Conceptual and theoretical issues in the study of deviance

Robert M. Terry, Darrell J. Steffensmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The agenda for theorists of deviance remains as it has been for many years: Adequate conceptualization of the phenomenon in combination with theoretical attention to the problems of how deviance is produced (deviance‐making), how and why deviance occurs (theories of deviance) and how and why responses to deviance take particular forms (reactions to deviance). We argue that deviance is best conceptualized as differentially valuated phenomena. Deviance‐making is identified as an important, yet generally neglected area of concern. While we regard theorizing in deviance as relatively stagnant, some trends and issues are identified, with particular attention being given to the recent rise of structural and macro‐level theorizing. Reactions to deviance are discussed under the rubric of a series of generalizations subject to additional empirical assessment and synthesizing. We conclude by noting that attention to the issues identified in our agenda is imperative if the sociology of deviance is to remain a viable and distinct sub‐field within the discipline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)55-76
Number of pages22
JournalDeviant Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1988

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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