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Understanding Deviance: Sociological Perspectives and Theories

  • 06 Pages
  • Published On: 01-12-2023

How significant are gender and ethnicity for understanding deviance?

Introduction: The meaning of Deviance

Deviance is a concept in sociology which relates to deviating from acceptable social norms and practices. The two major types of deviant actions include mala in se and mala prohibita. The term Mala in se is a Latin phrase which means ‘wrong in itself’ which refers to activities which defy the very nature of morality of society and include activities like murder, rape, assault and the like and mala prohibita is another Latin phrase which includes activities that are wrong sice they are prohibited by law, or social norms. However, Deviant behaviour can be broadly categorised into three categories, viz. structural functionalism, symbolic interaction and conflict theory. The main contributors towards the theory of functionality are David Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton.According to David Emile Durkheim, the main function of deviance is defining moral boundaries and affirmations of cultural values and norms.Robert K. Merton propounded the Strain theory of Sociology as to mean the collective action of a group of individuals as maneuvered by stress, strain and frustration arising from a disparity between their own goals and the standardised set of goals imposed upon them by the society. He differentiated deviance and branched it into five categories:

Innovation – which is caused by lack of opportunities to acquire wealth due to which people resort to innovative ideas like selling of drugs in order to reach the position of wealth.

Conformists – who conform to the societal standards in order to make a peaceful living based mostly on middle class moralities.

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Ritualism – where people let go of their objectives in life in order to feel respected by the society they live in.

Retreatism – where the people let go of societal cultures, ideals and norms in order to establish a stand and achieve their own personal goal in life.


  1. Macionis, John; Gerber, Linda (2010). Sociology (7th Canadian ed.). Toronto: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-511927-3.
  2. Social Science , Libre Text, “ Sociological theory of deviance”, https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Book A Sociology (Boundless)/ Deviance Social Control and Crime/7.03A Theories of Crime and Deviance/7.3 Sociological Theories of Deviance accessed on 1st March, 2021
  3. Chavez JM, Rocheleau GC. Formal Labeling, Deviant Peers, and Race/Ethnicity: An Examination of Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Process of Secondary Deviance. Race and Justice. 2020;10(1):62-86. doi:10.1177/2153368717727122
  4. Rebellion – which refers to initial retreating from society and then going out of their way to support other cultures and means as a deliberate attempt to reject their society’s consideration of legitimate way of achieving one’s goal

    Structural functionalism propunds that deviant behaviour plays an active, constructive role in society by helping different populations within a society to cohabit peacefully. Conflict theory suggests that social, political, or material inequalities in a social group cause deviant behaviours, while labeling theory argues that people become deviant as a result of people labelling an identity upon them and then forcing them to adopt such identity

    Significance of Gender in understanding Deviance -

    Females and Deviance:

    If we look around the world, most places are bound by patriarchal norms and impracticable codes of conduct are imposed upon women in most places around the world. In the patriarchal society we live in, women have been considered to be weaker and more delicate than men. Women have been known to shoulder the family by contributing in the household chores while men were expected to be the bread-earners of the family. The concept of women equally competent as men in various fields of life, being relatively new, denies equal opportunity to women and it is with that in mind that various laws have been drafted in India and around the world so that women do not lack the opportunities to flourish in other than household aspects of living as well.

    Many countries around the world which turn down basic human rights to women.

    For e.g., in Afghanistan, a woman is not supposed to be out in the streets unless she is accompanied by a blood relative, a woman cannot be treated by a male doctor unless she is escorted by a male member of the family.

    In Saudi Arabia, women are denied the right to drive a vehicle.


  5. Boundless Sociology, Lumen, “ The functionalist Perspective on Deviance” < https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/the-functionalist-perspective-on-deviance/> accessed on 1st March, 2021
  6. Emiko Kobayashi, Susan F. Sharp & Harold G. Grasmick (2008) Gender and Deviance: A Comparison of College Students in Japan and the United States, Deviant Behavior, 29:5, 413-439, DOI: 10.1080/0
  7. The Lily, Editors Picks, “ 8 restrictions on women’s rights around the world” < https://www.thelily.com/8-restrictions-on-womens-rights-around-the-world/> accessed on 1st march, 2021
  8. In Nigeria, a man can legally beat his wife for correctional purposes under Section 55 of the Nigerian Penal Code

    Israel mandates the permission of the husband for seeking divorce from him.

    Advocacy of equal opportunity for equal skills for both women and men, irrespective of their gender is deviant to early concepts and ideals of how a society must function. Any activity which strays from the outlook of societal regulations are defined as deviance. Even with legal provisions supporting the cause of equal opportunities to be bestowed on women and men, the society challenges such right of woman at every step of the way. Even though the financial responsibilities of the family are shared by the woman as well these days, the chores of the household are seldom shouldered by the men of the family. Expectation of the same are considered to be deviant demand on the part of the women due to societal constraints.

    Being subservient on the part of the women in the family has been considered to be the right way for women to conduct themselves, any deviation from that way of conducting themselves around the males, the so-called upper class gender is a deviant activity on the part of the females.

    Males are not punished with the same intensity by the society as women for the same offence committed by them. For eg., a prostitute sells her body for the pleasure and benefit of the men in the society, and men avail their services else the profession would no longer exist, but the men who avail the services of such prostitutes or sex- workers are not ostracized by the society. Thus, in most cases it may be observed that the behaviour of males is differentiated from the behaviour of females and is judged in completely different lights and a lot of allowances are made to justify the wrong-doings or shortcoming of men as opposed to the women.

    The concepts of deviance as propounded by various sociologists were initially totally male-centric, which was due to the reason that due to the status of the bread-earner, men were believed to be more exposed to stress and frustrations as compared to women. But, with the advent of concepts such as feminism, and various laws and regulations around the world in support of the cause of women, the women are more aware of their rights and are thus becoming not only a psychological threat to men, but also, the concepts of moral conduct as


  9. Rosenblum, K. (1975). Female Deviance and the Female Sex Role: A Preliminary Investigation. The British Journal of Sociology, 26(2), 169-185. doi:10.2307/589587imposed on women by society since the inception of time due to it being considered as the ‘weaker gender.’
  10. Ethnicity and Deviance

    Deviance is dependant on ethnicity, especially when it comes to crime and the justice system. For example a white-male from a middle-class area is less likely to be apprehended and less likely to go further into the justice system (i.e booking, conviction, jail time), than a black-male from the “slums” (Becker 1966), indicating dominant society’s inherent bias in considering acts committed by people of colour to be more deviant than acts committed by their white counterparts. This idea of deviance amplifying ideas of racial stereotypes and bias is an important factor in why an all-black-subculture is perceived as more criminal than an all-white-subcultures. Institutional racism in the criminal justice system oppresses communities of colour by utilizing the biased framework of deviance. White and Black communities have roughly the same rate of drug use and abuse with the black community reporting one percent higher drug abuse and whites with one percent higher in drug abuse and dependance (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2013). However, blacks are still arrested for drugs more than two times their percentage in the population. In addition, black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for any crime compared to white youth, federal prosecutors are twice as likely to file for a mandatory minimum sentence for African Americans than whites for the same crime, blacks are more likely to receive longer sentences than whites, etc (National Academy of Science 2014). These are some of the ways institutional racism in the criminal justice system continues to build the black community as criminal and deviant, framing actions by the black community as inherently more deviant than their white counterparts.

    Asian American adolescents are also seen to commit less deviance in the form of school misbehavior than white, black, Hispanic, or Native American adolescents. Social control and social learning theories receive support as the observed differences are explained primarily by race/ethnic differences in family backgrounds and school bonding.


  11. Sophia, “Race Gender and Deviance”, https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/race-gender-and-deviance-2 accessed on 1st March 2021
  12. Jang, S. (2002). Race, Ethnicity, and Deviance: A Study of Asian and Non-Asian Adolescents in America. Sociological Forum, 17(4), 647-680. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3070363
  13. The significance of ethnicity and deviance can also be seen in matters of more opportunities in avenues of employment, healthcare and the like made available to people of the West and the lack of them in Eastern countries of the world, around the world. Deviance can also be observed in terms of language barriers, and actions which are otherwise inexcusable or unjustifiable in cases of people of their own community are accepted with open arms if they are committed by people of the foreign countries. This practice is particularly evident in India in their behaviour towards the conduct of tourists visiting from the Western countries.

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    Conclusion:

    The concepts of gender, ethnicity and deviance are inextricably linked. It helps in bringing to the forefront how society helps shape the behaviour of man. Also, at the same time compels man to adorn a deviant behaviour, cause the pretext of norms are often hard to abide. "Conformity to one's roots" what ethnicity is all about. Nonetheless modern societies are seen to be deviating from which is indigenous or what can be called "ethnic". The co-relation between the negative aspect of deviance and gender is somewhat paradoxical, cause the saying " rules are meant to be broken is absolutely apt in this regard. As far as ethnicity is concerned people with Asian origin tends to be closer to their roots than the people of the west, they tend to adapt different cultures more than sticking by what is supposed to be theirs.

    Bibliography

    Macionis, John; Gerber, Linda (2010). Sociology (7th Canadian ed.). Toronto: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-511927-3.

    Social Science , Libre Text, “ Sociological theory of deviance”, https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Book A_Sociology_(Boundless)/ A_Deviance_Social_Control_and_Crime/7.03 A_Theories_of_Crime_and_Deviance/7.3A A_Sociological_Theories_of_Deviance accessed on 1st March, 2021


  14. ILO, “Gender, equality and Non-discrimination” < https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/dw4sd/themes/gender-equality/lang--en/index.htm> accessed on 1st March, 2021
  • Chavez JM, Rocheleau GC. Formal Labeling, Deviant Peers, and Race/Ethnicity: An Examination of Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Process of Secondary Deviance. Race and Justice. 2020;10(1):62-86. doi:10.1177/2153368717727122
  • Boundless Sociology, Lumen, “ The functionalist Perspective on Deviance” < https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-sociology/chapter/the-functionalist-perspective-on-deviance/> accessed on 1st March, 2021
  • Emiko Kobayashi, Susan F. Sharp & Harold G. Grasmick (2008) Gender and Deviance: A Comparison of College Students in Japan and the United States, Deviant Behavior, 29:5, 413-439, DOI: 10.1080/01900690701598010
  • The Lily, Editors Picks, “ 8 restrictions on women’s rights around the world” < https://www.thelily.com/8-restrictions-on-womens-rights-around-the-world/> accessed on 1st march, 2021
  • Rosenblum, K. (1975). Female Deviance and the Female Sex Role: A Preliminary Investigation. The British Journal of Sociology, 26(2), 169-185. doi:10.2307/589587
  • Sophia, “Race Gender and Deviance”, https://www.sophia.org/tutorials/race-gender-and-deviance-2 accessed on 1st March 2021
  • Jang, S. (2002). Race, Ethnicity, and Deviance: A Study of Asian and Non-Asian Adolescents in America. Sociological Forum, 17(4), 647-680. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3070363
  • ILO, “Gender, equality and Non-discrimination” < https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/dw4sd/themes/gender-equality/lang--en/index.htm> accessed on 1st March, 2021
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