Deviance is the act of transgression. Understanding what drives people to become deviants in society is an important topic for research in sociology. This sample sociology research paper explores the sociology of deviance via a review of a published article on the topic.
Article review regarding sociology of deviance
The issue of deviance, what it is, what constitutes deviance, who commits deviance, and why, are questions and issues that have plagued society at large for millennia. And yet, despite the rapid growth of people and technology, the intricacies of the issue of deviance, which many believe to be the cause of violence and crime in general, continue to elude researchers.
However, there have been a number of studies that have been helping to slowly but surely pull back the curtain on the sociology of deviance, and K.T. Erikson’s Sociology of Deviance is perhaps one of the easiest to understand. However, it does contain a large number of theoretical arguments, which must be examined in order to truly understand the issue at hand here, namely, the issue of the sociology of deviance.
First, it is important to review the theories Erikson puts forth as just that: a theory of criminal and deviant behavior. This is significant because theories about criminal and deviant behavior attempt to answer two key questions:
- Why are there variations in group rates and crime and deviance?
- Why are some individuals more likely than others to commit criminal and deviant acts?
Both of these questions are addressed adequately in Erikson’s theories.
Society’s boundaries and criminal behavior
Erikson begins answering the first question by discussing the use of boundaries, both physical and theoretical, in the use of communities today (Erikson 1966). These boundaries, Erikson argues, are shifting constantly as the countless factors within a community change such as leadership, prevailing opinions, technology, and other variables. It is these boundaries that are frequently tested by those who are deviant as a sort of litmus test to determine what one can and cannot get away with in society.
Extrapolating this concept, Erikson theorizes that deviant behavior, which many assume is a mere unfortunate byproduct of modern society, is, in fact, a necessary part of any functioning society (Erikson 1966). The rationale behind this is simple: deviant behavior allows everyone, not just the deviant, to see these boundaries that Erikson is referring to, which helps to reinforce those boundaries and act as an example to the rest of society.
Understand varying crime rates and deviant behavior
This helps to answer the first question because each individual community has its own boundaries. Oftentimes, communities within another community (such as a family within a country) has its own boundaries, and each of these boundaries will, almost without fail, have different deviants waiting to breach them. For example, a family of four who enforces a strict curfew of 9 PM might have a deviant child who continually pushes the boundaries of this rule, simply to reinforce them.
By the same token, laws against things like murdering and stealing will often by pushes by criminals seeking fortune or revenge. Thus, because communities are so diverse, so, too are the deviants who push the boundaries within these communities. These diverse deviants are simply products of their own environment and are, in that respect, a reflection of the community itself. That is to say, a community made up largely of lawbreakers will almost invariably have the greatest number of deviants who come from that community (Erikson 1966). From this perspective, the diversity of deviants makes perfect sense.
Determining why some are more prone to crime
While answering the first question involved beginning with the community and working downward to the individual, answering the second question requires the opposite approach: to begin with the individual and extrapolate their behavior to the community at large in order to determine why some criminals are more likely than others to commit deviant acts. There are, of course, a large number of reasons for this, but chief among them is the fact that society has a way of encouraging violence and deviant acts (Erikson, 1966).
The example Erikson provides lists institutions such as prisons and hospitals, which provide surprisingly adequate shelter to deviants, many of whom actually experience better living conditions in these institutions than they did before (Erikson 1966). Indeed, the longstanding ritual of taking criminals and deviants and parading them around to be humiliated and then detained may well be encouraging this deviant behavior rather than discouraging it.
After all, what better way for a criminal to be remembered than to commit an atrocious act and be made a public spectacle for years to come? The concept behind this is further explained by Erikson, who states that, upon releasing prisoners from incarceration (or whatever punishment was meted out for their deviance), the community simply refuses to accept the deviant, and for good reason, forming what Erikson refers to as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” which oftentimes leads to the alienated deviant to simply commit another crime in order to secure a “better” life in incarceration, away from his or her own neighbors (Erikson 1966).
These sociopathic factors show community has a way of isolating certain offenders. Not only is this cycle accounted for by the community: it is actually expected, as evidenced by police departments fingering ex-deviants as suspects for similar crimes without fail, regardless of whether or not the deviant is actually guilty. Erikson ruminates that perhaps these recurring cycles are a necessary, yet unpleasant, part of society, as they help to continually identify boundaries in society and serve as examples, whether they realize it or not (Erikson 1966).
Concluding remarks and summary
The root of the problem of deviance, Erikson theorizes, is that there are two prevailing “forces” when it comes to society: the force that dictates that a society should embrace sameness and uniformity, and the force that dictates that diversity is key to ensuring survival due to a wider range of skills and backgrounds (Erikson 1966). Thus, deviants are the product of the second force, as differentiation within a group will always yield the occasional deviant, regardless of community.
These deviants, Erikson believes, are not mere byproducts of society, but part of the community’s division of labor, as deviants surely perform their own role in society by seeking out the boundaries of said society and continually testing them, strengthening them in the process. Erikson’s theories certainly hold water, especially when applied to modern society.
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Erikson, K. T. (1966). Wayward puritans: A study in the sociology of deviance. New York: Wiley. 8-14.