This book rests on the assumption that an adequate theory of the origins of deviant behavior must address two distinct questions: (1) What conditions motivate or predispose people to violate social and legal norms? and (2) What conditions account for the specific form that a deviant response takes? It is suggested that theorists have been far more preoccupied with the first question of why someone becomes deviant than with the latter issue of why a person becomes deviant in a particular way. As a consequence, we have gained considerable insight into the factors that move individuals to transgress social standards, but we have been less successful in demarcating the forces that “structure” or regulate the exact nature of the deviant activity that emerges.
The purpose of this work is thus to illuminate the theoretical importance of giving more systematic study to the structuring of deviant behavior. Toward this end, the first three chapters attempt to provide a general understanding of what is meant by a “structuring perspective” by outlining the perspective’s central tenets, origin, and application within the field. The later chapters are devoted to a reconsideration of prevailing sociological models of crime and deviance. It will be argued that the integration of the structuring perspective into the core of deviance theory may potentially result in the enrichment of those traditions that have long guided thinking in the field.
In their quest to solve the puzzle of why people become deviant, social commentators have not been hindered by a lack of imagination. Indeed, a distinguishing feature of the field is that it continues to be marked by a wide diversity of theoretical perspectives, each trumpeting the causal significance of a separate set of social circumstances. Such conditions as anomie, status deprivation, social disorganization, differential association, and societal reaction—to name only the major ones—are said to motivate, predispose, drive, or encourage people to engage in socially disapproved behaviors. For the purposes of this discussion, these motivational variables and their corresponding explanations will be referred to as motivational theories (cf. Hirschi 1969 : 31–34, Briar and Piliavin 1965, Gibbons 1971).