Deviance in SocietyIn the post-war period, sociology in the Western World has been dominated by academic papers about social science and the history of the study of social development. By this they mean that academics have written papers on the sociology of civil rights, or sex, or race relations, or drugs, or gangs, or the ecology of the community, or the economics of crime, or incarceration, or the economics of disability, or the sociology of identity. These are all very good topics for scholarly journals and are also very popular among those engaged in campus organizing and student government activities.
However, there are a third set of issues which are of fundamental importance, and of the same importance as those discussed above, but often ignored by the academic community. Deviance in society should be recognized as being of fundamental importance.
Deviance is defined as 'a lack of conformity, a deviation from the norm of behavior in a particular domain.' Thus, deviance in society is not simply the case of missing out on a job opportunity or rejecting an ethnic group. It is much more than that.
Deviance is not always easy to identify, since it does not necessarily manifest itself in overt manners and can involve the promotion of acts which are counter to common decency, or the causing of physical harm to others. Instead, deviance can be an outcome of the tolerance which is a part of our culture today. If someone in a minority community expresses an opinion or takes part in public debate which is different from what most others are willing to accept, he or she may be viewed as deviant and may have to face some sort of disciplinary action, or suffer some other form of official censure.
Many things contribute to the development of deviance in society. Unstable economic situations tend to promote anti-intellectual attitudes in society, as well as the reduction of the life expectancy of many individuals. Many teenagers today are responding to the pressures to conform by experimenting with drugs and alcohol, causing a massive increase in the number of crimes and violent crimes, including vandalism, trespassing, and assault.
Deviance does not always arise in the form of overt acts of criminality. In the areas of sex, racial identity, or even sexual practices, deviance often can lead to direct opposition to authority, sometimes violence against others, and loss of autonomy, and can result in destruction of property. In other areas, deviance can be an indirect cause of conflict, rather than a direct manifestation of aggression, for example in the use of weapons by persons who have deviant sexual practices. Nevertheless, it can lead to some form of violence or physical harm.
Deviance does not just develop under the pressure of economic or social circumstances. Many people develop deviant identities at a time when their family or society values are changing. The most extreme cases involve a simple self-destructive action by one person who is responding to the pressures of their environment. In general, however, any group which are moving away from the normal social norms, and is not receiving the respect and care it deserves, will develop deviance.