Rule-breaking: it isn’t deviance

Importantly, deviance is not rule-breaking, that’s way too simple. Some deviants break no formal rules at all but find themselves outside of the unspoken rules of society a hundred times a day for reasons outside of their control. Take a person with Asperger’s who may faithfully follow every rule ever communicated to them, yet constantly break the multitude of unspoken, subtle social rules that they simply lack the awareness to intuit.

Someone in a wheelchair may have to break social rules in order to survive in a world that is not set up for people outside of the statistical and social norm. Breaking the rules doesn’t make them deviant and being technically defined as ‘differently abled’ does not make them deviant. Being treated as deviant by Society does.

Equally, some rules are never enforced which makes it hard for people to learn about or to respect the rule, particularly personalities which lack the ability to learn from subtlety and need clearly and rigidly defined rules to work with.  And the discretionary/selective application of rules can be baffling (and infuriating) to someone who is outside of comfortable societal norms. The example used was jay-walking. Against the law and therefore it is social deviance to cross a street anywhere other than an approved crossing but the practice is socially tolerated in some societies and even an informal rule in others. But take someone who grew up in New York, for instance (where jay-walking is perfectly normal and even necessary for day-to-day function) and drop them into a society that polices it’s pedestrian rules and that person very quickly finds themselves in deviance-territory.

And at the other end of the spectrum an obsessive rule follower can quickly find themselves being treated as a deviant. Because there are some rules that everyone breaks and someone who is rigid about rules or tries to enforce it with others will stand out as being different even while following the rules faithfully.

You really can’t win with society.

Taken from The Great Courses’ Explaining Social Deviance Lecture 1: Asking the Right Questions