SOCIOLOGY 100 • Survey of General Sociology

Notes to Deviance and Crime





A. Deviance is any behavior, belief, or condition that violates cultural or social norms


B. All societies have norms that govern acceptable

behavior and mechanisms of social control-systematic practices developed by social groups to encourage conformity and to discourage deviance.

C. Deviance is relative and it varies in its degree of

seriousness: some forms of deviant behavior are officially defined as a crime-a behavior that violates criminal law and is punishable with fines, jail terms,

and other sanctions.



A. Emile Durkheim regarded deviance as a natural and

inevitable part of all societies.

B. Deviance is universal because it serves three

important functions:

1. Deviance clarifies rules. So that when someone gets arrested, ideally it functions as a deterrent, in that it teaches others what NOT to do. Ideally this will reduce crime.

2. Deviance unites a group. We can talk to each other and all agree that certain criminal acts are wrong (ie, 9/11) and feel connected to other people.

3. Deviance promotes social change. We change laws based on criminal acts -- ie, drug laws, 3 strikes your out laws, Meagan's Law, stuff like that.

C. Functionalists acknowledge that deviance also may

be dysfunctional for society; if too many people violate the norms, everyday existence may become unpredictable, chaotic, and even violent.

D. According to strain theory, people feel strain when

they are exposed to cultural goals that they are unable to obtain because they do not have access to culturally approved means of achieving those goals. Robert Merton identified ways in which people adapt to cultural goals and approved ways of achieving them:

1. Conformity        Example of Conformity: Somceone gets a college degree and gets a job -- ie, they've conformed to what society expects. This person likely doesn't break the law

2. Innovation Example of innovation: Someone wants a car stereo but can't afford it, so they take it from someone's car.


E. According to Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, for

deviance to occur people must have access to illegitimate opportunity structures-circumstances that provide an opportunity for people to acquire through illegitimate activities what they cannot achieve through legitimate channels.

F. Social Bond theory (also called Social Control theory) holds that the probability of

deviant behavior increases when a person's ties to society are weakened or broken We are more committeed to social norms when we are part of larger groups, like church, school, the workplace, in part because people have expectations on us -- we have people to answer to.




A. Differential association theory states that individuals have a greater tendency to deviate from societal norms when they frequently associate with persons who are more favorable toward deviance than conformity

So when someone goes to prison, they learn to be a better criminal because those are the people they are interracting with.

B. Labeling theory states that deviants are those people who have been successfully labeled as such by others.

1. Primary deviance is the initial act of rule­


2. Secondary deviance occurs when a person who has been labeled a deviant accepts that new identity and continues the deviant behavior

Ex cons have often been labeled as such, and may have a hard time finding employment, getting housing, stuff like that, even though they are no longer breaking the law. So maybe they go back to a life of crime because they end up believing in the label, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This connects with Conflict theory, in that it's the people in power who create laws and have the opportunity to label certain things as more deviant than others (ie, selling drugs is often seen as more deviant that big corporations manufacturing unsafe goods -- even though more people die annually from corporate offenses than all types of street crimes combinened.



A. According to conflict theorists, people in positions of power maintain their advantage by using the law to protect their own interests.

B. According to the critical approach, the way laws are made and enforced benefits the capitalist class by ensuring that individuals at the bottom of the social class structure do not infringe on the property or threaten the safety of those at the top. Here, crime is an expression of the individual's struggle against the unjust social conditions and inequality produced by capitalism.

C. While there is no single feminist perspective on deviance and crime, three schools of thought have emerged:

1. Liberal feminism explains women's deviance

and crime as a rational response to gender discrimination experienced in work, marriage, and interpersonal relationships.

2. Radical feminism suggests that women's deviance and crime is related to patriarchy (male domination over females) that keeps women more tied to family, sexuality, and home, even if women also have full­time paid employment.

3. Socialist feminism asserts that women's deviance and crime is the result of women's exploitation by capitalism and patriarchy (e.g., their overrepresentation in relatively low ­wage jobs and their lack of economic resources).

4. Feminist scholars of color have pointed out that these schools of feminist thought do not include race and ethnicity in their analyses. As a result, some recent studies have focused on simultaneous effects of race, class, and gender on the deviant behavior by some women of color.



A. Crimes are divided into felonies and misdemeanors

based on the seriousness of the crime.

B. Sociologists categorize crimes based on how they are committed and how society views the offenses.

1. Conventional or street crime is all violent

crime, certain property crimes, and certain morals crimes. Morals crimes are sometimes called victimless crimes (ex, gambling, prostitution, seeling drugs. Here, the idea is that there are willing adults engaged in the behavior).

2. Occupational or white-collar crime is illegal

activities committed by people in the course of their employment or financial affairs.

3. Corporate crime is an illegal act committed by

corporate employees on behalf of the corporation and with its support.

4. Organized crime is a business operation that

supplies illegal goods and services for profit.

5. Political crime refers to illegal or unethical acts

involving the usurpation of power by government officials, or illegal/unethical acts perpetrated against the government by outsiders seeking to make a political statement, undermine the government, or overthrow it.

C. Official crime statistics, such as those found in the

Uniform Crime Report, provide important information on crime; however, the data reflect only those crimes that have been reported to the police.

1. The National Crime Victimization Survey has

made researchers aware that the incidence of some crimes, such as theft, is substantially higher than reported in the UCR.

2. Crime statistics do not reflect many crimes

committed by persons of upper socioeconomic status in the course of business because they are handled by administrative or quasi­judicial bodies.

D. Street Crimes and Criminals

1. Gender and Crime

a. The three most common arrest categories

for both men and women are driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI), larceny, and minor or criminal mischief types of offenses.

b. Liquor law violations (such as underage

drinking), simple assault, and disorderly conduct are middle range offenses for both men and women, and the rate of arrests for murder, arson, and embezzlement are relatively low for both men and women.

c. There is a proportionately greater

involvement of men in major property crimes and violent crime.

2. Age and Crime

a. Arrest rates for index crimes are highest

for people between the ages of 13 and 25, with the peak being between ages 16 and 17.

b. Rates of arrest remain higher for males

than females at every age and for nearly all offenses.

3. Social Class and Crime

a. Individuals from all social classes commit

crimes; they simply commit different kinds of crime.

b. Persons from lower socioeconomic

backgrounds are more likely to be arrested for violent and property crimes; only a very small proportion of individuals who commit white­collar or elite crimes will ever be arrested or convicted.

4. Race and Crime

a. In 1994, whites (including Latinos/as)

accounted for about 61 percent of all arrests for index crimes; arrest rates for whites were higher in non­violent property crimes such as fraud and larceny­theft, but were lower than the rates for African Americans in violent crimes such as robbery and murder.

b. In 1994, whites constituted about 64

percent of all arrests for property crimes and more than 53 percent of arrests for violent crimes; African Americans accounted for over 44 percent of arrests for violent crimes and 33 percent of arrests for property crimes.

c. Arrest records tend to produce over

generalizations about who commits crime because arrest statistics are not an accurate reflection of the crimes actually committed in our society.

5. Crime Victims

a. Men are more likely to victimized by

crime although women tend to be more fearful of crime, particularly those directed toward them, such as forcible rape.

b. The elderly also tend to be more fearful of

crime, but are the least likely to be victimized. Young men of color between the ages of 12 and 24 have the highest criminal victimization rates.

c. The burden of robbery victimization falls

more heavily on males than females, African Americans more than whites, and young people more than middle­aged and older persons.


A. The criminal justice system includes the police, the

courts, and prisons. This system is a collection of bureaucracies that possesses considerable discretion-the use of personal judgment regarding whether to take action on a situation and, if so, what kind of action to take.

B. The police are responsible for crime control and

maintenance of order.

C. The courts determine the guilt or innocence of

those accused of committing a crime.

D. Punishment is any action designed to deprive a

person of things of value (including liberty) because of something the person is thought to have done. Ideally, punishment also functions to reabilitate people, make them functionaing members of society.

1. Disparate treatment of the poor, people of

color, and women is evident in the prison system.

2. The medicalization of deviance is the

transformation of deviance into a medical problem that requires treatment by a physician.

E. For many years, capital punishment, or the death

penalty, has been used in the United States; about 4,000 executions have occurred in the U.S. since 1930, and scholars have documented race and class biases in the imposition of the death penalty in this country.



A. Although many people in the United States agree

that crime is one of the most important problems facing this country, they are divided over what to do about it.

B. The best approach for reducing delinquency and

crime ultimately is prevention: to work with young people before they become juvenile offenders so as to help them establish family relationships, build self-­esteem, choose a career, and get an education which will help them pursue that career.

This is related to Social Control/Social Bond theory.

C. As long as racism, sexism, classism, and ageism

exist in our society, people will see deviant and criminal behavior through a selective lens.


Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics

Date Last Changed: December 15, 2019

Contact Kathleen French