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Social Deviance Theories

Deviance is an important sociological concept referring to humans’ tendency to violate cultural norms in both formal and informal contexts. Adler and Adler (2015) assert that deviance is a common social phenomenon manifested through the establishment of rules. Sociologists’ attempts to explore social deviance have led to several theories used to explain why communities can never be devoid of people who opt to disregard norms and laws. A critical review of existing social theories, particularly labeling and structural functionalism, shows that deviance can positively and negatively affect the ideal society.

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Structural functionalists view deviance as a positive social phenomenon with the potential to cohere differently oriented populations. The structural functionalism theory holds that deviance is desirable because it is the basis of the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Further, deviance culminates in social unity when the majority adopts the “us-versus-them” attitude towards those who disregard norms and rules (Adler & Adler, 2015). Essentially, members of a particular society can set clear moral boundaries depending on their ability to agree on what to categorize as deviant conduct. Therefore, structural functionalism theory illuminates the positive aspects of deviance in an ideal society.

Sociologists also explain the causes of social deviance based on the labeling theory. According to the labeling sociological view, people tend to become deviant if labeled as such. Berk (2015) asserts that members of a society may force a particular identity through labeling, only for the person to acquire or adopt associated attitudes and behaviors. As is the case with structural functionalism theory, societies hold the power to define deviance based on the labeling perspective. The implications could be far-reaching in an ideal society if people were to become unruly whenever branded as deviant.

In overview, it is apparent that deviance is a culmination of various factors, which explains why sociologists have adopted several theoretical explanations for it. Each of the existing theories focuses on particular aspects of deviant behaviors, as can be deduced from the review of labeling and structural functionalism. Essentially, the labeling theory is founded on the precept that people tend to adopt behaviors aligned with labels placed on them. Structural functionalism serves as the basis of setting the demarcation between norms and vices. Society members can then set standards and establish laws aligned to agreed-upon norms.


Adler, P., & Adler, P. (2015). Constructions of deviance: Social power, context, and interaction. Nelson Education.

Berk, B. B. (2015). Labeling theory, history of. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 13(2), 150-154. Web.

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