Deviance in Society

The study of sociology demystifies that what is considered deviant behavior in one society may not qualify to be deviant in another. A number of other factors determine the qualification of this definition of deviance. For instance, deviant behaviors or acts may be classified as truly deviant depending on the condition in which they occur. Additionally, behaviors or acts can be tagged ‘deviant’ depending on the historical era.

This implies that, from one historical time to another, some behaviors or acts universally known to be deviant behaviors are likely to change their status definitions to be ‘not deviant’ as what we can learn from Rosenhan (1973) and Eqbar (1998). This paper takes a critical look at the varying definitions of deviance in different circumstances presented by both Eqbar and Rosenhan. Sociological Approach to Deviance (Eqbar (1998) and Rosenhan (1973)

Both Eqbar and Rosenhan share the same approach in defining deviance and agree that it is rather a complicated issue that needs to be understood. Eqbar attempts to explain deviance from the most complex issue of terrorism and carefully unfolds historical stories to at least come up with some imagery explanation. Eqbar explains that terrorism which is a serous matter in the world today which is ever changing begs more attention from world leaders to accurately mark on its causes and the remedial actions (Eqbar, 1998).

On the other hand, the issue of proliferation of mental hospitals is an issue of importance to Rosenhan which deserves much attention. Similar to Eqbar, Rosenhan is caught in dilemma in identifying accurately who is sane and who is insane in psychiatric environment and ends up referring himself a ‘pseudopatient’ (Rosenhan, 1973) Eqbar’s Approach to Deviance The sociological interpretations have used history as a tool to understand how deviance can change with time. One of the most relevant is examples is presented by Eqbar (1998).

Ahmad Eqbar while delivering a presentation at the University of Colorado in October 12th, 1998, identified how the West perceived Yasir Arafat and how this perception faded with time and almost disappeared. Between 1969 and1990 the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was the centerpiece for all terrorist activities and Arafat was time and again described by the Western media as the “Chief of Terrorism” particularly by the New York Times William Safire (Eqbar, 1998). Earlier in 1930s and 1940s, the same description was coined to the Jewish underground living in Palestine.

However, things changed and the image was turned inside out! Eqbar (1998) noticed a unique marriage between the West and Arafat when he saw a picture of the leaders Arafat, Bill Clinton and the Israeli’s Prime Minster, Benjamin Netan seated together on the September 29th, 1998. Arafat who was frequently known as a man of the guns and an enemy to the Western people was at this moment branded a new image. This example as observed by Eqbar clearly indicates that the labeling of objects or personalities as deviant tends to change with history.

Yet another shocking experience Eqbar writes about is the time when President Ronald Reagan, from the West, warmly received a group of men from the East in the White House. In his speech, President Reagan in 1985 referred the bearded men as the Afghan Mujahiddin who acted as the “moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers” (Eqbar, 1998). A rather controversial reminder is the one time peaceful relationship that existed between the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

Bin Laden who after the September 11 attach was expected to be killed was a moral equivalent of the two leaders (Eqbar, 1998) but was demoted and got angrier to revenge in all ways. According to Eqbar (1998), deviance is seen to change with time as he draws an example of terrorism. Bin Laden, who was once the moral equivalent to Jefferson and Washington became a dangerous terrorist after his status demotion. In this perspective, Eqbar tries to explain that terrorism, which is a deviant behavior, tends to change with time such that today’s hero is tomorrow’s terrorist and today’s terrorist is tomorrow’s hero (Eqbar, 1998).

Rosenhan’s Approach to Deviance Another sociological approach to deviance can be seen in the works of Rosenhan (1973). Rosenhan takes us to the sociological environment of a psychiatric hospital where he finds himself in a state of dilemma to differentiate sane people from the insane. He blames factors such as depersonalization, powerlessness, mortification, segregation as well as self-labeling in playing critical roles in counter-therapeutics. In psychiatric hospitals, it emerges to be a challenge to make distinctions between the sane and the insane.

The meaning of behavior in the hospital environment can easily be construed. Rosenhan (1973) takes us through some of the conditions that totally change the true meaning of sanity in hospital environment and we can make an extrapolation to one of the sociological understanding that deviance is relative to the prevailing conditions. The conditions in hospital environment such segregation, depersonalization, self-labeling and mortification which are always crafted in larger part construe the meaning of sanity.

Dealing with Deviance in the Society Important insights can be obtained from the two approaches and definitions of deviance. The two definitions, Ember’s and Rosenhan’s can be intermarried to help solve crimes such as terrorism, rape, drug abuse, felony and murder which have become a challenge in the society. There seems to be different approaches how people view both issues of terrorism and sanity. Understanding the approaches drawn by Eqbar and Rosenhan will help appreciate these differences and deal with crime in the society.

Deviance changes with time as Eqbar draws it from the observation of Osama Bin Laden who was once a friend to the western and later become the worst enemy. Equally, the change of deviance is drawn by Eqbar in the case of Arafat who was once an enemy to the West but later a friend. While Rosenhan does not provide a straightforward definition on how to differentiate sanity from insanity in hospital environments, he admits that the psychiatric hospital provides a unique environment that makes the definition of sanity to surface.

Rosenhan (1973) identifies the existence of hospital conditions such as depersonalization, powerlessness, mortification, segregation as well as self-labeling to play a critical role in counter-therapeutics. The issue of proliferation of mental facilities in communities is the aim of Rosenhan’s approach. Using Rosenhan’s approach will ease the pressure in these facilities as the accurate psychiatric labels will be used in admitting individuals in psychiatric community facilities (Rosenhan, 1973).

Another issue that might be solved from Rosenhan’s approach is the need to increase the manner how mental health workers should be sensitive to the position of psychiatric patients in Catch 22 and increase research into psychiatry. This is because to other people, one can be tagged insane while to others ‘sane’. This is similar to what Eqbar observed in the issue of terrorism. Together, these approaches can be applied in understanding and reducing deviance in the society.


Eqbar, A. (1998). Terrorism: theirs and ours. Retrieved August 15, 2010 from,   

Rosenhan, D.L (1973). On being sane in insane places. Retrieved August 15, 2010 from,