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and result in the stigmatization of the rulebreaker?”

Relatedly, theories of deviance can be

classified as macro and micro. Macro-theories

focus on societal and group structures, while

micro-theorists focus on individuals and the interactional

patterns in which they engage and to

which they are subject. Classified along these

dimensions, many – but not all – theories of deviance

have been categorized by James Orcutt as

“macro-normative,” “micro-normative,” “macroreactionist,”

and “micro-reactionist” (Analyzing

Deviance, 1983). In recent decades, however, sociologists

have integrated theories of deviance so

that elements of these four types of theories can

be found in a single theory organized around a

central causal mechanism.

The macro-normative approach to the study of

deviance examines how societies and communities

are organized, to determine why varying

rates of deviant behavior appear across subgroups

in the population, locations in a community or

society, and at different points in history. For

example, the French sociologist E´mile Durkheim,

perhaps the most frequently cited classical theorist

of deviance, studied how social structure

facilitates or impedes the production of deviance,

by emphasizing that structural strain produces

what he called “pathology” in the population.

Based on empirical data on suicide rates across

Europe in the latter part of the nineteenth century,

Durkheim argued in Suicide (1897 [trans.

1964]) that changes in the rate of suicide are not

adequately explained by individualistic approaches

to deviance. Rather, fluctuations in the rates

of suicide within and between societies were best

explained by the way societies were structured,

especially in light of three types of social conditions

that produce strain: (1) anomie, a societal

condition characterized by a state of normlessness

in which individuals become disassociated from

a collective moral authority; (2) egoism, a societal

condition in which the normative order is too

weak and individuals are not sufficiently integrated

into society, and thus they are not bound

by the norms of the society; and (3) altruism, a

societal condition in which the normative order

is too strong and individuals are overly integrated

into society in ways that compel them to

willfully take their own life.

From a Durkheimian point of view, an appropriate

level of “pathology” is “normal” for society

because it serves positive functions, including: a

boundary-setting function that delineates the distinction

between right and wrong; a group solidarity

function for those united in collective

opposition to the normative threats of nonconformity;

an innovation function insofar as breaking

norms often leads to healthy social change; and a

tension-reduction function for those who “blow

off a little steam” by engaging in low-level forms

of deviance (Durkheim, 1895 [trans. 1938]).

Consistent with Durkheim’s path-breaking

approach to deviance, many contemporary deviance

theorists explain varying rates of deviant

behavior in terms of an array of structural features

of society. Robert K. Merton, for example,

extended Durkheim’s work in Social Theory and

Social Structure (1957). He sought to explain why

people in the same environment behave differently,

sometimes conforming and sometimes exhibiting

deviant behavior. He borrowed Durkheim’s

key term – anomie – to conceptualize structural

strain as an acute disjuncture between cultural

norms and goals and the socially structured capacities

of the members of the group to act in accord

with them. In simple terms, Merton argued, when

people are faced with blocked access to legitimate

means to reach culturally acceptable goals, they

will “adapt” to the situation by pursuing illegitimate

means – deviant behavior – to achieve

deviance deviance

136

conventional goals. Because economic opportunity



is not evenly distributed across society, rates

of deviance, especially crime and delinquency, are

also unevenly distributed. More recently, Steven

Messner and Richard Rosenfeld in Crime and the

American Dream (1994) reformulated Merton’s theory

by proposing that anomie fostered by economic

inequality is most likely to produce crime

and delinquency when economic and noneconomic

institutions fail to offset the material

success available to those engaging in deviance.

Versions of social ecological theories of deviance

constitute another type of structural explanation

of deviance. Social disorganization theory, which

developed at the University of Chicago in the 1930s

and continues to inspire volumes of research

today, emphasizes the correlation between spatial

location and rates of criminal and deviant behavior.

The concept of social disorganization refers to

both social and cultural conditions, such as value

and norm conflicts, mobility, cultural change, and

weak relationships. Social disorganization undermines

internal and external social control,

thereby promoting unconventional and deviant

behavior.

Some spatial locations have so much social disorganization

that a delinquent subculture arises.

Albert Cohen argued in his book Delinquent Boys:

The Culture of the Gang (1955) that youth become

frustrated (a form of anomie) when they find

themselves unable to perform in school on a par

with their more privileged peers. Seeking solace

with other lower-class peers, together they engage

in deviant acts as a way to flaunt traditional

norms. Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin furthered

subculture theory with their book Delinquency

and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs (1960).

They specified three types of delinquent gang

subcultures: criminal, conflict, and retreatist.

Criminal subcultures focus more on making

money than being violent; conflict subcultures

are violent towards law-abiding and criminal

groups alike; and retreatist subcultures comprise

individuals who cannot make it in either the legitimate

or the criminal world – therefore, they

resort to deviant (and illegal) activities such as

the excessive or inappropriate use of drugs,

alcohol, and so forth.

Other ecological theories of deviance include:

routine activities theory, which posits that the convergence

of a motivated offender, a suitable target,

and the absence of a capable guardian produces

crime and deviance (Lawrence Cohen and Marcus

Felson in “Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A

Routine Activity Approach,” American Sociological

Review, 1979); gender and power-control theory

(John Hagan, Structural Criminology, 1989), which

points to the family as the primary source of varying

socialization experiences for boys and girls, to

explain gender differences in nonconforming

behavior; classic control theory, such as Travis

Hirschi, Causes of Delinquency (1969), which emphasizes

sources of social bonding and attachments as

key to understanding who deviates and why; and

contemporary control theory, which emphasizes

lack of self-control and directs attention to the

social organization of the family as producing

(and inhibiting) deviance (for example, Michael

Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, A General Theory of

Crime, 1990).

Others have theorized about why some people

in an environment (and not others) fail to conform

to group norms and, instead, engage in deviant

behavior. These theorists focus on the

experiences and interpersonal interactions of

those who learn to engage in deviant behavior.

Orienting to deviance as a form of learned behavior,

these theorists treat the underlying mechanisms

that produce deviance as essentially no

different from those that produce conformity.

However, theorists disagree on what the precise

mechanisms of learning entail.

The early roots of a learning perspective on

deviance can be found in a French magistrate’s

work on imitation and suggestion as the “cause”

of juvenile delinquency and crime. Gabriel Tarde

argued in The Laws of Imitation (1890 [trans. 1912])

that the explanation of crime lay not in biology

but in the social world and that crime is transmitted

through intimate personal groups. In simple

terms, he argued good boys associate with and

imitate bad boys and, in the process, become bad

boys themselves. Regardless of what characteristics

one has at birth, Tarde argued, one must learn

to become criminal by association with and imitation

of others, just as one learns a trade or learns

about and imitates the latest fads and fashions.

A far more systematic and consequential learning

theory was presented in 1939 by the American

criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland in Principles of

Criminology, which is now in its eleventh edition

and continues to be one of the best-selling criminology

textbooks (see Sutherland, Cressey, and

Luckenbill, [eds.] 2002). Sutherland argued that

crime and other forms of deviance do not result

from social disorganization; rather, some groups

are organized for criminal activities and some are

organized against these activities. Sutherland

hypothesized that any person can be trained to

adopt and follow any pattern of criminal behavior

deviance deviance

137

and any pattern of conforming behavior. Such



patterns were developed through differential

social organization and differential association.

Sutherland, and later his co-authors Donald Cressey

and David Luckenbill, argued that differential

social organization could explain the crime rate

(just as the macro-normative theorists would suggest),

while differential association could explain

the criminal behavior of a particular person. The

differential association element of this approach

posits that deviant behavior is a product of learning

via communicative interaction. This type of

learning involves defining certain situations as

the appropriate occasions for deviant behavior;

mastering the techniques of successful deviant

activity; and acquiring the motives, drives, attitudes,

and rationalizations that justify violations

of norms and/or laws (see law and society).

One key to learning deviance is what Gresham

Sykes and David Matza refer to as “techniques of

neutralizations,” which are justifications and

excuses for committing deviant acts (“Techniques

of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency,” American

Sociological Review, 1957). By denying responsibility,

denying injury or harm, denying the victim,

and appealing to higher loyalties, deviants are

able to free themselves from the pressure to conform

to social norms for a specific act. Techniques

of neutralization play a key role in deviance disavowal

– the deviant’s rejection of the application

of deviant labels – by enabling the deviant to

distinguish himself from his deviance in an

effort to maintain a conventional identity as a

conventional member of society.

Techniques of neutralization also play a key role

in deviancy drift theory as developed by Matza in

Delinquency and Drift (1964). Matza’s drift theory

assumes that people live their lives on a continuum

somewhere between total freedom and

total constraint, and often people move between

conforming and deviant behavior. This movement

occurs because delinquents can maintain a commitment

to the dominant norms while neutralizing

their controlling effect on their deviant

behavior. Indeed, the frequent deployment of

techniques of neutralization shows that deviants

generally hold values and beliefs very similar to

those who conform.

More contemporary theoretical treatments of

the role learning plays in producing deviance

have examined other dynamics crucial to learning

both deviant and conforming behavior. For example,

Ronald Akers (Social Learning and Social Structure,

1998) looks beyond differential association to

differential reinforcement. Reinforcement refers

to the process by which other people reward or

punish a particular deviant act. Akers stresses that

this process is complex and is built upon reciprocal

feedback loops that precede the moment of

engaging in deviance.

Moving away from the normative question of

who engages in deviance and why, sociologists

working within the “constructionist” or “reactionist”

tradition analyze the origins and content of

rules, norms, traditions, and laws in order to

understand why certain types of behavior and

people are constructed and categorized as deviant

in the first place. Here the focus is on the social

construction of deviance, a process whereby

conduct, events, and people are constructed as

abnormal, atypical, pathological, and ultimately

stigmatizable. Rather than focusing on the causes

and correlates of deviant behavior, this perspective

devotes analytic attention to the processes

whereby the boundaries between “normal” and

“deviant” are demarcated at the societal level.

At the macroscopic level, sociologists have studied

the formation of criminal law and other

forms of social policy and rule-making as one

empirical measure of a group, community, or

society marking behavior as unacceptable and

subject to social control. Over a half a century

ago, Edwin Sutherland published one of the earliest

and best-known sociological investigations of

the origins of a specific type of criminal law. In

“The Sexual Psychopath Laws” (Journal of Criminal

Law and Criminology, 1950), Sutherland argued that

the origins and the diffusion of sexual psychopath

laws are largely the result of two things: the

manipulation of public opinion by the press and

the influence of experts on the legislative process.

These factors invented what is now identifiable as

the sexual psychopath, declaring certain people

deviant and in need of social control.

Since the publication of Sutherland’s classic

study on the criminalization of sexual psychopathy,

sociologists have pointed to a plethora of

demographic, organizational, political, structural,

and institutional conditions that shape when and

how social behaviors and statuses become defined

as deviant over time and across geopolitical

boundaries. For example, taking a decidedly materialist

approach to criminalization, William

Chambliss detailed in his now-famous and often

reprinted article “A Sociological Analysis of the

Law of Vagrancy” (Social Problems, 1964) how changing

demographic and economic conditions

enabled vagrancy laws, which define people without

a permanent residence as deviant, to emerge

in the fourteenth century. A more recent work on

deviance deviance

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the topic of homelessness by Gregg Barak (Gimme



Shelter: A Social History of Homelessness in Contemporary

America, 1991) demonstrates that gentrification

and redevelopment in central cities, coupled

with changing views of “the homeless,” led to a

plethora of laws that criminalize homelessness

and, in the process, deviantize the homeless as

misfits and vagabonds living outside the conventional

moral order and threatening those who do

not.

Similarly, Joseph R. Gusfield in Symbolic Crusade



(1986) explains how the distribution and sale of

alcoholic beverages was constitutionally defined

as criminal in the United States in the early twentieth

century. In the process, native groups effectively

deviantized immigrants, Catholics, and

urban dwellers, who consumed alcohol in more

visible ways than natives, Protestants, and rural

dwellers. In more recent work on status politics

and law, Valerie Jenness and Ryken Grattet analyzed

in their book Making Hate a Crime (2001) the

crucial role grassroots activists and organized

social movements have played in instigating and

formulating hate-crime law in the United States

that criminalizes bias-motivated violence across

the nation; as a result, in the latter part of the

twentieth century, age-old violent behavior deriving

from bigotry became recognizable as hate

crime. Similarly, Elizabeth Boyle’s work Female

Genital Cutting: Cultural Conflict in the Global Community

(2003) shows how processes of globalization

have redefined centuries-old normative behavior –

female genital cutting – as unacceptable, deviant,

and, in some cases, criminal behavior.

At the microscopic level of analysis, sociologists

of deviance examine the interactions between

deviants and “normals” and the consequences of

such interactions for the production and management

of stigma, the engine around which deviantization

motors. The term stigma (or stigmata)

dates back to the Greek word for “tattoo-mark”

and references the mark made with a hot iron

and impressed on people to show they were

devoted to the service of the temple, or on the

opposite spectrum of behavior, that they were

criminals or runaway slaves. In its most literal

usage, the term stigma refers to a mark or stain

that ruins an individual’s reputation. To understand

the concept of stigma and its relevance to

the social construction of deviance, Erving Goffman’s

classic work Stigma: Notes on the Management

of a Spoiled Identity (1963) emphasized a distinction

between virtual social identities and actual social

identities. Virtual social identities are normative

expectations about how people should behave and

characteristics people should possess; and actual

social identities are the actual behavior of individuals

and the characteristics individuals actually

possess. Goffman argued that discrepancies

between virtual and actual social identities often

cause us to reclassify an individual from one

socially anticipated category to another less desirable

one. For example, coming to understand

someone is homosexual, an ex con, or the carrier

of a fatal disease, after presuming the individual

was heterosexual, a law-abiding citizen, or generally

healthy, can result in the reclassification of

someone as a particular type of person. However,

attributes do not, in and of themselves, cause

stigmata; whether or not an attribute is stigmatizing

depends upon the circumstance and the

social audience. An attribute that stigmatizes

one type of person can confirm the usualness of

another and therefore is neither creditable nor

discreditable as a thing in itself. Context matters

because it is only within specific contexts that

attributes get negatively labeled and reacted to

as such. In short, deviance is necessarily relative.

The process of labeling, as anticipated by Frank

Tannenbaum, conceived by Goffman, and elaborated

by Howard S. Becker, Edwin Schur, Edwin

Lemert, and Stephen Pfohl, has loomed large in

empirical studies of deviance. Relying upon the

basic tenets of symbolic interactionism, sociologists

have documented many sources and consequences

of stigma by empirically examining

diverse types of people, situations, and judgments

that spoil actual social identities in an array

of institutional settings. For example, stigma attached

to the presence of a criminal record reduces

the perceived value of potential employees

for potential employers. Moreover, specific sexual

practices, health conditions, family histories, bodily

forms, and religious practices can, if and when

they become known, demote individuals in the

eyes of what Goffman called “normals.”

Finally, identities and subcultures can be organized

around shared stigma, and deviance can be

amplified as a result. In Lemert’s classic formulation

(Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social Control,

1967), primary deviance is norm-violating

behavior that does not result in consequential

public labeling because it does not surpass a

group, community, or society’s tolerance threshold;

therefore it is ignored or normalized. In

contrast, secondary deviance occurs when normviolating

behavior passes the group, community,

or society tolerance threshold, is subject to a “dramatization

of evil” (Tannenbaum’s terminology)

and stigmatized, and results in a changed

deviance deviance

139

self-concept for the deviant(s). Unlike primary



deviance, which derives from multiple causes

and is sporadic, secondary deviance is role-based

behavior and is more predictable. In other words,

secondary deviation is a function of societal reaction

and stigmatizing labels. Related, deviance

amplification is the unintended consequence of

formal and informal social control efforts, which

often stimulate a spiral of deviance. The way people

(for example teachers and parents) and organizations

(for example the criminal justice system)

react to relatively minor deviance can result in the

formation of deviant subcultures and deviant

careers. This is because stigmatization changes

self-concepts, and changed self-concepts provide

the principal link between the stigmatized labels

and future deviant behavior. In simple terms,

labeling theory posits that people take on deviant

identities and play deviant roles because they are

strongly influenced into doing so by the application

of stigmatizing labels to them. This line of

thinking has been applied most commonly to juvenile

delinquents, as well as the mentally ill, rapists,

nudists, homosexuals, ex-convicts, shoplifters,

and people struggling to manage their weight.

Sociologists have also examined the ways stigmatized

identities and groups organized around

them have become the source of political consciousness

and attendant social movement activity.

For example, in the latter part of the

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