Deviance means to deviate or stray from an accepted path. It consists of those situations that do not follow the expectations, values, and norms in the society. In this case, deviance may receive positive sanctions in the form of rewards, and it may receive negative sanctions in the form of punishments. The society can accept deviance without giving a reward or punishment. For instance, a soldier, who goes beyond his call or normal duty, may get a reward for his courage, and a physicist, who discovers something new, may get a Nobel Prize as a reward. Thus, the definition of deviance emanates from the fixed social standards or values, even though not all norms are absolute.
Various theories give explanations on how and why deviance occurs. These theories include the functionalist perspective, interactionist perspective, and conflict perspective.
The functionalist perspective takes deviance as a natural and necessary function in the societies. It serves as a way through which the society reaffirms to the cultural values, and it lays the foundation in enhancing reforms within the values. This is a view that the French sociologist Emile Durkheim held. This perspective views deviance as beneficial, and it is one of the unifying forces in the society. In addition, this approach takes deviance as a way of clarifying social norms, and it goes further to increase conformity. This is possible since deviance is a way, through which the society remembers the existing values and standards and knows how to punish any violation of the norms and values. For instance, students caught cheating may remind the class about the rules on cheating and the punishment that arises. This will reduce the likelihood of the class to cheat. In addition, from a functional approach, deviance is a means through which positive social change in the societies can be enhanced. The works of Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Socrates, and Martin Luther King Jr. illustrate how deviance leads to social reforms.
The interactionist perspective views the society as a product of the day-to-day interactions among individuals. It views deviance as a learned behavior, because people learn from the different groups that they meet. It assumes that deviance in people arises because of the interactions with other deviant people. This is a theory that Edwin Sutherland gave as an explanation of deviance. Thus, as people share a common form of deviance, they create a deviant substructure in order to live in a different way than others in the society. The individuals in this deviant substructure create values and norms that often differ with those in the society. This alienates them from the wider society. For instance, released prisoners are less welcome in the society. They end up joining other ex-convicts to get a sense of belonging that the wider society is not giving them. They end up creating a subculture that encourages further acts of deviance.
The conflict theory views deviance as emanating from the conflicts between individuals and groups. The approach takes that those in power create norms, from which others will deviate. Thus, the struggle between the less powerful and more powerful offers a clear explanation as to why deviance takes place. Thus, the conflicts between the people at the top of economic power and those at the bottom create deviance.
In conclusion, the functionalist approach is the best in explaining deviance in the society. This is because it ascribes to the principal of dynamisms in the society, and it offers the explanation as to why people try to maintain the established norms. It is a convincing approach as it offers an explanation on how I will react with respect to another student caught cheating in class.