2392 Words10 Pages
"Discuss how one of the sociological theories of deviance can be used to explain social phenomena, such as pornography, drug use, suicide and disability."

By Vanessa Neil

1 - Introduction

2 - A Brief background to the Interactionist Perspective

3 - More recent developments in the Interactionist Perspective

4 - Using the Interactionist Perspective to explain social phenomena

5 - Conclusion


Deviant behaviour has sadly been a ongoing occurrence in society throughout history, more noticeably in life today. Sociologists have been provoked to study and form theories in order to try and explain why social phenomena such as suicide, prostitution and drug use occur in our society. The Interactionist Perspective, known to many as the Labelling Theory, is interested in social processes and examines deviant behaviour using such methods as social typing. The Interactionists emphasise the role that meanings play in the creation of deviant behaviour and gain a greater understanding of what it means to commit actions that others label as deviant.

A Brief background to the Interactionist Perspective

In order to discuss how the Interactionist theory can be used to explain deviance, it is necessary to understand the historical development and approach of this theory.

The Interactionists firstly believe that there are no behaviours that are intrinsically deviant. Secondly, Deviant actions are simply those which are defined as deviant within a certain culture or setting. Therefore Interactionists focus on social processes by which certain behaviours become known as deviant and the consequences for those who are labelled deviant. (Aggleton, 1987, chpt 4)

The Interactionist approach was at its height during the 1960’s and 1970’s, shedding a whole new, fresh perspective on the study of deviance. Here in Australia research on deviance was basically Functionalist and Positivist, Until 1970 when more critical approaches, like the Interactionist perspective began to appear. (Sargent, Nillan & Winter, 1997, pg 387)

Interestingly the origins of the Interactionist approach go back as far as 18th century Philosophers, arguing with Positivist’s about how to best explain social behaviour. In 1938, professor, Frank Tannenbaum first observed the actual reactions to certain behaviours, rather than on beha...

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...n going in our society due to the ‘stickiness of labels’ and ‘the self-fulfilling prophesy’ in which people grow into further careers of deviance, and the deviant cycle continues.


Aggleton, P. (1987). Deviance. London: Tavistock Publications

Anleu, S.L Roach. (1991). Deviance, Conformity and Control. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire

Goode, E. (1990). Deviant Behaviour. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Pontell, H.N. (1999). Social Deviance. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Rubington, E & Weinberg M.S. (1999). Deviance, The Interactionist Perspective. Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Sargent, M & Nilan, P & Winter, G. (1997). The new Sociology for Australians. Melbourne: Longman

Traub, S.H & Little C.B. (1994). Theories of Deviance. Illinois: F.E Peacock Publishers

Additional Reading

Cohen, S. (1977). Images of Deviance. England: Penguin Books

McGrath, J.H & Scarpitti F.R. (1970). Youth and Drugs, Perspectives on a Social Problem. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company

Wilson, P.R & Braithwaite, J. (1978). Two faces of Deviance. Queensland: University of Queensland Press

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