Sociology of Deviant Behaviour

How those who conform deal with conduct unbecoming

February 28, 2008

The cover of this book offers a visual notion of deviance: among a batch of green apples, well arranged in tidy rows, one stands out: it is red. Laughing at a party would not be deemed deviant, but it would at a funeral.

This is a fairly complete textbook, combining theories and empirical findings, discussing definitions and specific events and analysing deviant processes along with philosophies inspiring their control. But what is deviance? The authors provide preliminary shorthand definitions, which can be statistical, absolutist, reactivist and normative. A statistical definition identifies deviance as a departure from conventionally predictable behaviour - in other words, any behaviour that is statistically infrequent.

Absolutist definitions are based on general principles and values that are assumed to be universal: deviance, in this perspective, constitutes a violation of such principles and values. A reactivist definition would regard a deviant act as the result of a specific prohibition, be that formal or informal. In this view, deviance is a conduct that society and institutions define as such, and against which they react. Finally, a normative definition tautologically describes deviance as a violation of a norm, namely of a standard conduct to which most people feel they have to conform.

The authors adopt this last definition, which allows them to connect the notion of deviance to that of social control. Thus, the reaction of individuals and institutions to undesirable behaviour is linked with the form deviance takes on, showing how sanctions may not merely respond to deviance but how these reactions simultaneously determine its shape, nature and evolution. Sanctions may be formal or informal and range from disapproval and shunning of those labelled as deviants to their incarceration. The book deals with a wide range of behaviours and responses, from interpersonal violence to property crime, from white-collar and corporate offending to drug abuse, from homophobia to mental disorder.

Perhaps a clear distinction between what constitutes deviance and what can be termed crime proper would have helped orient students. To include homosexuality and homicide under the same umbrella definition, and to discuss how a criminal career develops and how "one becomes a homosexual" in the same textbook, shows that the sociology of deviance still struggles to find a precise object of study and a clear disciplinary independence.

Who is it for? Students and lecturers of sociology and criminology.

Presentation: Clearly set out and well structured, with appropriate and interesting examples drawing on contemporary events.

Would you recommend it? Yes, but together with other books emphasising the crisis experienced by the sociology of deviance and criminology as independent fields.

Sociology of Deviant Behaviour

Authors: Marshall B. Clinard and Robert F. Meier
Edition: Thirteenth
Publisher: Thomson Wadsworth
Pages: 587
Price: £34.99
ISBN 9780495093350

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