. Such internal controls can include conscience, integrity, morality, intuition, and morality. Outer controls are the people they rely on for support in someone’s life- friends, family, religious figures, and authorities. Inner controls are the things that make someone think twice about doing something that goes against social norms (Rotenberg, 2018). If someone doesn’t have self-control, they are more likely to commit crimes. But some people don’t agree with this idea because it might make it look like people are criminals only because they don’t belong to a certain group. 

Anomie Theory

Robert Merton developed the theory of social strain typology in the 1960s. The theory explains how people can become confused when there are conflicting or no social norms. Robert Merton used the theory to explain the difference between socially accepted goals and the struggle to achieve them. The theory alternates between motivation and urges to adhere to cultural goals. It is based on conformity, innovation, rebellion, retreatism, and ritualism (Rotenberg, 2018). An example of this is when many people want riches, but not everyone has the same opportunity to get them. This might be because of discrimination or other factors. Some people, like minorities, might have to use deviant behaviors like prostitution or selling drugs to get wealth and acceptance from others. This theory explains that breaking one norm can lead to breaking another norm. This theory is important because it tries to explain why people break norms and the role of social forces in doing so. However, this theory is generalized and hasn’t been scientifically validated. 

Labeling theory

The labeling theory is the belief that society decides what is considered to be deviant behavior. Once society has labeled a behavior as being deviant, people are then told how to behave. The labeling theory focuses on understanding why certain people label certain behaviors as deviant and determine who will conform to these behaviors. Additionally, people in power often label people who don’t fit in as deviant. For example, if a doctor labels someone as mentally ill or a religious leader label someone as a drug addict or prostitute, that person is rejected by society. This might make them act more defiantly. People who are labeled as deviant find it difficult to change their opinions, even if they have evidence. To be more specific, William Chambliss gave the results of a study he conducted on two high school students groups involved in committing crimes. The two groups he labeled, the ‘saints’ and the ‘roughnecks’, were involved in committing deviant crimes and deviance. However, one group of students was labeled as being good. This helped them from getting in trouble with the police. The ‘roughnecks’ were always getting into trouble with the police because they were labeled delinquents. This theory focuses on the attitudes and reactions of others towards a particular group rather than looking at the actual actions of the group (Rotenberg, 2018). The theory is criticized for its unclear concepts, which invalidates it scientifically.

Deviance cannot exist without norms. Norms help define what is deviant and help society understand it. However, many theories about deviance lack scientific validation. But they can still be helpful in understanding how societies work. Social norms are not limited to a certain time or place. They can change depending on the cultural diversity around the world.



Rebellon, C. J., & Anskat, P. (2018). Crime, deviance, and social control: Travis Hirschi and his legacy. The handbook of the history and philosophy of criminology, 189-206.

Rotenberg, M. (2018). Damnation & Deviance: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Failure. Routledge.

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