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Deviance vs. Crime: Understanding the Key Differences

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Are you familiar with the terms “deviance” and “crime”? Have you ever wondered about the differences between them? While both concepts involve behavior that goes against societal norms.

Deviance refers to behaviors or actions that deviate from social norms or expectations, often without being illegal, while crime involves activities that violate the law and are subject to legal penalties.

Deviance vs. Crime

Deviance refers to behavior that deviates from societal norms, values, or expectations. It involves actions or attitudes that are considered unconventional, abnormal, or socially unacceptable.Crime refers to behavior that violates specific laws or legal regulations established by a governing authority. It encompasses actions that are prohibited and punishable by the legal system.
It does not necessarily involve breaking the law. It can include behaviors that are considered morally or socially inappropriate but not explicitly illegal.It involves actions that are explicitly defined as illegal by the legal system. It encompasses behaviors that are punishable by law due to their violation of established statutes.
Deviance is evaluated based on societal norms, which can vary across different cultures, subcultures, or communities. It relates to perceptions of what is considered acceptable or unacceptable behavior within a particular context.Crime is evaluated based on legal norms established by the governing authority. It is determined by specific laws that outline prohibited actions and their associated punishments.
Its behavior may not necessarily result in legal consequences or punishment. It can lead to social disapproval, stigmatization, or informal sanctions imposed by society or social groups.It carries the potential for legal consequences and formal punishment. It can result in various penalties, such as fines, imprisonment, probation, or community service, as determined by the legal system.
Deviance may not always involve a deliberate intent to harm or commit a wrongful act. It can arise from personal choices, alternative lifestyles, nonconformity, or divergent beliefs.Crime often involves a deliberate intent to commit an unlawful act. It typically entails actions that are performed with the knowledge of their illegal nature and the intention to violate established laws.
It can be subjective and influenced by cultural, social, and historical contexts. It can be perceived differently by different individuals or groups, leading to varying judgments or interpretations.It is a more objective concept defined by specific legal statutes. It is determined by a clear set of criteria that outline the prohibited behavior and its associated legal consequences.

What is Deviance?

Deviance is a concept used in sociology and criminology to refer to behavior or actions that violate social norms, expectations, or values within a particular society or group. It is a departure from what is considered typical or acceptable behavior. Deviant behavior can range from minor transgressions to more serious acts that are widely condemned by society.

Deviance is a socially constructed phenomenon, meaning that what is considered deviant can vary across different cultures, societies, and historical periods.

Certain behaviors that are considered deviant in one context may be considered normal or even valued in another. For example, in some societies, drinking alcohol may be considered deviant, while in others it is widely accepted.

What is Crime?

Crime refers to specific acts or behaviors that are prohibited and punishable under the legal system of a given society. It is a broader concept than deviance, as not all deviant behaviors are necessarily considered criminal, but all crimes are deviant in that they violate established laws and regulations.

Criminal behavior is typically addressed through the legal system, which includes law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional institutions. When an individual is suspected of committing a crime, they may be arrested, charged, and brought to trial. If found guilty, they can face various penalties, such as fines, probation, community service, imprisonment, or in some cases, capital punishment.

Types of Deviance and Crime

  • Violent crime: This includes crimes such as murder, rape, and assault.
  • Property crime: This includes crimes such as burglary, theft, and vandalism.
  • White-collar crime: This includes crimes committed by business professionals, such as embezzlement and fraud.
  • Organized crime: This includes crimes committed by organized gangs, such as drug trafficking and money laundering.
  • Cybercrime: This includes crimes committed using computers or the internet, such as hacking and identity theft.
  • Informal Deviance: Informal deviance refers to behavior that violates social norms but may not necessarily be codified as a crime.
  • Formal Deviance: Formal deviance refers to behavior that is explicitly defined and prohibited by laws and regulations.

Impact of Deviance and Crime on society

Firstly, they disrupt the social order and stability within communities, leading to a sense of fear and insecurity. This can result in a breakdown of trust and cohesion among community members, hindering social interactions and cooperation.

The presence of deviance and crime can also create a negative perception of the overall safety of a neighborhood or society, influencing residents’ quality of life and driving people away from certain areas.

Economically, deviance and crime impose significant costs on society. Direct financial losses occur through theft, property damage, and fraud, burdening individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole.

The costs of law enforcement, criminal justice proceedings, and incarceration further strain public resources, diverting funds that could have been used for education, healthcare, and social programs. Additionally, high crime rates can deter investments and economic development, perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality.

Strategies to help reduce Deviant and Criminal behavior

  • Increasing police presence in areas with high rates of crime and/or deviance.
  • Implementing programs that provide support and opportunity for at-risk youth.
  • Creating policies and regulations that discourage illegal or deviant behavior.
  • Providing educational resources on the consequences of criminal and deviant behavior.

Key differences between Deviance and Crime

  1. Purpose: The main purpose of deviance is to violate social norms, while the main purpose of crime is to violate criminal laws.
  2. Intent: When engaging in deviant behavior, individuals typically do not intend to break the law or harm others. However, when committing a crime, individuals typically have the intent to break the law and/or harm others.
  3. Severity: Deviant behavior is often less severe than criminal activity. For example, shoplifting is a form of deviance, but it is not as severe as robbery.
  4. Consequences: The consequences of deviant behavior are often less serious than the consequences of criminal activity. For example, an individual who commits a traffic violation may receive a ticket, while an individual who commits murder may be sentenced to life in prison.
differences between Deviance and Crime


Deviance refers to behavior that violates social norms, while crime specifically pertains to behavior that is prohibited and punishable under the legal system. Deviance is influenced by subjective perspectives and cultural context, whereas crimes are defined by objective legal standards. While there can be an overlap between deviance and crime, not all deviant behaviors are criminal, and not all criminal acts are considered deviant.

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