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Deviance and Labeling Theory

Every society is unique in its way; however, with the globalization effect, the world has been made smaller making diverse individuals interact at different levels. Each society has stipulated some norms that people are bound to follow, for instance, when one gets into a lift, he/she will have to turn and face the door, and thus it would be considered deviant if one would not follow this norm. It is, therefore, important to note that an individual may fail to do as the others due to his or her ignorance. This is to say that social norms are not inborn but artificially induced, and that is why they will always be different from one society to another. It is, therefore, crucial to analyze the issues of deviance and labeling theory in order to bring an understanding of their relation to the society. It is through comprehension of such concepts that individuals can also appreciate other persons’ diversity.

Deviance and the Labeling Theory

Deviance is the concept that describes the actions of an individual that do not follow the norms articulated in the society. This term means some difference from the rest of the society, especially in matters that are considered as obvious. It is thus evident that in case of deviance, the rule comes first and its violation occurs later (Wright & Randall, 1978). It can, therefore, be said that deviance is a problem-solving mechanism that people use to meet their goals when the conventional ways have failed. Labeling, in its turn, is where an individual is assigned a given character trait and, despite the label being false, he or she will react towards the fulfillment of the assigned trait. For instance, a person who is labeled as child molester will find him/herself practicing the said vice in spite of it being untrue. In this case, therefore, labeling comes before the reaction to the social behavior (Wright & Randall, 1978). It is thus evident that the relationship between deviance and labeling is that both place emphasis on the social norms, but while deviance comes after the reaction to one’s behavior, labeling occurs before any conduct (Grattet, 2011). Both concepts help in instilling morals to the society, whereby deviance points out those who stray from the norms of the society, while labeling is stereotypic and can enhance good morals or bad morals depending on the trait assigned to an individual.


Polyandry is one form of deviance that has been witnessed in certain parts of the world. While some societies have embraced the marriage of polygamy whereby, on the one hand, the man legally marries more than one woman, polyandry, on the other hand, is the practice where a female legally has more than one male as her husband (Wijesekera, 1967). This practice in most communities is considered a taboo and unacceptable, but it is surprising to individuals from other societies to realize that such phenomena still exist. This behavior is unexpected among most contemporary humans, and this is reason why those who practice it are considered primitive. Polyandry is embraced by some communities of the South American Indians. It is also common among some groups among the Eskimo, like the Kaniagmint, the Tlingit and Aleut found at the coast of Alaska. The majority of Lanzarote Island women in the Canary Islands have more than three husbands, who wait for months to be attended (Wijesekera, 1967). The practice is also existent in Africa, where small groups in Madagascar such as in the areas of South Sea Island and the Malayan Archipelago have been adhering to this marriage tradition.

There has been the rise of another type of polyandry, whereby the first husband is considered a chief husband, while the other men, who cannot to be brothers, will act as husbands in the absence of the first husband who is termed as the Lord. The best example of this approach is Cicisbei that is practiced by the Nayars of India, where a girl goes through all the marriage arrangements but is later allowed to consort other unrelated men when necessary (Wijesekera, 1967). Another form of polyandry in India is where a man marries a woman who, in turn, can have sexual intercourse with the male’s father or the uncles, and the children born are considered to belong to the husband. It is also common among the Todas, who also live in India, where once the girl is married to a man, she is considered to be a wife to all the brothers of her husband.

Polyandry in Kota Society

The best example of a community that has been practicing polyandry is the Kota Society in India. It has embraced the tradition that has been considered a taboo among other tribes. The woman in the Kota society is allowed to have one husband but she is free to marry another man upon the demise of the previous one or after divorcing him (Mandelbaum, 1938). What makes this society polyandrous is the fact that the brothers of the husband have permission to have free sexual access to the wife of the former. In this case, the society has made it a rule that the husband cannot confront the brothers for having sexual intercourse with his wife. It is, therefore, evident that the brothers are the secondary husbands, and it is also their right to attend to the wife in the absence of the husband or when the husband is ill and incapacitated.

Some of the social conditions that promote practicing polyandry by Kota society is the presence of the Karumba tribe, who are their neighbors and are believed to be sorcerers who prey on the Kota women. This means that allowing brothers to sleep with the wife while the husband is away is a form of protection of females. This culture is based on the religion where people believe in the existence of three Gods in one where there is the Elder Father God, his brother termed as the Younger Father God and the Mother God (Mandelbaum, 1938). Below them are the junior gods who share wives and, in the same way, the Kota people believe it is a religious practice to share their brothers’ wives. Polyandry is considered a regular act because of the social principle of equivalence, where the society believes in the sharing of responsibilities and harvests. In the same way, they see the tradition of sharing their wives a common norm. The practice is also accepted by the society due to the protective role it provides to the women.


In conclusion, deviance is a disregard for the norms of the society and can be a result of ignorance or deliberate disregard of the rules in order to attain a certain goal. Labeling is closely related to deviance, but while in the latter the behavior is witnessed before terming an individual as deviant, labeling presides the conduct. Deviance has been common among different societies with polyandry being one of such practices. Polyandry is the legal involvement of a married woman in sexual intercourse with more than one man in society. Surprisingly, this practice has been common among some tribes with Kota society providing the best example. In this community, men have equal rights to everything in the society including brothers’ wives.


Grattet, R. (2011). Societal reactions to deviance. Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 185-204.

Mandelbaum, D. G. (1938). Polyandry in Kota Society. American Anthropologist, New Series, 40(4), 574-583.

Wijesekera, N. D. (1967). Polyandry. The Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, New Series, 11, 23-35.

Wright, C. W., & Randall, S. C. (1978). Contrasting conceptions of deviance in sociology: Functionalism and labeling theory. The British Journal of Criminology, 18(3), 217-231.