The Sociology of Deviance an Overview

Society establishes norms and values that are agreed upon by a majority of humans who are members of the society. Some societies are extremely homogeneous, with everyone adhering to the same system of beliefs, values, norms, behaviors and ways of doing life. Others are extremely non homogeneous, with bubbles of people that may be as small as one individual who adheres to his or her own norms and values and who behaves according to whatever system is comfortable.

It is easy to decide what is deviance when everyone agrees to what is the norm. Any behavior or belief that is outside of the norm can be considered to be deviant. This happens when rebellious individuals, those who are physically or mentally different or those who enter the group from the outside do not behave as the others do. 

But it is sometimes impossible to decide what, exactly, is deviance when society is at a human crossroads, where people from many cultures, groups and lifestyles mingle in concentrated areas, where governments and religions do not have coercive authority and power to enforce conformity, and where tolerance for differences is high.

The closest things to universal laws that regulate human behavior, belief and conduct are those that prohibit doing harm to others and to society as a whole. Murder, rape, incest, creating health hazards, treason, stealing, failure to pay taxes or to show loyalty to the government and adultery are common universal laws. But there is no universal law that prohibits stoning women to death with no court decree, spousal and child abuse, slavery, determining practice of a particular religion to be a crime, or that regulates other human disputes over acceptable behavior. 

In America, for example, it is considered to be not only deviant, but unlawful for a religious cult to incorporate under aged sex relations and marriage, multiple marriages and to refuse to comply with health, education, community and safety codes. In other countries, it is considered unlawful for anyone to educate girls and women, to stand in the way of under aged marriages that are arranged and to impose Western ideas without the approval and oversight of the government.

Tolerance in America and in other developed countries can be so high as to be deviant in itself. When parents are allowed to deny medical care to their children for religious purposes, even if the child will be subjected to an agonizing and preventable death, then religious tolerance has gotten to be too high.

Conversely, as In the above case, one person is deciding something terrible for another and using religion as the excuse for such behavior is, in fact, more the norm in today’s world and in the history of the world, making intervention to prevent an agonizing death for a child who cannot make their own decisions the truly deviant practice.

Wearing bikinis was once considered to be scandalously deviant. Wearing bikinis to a wedding is still considered to be extremely deviant. Many Christians believe Muslims and Jews to be deviant, even though Christianity and western thought is heavily influenced by both religions. Many Jews and Muslims consider Christians to be deviant even to the point of completely isolating from them or engaging in war with them.

Low levels of acceptance, knowledge and tolerance of other cultures in such an extremely non homogeneous nation as America is considered to be deviant, even though those who have the lowest levels of tolerance are trying mightily to pose as a major political power these days.

With two forces: cheap travel and the military, Americans and other nationalities have not only traveled to, but have lived in and talked with each other about hundreds of nations, many religions and a host of cultures. Many aspects of those cultures have been adopted by the travelers and those who have spent time away from home.

At home, it is not just the elite who can eat foods from five to seven different cultures in a single week. Average citizens do so.  Ethnic foods are now readily available at cheap, fast, widely located restaurants and major markets in most urban and suburban areas.

It is surprising and somewhat deviant in California to meet an American who has never tried or seen Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Southern or Soul American, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian or several regional types of Mexican foods. 

But, sadly, America hosts a devastating drug culture where it is dependency on the drug, the business of getting and selling drugs or the effects of the drugs that have led to astounding new acts of extreme deviance. Simply put, anything goes when the mood and the brain functions are altered beyond rationality.

Added in with increasing mental health problems and brain injury or malformations, there is a spread of violence, murder, oppression and abuse, especially against women and children. In some cases, sociopathy and psychopathy are the results of generational deviance that is unique to drug and alcohol abuse lifestyles. 

In other cases, social and interpersonal deviancy arrives with an immigrant or tourist to their hosting country. There are norms, behaviors, beliefs and values from the home of origin that will immediately clash with the norms and values of a hosting nation and society. Even the most well traveled individuals can easily cause offense or take offense with violating dress, language and tone, driving, bartering, bribery and a host of other written and unwritten social codes.

In summary, other than well recognized values and norms that regulate human conduct for the safety and well being of all, there is probably very little behavior and thought that is the norm in all places in the world or even in all parts of a single nation. In non homogeneous nations and communities, vast differences in deciding what constitutes deviance might exist from one household to the next or even within the same household, making for very challenging times!