Secondary Deviance: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Secondary Deviance?
  • 0:23 Edwin Lemert
  • 1:11 Examples
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

This lesson will cover secondary deviance as well as illustrate the difference between secondary deviance and primary deviance. Some examples of each will be given.

What Is Secondary Deviance?

Deviant behaviors, or deviant acts, are those that violate social norms. Secondary deviance is deviant behavior that results from a stigmatized sense of self that aligns with society's concept of a deviant. In other words, it's deviant behavior that results from being labeled as a deviant by society. But where does this concept come from?

Edwin Lemert

The concept of secondary deviance was first developed by sociologist Edwin Lemert. Lemert was interested in exploring the process by which our behaviors can cause us to be labeled as deviants and lead to us being excluded from society. Edwin's inquiries eventually lead him to distinguish between secondary and primary deviance. So what is primary deviance?

Primary deviance is a deviant act that receives little social reaction or mild, corrective reaction. It's important to remember that not all deviant acts produce long-term negative outcomes. Some deviant acts go undetected, while those that are detected might result in a punishment that deters the person from engaging in deviant acts in the future. To better illustrate this, let's look at some examples of both primary and secondary deviance.


Let's look at some examples.

Suppose Tracy is a 9-year-old who wants an Iron Man figurine that her mother refuses to buy. When Tracy gets to school the next day, she sees one of her friends pull out the toy she wants. At the end of the day, Tracy steals the toy and takes it home. Later, Tracy's teacher calls her mother to explain what happened. Tracy's mother is upset and makes Tracy return the toy and write a letter of apology to both the teacher and the other student. She takes away all of Tracy's toys for a week. After this, Tracy never steals another toy again.

The example above demonstrates primary deviance. The punishment that Tracy received was corrective in that it stopped her from committing other deviant acts in the future. Tracy does not get into trouble with the law, and she does not get labeled as a deviant by society even though stealing is illegal. Tracy grows up to be a normal, law-abiding citizen.

Now suppose that the following week Tracy is accused of stealing another toy, even though the other student told Tracy that she could have it, and is suspended from school. In addition to Tracy being punished at home, her teacher decides to inform all of the other parents in the classroom about Tracy's deviant behavior to serve as a cautionary tale as to why students shouldn't bring toys to school. The other students begin to treat Tracy as an outcast, call her a thief, and refuse to play with her.

The other parents also refuse to invite Tracy to any birthday parties or play-dates, fearing that she will steal from them. Because of their reactions, Tracy begins to identify herself as a deviant and steals more items. Tracy starts stealing more valuable things such as clothing, shoes, jewelry, and large sums of money. Eventually, Tracy starts to hang out with other people who steal, and they develop their own street gang. This is an example of secondary deviance.

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