Deviant Behavior

Robert M Worley & Vidisha Barua Worley. 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: H James Birx. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2010.

Many anthropologists have studied deviant behavior throughout the course of their careers, yet deviant behavior has always been somewhat difficult to define since it can vary from situation to situation and across cultures. It would not be necessarily deviant, for example, to cry at a funeral. In fact, it might even be expected to some degree. On the other hand, if a student was to begin crying hysterically during one of his classes, this could certainly be seen as deviant.

While the term deviance often has negative connotations, it is important to remember that deviant behavior can also include attributes or characteristics that are highly valued (Heckert & Heckert, 2002). For example, in the once popular television show Doogie Howser, the title character was a 16-year-old doctor. If such a doctor actually existed, he would certainly be considered deviant, even though being a genius or academically gifted is not at all a bad thing. In the show, the character Doogie faced problems that were directly associated with his unique situation. He was, after all, different than his peers, and his status as a teenage doctor affected his interpersonal and social relationships.

While one can certainly find examples of modern-day deviance by turning on the television set, anthropologists often choose to study this phenomenon by examining behaviors in other cultures. Interestingly, what is considered to be deviant in one area of the world may be a perfectly acceptable practice elsewhere. In this sense, deviant behavior can be a difficult concept to define. Howard Becker (1963), in his classic examination of deviance, contends that the term is somewhat relativistic. In other words, it can be in the eye of the beholder. This may complicate matters immensely for even the brightest students of anthropology. According to Goode (2008), deviance involves the violation of a norm. Norms are informal rules that govern what we should and should not do. Usually, they are held by a wide segment of society. Of course, they can vary from culture to culture. For example, in America, it is generally considered rude to belch, especially at the dinner table. In other parts of the world, however, this may actually be seen as being polite.

It is important to remember that in order for an individual to be labeled as “deviant,” at least one other person must witness an offending behavior and judge it as breaking a norm. If the behavior is especially egregious, this is likely to result in stigmatization. In some cases, if the norm violates a law, this could even result in an individual’s loss of freedom. If an individual commits murder, then he is very likely to be sent to prison or perhaps even executed. This, of course is an extreme case. The vast majority of norms are not laws. For example, while many people might find it repugnant to see someone picking his or her nose in public, one would be hard-pressed to find a law that forbids this activity. Deviant behaviors such as this tend to be sanctioned informally. From an early age, members of society are socialized as to what is and is not acceptable behavior. Small children are usually permitted to break social norms with impunity, since it is assumed that they have not become fully socialized. If a child was picking her nose in public, then this might go virtually unnoticed. If, on the other hand, an adult was doing the same act, then he might receive angry glances or other forms of disapproval. This illustrates that some deviant behavior can vary from person to person, depending on a variety of different variables.

Virtually all of us, at one time or another, have engaged in some type of deviant behavior. As Goode (2008) contends, human beings are after all “evaluative creatures” (p. 3). By this he is inferring that it is not uncommon for people to cast judgments and disapprove of one another’s behavior. Of course, some forms of deviant behavior are more likely to be tolerated than others. A behavior such as nose picking, for example, is much more likely to be forgiven than a violent criminal offense. One of the challenges for anthropologists is to examine various behaviors without imposing their own moral judgments. It is important to remember that different cultures have different social mores. What may be acceptable in one area of the world might not be tolerated elsewhere. Nevertheless, all societies have members who do not conform. In this respect, deviant behavior is a phenomenon that is central to the human race. This chapter will provide a discussion of the various types of deviant behaviors. First, we shall examine deviant behavior in culturally pluralistic societies, such as the United States.

Deviant Behavior in Culturally Pluralistic Societies

Belgian anthropologist Marie-Claire Foblets (1998) contends that the greater the number of cultures that come in close contact, the greater will be the number of ways available to deal with a situation, making it less likely that any set of norms will be followed, oftentimes leading to more deviant actions as defined by the penal law of the host country. This is a problem when migrant populations are poorly acculturated into the host society. The legal system of a society, usually of a postcolonial society, is influenced by several legal systems whether overtly or covertly. This has resulted in a significant increase in cultural conflicts (Foblets, 1998). According to Foblets (1998), culture conflicts are an “outgrowth of the process of social differentiation” (p. 190), where several small social groups are created within the host society and each group tries to compete and exert the importance of its own rules and regulations, leading to a legally or culturally pluralistic society (Demian, 2008; Foblets, 1998; Leach, 1977). At this point, it is very likely that the action of an individual based on one set of rules could easily violate other sets of rules. The issue of an honor killing or vendetta is a case in point, where families are obligated to avenge the death of their family members by killing members of the family that killed their own relative to protect the honor of their family (Foblets, 1998).

This leads to the other extreme issue in a pluralistic society where conflict arises between parents who still uphold the values of their own cultures and the children who have adopted the values of the country they reside in. This has been the subject of innumerable movies where parents resent the adaptation of the new culture of the host country by the children. Despite several attempts on their part to keep the old traditions alive, the environment plays a major role, and simple actions, like making friends in school with members of the opposite sex, which are acceptable in the country they reside in, might be looked upon as deviant behavior by the parents and grandparents. Foblets (1998), drawing from ethnography, notes that even when the various social groups within a society might agree as to the deviant nature of an act, the ways to deal with this criminality may be almost infinite. While some reject the crime rather than the offender, others focus on retribution and the responsibility of the offender in the commission of the crime. Yet others focus on ways of healing and treating the deviant behavior.

Culture-Related Alcohol and Substance Abuse

The Navajo, the largest Native American tribe in North America, are currently faced with high rates of alcohol and substance abuse. According to Garrity (2000), the abuse of substances such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamine is highly prevalent among the Navajo people, with the younger population starting out by abusing inhalants such as glue, paint thinner, and gasoline. Alcohol abuse in particular has contributed greatly to the higher rates of morbidity and mortality among the Native American population (Garrity, 2000; Mail & Johnson, 1993). The crisis of alcohol and substance abuse has affected the Navajos both at the individual level and as a people (Garrity, 2000). One Pentecostal minister, coming from a family of medicine men, could not become a medicine man because his father, who learned about the trade from his father, was always too drunk to pass on the family trade to the next generation (Garrity, 2000). While the Native American Church and the Pentecostal Church are actively involved in the process of healing and treating Native Americans suffering from alcohol and substance abuse, the traditional healing practices are geared toward altering the mind to its former good and driving away the evil spirit that leads to tobacco smoking and other deviant behavior in general.

This traditional healing among the Navajos has never developed a way to treat alcohol abuse in particular even though it is a serious problem (Garrity, 2000). The reason lies in the findings of anthropologists Stephen Kunitz and Jerrold Levy (1994), who point out that alcohol had a positive connotation and was associated with wealth, prestige, and status from the 1800s to the 1960s. Navajos blame the Anglo population for introducing alcohol to them and hold them responsible for the misfortunes alcohol has brought. Traditional chanters also blame the erosion of traditional values among the Navajo youth as another cause for alcohol and substance abuse as well as their lack of willpower to change their deviant behavior (Garrity, 2000).

Jessor, Graves, Hanson, and Jessor (1968) carried out an anthropological study on deviant behavior in a tri-ethnic community consisting of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American populations. While the Anglo population comprised the elite, the Hispanic and Native American populations held subservient positions in society. In their study of this small town in southwest Colorado, the authors found that the Native American and the Hispanic people were more prone to drinking alcohol than the Anglos. As opposed to 3% of Anglos, 38% of Native Americans reported having been drunk at least three times in the past year. In addition, 74% of Native Americans, as opposed to 34% of Anglos, reported that they drank heavily. In fact, the Native Americans exceeded both the Hispanics and the Anglos in their level and frequency of deviant behavior. The authors found that while 59% of Native Americans had court records, only 1% of Anglos had court records. Moreover, 60% of the Native Americans as opposed to 25% of the Anglos admitted to serious deviance such as child neglect.

The authors ascribed such deviance to sociopsychological factors resulting from a feeling of alienation and a high degree of anomie, or social instability, suffered by the Native Americans and the Hispanics due to personal and external forces. Citing Merton (1949), anthropologist Theodore Graves (1967), in another article drawn from the same study of the tri-ethnic community in southwestern Colorado, held that retreatist behavior as categorized by Merton is often characterized by excessive drinking. Retreatism, according to Merton (1949), manifests when there is a lack of socially approved means to achieve the socially approved goals of society, which usually includes monetary success in an American society. Thus the Native Americans who were in a socially and financially disadvantaged position in society did not have access to socially approved means for monetary success and thus suffered from anomie.

These new goals of monetary success among Native Americans can be explained by the concept of acculturation in anthropology, which can, for instance, come about with Native children attending high school and thereby adopting Anglo American values and being exposed to middle-class goals (Graves, 1967). Graves (1967) found that those Native Americans who were acculturated and had jobs, thus providing them an access to their new goals, showed lower levels of drinking and other deviant behavior. Besides sociopsychological explanations, culture itself plays a role in behavior that is defined as deviant by a dominant group within any given pluralistic society.

Cultural Defense of Deviant Behavior

The United States is a melting pot of extremely diverse cultural entities. While following a common situational bond, these cultures often conflict for the lack of understanding of one another’s cultures. The law depicts the norms of the cultural majority in a nation, but the norms of the other ethnic groups may be defined as criminal behavior. Sellin (1938) focused on the cultural diversity in a modern industrial society where people have come together from various parts of the world. For instance, Sellin cited the case of a Sicilian father who killed his daughter’s 16-year-old lover to protect the honor of his family, and as such was quite surprised when he was arrested for it. In another instance, a Turkish father forced his 16-year-old daughter to marry her polygamous distant cousin to honor a previously arranged contract between the two men that also involved a stipulated bride price. At times, host authorities have shown deference to cultural norms of the migrant populations that would otherwise be considered deviant. For instance, authorities often left Chinese gamblers alone, as gambling, being deeply entrenched in the customs of the Cantonese population, was viewed as an internal matter for the Chinese to deal with (Smith, 1937).

The concept of cultural defense in criminal law relates to the presentation of cultural dictates as a justification for criminal behavior (Demian, 2008). Wikan (2002) expressed frustration at anthropologists being called in by lawyers to be expert witnesses in cases where they feel a cultural defense is the only way out of a difficult situation. According to Demian (2008), the concept of cultural defense has found its appeal in the last 20 years or so as a result of multiculturalism and its politicization. To elucidate the point of cultural defense, it can be said that when a cultural defense is invoked in a lawsuit, the intention of the actor while engaging in the criminal behavior can be found in the dictates of the person’s culture where the act in question is the norm (Demian, 2008).

An instance of cultural defense in the United States can be found in California. Lawyers successfully defended the case of a Japanese woman who tried to kill her children to protect her family’s honor, following the norms of her culture, as her husband was involved in an adulterous relationship (Demian, 2008; Renteln, 1987/1988). In this case, People v. Kumira (1985), on hearing about her husband’s adulterous relationship, Kumira tried to drown herself and her children in a parent-child suicide ritual. The children died, but she survived. Kumira was initially charged with first-degree murder, but later the charges were dropped to voluntary manslaughter because a team of psychologists testified that she was insane. A petition signed by 25,000 Japanese was sent to the district attorney’s office explaining that the parent-child suicide, called theoyaku shinju, although illegal in Japan, was a cultural concept, and that Kumira’s actions were dictated by it (Demian, 2008). Although the insanity defense was the one that succeeded in this case, Demian believes that the cultural defense definitely played a role in apprising the court of Kumira’s intentions. Even where the culture is the same, the dominant class within it has the potential to define deviant behavior and ostracize the minority as outcasts. Such behavior is seen in northwestern California, where the Maidu people, discussed in the next section, are still residing.

Deviance in the Maidu Culture

In northwestern California—the home of the Maidu people, who reside in the Sierra foothills and the Sacramento River valley—the society is divided into small tribes that follow their own norms and have their own definitions of deviance (Brightman, 1999; Dixon, 1905). Anthropologist Robert Brightman (1999) studied the ritual clown performances that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s among the northwestern Maidus as they parodied deviant behavior by outrageously defying the authority of the priests. While this practice was performed in jest, it nevertheless was an important form of social conditioning. According to Brightman, the Maidus, in both the foothills and the valley, comprised several triblets with their own autonomous social structures. They had a hierarchical structure, with the village headman (foothills: huku; valley: yeponi) and the priest (yukbe) being at the top of the ladder. At the lower extreme were the deviant population called suku, comprising indigents, vagabonds, immoral women, and cross-gender people of both sexes (Brightman, 1999; Loeb, 1933).

Brightman (1999) contends that Maidu males were formally initiated into a secret society called the Kuksu cult, which sponsored various kinds of dances featuring spirit and animal impersonations. The elite occupied a high status in these societies. Those who were not members were socially ostracized, and these were usually the sukus, who were viewed as social deviants (Loeb, 1933). It is likely that a similar society was there for females (Brightman, 1999). During the ceremonies of the societies, clowns played a major role, often mimicking women dancers, and taking pleasure in feasting, smoking, and gambling. Disobeying the commands of the priest, the clown often indulged in several socially disapproved deviant actions like lying, begging, pilfering, excessive eating, and malingering (Brightman, 1999). Brightman (1999) comprehends the clown as one in the garb of comic relief, pointing out through license and ridicule the social constraints as being artificial and not necessarily consensual—ones that restrain rather than emancipate the individual in society. Interestingly, what makes it even more ironic is that the clown, according to Brightman, is actually a yeponi who trained young boys in the society after their formal initiation.

Deviance Based on Physical Characteristics

Brightman’s (1999) examination of the Maidus illustrates that individuals can be labeled as deviant for being indigents, vagabonds, or sexually permissive. It is important to note, however, that an actor can also be viewed as abnormal due to a deformity or unusual physical characteristic. In other words, even if an individual follows all of society’s social norms, a physical defect has the potential to render the actor as deviant. For example, if a person is considered too tall, plus-sized, or simply too ugly to look at, there is a high likelihood that she will be stigmatized. Sadly, if a person is physically handicapped, it is also likely that he will be treated differently. Members of racial minorities may also be seen as deviant. All of the above examples involve what are known as “ascribed statuses” (Adler & Adler, 2006, p. 11).

According to Goode (2008), ascribed statuses are usually thrust on individuals from the time they are born. For example, in the classic play Cyrano de Bergerac, the title character has an unusually long nose. Although he is a talented poet and swordsman, Cyrano is subjected to ridicule and is painfully aware of his deviant physical appearance. He attempts to manage this stigma by helping another man woo the woman of his dreams. Like Cyrano de Bergerac, many people are born with physical imperfections. If they have the financial means and perceive that the imperfection is extreme enough, then some individuals may even opt to engage in plastic surgery. Of course, there are also those individuals who are addicted to plastic surgery and have operation after operation, even when it is completely unnecessary. This is another interesting form of deviance in and of itself. While today plastic surgery is certainly a viable alternative for some, this was unfortunately not an option for Cyrano de Bergerac. He lived in the mid-17th century, an era when cosmetic surgery was by and large unavailable.

In his classic book Stigma, Erving Goffman (1963) writes extensively about the stigmatization of individuals who have unusual physical characteristics. He refers to these people as having “abominations of the body” (p. 4). These can include features such as being deaf, mute, or handicapped. He contends that individuals with deviant physical characteristics are unable to have conventional interactions with other people (whom he refers to as normals). When someone with an abomination of the body has any kind of a contact with one of the normals, it tends to be awkward, superficial, and strained. Goffman contends that normals may attempt to conceal their feelings of repulsion. However, they are never fully able to look past the deviant traits. He contends that actors who possess these deviant physical characteristics are often acutely aware that other people find them to be repugnant. Understandably, they may be very self-conscious and in some cases seek refuge in the arms of fellow deviants.

Although Goffman (1963) did not specifically discuss obesity as being a type of “abomination of the body,” many scholars have written that individuals who are overweight tend to be viewed as socially deviant. Interestingly, some studies have suggested that even children perceive this to be true. There are even a few well-documented cases of young children who attempt to diet. Even today, in spite of the fact that obesity presents serious health issues, it is still considered somewhat acceptable to poke fun at people who are overweight. One only needs to turn on a sitcom to find numerous examples of fat jokes. It would be much more difficult, on the other hand, to find television shows that ridicule other abominations, such as being an amputee, blind, or confined to a wheelchair. For whatever reason, social mores have afforded obesity less protection than other ailments. Perhaps it is because there is a misperception that individuals who are overweight are gluttonous and lazy. As Clinard and Meier (2008) suggest, many people assume that obese people could have avoided this label had they exercised basic self-discipline. Some “normals” may even believe that by taunting overweight people, they may actually help them become motivated to diet and exercise. This attitude, however, does little to help and is more likely to be counterproductive. Obese people may become overwhelmed by cruel jokes and simply decide to quit trying to lose weight.

While it is likely that anyone who is overweight is likely to be stigmatized, females may be especially vulnerable to being criticized. In the Western world especially, women are led to believe from an early age that they must be thin and petite. One need only look at the latest fashion magazines to see images of tiny (perhaps even slightly emaciated) models. Often, unbeknownst to many people, these images have been airbrushed and manipulated by computer technology. In other words, imperfections, such as a model’s little “potbelly,” go completely unnoticed. This gives men completely unrealistic expectations and often forces some women to attempt to achieve this ideal by whatever means necessary. Sadly, women who are perfectly healthy may even develop eating disorders in their attempt to mimic the images in magazines. Women who are excessively overweight are especially vulnerable, and they may be the most likely to be regarded as deviant. Goode and Preissler (1983) argue that overweight women may even be exploited in the dating arena. According to the authors, average-sized men will enter into relationships with these women with the implicit understanding that they will have a high level of sexual access while offering a low level of sexual exclusivity. Clearly, being overweight is seen as deviant and sanctioned by society.

Culture and Mental Illness

Mental illness may be a stigma and seen as deviant or may be viewed sympathetically depending on the dispositions of cultures. While human behavior can be observed, the mental process that leads up to that behavior is often implicit or hidden. Anthropologists Lorand Szalay and Bela Maday (1983) defined implicit culture as “psychological dispositions, perceptions, and motivations which are shared by people with similar backgrounds and experiences and which lend organization and direction to overt behavior” (p. 110). In their study on the measurement of psychocultural distance between groups, they looked into the theme of mental illness as perceived by two cultural groups, Hispanics and Anglo-Americans, and found that Hispanics considered mental illness as an extreme form of incurable madness. It was highly stigmatized, considered a matter of shame—a deviance that brought disrepute in society. An analysis of related themes like mental health and psychiatry showed they were similarly stigmatized by the Hispanics: Mental health has little positive connotation, and psychiatrists are to be visited only when all hope is lost. Anglo-Americans, on the other hand, consider the possibility of treatment and cure of mental illness, look at a psychiatrist as a friend and helper, and view mental health positively, something that gives a proper understanding of the mind and the environment and so is necessary for happy and wholesome living (Szalay & Maday, 1983).

Interestingly, a common source of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression can be economic. Anthropologists Craig Hadley and Crystal Patil (2008) identified the source of anxiety and depression as insecurities in various societies—poverty and low educational level in urban societies and food insecurities in rural societies. Hadley and Patil conducted a study of two groups of people in rural western Tanzania, the Sukuma, who were the agropastoralists, and the Pimbwe, the horticulturalists, living in areas with seasonal agriculture, subsistence economies, and limited health care. While the Sukumas, who raise cattle and grow rice and corn, enjoy higher household production, the Pimbwes are poorer, have smaller households, have no cattle, and have smaller plots of land (Hadley & Patil, 2008).

During the insecure food months (December through March), people struggled for food, went to bed hungry, or sold their labor for food, with the Pimbwes suffering more as a group than the Sukumas, thus experiencing greater food insecurity (Hadley & Patil, 2008). The researchers randomly selected women from both the Pimbwe and the Sukuma communities and found that increased levels of food insecurity in households caused higher levels of anxiety and depression among women as opposed to men, who were concerned with owning material assets. The researchers also found that Pimbwe women experienced higher levels of anxiety and depression as they faced higher levels of food insecurity. According to Quisumbing, Brown, Feldstein, Haddad, and Pena (1995), women play a major role in the production and preparation of food for the family throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and thus are more sensitive than men to issues like access to food. Clearly, deviant behavior that is related to mental illness has the potential to vary from culture to culture.

Sexual Deviance in the United States and Across Cultures

While virtually all societies believe that certain sexual practices are deviant, there is at least some variation across cultures. In the United States, as in virtually every other society, there are strong taboos against rape and incest. Still, however, some exceptions do exist even for this norm. For example, cultural anthropologist Gilbert Herdt (1987) contends that the Sambia of Papua New Guinea force young boys to orally ingest the semen of older boys and men. While this behavior would be considered extremely deviant and illegal in most areas, it is not condemned in this society. According to Herdt, the Sambia engage in this behavior because they believe that ingesting semen is the only way that a young boy can grow into manhood. If a child refuses to engage in this activity, he is beaten into submission. This activity may go on for many years until the boy develops muscles and is considered to be masculine by other members of the tribe (Herdt, 1987). At this point, he will then force younger boys to engage in this activity.

Clearly, the above case of the Sambia tribe illustrates that what is considered to be sexually deviant has the potential to vary across cultures. Prostitution is another sexual behavior that can vary from culture to culture. While most areas throughout the world stigmatize prostitution, some societies are nevertheless more accepting of it than others. In her analysis of the sex-trade business in Southeast Asia, for example, medical anthropologist Marjorie Muecke (1992) contends that prostitutes are usually able to avoid stigmatization. According to Muecke, if a prostitute supports her family and contributes money to the Buddhist temple, she will usually be seen as a “good Buddhist.” Rather than being labeled as a social deviant, she may even be revered through her good deeds. Muecke even argues that some prostitutes in Southeast Asia, particularly in areas such as Thailand, are able to bring prestige to their families. Muecke views sex work as a strategy that women employ in order to pay for their siblings’ educations and help take their families out of poverty.

Unlike in parts of Southeast Asia, Americans generally disapprove of prostitution, and it is perceived as deviant. Currently, Nevada is the only U.S. state where prostitution is legal, with certain counties that do not criminalize it. Still, this act is regulated and heavily taxed by the state. Women are required to work in brothels, which are typically large trailer complexes on the outskirts of town (Brents & Haasbeck, 2001). Many of the women who work in these brothels pay as much as 50% to 60% of their income to the brothel. While this form of prostitution is permissible in parts of Nevada, it is important to note that it is not allowed everywhere throughout the state. In the city of Las Vegas, for example, prostitution is actually illegal.

Also, streetwalkers are not allowed to operate anywhere in the United States, including Nevada. According to Clinard and Meier (2008), streetwalkers are the most visible types of prostitutes. They tend to solicit clients in public and may even perform their sexual acts in places such as alleys, parks, or cars. In most cases, they are modestly paid and may often exchange sexual favors for drugs. While most streetwalkers in the United States are women, there are also men as well as those who are transgendered. In virtually all cases, they sell their services to men.

In addition to streetwalkers, call girls are another type of prostitute in the United States. Call girls tend to have the highest status of the various types of prostitutes. Generally, they make the most money and are less likely than street-walkers to be stigmatized by society. In fact, they are usually able to operate with a great deal of autonomy and privacy. Many call girls have a select clientele, and some may even perform background checks on their clients. It is not uncommon for some call girls to have college degrees, and some may opt not to have sex with their clients. They are also much less likely than streetwalkers to be arrested by the police (Clinard & Meier, 2008). Shuger (2000) suggests that many call girls use the Internet to meet customers. He explains that they may pay a monthly fee to advertise on an escort Web site. By advertising on the Web, some call girls are able to find customers who are willing to pay as much as $4,500 a day.

Sexual Paraphilias in the United States

According to criminologist Eric Hickey (2006), a paraphilia is defined as “sexual arousal through deviant or bizarre images or activities” (p. 26). Paraphilias can range from behaviors that are seemingly harmless to those that are sadistic and violent. In order for a behavior to be considered a paraphilia, there is typically a fantasy that fuels a particular behavior. An actor will experience extreme frustration if not able to fulfill this fantasy. Hickey argues that males are far more likely than females to engage in paraphiliac behavior. He also contends that according to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), an individual must engage in a behavior for at least a 6-month period in order for it to be considered a paraphilia. In the United States, an actor may engage in a variety of different sexual paraphilias.

Perhaps one of the most common paraphilias in the United States involves the usage of pornographic and obscene materials. It is no surprise that computers have played a large role in disseminating pornographic material, including illegal “kiddie porn.” Individuals who are obsessed with pornography may also surf Internet chat rooms in hopes of having cybersex. Cybersex is an activity where participants flirt and exchange romantic messages via the World Wide Web. Cybersex can be completely anonymous, or participants can use a webcam in order to see and hear one another. Some chat rooms cater to individuals with fetishes. According to Hickey (2006), one who obtains sexual gratification from objects has a fetish. Some individuals, for example, have foot or shoe fetishes. Someone with this paraphilia may actually spend hours fantasizing about inanimate objects.

Another sexual paraphilia in the United States is known as erotic asphyxiation. This activity occurs whenever an individual deliberately cuts off his or her oxygen supply as a means of achieving sexual gratification (Hickey, 2006). It is important to note that this behavior has the potential to be extremely dangerous. Every year, hundreds of people die from engaging in this deviant activity. Another type of sexual paraphilia is known as sadomasochism. This occurs whenever some one receives sexual pleasure from either receiving pain (masochism) or inflicting it on other people (sadism). The pain may be of either a mental or physical nature. Typically, at least two participants engage in this behavior. It is always consensual. Often, individuals who engage in this behavior will have a safe word that is used whenever one of the actors feels that the activity is getting out of hand.

While most people with paraphilias tend to be men, there is at least one condition that tends to be more common in females. This phenomenon, known as hybristophilia, refers to individuals who are attracted to prisoners and criminals (Money, 1989). According to Linedecker (1993), many hybristophiles have been victims of domestic abuse and a few may even wind up being murdered by their criminal boyfriend or husband. This is consistent with Worley and Cheeseman (2006), who assert that some females who have romantic relationships with inmates are likely to have been involved in abusive or promiscuous relationships at some point in their lives. Often these women harbor tremendous feelings of guilt and inadequacy (Linedecker, 1993). Some hybristophiles are also socially isolated and decide to become romantically involved with an inmate in order to achieve a sense of belongingness (Worley & Cheeseman, 2006). This deviant paraphilia has the potential to be very harmful for the hybristophile and her family. Individuals who are sexually attracted to criminals are also highly likely to be exploited by criminals and prisoners.


As this chapter has shown, there are a variety of different types of deviant behaviors. Anthropologists have conducted numerous studies in researching this phenomenon. When many people think of the term deviant, they may tend to conjure up images of criminals or perverts. Hopefully, we have demonstrated that deviant behavior is a much broader term. It is likely that all of us, at one time or another, have been labeled as deviant. Humans, after all, tend to be very judgmental beings. Certainly, it would be atypical for an individual to go an entire lifetime without violating at least one social norm. Whenever someone breaks a social norm, no matter how small, this individual runs the risk of being considered deviant. Also, as shown earlier, if an individual possesses certain physical attributes, this can also result in the actor being labeled as deviant.

It is important to note that deviant behaviors vary across cultures. For example, as discussed earlier, young boys in the Sambia tribe of Papua New Guinea are treated very differently than are boys in other parts of the world. In most societies, the activities that the Sambia engage in would be considered highly illegal, or at the very least, repugnant. The fact that the Sambia encourage a practice that is not tolerated in other places illustrates that deviant behavior may be influenced by a society’s religious, ethnic, and “tribal” characteristics (Goode, 2008). Also, whenever someone violates a norm, it is likely that the actor’s social position may play a role in whether the individual is regarded as deviant. If an individual is poor and a racial minority, for example, he may be more likely to be sanctioned than someone who is a wealthy member of the racial majority. It is also likely that a deviant behavior that is committed in private will be much less likely to result in a sanction than behavior committed in public places. Given this, Americans understandably may be leery of being captured on camera. In today’s society of phone cameras and YouTube, virtually anyone has the potential to have a deviant behavior recorded and displayed before a large audience. This is a topic that in and of itself warrants further academic study. It would behoove anthropologists to examine this area in the future.

Finally, as this chapter has shown, deviant behavior is seldom criminal. In other words, it usually does not violate laws. While crimes are certainly deviant, most deviance does not rise to the level of being a crime. Criminologists and legal scholars may be the best equipped to study behaviors that violate formal norms. For the purposes of this discussion, we are most curious about the softer forms of deviance, such as the examples that have been presented throughout this chapter. Clearly, deviant behavior is an area worthy of our attention. It has been the focus of numerous anthropological studies for several decades, and it is likely to be a topic that will continue to interest other social science scholars in the years to come.