Social Research Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2012-20, Social Research Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 19 December, 2019 , © Lee Harvey 2012–2020.


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core definition

Deviance refers to that which is not consistent with the norm.

explanatory context

While intuitively straightforward, defining what is deviant is difficult because the norm is difficult to pin down.


The simplest situation occurs in statistical analysis where deviant cases are those that deviate most from the ‘average’ .


When discussing deviant behaviour, however, no simple notion of average behaviour exists and so what is deviant has to be construed in other ways. In general, the study of social deviance can be seen to have developed in one of two ways. First, as ‘objectively defined’, in which case research addresses official records of what a society has defined as deviant on the assumption that there are widespread and consistent norms and values. Second, as ‘subjectively problematic’, in which case deviance is viewed as against prevailing norms and the focus of enquiry is on those who define a person as being socially deviant, and on how this definition (or labelling) effects the deviant.

analytical review

CliffsNotes (undated) states:

Deviance is any behavior that violates social norms, and is usually of sufficient severity to warrant disapproval from the majority of society. Deviance can be criminal or non-criminal. The sociological discipline that deals with crime (behavior that violates laws) is criminology (also known as criminal justice). Today, Americans consider such activities as alcoholism, excessive gambling, being nude in public places, playing with fire, stealing, lying, refusing to bathe, purchasing the services of prostitutes, and cross-dressing—to name only a few—as deviant. People who engage in deviant behavior are referred to as deviants.


Raynet Sociology Glossary (undated) stated:

Deviance (deviant[s]) - Generally, deviance is nonconformity to social norms. However, often deviance is simply conformity to the norms or standards of a subgroup or subculture rather than those of the dominant culture. Deviance is not inherent in any behavior or attitude but rather is a result of human interaction in particular normative situations.


Elwell's Glossary of Sociology (undated) defines deviance as:

Behaviors which do not conform to significant norms held by most of the members of a group or society. What is regarded as 'deviant' is highly variable across societies.

and defines deviant subculture as:

A subculture which has values and norms which differ substantially from those of the majority in a society.


Richard Schaefer (2017):

Deviance: Behavior that violates the standards of conduct or expectations of a group or society..

associated issues


related areas

See also

Researching the Real World


CliffsNotes, 2011, Apriorism available at,articleId-26873.html, accessed 21 January 2013, page not available 17 December 2016.

Elwell's Glossary of Sociology, undated, available at, page not available 20 December 2016.

Raynet Sociology Glossary, undated, available at, no longer available 20 December 2016.

Schaefer, R. T., 2017, 'Glossary' in Sociology: A brief introduction, Fourth Edition, originally c. 2000, McGraw-Hill. Available at, site dated 2017, accessed 11 June 2017, 'not found' 1 June 2019.

copyright Lee Harvey 2012–2020


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