Cultural Deviance Theories

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Cultural deviance theories assert that the rates of crime committed depend on the location of a metropolitan; the proximity of one's dwelling to the city center and that the rates of crime within the transitional zones are always the highest. The theories go on to posit that the community is more responsible for cases of crime than the individual. The entirety of this paper gives invaluable insight into the main premises that back up cultural deviance theories and, consequently, gives examples of how they are applicable in real life.

As a social disorganization concept, cultural deviance theories emphasize crimes to several different values that exist in disadvantaged neighborhoods. First, the lower class individuals have a differentiated set of values, which tend to conflict with the norms of the normative social construct of those in the middle class. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that schools grounded in cultural deviance theories focus on passing knowledge across middle-class traditions. Sociologists define deviance as any conduct that individuals within a social group describe as a violation of their norms; not amoral per se but just different. Two original cultural deviance theories include culture conflict theory and differential association theory (Downes, Rock, & McLaughlin, 2016).

Sutherland’s Differential Association Concept

According to Sutherland's differential association school of thought, crime is learned using social interaction. The theory goes further ahead to posit that the proportion of definitions befitting to defiance of the law and descriptions unfavorable to the breaking of the law determines if an individual indulges in criminal conduct. Sutherland also mentioned that cultural transmission is a contributor to cultural deviance (Tittle, 2018). Cultural transmission refers to the process through which beliefs, values, and behaviors are passed from one generation to the next using socialization.  An example of a social transmission process is when a gang member of a group such as the Latin Kings teaches gang hand symbols to a child; social interactions of such a nature are transmitted and learned from one generation to the other (Hirschi, 2017).

Sellin’s School of Thought on Culture Conflict

Johan Sellin, a pioneer of scientific criminology, argues that different social groups are defined by different conduct norms, and the conduct norms of a single group may be very different from those of another. It is for this reason that while it may be within one's group social normative construct to commit a crime such as a robbery, a different well-cultured group may believe in working hard to create an honest living. At this juncture, it is quite notable that norms regulate the lives which people live on a daily basis and can; therefore, best be defined as the rules that reflect the outlook of the affiliations and groups to which every one of us belongs (Hirschi, 2017).  Culture conflict assures that the main aim of conduct norms or normative social constructs is to give a clear definition of what is deemed as an appropriate way to behave and what is abnormal or inappropriate conduct. For example, it becomes evident that the primary difference between an individual who is a criminal and a non-criminal is that both are acting in response to differentiated sets of conduct norms.

In conclusion, research underpins Sutherland’s differential association theory and Sellin’s culture conflict theory as the key premises of cultural deviance models. It is apparent that what deviant cultural theories are trying to pass across is that the conflicts which prompt crime emerge as normative moment constructs. Besides, crime can also occur when various cultures grow and develop into a multitude of slightly differentiated beliefs with each having a well-defined set of conduct norms.


Downes, D., Rock, P., & McLaughlin, E. (2016). Understanding Deviance: A Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-Breaking (7th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.

Hirschi, T. (2017). On the Compatibility of Rational Choice and Social Control Theories of Crime. National Criminal Justice Reference Service. Retrieved from

 Tittle, C. (2018). Control Balance: Toward a General Theory of Deviance (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.

December 12, 2023


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