Deviance is a state of straying from ordinary or accepted standards, particularly in a social or sexual context. Scholars have also defined deviance as a drift from the accepted manners in society. Therefore, the term “deviance” always describes all behaviors that go against the social and moral values of the society or community.
Social scientists define deviance from different points of view. They use many theories in explaining what it means, but all of them refer to negative habits, attitudes and feelings among members of the society.
The theories include the Symbolic Interaction Theory, the Conflict Theory, the Statistical Theory, the Legalistic Theory, the Reactive Theory, the Group Evaluation Approach and the Synthetic Approach. Nevertheless, many of the ideas in these theories overlap. At the same time, some of the proponents consider deviance as a positive thing while others consider it a negative way of behaving.
According to the Statistical Approach, labeling behavior as deviant or not deviant depends on the number of people behaving in the same manner within a group of people. If many people in a certain group behave in a certain way, then that behavior becomes normal. On the other hand, if only a few people behave in that manner, then the group will label that behavior deviant. For example, if many students in a school like sneaking and only few of them like smoking, then sneaking is not deviance, but smoking is.
The Structural-Functionalism Approach considers social integration as the most important element of socialization. Therefore, deviance to them is any behavior that goes against the rules of integration. They argue that a member of a group should be ready to do anything for the sake of the group, including killing or committing suicide. They consider the reluctance to strive for the good of the group as being deviant.
According to the Symbolic Interactions Approach, the social nature of human beings contributes to the transference of deviant behavior from one person to the other. The proponents of this theory insist that people learn deviant behavior from their closest friends and relatives. According to them, individuals take up deviant habits if they are appealing and beneficial to them. For example, if one believes stealing can make him or her rich, he or she is more likely to start stealing.
The Reactive Approach emphasizes the reaction of other people towards behavior as the best way of identifying deviance. According to the proponents of this theory, people condemn some behavior and acknowledge others in the society. The habits that people approve are good, but the ones they condemn are deviant.
However, the proponents differ concerning whose opinions to follow while categorizing behavior as deviant or good. Some say opinions from the majority of the members of the society are what define deviance while others argue that what respected members of the society say is what matters.
The Group Evaluation Approach also defines deviance in terms of what members of the group think about behavior. The proponents argue that a normal society usually consists of members who agree on many issues. Their argument implies that most of the members of the society agree on what is deviant and what is not deviant. According to them, what the society considers improper is deviance.
In summary, there are many theories and approaches that define deviance, but all of them refer to it as a negative way of behaving. Deviance is, therefore, a vice. Many of the theories also argue that the understanding of deviance depends on what certain groups of people value.