53+ Deviance Examples in Sociology (Definition + Theories)

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Sociology is the study of society, human behavior, and social interactions. It helps us understand how we function as a part of the larger world. Within this fascinating field, the concept of deviance plays a critical role in helping us decode the complexities of human actions and societal norms.

Deviance in sociology is the behavior, belief, or condition that violates societal norms or expectations. It's not always criminal or harmful; sometimes it's just different or unexpected. Deviance can range from minor infractions like jaywalking to more severe actions like theft or violence.

This article aims to explore the topic of deviance in depth. We'll delve into the theories that explain it, notable researchers who've studied it, and most importantly, we'll go through specific examples of deviance to give you a comprehensive understanding of this concept.

What is Deviance?

Gene Simmons from Kiss

First, let's break down what deviance really means in sociology. Deviance is any action, belief, or condition that goes against societal norms or expectations.

Imagine a simple example: most kids in school wear casual clothes, but one day you decide to show up in a tuxedo or a ball gown. You'd definitely get some looks, maybe even some comments. That's because your attire is deviant—it doesn't match what's typically expected in that setting.

Now, it's important to remember that deviance isn't universally bad or good. It's a social construct, meaning society decides what's deviant and what's not. In different cultures, something that's deviant in one place might be completely normal in another.

For example, eating insects is considered deviant in many Western cultures but is a common practice in some other parts of the world.

Difference Between Deviance and Crime

You might be thinking, "Isn't deviance just a fancy word for crime?" Well, not really. While all crimes are forms of deviance, not all deviance is criminal.

Take tattooing, for instance. In some societies, especially older generations, tattoos are seen as deviant but they are not illegal. On the other hand, theft is both deviant and illegal.

Deviance could also be things that are socially frowned upon but not punishable by law. Gossiping might be considered morally wrong or deviant but you won't be arrested for it (unless it turns into defamation, then that's a different story).

Some Theories of Deviance

To better understand deviance, sociologists have created a range of theories, each offering a unique lens through which we can study human behavior.

  • Structural Functionalism (Émile Durkheim): Durkheim was one of the first to say, "Hey, deviance is not all bad!" According to him, deviance serves a purpose in society. It helps define the limits of acceptable behavior. Just like a teacher lays down rules for what you can or can't do in a classroom, deviance helps us understand the boundaries in society.
  • Conflict Theory (Karl Marx): This theory dives into the unequal distribution of power. In a society, different groups have different levels of power, wealth, and influence. Often, those in power decide what's deviant, usually in a way that protects their own interests. For example, not paying taxes is deviant because it goes against the rules set by those who benefit from tax collection—the government.
  • Symbolic Interactionism (Herbert Blumer): This theory takes us into the small-scale, day-to-day interactions that shape our understanding of deviance. Have you ever done something just because your friends were doing it, even if you knew it was wrong? That's symbolic interactionism in action. Through our interactions, we learn what is considered deviant within our close circles, and this varies from group to group.

Historical Context

Studying the past helps us understand the ever-changing nature of deviance. In the Middle Ages, for instance, witchcraft was considered highly deviant and punishable by death. Fast forward to the present, and witchcraft is either seen as a form of entertainment or a subculture of a benign spiritual practice by most people.

In more recent history, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States turned acts of civil disobedience into tools for social change. While considered deviant at the time, these actions led to significant transformations in laws and societal norms.

In the digital age, new forms of deviance have emerged, like cyberbullying and online piracy. These are considered deviant because they go against the norms of respectful and lawful behavior on digital platforms.

Changing Nature of Deviance

The norms that define deviance aren't set in stone; they evolve over time and vary across cultures.

Just think about fashion or music. In the 1950s, rock and roll was considered a deviant form of music. Parents and authority figures were concerned that it would corrupt the youth. Nowadays, rock and roll is a widely accepted genre.

Similarly, fashion styles that were once considered rebellious or deviant, like miniskirts or dyed hair, have found their way into mainstream culture.

Society's rules change, and what was once deviant can become normal—or vice versa.

In Summary

So why study deviance? Because understanding deviance helps us understand society itself—the rules it makes, who gets to make them, and what happens when we break them. And trust us, we're all a bit deviant in some way or another.

Theories About Deviance

Émile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim is often hailed as one of the founding fathers of sociology, with contributions that have shaped the way we study society today.

Born in France in 1858, Durkheim made waves in the academic world in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of his standout concepts in understanding deviance is the notion of "anomie."

Anomie: The Sense of Normlessness

Anomie refers to a state of normlessness, where the norms that usually guide our behavior become unclear or disappear.

Imagine walking into a classroom where there are no rules. At first, it might seem fun, but soon you'd realize that without rules, it's hard to know what's expected of you. That kind of uncertainty can lead to confusion, stress, and even deviant behavior.

Durkheim suggested that when society experiences rapid changes—like a sudden economic downturn—levels of anomie rise, and so does deviance.

The Function of Deviance

Durkheim went against the grain by arguing that deviance isn't necessarily a bad thing for society. In fact, he saw it as a kind of social "check engine" light. When there's a lot of deviance, it could be a sign that something in society needs a tune-up.

Deviant acts challenge the status quo and can force a community to rethink its norms and values, possibly leading to social change for the better.

For example, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States involved many acts considered deviant at the time, like civil disobedience. These acts pushed society to reconsider and eventually change unfair laws.

Social Solidarity and Collective Conscience

Another groundbreaking idea from Durkheim was the role of deviance in creating social solidarity or a sense of belonging among people. Deviance can help draw boundaries and create a sense of "us" versus "them."

While this can be divisive, it also reinforces the norms and values within a group. The idea ties into Durkheim's broader theory of "collective conscience," which is the shared beliefs and moral attitudes that operate as a unifying force within society.

When someone acts deviantly, it often prompts a collective response that serves to strengthen the unity of a group.

Criticisms and Lasting Impact

While Durkheim's theories have been highly influential, they aren't without criticism. Some argue that his idea of anomie is too vague and difficult to measure scientifically. Others say that his positive view of deviance overlooks the real harm that some deviant acts can cause.

Nevertheless, his work remains a cornerstone in sociological studies. It has paved the way for later researchers to explore how societal structures influence individual behavior, adding depth and complexity to our understanding of deviance.

In summary, Émile Durkheim made monumental contributions to the field of sociology and the study of deviance. His ideas of anomie, the function of deviance, and its role in social solidarity have provided invaluable perspectives that continue to influence scholars today.

Through his theories, Durkheim challenges us to look beyond the immediate act of deviance and consider what it reveals about the underlying structures and collective beliefs of a society.

Robert Merton

Robert Merton is another heavyweight in the realm of sociology, and his ideas have had a profound impact on how we think about deviance. Born in 1910 in Philadelphia, Merton became one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century.

His theories have been especially important in understanding the mechanisms that drive people to engage in deviant behavior.

Strain Theory: Societal Pressure Cooker

At the heart of Merton's contributions is the concept of "strain theory," which seeks to explain why people turn to deviance when faced with societal pressures.

Merton believed that society sets specific goals for its members, such as achieving wealth, success, or social status. However, not everyone has access to legitimate means (like education or job opportunities) to attain these goals.

Imagine you're in a race, but you're given a tricycle to ride while everyone else gets a racing bike. The "strain" comes in when people are unable to meet societal expectations using socially acceptable methods.

This strain leads to frustration and could potentially result in deviance as people look for other ways to succeed. The pressure to achieve can become so intense that people resort to cheating, lying, or even criminal activities.

Five Modes of Individual Adaptation

Merton identified five ways people adapt to the strain caused by societal pressures:

  1. Conformity: Some people stick to the rules, even if they can't reach the societal goals they've been told to aim for. They continue to value both the goals and the means, even if they're not successful.
  2. Innovation: This is where deviance comes in. Innovators accept the goals of society but reject the socially acceptable means to achieve them. Instead, they find new, often deviant ways to succeed.
  3. Ritualism: Here, people give up on achieving the big goals but still stick to the accepted rules and norms. They become obsessed with the "rules for rules' sake."
  4. Retreatism: These individuals reject both the societal goals and the means to achieve them, often retreating into a world of fantasy or substance abuse.
  5. Rebellion: The rebels want to change the system. They reject both the societal goals and the accepted means to achieve them, seeking to replace them with their own set of values.

Criticisms and Evolving Theories

Though highly influential, Merton's strain theory has faced its share of criticisms. For instance, critics point out that not all deviant behavior can be explained by the strain theory; some people engage in deviance for the thrill, not because they feel societal pressure to succeed.

Others say that Merton's theory is too focused on individual responses and doesn't adequately consider the influence of larger societal structures.

Despite these criticisms, Merton's ideas have inspired further research and spawned variations of strain theory, like General Strain Theory by Robert Agnew, which includes a broader range of stressors beyond the inability to achieve societal goals.

In summary, Robert Merton's theories provide a framework for understanding why people might engage in deviant behavior.

By examining the relationship between societal expectations and individual actions, Merton's strain theory offers a nuanced perspective that has been instrumental in shaping the sociology of deviance.

His work continues to be studied and debated, contributing to ongoing discussions about how societal structures contribute to deviant actions.

Howard Becker

Howard Becker is best known for his work on labeling theory, a perspective that fundamentally changed how sociologists understand deviance.

Born in Chicago in 1928, Becker made a name for himself in the mid-20th century. His theories challenge us to look beyond the act itself and consider how society's reaction can shape an individual's behavior.

Labeling Theory: The Power of Names

You've probably heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." Becker would respectfully disagree. According to him, the labels that society puts on people can be incredibly powerful, shaping both self-perception and how others see them.

Imagine a teenager caught shoplifting. The act itself is deviant, but the label that society attaches to him—as a criminal or a delinquent—can have lasting repercussions.

Becker argues that labeling someone as deviant does not just describe bad behavior. Instead, it actually contributes to the person engaging in more deviant acts in the future.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Labeling theory often results in what is known as the "self-fulfilling prophecy." Once people are labeled in a certain way—whether as a 'troublemaker,' 'dropout,' or 'criminal'—they may find it difficult to break free from these labels.

Society expects them to act according to their label, and this expectation influences their choices and behavior. Over time, individuals may internalize these labels, embracing them as part of their identity and behaving in ways that fulfill these societal expectations.

Master Status

Becker also introduced the idea of "master status," which is when a deviant label becomes the primary way society defines someone, overshadowing other aspects of their identity like their talents, interests, or career.

For example, someone labeled as an "ex-convict" might find that people only see them through the lens of their criminal past, even if they have other qualities like being a loving parent or a talented artist.

Deviance and Social Groups

Becker also emphasized that deviance is not just an individual act but a process that involves interaction between the rule-breaker and the group that labels them.

Social groups create deviance by setting rules and then labeling those who break them as outsiders. This highlights how deviance is not just a quality of the act but also a result of societal judgment and stigmatization.

Criticisms and Legacy

Labeling theory has its critics. Some argue that it puts too much emphasis on societal reaction and overlooks the actual harm that some deviant acts can cause.

For example, violent crimes have real victims, and focusing solely on the label might divert attention from the seriousness of the act. Nevertheless, Becker's ideas have had a lasting impact, encouraging sociologists to consider both individual actions and societal reactions in their studies of deviance.

In conclusion, Howard Becker's labeling theory offers a unique lens through which to view deviance. It urges us to consider the far-reaching effects of societal labels and how they can trap individuals in a cycle of deviance.

While not without its criticisms, Becker's work remains a cornerstone in sociology, continually inspiring debates and studies aimed at understanding the intricate dance between society and the individual.

Travis Hirschi

Travis Hirschi, born in 1935, is renowned for his groundbreaking "Social Bond Theory," which provides insights into why people conform to social norms rather than engage in deviant behavior.

Hirschi's theories have become a cornerstone in criminology and sociology, helping experts understand the mechanics that underlie social conformity and deviance.

Social Bond Theory: The Ties that Bind

At the core of Hirschi's theory is the idea that strong social bonds discourage deviance. According to him, people are naturally inclined to pursue their own self-interest, which might involve breaking rules or laws.

However, when individuals form strong bonds with society—through family, school, or other social institutions—they are less likely to engage in deviant behavior.

Imagine a student who is deeply involved in extracurricular activities and has a close-knit circle of friends and supportive family.

According to Hirschi, these social bonds make the student less likely to engage in deviant actions, such as cheating on a test, because they wouldn't want to jeopardize these important relationships.

The Four Elements of Social Bonding

Hirschi identified four key elements that make up the concept of social bonding:

  1. Attachment: This refers to our emotional closeness to people who matter to us, like family and friends. When we care about other people's opinions, we're more likely to stick to social norms.
  2. Commitment: This is all about the investment we make in various activities, be it educational achievements or career goals. The more we commit, the more we have to lose by engaging in deviant behavior.
  3. Involvement: Here, Hirschi talks about active participation in socially approved activities, such as school or community service. Being busy leaves less time and opportunity for deviance.
  4. Belief: This focuses on the acceptance of social norms and laws. When individuals share the general moral values of their community, they're less likely to break those rules.

Real-world Applications

Social Bond Theory has found its way into various sectors, such as education and criminal justice.

Schools, for instance, create programs that foster attachment and involvement, thereby reducing the likelihood of student deviance.

In the justice system, the theory has influenced rehabilitation programs aimed at strengthening an offender's social bonds, making them less likely to re-offend.

Criticisms and Later Developments

While Hirschi's Social Bond Theory has been hugely influential, it has not escaped criticism. One common critique is that the theory might be too simplistic and doesn't account for the complexities of human behavior.

For instance, strong social bonds might discourage minor forms of deviance but not more severe ones, like violent crimes. In response to criticisms, later theories such as the "Social Control Theory" have attempted to build upon and refine Hirschi's original ideas.

In summary, Travis Hirschi's theories on social bonds provide a framework for understanding why individuals may or may not engage in deviant behavior.

His ideas offer a refreshing angle that focuses not just on the deviants but also on the societal structures that influence them.

Although not without its criticisms, Hirschi's Social Bond Theory remains an essential tool for sociologists and criminologists alike, continually shaping the discourse around social conformity and deviance.

Erving Goffman

Erving Goffman, born in Canada in 1922, is one of sociology's most colorful and creative minds.

Known primarily for his work on symbolic interactionism, Goffman's theories have provided groundbreaking insights into how social interactions and settings contribute to deviance.

One of his most famous contributions is the concept of "stigma" and how it affects people labeled as deviant.

Stigma: The Mark of Deviance

Goffman introduced the term "stigma" as a label that significantly changes how an individual is socially perceived. Stigmas can come in various forms, such as physical deformities, mental disorders, or a tarnished reputation.

According to Goffman, being stigmatized isolates the individual from the community, affecting their social identity in ways that can lead to exclusion and discrimination.

Think about someone with a criminal record trying to find a job. Despite having served their time and paid their debt to society, the stigma attached to being an "ex-convict" can be a barrier to employment and social acceptance. This can make it incredibly difficult for them to reintegrate into society, effectively leading to further deviance.

Presentation of Self: Life as a Stage

Another pivotal concept introduced by Goffman is the "presentation of self," which he likens to a theatrical performance.

He argues that people have a "front stage" where they adhere to social norms and expectations and a "back stage" where they can be themselves without judgment. Deviant behavior often occurs in the "back stage" areas of life, hidden from public scrutiny.

For instance, someone might act completely differently when they are at home as opposed to when they are in a public setting.

The norms and expectations differ in these contexts, and what is considered deviant in one setting might be acceptable in another. Goffman's ideas help us understand how social settings influence what is considered deviant or normal behavior.

The Asylums: Total Institutions

In his work on asylums, Goffman explored the concept of "total institutions," places like mental hospitals, prisons, and monasteries where individuals are cut off from broader society and have no control over their day-to-day lives.

These institutions have their own norms and rules, and people inside them often face severe stigmas. Goffman's studies on asylums opened the door for a broader discussion about how institutional settings can shape perceptions of deviance.

Criticisms and Impact

Goffman's theories are not without criticisms. Some say his work tends to focus too much on micro-level interactions and neglects broader structural factors that contribute to deviance.

Others point out that while his theories are insightful for understanding individual behavior, they may not be as useful for explaining larger patterns of deviance in society.

However, the impact of his work cannot be overstated. Goffman's theories have provided a rich foundation for understanding how deviance is not just an isolated act but a complex interplay of social interactions and judgments.

His work continues to be a significant influence in sociology, psychology, and even disciplines like literature and theater studies.

To sum up, Erving Goffman’s theories give us a unique lens through which we can examine the intricacies of social behavior and deviance. His work has deepened our understanding of how societal labels, contexts, and institutions play a critical role in shaping our actions and identities.

Categories of Deviance

woman with tattoos

This in-depth look into the categories of deviance provides a multi-faceted view of the concept. Deviance is far from a black-and-white issue; it's a complex social construct influenced by a range of factors, including cultural norms, individual and group behaviors, and societal structures.

Criminal and Non-Criminal Deviance

One of the most basic divisions in the realm of deviance is between criminal and non-criminal activities. Criminal deviance involves actions that break established laws, such as stealing, fraud, or murder.

These actions usually result in legal repercussions, ranging from fines to imprisonment. Non-criminal deviance, on the other hand, involves actions that may be frowned upon socially but are not illegal, like lying or breaking social norms.

The difference between criminal and non-criminal deviance often influences how society reacts to these behaviors.

Criminal deviance usually warrants interventions from legal systems and may result in penalties or incarceration. Non-criminal deviance, however, usually invites social sanctions like ostracization or moral condemnation, but these do not have legal consequences.

Interestingly, the line between criminal and non-criminal deviance can sometimes blur. For instance, drug usage might be considered a criminal activity in one jurisdiction and a social issue in another.

Moreover, activities like civil disobedience may be technically illegal but are often applauded by certain sections of society as a form of positive social change.

Formal and Informal Deviance

Formal deviance refers to the violation of official rules and laws, like robbery or tax evasion. These actions are universally considered wrong and punishable by formal sanctions.

Informal deviance, however, consists of behaviors that may not be illegal but still violate social norms, like cutting in line or wearing casual attire to a formal event.

The societal implications of formal deviance are often more severe and include legal repercussions. On the other hand, informal deviance usually results in social repercussions, like being stared at or talked about but doesn't invite any legal sanctions.

What makes a deviant act formal or informal often comes down to societal norms and how strictly they're enforced. In many cultures, formal rules are established to codify norms that are considered extremely important, whereas informal deviance usually involves norms that are socially regulated but not legally enforced.

Individual and Collective Deviance

Deviance can occur at both the individual and collective levels. Individual deviance involves a single person engaging in a deviant act, like shoplifting or lying. Collective deviance includes group activities that are considered deviant, like organized crime or riots.

Individual deviance usually has localized consequences and may or may not have a broader societal impact. Collective deviance, however, often affects communities or even nations and may result in more severe legal penalties, community unrest, or social change.

The psychology behind individual and collective deviance can be quite different. Individual deviance is often influenced by personal factors, whereas collective deviance is typically driven by group dynamics, social pressures, and larger societal issues.

Positive and Negative Deviance

Deviance is not always negatively perceived. Positive deviance involves actions that deviate from societal norms but are generally considered constructive or beneficial.

For example, civil rights activists like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. engaged in behaviors considered deviant at the time but aimed for social change.

Negative deviance, on the other hand, generally harms individuals or society and includes actions like theft, deception, or violence.

Positive deviance often challenges the status quo and can initiate social change, as seen in movements for civil rights, women's suffrage, and LGBTQ+ rights. Negative deviance usually has detrimental effects, causing harm or disrupting social harmony.

Legal systems and community structures are often designed to deter negative deviance more actively than encouraging positive deviance.

It's crucial to note that what is considered positively or negatively deviant can be highly subjective and culturally dependent. For example, what is considered positive deviance in one culture or time period might be viewed as negative deviance in another.

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Sociologist Edwin Lemert introduced this distinction to describe the stages of deviant behavior.

Primary deviance refers to the initial act of deviance, like a kid stealing candy from a store. Secondary deviance occurs when an individual adopts a deviant role as part of their identity, often as a result of societal labeling.

Primary deviance usually has limited social consequences and may not affect the individual's self-concept significantly. However, secondary deviance can lead to the individual becoming more deeply involved in deviant behavior, possibly resulting in exclusion from conventional society and a self-fulfilling prophecy of deviance.

Labeling plays a significant role in the progression from primary to secondary deviance. Once an individual is labeled as "deviant," society tends to see them through that lens, affecting both self-perception and future actions.

The labeling theory, developed by Howard Becker, provides a framework for understanding this process.

Medicalized Deviance

Medicalized deviance refers to behaviors or conditions considered deviant and needing medical treatment. For example, alcoholism or certain forms of mental illness like schizophrenia are often viewed both as deviant and as conditions requiring medical intervention.

Medicalizing deviance has both benefits and drawbacks. On the one hand, it can remove the moral stigma attached to certain kinds of deviance, providing a pathway for treatment rather than punishment.

On the other hand, it can lead to over-medicalization, where normal variations in behavior are pathologized.

The medicalization of deviance raises ethical questions about who gets to define what is "normal" and "abnormal" behavior and what kinds of interventions are appropriate.

It also touches upon issues of medical consent and the pharmaceutical industry's role in defining deviance.

Cultural and Time-Specific Deviance

Some behaviors may be considered deviant in one cultural or historical context but not in another. For example, tattoos were once considered deviant in many Western societies but have become more accepted over time.

Cultural and time-specific deviance reminds us that deviant behavior is not absolute but relative to specific societal norms and values. As societies evolve, their definitions of deviance also change, often reflected in amendments to laws and shifts in public opinion.

Large scale social changes, such as movements for civil rights or gender equality, often involve challenging existing norms and are thus seen as deviant initially.

However, as society progresses and adapts, these actions can become normalized, illustrating the fluid nature of what is considered deviant.

Deviance Examples

1. Shoplifting

masked thief

Shoplifting is a form of criminal deviance that involves the unauthorized taking of goods from a retail store. This action directly violates laws against theft and can lead to legal consequences, such as fines or imprisonment.

It is considered both a crime and a form of social deviance because it disrupts social norms regarding property and honesty.

Shoplifting not only affects the store owners but also has broader implications for society, as it can lead to increased prices and stricter security measures for all consumers.

2. Graffiti

Graffiti, the act of writing or drawing on public or private property without permission, is another example of criminal deviance. While some consider graffiti a form of art or social commentary, it is generally against the law.

The act challenges societal norms about property rights and public decorum. Notably, the famous artist Banksy turned graffiti into a form of high art, though his work still often constitutes deviant behavior from a legal perspective.

3. Tax Evasion

Tax evasion is a serious form of criminal deviance. By deliberately misreporting income or hiding money to avoid paying taxes, individuals engage in a behavior that is both illegal and morally questionable.

This act not only breaks laws but also social contracts, undermining public trust and depriving governments of revenue needed for public services.

4. Academic Cheating

Cheating in academic settings, such as copying someone else's homework or using unauthorized materials during an exam, is a form of non-criminal but formal deviance.

While it may not result in arrest, academic cheating can lead to significant consequences like failing grades, suspension, or even expulsion. This behavior disrupts the educational system's values of fairness and meritocracy.

5. Extramarital Affairs

Engaging in an extramarital affair is an example of informal deviance. Although it is not illegal in many places, it violates widely accepted social norms surrounding marriage and fidelity.

These affairs can have a profound emotional impact on families, leading to breakups, divorce, and a breakdown of trust.

6. Jaywalking

Jaywalking is an interesting case where a relatively minor act of deviance is technically criminal but often socially accepted.

Crossing the street outside of designated crosswalks breaks traffic laws but is commonly practiced in many cities. While usually not resulting in severe legal penalties, it still constitutes a violation of formal rules designed to ensure pedestrian safety.

7. Public Protests

Participating in public protests, especially those that involve civil disobedience, is a form of positive deviance. Actions like sit-ins or blocking traffic aim to draw attention to social issues and challenge the status quo.

Figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were engaged in positive deviance to fight for civil rights. However, these acts are often technically illegal, making them also a form of criminal deviance.

8. Littering

Littering is another example of criminal deviance, albeit often seen as minor. When someone throws trash on the ground instead of disposing of it properly, they not only break environmental laws but also social norms of community responsibility and respect for public spaces.

9. Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is a form of medicalized deviance. While consuming alcohol is legal for adults, excessive drinking can be seen as a medical issue needing intervention. This behavior not only risks the individual's health but also poses broader social risks, such as drunk driving or violence.

10. Insider Trading

Insider trading, the act of buying or selling stocks based on non-public, material information, is a severe form of criminal deviance. This illegal activity undermines the integrity of financial markets and violates societal norms of fairness and transparency.

High-profile cases, such as that of Martha Stewart, have drawn public attention to the seriousness of this offense.

11. Polygamy

Polygamy, the practice of having multiple spouses simultaneously, is often considered a form of cultural and time-specific deviance.

While polygamy is acceptable and even normative in some cultures, it is illegal and socially unacceptable in many Western societies. The differing perspectives on polygamy highlight how cultural norms influence what is considered deviant behavior.

12. Plagiarism

Plagiarism, or using someone else's words or ideas without proper attribution, is a form of academic and formal deviance.

While not usually a criminal offense, it is considered a serious ethical violation in academic and professional settings, leading to a loss of credibility and potential disciplinary action.

13. Smoking in No-Smoking Zones

Smoking in designated no-smoking areas is a form of criminal deviance. Not only does this action violate public health laws, but it also challenges social norms regarding shared public spaces and respect for others. It often results in fines and, in repeated instances, stronger legal consequences.

14. Internet Trolling

Internet trolling, the act of deliberately posting inflammatory or misleading content online to provoke others, is an example of informal deviance. While it's generally not illegal, this behavior violates social norms of constructive dialogue and respectful interaction in digital spaces.

15. Fare Dodging

Evading payment on public transportation, often referred to as "fare dodging," is a form of criminal deviance. This behavior undermines the public transportation system and is unfair to those who pay the fare. It can result in fines or even legal prosecution.

16. Loitering

Loitering, or remaining in a public place without an apparent purpose, is considered a minor form of criminal deviance. Laws against loitering aim to prevent public nuisances and potential criminal activities, though these laws can sometimes be controversial for targeting specific populations unfairly.

17. Cutting in Line

Cutting in line, or "queue-jumping," is an example of informal deviance. While not illegal, it violates the social norms of fairness and orderliness, often eliciting strong negative reactions from others waiting their turn.

18. Speeding

Driving over the speed limit is a form of criminal deviance with significant safety implications. Speeding increases the risk of accidents and endangers both the driver and others on the road. Legal consequences often include fines, license points, or even arrest in extreme cases.

19. Street Art Without Permission

Creating street art without proper authorization is a form of criminal deviance similar to graffiti. While the artwork might be aesthetically pleasing or carry social messages, doing so without permission violates property laws and social norms.

20. Fake Reviews

Posting fake reviews online, either to boost one's own business or sabotage a competitor, is a form of informal and sometimes criminal deviance. This behavior undermines the integrity of review systems and deceives consumers, and it can lead to legal consequences for false advertising or fraud.

21. Ghosting

Ghosting, or cutting off all communication with someone without explanation, is an example of informal deviance. This behavior violates social expectations for interpersonal relationships and can be emotionally damaging for the person who is ghosted.

22. Wearing Inappropriate Attire

Wearing clothing deemed inappropriate for a specific setting—like donning casual wear at a formal event—is a form of informal deviance. While it doesn't break any laws, it challenges social norms about decorum and propriety.

23. Gossiping

Engaging in gossip or spreading rumors is a form of informal deviance that can harm people's reputations and violate norms of privacy and respect. Although gossip is a common social activity, excessive or malicious gossip is generally frowned upon.

24. Public Nudity

Public nudity is a form of criminal deviance in many jurisdictions, as it violates laws related to indecent exposure. This behavior also challenges deep-seated social norms about modesty and personal boundaries.

25. Gambling in Prohibited Areas

Engaging in gambling activities in areas where it is illegal is a form of criminal deviance. This behavior not only breaks the law but also can lead to a range of social issues, including addiction and financial instability.

26. Dumpster Diving


Dumpster diving, or scavenging through waste containers for items deemed useful, is often viewed as a form of informal deviance. While not generally illegal, this activity challenges social norms about property and cleanliness.

27. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying involves using digital platforms to harass or intimidate others. It's a form of informal deviance that can escalate into criminal behavior depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the actions. Cyberbullying disrupts social expectations of respectful interaction.

28. Squatting

Squatting, or occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or building, is a form of criminal deviance. This behavior violates property laws and disrupts social norms related to ownership and habitation.

29. Spitting in Public

Spitting in public places is considered a minor form of criminal deviance in some jurisdictions and can lead to fines. This act challenges norms of public decency and hygiene.

30. Overprescribing Medication

Overprescribing medication, particularly addictive substances, is a form of medical deviance. While it's a severe ethical violation that can lead to criminal charges, it also highlights systemic issues in healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.

31. Hoarding

Hoarding, or excessively accumulating items to the point of creating hazardous living conditions, is considered a form of medicalized deviance. Although not necessarily illegal, this behavior challenges norms of healthy living and can have social and psychological implications.

32. Flash Mobs

Organizing or participating in flash mobs, sudden gatherings of people to perform an act and disperse quickly, can be either formal or informal deviance. While often entertaining and harmless, these acts sometimes disrupt public spaces and can lead to legal consequences.

33. Out-of-Wedlock Births

Having a child out of wedlock is an example of informal deviance that varies by culture and time period. While increasingly accepted in many Western societies, it still carries a stigma in certain communities and challenges traditional family structures.

34. Bigamy

Bigamy, the act of marrying someone while already married to another person, is a form of criminal deviance. It violates both legal statutes and social norms surrounding the institution of marriage.

35. Public Intoxication

Being intoxicated in public spaces is considered a form of criminal deviance. Not only does it violate public order laws, but it also challenges social norms about acceptable behavior in shared spaces.

36. Eavesdropping

Eavesdropping, or secretly listening to the private conversation of others without their consent, is a form of informal deviance. This behavior violates norms of privacy and personal boundaries.

37. Using a Fake ID

Using a fake identification card to gain access to restricted areas or purchase age-restricted items is a form of criminal deviance. This behavior not only violates laws but also compromises systems of public safety and regulation.

38. Yelling in a Library

Yelling or speaking loudly in a library is an example of informal deviance. Libraries are socially understood to be quiet spaces for reading and study, so loud behavior disrupts this normative expectation.

39. Reselling Concert Tickets at a Higher Price

Reselling concert tickets at inflated prices, often called ticket scalping, is considered a form of informal or criminal deviance depending on jurisdiction. This behavior challenges social norms of fairness and may violate laws related to consumer protection.

40. Joining a Cult

Joining a cult or an extreme religious group is often seen as a form of deviance. These organizations may promote beliefs and practices that are socially unconventional or considered dangerous, making membership in such groups a form of informal or, in some cases, formal deviance.

41. Using Electronics During a Movie

Using your phone or other electronic devices during a movie screening is an example of informal deviance. This behavior disrupts the viewing experience for others and challenges the social norms of etiquette in shared entertainment spaces.

42. Tax Evasion

Deliberately misrepresenting income to avoid paying taxes is a form of criminal deviance. Tax evasion not only breaks the law but also undermines public trust and deprives governments of revenue needed for public services.

43. Excessive Video Gaming

Engaging in video gaming to an extent that it interferes with daily responsibilities and social interactions is a form of deviance that's often medicalized. While not illegal, this behavior challenges social norms about leisure activities and responsible time management.

44. Cyberstalking

Engaging in stalking behavior online is a form of criminal deviance. This involves unwanted, obsessive attention by individuals or groups toward others, often through digital means, and can lead to severe psychological harm for the victim.

45. Food Hoarding in Public Settings

Taking excessive amounts of free food in public settings, like buffets or community events, is an example of informal deviance. This behavior is not illegal but violates social norms about sharing and public etiquette.

46. Running Red Lights

Intentionally running a red light while driving is a form of criminal deviance. This dangerous behavior violates traffic laws and increases the risk of accidents, posing a danger to the individual and others on the road.

The Role of Deviance in Modern Society

Deviance, whether it's informal or criminal, often serves as a mirror reflecting the values, norms, and moral underpinnings of a society. Understanding the role of deviance in modern society can help us grasp the complexities of human behavior and social cohesion.

Below, we delve into several key functions and implications of deviance in our lives today.

Social Cohesion and Boundary Reinforcement

One of the primary roles of deviance is to reinforce social cohesion by delineating what is "acceptable" and what is "unacceptable" behavior.

When someone engages in deviant acts, society often comes together to condemn the actions, thereby reaffirming collective norms and values. This process helps to draw lines that define the boundaries of acceptable behavior, making it clearer for members of society what is expected of them.

Agent of Social Change

Ironically, deviance can also be an agent of social change. When societal norms are outdated or unjust, deviant behavior can challenge the status quo and stimulate reconsideration of established norms.

For example, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States was initially considered deviant by many who wanted to maintain racial segregation. Yet, it led to significant changes in laws and social norms surrounding race.

Fostering Innovation and Creativity

Deviance isn't always negative; sometimes, it can foster innovation and creativity. People who think or act outside the conventional box may be labeled as deviant, but their unique perspectives can lead to groundbreaking ideas and developments.

Many entrepreneurs, artists, and scientists have been considered deviant in one way or another, but their contributions have significantly enriched society.

Risk and Danger Management

Deviant behavior often carries inherent risks that can lead to personal and societal harm. For instance, criminal activities pose threats to individual safety and social stability.

Acknowledging and understanding deviance provide a framework for society to manage these risks through legal systems, educational programs, and other preventive measures.

Psychological and Societal Release

Some theories suggest that deviance offers a sort of "safety valve" for social and psychological tension.

For instance, minor acts of deviance, like venting frustrations online or engaging in harmless pranks, may serve as outlets for individuals to express dissatisfaction or stress without resorting to more harmful behaviors.

Social Control and Power Dynamics

Deviance also plays a role in highlighting issues of social control and power dynamics. Those in power often have the ability to define what is considered deviant, which can lead to the marginalization of certain groups.

Understanding deviance thus involves scrutinizing who gets to define it and why, shedding light on issues of social justice and equality.


The concept of deviance serves as a fascinating lens through which we can explore the values, norms, and underlying structures of our society.

As we've seen through various examples and theories, deviance is not a one-size-fits-all label but a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that can be both constructive and destructive.

From small acts like jaywalking or using a phone in a theater to more severe forms like tax evasion or cyberbullying, deviance takes on many forms.

Through the perspectives of different theorists—from Émile Durkheim's idea of deviance as a necessary social function to Erving Goffman's work on stigmatization—we gain a comprehensive understanding of why deviant behavior occurs and what it signifies.

Furthermore, the role of deviance in modern society is complex and paradoxical. It helps reinforce social boundaries, yet also acts as a catalyst for change. It can deter innovation but also inspire it. It plays a role in risk management, psychological relief, and exposes issues of social control and power dynamics.

Understanding deviance helps us make sense of the world around us. It prompts us to question the norms we often take for granted and challenges us to consider the context in which behavior becomes labeled as "deviant."

By scrutinizing the complexities of deviant acts, we can work towards creating a society that is both compassionate and just, one that appreciates the nuances of human behavior while striving for the well-being of all its members.

And so, as we navigate the ever-changing landscapes of societal norms and individual behaviors, let us remember that deviance—like beauty—is often in the eye of the beholder. It serves as a tool, a warning sign, and sometimes, even as a stepping stone toward a more equitable and understanding community.

Thank you for joining us on this extensive exploration of deviance in sociology. We hope this article has offered you valuable insights and sparked further curiosity on this complex and ever-evolving subject.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, September). 53+ Deviance Examples in Sociology (Definition + Theories). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/deviance-examples-in-sociology/.

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