Analysis Of Three Main Sociological Perspectives On Deviance

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Vroom! Vroom! Vroom! My car speeds up as I rush back to work from taking a lunch break. Mistakenly, I speed past a hidden police officer on the highway who flicks on his lights as I pass him. Long story short, the police officer gives me a speeding ticket for breaking the speed limit.

This is my personal first-hand experience with deviance. Deviance can be defined as an act or behavior that results in a violation of accepted standards, or established social norms. There are three main theoretical perspectives on deviance that various sociologists have been studying for many years. Functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory are the three major sociological theories which consist of different components within them.

Functionalist Theory

The Functionalist theory looks at the way the distinctive elements of a society contribute to a whole. French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that in order for a society to be successful, deviance is necessary because it challenges people’s current views. Durkheim’s theory directly relates to moral boundaries which can be defined as a fine line between right and wrong behaviors that depend on the individual’s identity or belief system. The functionalist theory promotes social cohesion which is defined as the motivation of individuals in a society to cooperate with each other in order to survive and prosper. American sociologist, Robert Merton, agreed with Durkheim’s ideas and elaborated on them by creating the strain theory.

The strain theory states that access to socially acceptable goals plays a huge part in deciding whether or not a person will conform or deviate. The strain theory is separated into five ways people respond by having a socially accepted goal and having no socially accepted way to pursue it. Conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion are the five ways the strain theory determines whether a person will conform or deviate. Overall, the functionalist theory looks at how elements of a society contribute to a whole by moral boundaries, social cohesion, and the structural strain theory.

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Symbolic Interactionism

The Symbolic interactionism theory focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society. Sociologist Edward Sutherland studied how deviance developed among various members of society. His conclusions established differential association theory, which states that individuals learn deviant behavior from those close to them who provide opportunities for deviance. Another element of the symbolic interactionism theory is the labeling theory developed by sociologist Edwin Lemert. The labeling theory examines the ascribing of a deviant behavior to another person by members of society. Lemert expanded on these concepts by developing two types of deviance that affect formation of an individual’s identity which is primary and secondary deviance.

Primary deviance is when an individual violates norms, but does not result in any long-term effects of an individual’s image. Secondary deviance is when an individual’s behaviors and self-concepts begin to shift after members of society label the individual as deviant. The differential association theory and the labeling theory both tie into a term known as self-fulfilling prophecy, that American sociologist Robert Merton phrased in 1948. According to the Salem Press Encyclopedia, “A self-fulfilling prophecy is an expectation, either positive or negative, about people or events that may affect a person's behavior, causing those expectations to be fulfilled.” (Orr, 2019) In other words, an individual may expect a person to do a certain thing in a certain way, and because of those expectations, the person will change his/her behaviors. The symbolic interactionism theory relates to deviance as it focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society with the differential association theory, labeling theory, and self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conflict Theory

The third sociological theory that focuses on deviance is the conflict theory which has been greatly influenced by German philosopher and social scientist Karl Marx. The conflict theory takes a look at social and economic factors for the cause of deviance and crime. Opposite of a functionalist theory, conflict theorists see these functions of society as negative, instead of positive.

Marx separated the general population into two groups: the wealthy and the workers. He explained that the wealthy had all the power and were in control of the means of production and the workers depended upon the wealthy for employment and survival. His conclusions decided that wealth and power directly affect and control the means of production in a society. In 1956, Sociologist C. Wright Mills published a book known as The Power Elite, which supports Karl Marx theory as it described the existence of a small group at the top of society who hold the power and resources. Competition for scarce resources is another aspect for conflict theory.

Competition for scarce resources occurs when individuals are striving to obtain a resource that is limited or not easily available. Market prices and the price system are just a couple ways that scarce resources are allocated. Lastly, feminism is the third component of conflict theory. Feminism is a theoretical perspective that looks at genders and relate them to power in society as a whole. Overall, the conflict theory focuses on social and economic factors for the cause of deviance. Means of production, competition for scarce resources, and feminism are the three components of conflict theory that have been studied, argued, and challenged for many years.

Personal Perspective

When it comes to deviance, I personally agree with and relate most to the conflict theory because it looks at social and economic factors as the cause of deviance. Competition for scarce resources is the main cause of conflicts in today’s society because we are all trying to get some money. Individuals that have money tend to have power as well, because they can control you with their money. Means of production plays a huge part as well as the wealthy are typically the ones who are controlling the means of production.

Poor people tend to have a disadvantage because they lake those scarce resources, and they are not in control of the means of production. Lastly, feminism comes into play as many males are treated different from females. Feminism came about in an attempt to equalize genders in modern society. Overall, I agree most with the conflict theory because it looks at social and economic factors as the main cause for deviance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, deviance is an act or behavior that results in a violation of accepted standards or established social norms. There are three main theoretical perspectives on deviance that various sociologists have been studying for many years. Functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory are the three major sociological theories which consist of different components within them. The functionalism theory looks at the way the distinctive elements of a society contribute to a whole. Moral boundaries, social cohesion, and the strain theory are all the components of the functionalism theory.

The Symbolic interactionism theory focuses on the relationships among individuals within a society. Differential association, labeling theory, and the self-fulfilling prophecy are the main components of the symbolic interactionism theory. Lastly, the conflict theory takes a look at social and economic factors for the cause of deviance and crime. Means of production, competition for scarce resources, and feminism all play a part in the conflict theory. Overall, functionalism, symbolic interactionism, and conflict theory are the three theories that focus on deviance in today’s society.

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