Difference Between Primary and Secondary Deviance

Primary vs Secondary Deviance

Before learning the difference between Primary and Secondary deviance, first we should understand what deviance is. Deviance is a sociological term which suggests an unaccepted behavior of a person or a group of people in a particular community. Each and every community has its own values and norms. All the citizens are expected to adhere to these value systems and those who go against these are called deviants. The deviants violate the social norms and there is always a rivalry between the deviant and the norm system. It was Edwin Lemert who introduced primary and secondary deviance as a part of his labeling theory. In primary deviance, the person commits a deviant action without knowing that h/she is going against the norm system. However, in secondary deviance, the person is already labeled as a deviant but still h/she continues to engage in that particular act. Now, we will look at these two terms, primary deviance and secondary deviance, in detail.

What is Primary Deviance?

As mentioned above, in primary deviance, the person does not know that h/she is engaged in a deviant act. As a result, the person does not perceive it negatively. For example, a young boy may smoke cigarettes if his peer group also smokes. Here, the boy performs this action together with others and does not see it wrong. This is an instance where we can see primary deviance. If the particular community asks the boy to stop smoking and if the boy listens to the society, accepting the social norm, the boy is not labeled as a deviant. Nevertheless, if the boy disagrees and continues to smoke, he will be penalized in the community. If the boy does not stop smoking even after the punishments, there we can see the secondary deviance.

What is Secondary Deviance?

In secondary deviance, the person is already labeled as a deviant but h/she still continues to perform the deviant act. If we analyse the same example that we took above, the boy has two options as to stop smoking or to continue doing it regardless of the social norms. If the boy chooses the second option, the society will punish him and label him as a deviant. However, t he boy can still carry on his practice and there arises secondary deviance.

Difference between Primary and Secondary Deviance

What is the difference between Primary and Secondary Deviance?

For Edwin Lemert, primary and secondary deviances are the ways to explain the labeling process. It is after the primary deviance that a person can be labeled or not. When we analyse the similarities and differences between primary and secondary deviance, we can see that in both cases there is a violation of social norms.

  • In primary deviance, the actor is ignorant of the fact that h/she is engaged in a deviant act but in secondary deviance, the actor is well aware of it. Also, the actor can be stopped committing the deviant act only after the primary deviance.
  • If the actor moves to the secondary deviance, h/she will continue to play the role of the deviant, despite the social punishments.
  • Likewise, primary deviance and secondary deviance have their own functions.
  • The important thing we should remember is that a deviant in one community may not be a deviant in anther community. That is because each society has its own norm system and it might differ from other societies. Smoking might be a deviant act in one community, but it may be accepted in another community. So that, according to the community ’s value and norm system, the deviance may differ.
  • Further, the community has a big responsibility to stop deviant acts in their primary stages and not let the actors be criminals.