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Biological And Social Deviance Essay

2286 words - 10 pages

Deviance in general is seen as violating social norms. Numerous researchers and individuals such as Robert Merton (1938) and William Sheldon (1949) have tried to present ways to explain deviant behaviours in the past. The two main theories that have been developed to explain deviance are biological theories and the social constructionist theories. This essay will examine social theories such as Becker’s labelling theory, and biological theories such as Sheldon’s body type theory, and contrast between the theories mentioned. Finally this essay will examine the differences between the theories and whether the biological explanation or the social constructionist explanation can be better used ...view middle of the document...

Labelling individuals basically gives them a new identity, as society, not the individual determines what behaviour becomes defined as deviant. This is the theory that crime varies from situation to situation, across time and place. Being a ‘criminal’ or ‘deviant’ becomes a person’s master status and can begin to control the way they are identified by the public. Whether they are a spouse, parent or worker, other people will probably see them as a criminal first. When a person self-concept changes and a deviant self image takes its place, it comes with a pressure to act deviantly to meet the criteria for the new label. Furthermore, people who are labelled deviant are more inclined to associate with individuals of the same label, encouraging deviant behaviour in a group, as well as individually. An act, like illegal downloading, while still theft, doesn’t not conclude in the people taking part being labelled as thieves, because it has become a social norm in that society. Many people take part in this, and while it is still deviance (breaking the law, which is a social norm) the vast numbers of people taking part are rarely apprehended. An example of when this labelling occurs and actually has a negative effect is the prison system. It labels people convicted of theft as a ‘thief’ and because of this they start to view themselves as incapable of change. They take on the identity and characteristics of the label they have been given. “From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an “offender.” The deviant is one to whom the label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label” (Herman 1995: 4). Many individuals labeled ‘deviant’ desire to abandon that identity to resume normal identities and roles they had in society before the gained their label (Herman 1995).

In 1938 during the Great Depression Merton put forward his strain theory, which was that “social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in society to engage in non-conforming rather than conforming conduct” (Jones 1995: 98). Emile Durkheim used the concept of anomie in relation to suicide; Merton gives a deeper explanation and applies anomie to deviant behaviour and he also laid the basis for the general theory of deviance (Adler, F & Laufer, W. 2000). Deviance occurs here when the way an individual achieves a goal differs from societies popular way to achieve the same goal. Merton’s theory suggests that when people are prevented from achieving socially approved goals through institutionalised means and without deviant behaviour, they can experience strain which leads to deviance anyhow. Denied access to the means to success, people can turn to illegitimate opportunities to reach the goals they have.

The idea of the ‘American Dream’ shows how this deviance can come about. The United States ‘American...

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