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Conflict Theory and Deviance

Conflict Theory and Deviance

Author: Paul Hannan

Recognize how conflict theory interprets deviance and power.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain Images from; Public Domain

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[THEME MUSIC] Welcome to this episode of Sociology Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on conflict theory and deviance. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure get the most out of this tutorial.

Today, we're looking at conflict theory and deviance. Now just a reminder, conflict theory is based on the social conflict approach, and it's this idea that society is all based on a conflict for inequalities. And it's really a conflict over resources, and people are fighting for these resources, and that social structures really help some while limiting others.

Conflict theory in deviance, though, it really looks at deviance as being defined by people in power. So the people that have power, the wealthy people, whether it be the business person or the powerful politician, they really define what deviant is. Now they also have the means to resist being labeled "deviant." So if you are a wealthy person and you're doing something that is challenging the status quo, you can set yourself up there as not being labeled "deviant." Instead, you can be a social activist rather than a lawbreaker.

Now another part of this idea is that norms and laws are really defined. They're really defined by the people in power, right? But we also think of norms and laws as being good. So why would we challenge them or the motives behind them? Conflict theory is saying, well, sometimes they're set up with these ulterior motives that are to keep the people in power with the resources. The norms and laws of being good isn't always true. Sometimes they're simply social structures in place to keep resources from some and away from others.

Alexander Liazos was a sociologist, and he was actually really critical of the labeling of deviance, because they're generally powerless. The image there is another example of that. In the mental health world, sometimes we're willing to label someone as having a mental issue, that they're mentally unstable or something, or they're schizophrenic. Once they're labeled, you can almost dismiss them.

So the takeaway message, Alexander Liazos was a sociologist critical of labeling deviance, and he greatly contributed to the social conflict theory of deviance. Conflict theory and deviance is just the idea that deviance is really based around a conflict of resources in an unequal world. Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work, and hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Conflict Theory of Deviance

A theory of deviance that links the labeling of deviance to the dynamics of power in society (powerlessness = deviance).

People to Know
Alexander Liazos

An influential American sociologist who argued that the dynamics of power need to be considered in order to fully understand the labeling and identification of deviance in society.