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Brief Summary

Conceptualizing Deviance

Understanding what constitutes deviance is the first step toward defining which acts violate social norms. The construction of social norms, which may vary from society to society, illustrates that deviance is a social phenomenon. Only norm violations found most unacceptable to society are codified into law and acted upon by criminal justice agencies. Policies created to prevent and reduce deviance are closely based on what a society believes causes deviance.  

Explanations of Criminal Deviance

Criminology is the scientific study of the causes of criminal behavior. The explanation of crime is often based on the cultural beliefs of the time. In the past, blame has been assigned to demons, skull traits, the notion of born criminality, and body types, all of which have been discredited through scientific research.  Explanations grounded in biological perspectives and rational choice remain popular as means of understanding why persons might commit crime. As society changes, so do our explanations, but we are far from a universal conclusion about what leads individuals to deviance or crime.

Psychological Theories on Crime and Criminality

Psychological theories focus on explanations for deviant behavior at the individual level, such as internal thought processes or personality traits. While early theorists like Freud focused on the subconscious, later theorists proposed that we may learn deviance from the actions of others. Personality theories and psychosis are also offered as explanations of criminal behavior. Psychological explanations of deviance often call for policies of individual treatment and rehabilitation rather than larger societal changes.

Socio-Cultural Theories of Crime and Criminality

Socio-cultural theories attempt to more fully understand how external societal influences may contribute to deviance. The Chicago School studied how environments and the organization of cities can influence criminal development. Strain and subculture theorists concentrate on the acceptance and achievement of goals in society. Social control theory further analyzes our bonds to society that may allow or prevent deviant behavior. Labeling theory assumes that people labeled as deviant will then act deviant. Conflict criminologists hold that crime is a result of oppression along lines of power, gender, and equality. Each of these theories may provide us with a foundation that aids in the development of crime prevention and crime control policies. Social causes of crimes inevitably call for the prevention of deviance through changes in social policy and in society.

The Study of Deviance in Criminal Justice.

The causes of deviance are closely linked to what we do about it as a society. If we can figure out why deviance occurs, then perhaps we can stop it. While no one theory can explain all crime, new integrated theories have emerged to offer a more comprehensive explanation of deviant behavior. As we have learned, with new theories, new policies will inevitably follow.  

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