Why Deviance is Considered a Social Construction


Deviance refers to behaviors or actions that violate social norms and are perceived as unacceptable or inappropriate within a particular society or community. These deviant behaviors can range from minor infractions to more serious criminal acts. However, the concept of deviance is not universal and varies across cultures and historical periods. What may be considered deviant in one society may be acceptable or even encouraged in another.

Understanding Deviance

Deviance is a complex and multifaceted concept that is influenced by various factors, including cultural norms, social values, and individual perspectives. It is important to recognize that deviance is not an inherent quality of an action or behavior but rather a socially constructed label assigned to certain behaviors.

Social Construction of Deviance

Deviance is considered a social construction because it is not an objective or natural phenomenon but rather a product of social processes and interactions. Society collectively defines what is considered deviant through the establishment of social norms, values, and expectations. These norms are shaped by cultural beliefs, moral codes, and social institutions such as family, education, religion, and the legal system.

Role of Power and Control

The construction of deviance is closely tied to power dynamics within society. Those in positions of power, such as lawmakers, law enforcement, and social elites, have the ability to define and enforce what is considered deviant. This can often be influenced by their own interests, biases, and societal norms. The labeling of certain behaviors as deviant can serve as a means of social control and maintaining the existing power structures.

Labeling Theory

The labeling theory, developed by sociologist Howard Becker, emphasizes the significance of societal reactions to deviant behavior. According to this theory, individuals are not inherently deviant but become deviant as a result of being labeled as such by others. The labeling process can have significant consequences for individuals, as they may internalize the deviant identity and face social stigma, discrimination, and exclusion.

Factors Influencing Deviance

Cultural Relativity

Deviance is influenced by cultural relativity, which recognizes that what is considered deviant varies across different cultures and societies. Behaviors that may be perceived as deviant in one cultural context may be completely acceptable or even celebrated in another. Cultural norms and values shape the definitions of deviance, and what is considered deviant in one society may not be in another.

Historical Context

Deviance is also influenced by historical context. Social norms and values evolve over time, and what may have been considered deviant in the past may no longer be seen as such in the present. Similarly, behaviors that were once accepted may become deviant as societal attitudes and expectations change. Historical factors play a crucial role in shaping the construction of deviance.

Socialization and Peer Influence

The process of socialization, which involves the transmission of cultural norms and values, plays a significant role in defining deviance. Individuals learn what is considered deviant through social interactions, particularly within their families, schools, and peer groups. Peer influence can be particularly influential during adolescence when individuals seek acceptance and conformity within their social circles.

Deviance: Crash Course Sociology #18

Implications of the Social Construction of Deviance

Social Control and Power Dynamics

The social construction of deviance allows those in power to exert control over individuals and groups by defining what is considered acceptable behavior. This can be seen in the criminal justice system, where certain behaviors are criminalized and individuals are punished or marginalized as a result. The construction of deviance can perpetuate inequalities and reinforce existing power structures.

Stigmatization and Discrimination

Deviance can lead to social stigma and discrimination against individuals who are labeled as deviant. These individuals may face social exclusion, limited opportunities, and prejudices due to their deviant status. The social construction of deviance contributes to the marginalization and oppression of certain groups within society.

Social Change and Resistance

Recognizing deviance as a social construction opens the possibility for social change and resistance against oppressive norms and values. Challenging the existing definitions of deviance and advocating for more inclusive and equitable societies can lead to the reevaluation of social norms and the promotion of social justice.


Deviance is a social construct that is shaped by cultural norms, values, and power dynamics within society. It is not an inherent quality of an action or behavior but rather a label assigned by society. Understanding the social construction of deviance allows us to critically analyze power structures, challenge oppressive norms, and work towards a more inclusive and just society.

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