The concept of the social construction of deviance is rooted in sociological theory. It challenges the notion that deviance is a universal and objective category, and instead argues that it is a product of social interactions and societal norms. This article will explore the theories that form the basis of this concept, providing a comprehensive understanding of its origins and implications.

The Symbolic Interactionist Perspective

One of the key theories underlying the social construction of deviance is the symbolic interactionist perspective. Developed by sociologists such as George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman, this perspective emphasizes the role of symbols, meanings, and interactions in shaping social reality.

According to symbolic interactionism, individuals attach meanings to behaviors and actions based on shared understandings within their society. Deviance, therefore, is not an inherent characteristic but rather a label that society assigns to certain behaviors or individuals.

Labeling Theory

Building upon symbolic interactionism, labeling theory further explores how societal reactions contribute to the construction of deviance. This theory suggests that when individuals are labeled as deviant by authorities or institutions, it has profound effects on their self-identity and future behavior.

The labeling process creates a “deviant” identity for individuals through formal sanctions (such as legal punishment) or informal mechanisms (such as stigmatization). This labeling can lead to further deviant behavior due to societal expectations and limited opportunities for conventional success.

Conflict Theory

Another influential perspective on the social construction of deviance comes from conflict theory. Developed by Karl Marx and later expanded upon by other sociologists like Michel Foucault, conflict theory focuses on power dynamics within society.

Conflict theorists argue that those in power have the ability to define what is considered deviant and to enforce these definitions through institutions such as the legal system. Deviance, in this context, is seen as a means for those in power to maintain control and suppress dissent.

Feminist Theory

Feminist theory also contributes to the understanding of the social construction of deviance, particularly regarding gender-based deviant behaviors. Feminists argue that societal norms and expectations often label women who defy traditional gender roles as deviant.

For example, women who challenge patriarchal norms by being assertive or pursuing careers traditionally dominated by men may be labeled as deviant. This labeling serves to maintain societal gender inequalities and reinforce traditional gender roles.


The concept of the social construction of deviance draws upon various sociological theories to challenge the idea that deviance is an objective reality. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the role of symbols and interactions in shaping social reality, while labeling theory focuses on how societal reactions contribute to the construction of deviance.

Conflict theory highlights power dynamics within society and how those in power define and enforce notions of deviance. Feminist theory adds further insights by exploring how traditional gender roles influence perceptions of deviance.

By understanding these foundational theories, we can critically analyze societal norms and labels, recognizing that what is considered deviant is not inherent but socially constructed. This awareness allows us to question and challenge prevailing notions of deviance, promoting a more inclusive and just society.