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Deviant Behavior

Deviant Behavior

When studying sociology, elements of human behavior that fall outside the boundaries of what is considered normal or acceptable are called deviant behavior. These are in direct violation of social norms and can include offenses that go against formal standards, such as criminal actions, or those that go against informal standards, such as not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance or national anthem.

There are several different types of norms that each person may judge themselves or others by.

  • There are the legal type norms, which are for the most part concrete. If a person breaks the law, they are undertaking in deviant behavior.
  • There are also prescriptive norms, these types of norms tell us what to do. Prescriptive norms are paired with proscriptive norms that tell us what not to do. Then we break into the gray area of morals with the mores and folkways. The mores have a great moral significance, where the folkways are of less moral significance.
  • Social norms exist to ensure individuals abide by the same expectations of behaviors; social norms are a means of keeping society in check. Individuals who behave in a way that is in violation of these norms are behaving in an unexpected manner and are thereby deviant.

Deviant behavior can take many forms. From murder to terrorism, deviant behavior has the power not only to harm the individual or individuals that practice the behavior, it also has the potential to affect culture and society. Every time a person is killed or raped, society changes in some small yet fundamental way. Because deviant behavior often takes a myriad of forms, to study it each case must be considered individually.

It is important to remember that actions considered deviant can vary dramatically based on time, place, and social environment. In some cases, actions that would otherwise be considered deviant are instead socially acceptable. Driving at high rates of speed or in an otherwise dangerous manner, for example, is perfectly legal in the sport of NASCAR; doing the same behavior on the highway, however, is a criminal act and thereby falls under the umbrella of deviant behavior. Similarly, the individuals one is surrounded with also help to differentiate acceptable from deviant behaviors. An elementary school teacher using obscenities as she participates in a roller derby match, for example, is socially permissible; were she to use the same language in front of her students, however, it would bring significant consequences. Understanding the social norms and expectations of a given environment is critical to ensuring one's behavior cannot be classified as deviant.

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