Theories abound on what causes a person to commit a crime. Some people don't think it is a deviant behavior to break the speeding law, but they consider the crime of murder a deviant act. Others consider any deviance from societal norms to be deviant, regardless of whether they violate a law. So it pays to understand the official definitions of crime and deviance to better understand the relationship between the two.

Crime Defined

Social rules that come with a penalty for violating them are known as laws. Society dictates through the laws that they create the behaviors they consider to be deviant and worthy of punishment if undertaken by its members. Violation of these laws are called crimes and worthy of legal action by law enforcement officers and the judicial system at large, which includes courts, jails and prisons. Without laws, chaos would ensue, leading to harm to citizens. So crime must be defined by someone and laws created to recognize and punish it, even if not everyone agrees with it.

Deviance Definition

Generally, deviant behavior is any behavior that differs from the norm, or the majority in a given locale. However, behaviors that violate religious beliefs may be considered deviant by that particular religion's believers and not deviant by another belief system or the legal system of the geographical area. Hence, deviance varies depending upon the culture and the legal system and society of that culture. Theories on deviance include the position that deviance is due to cultural transmissions (it is learned), structural strains (the deviant individual is not conforming to others around him as he should), or labeling (society chooses what is labeled deviant, but that act may not really be deviant to everyone).


Regardless of the culture or beliefs of a land's residents or guests, the laws of a particular geographical area must be obeyed by its citizens and its guests to avoid the consequences associated by being deviant (law breaking) in that locale. So while each person has the right to his own belief system -- or to choose to call one act deviant and another normal -- he cannot escape the consequences associated with what society in a given area deems a criminal act.

Relationship Between the Two

Criminal laws will evolve based upon the actions the majority in a given society feels does not conform to the norms of the geographical area; once the society determines a behavior is deviant, it can create laws to punish the behavior. The only way this will change is to change the minds of the citizens who feel one act is deviant and another is not. Until an act labeled deviant is viewed as normal by society at large, it will continue to prompt the inevitable relationship between law creation and the label deviant.