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The Relativity of Deviance

The Relativity of Deviance

Fifth Edition

October 2019 | 408 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
The Relativity of Deviance is a primer on the constructivist perspective on deviancethe idea that deviance cannot be explained in terms of absolutes, nor can it be understood apart from its social setting. The book is frequently used alongside all of the major core deviance textbooks on the market. It answers such questions as: What is deviant? What is deviant behavior? How should the deviant be treated? Why is the same act sometimes praised and sometimes condemned? Readers will see that what qualifies as deviance varies from place to place, time to time, and situation to situation. The book explores some of the most frequent contexts for deviant behavior in ways that challenge definitive or objective judgments. 

The Fifth Edition has been updated to include the most current developments in American society, including deviance at the highest levels of national politics and corporate life, sex abuse scandals, the opioid crisis, and the growing decriminalization of marijuana.

Chapter 1 The Dynamic Nature of Deviance
Being Left in a Right World

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



Chapter 4 Mental Disorders
Medicalization on 34th Street

The Medicalization Process

Manufacturing Madness

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: When Killing is Not Murder?



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

Imprecise Definitions and Arbitrary Meanings

The Social Dynamics of Human Drug-Taking Experiences

Moral Entrepreneurs and Drug Crusades



About the Author

"Easy read and explanation of topics."

"The text is well written and explains various behaviors in detail with examples for experiential learning opportunities"

Tim Powers
Brevard College

"It covered all of the major topics, but it did so in a unique way with unique and thought-provoking examples that appeal to my students."

"It has complete coverage, it is an interesting read, it approaches certain topics with a unique perspective (e.g., the medicalization of mental illness), it is reasonably priced.."

Laura Colmenero-Chilberg
Black Hills State University

"The primary reason is because deviance is presented in terms of a social constructionist perspective. Most textbooks look at deviance from a functionalist or positivistic perspective. The examples used in the text are outstanding in terms of presenting the relative nature of deviance."

"Besides the fact that it doesn't have ancillary materials (which might scare some instructors away), it challenges students to think critically about the subject matter."

Linda Scola
Bethune-Cookman University

"I adopted The Relativity of Deviance because of the relativistic perspective it provides, because of the interesting examples and topics covered, because it's well-written and because it provides great opportunities and jump-off points for class discussion."

"If you teach this course, you should teach it from multiple perspectives and this book offers a nicely packaged way to present the relativistic perspective of deviance."

Kenneth E. Jackson
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Key features
  • 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.


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