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The Relativity of Deviance

The Relativity of Deviance

Fourth Edition

February 2016 | 408 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

This engaging and informative book, by award-winning sociologist and criminologist John Curra, offers a valuable perspective on attitudes and behaviors labeled as deviant.  The Relativity of Deviance, Fourth Edition, explores the meanings and constructions of social deviance and social reactions to it, he answers such questions as:

  • What is deviance?
  • What comprises deviant behavior?
  • How are deviants treated?
  • How is deviance socially constructed and socially sustained?
  • Why is the same attitude, behavior, or condition praised in one situation and condemned in another?  

Through insightful and thought-provoking examples and informed accounts, the author illustrates that deviance cannot be explained or understood in terms of absolutes or essential characteristics nor can it be explained or understood apart from its social setting. This book approaches sex, violence, theft, drugs, suicide, rape, and mental disorders in a way that shows the critical role of sociocultural factors and social reactions in constructions of deviance and crime.

Contributor to the SAGE Teaching Innovations and Professional Development Award

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Chapter 1: The Dynamic Nature of Deviance
Kids, Crocodiles, and Social Control

Relationships and Rule Breaking

Sociological Relativity

The Social Construction of Reality

Theoretical Views: The Old and the Not-So-Old

Relativity and Social Deviance

Whose Side Are We On?



Chapter 2: Being Deviant
The Original Blue Man (and Woman) Group

Being and Doing

Deviance and Responsibility

The Social Construction of Spoiled Identities

Managing Stigma



Chapter 3: Power, Social Networks, and Organizational Deviance
Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

The Carrier's Case: Other People's Belongings and the Crime of Theft

White-Collar Crime and Elite Deviance

The Relativity of Terrorism

Privilege, Power, and Penalties



Chapter 4: Mental Disorders
Medicalization on 34th Street

The Medicalization Process

Manufacturing Madness

The Myth of Mental Illness

Mental Health Buccaneers and Social Control

Sense and Nonsense in the Psychiatric Enterprise

Meltdown in the DSM



Chapter 5: Predatory Violence
The Social Construction of Murder and Violence

Arbitrary Meanings

Patterned Violence

Vocabularies of Motive and Interpersonal Accounts

The Curious Case of Jack the Ripper

Variable Violence



Chapter 6: Sexual Violence
Defining Rape

The Symbolic Organization of Sexual Violence

Rape and Social Conflict

Rape Scenes

Normalizing Sexual Violence

The Rape of Males



Chapter 7: Suicide
Social Frames and Definitions of the Situation

The Meanings of Suicide

The Curious Case of Autoerotic Asphyxiation

Sociocultural Variations in Suicide: Motive, Intent, and Interpretation

Suicide, Stigma, and Responsibility



Chapter 8: Sexual Diversity
Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

Sexuality: A Sociocultural Understanding

The Curious Case of the Berdache

Sexual Differentiation and Sexual Asymmetry

The Myth of the Universal Turn-On

Sexual Politics and the Transformation of Intimacy

Deviantizing Sexual Matters



Chapter 9: Drugs and Drug Taking
The Social Reality of Drug Use

Getting Stoned in the Animal Kingdom

Addiction: Imprecise Definitions and Arbitrary Meanings

The Social Dynamics of Human Drug-Taking Experiences

Moral Entrepreneurs and Drug Crusades



About the Author
Key features


  • Every chapter has been updated in light of current events and contains new examples and accounts including discussions on
    • graffiti writers;
    • Edward Snowden;
    • rape on college campuses;
    • relativity of terrorism and ISIS;
    • marijuana legalization;
    • the persecution of gays by the Westboro Baptist Church; and 
    • the social organization of lying.
  • Chapter 4 (mental disorders) has been heavily updated based on the publication of the newest manual on mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.  
  • The book includes more headings and subheadings, making it easier to read and understand. 
  • More cross-cultural examples of social deviance have been added.
  • The discussion on Jack the Ripper has been updated.
  • The coverage of white-collar crime and the Great Recession of 2008 has been expanded.
  • The book includes a new examination of police violence and "contempt of cop" attitudes resulting from the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.


  • Insightful and thought-provoking examples and informed accounts of the blue people of Kentucky, a woman who believes she is a vampire, autoerotic asphyxiates, exotic dancers, serial killers, graffiti writers, and many others.
  • Offers a captivating analysis of the social construction of deviance while explaining it in an approachable, interesting way.
  • Allows instructors to integrate a relativist perspective into the major topics covered in a deviance course.
  • Applies relevant theoretical concepts to specific examples of deviance.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 2

Chapter 5

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ISBN: 9781483377346