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Theories of Deviance | Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2210 words Published: 18th Jul 2018

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Deviance by most popular concept is the violation of the norms, values and ethics. The literal meaning of deviance is “The fact or state of departing from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behavior”. In sociological terms deviance is described as “The act of going against social and cultural norms, including rules and laws. The study of deviance tries to prove that the changing of norms help contribute to deviant criminal behavior.”

The deviant activity is divided into two types, Informal and Formal deviance. The violation of the formally enacted laws is the formal deviance i.e. crime e.g. robbery, theft. The violation of the informal social norms that are not formal laws is informal deviance e.g. picking one’s nose.

Deviance is described in its statistical and absolute terms. A definition of deviance, which relies on rigid reference to moral or ethical codes that are presumably universal, we call an “absolute” definition of deviance. A good example of absolute deviance can be found in the moral codes of the Christian faith and especially in the Ten Commandments which stipulate a set of behaviors that are presumably universally frowned upon by God. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Individuals who commit these acts are considered deviant.

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A statistical definition of deviance would define as “deviant” any behavior, attitude, or opinion that strays away from “normal” behavior. Now it’s very important to understand what we mean by “normal” here because in this case we are not using a “moral compass” to determine deviance but a statistical compass. In statistics, “normal” has a very specific definition. In statistics, normal is basically the “most prevalent” or common behavior, attitude, or “thing.” For example, in Canadian society the majority of people get up in the morning to go to work and thus it is “normal” to wake up in the morning and go to work. It is also normal to water your lawn and keep it green. (Sosteric)

There are three levels of explanation in the study of deviant behavior. A first level of explanation is concerned with the existence of the different forms of human behavior that occur in any society. It is always necessary to take account of processes of socialization. A second level of explanation is concerned with the variation in norms between social groups, as manifested particularly in cultural and subcultural differences. Socialization takes place within particular social groups, and it is the norms of these groups that provide the standards for the identification of particular kinds of behavior as deviant. The third, and final, level of explanation is concerned with the ways in which particular individuals are identified as deviants by others and so come to develop a deviant identity. This is the matter of social reaction and control. (scott 238)

Deviance is very much related to ethnicity. Ethnicity contributes a lot to the deviant behavior adopted by people in a society. Here it is important to note that there are many factors included in ethnicity to clearly explain the deviant behavior. They include class, education, place, family etc. An ethnic group may be in minority at some place which can contribute to the deviant behavior of its members. They may not be given enough privileges and basic facilities or they may be oppressed which can be a causal of the deviant behavior form its members. An ethnic group can be considered as deviant from the dominating group if there customs and norms are contrary to each other. Being in minority can cause them to lose faith in the local authorities, police, courts which can be leading to a deviant behavior.

Within the ethnicity, economic class is a dominating factor for deviance. People from lower classes are seen to be more involved in deviant behavior due to financial constraints. Financial constraints may increase the inclination of people to commit economic crimes such as theft, burglary, armed robbery and street level drug dealing (Merton 1997)

Two early explanations emerged to explain the role of different variables in deviant behavior- cultural deviance and strain theories. Both held class as central variable in shaping either values or access to opportunities. According to cultural deviance, structural position and location produced subcultural interactions that gave rise to deviant values (Cohen 1955). Strain theory argued that class lead to blocked opportunities in achieving the shared “American Dream” which then fosters deviant alternatives for economic success (Cloward and Ohlin 1960)

Most Deviant people have peers. They are encouraged and supported by their peers for their deviant behavior. Another factor is that of family. Deviance is more common in people with single parent family. This means that perhaps instead of getting their beliefs, values, and norms from home they get them from their peers who will be deviant also. This maybe because your peers are a secondary method of socialization, so if there are no parents to be the agents of primary socialization the peers will take their place. As the peers are deviant, it would mean for them to fit into their culture they must i.e. they must also go against the norms, be deviant. (“CourseworkHelp”)

Social visibility and stereotypical image of a minority ethnicity gives rise to deviance.

Education is also one of the determinants. Usually non educated people are more likely to show deviant behavior as they are not fully aware of the norms of the society. Their kids from their primary socialization also learn to be deviant more likely than the kid whose parents are educated.

Street crime has become very common in American and European communities by ethnic minorities. Negros, Afro Americans, African Caribbeans are involved in street crime for most of the time. There is growing evidence that members of ethnic minorities in Britain have become more heavily involved with the legal system since the 1960s. They are now especially likely to appear as offenders and, more particularly, as victims of crime and as police suspects. African Caribbeans, however, are almost twice as likely as whites to be the offenders of personal attacks. This is, in part, a consequence of the fact that African Caribbeans live, disproportionately, in inner-city areas where such crimes are particularly likely to take place. However, their experiences also have a racially motivated character. They are also being victimized by White for many serious crimes. This growing victimization of black people reflects a real growth in racial violence and racist attacks by members of the white population. While criminal acts carried out during the urban riots of the 1980s often had a racial aspect to them, blacks are far more likely to be the targets of racial crimes than they are to commit them. This racial discrimination adds to the fire of ethnic minority. There has, nevertheless, been a growing involvement of young African Caribbeans in many kinds of street crime. The police hold to a widely shared prejudice that African Caribbeans, in particular, are heavily involved in crime and that special efforts need to be taken to control them. Many studies have shown the racism inherent in police actions that stop black people in the street and subject them to closer scrutiny than other members of the population. African Caribbeans are more likely than whites, and members of other ethnic minorities, to be approached by the police on suspicion, to be prosecuted, and to be sentenced. This is reflected in a growing hostility of ethnic minorities towards the police, who are often seen as racists rather than neutral defenders of law and order. African Caribbeans in minority and living in the slums of Britain, belonging to lower classes are more likely to commit street crime. Young blacks are more likely to be involved due to peer pressure and single parent families. They have higher levels of unemployment than whites which produce greater temptation for crime. (scott 238)

Afro-Caribbean’s have younger age profile than ethnic majority (more young men) which means there are more people at peak offending age (14 – 21). (Livesey)

Due to Self-fulfilling prophecy (police believe young blacks more likely to be involved in crime) results in more targeting and more arrests of ethnic minorities. Deviancy Amplification process occurs whereby police stereotyping and scapegoating of ethnic minorities result in appearance of more crime amongst ethnic minorities. (Livesey)

Reported by famous newspaper London evening standard was the news “A study shows that Black teenagers commit high levels of street crime and carry guns because they come from broken homes and have little faith in the police, it has been claimed. A report by MPs revealed that although young blacks make up less than 3 per cent of the population of ten to 17-year-olds, they account for 26 per cent of arrests for robbery within that age group. They also represent 6 per cent of those from the age group in the criminal justice system, and 8.5 per cent of those arrested for all crimes, including a disproportionate number of street offences. They are more likely to be responsible for, and victims of, gun murders. Disillusionment with the police was blamed for revenge attacks and youngsters carrying weapons such as guns. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety. The study follows a series of killings on and by young blacks. One of the highlighted example is of the stabbing of Damilola Taylor, ten, in 2000 and the gunning down of Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, in a gang feud in Birmingham in 2003.Recent cases include the killing of Tom ap Rhys Pryce, 31, a white lawyer, at the hands of two black teenagers while trying to snatch his mobile phone.” (“London Evening Standard”)

There are several sociological, psychological and biological theories explaining the relation between deviance and ethnicity. Few of the famous sociological theories include Conflict theory, Labeling theory, Symbolic interactionism, Functionalism etc.

The conflict perspective focuses on the negative, conflicted, and ever-changing nature of society. Unlike functionalists who defend the status quo, avoid social change, and believe people cooperate to effect social order, conflict theorists challenge the status quo, encourage social change (even when this means social revolution), and believe rich and powerful people force social order on the poor and the weak. (“Cliff Notes”)

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The blacks in British society have conflicting values and agendas which give rise to the deviant behavior of the blacks. The minority of the blacks and the repression by the white adds to the fire of the blacks and they tend to go against the norms of the society. Whites are considered to be in the upper and higher statues of the society whereas blacks are considered to be the low status people and the status conflict leads the minority blacks to no abide by the social norms and values and revolt against it. Their deviant behavior is also because of the cultural differences between the blacks and the whites, between how they react to different situations. Whites try to dominate and impose themselves on the blacks, they grab highest positions in society, and they are in top institutions, in legislation, in government. They try to impose their normal social order on everyone resulting in conflicts with the blacks differing from them in many ways. One of the main factors of inequality and the criminal activities of blacks is that of finance. White are financially well off and this inequality among the society is responsible for the black minorities to be involved in crimes in order to get the basic necessities of life. The political institutions are also dominant by whites so there is no benefit for blacks to have their voices raised and heard by the concerned authorities, who are also whites.

Howard S. Becker gave the famous labeling theory which describes how the behaviors of the individuals are related to the terms used to classify them and associated with the concept of Stereotyping. Labeling theory also explains the deviant behavior of blacks in Britain. Police and judiciary have a stereotypical image of the blacks to be mostly involved in crime, thus the attitude of these two institutions creates a sense of inferiority in blacks as they are always the suspects of some criminal activity. This leads them to go against these institutions.

Beside these two theories there are several sociological concepts which explain other factors of the street crime. They include control theory, rational choice theory, strain theory etc. But the main explanation is given by the conflict and labeling theory.


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