Deviance and Social Control

Global Perspectives on Deviance, Crime, and Criminal Justice

Global perspectives on deviance, crime, and criminal justice reveal the socially constructed nature of these concepts.

Around the world deviance and criminality are socially constructed. Behavior that is deviant or criminal in one country might be a norm in another country. For example, in the Muslim-majority country of Indonesia, a norm for women and girls is to wear a headscarf, or hijab. In France the law bans girls from wearing hijab in public school. In the United States smiling at strangers is considered a positive behavior and is thus a norm. However, in France and Switzerland, where smiles are reserved for close relationships, smiling at strangers is deviant. In Denmark parents routinely leave their babies in strollers outside shops and restaurants. This behavior would be highly deviant—and possibly criminal—in the United States.

Perspectives on criminal justice are also embedded in culture. For instance, the American criminal justice system tends to impose long prison sentences for many types of criminal behavior. In France relatively few prison sentences are handed down, and many prison sentences are given as suspended sentences. In other words, the criminal is sentenced to prison, but the sentence is immediately lifted, or suspended. Suspended sentences are still considered a mark of severe judgment. The imposition of real time to be served in prison is reserved for the very worst offenders. Different countries and cultures define and respond to deviant behavior in different ways. However, cross-cultural study does show that social stratification typically impacts definitions of who and what is deviant and criminal. Marginalized groups in societies across the world are more likely to be identified as deviant and to experience negative sanctions and consequences as a result.