According to Durkheim, what are three main functions that deviance provide for society?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Durkheim argues that deviance is useful for a society because it performs a variety of functions for society.  It helps to clarify norms, it helps to unify groups, it helps to diffuse tension, and it helps to promote social change.

Deviance helps to clarify norms in a society because it helps to emphasize to people what is and is not acceptable behavior.  When people act in ways that are unacceptable and they are punished, we learn that our society clearly believes that what they did is wrong.  This helps us to know what is right and wrong (in our society).

Deviance helps to unify members of a group.  What this means is that the actions of deviant individuals helps to unify people who are not deviant.  The people who are not deviant see the deviant behaviors and they react against them.  They form an “us against them” attitude with respect to the deviants.  This reinforces their connections with the “good” people in the society.

Deviance diffuses tensions. It can help to serve as a safety valve for people who are unhappy with their society or with the norms of their group.  For example, if children are somewhat unhappy with the rules that their parents set, they might act out in small ways.  This relieves some of their anger and makes it so they do not challenge the main rules and norms of the family.

Finally, deviance can promote social change.  It can show what areas are problematic in a society or group.  People in power might notice deviant behavior and work to correct the problems that lead to that behavior.

In these ways, deviance can be beneficial to a society.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Sociology, deviance is any type of behavior which violates the accepted social norms. For Emile Durkheim, deviance, although generally negative, fulfils a number of positive functions for a society.

Firstly, it allows a society to clarify which types of behavior are acceptable and unacceptable. Incidents of stealing, for example, allow a society to reaffirm its belief that stealing is wrong.

Secondly, deviance promotes social cohesion. Durkheim argues that when an individual is punished for an act of deviance, it gives society an opportunity to come together. Note, for example, how communities often come together when a local resident is murdered or attacked. 

Finally, deviance promotes social change because it allows a society to constantly reflect on its accepted norms and values. Whether it's a change in the law or a change in the type of punishment, deviance enables a society to constantly evaluate what it perceives as acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior and respond accordingly.

For more information, see the reference link provided.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that deviance served three main functions. The first is that by crossing certain boundaries, deviants reaffirm society's norms. The breaking of these norms results in a response that helps people define what is appropriate behavior. The second function of deviance is that it furthers the unity of the society. When people agree on certain norms of behavior and what constitutes a violation of this behavior, the society becomes more unified as a result. The third function of deviance is that it helps to promote change in the society. If a deviant person starts a dialogue about what is acceptable in society, the rules and norms of that society might begin to change over time. People who are innovators often begin as deviants before their behavior becomes a new norm. 

user4956647 | Student

which book/s or source did you use to answer this question?