Perspective of Deviance in Society


Sociologists define deviance as actions or behaviors considered to be against the cultural norms and formally accepted rules like laws as well as going against the social norms of a particular society. Sociologists consider deviance to be the opposite of conformity; the two opposing behaviors are what characterize social life. To sociologists, the term deviance behavior is conferred on individuals based on some acts by social definition. However, these social definitions of what constitutes deviant behaviors would vary from time to time, society to society and from place to place (Schaefer, 2008).

In this paper I will undertake to explain the perspective of two different authors – Rosenhan and Eqbal about what constitutes deviance behavior as far as different societies are concerned. Rosenhan was bother by how society labeled those they considered insane and therefore undertook a study to find out how hospital authorities treated those admitted as insane (Rosenhan, 1973). From his analysis of what transpired when his associates were held in the hospitals for much longer period despite the fact that they were never insane, he concluded that the staff officials were perpetuating the societal definition of insanity.

According to rosenhan, the staff cannot to be blamed at all neither can they be considered incompetent nor dishonest because they were carrying out their work effectively (Rosenhan, 1973). The staff officials were not concerned with making conscious efforts to overturn the label which the society had accorded these individuals. He argued that the label given to these individuals were so strong that it influenced how information about them was processed and perceived which therefore explained why the officials were reluctant to release them from hospital.

According to him, the wrong perception of the behavior by the staff officials led to the labeling which profoundly affected other’s perception about his associates. He concluded that had the officials observed the same behaviors from a different perspective, the interpretation about these people would have been entirely different (Rosenhan, 1973) Eqbal’s “Terrorism: Theirs and Ours” offers a thorough analysis of the term deviance (Eqbal, 1998). The man who had an Arabic origin was greatly disturbed by people’s perception of the term terrorism.

He argued the world societies lack consistency in defining terrorism and had therefore come up with different definitions that suit their interest and appeal to their cause. According, to him the definition has always changed over the years with the new developments in the world and has been use to further some people’s cause. He argued that people have missed the point when it comes to the definition of the term terrorism as some people are labeled terrorist by others. From Eqbal speech, it is clear to understand that what people consider deviance may change with time and place.

For instance, he argued today’s terrorist was a yesterday’s hero and a hero today is a yesterday’s terrorist. Therefore, society’s definition of deviance behavior will always be inconsistent because what one group of people considers deviance may not be viewed the same by another group of people not only in place but also over time (Eqbal, 1998). Authors Views of Deviance The two authors share the same view of what constitutes deviance. Rosenhan is concerned with the tendency of the society to make rash judgment of what is deviance.

He considered the definition of normal and abnormal behavior by the society as what would determine how a person is treated by those around him (Rosenhan, 1973). Like Rosenhan, Eqbal agrees that the society would be quick to judged others and condemn them as deviants based on generalizations or unfounded rumors. The two authors were very much concerned about the consequences of labeling on the individuals as well as the society as whole. According to Eqbal, the western misconception of terrorism had led to the continued attacks by the Arab world.

He said that the western world had continually considered terrorism as an attack against western civilization which therefore vindicates the terrorist’s ideologies of using it to justify their cause. In a nutshell, eqbal considers deviance as a making of the society. He argued that while there are various forms of terrorist, the world has totally lost the meaning of the term and has therefore embarked on what he considers as labeling others’ behavior as abnormal to suit our cause.

He considered the western political tyranny over other nations and the bloody attacks perpetuated by the Arab world as one and the same thing – terrorism and what differentiate them are probably the western society’s emotive definitions (Eqbal, 1998). Rosenhan made a point in his analysis of how society discriminatively separates the “normal” from the “abnormal”. He argued that erratic labeling of others as acting or behaving abnormally may have serious repercussions on the societal wellbeing as well as on an individual’s life (Rosenhan, 1973).

According to him the society’s misconception of what is abnormal behavior may lead one to a condemn life of loneliness. As his analysis of erratic diagnosis of sane persons as insane shows, one may be wrongfully put under rehabilitation program when actually the person is sound in mind. If professionals like psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists can wrongfully diagnose a person and put him in a mental hospital what would the society become if we start labeling others based on unsubstantiated rumors?

(Rosenhan, 1973). Deviance and Society Rosenhan views deviance as a product of the societal misconception of what truly constitutes unwanted behaviors (Rosenhan, 1973). He considered the labeling of others as either deviant or normal as a manifestation of the society’s rash judgment of behavior. If only the society can observe the behaviors of others correctly, then the labeling would cease to be. His analysis takes into account the role of place and time as a factor in determining what deviance is and is not.

Any person going into a mental hospital is considered abnormal by the society and as long as one is admitted he would remain to be so no matter his improvement or current state. Eqbal understands that deviance is not only a product of a difference in social and cultural background, but also a product of evolution. To him what one society considers deviance is considered normal in another society and what is celebrated today as a good act is today frown upon as an abnormal behavior.

He said that what we presume as terrorist acts today may not be so tomorrow (Eqbal, 1998). Conclusion Every society and group of people has got social and cultural norms which define what constitutes abnormal and normal behavior. However, the norms and rules are subjects of change and just as they are varied across societies, they would be varied across time within the same society. As the societies evolve, the social norms and rules would also change and therefore definitions of deviance.


Eqbal, A. (1998, October, 12). Terrorism: Theirs and Ours. A Presentation at the University

of Colorado, Boulder, Retrieved on July 16, 2010, from,+Eqbal.+1998.+%22Terrorism:+Theirs+and+Ours.&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ke&client=firefox-a

Rosenhan, D. (1973). On Being Sane In Insane Places. Science, 179, 250-258. p. 253.

Schaefer, R.T. (2008) Sociology Matters 4th edition, McGraw-Hill: New York