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Deviance and Social Control

Social Norms and Deviant Behavior

What Is Deviance?

Deviance is behavior that is different than standard behavior. Deviant behavior is not negative; it is behavior that does not follow a social norm.
Through the process of socialization, people are taught that they must follow social norms and that failure to do so may result in negative consequences. A norm is a cultural expectation for behavior. Deviance is nonconformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society. Nonconformity refers to behaviors or ways of thinking that do not comply with social norms. Deviant behavior is not necessarily negative or dangerous behavior. Rather, deviance is behavior that is unlike the behavior condoned and expected by a society. Behavior that is considered deviant in one part of the world or one community can be considered the norm in a different place or a different group. For example, smiling at strangers in public might be deviant in one society and a norm in another society. Deviance is socially constructed and connected to the beliefs and values of a particular society or community. Definitions and understandings of deviant behavior vary not only across different societies, but across different time periods. Jim Crow laws that forbade African Americans from using the same water fountains that white Americans used reflected norms in the southern United States in the early 20th century. Although racism persists as a social problem, requiring people to use a particular water fountain based on their race is now a deviant behavior in all states. In the 19th century, wearing a petticoat was a norm for American and European women, while doing so today is deviant.

Norm and Deviance

Wearing hijab is a norm in some cultures and communities. In others, it is a somewhat deviant or very deviant behavior.

Norms and Sanctions

A sanction is a response that reinforces accepted behavior and encourages conformity.
Social control is a set of methods a society uses to create and maintain order. It contributes to social cohesion, the sense of being bound together as a group. Social control creates stability and prevents chaos and disorder in a society. Societies create or impose social control by imposing sanctions—positive or negative responses to behavior. A sanction is a reward or punishment that reinforces socially accepted behavior. Sanctions serve to pressure members of a society to follow its social norms, discouraging nonconformity. Sanctions can be positive or negative, formal or informal. A positive sanction encourages people to repeat a behavior. Social behavior and practices include many informal sanctions. For example, someone might be rewarded with gratitude or a smile for behaving kindly. A student might be given a ribbon for strong academic performance. These positive sanctions serve to recognize and validate the socially encouraged behavior. They are also examples of informal sanctions. A negative sanction has the opposite purpose, serving to discourage repetition of a behavior. Negative sanctions include being ostracized from a group, being insulted, and threats or acts of physical harm. These are also informal sanctions. Certain types of deviant behavior are crimes. This is behavior that not only violates norms but is legally defined as unacceptable and intolerable. Society responds to crime with formal sanctions, punishments dictated by law and imposed by an authority.