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    Durkheim's Theory

    Emile Durkheim has contributed immensely to the study of deviance. Other than his book ‘Suicide,’ his biggest influence is the concept of ‘anomie.’  Anomie is a state where there is a lack of stable social ethics. When people or communities are in a state of anomie, bonds between the individual and society are weakened and deviance can run rampant.

    Durkheim has a somewhat unique view of deviance, arguing that it is a normal and necessary part of a functioning society.  

    The following are his four functions of deviance¹:

    1. Deviance affirms cultural values and norms. Any definition of virtue rests on an opposing idea of vice: There can be no good without evil and no justice without crime.
      • In layman’s terms, if we didn’t have socially deviant people, we would not be able to recognize deviance or normalcy. 
    2. Deviance defines moral boundaries so people learn right and wrong by defining people as deviant.
      • Essentially, the only reason we have the moral boundaries we do is because there are deviant people. If no one did any of these things, no boundaries would be drawn
    3. A serious form of deviance forces people to come together and react in the same way against it.
      • When there is a serious, violent crime in a small community, it typically unites those communities. On a larger scale, after something as devastating as 9/11, an entire country can temporarily unite in defiance.
    4. Deviance pushes society’s moral boundaries which, in turn leads to moral change.
      • Things that used to be considered deviant such as secularism are no longer considered deviant. This is a type of evolution. There are also traits and acts that are in the midst of undergoing this change such homosexuality.




    1. Macionis and Gerber, John, Linda (2011). Sociology 7th Canadian Edition. Toronto, Ontario: Pearson Canada Inc. p. 200.

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