This chapter reviews the major sociological theories of deviance. It offers an overview of each major theory, summarizing its explanation of deviant behavior. Before reviewing the theories, however, it may prove useful to describe two different dimensions of theory that will structure our discussion. The first of these, the level of explanation, refers to the scope of the theory and whether it focuses on the behavior and characteristics of individuals or on the characteristics of social aggregates such as neighborhoods, cities, or other social areas. Micro-level theories stress the individual, typically explaining deviant acts in terms of personal characteristics of individuals or the immediate social context in which deviant acts occur. In contrast, macro-level theories focus on social aggregates or groups, looking to the structural characteristics of areas in explaining the origins of deviance, particularly rates of deviance among those groups.
Theories of deviance also vary in relation to a second dimension, causal focus. This dimension divides theories into two groups, those that explain the social origins of norm violations and those explaining societal reactions to deviance. Social origin theories focus on the causes of norm violations. Typically, these theories identify aspects of the social environment that trigger norm violations; social conditions in which the