Deviant Acts: What is Deviancy?

My first course this term is The Sociology of Deviancy. I was absolutely stoked to get to take this course because deviancy plays such a huge role in a lot of the things that I’ve studied and put time and effort into writing about. When you think deviancy you might think about sex or sexuality or deviant sexual practices. This course looks further into deviancy by exploring things like gender, race, and urban policing, social structure, selling organs, crime, government, child abuse, smugglers and dealers, drugs, victimization of women in gangs, rapists, religion, underprivileged deviance, physical violence, war, drinking and alcoholism, marijuana, suicide, eating disorders, mental disorders, and of course sexuality and gender issues of all kids.

I’m thrilled to get back to a course that is heavy on reading and writing. I love courses that are focused on thinking and reflecting and sharing ideas. I love the open discourse between people who come from a variety of different upbringings and perspectives. One assignment gives us the ability to go do an act of deviance. A simple example given would be standing in the elevator the wrong way and noting how people react to you. (Ex: Standing and facing the wall.) I thought it might be fun to go a whole day interacting with everyone I came in contact with as some kinds of social communication can really be interpreted as deviant. Any other suggestions?

I thought I would share the basic notes from the first lecture! This is about different theories of deviance.

1. Statistical

Deviance is statistical. If we are unlikely to see something occur, it is deviant. It implies that people who are deviant are different from people who are not deviant. Imagine deviance on a bell-curve. People who are deviant are nowhere near average. Two problems with statistical deviance are a) How are the statistics obtained? If it’s by self-report, many people may lie to avoid being categorized as deviant. They may also know that the behavior is deviant and lie. b) Many behaviors are deviant but are also common. Speeding is deviant behavior but many people speed.

2. Absolutist

Deviancy is intrinsic to certain things. This is the universal good and bad. Typically the absolutist view is based on God or religion. The absolutist view is not based on social norms or the time period you’re in. People who are deviant are deviant, they will always be deviant, their behavior is wrong. The example given was Duck Dynasty. The people on the show understand the homosexuality is becoming socially accepted, that it is common, but according to their absolutist view of deviance it is still wrong and that cannot change.

3. Normative

There are two assumptions to the normative view of deviancy. That sociologists know what is normal, and that deviance is norm violation. This is often what I will reference when I discuss deviancy. This view is based on deviancy varying by time and place. This follows much of what I believe in, in regards to sexuality, as I have studied sexuality and have noticed how deviant behaviors have been regarded through time and in different parts of the world. This theory also suggests that deviance can exist in secret. People can be deviant and we don’t necessarily need to know about it – unlike statistical deviance, where deviance is based on how many people do a certain thing.

4. Reactivist

This is based completely on social reaction to behavior. People who believe in the reactivist theory believe that you cannot be deviant in private and that behavior must be seen and judged to be considered deviant. This theory may tie in with normative theories of deviance because over time and location the behaviors seen are judged and this may influence what behaviors are deviant or not. If a behavior isn’t seen or heard about is it more likely or less likely to be deviant? (Tough question.) Reactivists might say that you cannot be deviant if there are no consequences to that behavior.

These four theories are tied into two larger theories.

Positivism and Constructionism.

Positivists believe that there is deviancy, we can find it, it is objectively there, it was always there, it will always be there. This would be the first two theories.

Constructionists believe that deviancy depends on the where/when and that beliefs change over time. They are interested in who does the labeling and why people may benefit from labeling.

Do you think that there is a deviancy that is unchanging? Do you believe that deviancy changes over time? How would you define deviant behavior? Does deviancy have to be a behavior? What might someone gain from labeling someone as deviant? Who has the power to label someone as deviant? 

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2 Comments

  1. I tend to look as deviant behavior as anything going against social norms. That tends to change if I myself partake in the deviant practice. Like speeding (which only seems deviant if I’m caught doubting it) or spanking. I derive pleasure from the behavior so it doesn’t feel deviant as it did prior to participating in the activity

  2. Deviance is almost exclusively about power and control. There is a range of human behavior, much of which is more “normal” than it is given credit for, but by labeling some behaviors as deviant, we control the bounds of what is and is not acceptable within our society.

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