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Deviant Behavior and Social Control

It is difficult to imagine the world without social control, ensuring of which can be regarded as one of the main functions of social institutes. Social control is the standard regulation of people’s behavior in social systems. In turn, the phenomenon, which does not correspond with a framework of social norms, is usually called deviation. The attempts to explain the deviant behavior were made in different fields of study including sociology, biology, and psychology among others. Within the framework of sociology, there were developed the theories explaining the deviant behavior. Among these theories, there are social control, labeling, and critical theories of deviance. To analyze profoundly the issues of the deviance and efforts at social control, I used the films Cheaters, the Interrupters, and the Released as the case studies together with the book Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America. Therefore, they helped to reveal the meaning of context, power, opportunity, and choice in understanding deviant behavior and social control.

Deviant behavior is the activity of the person who does not meet the standards established in the particular society. Sociological approach seeks to analyze deviant behavior influence on the values of a person, his or her moral orientation, characteristics of forming the social environment, and state of public relations. As a rule, social deviations are connected with steady gradual distortion of the value orientations typical both for the society as a whole and different social groups.

Social research of a problem of deviation primarily focuses on the identification of the reasons for deviation. One of the methods is the social control theory, which suggests that people are virtually antisocial. What is more, according to it, deviance is “part of the natural order in society where individuals are attracted to the idea of norm violation and thus motivated to deviate” (Inderbitzin, 2012). In my opinion, this theory is most helpful in explaining the causes of deviance from the film Cheaters based on the real events. It raises the questions of justice and social inequality, false equal opportunities, and the cost of the academic success. At the same time, it also emphasizes the general problems of the society that is focused on the result where only victory matters. This society has common rules and norms, which are the subject to violation.

Cheaters is the story about a group of seven teenagers who decide to take part in the United States Academic Decathlon notwithstanding the fact that their school has never been successful in this regional competition. Thus, under the pressure of their counterpart Jolie and teacher Dr. Plecki who lost his belief in justice, the ambitious teenagers make the casual choice of achieving academic progress and cheat the test. Therefore, it is the example of deviant behavior in the society where its members understand bad essence of their behavior but still prefer deviance because they perceive this idea as acceptable and even attractable thing. At the end of the story, all members of the team understood their mistake and tried to begin new life without cheating (Stockwell, 2014).

Social theory control provides the explanation of deviant behavior of the members of the team concerned through their readiness to violate the norms accepted in the society, namely, readiness to cheat. What is more, social control theory also suggests that deviant activity is natural and inevitable in the society. According to Hirschi, usually, people are the creators and the participants of this type of behavior (Inderbitzin, 2012). Hence, not engagement in deviance or crime is primarily connected with the social bonds to conformity, which limit the involvement in the activities recognized as socially unacceptable. Therefore, four parts, which are “attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief,” designate this social bond (Inderbitzin, 2012).

Another film, which I have analyzed, was the Interrupters. It emphasizes the problem of street crimes in Chicago. It is the story about three civic activists, members of public organization Violence Interrupters and also former gang members, who stopped violence on the streets of Chicago due to their personal involvement and common efforts directed at the achievement of better life for the city. In that case, the reaction on the deviance was different among various members of the society. Most people were ignorant about the deviance until the moment when its manifestations directly influenced them. Street crimes and violence scared many people but only few of them tried to do something in order to eradicate those problems. However, there were also people, namely, former gangsters, who were courageous enough to change their mind and fight with the deviance (James, 2012). Therefore, the morality of this film consists in the thesis that every grand action begins from small people who believe in themselves and their deal.

From my point of view, the theory, which was shown in the film and fits the cases of deviant behavior better, is the conflict theory. It is based on the idea that the conflicts are typical phenomena in the society; they lead to various deviations, which present the demonstration of protest against norms of modern world (Inderbitzin, 2012). Hence, the main reasons for crimes are contradictions between the people entitled with power and their subordinates. If these two groups cannot come to the agreement, a conflict between them emerges. Later, it transforms into various deviations. In the given film, the conflict between official power and people from the street, in which the latter considered themselves the victims of unjust social system, was displayed. Thus, people who committed violent street actions wanted to break the established social system by all means considering its rules to be enforced from above.

One more manifestation of deviant behavior is shown in the film the Released, which presents the problem of mentally ill people who try to find their place in life after the prison. The problem lies in the fact that after the release, they usually do not know what to do with the newly obtained freedom, which, in fact, does not mean true release. The persons shown in the film just wandered the streets without any reason until they were finally returned to the prison. In addition, there were many cases of recidivism among people who were released. This film has shown important side of deviant behavior of people for whom deviance was a norm (Navasky, 2009). I believe that the best method for explaining deviant behavior in this case is the labeling theory.

The main thesis of labeling theory consists of supposing that in certain way, the beholder is the one who designates deviance: “How others view us — or how we believe others view us — is key to our understanding of self and our place in society” (Inderbitzin, 2012). Edwin Lemert differentiated primary and secondary deviation. He referred primary deviance to the incidental acts, by which the individuals violated generally accepted norms without considering themselves deviant actors (Inderbitzin, 2012).

At the same time, he indicated that people who committed deviant acts and were labeled became likely to move to secondary deviation. It means that the person’s behavior is the defense to the reaction of society. Thus, labeling mentally ill people deviant generally “produces self-fulfilling prophecy” where they cannot behave in another way since in the eyes of the society, they are labeled and expected to behave in a deviant way. At the same time, it must be indicated that for mentally ill people shown in the film, their behavior is normal. Therefore, they can label other people as “deviators.” Usually, they cannot adjust to the existing world because often, society is not ready to accept them, labels them as “ill” or delinquent, and does not try to help them. What is more, people consider the released as mentally ill without any chance for recovery. Thus, the released also did not know what to do and were usually returned to the prison.

The book Makes Me Wanna Holler provides the story of a black man who also was labeled by racist society. Hence, the labeling theory can explain the deviant behavior of the main hero of the story Nathan McCall since after the release from the prison, the society continued to condemn him (McCall, 1994). However, he demonstrated courage and willingness to change himself and the society. It has led him to becoming successful member of the society and being the example to follow.

In conclusion, it must be said that after taking this course, I have better understanding of the nature of deviance and know its explanation in accordance with different sociological theories. Thus, I have found that deviant behavior as the social phenomenon was usually analyzed through the prism of social control, conflict, and labeling theories, which provided different explanations of the causes of deviance emergence in the society. Social control theory regards deviance as inevitable characteristic of the society because people by their nature usually feel the attraction of deviant actions and do not perform them only due to the social bonds, which are often considered artificial. The team of cheaters in the film was ready to break the rules for the victory, which their belief in possibility of deviance without punishment explained. Conflict theory of deviance, which explains the events of the Interrupters, suggests that deviance emerges when there is a conflict between people who own power and another social group who does not want to abide by the rules, which official power imposes. Thus, they start to protest, and, as the film demonstrates, it can lead to violence. The Released displays the problem of impossibility of social adaption of mentally ill people who were freed from the prisons. The society labels them as a social group, which cannot lead normal way of life. Therefore, even after the release, they are not able to find their place in the world and return to the prison. After the analysis of the above-mentioned theory, I can define the role of the social control in the society: it lies in establishing the framework, within which people may live in the safe world with commonly shared values.


Inderbitzin, M. (2012). Deviance and social control. Thousand Oaks, TO: Sage Publications.

McCall, N. (1994). Makes me wanna holler: A young black man in America. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

James, S. (2012, February 14). The Interrupters [Video File]. Retrieved from

Navasky, M. (2009, April 28) The Released [Video File]. Retrieved from

Stockwell, J. [matek kiss]. (2014, May 4). Cheaters [Video File]. Retrieved from