Sociological Approaches to Deviance Theory and Research

A Typology with Links to Online Readings

Definition of Deviance
Level of Analysis
Macro-Level: Focus on large-scale social units and societal-level phenomena
Micro-Level: Focus on interpersonal behavior and relationships in groups

Normative:

"Deviance refers to behavior that violates social norms or to persons who engage in such behavior."

Macro-Normative Approach
Micro-Normative Approach
  • Primary Theoretical Goal: Explain the rate and social distribution of deviant behavior within and between societies.
  • Typical Sources of Data: Secondary data from public agencies; epidemiological surveys of probability samples; cross-national comparative data.
  • Classic Theoretical Tradition: Anomie Theory (click here)
  • Primary Theoretical Goal: Explain the interpersonal causes of the deviant behavior of individuals and small groups.
  • Typical Sources of Data: Explanatory surveys of probability and non-probability samples; case studies using life history and ethnographic methods.
  • Classic Theoretical Tradition: Social Learning Theory (click here)

Relativisitic:

"Deviance refers to behavior or persons that are defined as deviant by social audiences."

Macro-Relativistic Approach
Micro-Relativistic Approach
  • Primary Theoretical Goal: Explain the cultural, structural, and historical sources of societal definitions of deviance.
  • Typical Sources of Data: Case studies using historical documents; secondary data from public agencies; cross-national comparative data.
  • Classic Theoretical Tradition: Conflict Theory (click here)
  • Primary Theoretical Goal: Explain and understand the process and consequences of interpersonal reactions to deviance.
  • Typical Sources of Data: Field observation and ethnographic research; survey research using non-probability samples.
  • Classic Theoretical Tradition: Labeling Theory (click here)