What’s the difference between deviance and crime? Sociologists have had an interest in studying and understanding deviant behaviour since the earliest days of the discipline. In the late nineteenth century, for example, the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, carried out a famous study of suicide. In the societies he studied, suicide was generally regarded as outside community and religious norms. In this study, Durkheim critically examined the predominant non-sociological ways of explaining suicide. He then provided a sociological explanation of why suicide rates change over time, and why they differ across regions and countries. The term ‘deviance’ originates from statistics, where a ‘deviation’ is a variation from the mean. It includes, but is a much wider category than, ‘crime.’ Nouns like ‘deviate’ and ‘deviant’ have been used to refer to people who differ in some way from the norm in society. This general concept of deviance was intended to help sociologists identify similarities among different kinds of rule-breaking behaviour within society. In sociology, the term ‘deviance’ refers to personal properties or behaviour which violate social norms or laws, and which may be subject to negative sanctions of one kind or another. Sociologists are generally interested in studying who makes the rules or laws people live by, who breaks them, why people break them, and what happens to them when they do. ‘Deviance’ can include a potentially wide range of phenomena from being obese, disabled or mentally ill, to slovenly personal grooming, inappropriate dress, and a lack of manners, to alcohol and drug abuse, sexual misbehaviour, violence and other criminal activity. It’s important to remember, though, that social norms are rarely uniform and homogenous throughout a society. Behaviours regarded as deviant in some groups can be regarded as perfectly normal in others. ‘Officially’, the use of drugs like marijhuna or cocaine is deviant, but it is a ‘normal’ and acceptable part of life in many social groups. Sociologists will emphasise that so-called ‘deviant’ behaviour is often itself very much governed by the rules and norms of the groups of which those individuals are members. The conflict between ‘deviance’ and ‘normality’, then, can be either a social conflict, between governed by the rules and norms of the groups of which those individuals are members. The conflict between ‘deviance’ and ‘normality’, then, can be either a social conflict, between The conflict between ‘deviance’ and ‘normality’, then, can be either a social conflict, between social groups within a society, or a tension between an individual and broadly accepted social norms. An example of the first would be skateboard-riding along a busy pedestrian walkway, and an example of the second would be a mass shooting in a high school. The boundaries between the two categories can shift over time, and they can often be blurred. One example here would be the case of fatal shootings by police of mostly black young men in the United States. It’s a ‘normal’ behaviour that the Black Lives Matter movement is working to make ‘deviant’. Another example would be mental illness, which moved from being regarded as ‘normal’ part of social life to being seen as deviant from about the 17th century onwards. Today it’s increasingly being framed, again, as a characteristic of human behaviour that can and should be accepted within ‘normal’ social relations. If deviance is defined in relation to social norms or laws, then it will differ as norms and laws vary between societies, and as societies change over time. In Anglo-Australian culture, for example, it’s entirely normal for men to be alone, at times, with their sisters, mother-in-laws or other women they are not in approved sexual relationships with. However, this is not the case in Apache society, in the United States. There, such behaviour is avoided because it is regarded as inappropriate. The anthropologist, Philip Greenfeld, who studied the Apache, reported a personal incident where an Apache woman in her nineties turned her back on him, for this reason, as she spoke to him. ‘Crime’ is a narrower category than deviance. It usually refers to violations of the criminal law which are punishable by law. It often overlaps with ‘deviance’, but the two categories shouldn’t to be equated with each other.If social norms or laws change in society, then so will what is defined as deviant and, or criminal. It used to be entirely normal, and certainly not a crime, to drive a car without wearing a seatbelt, and having consumed a large amount of alcohol. Both of these activities are now illegal, and in many respects also ‘deviant’. If you rode a bicycle in the Australian state of New South Wales without a helmet, you used to be a law-abiding citizen who was doing nothing unusual. However, by July 1991 it was compulsory for all bicycle riders in New South Wales to wear helmets when cycling. Riders who didn’t do so were now breaking the law. The very same activity, riding a bike without a helmet, is today a crime in New South Wales. Technically, because the policing of bicycle helmets goes through periods of being more or less strict, so that the wearing of bicycle helmets in reality lies on the border between a crime on the one hand, and perfectly normal on the other. It is certainly not a crime in the many countries around the world without mandatory helmet laws. Indeed, in counties like the Netherlands, it would be deviant (but not against the law) to wear a helmet! The current example of behaviour that’s on the boundary of deviance and crime is using a mobile phone while driving. It’s a crime, but many people continue to do it, and in that sense it’s not clear whether and in what sense it’s ‘deviant’. These examples all illustrate the complexity of the relationship between deviance and crime, and this is one of the many interesting issues in criminology and the sociology of crime and punishment.