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Deviance and social control

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Deviance is the violation of a social norm. It is impossible to define it exactly because not everyone agrees on what should be considered deviant behavior. According to functionalists, deviance is both negative and positive for a society. Functionalism sets the basis for 2 very important theories of deviance: strain theory and control theory.

The strain theory states that deviance is more likely to occur when a gap exists between cultural goals and the ability to achieve these goals by legitimate means. There are four responses to the strain theory: 1) Innovation – the individual accepts the goals of success but uses illegal means to achieve it. People in this response will probably use drugs or robbery to become successful. Innovation is the most common for of response. 2) Ritualism – the individual rejects the goal but continues to use legitimate means to achieve it. An example of this is a teacher who goes through daily routines without concern for students and their learning. 3) Retreatism – both the legitimate means and the approved goals are rejected. Drug addicts are examples of retreatists. They are not successful by legitimate or illegitimate means and do not seek to be successful. 4) Rebellion – people reject both success and the approved way to achieve it. Meanwhile, the substitute a new set of goals for the approved ones. Militia groups are examples of these types of people. The pursue a goal of changing society through deviant means.

The control theory states that compliance with social norms requires strong bonds between individuals and society. In this theory, social bonds control the behavior of these people. People conform so they aren’t made an outcast to family, friends, and classmates. There are also four basic components to social bonds: 1) Attachment – the more attached you are to something, the more likely you will be to conform to it. 2) Commitment – the more you are committed to a goal, the more likely you will conform to meet it. The commitment of people who believe their hard work will pay off isn’t as strong as those who believe they can compete within the system. 3) Involvement – Participation in approved social activities means you will be more likely to conform. Other than focusing your goals towards something positive, you are also putting yourself around people with the same goals. 4) Belief – If you believe in a social norm will be more likely to live by it. A persons belief in rules will make them less likely to deviate from them.

There is also another type of perspective on deviance, the symbolic interactionist theory. According to this theory, deviance is shared the same way that nondeviant behavior is learned. Delinquent behavior can be shared in play groups and gangs. Even when new people join, they learn the same behavior. This theory also yields 2 theories: the 1) differential association theory, and the 2) labeling theory.

The differential association theory states that individuals learn deviance in proportion to the number of deviant acts they are exposed to. The more people are around people who break the law, the more likely they will become to breaking the law. Three major characteristics affect differential association: 1) ratio of deviant to nondeviant individuals – A person who is closer with deviant people is more likely to learn that behavior. 2) whether the deviant behavior is practiced by significant others – A person is more likely to perform deviant behavior if someone close to them does it than if someone less important to them does it. 3) the age of exposure – young children learn bad behavior easier and quicker than older children and adults.

The labeling theory states that society creates deviance by identifying particular members as deviant. This theory explains why a middle-class male may get away with stealing a car while a lower-class male might be punished. It is because lower-classed males are expected to be thieves while middle-class males are not. The labeling theory has 2 degrees of deviance to help clarify its process. Primary deviance – deviance involving occasional breaking of norms that is not a part of a person’s lifestyle or self-concept – is when the person only engages in isolated breaking of norms. Secondary deviance – deviance in which an individuals lifestyle and identity are organized by breaking society’s norms – are on the other hand more serious. These people spend most of their time committing acts of deviance, such as murder or burglary, and make it into a lifestyle or career.

The conflict perspective of deviance looks at it in terms of social inequality and power. Conflict theorists look at disproportional statistics in the relationship between minorities and crime. They point out that the rich and powerful use their positions to determine which acts are deviant and should be punished by the law. Supporters of this theory point out that African Americans and Latinos are treated more harsh than whites. Although African Americans make up only 13% of our population, they make up 43% of the people on death row, and in a interracial murder, blacks are thirteen times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites.

Conflict theorists point out that the reason these trials are not near as equal as they should be is because minorities do not have the funds or resources to buy good legal services. Victim discounting – the process of reducing the seriousness of the crimes that injure people of lower status – is believed to be another major reason for the gap in a fair trial. In theory, if the victim less valuable, the crime isn’t as severe, and neither is the punishment.

Most Americans think of crimes – acts of violation in statue laws – as including a small group of behaviors when in actuality, more than 2,800 acts are classified as federal crimes. There are 2 major sources for crime statistics in the US: the FBI and the Census Bureau. There are four different approaches to controlling crime: 1) deterrence, 2) retribution, 3) incarceration, 4) rehabilitation.

As Isaac Asimov once said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

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