The Sociology of Deviance

Module code: SY2080

Module co-ordinator: John Williams

The deviance tradition has very specific roots in both the United States and the UK. In this module we will trace these roots and explore how explore how sociology and criminology have contributed to our understanding of the nature and management of the 'new deviance' of late modernity.

'Traditional' sociological approaches to the deviance question have recently been challenged by a range of political, social, technological, economic, and cultural shifts of the kind typically associated with the transformation of developed societies from modernity to late modernity. In this module, you will:

  • Investigate new conceptualisations of the deviance problem
  • Explore the role of consumption and style in stimulating and shaping deviance
  • Examine expressive forms of deviant carnival, drinking, and drug deviance
  • Evaluate the new policing of deviant cultures via the recent work of cultural criminologists and others

These changes have been associated with a blurring of the categories of crime, disorder, and deviance and are a challenge to modernist interpretations of crime and deviance. You will investigate a more exclusionary, less integrative approach to social deviants in city landscapes and in the experience of 'carnival' and mass public celebration and demonstrations. We will consider whether there been a progressive criminalising of cultural forms and a 'responsibilising' of citizens in relation to managing deviance. We will address new policy responses to 'at risk' young people and look critically at the rise of ubiquitous forms of surveillance as a means of managing and producing new kinds of public and private space.

Topics covered

  • What is the sociology of deviance? What are its roots and why has its influence grown in the last 30 years?
  • What are the deviant seductions of late-modern forms of 'carnival' and spectacle, including reality TV and even 'dogging'?
  • Why is style so important to late-modern deviants?
  • Are we increasingly criminalising new cultural forms?
  • Do we live in less tolerant, less integrative cities today?
  • To what extent has surveillance and intensive management of public space been an appropriate response to the search for deviant satisfactions? 


  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Eight one-hour seminars


  • A portfolio of 2,500 words (50%)
  • Exam (50%)