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Deviance in Society and Summner’s Three Norms

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They are not the typical bank robber or professional thieves, but also political, radical, school dropout, women who refuse to take on the role of either homemaker or mother. People feel the need to challenge the system, push beyond the limits established by society’s traditions and laws.

They accept the label because they feel that the norms of society should change or that they simply want a bigger reward for what they do for a living. My essay will consider a number of explanations related to defining deviance. I plan to discuss Tittle and Paternoster’s typology of middle class norms, Heckert and Heckert’s conception of positive deviance and lastly Erikson’s theory that deviance serves functions for society.

One engages in deviant behaviour when one acts in a manner that contravenes the dominant norms that govern a given society or social system. A behavior may be seen as normal, even desirable, by some and at the same time deviant by others. For example, a student who spends a lot of time doing library research may win a teacher’s respect and appreciation, but be considered a nerd by other students. What is normal and desirable to the teacher can be deviant to other students. Those students who refuse to study are deviant by the norms of the teacher and most of society.

In order for deviance to take place or exist it must have the following four components: be classified a norm; someone who is violating that particular norm; someone who judges it to be wrong, also know as an “audience” and lastly, a negative reaction by that audience which can also be measurable. For example, a person who choses not to participate in premarital sex for their own personal or religious values is viewed as a deviant by other members of society; because this is not important to society as a whole but only a limited number of individuals.

William Summner states that there are three types of norms, the first of which is folkways. “Folkways” are basic everyday norms based on custom, tradition and etiquette; and may include: eating behaviors and physical closeness. Violators do not cause serious outrage but may be seen as odd. For example, when traveling on public transportation and an elderly person enters and there are no seats available, it is courteous for one to offer their seat.

Interracial marriage and drug addictions are an example of the second norm, known as “mores”. More severe than folkways, mores are based on broad social mores that are critical to the fabric of society and social order. One is seen as wicked and harmful to society. Mores can either be started negatively (by not killing someone) or positively (you let others live.)

The strongest norm is supported by codified social sanctions and is subject to arrest and/or punishment; It is directed toward behavior that used to be associated with folkways or mores that later turned into laws as society become more complex. The example given in the Adler and Adler text is traffic violations. “Although violating a law by acts such as traffic violations will bring the stigma associated with arrest, it will usually not brand the violator as deviant”.

The difference between laws and mores is that laws are established and enforced by government; whereas, mores are setup, maintained and enforced by the public. Therefore, laws are clearly defined and more formal of all the social norm, in that they specify distinct rules and carry out a possible threat of punishment. Every society has norms, although there is no norm that is the same in any society or part of the world, this is because it is based on the values people find important and essential to keep order.

In order to classify deviant behavior into different categories by grouping individual instances and characteristics is very complicated, because deviance is relative in that it is a product of social contexts from which judgments of what is and is not socially acceptable emerge. Deviant behavior is bounded by time, place, status and group. It must be intimately linked with the norms of a particular normative system at that historical moment. For instance, getting a divorce in the 1950’s was frowned upon and seen as “bad” but now in the 21st century is it even more common and as a result more socially acceptable.

Tittle and Paternoster developed a typology based on ten middle class norms, their deviant behavior, and examples of the various deviant acts within each category of Tittle and Paternoster typology. Their typology demonstrates the variety of deviant behaviors that can be recognized from just one normative perspective. The ten middle class norms include: Group Loyalty, Privacy, Prudence, Conventionality, Responsibility, Participation, Moderation, Honesty, Peacefulness and Courtesy. For the purpose of this essay, I will examine the three most important norms, which are: loyalty, privacy and prudence; their respective opposites include: apostasy, intrusion and indiscretion.

The first norm “Loyalty” is the ultimate right of the group or collectivity is to sustain itself through subordinating the individual interests to the group or society as a whole in order to maintain the commitment against all challenges. Consequences include sanctions that usually evoke a lifetime of stigmatization. Other disloyal behaviors include: betrayal of Government secrets, treason, draft dodging and advocating another philosophy.

As in the case of David Latchana, a so-called gang member who died, November of this year because he was summon to be a Crown witness in a 2005 assault trial for a previous case against the accused. Since Latchana testified in court, he betrayed the norms of street gangs and thus, labeled a “snitch.” According to Sykes and Matza, delinquents hold values, beliefs, and attitudes that are very similar to those of law-abiding citizens.

Delinquents feel an obligation to be bound by law, they justify their delinquent activities by learning “techniques” which enable them to “neutralize” temporary values and attitudes that allow them to drift between legitimate and illegitimate behaviors. If we look closely at Sykes and Matza’s “Techniques of Neutralization”, Latchana’s behavior (testifying) was serving a greater good (loyalty to friends, to higher principals, to god) which is the forth technique known as ‘appeal to higher loyalties’. His killer was acting out the third technique, ‘denial of victim’, where he was legitimating his behavior by suggesting that the person hurt (Latchana) does not deserve victim status because he asked for it, when he decided to testify.

The second norm is “Privacy” and it holds that every person has the right to exclusive control over some things such as, private places and personal items. Whereas, “intrusion” entails acts which deny the controller or owner of some domain the exclusivity implied by ownership. For example, at the beginning of the year the company that owns HomeSense and Winners revealed that their computers containing sensitive customer credit card information had been hacked, exposing the data of approximately 20 million VISA customers in North America. In addition to record spying of bank and hospital information, theft, rape, homicide and forgery are other forms of intrusion.

“Prudence” is the third norm, this is when all people are expected to exercise selectivity in the practice of activities that are pleasurable. A person is supposed to refrain from activities that are frivolous or primary oriented around self-gratification or which involve nonproductive emotional involvements or disrupt productive emotional ties. Participating in acts of indiscretion such as adultery, prostitution, homosexual behavior and different types of addictions.

These indiscreet behaviors most times are sanctioned, ordinary provoke substantial stigma along with life long group disapproval. Only until recently has drug addiction become a heated issue in the world of sports and events such as the Olympics or Tour de France. Athletes like Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong know too much about this as they both have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs during the 2005 and 2006 Tours respectively.

I personally do not agree with Tittle and Paternoster’s view of middle class norms. Several sociological theories come to mind that contradict T&P’s views, more specifically, reasons for why they would act in such ways. Thosten Sellin, state in ‘The Conflict of Conduct Norms’ (1938), that the norms and values of the subcultures incorporated and are meshed with those of the overarching American, but at a point were two separate entities and in conflict this particular theory is know as Cultural Conflict.

Positive deviance is a culturally appropriate development approach that is tailored to a specific community in which it is being used. For example, even though poverty is often the root-cause of ill health, in any community there will usually be some families that manage to stay healthy, or raise healthy kids, despite their poverty.

Heckert and Heckert explore the topic of positive deviance and define Normative (objective) as the behaviors and attitudes that exceed normative expectations (e.g., over conformity) are also referred to as, positive deviance. It goes on to suggest that people who posses an excess of socially acceptable behavior, such that they are excessively altruistic, charismatic, innovative, conformist, or innately gifted are also regarded as deviant. The example that I provided earlier in this paper about the over-achieving student that is seen as a “nerd,” “geek,” or “teachers pet” is an example of normative deviance.

Reactivist (subjective) defines positive deviance as positively evaluated behaviors and attributes, such as athletic talent. In today’s society, a lot of emphasis is placed on physical attractiveness. Every culture has a set of general standards of attractiveness that they subscribe to. Those who possess these traits are “assumed to possess more socially desirable personalities than those of lesser attractiveness, but it is presumed that their lives will be happier and more successful.”

Dove’s global Campaign for Real Beauty is a global effort that is intended to serve as a starting point for societal change by replacing old narrow, stifling stereotypes and replace them with a newer and more improved broader, healthier, more democratic view of beauty that any women can achieve. Dove believes that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages; compared to the unrealistic standards of beauty that the media and advertisers place on women and children. The consequences of these unrealistic standards are that both women and children have eating disorders, issues with their bodies, and have low self-esteem.

Erikson argues that deviance serves functions for society, specifically that it fosters boundary maintenance, bolsters cohesion and solidarity, and promotes full employment for those who are in that sector. All of these aspects are closely integrated. One learns the placement of a community’s boundaries by participating in confrontations which occur when a person ventures too close to the curb and is met by policing agents. It is the job of the policing agents to guard the cultural integrity of their community.

Institutions are designed to discourage deviant behaviors, but tend to operate in a perpetrating manner. Prisoners and hospitals provide aid/shelter to a large number of deviant persons, sometimes giving them a certain advantage in the completion of social resources. On the other hand, these very institutions gather marginal people into tightly segregated groups and give them an opportunity to teach one another the skills and attitudes of a deviant career which reinforces their sense of alienation.

In the case of prisons, although it is difficult to change the worst of our penal practices because we expect the prisons to harden the inmates’ commitment to deviant forms of behavior and draw him more deeply into deviant ranks. Realistically, we do not expect the aforementioned deviant to change as they are processed through the control agencies that was provided to them.

In addition to acting as boundary maintaining devices in the sense that they demonstrate to which ever audience is concerned where the line is drawn between behavior that is and is not acceptable, It is also important to note that boundaries are never a fixed property of a community and are always shifting because people of the particular community are always finding new ways to define its limits.

Deviance is not caused because of a poor working order or the result of a leakage within the system but rather preserve the stability of social life in limited qualities. On the 11th of September 2001, 19 Islamic terrorists followed Bin Laden’s teachings by hijacking airliners and crashing them into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, killing 3,000 people. This tragic event, brought members of society and people across the world closer together, which lead to social solidarity and cohesion. Solidarity is the uniting of interests, purposes, feelings or actions of among a certain group. Cohesion is the act, process or state of cohering or sticking together as a unit.

Durkhiem also agrees that deviance is functional and states the following four points: Laws break boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Second, Laws are a public display of boundary making via the courts and media. Third, crime tests boundaries of laws; law is relatively static and that crime is dynamic. For example, if a law does not reflect public interest attitudes, it has to be changed. Lastly, crime helps in integration: public alarm about a crime brings them together and therefore, increase social solidarity.

Deviance is normal, a crucial part of human existence and thus an important aspect of social life. This is because deviance differs from society to society: what is socially acceptable somewhere may not be appropriate in another place. Also, what is known as deviant today, may not be classified the same way tomorrow, next week or next year. The theories and definitions that were discussed above prove that everyone is deviant, the only difference is that some people chose not to participate in it.

Deviant behavior is socially accepted by members of society and this is seen through the rules and laws put in place, that regulate how a deviant behavior is then dealt with. Also, a certain amount of deviance is critical for the well-being and sustenance.


Adler, Patricia and Adler, Peter. Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and Interaction, Fifth Edition. Toronto: Thompson, 2006.

Goode, Erich Deviant Behaviour, Eighth Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005.

Gomme, Ian The Shadow Line: Deviance and Crime in Canada, Fourth Edition. Toronto: Nelson, 2007.

Mother says slain son was not a gang member Online. 12 November 2007. <>

Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization Online. 5 December 2007. <>.

A breach of security leads to fear for customers who shopped at two of Canada’s biggest chains Online.18 January 2007 <>

Harrington, TomCycle of denial: The dirty world of cycling Online. 3 January 2007.

<> Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 05 Dec. 2007. .


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