Sociologically speaking, are conformity and deviance sides of the same coin? Why? Why not?



Conformity refers to a universally acceptable behavior or action. The behavior is considered to be approved as the expected norm within a society. In every society, there are norms that govern peoples behavior hence determining conformity (Anleu 2005, p.39). The norms are transmitted from one generation to another through the process of socialization. On the other hand, deviance is a behavior that is associated with a violation of a societys norms or accepted standards (Dubois 2004, p. 18). Deviant behavior is often unacceptable by the majority in a society. The notion that conformity and deviance are two sides of the same coin is based on the reasoning that it is not possible to talk about conformity without mentioning deviance and vice versa. Using this as the basis of argument, this discussion seeks to provide justifications that conformity and deviance are two sides of the same coin.

Justification on Why Conformity and Deviance are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Forms of behavior are identified as acceptable or unacceptable based on the norm as defined by the powerful social classes or groups. It is important to note that societies differ in their definition of what should be regarded as an acceptable mode of behavior (Anleu 2005, p.39). A given society may also change its definition of acceptable mode of behavior over time. As such, deviance is regarded as a relative concept as it differs in accordance to time and societal differences.

Societies use social controls as tools and means by which they enforce the rules that are to be used to govern a given society. Barber (2004 p. 93) states that the application of the social control in shaping peoples behavior can lead to conformity of deviance. When children grow up to be well behaved, with respect to the societal norms, they are regarded to have conformed to the societal norms (Guillebeau 2010, p. 212). The failure to adhere to the prescriptions of social controls directly leads to a deviant behavior. Therefore, social controls facilitate conformity as they guide peoples behavior towards a given acceptable direction. The controls can be internal or external. People undergo the process of socialization during which self discipline and control is induced in them to help control their modes of behavior (Dubois 2004, p. 20). In most cases, informal controls are induced on people by their parents, role models or peer groups. It is clear that the application of social control in governing peoples behavior has only two possible results in that it can lead to conformity or deviance. It is also true that conformity can be used to define deviance and vice versa (Bhattacharyay et al., 2013, p.17). It is because a behavior that depicts lack of conformity is obviously regarded as a show of deviance. As such, the two concepts cannot be separated.

Deviant behavior can be defined as non-conformity to a set of rules that are established to govern peoples mode of behavior in a given society. However, it is not easy to create a boundary between those who conform to a societys norms and those who deviate from them. It is because no one in the society can conform to all rules in the same way nobody can deviate from all societal norms. Therefore, it follows that members in every society create rules just as they break the same rules. When one conforms to some set of rules and is being perceived as conforming to societal norms, the same person is most likely to deviate from other societal norms hence regarded as a deviant. There are situation when people display modes of behavior that are regarded to be entirely against the norms of a respectable society. It is necessary to understand that those who display such extreme deviance also conform to the rules of the group to which they belong. This reasoning justifies the idea that conformity and deviance are two sides of the same coin.

Keeping aside the objective definition of the concept deviant behavior, the concept entails the social judgments that people make about what is considered as right within a society. The behavior that is considered as proper is subjected to an interpretation of how widely it is shared in a variety of social contexts. The subjectively defined boundary is understood to depict deviancy (Henry 2009, p. 40). It is also important to note that there are situations when violation of societal norms is not considered as a deviant act. It is because some forms of deviant behavior do not produce undesirable implications on the society. For example, Giddens and Duneier et al (2014, p. 324) state that deviance from the norm in the field of art can be regarded as a show of creativity hence attracting rewards. Having conformed to the norms of an outlawed group, one may decide to go against the norms hence being considered as a deviant by the group. There are also cases of unmotivated deviance where one goes contrary to his groups norms (Kaplan & Johnson 2001, p. 4). In the process, the individual conforms to the societal norms by shifting to behave in accordance to the societal standards. It follows that deviance and conformity are understood with respect to the context within which a behavior is displayed. The idea of positive deviance can be used to stress this reasoning. Thus, actions that are regarded as deviant in a given context can later be regarded as acceptable and heroic in a different context (Andersen & Taylor 2008, P. 127).

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Conformity and deviance can only be regarded as distinct concepts that are capable of existing independently if they are used in completely different contexts, in distinct societies and during particular time. This is to mean that what is considered deviant behavior in a given community will never be regarded as a show of conformity within the same community at a particular time in the same context. Failure to meet these conditions makes conformity and deviance to turn out as two sides of the same coin (Sharma & Malhotra 2007, p.104).


To conclude, actions are judged as a show of deviance or conformity based on the reactions from those who witness the actions or behaviors and not based on characteristics of the actions themselves. This understanding leads to the reasoning that an action can be regarded as deviant at the face of a given person or group of people while the same action is acceptable to another person or group of people. It depends on the context under which a behavior is displayed. Therefore, the existence of conformity gives room for the existence of deviance and the two concepts are used alongside each others. It is due to this reasoning that conformity and deviance are regarded as two sides of the same coin.

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