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Deviance Case Study

How does the Shafia murder trial fit into a definition of deviance?

On June 30th, 2009 the Shafia murder crime occurred in Kensington, Ohio. The victims included the three daughters and the first wife of Muhammad Shafia and this case is considered one of the numerous examples of delinquencies against women. The background occurrences of this murder case have piqued the interest of criminologists and sociologists for a long time and it is often explained through the definition of deviance drawn through the anomie theory, strain theory, and rational choice theory. Deviance is defined as an inevitable part of society. It occurs when individuals and certain societal groups display divergence from the established rules and norms that govern society (Thompson, 2020). The Shafia murder case was also a result of such diverging set of values held by the family members. Deviating from the collective sentiment of the society, the Shafia murder crime was an outcome of a rift between the family members where the women sought freedom in the western world; a concept quite alien to the traditions of the family. As Robert K. Merton’s strain-anomie theory defines deviance as non-conformance due to societal strain, the Shafia murder case relates to it as the family experienced the stain of the western world and the relating cultural difference that ultimately resulted in this heinous crime. Deviance in the form of honor killing is often defined as a choice made consciously and this crime case fits well with this definition as this was a planned murder was planned and projected as an accident to avoid punishment (Abrams, 2018).

What role does criminal law play in understanding deviance?

Deviance is non-conformance to established rules, laws, and standards of behavior. Although violating these norms is a divergent behavior, however, it is not necessarily a serious offense. Crime, in contrast, is a non-conforming behavior that violates official laws and is a punishable offense. All societies endeavor to regulate and enforce behavioral standards by practicing social control. These may be in the form of positive sanctions that reward acceptable behaviors and negative sanctions that may punish violations. Criminal law is based on negative sanctions that seek to punish offenders. Therefore, the role of criminal law in understanding the degrees of deviant behavior is significant. The evolution of criminal law is based upon society’s perception of deviant behavior. Once a behavior is considered divergent, the degree of its seriousness leads to creating laws to punish it. Mere labeling of an act as deviant by a group of people does not sanction it to become a legally punishable offense rather an overall consensus is required to modify and create criminal law (Huntington, 2017).

In explaining deviance, how do sociological theories differ from biological and psychological theories?

Various theories have been proposed to explain the reasons behind non-conforming behavior. These theories can be categorized as biological, psychological, and sociological theories depending upon the forces and elements that are attributed as a cause of deviance. While the sociological theories pertain to the influence of societal forces, structures, and relationships in causing divergence, the biological and psychological theories take an entirely different approach. The major distinguishing factor of the sociological theories from biological and psychological theories is that it attributes deviance to external factors while the other two consider the individuals as primary units of analysis. The biological theories attribute deviance to the physical differences and biological functions of human beings whereas the psychological theories hold the individual accountable for the deviant or criminal acts. It is an individual’s personality that is the major motivational element driving behavior, moreover, personality deficiencies such as dysfunctional mental processes and abnormalities are also the causal factors of deviant behavior. Although the biological and psychological theories explain the individual dispositions to be deviant or non-deviant, sociological theories seek to answer a wide range of questions the most important of which is that why rates of deviance vary across societies, social classes, and location. The sociological theories do not label deviants as mentally abnormal or biologically unfit, rather it postulates that normal people perform acts of deviance under the influence of the social environment and factors such as social injustice, relationships, and association to various social institutions (Crossman, 2019).

Explain the Chicago School’s contribution to the study of deviance.

Many factors contributed to influencing the Chicago School’s role in the study of deviance. A new way of considering society emerged as a result of geographical factors, urbanization, economical upheavals, and transference of social theory between America and Europe. Chicago was considered to be an ideal location for sociological fieldwork because of the urbanized population that resulted from post-industrial factors. The most significant contribution of the Chicago School is the notion of social ecology which attributes deviance and crime to abnormal living conditions and an unstable social environment. For decades, crime was considered to be a failure of morality, and the deviants were seen as sinners. The Chicago School postulated the influence of a hectic urban life on human behavior in contrast to rural life. The criminologists of Chicago School distinguished not only between juvenile delinquencies and economic and geographic patterns of urbanization but also studied the shift of deviant behavior from the inner city to suburbs, and affluent suburbs to the inner-city poor. The theoretical contributions of Chicago School are the central tenets of criminology even today and their assertion that disruptions in the form of economic shifts, immigration, social instability, and injustice cause crime are applicable in the current highly urbanized societies. This macro theory called social disorganization is central in studying the variance of crime rates across neighborhoods. The school played a major role in shaping the analytical and theoretical foundation of a newly emergent discipline of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and in the development of American criminology (Bursik, 2012).

How does Functionalism relate to the study of deviance?

While the sociological literature was dominated by the structural perspective for the better part of the twentieth century, functionalism emerged through the theoretical contributions of Emile Durkheim and Robert K. Merton. The work of these functionalists has been novel in understanding deviance. Durkheim argued that deviant behavior is not exhibited by only a small group of sick-minded individuals and that non-conformance is not an unnatural occurrence. Rather, deviance is the central part of any society and functionally important. Although he did not ignore the negative consequences of deviance, however, he also highlighted the benefits that a society yields from such non-conforming behavior. Durkheim identified the importance of reaffirming societal values to save a society from collapsing. Merton furthered Durkheim’s views and presented the strain-anomie theory which attributes deviance to unjust social conditions. In any society, uneven wealth distribution and privilege hinder the achievement of goals for common people thereby causing increased frustration and forcing individuals to deviant from acceptable standards. This deviation may be in the form of innovation or rebellion. The functionalists’ view of deviance is not limited to an individual rather the entire society. The basic premise that deviance provides positive outcomes by reinforcing the idea of right and wrong in a society highlights the functional aspect of divergence (Ziyanak & Williams, 2014).


Abrams, D. (2018). Deviance. Retrieved from Britannica:

Bursik, R. J. (2012). The Chicago School of Criminology.

Crossman, A. (2019). How psychology defines and explains deviant behavior. Retrieved from ThoughtCo:

Huntington, H. (2017). What is the relationship between crime and deviance? Retrieved from Classroom:

Thompson, K. (2020). What is sociology? Retrieved from Revise Sociology:

Ziyanak, S., & Williams, J. L. (2014). Functionalist perspective on deviance. International Journal of Human Sciences, 11(2).



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