Every human culture has members who exhibit deviant behavior. Deviant behavior is any action that is criminal, unacceptable, confusing or just strange to the majority of the culture’s members. Each culture differs in its response and handling of deviant behavior. For example, behavior that would land someone in a mental institution in the United States might cause placement as the village shaman in other cultures. Although deviance might be harmful to a culture, it is also essential to cultural flexibility and change.
Crime oUnited States culture classifies some deviant behavior as criminal.
This sort of behavior has written laws and sanctions against it. Persons who act in such ways are liable to be arrested and punished in the judicial system. Most crime has victims who are hurt or otherwise negatively affected by the behavior. Criminal behavior influences others in a culture by inducing fear and anger at the criminals and sadness for the victims. Crime rates can drastically alter cities and neighborhoods in appearance and demographics.
Vagrancy oVagrancy deviates from cultural norms requiring that all persons hold taxable employment and reside in a structure zoned for residence paid for by rent or mortgage.
Vagrancy is an example of a crime gray zone. Anti-vagrancy laws do exist to discourage the behavior, but most people do not consider the behavior criminal. Rather, people consider the behavior unacceptable or repulsive. The presence of vagrant behavior can reduce the success of a city or town business economy, cause others discomfort when confronted with the behavior in the public sphere and reduce the number of persons available for employment.
Weakening of Norms oOne of the biggest threats deviation holds to a culture’s status quo is the weakening of norms.
If too many people are allowed to operate with deviant behavior, the behavioral norm becomes violated. This might occur in a cycle. Professor Lisa Barnett of Coe College states that a weakening of cultural norms might actually cause deviant behavior. Creation of New Norms oThe ability of deviant behavior to weaken norms might also provide a positive construction of new norms. For example, 40 years ago in the United States, most people considered body piercing to be deviant behavior. It was not illegal, but the culture deemed the act repulsive.
As more people began expressing this deviant behavior, norms against body piercing weakened. Today, body piercing is more culturally acceptable than ever in the United States. Revolution oWhen deviants seek not only to go against cultural norms, but also to change them significantly, cultural revolution can occur. Deviants may present a completely alternative lifestyle to what is predominantly held as acceptable. If enough people adopt the deviant lifestyle, the behavior is no longer deviant and itself becomes the norm. The cycle then continues when persons deviate from the newly established norms.