Deviance and Social Control

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Deviance is any infraction of norms, whether the violation being minor as jaywalking or as significant as raping someone. So you and I every day violate these societal norms no matter how big or small they may be. The heart of deviance is best explained by sociologist Howard S. Becker (1966), "It is not the act itself, but the reactions to the act, that make something deviant." Different groups have different norms, maybe something deviant to a particular person may not be deviant to another (Henslin 2005: pg. 134). This principle holds within a society as well cross-culturally. A specific form of deviance is a crime, or the infringement of rules that are written laws. Like the norms, a crime in one culture can be applauded by another. To be considered deviant a person does not have to do anything directly. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) coined the term stigma to "refer to the characteristics that discredit people" (Henslin 2005: pg. 135). These can incorporate violations of norms of aptitude (blindness, mental illness, deafness) and norms of appearance (obesity). No human group can subsist without norms, because "norms make social life possible by making behavior predictable" (Henslin 2005: pg. 135). Without these norms, society would be in a state of social chaos. Norms structure the fundamental guidelines for how we should play in our "roles" and interact with other people. Norms produce social order, an individual group's traditional social measures. As a result, social control is the direct and indirect means of imposing norms that were developed by human groups. A disapproval of deviance is a negative sanction, which can vary from frowning at someone for breaking folkways to capital punishment for breaking mores. Contrastly, a positive sanction is to recompense people for complying with the norms. Sociologists can explain this idea of deviance and consequences of it in three perspectives: symbolic interactionism, functionalism, and conflict theory.

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