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Explanations on Deviance

Sociobiologists explain deviance by looking for answers within individuals. They assume that genetic predispositions lead people to such deviances as juvenile delinquency and crime. Among their explanations were these three theories:

(1) Intelligence—low intelligence leads to crime;

(2) The "XYY" theory—an extra Y chromosome in males leads to crime;

(3) Body type—people with "squarish, muscular" bodies are more likely to commit street crime acts such as mugging and burglary. An early version of physiological theories is given by Cesare Lombroso in his book D'Uomo Delinquente Lombroso argued that criminals were throwbacks to an earlier and more primitive form of man. He claimed to have identified a number of genetically determined characteristics that were often found in criminals – large jaws, high cheekbones, large ears and insensitivity to pain.

Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck claim to have found a causal relationship between physical build and delinquent activity. They argue that a stocky, rounded individual, a body type known, as mesomorph tends to be active and aggressive than those with other builds. Psychologists also focus on abnormalities within the individual. They examine personality disorders. Their supposition is that deviating individuals have deviating personalities and that subconscious motives drive people to deviance.

The British psychologist Hans Eysenck maintains that there is a connection between personality traits such as extraversion and criminal behavior. The modern theorists of genetics argue that genetically based characteristics predispose an individual to deviant behavior. Eysenck states that heredity is a very strong predisposing factor as far as committing crimes is concerned.

John Bowlby claimed that those delinquents who were chronic recidivists that they constantly broke the law with little regard for the possible consequences had suffered from maternal deprivation during their early years. They revealed psychopathic traits had often been raised in institutions such as orphanages and so has been deprived of an intimate relationship with a mother figure. Robert C Andry claimed that boys who had hostile and unsatisfactory relationships with their fathers projected this hostility and acted it out in their relationships with other boys and authority figures.

Sociologists in contrast with both Sociobiologists and psychologists, search for factors outside the individual. They look for social influences that recruit people to break norms and commit crimes. They examine such external influences as socialization membership in subcultures and social class.

Labeling theorists maintain that an act is deviant when people notice it and then take action to label it as a violation and apply appropriate sanctions. In Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, sociologist Howard Becker states the central thesis of labeling theory as all social groups make rules and attempt, at some times and under some circumstances, to enforce them. When a rule is enforced, the person who is supposed to have broken it may be seen as a special kind of person, one who cannot be trusted to live by the rules agreed on by the group. He is regarded as an outsider.

Labeling theorists are guided by two assumptions :

(1) rules are socially constructed

(2) these rules are not enforced uniformly or consistently. Support for the first assumption comes from the fact that because definitions of deviant behavior vary across time and place, people must decide what is deviant. The second assumption is supported by the fact that some people break rules and escape detection, whereas others are treated as offenders even though they have broken no rules. Labeling theorists maintain that whether an act is deviant depends on whether people notice it and, if they do notice, on whether they label it as a violation of a rule and subsequently apply sanctions.

The Symbolic interactionists stress experiences in groups. Edwin Sutherland coined the term differential association defined as from the different groups we learn to deviate from or conform to society's norms. The different groups with which we associate give us messages about conformity and deviance. We may receive mixed messages, but we end up with more of one than the other.

The end result is an imbalance in the attitudes that tilt us in one direction or another. Consequently, we learn to either conform or to deviate. Symbolic interactionists stress people and groups such as family, friends, and the police influence us not to deviate. According to Hirschi's theory of self-control the stronger our bonds are with society, the more effective our inner controls are. Bonds are based on attachment, commitments, involvements and beliefs. The key to learning high self-control is socialization, especially in childhood. Parents help their children to develop self-control by supervising them and punishing their deviant acts.

The interactionist studies of deviance have been largely concerned with societal reaction to the deviant once he has been labeled. Aaron V Cicourel's important study entitled The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice looks at the actual process of defining deviance. It examines the interaction between the potential deviant and the agents of social control to discover exactly how and why the label deviant is applied to particular individuals. Cicourel's research is based on an investigation of the treatment of delinquency in two Californian cities.

Cicourel argues that delinquents are produced by the agencies of social control. Certain individuals are selected processed and labeled as deviant. Justice is the result of negotiation in the interaction process. The production of delinquents is also dependent on the ways in which police and juvenile bureaus are organized, their policies and the pressures from local media and politicians that are brought to bear on them. Cicourel questions structural and sub-cultural theories of deviance that see deviance as a product of pressure from the social structure. He concludes the study challenges the conventional view which assumes delinquents are natural social types distributed in some ordered fashion and produced by a set of abstract pressures from the social structure.

According to Functionalist theorist like Emile Durkheim deviance, is functional for society, as it contributes to the social order. He defined deviance as acts that offend collective norms and expectations. The fact that always and everywhere some people will offend collective sentiments led him to conclude that deviance is normal as long as it is not excessive and that "it is completely impossible for any society entirely free of it to exist"

Its three main functions are :

1. Deviance clarifies moral boundaries and affirms norms. A group's ideas about how people should think and act mark its moral boundaries. Deviant acts challenge those boundaries. Punishing deviants affirms the group's norms and clarifies what it means to be a member of the group.

2. Deviance promotes social unity. To affirm the group's moral boundaries by punishing deviants fosters a "we" feeling among the group's members.

3.Deviance promotes social change. Groups do not always agree on what to do with people who push beyond their accepted ways of doing things. Some group members may even approve of the rule-breaking behavior. Boundary violations that gain enough support become new acceptable behaviors.

Deviance, then, may force a group to rethink and redefine its moral boundaries, helping groups and whole societies to adapt to changing circumstances.

Conflict theorists take the position that the group in power imposes its definitions of deviance on other groups. From this perspective, the law is an instrument of oppression used by the powerful to maintain their position of privilege. The ruling class uses the criminal justice system to punish the crimes of the poor while diverting its own criminal activities away from this punitive system.