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Deviance, Normative Definitions of

Robert F. Meier

Subject Sociology » Deviance and Social Control

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Sociologists tend to define deviance in one of two ways: by the negative reactions an act, the expression of a belief, or a physical characteristic generates, or by the violation of the norms or the rules that prevail in a given society or group. Reactivist definitions come in two varieties: the “hard” or strict reactivist definition, which defines deviance as acts, beliefs, or conditions that have already attracted a negative reaction from one or more audiences, and the “soft” or moderate definition, which defines deviance as behavior, beliefs, or conditions that are likely to generate negative reactions from audiences. In contrast, the normative definition identifies deviance as a violation of a norm held in certain social circles or by a majority of the members of the society at large. A norm is a standard about “what human beings should or should not think, say, or do under given circumstances” ( Blake & Kingsley 1964 ). Put another way, a norm is a social expectation concerning thought or behavior in particular situations. Violations of norms tend to draw reactions or sanctions from their social audiences. These sanctions generate the pressure that most people feel to conform to social norms. However, even if the actor, the believer, or the possessor is not detected or chastised for a normative violation, the non-normative act, belief, or trait is deviant nonetheless. To ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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