Crime and Deviance Sociology
Sociology, or the study of human society and how it functions, includes a close examination of various aspects of social relationships, including the creation and enforcement of social norms and the consequences when someone is in violation of said norms. Such violations are collectively known as deviance; when these actions violate not only social norms but also laws, the behavior is said to be criminal. One aspect of the sociology of deviance is the variables with which it is perceived; what is seen as deviant to one group or culture might not be seen as such to another. Polygamous relationships, for example, might be seen as deviant in the eyes of mainstream members of society, but it is the norm for fundamentalist members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Equally important is the fact that these social norms are artificially constructed by the society in which they exist and are therefore subject to change over time. The issues themselves are not necessarily moral ones; the social response is often the deciding factor in whether the behavior is “right” or “wrong.”
There are four general theoretical approaches to the sociology of crime and deviance. The structural strain theory suggests that a person resorts to deviance when the society in which they live does not provide them with the means to achieve the goals that society deems acceptable. The structural functionalist theory sees deviance as a necessary element of society; without deviance, there would be no concept of social order. Conflict theory posits that deviance results from a variety of conflicts, including economic, social, material, and political strife. The fourth theoretical approach, labeling theory, suggests that actions themselves are not inherently deviant; instead, it is the person’s location on the perimeter of society that makes them outsiders of sorts and their actions inherently deviant. Understanding these four theories allows one to better understand crime, deviance, and the sociological framework behind these two concepts.