研究偏差和犯罪的社会学家会研究文化规范，它们如何随着时间而变化，如何实施，以及当规范被打破时个人和社会会发生什么。社会，社区和时代的偏差和社会规范各不相同，社会学家常常对这些差异存在的原因以及这些差异如何影响这些领域的个人和群体感兴趣。社会学家将偏差定义为被认为违反预期规则和规范的行为。然而，这不仅仅是不合格;这种行为远离社会期望。在关于偏差的社会学视角中，有一种微妙之处将它与我们对同一行为的常识理解区分开来。社会学家强调社会背景，而不仅仅是个人行为。也就是说，从群体过程，定义和判断的角度来看待偏差，而不仅仅是不寻常的个人行为。社会学家也认识到并非所有群体都能对所有行为进行相似的判断。对一个群体不正常的东西可能不会被视为对另一群体的偏离。此外，社会学家认识到既定的规则和规范是社会创造的，而不仅仅是在道德上决定或单独强加的。也就是说，偏差不仅在于行为本身，而在于群体对他人行为的社会反应。社会学家经常使用他们对偏差的理解来帮助解释其他普通事件，例如纹身或身体穿孔，饮食失调或吸毒和酗酒。研究偏差的社会学家提出的许多问题涉及行为所致的社会背景。例如，是否存在自杀是可接受行为的条件？面对绝症患者自杀的人与从窗户跳下的沮丧者有不同的判断吗？在偏离和犯罪的社会学中，有四个关键的理论观点，研究人员从中研究人们违反法律或规范的原因，以及社会如何对这些行为作出反应。我们将在这里简要回顾一下。结构应变理论是由美国社会学家罗伯特·K·默顿（Robert K. Merton）开发的，他认为，当他们所居住的社区或社会没有提供实现文化价值目标的必要手段时，个人可能会遇到的紧张行为。默顿认为，当社会以这种方式使人们失败时，他们会从事不正常或犯罪行为，以实现这些目标（例如经济上的成功）。一些社会学家从结构功能主义的角度来研究偏离和犯罪。他们认为，偏差是实现和维持社会秩序的过程的必要部分。从这个角度来看，不正常的行为有助于提醒大多数社会商定的规则，规范和禁忌，这些规则，规范和禁忌强化了它们的价值，从而增强了社会秩序。冲突理论也被用作偏离和犯罪的社会学研究的理论基础。这种方法将不正当行为和犯罪作为社会，政治，经济和物质冲突的结果。它可以用来解释为什么有些人为了在经济上不平等的社会中生存而诉诸刑事交易。最后，标签理论是研究偏差和犯罪的重要框架。遵循这一思想流派的社会学家会争辩说，存在着一种标记过程，通过这种过程可以认识到偏差是如此。从这个角度来看，社会对偏离行为的反应表明，社会群体实际上通过制定违规行为构成偏离的规则，并将这些规则应用于特定的人并将其标记为外人来创造偏差。这一理论进一步表明，人们从事不正常行为，因为他们因为种族，阶级或两者的交集而被社会标记为偏离。
Sociologists who study deviance and crime examine cultural norms, how they change over time, how they are enforced, and what happens to individuals and societies when norms are broken. Deviance and social norms vary among societies, communities, and times, and often sociologists are interested in why these differences exist and how these differences impact the individuals and groups in those areas. Sociologists define deviance as behavior that is recognized as violating expected rules and norms. It is simply more than nonconformity, however; it is behavior that departs significantly from social expectations. In the sociological perspective on deviance, there is a subtlety that distinguishes it from our commonsense understanding of the same behavior. Sociologists stress social context, not just individual behavior. That is, deviance is looked at in terms of group processes, definitions, and judgments, and not just as unusual individual acts. Sociologists also recognize that not all behaviors are judged similarly by all groups. What is deviant to one group may not be considered deviant to another. Further, sociologists recognize that established rules and norms are socially created, not just morally decided or individually imposed. That is, deviance lies not just in the behavior itself, but in the social responses of groups to behavior by others. Sociologists often use their understanding of deviance to help explain otherwise ordinary events, such as tattooing or body piercing, eating disorders, or drug and alcohol use. Many of the kinds of questions asked by sociologists who study deviance deal with the social context in which behaviors are committed. For example, are there conditions under which suicide is an acceptable behavior? Would one who commits suicide in the face of a terminal illness be judged differently from a despondent person who jumps from a window? Within the sociology of deviance and crime, there are four key theoretical perspectives from which researchers study why people violate laws or norms, and how society reacts to such acts. We’ll review them briefly here. Structural strain theory was developed by American sociologist Robert K. Merton and suggests that deviant behavior is the result of strain an individual may experience when the community or society in which they live does not provide the necessary means to achieve culturally valued goals. Merton reasoned that when society fails people in this way, they engage in deviant or criminal acts in order to achieve those goals (like economic success, for example). Some sociologists approach the study of deviance and crime from a structural functionalist standpoint. They would argue that deviance is a necessary part of the process by which social order is achieved and maintained. From this standpoint, deviant behavior serves to remind the majority of the socially agreed upon rules, norms, and taboos, which reinforces their value and thus social order. Conflict theory is also used as a theoretical foundation for the sociological study of deviance and crime. This approach frames deviant behavior and crime as the result of social, political, economic, and material conflicts in society. It can be used to explain why some people resort to criminal trades simply in order to survive in an economically unequal society. Finally, labeling theory serves as an important frame for those who study deviance and crime. Sociologists who follow this school of thought would argue that there is a process of labeling by which deviance comes to be recognized as such. From this standpoint, the societal reaction to deviant behavior suggests that social groups actually create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. This theory further suggests that people engage in deviant acts because they have been labeled as deviant by society, because of their race, or class, or the intersection of the two.