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Conflict Theories in Deviance

Conflict Theory is one of the theoretical frameworks sociologists can use to study deviance. It includes, but is not limited to Marxian theory, Group Conflict Theory and Feminist Theory. Conflict theorists often look at social groups through an ethnic or gender based lens because those traits have been the source of America’s longest lasting inequalities.¹

Why does our society have deviants? Conflict theorists believe that the answer has more to do with the balance of power rather than social interactions. They would rather investigate the forces that underlie a particular moral crusade than investigate the influence of the social world.¹

Conflict theorists posit that the typical relationship among groups in society is one of competition and conflict.¹ Karl Marx, the father of conflict theory did not really have any works on deviant behavior but wrote about the alienation that workers or  the proletariat experience.

Deviant actions are actions or behaviours that do not follow social norms or formally enacted rules. Conflict theories focus on the social, political and economic inequalities of social groups and believe these inequalities drive people to deviance.¹ The fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society. Realistically, it is the powerful people who define crime and create laws as instruments of oppression.¹




1. University of Minnesota Duluth. Theories of Deviance: Conflict Theory. Retrieved May 8, 2014, from

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