The “Death of Deviance” and Stagnation of 20th-Century Criminology

  • Mark Horsley
Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


The publication of Colin Sumner’s The Sociology of Deviance: An Obituary (1994) marked a critical transformation in the theorization of crime and criminality. In a work that offered a narrative history of criminological theory from Durkheim’s Sociological Method (1982 [1895]) to Taylor et al.’s The New Criminology (2003 [1973]), Sumner explored the rise and fall of early sociological explanations for criminality, the emergence of a new perspective and a radical transformation of the discipline during the middle decades of the 20th century. The original “sociology of deviance” — the book’s initial object of study — emerged during the 1920s as an early attempt to offer a sociological theory of criminal causation. Its reliance on a normative perspective, however, left little room for the putative plurality of social norms in light of the counter-cultural ideals of the 1960s. In these circumstances Sumner goes on to identify an increasingly forceful pluralist critique that placed greater emphasis on the potential illegitimacy of normative prohibitions, the censorious nature of centralized power and hysterical social reactions to the perceived deviance of subordinate groups.


Social Reaction Chicago School Symbolic Interactionism Moral Panic Critical Criminology 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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