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Posted: September 4th, 2023

A Sociological Perspective on Deviant Behavior

Social Science – Sociology Critical Reflection Assignment 2. Two contrasting views of the general nature of deviant behavior have been discussed in readings for the first part of this course. On the one hand, early sociologists and many contemporary researchers in psychology, psychiatry, and criminology have viewed deviant behavior as a product of individual pathology. In this view, the causes of deviant behavior are typically attributed to psychological disorders or dysfunctions, genetic defects, or other abnormal traits or conditions of individuals.
On the other hand, most sociologists have followed the view of Merton and Sutherland that deviant behavior is created through normal social processes. For instance, this view is reflected in the idea that criminal behavior is a “rational” means to obtain material success for members of the lower class (Merton) or that deviant behavior is learned through normal processes of social interaction in primary groups (Sutherland). A central implication of this position is that virtually any person could become deviant under the “right” social circumstances.
Where do you stand? Do you see most forms of deviant behavior as (a) manifestations of individual pathology or as (b) normal responses to social conditions?

Indicate which view makes the most sense to you and discuss the reasons and evidence that lead you to prefer that position. Feel free to refer to readings or other literature, but avoid lengthy quotes—state your argument in your own words.

Your analysis must be double-spaced, 250 – 500 words, and contain at least two in-text citations from assigned materials. This formal assignment should be grammatically correct without spelling or other errors.

A Sociological Perspective on Deviant Behavior: Exploring the Nature and Causes

The study of deviant behavior has long been a subject of interest for sociologists and researchers in fields such as psychology, psychiatry, and criminology. This critical reflection delves into two contrasting viewpoints regarding the general nature of deviant behavior: the individual pathology perspective and the social processes perspective. While some scholars attribute deviant behavior to psychological disorders or genetic defects, others believe that it emerges as a response to social conditions.

Individual Pathology Perspective:
The individual pathology perspective posits that deviant behavior stems from intrinsic factors within individuals. Early sociologists and contemporary researchers have often leaned towards this view, attributing deviance to psychological dysfunctions or abnormalities. This perspective emphasizes the role of genetic defects and other individual traits as the primary catalysts for deviant behavior. For instance, psychological disorders are frequently cited as causes of criminal behavior.

Social Processes Perspective:
On the contrary, the social processes perspective, as advocated by Merton and Sutherland, contends that deviant behavior is a result of normal social processes. This viewpoint maintains that societal structures and interactions play a pivotal role in shaping deviance. Merton’s concept of strain theory highlights that individuals may resort to deviance as a rational means of achieving success, especially within lower socioeconomic classes. Sutherland’s theory of differential association further underscores that deviant behavior is learned through social interactions, normalizing such actions within primary groups.

Preference and Rationale:
The social processes perspective aligns more coherently with my understanding of deviant behavior. While individual pathology factors cannot be entirely dismissed, the evidence supporting the social processes perspective is compelling. The notion that deviance is a rational response to societal structures resonates in contemporary contexts, where economic disparities and limited opportunities can drive individuals toward criminal activities in pursuit of financial success.

Moreover, the idea of deviance as a learned behavior is plausible when considering peer groups, family influences, and community dynamics. Youth involvement in gangs, for example, often results from exposure to deviant norms within close-knit circles. This social learning process echoes Sutherland’s proposition and emphasizes the significance of the environment in shaping behaviors that may be considered deviant.

In conclusion, the social processes perspective offers a more comprehensive and nuanced explanation of deviant behavior compared to the individual pathology viewpoint. While individual factors may contribute, the role of social conditions and interactions cannot be overlooked. Deviance, as a complex phenomenon, demands a holistic understanding that encompasses both individual traits and societal dynamics.


Merton, R. K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3(5), 672-682.
Sutherland, E. H. (1947). Principles of criminology. Lippincott.
Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2004). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application. Roxbury Publishing.
Agnew, R. (2013). Juvenile delinquency: Causes and control. Oxford University Press.

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