Approaches to Deviance, Crime, and Social Control

Nowadays, when the level of criminal activities is growing, explaining the reasons behind deviance is becoming more pressing. Over the years, different approaches have been elaborated to tackle this problem, the most influential of which are theories of symbolic interaction, structural functionalism, and social conflict. While each of these theories contributed to the overall understanding of the nature of deviance, the ways they approach this problem are entirely different. This work aims at discussing the fundamentals of these theories and the forms of social control they deem adequate.

Functionalism suggests that crime and deviant behaviors result from structural drawbacks and the lack of moral unity in society. Durkheim believed that crime and deviation are inevitable attributes of modern societies, providing an individual with broader freedom of choice, which leads to nonconformism of a certain part of society members. Thus, deviations are inevitable and necessary since they help strengthen group solidarity and social norms, establishing a boundary between good and evil. Hirschi believed that deviations occur in societies with weak intersocial bonds. Merton regarded deviation as a tension that arises in a person’s behavior when society’s goals come into conflict with the legal means available to him to achieve them. Thus, according to this approach, the source of deviations lies in the very structure of the society, which cannot meet the expectations of all its members.

The theory of social conflict states that the reasons for crime and deviance lie in the inequality of distribution of economic resources within society. Crime is a phenomenon that accompanies social and political conflicts aimed at maintaining or improving groups’ positions in society. The legislative system, controlled by power elites, supports inequality by labeling people who disagree with established norms deviant. The Judiciary system is an instrument to uphold the rule of the elite class.

Symbolic interaction theories treat deviance as a behavioral pattern that can be learned through the interaction of individuals with social institutions and other members of society. No person is good or bad, but it is how others interpret an individual’s actions that make him “normal” or “deviant”; in this sense, deviance is a collective action. Becker expanded the scope of what is taken into account when studying deviance by including other people’s values and moral norms in the process. By labeling a person deviant, people usually signify that he doesn’t meet the expected standards of behavior. At the same time, it afflicts an individual’s life because he has fewer chances to find a job or provide for his family. Becker asserted that the more a person is treated as deviant, the less he will correct his behavioral patterns. In this way, labeling leads to the aggravation of existing behavioral problems to the point where they are treated as crimes.

All three approaches acknowledge that the judicial system, legal apparatus, and public opinion impact criminals negatively, for they stimulate the recurrence of abnormal behavioral patterns. Aggression in relation to criminals most often fosters aggression in response. Instead of a punitive reaction on the part of society, there should be measures aimed at deterring people from crimes and stopping the division of society into “good” and “bad.”

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