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The Analysis of Deviance and Crime

Crimes and deviance are committed by people on a daily basis. Many sociologists have tried to explain the deviant behavior of individuals that may lead up to more serious crimes. Functionalist believes that crime and deviance are due to a lack moral organization within a society, reinforcement theorists suggest that an individual’s deviant behavior is obtained through the influence of others. Control theorists view crime as a chosen act that individuals take advantage of when given the chance.

The conflict theory argues that individuals deliberately choose to commit deviant acts in response to political circumstances that they don’t agree with. Finally, the labeling theory claims that “deviant” behavior is the result of certain labels that society has attached to an individual. So which of these five theories best explain the cause of deviance and crime? As Elijah Anderson suggests in his reading “The Code of the Street”, in order to fit in with a specific social group, one must learn how to act according to a set of rules.

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Those types of rules represent the social “norms” of a society and if one were to disobey those rules, one would be considered deviant. If individuals within a society progressively influence the set rules, then the reinforcement theory will provide the best explanation as to why deviant behaviors are so commonly found amongst different social groups. Much like the other theories that are described in the text “Essentials of Sociology”, each has its own interpretation as to why deviant behaviors occur.

However, the reinforcement theory best describes the acts of deviant behavior when it claims that all individuals are influenced by others committing deviant acts. Reinforcement theorists believe that one’s ability to learn deviant behavior is very similar to one’s ability to learn conventional behaviors. We learn conventional behaviors by observing how others act, only then will we discover what behaviors are normal and what are considered odd or wrong. So for individuals to obtain knowledge of deviant behaviors, one must simply just surround themselves with their peers and observe their actions.

The reinforcement theory also suggests that individuals learn to through rewards and punishment. According to “Essentials of Sociology”, the actions of individuals are explained by one’s tendency to “engage in behaviors we find rewarding, and either avoid or stop performing a behavior that is punished” (Giddens 154). Through our interactions with others, we learn what the “norm” is and what approved behavior is. By constantly observing the behaviors within our society, we will be able to pin point which acts rewarding and which carries heavy consequences.

As Elijah Anderson describes the “street culture” in the reading “The Code of the Street”, he goes on to explain that many inner-city societies tend to live by a set of rules and their own moral values. The “street culture” is known to have “norms” that are “often consciously opposed to those of mainstream society” (Anderson 171). The set of rules within a “street culture” society tends to be “largely defensive” and is “necessary for operating the public” (Anderson 172).

Obviously the set of rules are meant to be followed, and if one were to “deviate” away from those set of rules, then he or she will be in some sort of uncomfortable situation. Individuals living in the society understand this set of rules because of what they learn from their peers. One who lives in a place where deviance and crime is common will eventually see that in order gain acceptance and approval, he or she must commit deviance themselves. The interactions with others within the society will teach one to act the way that the society believes they should.

The reinforcement theory proves that the inner-city societies are influenced different people and their values. Everyone’s values combine to form “the code of the street” and together it will determine which actions are rewarding and which are punishable. In an opposing culture, the individuals who live in the “decent” side of town show a completely different set of rules and behaviors. Those who are living the “decent” lifestyle are considered to be “committed to middle-class values” (Anderson171).

Individuals within this society are less likely to commit deviant behaviors that involve violence because it is not how they are taught to act. Those within the “decent” society are similar to those in the “street” in which they both learn the rules of society through the interactions with their peers. However, they differ in the aspect of what is considered deviance and crime. Unlike the “street culture” the “decent” are known to “harbor hopes for a better future for their children” (Anderson 173). They tend to avoid a lifestyle that is surrounded by constant aggression and violence.

So what is coined deviance in this society may be considered to be normal for those living in the “street culture”. For example, allowing a eight year old kid to stay out past ten o’clock on a school night might be considered normal for those in the “streets”, but for those living on the “decent” side of town, it is considered a to be a deviant act because that sort of behavior is out of the “norm” for them. In using a different type of society as an example, it is clear to see that the reinforcement theory still plays a big part in explaining why deviance occurs.

Even though the idea of deviant behavior differs from one society to another, the reinforcement theory doesn’t fail to prove that it is still through social interactions, rewards, and punishments that individuals learn what type of behavior is allowed in their society. Many researchers have tried to link together the reinforcement theory and the conflict theory. Both ideas contain many similarities in explaining the cause of deviance. Much like the reinforcement theory, the conflict theory also suggests the deviance is a chosen act.

In the reinforcement theory, individuals choose to display deviant behaviors because their peers do so; but in the conflict theory, researchers suggests that individuals choose to act deviant “in response to the inequalities of the capitalist system” (Giddens 156). The deviance described by conflict theorists shows that one only acts deviant in response to political circumstances and not in response to social “norms”. An individual’s deliberate choice to exhibit deviant behavior is present in both theories.

However, the motive to carry out those types of behaviors differs greatly between the two. Anthony Giddens, author of “Essentials of Sociology”, spends chapter six of his text explaining the different theories that can provide a clear analysis as to why deviance and crime occur. Giddens introduces five different theories: the Functionalist Theory, the Reinforcement Theory, the Control Theory, the Conflict Theory, and the Labeling Theory. Each theory has its own facts and examples in describing deviant behavior.

However, after reading Elijah Anderson’s “The Code of the Street”, it is safe to say that the Reinforcement Theory showcases the best description as to why deviant acts of behavior has become a standard way of living within all societies. The Reinforcement Theory supports the idea that individuals within a specific social group act in a way that they view as the “norm”. In order to fit in with those in the same social group, one must obey the same set of rules. Whether one is part of the “street culture” or the “decent” middle-class, the Reinforcement Theory still applies when it comes to explaining actions that wander away from the “norm”.


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