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Conflict Theory and Deviance

Conflict Theory and Deviance

Author: Zach Lamb

Recognize how conflict theory interprets deviance and power.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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Hello, and welcome to "Sociological Studies." As always thank you for taking the time out of your busy day to study society. In this lesson, we're going to look at the social conflict theory and social conflict prospective and look to see what that has to say about deviance in society.

Well, I hope you're learning and building on your learning and understanding what we're doing here because this tutorial is covering the social conflict prospective, the structural functional perspective, and the symbolic interactionist prospective, the three dominant theoretical perspectives in sociology. We cover those in tutorials, and now we're applying each of those perspectives to this idea of deviance, and there are other tutorials that you can look at, the symbolic interaction approach to deviance as well as the structural functional approach to deviance who say different things, both very interesting. So this one, we're going to cover the social conflict approach to deviance.

Well, what does the social conflict approach have to say about deviance? Chiefly, powerlessness equals deviance. Social conflict, recall, is all about how inequalities in society produced conflict and result in change. So this theoretical perspective then holds that the power structure in society goes a long way to define what is deviant as opposed to what is not deviant, and they'll define deviance as antagonistic to their interests, and right action is defined as in line with the interests of society's elite, the capitalists and those with power.

So then sociologists and Alexander Liazos argued that what gets labeled as deviant is inextricably linked up with the power structure of society. Those who have more influence with respect to power, wealth, prestige, get to decide what gets labeled as deviant, and those who don't have any power and are powerless are much more likely to be labeled as deviant then. So let's turn now to a quote that sums this up by Marx, a famous quote of his which is that "The ruling ideas of each epoch are always and always have been the ideas of the ruling class."

So the social conflict theory to deviance then influenced by Marx and this idea holds that the laws, norms, regulations of society reflect the interest of the capitalist ruling class. They have the power to bend these ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, they bend them to their interests. So good is in line with the interests of the ruling class, and bad is anything, the ideas that oppose the ruling class.

And in addition to helping shape the meaning of good and bad in society and bending that meaning to their interests, those with resources-- society's elite-- also have the material ability to fight labels of deviant that may be applied to them. They can use these resources to combat that struggle, and they also can use the resources to resist the consequences of deviant behavior because then maybe they'll able to get out of things that people without power can not get out off. They might receive special treatment.

So is the homeless man on the street able to resist his deviant label? No, he's not. Whereas somebody who commits some kind of white collar crime might have more resources with respect to shaping public opinion and labeling of deviant or not.

Finally then those with power also benefit because people widely believe in the widespread belief that the laws are just and good, so resistance to these laws is unlikely. The ideas of the ruling class then can get disguised behind ideas of fairness, justice, and freedom, so we may not see, there's interest behind the laws of society, interest that might work counter to some members of society.

So this is a clever ruse that we call ideology. So operating with this theoretical perspective, Liazos argued that those who are defined as deviant are defined as deviant not necessarily because they're more bad or harmful to society, but the fact that they are powerless. They lack the material resources and power-- the homeless, thieves, drug addicts, and especially those who challenge the status quo. These are the people that are labeled as deviant.

I mean, all over the world and through history, progressive people, intellectual people, those who want to fight for a society that runs counter to the ideas of the ruling class, these people have been systematically rounded up and persecuted. So you see then how the ideas of the ruling class then are always the ruling ideas of society.

Well, I hope you enjoyed learning about the social conflict theoretical approach to deviance, one of a number of theoretical approaches to deviance that are the subject of these tutorials. Have a great rest of your day.

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.