Sample Essay on Deviant Act

Deviant Act


Every society has a given set of norms that every member is expected to follow and a departure from such may be termed as deviance. Therefore, a deviant act is an act considered to go against the normal norms of a given society. Every member of a society is expected to conform to the dominant rules and guides to the behaviors. It is important to note that these norms may differ from one society to another, meaning that what may be termed as deviant in one society may not necessarily be deviant in another society.  Otherwise, each member of a given society is expected to understand and follow the norms in place. Some of the deviant acts may attract punishment while others may not necessarily lead to punishment but may make others avoid the culprit. Understanding deviance depends on understanding the social context that varies from one society to another. Acts that are termed as deviant may vary from extreme ones like crime, something visible and recognizable by all members, to putting on excess makeup on the body, something that is considered deviant in certain religious context.

Crime is one of the deviant acts in almost all social setups and is punishable by law. However, crime has many aspects and can range from stealing someone’s purse or wallet to violent robbery of a bank, where lives may be lost. This paper looks at the deviant act of stealing a wallet that the owner drops accidentally within Arizona University Campus in Tempe. In most cases, there will a number of outcomes, depending on the setting. The person who picks it may alert the owner, ignore the wallet or take it away. However, a number of people accidentally drop their wallet and end up losing them. It is a deviant behavior to pick someone’s wallet and fail to report the same to the authorities. Most people would pick the dropped wallet, look around whether someone has noticed and then move on with it. Chances of recovering the wallet become more difficult, especially when there is cash money in it. This is considered deviant because the wallet, in most cases contains other personal items like credit cards and other personal identification cards that take time to replace. According to the norms of the society, the person who sees another person accidentally drop a wallet should give an alert to the victim. And in case someone picks it without the victim in sight, then there is need to either look for the contact inside the wallet or report the same to the local authorities. I decided to do this research in order to find the extent of this behavior in different streets within Arizona University Campus in Tempe because theft is considered a deviant act in the American society. Many cases have been reported of people losing their personal belongings that include wallets in the same manner. Therefore, I decided to make this research to find out the reality on an ideal situation within the campus. The paper also makes analysis of the outcome depending on theories available on deviant acts.

Literature Review

Norms may vary from culture to culture, and change over a period of time within a given culture. For instance, schools in the US five decades ago had a strict dress code that had to be followed by all students. However, the situation seems to have changed over time, the issue becoming a debatable aspect of the US norms. Today, female student scan easily wear pants as an accepted norm, but men are not likely to wear skirts. According to sociologists, application of norms would depend on certain settings; for instance, it would be very normal for people in urban areas to avoid theft of a dropped wallet than the same to occur in ghetto areas (Ward, Stafford & Gray 572). The society expects honesty when it comes to picking a lost item, something that should entail reporting to the relevant authorities. However, to others, picking a lost item may mean that the owner has already done away with it, warranting the need to keep it.

A number of theories are in place to help understand the different constructs of deviant acts in different social contexts. These theories attempt to explain some of the reasons behind the many deviant behaviors in the society. For instance, someone may simply pick the wallet and take it home because it contains cash that can be used. Reporting it in such a case may lead to serious problems with authorities, especially when the cash is required back. Some of these theories include Structural Strain Theory, Differential Associations Theory, Labeling Theory, Subcultural Theories, among others.

Structural Strain Theory

Structural Strain Theory is also known as Anomie Theory and it explains deviance as a behavior that comes from the strain in the social structures in a given society. A society without proper structures or where structures are weak leads to the increase of strains to the people. Some of these trains may arise from the gap between some of the societal goals on important issues like wealth and money, and the various means of acquiring them (Ward, Stafford & Gray 572). In the United States, everyone seeks to become successful in terms of knowledge and material possession and the only approved means of achieving these is through education and hard work. This explains why all persons, whether poor or rich all work hard in the hope of improving their status. In this theory, deviance is an easiest way managing the strain within the society.

According to Ford (1112-1120), the deviance is the options that individuals adopt in order cope up with the strains. Those who conform to the socially approved goals as noted above, going further to accept the approved means to achieve them are considered to have followed the norms of that society. However, others opt to either make some innovations as a way of avoiding the hard work towards achieving the goals. For instance, when a person steals someone’s property, this is an escape to the required norm of hard work towards success. Others also opt to either develop ritualism, retreatism or rebellion to the norms as means of deviance.

Differential Associations Theory

Differential Associations Theory is based in a concept where culture has a transmission mechanism that allows for learning. With this theory, it is assumed that deviant behaviors can be transmitted from one person to the other through learning. A number of variables are considered when this theory is adopted in an attempt to explain how variance can be learnt from by the different persons within the society. Some of the variables adopted in this theory include the following: age of the learner, the frequency of contact between the learner and the teacher of the deviant behavior and the number of the deviant behaviors the learner exposes with. For instance, there may be a number of the good verses bad habits that may define the interaction between the “learner” and the “teacher” that may define the extent of the deviance by a person (Ford 1124).

This theory holds to the fact that the younger the age of a person and the frequency of the contact with the teacher defines the extent of the deviant acts. This means that a person who is likely to steal a dropped wallet and fail to report may have been exposed to such behaviors at younger age. To such a person, picking and going away with the wallet without taking back may have lived in a surrounding where stealing was the norm. Therefore, moving away with an item may not be a bid deal to person who has been exposed to an environment where people steal. On the same note, this theory holds to the fact that someone is likely to copy and adopt behavior practices from an important person like a significant other. For instance, trust is an important part of the development of this theory, further confirming the fact that a person a significant other can be a source of deviant behavior as compared to a less important person (Mitchell & Dodder 308). Therefore, differential association is a factor of exposure to certain deviant persons or behaviors.

Labeling Theory

Labelling entails a process where a certain group or authority defines others as being deviant. In any society, there are people who define and label others as deviant, thus determining the state with the society. Without labeling it may be difficult to determine whether a certain act is deviant or not. This theory, advanced by Howard Becker advances relativism in the fact that until some senior person labels others as deviant, it may not be easy to determine what is deviant or not. Therefore, there may be two sets of behavior that may be equal in terms of the magnitude; however, one may be taken as deviant depending on what is set up by the authorities. For instance, teenage pregnancy is approached different between the two parties involved. To the teenage mother, it is a deviant behavior because the society expects the girl not to give birth out of marriage by saying “no” to sex. The situation is different from the teenage boy who impregnates a teenage girl outside marriage (Mitchell & Dodder 308). In spite of the fact that it takes two for pregnancy to occur, the girl is labelled as deviant when such problems arise.

On the same note, this theory brings out another aspect of degree of deviance within the society. The main categories are primary and secondary deviances. Primary deviance entails a situation where a person engages in certain isolated cases of deviant behaviors. These are some of the deviant behaviors that a person may do once in a while or for the first time. Secondary deviance entails a situation where has adopted a certain deviant behavior as lifestyle (Ward, Stafford & Gray 575). Such people have their lives organized and surrounded by the adopted deviant behavior. In this case, a person may stumble on a fallen purse or wallet and pick it without reporting as either an isolated case or as a lifestyle.

Subcultural Theories

In other theories, subcultures play an important role into defining some of the deviant acts that may be perceived within the larger culture. In subcultural theories, there may exist a given subculture within a culture; for instance, a gang or a group of persons involved in certain deviant behaviors may form a subculture within a given setting. In such subcultures, certain deviant acts may appear normal to the members; however, the same acts are perceived as deviant and in violation of the cultural norms within the larger society. This means that when a member from a subculture where stealing or running away with other people’s properties in normal will simply pick a dropped wallet and fail to report the same (Mitchell & Dodder 309). To such people, their actions seem normal but the same acts are taken as deviance within the society.

On the same note, it brings the principle of labeling because the higher authority with powers to determine which act is deviant comes into picture. Subcultural theory attempts to explain the difficulty that members of the subcultures go through in an attempt to balance between the two cultures. The main culture defines some of the norms that must be followed while the subculture also provides another way of life (Ward, Stafford & Gray 572). Therefore, the behavior by the person who picks the fallen wallet may be dictated by the subculture one belongs to. If the person belongs to the subculture that encourages stealing, then it would be easy to get away with it and fail to report the loss to the authorities.


Stealing is a deviant behavior that affects many of the students within Arizona University Campus in Tempe. Therefore, this research was conducted in an attempt to find out the extent of this behavior among student within the campus. The method used in this experiment entailed making real settings within a given part of a street, dropping the wallet and recording the reactions of the students within the surrounding. The method involved two people; one of them had to set himself at a distant place with a video camera that could clearly take a view of the set. I was the other person who was on set and my work was simply to pretend as if I were part of the normal activities in real time. I was to pretend as if I was busy on phone and in the process “unexpectedly” drop my wallet. After dropping the wallet, I was to pretend as if I had not noticed what had happened. The cameraman had his work cut out by ensuring that the focus was on the reaction of the people within the vicinity. This process was repeated several times in different natural sets in order to find out reactions of different students, in case a person would accidentally drop a wallet or purse. This method was adopted in an attempt to prove the deviant act.

The target of this experiment included all the students walking on the streets. Some settings targeted only the young students while other settings targeted the older students within the campus. The deviant behavior was to be measured by the people’s reactions after dropping the wallet on various campus streets or settings. The recording was the main method used to find out the reactions in each setting. Measurement of the reactions entailed a keen look at the speed of response witnesses had towards informing the owner. It was expected that some would respond faster while others slowly on the same scenario. Other than the older and younger generations of students, the method was designed to find out the reactions between the male and female students. The experiment was conducted in five different settings of the streets, with each of them producing different results.



The five scenes of experiments produced different results:

First Scene:

In the first scene, I walked in an open place that had majority of the young students walking around. It was a junction with everyone walking, either alone or with other friends. I pretended to be talking on the phone before dropping the wallet. A lady, the only witness quickly picked the wallet and ran towards me in order to inform me of the fallen wallet, while handing it to him. This lady seemed to be quick in reaction and responded by picking the wallet and returning it to me.

Second Scene:

            The second act takes place in the open eatery, with a path in the middle, where students sit for a chat while taking either food or snacks. As usual, I am on false phone call as I seem to be holding the wallet. I then attempt to put it into my back pocket, only to ‘accidentally’ drop the wallet behind me without noticing. The street seems to be busy with other at the far end having a chat while others walk through the path at the middle. The two ladies who are behind me react very fast; however, the lady behind the first seems to be lighter in weight as indicated by the speed of reaction. She runs past the first lady, picks the wallet and returns the wallet. One thing that stands out is the fact that both ladies who witness the incident react by calling the victim in order to pick the dropped wallet. I hear them calling, comes back and receives the dropped wallet while the other two ladies proceed with their journey. There seems to be a resemblance with the first scene, where a lady picks the wallet as in the second one.



Third Scene:

The next scene is a setting of a narrow pavement with a number of male students going about their activities on one of the streets in campus. They seem young in age, going by the dress code and the almost everyone having back pack. When I throw down the wallet, it seems a number of people witness the incident. However, the nearest people alert me to pick it up. In this incident, there is a departure from the past two scenes where ladies quickly react by calling on me, while helping out to pick the wallet. The gentlemen in this scene are not quick to pick the wallet but only alert me before proceeding with their journey. This is the first instance I pick the wallet by myself after being informed by the passersby.

Fourth Scene:

This scene is in a set up on a path where students are on their normal operations. As usual, I drop the wallet but it seems nobody takes note of the occurrence as shown by the video recording. The lady passes behind the subject but it seems she is busy on her phone until she fails to witness the occurrence. With the increase in the phone technology, many students seem to be preoccupied with their phones, even while walking to lectures or hostels. Therefore, this lady innocently passes through without redirecting the focus from the phone, and it seems that her lack of attention is genuine. On the opposite side is a man who passes but does not also take note of the fallen wallet.

Fifth Scene:

The fifth scene is set on the same place as the fourth scene where I repeat the same procedure as in the past experiments. I pretend to be talking on phone while holding the wallet, which later drops in an attempt to put into my back pocket. After a short while, a man shows up running after me informing of the dropped wallet. They seem to be two people who may have been walking together before the wallet dropped. One of the men picks the wallet and hands it over to me. He comes running behind like the first two ladies in the experiment.


Stealing is known to be a deviant act that goes against the norms of the many societies. This research aimed at finding out the extent of a situation where a wallet in accidentally dropped by a passerby within Arizona University Campus in Tempe. It is expected that a student who witnesses the wallet fall to notify the owner and hand it back. In addition, when the owner is not known, then the case should be handed over to the authorities. As noted above, a number of theories can explain the existence of a number of deviant behaviors in different cultures. Some students may develop certain behaviors due to the social strain and societal expectations that can only be met by developing certain deviant acts. According to this research, I could have lost the wallet in the fourth scene where none of the people on the scene noticed the fall. Otherwise, all scenes present a situation where passersby notice the fallen wallet and help me recover it back. An important aspect of the findings comes from the fact that women or lady students seem to have faster response to the fallen wallet, unlike the younger male students who only notify me of the incident. On the same note, the older students seem to also respond quicker than younger ones. According to the theories analyzed earlier, it seems that the society has modelled women to be more proactive to such situations.

The outcome shows that different students behave in a certain way when the wallet drops. One important fact is that women and older men tend to respond differently when it comes to the wallet. Immediately it drops, the experiments show that women tend to respond faster than the men, rushing to pick the wallet while calling on me, who accidentally drops it. On the other side, it seems that older students tend to respond like the ladies as seen in the last scene where an elderly man picks the wallet and hands it over to the owner. For instance, they do not attempt to pick up the wallet but only notifies the owner. The difference in the outcome may have come from the social construct where most ladies are either not exposed to acts of theft or that they are expected to be honest at all times. At the same time, the older men tend to behave in a mature manner because of the knowledge of the norms that are in place. They may define the authority that labels the different aspects of deviant acts. The younger generation seems to have been exposed to such occurrences until they respond slowly.


Works Cited

Ford, M. A theory of individual creative action in multiple social domains, Academy of

Management Review, 21, 1996: 1112–1142.

Mitchell, Jim & Dodder, Richard A. Types of Neutralization and Delinquency, Journal of Youth

and Adolescence. 12, 1983. pp. 307–318.

Ward, D. A., Stafford, M. C., & Gray, L. N. Rational choice, deterrence, and theoretical

integration. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36, 2006: 571–5