Deviance and Social Control

The Basics of Sociology. Editor: Kathy S Stolley. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Much of sociology focuses on social order and conformity. But what about those who do not conform to society’s norms and values? Why does this happen? And what are the implications and consequences? To answer these questions, some sociologists turn their attention to the study of deviance, the violation of some cultural norm or value.

Some forms of deviance are serious violations of our mores. They are considered severe enough breaches of cultural norms and values to be classified as crimes. Crimes are acts defined as so unacceptable they are prohibited by a code of laws. Some sociologists focus their interests specifically on issues involving criminal behavior. These sociologists or other social scientists who study the criminal justice system, criminal law, and social order are called criminologists.

However, deviance also refers to many things that are not criminal in nature. Anything that is considered nonconformist or unusual is, by definition, deviant. Sociologists do not use the term deviance to refer specifically to things that are immoral or “bad,” only to address things outside of the boundaries of cultural norms or values.

To sociologists, deviance is relative. “It is not the act itself that is deviant; rather it is people’s interpretation of it or judgment about it that makes it deviant” (Sullivan 2003, 301). Behavior that is considered inappropriate (deviant) in one situation may be considered appropriate (nondeviant) in another situation. A graphic example of this concept comes from an event that grabbed world headlines in 1972. An airplane carrying an amateur rugby team, their family, and friends crashed high in the Andes mountains. Because the plane was off-course when it crashed and painted white against the snow-covered terrain, rescuers were unable to locate the plane until a few survivors made their way to help 70 days later. The only food on the plane, a bit of chocolate and wine, had been quickly consumed. Those who survived the ordeal did so by eating the bodies of the dead passengers. In their dire situation, old definitions of deviance were socially reconstructed. Cannibalism, considered taboo in most cultures, was redefined by the group, and later by much of the world and the Roman Catholic Church, as acceptable under the circumstances (Henslin 2001b; Read 1975).

Behavior may also be seen as deviant because it is outside the limits of expected behavior for particular categories of people. Children engaging in “adult” behaviors illustrate this idea (e.g., drinking alcoholic beverages, little girls wearing heavy makeup and high heels). Conversely, an elderly person who uses a skateboard as a mode of transportation or mimics the clothing styles worn by a young rock star would be seen as deviating from the expected norms for elderly behavior.

Social reactions toward deviant behavior are tempered by how strongly held expectations are for certain situations or groups. For example, feminists often argue that women are held to more stringent limits of “acceptable” behaviors than men and are also more strongly criticized than men when they deviate from those norms. Rowe (2001) examines how the comedian Roseanne built a career by acting outside the social limits established for women, behavior that Rowe calls being an “unruly woman.” Among her behaviors, Roseanne has been known for tattooing her buttocks, mooning fans, flatulence, and her heavy weight. Although this behavior set her apart from other women comics and led to great popularity, it also led to much criticism. This criticism hit an apex after she was invited to open a professional baseball game by singing the national anthem. Rather than a traditional rendition, Roseanne “screeched out the song, grabbed her crotch, spit on the ground, and made an obscene gesture to the booing crowd” (274). Her intention to parody baseball rituals resulted in outraged phone calls, massive negative media response, and even death threats. Rowe argues that a number of male singers, including Jose Feliciano, Bobby McFerrin, Marvin Gaye, and Willie Nelson, have been criticized for their artistic treatment of the national anthem. However, these male performances have not provoked the harsh reactions aimed at Roseanne’s female “unruliness.”

Definitions of deviance can also change over time. As cultural norms and values change, activities that were once considered deviant can be redefined as nondeviant. They become an accepted part of society. One example of deviance going mainstream is the use of contraceptives in the United States. In the early twentieth century, the transport of contraception by public mail was illegal in the U.S. In 1914, based on the Comstock Law that banned “obscene” and “immoral” literature, activist Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) was indicted for violating postal obscenity laws for distributing informational literature advocating contraceptive use (Chesler 1992). However, by the mid-1990s, 39 million American women of childbearing age reported using contraceptives (Piccinino and Mosher 1998). By 2004, Planned Parenthood, an organization founded by Sanger, had well over 800 health centers providing services in 49 states and the District of Columbia to almost 5 million people annually (Planned Parenthood Federation of America, “Planned Parenthood Health Centers” 2003).

This example involved a change of laws. Some deviance becomes part of mainstream society simply by a change in the culture. For example, in the 1950s, Becker (1963) conducted a study on “outsiders.” He looked at how certain groups defined as deviant lived. Becker’s study included research on jazz musicians. Today, jazz festivals are popular draws for large mainstream audiences. Similarly, rock music was considered deviant and even dangerous when Elvis Presley began to perform and gyrate his hips on stage. Rock eventually became accepted as mainstream music earning billions of dollars, spawning television networks (e.g., MTV, VH1), and popular competitions naming a singer as the “American Idol.”

Theories of Deviance

Sociologists use a variety of different theoretical perspectives to explain deviance. These theories provide the core perspectives that sociologists apply in a variety of criminal-justice and deviance-related careers. These perspectives include biological theories of deviance as well as applications of the functionalist, conflict, and interactionist perspectives discussed in chapter 2.

Biological Perspectives

Writing in the wake of Charles Darwin’s publication of On the Origin of Species (1996, orig. 1859) and The Descent of Man (1981, orig. 1871), Italian army psychiatrist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), profiled below, argued that he could distinguish “born criminals.” They were identifiable, he contended, by physical characteristics common to criminals but not shared by the wider population. Lombroso’s research consisted of recording anatomical and physiological measurements from thousands of living and dead Italian soldiers and prisoners. His data included the length of arms and fingers, facial features, amount of body hair, distance between the eyes, and even measurements of brains, bones, and internal organs.

Lombroso (1876) concluded that the “criminal man” was atavistic, or less evolved and closer to apes or Neanderthals, than were noncriminals, and shared five or more physical characteristics on a list of “stigmata” he developed. His list included large jaws, high cheekbones, handle-shaped ears, insensitivity to pain (physical and moral), and good eyesight, as well as characteristics such as excessive laziness, sexual drive, and craving for evil. Lombroso used his data to argue that criminality was instinctual. A subsequent study of women resulted in similar conclusions about female criminality. Female “born criminals” were, however, fewer in number and more difficult to detect (Lombroso 1980).

In Lombroso’s later work, he did move beyond atavism as the only explanation for crime. Thus, his list of potential causes of criminality grew significantly. It eventually included, among other factors, degenerative processes, extremes in weather, the soil, physical illness, race and ethnicity, population congestion and density, famines, insurrections, the price of bread, alcoholism, illiteracy, wealth and poverty, religion, age, and employment status (Lombroso 1968; Jones 1986).

Other researchers continued to search for connections linking physique with criminality. Using similar methods, Charles Goring (1972) demonstrated that both criminals and noncriminals shared the physical features (stigmata) identified by Lombroso. He did, however, argue that criminals were inferior physically and mentally. Earnest Hooton (1939a, 1939b) used physical measurements from thousands of criminals and non-criminals to conclude that criminals were “organically inferior” and that genetic “criminal stock” surfaced occasionally. Comparing photographs of known criminals and noncriminals, William Sheldon (1949) concluded that muscular bodies (which he associated with aggression) indicated a criminal type. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck (1950, 1956) expanded on Sheldon’s work, adding more factors to consider. Although they agreed that more deviants had muscular builds, they also argued that additional factors were at work in criminality.

More recent biological approaches to crime have considered a range of variables. Researchers have consistently found criminals to have lower IQs than noncriminals. However, the reasons for this finding generate a great deal of debate, with researchers variously blaming official records and research biases, brain dysfunction, genetics, an associated lack of moral reasoning, and educational and social factors (Paternoster and Bachman 2001, 51-52). Other research, much of which has involved comparisons of behaviors of twins or adopted siblings, has looked for genetic links to deviant behaviors. Research that makes uses of sociobiology (discussed in chapter 3) involves comparing criminal records of individual twins and those of fraternal twins. Research findings in this area tend to be controversial. While some researchers have argued in support of a genetic connection to crime, social factors such as poverty and parenting skills are also necessary to consider (Christiansen 1977; Wilson and Herrnstein 1985; Raine 1993).

Other biological factors studied in relation to deviance include chromosomal abnormality, biochemical substances, cognitive deficits, and birth complications. Researchers have even drawn from the field of psychophysiology (the science that deals with the interplay between psychological and physiological processes) in considering variables such as the electrical activity of the skin and heart rate (Yaralian and Raine 2001). A review of this research leads Paternoster and Bachman to conclude that “some biological factors have been related to criminal and other antisocial behaviors [but] these biological factors are not the sole cause of crime. Rather, biological causes work in concert with other, social factors. We think this is a conclusion with which most biologically and sociologically-oriented crime scholars would agree” (2001, 55).

Structural-Functionalist Perspectives

For structural-functionalists, as explained in chapter 2, various aspects of society contribute to the operation of the entire system. Although it may seem unlikely to some observers that deviance contributes to society as a whole, Emile Durkheim, profiled in chapter 10, felt that deviance does indeed serve social functions. To Durkheim (1964a, 1964b), deviance strengthens social bonds by defining moral boundaries, a shared sense of acceptable behavior that establishes right and wrong as well as sanctions for behaviors that fall outside permissible bounds. In other words, identifying and punishing deviance also identifies what is considered okay. People draw together to respond to deviance. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, New Yorkers and many other Americans worked together to recover bodies, clean up the rubble, and support police officers, firefighters, and emergency workers. Many Americans’ allegiance to each other, their nation, and their professed national values of freedom were strengthened. The attacks even generated gestures of support from around the world.

Social Bonds

Durkheim argued that social bonds were stronger in preindustrial societies than in industrial societies. In his view, preindustrial societies were more conducive to strong social bonds because people had to work together for the good of society. Industrial societies encourage people to focus on individual wants and desires, resulting in an increasing plurality of values and loss of social constraints. Thus, for Durkheim, “crime is one of the costs that we pay to live in the type of society that we do” (Sullivan 2003, 297).

This weakening of bonds in modern societies can result in anomie, an uncomfortable and unfamiliar state of normlessness that results when shared norms or guidelines break down. “Anomie does not refer to a state of mind, but to a property of the social structure. It characterizes a condition in which individual desires are no longer regulated by common norms and where, as a consequence, individuals are left without moral guidance in pursuit of their goals” (Coser 1977, 133). In his famous study Suicide (1966), discussed in chapter 10, Durkheim found that people experiencing a sense of anomie were more likely than those with strong social bonds to commit suicide.

Kai Erickson (1978) observed the problem of anomie among survivors after the entire community of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, was washed away in a flood. Another often-cited work by Erikson (1966) argued that the witch trials of Puritan New England resulted from the social changes and breakdown of norms occurring during that period. As the strict religious codes of society began to change, the discovery of “witches” actually served to draw members of the community together by reaffirming the moral order. Witches provided the community a common enemy that threatened their very existence unless they all pulled together. Other researchers have argued that witch trials were actually targeted primarily against women who dared to challenge male authority (Chambliss and Seidman 1982; Chambliss and Zatz 1994).

Structural Strain

Robert K. Merton, profiled in chapter 2, expanded Durkheim’s concept into a general theory of deviant behavior. According to Merton’s (1968) structural-strain theory, anomie results from inconsistencies between the culturally approved means to achieve goals and those actual goals. There are goals in a society that most people pursue (e.g., financial and material wealth, power, status). There are also socially acceptable means to achieve these goals (e.g., hard work, honesty). Most people conform to the acceptable means to achieve goals. While some people are able to buy a nice home, designer clothing, and expensive vehicles through legally derived funds, others do not have legitimate means to obtain these things. Deviance results from a “strain” between means and goals—for example, when there is a contrast between wants and economic realities.

On the basis of this concept, Merton identified four deviant adaptations to strain. The most common type of deviance is innovation. People accept culturally approved goals but pursue them in ways that are not socially approved. A person who steals property or money to pay rent or purchase a car is innovating, as is a drug dealer or embezzler.

Other forms of deviance involve a rejection of these culturally approved goals. Ritualism occurs when someone is unsuccessful at achieving these goals, yet continues to adhere to social expectations for their achievement. Merton identified lower-level bureaucrats as examples of this circumstance. They may adhere so strictly to rules that they may even overconform by focusing exclusively on following rules rather than other goals.

Retreatism occurs when both culturally approved goals and means are rejected. Retreatists are social “dropouts.” They include alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless, and the hopeless.

When both culturally approved goals and means are rejected and replaced by other goals and means, the response is a rebellion to those goals and means. Rebels substitute unconventional goals and means in their place. They may even form a counterculture (see chapter 3). Hippies, some religious groups, and revolutionaries would be characterized as fitting this category.

In support of strain theory, gender discrimination has been found to be a predictor of crime and substance abuse. Lack of opportunity (e.g., being denied a job, being discouraged by a teacher) was seen as leading to pressures that resulted in deviance in some cases (Eitle 2002). Research has also found property crime to be greater in areas of inequality and relative deprivation, where the acceptable means to achieve goals are blocked (Simons and Gray 1989).

Opportunity Structures

Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1960) argued that deviance is more complex than Merton had explained. In addition to limited means to achieve legitimate goals, a person also has to have access to illegitimate opportunities. However much a person would like to embezzle “what they deserve for their hard work” from their employer, they will not be able to do so without access to the corporate funds.

According to Albert Cohen (1971), deviant subcultures (see chapter 3) arise to support criminal behavior. Blocked opportunities lead to subcultures that value other attributes (e.g., stealing rather than buying). These subcultures provide a way of life that supports criminal behavior. In his study of gangs, Cohen found teens stealing for “kicks” and committing vandalism. Gang values (e.g., achieving instant gratification rather than long-term thinking, an emphasis on the importance of the gang over others) replaced those of the larger culture. A more recent ethnography of life in a South London neighborhood also looked at streetwise teens (Foster 1990). Criminality, and the expectation of participation in delinquent activities, become part of the culture of the neighborhood itself. Streetwise teens graduated from petty crimes to involvement in a black-market economy as adults.

Social Control

Other theorists note that opportunities to deviate are all around us. Deviance can be fun, and it can be easier than conforming. With that in mind, social-control theories have been developed that focus our attention in another direction. Social-control theories ask not why people deviate, but rather why they conform. The answer, according to this perspective, is that people conform because of social bonds (Hirschi 1969). When those bonds are weak or broken, they are more likely to commit deviant acts.

Social control arises from several elements: attachment to others through strong, caring relationships; commitment to legitimate social goals, such as a college education or prestigious jobs, and consideration of the costs of deviance; involvement in legitimate activities, such as academic activities, sports teams, a religious body, or a job; and belief in a common value system that says conformity is right and deviance is wrong. The more vested a person is within the society and the more they have to lose, the less likely they are to become involved in deviance.

Some research from this perspective has focused on curbing juvenile delinquency by keeping teens involved in, and feeling attached to, socially approved activities and goals (Agnew 1991; Hirschi 1969). Other research adds that since many people have the opportunity to deviate, those who do so are more in tune with short-term benefits. They are more likely to be impulsive, short-sighted, insensitive, and risk takers than those who conform (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990). Additionally, a study of over 450 people convicted of insider trading found that these offenders were lacking in overall self-control (Szockyj and Geis 2002).

Social-Conflict Perspectives

The conflict perspective on deviance is based on early observations of crime in capitalist society made by Karl Marx’s friend and coauthor Friedrich Engels (1964, 1981). Marx is profiled in chapter 2. Engels is profiled in chapter 7. Engels argued that the inequalities inherent in capitalism set up a system in which the poor had little and would try to obtain more. Meanwhile, the rich had a vested interest in controlling the poor.

Conflict theory became a major criminological perspective during the 1970s and 1980s, in a stage set by the political activism of the 1960s (Moyer 2001, 190-241). Theorists working in this tradition continue to focus on the inequalities across capitalist society (Chambliss 1975; Spitzer 1980; Headley 1991). They see the legal and criminal justice systems as being established such that powerful groups benefit (Kennedy 1990; Quinney 1970, 1974, 1980). They argue that these systems focus the vast majority of attention and resources on the less powerful in society while largely overlooking the activities of the powerful. The powerful construct and apply definitions of crime that fit their own interests and impact less powerful factions. Vagrancy, loitering, and drug laws, for example, are all typically written such that they target the lower classes (Chambliss 1964; Lynch and Stretesky 2001; Brownstein 2000).

Conflict theorists also argue that the cost of corporate crimes (e.g., workplace deaths and injuries due to unsafe working conditions, consumers harmed by dangerous products) far outstrips the costs of street crime (Chambliss 1988; Reiman 1998; Frank and Lynch 1992). As Paternoster and Bachman summarize: “Those with economic and political power use it to their advantage by criminalizing the behaviors of the powerless. As a result, ‘crime in the street’ is met with the power of the criminal law, the police, courts, and penal system, while ‘crimes in the suite’ (organizational, white-collar, corporate, and political crimes) are defined either as shrewd business practices or as mere civil violations” (2001, 254).

Meanwhile, characteristics valued in corporate America are seen as problematic when exhibited by the “wrong” groups. Entrepreneurialism, competitiveness, and ambition for material success and status are all valued in the corporate world. Business executives are often hailed in these terms. However, these same characteristics are often cast in negative terms when they help some members of teen gangs assume leadership roles in the gang or help drug dealers gain wealth and status on the “street” where they conduct their business (e.g., Jankowski 1991; Williams 1989).

The result of elite control of the criminal justice system, according to conflict theorists, is that “crime control is, in reality, class control” (Moyer 2001, 210). The powerful use the resources at their disposal, such as the news media, to ensure that public attention stays focused on these “street crimes” rather than activities of the upper classes (Chambliss 1994). As a result, the wary public wants to be protected from these criminals, siphoning valuable resources away from other, beneficial areas, such as social services. An entire “crime industry” has arisen in which extensive amounts of assets, including time and attention of enforcement personnel, financial resources, court resources, space in penal institutions, and probation and parole services (to name a few of the major costs), are allotted to efforts by the powerful to control the lower classes (Christie 1993).

Conflict theorists also focus on the influence of inequality beyond class. They have turned their attention to the environment and “green” issues (Lynch and Stretesky 2001, 279-81). They have also begun to devote significant research attention to the issue of hate crimes (e.g., Perry 2001). Although the exact legal definition varies from location to location, hate crimes are crimes that are committed based on the victims’ characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. These crimes can be committed against the person or property, or they can be considered crimes against society.

Race is the focus for many conflict studies of deviance. This work has a long history. Dutch Marxist criminologist Willem Bonger’s (1876-1940) book Race and Crime argued against Lombroso’s atavistic theories. He also attacked the Nazi emphasis on race and “was among the first to point out” (Moyer 2001, 195) that selective law enforcement patterns may play a role in the official statistics, with blacks being more frequently prosecuted than whites and less advantaged when dealing with the criminal-justice system. Early American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, profiled in chapter 7, included data on crime in his study of a black community in Philadelphia (see Moyer 2001). In more recent and controversial work, feminist scholar Coramae Richey Mann (1987, 1993), profiled below, argues that the interplay of historical patterns of racism and discrimination, and long-established stereotypes, have resulted in a racist legal system.

Conflict scholars working in a feminist framework have looked at a range of deviance issues. (Feminism is discussed in more detail in chapter 2.) Their interests are as wide ranging as the treatment of women within the legal system, violence against women and children, female criminal behavior and delinquency, and even wives of criminals (e.g., Daly and Chesney-Lind 1988; Chesney-Lind and Faith 2001). Many argue, however, that women have largely been overlooked in the literature on deviance. Simpson and Elis (1996), for example, draw this conclusion regarding women’s experiences with white-collar crime (e.g., large corporations marketing dangerous silicone-gel breast implants and intrauterine devices).

Examining deviance issues from a feminist perspective also reveals previously unidentified complexities. For example, the majority of female inmates are also mothers. How these women try to fulfill the role of “mother” and prove their fitness to regain custody of their children, and the many implications for their children, their caregivers, and wider society, are all issues examined by recent feminist research but largely ignored by other scholars (Enos 2001).

Symbolic-Interactionist Perspectives

Symbolic-interactionist theories of deviance draw from the importance this perspective places on our daily interactions. These theories focus on our definitions of situations and the argument that our self-concepts are based on other’s perceptions. In doing so, they provide a micro look at deviance that can be compared with the macro perspectives.


The focus of labeling theory is not the behavior itself; rather, it is the response of others than defines (labels) the behavior as deviant and impacts further deviance. According to this theory, any number of behaviors might be considered normal or deviant. The crucial factor is the behavior being labeled deviant by others (Becker 1963; Cavender 1991). Labeling theory cannot explain the original causes of deviant behavior. The focus and value are in explaining reactions to deviance when it does occur.

According to Charles Lemert (1951), violations of social norms that go undiscovered or are considered excusable by others constitute primary deviance. Although a norm violation occurs, no label is attached to the behavior. When someone with the power to make the label “stick” notices the behavior and labels it deviant, however, the label can impact the way others see the person who committed the behavior as well as the labeled person’s behaviors and self-perceptions. The result of a label can be secondary deviance, deviance committed as a result of the reactions of others to previous deviant behavior. When labeled deviant, a person might conclude that that is the behavior other people expect of them and respond by engaging in additional deviance. This reaction might occur even if the label was not an accurate reflection of their behavior.

When the labeled person comes to see themselves in terms of the label, the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The person develops a self-concept based on the label and acts based upon that self-concept (Heimer and Matsueda 1994). For example, an art student who is told repeatedly that her work is excellent is likely to form a different self-concept than another student who is labeled by her teachers as having no talent. The student who is labeled as talented may aspire to continue her art education, show and sell her work, or seek funding from arts organizations. The student told she has no talent might come to see herself in those terms, quit art school, and choose another course of study.

As this example shows, labels can focus on positive or negative attributes. Negative labels can become a stigma, a powerful negative label that changes a person’s social identity and how they see themselves (Goffman 1963b). A stigma often becomes a master status (see chapter 3). The person is seen first in terms of the stigmatizing label, regardless of whatever other statuses he may hold. The concept of stigma has drawn increasing research attention in recent years, demonstrating that stigmas likely have “dramatic bearing” on the distribution of life chances and impact earnings, housing, health, criminal involvement, and even life itself (Link and Phelan 2001).

People who are voluntarily child-free are often seen as stigmatized in our pronatalist society (Lisle 1999; Orenstein 2000). Although increasing numbers of people are choosing to remain child-free, Kristin Park (2002) found that child-free women and men still feel so stigmatized that they regularly devise strategies to manage that stigma. Some use a “passing” strategy (i.e., younger people not acknowledging they have decided to remain child-free by saying things like “I’m not ready for that responsibility yet”). Some offer justifications (e.g., when told that remaining child-free is “selfish,” they argue that having children is really the selfish act) or excuses (e.g., saying they have no biological drive to have children). They also redefine the situation (e.g., asserting that a person does not have to be a parent to be socially valuable). Another strategy is identity substitution, trading one stigma for a less stigmatized identity (e.g., making people back off questions by answering that they cannot have children). This latter tactic involves “trading down” to a “lesser” available stigma, so to speak.

William Chambliss (1973), who is profiled below, demonstrated just how powerful labeling can be in his classic study on teen deviance. Chambliss studied delinquency among two groups of teenage boys he referred to as the “Saints” and the “Roughnecks.” These names referred to the ways the community viewed and labeled the boys, and the outcomes these labels had for members of each group. They had nothing to do with to the actual number of delinquent acts committed by each group.

Both groups engaged in about the same amount of delinquency, including truancy, drinking, speeding, theft, and vandalism. However, the Saints were middle-class boys from “good homes” who were well dressed and well mannered with authority figures and many of whom had cars enabling them to get away from the eyes of the community when doing these things. They were labeled as good, college-bound boys whose actions, when caught, tended to be excused as pranks. The Roughnecks were from working-class families with rough dress and demeanor and few automobiles. Labeled as troublemakers, these boys’ actions tended to be defined as “more of the same” from bad kids. Over the two years of the study, not one Saint was officially arrested, but several of the Roughnecks were arrested more than once.

Both the Saints and the Roughnecks came to accept their labels. The Saints continued to college; the Roughnecks became increasingly deviant, even choosing new friends from among other “troublemakers.” Chambliss concluded that how the community had labeled these boys had lasting impacts on their adult lives.

The Medicalization of Deviance

Sociologists have identified even further implications of labeling. They have observed a medicalization of deviance in recent decades. This means that issues that were formerly defined in moral or legal terms have become redefined as medical issues. In the parlance of labeling theory, these issues are relabeled as appropriate for medical intervention. Social reactions and understandings adjust accordingly when this relabeling occurs.

Alcoholism provides an example of medicalization (Conrad and Schneider 1980). During the colonial period, drunkenness was disapproved of but not rare. Churches and drinking houses were both considered social centers. Being drunk was seen as free choice and a method of avoiding some of life’s unpleasantness. Alcohol use became deviant only if someone was repeatedly drunk. At the end of the eighteenth century, however, this view changed to a medical perspective, largely through the efforts of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a well-known physician active in numerous causes. Excessive use of alcohol is now labeled “alcoholism” and largely seen as a disease.

A major impact of medicalizing issues is their depoliticization. Specifically considering alcohol use and the issue of drinking and driving, if alcohol use is a problem because of individual alcoholics, and alcoholics are “ill” by medical definition, the individual behavior becomes the problem. Other potential problems located in larger institutions and social structures (e.g., the alcohol industry, governmental policies, taxation) can be ignored and excused of responsibility. The result is an “enormous emphasis on drinking and the drinker as causal elements while such institutional aspects as lack of alternate means of transportation are ignored both as causal agents and as possible considerations in providing avenues of solutions” (Gusfield 1980, viii).

Mental illness is a highly debated and highly stigmatized disorder that some argue is improperly medicalized, at least to some extent. A controversial argument by psychiatrist Thomas Szasz (1970) says that mental illness, rather than bring a real “sickness,” is a label applied to those who are different to make them conform. Research by social psychologist D. L. Rosenhan (1973) demonstrated how powerfully these labels of mental illness stick.

He sent eight volunteer “pseudopatients” for evaluation by staff at a mental hospital. None of his volunteers had any history of mental illness. Each complained only of hearing voices that alluded to the emptiness of life, by saying things such as “hollow,” “empty,” and “thud.” Each pseudo-student was diagnosed as schizophrenic and admitted to a mental hospital. After admission, all stopped complaining of any symptoms and behaved as they would normally outside of the hospital.

No staff ever recognized any of these pseudopatients as frauds. Their normal behaviors (e.g., note taking for their research, walking the halls out of boredom, or gathering for lunch early) were reinterpreted in medical terms to fit the schizophrenic label. Other patients, however, did suspect them of being “not crazy,” journalists, professors, or someone investigating the hospital. When released, the pseudopatients were not considered “cured” by the medical staff. Rather, they were relabeled as having schizophrenia “in remission,” leaving open the possibility, and even an expectation, that the illness would reappear in the future.

More recently, Nancy Herman (1993) interviewed almost 300 former mental patients and found that the mentally ill label remained after their treatment was completed. Many patients tried to conceal their past. However, some others openly acknowledged their illness or even became political advocates for the mentally ill.

Cultural Transmission

The basis of cultural-transmission theories is that deviance is learned and shared through interaction with others. It is transferred through the process of socialization. Albert Cohen’s work on subcultures discussed above could easily be addressed under this heading. A widely tested theory drawing from this perspective is the theory of differential association. According to this theory, deviance results from interacting with deviant associates (Sutherland 1947; Sutherland and Cressey 1978; Sutherland, Cressey, and Luckenbill 1992). The greater the frequency, duration, importance, and intensity of that interaction, the greater the likelihood that deviance will be shared.

This is a widely tested theory. It has been applied to a range of behaviors, including embezzlement (Cressey 1953), white-collar crimes (Sutherland 1985), drug and alcohol use (Lindesmith 1968; Akers et al. 1979), and “professional” criminals (King and Chambliss 1984). One study finds more than 80 articles on differential association published just since 1990 (Hochstetler, Copes, and DeLisi 2002, 558).

Critics of differential association note that the theory is unable to explain how deviance arises in the first place and why some acts or groups are defined as deviant. However, when combined with Hirschi’s control theory, discussed above, the result is an integrated theory that argues that children having weak bonds to their parents are those most likely to engage in deviance, associate with delinquents, and be influenced by them. At least one reviewer calls this integrated theory the “single best empirically-substantiated theory of crime that can be offered by modern criminology” (Warr 2001, 189).

Globalization and the Internet

Globalization and the Internet have become important areas of research in the sociological study of deviance. Aspects of culture, including things that are considered deviant as well as those that are considered normal, are shared. Deviance often has different definitions in different cultures. This may cause social stress as people decide what aspects of various cultures they want to embrace, allow, or reject. In the Middle East, many countries are currently struggling with this issue. What aspects of Western culture will become part of their culture? And what will be shunned as deviant? Western-style dress for women? American movies and music? More democratic forms of government?

In addition to aspects of culture, globalization also involves immigration and rules regarding where and when people can physically move. These rules may even define crossing a border to find work, food, or a higher income as a crime. Immigration and other aspects of globalization also increase contact between different racial and ethnic groups. The result can be more violence between varying groups.

Some observers have also commented that globalization makes the world rich for other crime. Electronic financial systems that transcend national boundaries are difficult to control. Other concerns result from government upheavals and economic difficulties of many poorer nations or those undergoing major change. To some, the “so-called failed or collapsed state is the principal actor in criminalization of the world economy, while globalization itself is an unwitting but pre-eminent member of the supporting cast” (Gros 2003, 63). In periods of upheaval in poorer countries, the rich or well connected may acquire state resources and use them for their own profit. These upheavals may also ultimately result in a reduction in safety forces, low salaries, and smuggling conducted in the name of free trade. Solutions to making globalization less vulnerable to criminality are complex. They may involve a complicated monitoring of capital flows involving various financial and legal systems. They may also be aimed at reducing corruption and smuggling, or increasing workers’ wages (Gros 2003).

Globalization supports other types of criminality as well—for example, the drug trade. Opiates grown in Afghanistan or coca leaves grown in Columbia are processed in surrounding areas, travel across numerous international boundaries, and are sold on the streets of American or western European countries. At each step in the trafficking process, the profits accrued increase. Chambliss (1989) argues that smuggling drugs and other goods may even be a state-organized crime. He cites as examples the CIA’s involvement in moving opium in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and the so-called Iran-Contra Affair, in which an arms deal with Iran funded support for Nicaraguan fighters known as contras.

The Internet, which also transcends international boundaries, has provided a new venue for deviant and criminal activity. Online deviance ranges from breaches of etiquette (netiquette) to the enactment of violent crimes including rape and murder. Viruses and computer hacking and cracking are types of deviance that exist only because the Internet itself exists. The Internet provides a new venue for intellectual crimes such as plagiarism and economic crimes (embezzlement, fraud, etc.). Research has shown that deviant information spreads quickly over the Internet (Mann and Sutton 1998). It also has shown that complaints of Internet crime are on the rise, with the Internet providing new criminal arenas (National White Collar Crime Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation 2003; Williams 2001).

The anonymity afforded by the Internet may be a major factor supporting deviance in cyberspace. Previous research has shown that those who believe their identities are unknown are more likely to behave aggressively in behaviors as diverse as driving (Ellison et al. 1995) and stealing Halloween candy (Diener et al. 1976). Research by Christina Demetriou and Andrew Silke (2003) was designed to test this concept online. For their study, the researchers established a Web site set purportedly for accessing legal games, shareware, and freeware. Once at the site, visitors were presented with links to what they thought were hacked programs (illegally obtained commercial software programs), pornography, and stolen passwords to paid-only pornography sites. Thus, site visitors came to the site for legitimate reasons and then were presented with the anonymous opportunity to engage in deviance. The researchers found that a large percentage of visitors who had originally visited the site for the legal information also visited sections they thought provided the deviant material. When presented with the anonymity and opportunity, many did not resist temptation.


Howard Becker

Howard Saul Becker (1928-) was born in Chicago. Becker completed his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees at the University of Chicago. He earned his Ph.D. in 1951, when he was only 23 years old (“Becker, Howard Saul” 1992).

Becker’s work has included a famous coauthored study of medical students, Boys in White: Student Culture in Medical School (1961). He is also well known for his book The Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963). That manuscript was initially too short for a book. Becker only published it after being urged to do so by another sociologist who “read the manuscript and said it should be in print, so Becker decided to include his empirical studies on musicians and marijuana use”; a friend at a publishing house decided the book was “worth a gamble” (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 352). His 1986 book Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article was hailed by reviewers as “charming and very personal” (Biggart 1987, 809) and “humane, wry, reflective, gentle, wise” (Erikson 1986). He has also authored, coauthored, or edited books and articles on topics including social problems, research methods, and art.

Becker has received a number of professional awards and has been credited with founding the labeling theory of deviance. He served as editor of Social Problems. He was also president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

Aside from his academics, Becker enjoys art and music. He studied photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Becker is also a pianist who joined the Musician’s Union in his teens, continuing to play professionally in jazz clubs until the 1970s, even supporting himself for a period with his music after earning his doctorate. When asked by a biographer who had influenced him, Becker’s first response was a former jazz-piano teacher (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 349).

William Chambliss

William Joseph Chambliss (1933-) was born in Buffalo, New York. He completed his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles in 1955. He was drafted during the Korean War, serving in the Counter Intelligence Corps. After completing his service, he received a master’s and doctorate in sociology from Indiana University.

Chambliss had become interested in criminology while working in the fields with penitentiary inmates to earn money on a cross-country trip. He became further interested in crime when he saw soldiers committing crimes during his time in the military (Chambliss 1987). Chambliss reports that he became a sociologist out of his interest in “doing something about crime” (quoted in Henslin 2001a, xxi). He calls sociology “a beautiful discipline that affords an opportunity to investigate just about anything connected with human behavior and still claim an identity with a discipline. This is its strength, its promise, and why I find it thoroughly engaging, enjoyable, and fulfilling.”

Chambliss has taught and conducted research in several countries. He has authored over 15 books. His professional recognitions include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Criminology Crime and Deviance Division and the Bruce Smith Award from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. He is also a past president of the American Society of Criminology. Chambliss is currently a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (Chambliss, “William Chambliss”).

Peter Conrad

Peter Conrad (1945-) was born in New York. He earned his doctorate from Boston University in 1976. Conrad is currently the Harry Coplan Professor of Social Sciences and departmental chair in the Sociology Department at Brandeis University. Conrad joined that department in 1979.

Conrad’s combining of his interests in deviance and medical sociology has led to his work in the medicalization of deviance and the medicalization of wider society. Together with coauthor Joseph Schneider, Conrad published his work in this arena in his book Deviance and Medicalization: From Badness to Sickness (1980). Conrad and Schneider also teamed to consider issues including stigma in Having Epilepsy: The Experience and Control of Illness (1993). The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction honored Conrad with the 1981 Charles Horton Cooley Award for that book. He has also published several other books and more than 60 other pieces on topics including epilepsy, hyperactive children, health care in developing countries, workplace health, and the rapidly evolving social issues involving genetics. Conrad’s coedited collections The Sociology of Health and Illness: Critical Perspectives (2001) and The Handbook of Medical Sociology (2000) are in their sixth and fifth editions, respectively.

Conrad’s professional activities include serving as past chair of the Psychiatric Sociology Division in the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the Medical Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association. Conrad has also been honored as a Distinguished Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University of Belfast in Northern Ireland (Conrad, “Peter Conrad”; “Conrad, Peter” 2000).

Travis Hirschi

Travis Hirschi (1935-) was born in Rockville, Utah. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from the University of Utah. After two years in the military, Hirschi earned his doctorate from the University of California-Berkeley in 1968.

He is currently a professor emeritus in the Department of Management and Policy as well as the Department of Sociology at the University of Arizona. Hirschi has served as the president of the American Society of Criminology. His book Delinquency Research (1967), written with Hanan Selvin, won the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (“Hirschi, Travis” 1984).

Hirschi is well known among deviance scholars for his social-bond theory. In Causes of Delinquency (1969), he laid out four elements that create a bond between individuals and society. A number of researchers have tested this theory, including studies with females and different age groups, and it has “fared very well in empirical tests” (Brown, Esbensen, and Geis 1991, 373). Hirschi has also teamed with Michael T. Gottfredson for the more recent work A General Theory of Crime (1990).

Cesare Lombroso

Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was born in Verona, which was under Austrian rule at the time. He earned a medical degree from the University of Pavia in 1858. The following year he earned a second degree in surgery from the University of Genoa. For several years, Lombroso was an army physician. He oversaw mental wards for almost a decade. He also held positions as professor of legal medicine and public hygiene, psychiatry and clinical psychiatry, and criminal anthropology. Lombroso’s publications covered a range of topics, including the impact of cretinism and pellagra on mental and physical development, the nervous system, and genius. He became famous, however, for his work on “the born criminal,” a term that actually came from his student Enrico Ferri (1856-1929) (Wolfgang 1973).

Although his biological theories of crime have been refuted, Lombroso is still widely hailed as the “father of modern criminology.” Volumes have been written about his controversial work and influence. As one of Lombroso’s biographers says, “In the history of criminology probably no name has been eulogized or attacked so much as that of Cesare Lombroso” (Wolfgang 1973, 232). Among his recognitions, Lombroso received the French Government’s Legion of Honor Medal. He was also offered an appointment at Northwestern University for the 1909-10 academic year, but was physically unable to accept the position (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 23).

Aside from his flawed findings, Lombroso is credited with focusing on scientific studies of the criminal and the conditions under which criminality occurs. His physiological studies have inspired interest in criminal identification to include fingerprinting and classifying body fluids (Paternoster and Bachman 2001, 86; Jones 1986, 11). “Research anywhere that continues to examine differences between a delinquent and non-delinquent population, or that seeks to analyze differences within the criminal group can find its framework antedated by Lombroso” (Wolfgang 1973, 286). His work also helped set the stage for modern psychiatric analyses and interest in psychological differences among criminals.

Coramae Richey Mann

Coramae Richey Mann (1931-) excelled as a student. She loved school, often earning among the highest grades in her class. During high school and college, Mann had a brief modeling career and appeared on the cover of Ebony and other magazines. She later studied at Howard University for three years that she calls “clearly the most important in my educational life” (Mann 1995, 278). Mann received B.A. and M.A. degrees in clinical psychology from Roosevelt University. She earned her doctorate in sociology and criminology from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 1976.

Mann has held positions with the Chicago Welfare Department, the Chicago Psychiatric Institute, the Chicago Board of Health, Planned Parenthood, the Chicago Board of Education, and Northeastern University. For over a decade, she was also a practicing, licensed clinical psychologist (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 266-79; Mann 1995). Mann spent over a decade in the School of Criminology at Florida State University, where she says there were “seventeen white men and me” on the faculty there (1995, 281). She is currently a professor emeritus in the Criminal Justice Department at Indiana University-Bloomington.

The issues she tackles are controversial. Her work has addressed race and ethnicity; the power of stereotypes, discrimination, and racism; minority crime; women; juvenile justice; career criminals; domestic homicide; and unequal justice. Mann is a winner of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences’ Bruce Smith Sr. Award. Her publications include more than 30 articles and book chapters. She has also written Female Crime and Delinquency (1984), Unequal Justice: A Question of Color(1989), and When Women Kill (1996). She is coeditor with Marjorie Sue Zatz of a collection of readings entitled Images of Color: Images of Crime (2002) (Mann, “Coramae Richey Mann”).

Richard Quinney

Earl Richard Quinney (1934-) grew up on his family’s farm in Wisconsin. Until the eighth grade, he attended a one-room schoolhouse. He saved money for college by raising breeding hogs on the farm. Quinney entered college intending to become a forest ranger. Before choosing a graduate program in sociology, Quinney even prepared to enter a graduate program in hospital administration. He finally settled on a doctoral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, graduating in 1962.

After completing his dissertation, Quinney accepted a position teaching sociology at the University of Kentucky and then moved to New York University. A later sabbatical leave at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill allowed him several years to concentrate on publishing and to begin, write for, and distribute a socialist newspaper (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 384). After several visiting professorships, Quinney joined the Department of Sociology at Northern Illinois University, where he became professor emeritus in 1998.

Quinney has authored, coauthored, or edited more than 20 books and 70 articles. He has presented guest lectures across the United States and internationally. His numerous awards include a Canterbury Visiting Fellowship at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and the Major Achievement Award from the Critical Criminology Division of the American Society of Criminology. Quinney and coauthor Kevin Anderson were awarded the 2000 International Erich Fromm Prize for their book Erich Fromm and Critical Criminology: Beyond the Punitive Society (2000).

Quinney has written three books about facets of his own life, also reflecting his lifelong interest in photography. Borderland: A Midwest Journal (2001) is a memoir and photo journal of the Midwestern U.S. areas that have always been important to him. He offers a personal, existential view in For the Time Being: Ethnography of Everyday Life (1998). Journey to a Far Place: Autobiographical Reflections (1990) is an autobiography with photographs of his travels (see Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 379-407; Quinney, “Richard Quinney”).

Edwin H. Sutherland

Edwin Hardin Sutherland (1883-1950) was born in Gibbon, Nebraska. He earned his Ph.D. magna cum laude in sociology and political economy from the University of Chicago in 1913. Sutherland worked for several different schools over the course of his career: Sioux Falls, Grand Island, and William Jewell colleges, and the universities of Illinois, Minnesota, and Chicago. He spent the final 15 years of his life as chair of the Sociology Department at Indiana University. His “greatest strength” as a teacher has been reported as “his willingness to take his students seriously as scholars” (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 143).

While teaching at the University of Illinois, Sutherland was invited to write a textbook on criminology. Criminology (1924), retitled in 1934 as Principles of Criminology, “was to become the most influential textbook in the history of criminology” (Wright, “Sample Entry”). Other authors continued the text after Sutherland’s death through its 11th edition in 1992.

Sutherland developed a life-history approach to research that involved biographical accounts of subjects. He used it to write The Professional Thief (1937) in collaboration with con man Broadway Jones (Gaylord and Galliher 1988, 109-20). As a result of his conversations with Jones, Sutherland developed his differential-association theory. The book itself would become a source for writers of the screenplay for the 1973 movie The Sting, starring Robert Redford. Sutherland’s work White Collar Crime (1985), a term he coined, applied the theory in a study of the behavior of young executives in the 70 largest corporations in the United States. Because the publisher feared lawsuits, the names of corporations that had been accused but not convicted of crimes had been removed. An edition published in the 1980s finally included that information (Wright, “Sample Entry”).

While walking to work on October 11, 1950, Sutherland suffered a fatal stroke (Martin, Mutchnick, and Austin 1990, 143). By the time of his death, Sutherland had held the presidencies of the American Sociological Association, the Sociological Research Association, and the Ohio Valley Sociological Society. Although Sutherland had taken only one criminology course, taught limited numbers of criminology courses, and “did not begin his organized work in criminology until 1921” (139), he had also earned the titles “premiere criminologist” and “dean of American criminology.”