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10.1: Deviance and Crime

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    In sum, deviance is a violation of a norm. Any unexpected behavior or behavior that violates social norms can be seen as deviant. A social actor exercising deviant behaviors runs the risk of being labeled a deviant. But what is the difference in conformity, deviance, and crime? Is all crime deviant? Is all deviance criminal? In Table \(10.1.1\), Robert K. Merton’s matrix combining group norms and legal code behaviors illustrates how deviant and criminal behaviors differ.

    Table \(10.1.1\): Robert Merton's Deviant and Criminal Behaviors301

      Actor complies with legal code Actor violates legal code
    Actor complies with group norms Conforming behaviors Criminal behaviors
    Actor violates gorup norms Deviant behaviors Deviant and criminal behaviors

    When an actor complies with group norms and the law it’s called conformity, or an adherence to the normative and legal standards of a group in society. An example might be the clothes you wore to class today, assuming you wore clothes to class and they are normative. When an actor violates group norms but complies with the law, it is deviance. An example might be if you wore your Halloween costume to class in July. If an actor complies with group norms yet breaks violates legal code, it’s called criminal. Crime is behavior which violates laws and to which governments can apply negative sanctions. An example of this might be when one drives 10 miles over the speed limit on the freeway. In this case, while speeding is against the law, if everybody is speeding and you do too, it could be seen as normative crime (although you may still receive a negative formal sanction in the form of a speeding ticket). Over–reporting deductions and under-reporting income on your income tax return can be seen as a normative crime (but, again, negative formal sanctions may still be applied in the form of an audit or paying penalties, etc.). When an actor violates group norms and legal codes, these are deviant and criminal behaviors.

    301 Merton, Robert K. 1938. “Social Structure and Anomie.” American Sociological Review 3:672–82.

    This page titled 10.1: Deviance and Crime is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Katie Coleman via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.