The American Sociologist

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 51-60

First online:

Defining Deviance: John Kitsuse’s Modest Agenda

  • James A. HolsteinAffiliated withDepartment of Social and Cultural Sciences, Marquette University Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This article highlights and appreciates an often overlooked aspect of John Kitsuse’s work in the sociology of deviance. Years before he invented a new sociology of social problems, Kitsuse crafted theoretical and empirical statements that helped establish the “labeling” or “societal reaction” definition of, and perspective on, deviance. Kitsuse’s work was a key in the movement to forge labeling theory’s distinctively radical edge. At the same time that he pioneered new sociological territory, Kitsuse also resisted the conceptual slippage that plagued so many others working on the frontier.


Deviance Labeling theory Social control Social problems Societal reaction Sociological theory