Conformity and Deviance: Introduction, Biological and Psychological Theory

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  • Universal phenomena

  • Confirmation with norms and values of the society

  • E.g. Abiding by college curriculum to earn a degree

  • Individuals think and act according to the norms of the society

  • Deviance is deviating from the social norms

Biological Theory

  • By Lombroso

  • Individuals are born criminals with certain physical traits

  • It was criticized on the grounds of being a racist theory

Psychological Theory

  • John Bowlby

  • Concept of ā€˜Chronic Redivistsā€™

  • Different mindset individuals

  • They do not understand consequences in advance, and it leads to crimes

  • Robert Merton presented socio-cultural context of conformity and deviance

  • Deviance should be understood from the viewpoint of social structure

  • Value consensus - when rules fail to operate a situation of normlessness

  • Norms guide the Behaviour

  • In absence of norms deviance is encouraged

Mertonā€™s Theory

  • A society free of crime is a myth

  • Merton Studied American society

  • Goals are given to individuals like power, earn money called integrated goals

  • Cultural goals and institutionalized norms

  • Emphasis on cultural means to achieve goals

  • American society stresses on success ethos

  • Gap between means and goals known as means-goals discrepancy


  • means of accepted channel

  • Means and goals both accepted

  • Example: getting first rank by working hard

Four Types of Responses of Individuals to Deviance


  • Rejects the means but still tries to achieve the goal

  • Example: Black money


  • Emphasis on means but ignorant towards goals

  • Example: Day dreamers


  • Rejecting both means and goals

  • Withdraw themselves from society

  • Example: Hippies


  • They reject both means and goals

  • Establish new means and goals for the society

  • Example: Revolutionaries

  • Develops structural strain

  • Leads to deviance

To be studied in socio-cultural context and not from individual point of view


  • Society is not a source of deviance believed by many

  • Chicago School developed the ā€˜Ecological theory of devianceā€™ which believes that individual born and brought up in particular ecology adapt the norms of the group and become Deviant

  • Sub-cultural theory of deviance believes that there are many subcultures. Culture of one group becomes deviance for the other group

  • Every individual faces some kind of stigma or labelling in their society and act accordingly.


  • Deviation is necessary for preparedness for future

  • But it should not exceed above a certain degree

  • What kind of deviance and how much should be controlled

  • Role of family, institutions, society, etc.


  • Lemert : Primary and Secondary deviance

  • Howard Becker: Labelling theory


Q.1. Who among the following argued that deviance results not from ā€˜pathological personalitiesā€™ but from the culture and structure of society itself?

(a) A.K. Cohen

(b) R.K. Merton

(c) E.M. Lemert

(d) John Mack

Ans. b

Q.2. A deviant Behaviour at one time:

(a) will remain so at all times to come

(b) in one society will always be so in all other societies

(c) can become a standard norm at another time

(d) cannot become a standard Behaviour at any time

Ans. (b)

Q.3. Deviant Behaviour-

(a) has nothing to do with legends

(b) has nothing to do with myths

(c) is usually opposed by legends

(d) is sometimes supported by legends and myths

Ans. (a)