The Concept of Deviance

"Deviance" is a wide-ranging term used by sociologists to refer to behaviour that varies, in some way, from a social norm. In this respect, it is evident that the concept of deviance refers to some form of "rule-breaking" behaviour (whether this involves such things as murder, theft or arson - the breaking of formal social rules - or such things as wearing inappropriate clothing for a given social situation, failing to produce homework at school or being cheeky to a parent, teacher and so forth - more-or-less the breaking of relatively informal social rules).

What is Crime?

The category of crime is usually associated with behaviour which breaks the formal, written laws of a given society. The punishment of crime is likely to be more serious than the punishment of ‘deviance’ in general but obviously different crimes and different laws and treated in varying ways.

What is Deviance?

To deviate means, literally, to move away, or stray, from set standards in society. Deviance, then is a much more general category than crime, and is used by sociologists to refer to behaviour that, while being different, is often not controlled legally.

It must be made clear, however, that to distinguish between crime and deviance like this is to a disservice to the complexities of these concepts. It is of more value to think of deviance as a wide category, of which crime is a smaller part. In this respect, as a general rule, we can say that there is a distinction between crime and deviance in terms of:

"All crime is deviant behaviour, but not all deviance is criminal".