How does the sociological definition of deviance differ from commonly held assumptions about deviance?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answer to this depends, of course, on what we see as “commonly held” ideas with regard to deviance.  I would argue that people tend to equate the word “deviance” (or “deviant”) with immorality.  People tend to think that a person who is acting in a deviant way is acting immorally.  This is not how the term is used in sociology.

In sociology, the term “deviance” refers not to actions that necessarily violate moral codes, but to actions that violate significant social norms.  Some of these actions will be immoral, but some will not.  In addition, some actions that could be seen as immoral do not violate social norms and are therefore not deviant.

For example, let us say that a person lacks social skills.  The person does things like talking loudly to themselves in inappropriate places.  Or the person might persist in touching others (not in a sexual way) at inappropriate times and situations.  That person is not acting immorally, but they are being deviant because they are violating relatively significant norms about public behavior and interpersonal interaction.

Thus, “deviance” refers, in sociological terms, to actions that violate social norms whereas many people think of “deviance” as synonymous with “immoral.”