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:
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.