Conflicting Theories: The Positivist Theories and Constructionist Theories - Essay Sample

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Conflicting theories exist among sociologists regarding determining why an individual is considered deviant, and the reasons behind one committing a deviant act. Positivist theories and constructionist theories have different views regarding deviance, but both have influenced the perspectives of scientists and scholars on how they study, see and make sense of their subject. This paper, would analyze both the positivist and constructionist theories, and present a context analysis of assault and murder.

There are differences and similarities between the positivist theories and constructionist theories regarding the assumptions from which each is constructed. Positivists through the control theory view deviance as absolute, implying that it is intrinsically real and that it possesses qualities that distinguish it from the convention (Taylor, Walton & Young, 2013). It believes that a deviant person possesses certain characteristics that are different from others; thus, sociologists view an abnormal behavior as attributes that are inherent to an individual alone. On the other hand, constructionists through the phenomenological theory view deviance as relative and that it does not have any intrinsic characteristics unless thought so (Taylor, Walton & Young, 2013). They believe that intrinsically deviant characteristics do not originate from behavior; rather it comes from the minds of individuals, that is an act only becomes perverted when people think it is. They believe that people label deviant behavior, and its existence is mainly dependent on the label. Deviance is viewed as a mental construct, which is often expressed as a label, defined by the society (Goode, 2015).

The control theory also views deviance as objective, that is, a deviant person is seen as an object, that can be studied objectively like a natural phenomenon. The trick that is applied during the study is that deviants have to be considered as if they were objects, but only with feelings and emotions. To constructionists, deviance is subjective, implying that is this a personal experience and that a deviant person is conscious, reflective, thinking and feeling. There is a significant difference between the human and non-human beings and things (Goode, 2015). To them, studying people as objects violates their humanistic values and sensibilities. Positivists perceive deviance to be caused or determined by forces that are beyond the control of a person. They assume that humans do not possess free will, and regardless how much an individual exercises free will when making choices and decisions, they outcome is determined by some causes (Taylor, Walton & Young, 2013). On the other hand, constructionist hold that deviant behavior is a voluntary act and it expresses human volition, choice or will. To them, humans have senses, and they have control over their choices and decisions. Therefore, deviance is both a label and behavior (Goode, 2015).

Despite the differences in these theories, there exist similarities. Deviant behavior is both a real act and a label, and there is no way, one can exist without the other (Goode, 2015). If an actual act is lacking, there will be no deviant behavior, and if the label is non-existent, there is no deviant behavior. If one wants to see the label, deviant a behavior must occur, and to understand behavior and a label must be used (Taylor, Walton & Young, 2013).

Content Analysis of Assault and Murder

Various television shows, for instance, CSI, Homicide, Marshland, and How to Get Away with Murder have been produced based on the theme of murder and homicide. Most of them are accurate in a way because they reflect what happens in real life when it comes to murder/homicide investigation. Most of the investigators in the show apply one of the two theorist views during investigations. There exist similarities between investigations and the assumptions brought out in the discussion. Concerning positivist theory, murder crimes are considered to be objective, that is, the person is studied to analyze the reasons behind why he/she committed the act. It forms the basis of the investigation, in which history of past events of an individual is dug. Most of the investigators go deep into the history, available data of a person and criminal record. Even though one may not have committed the crime, details are very critical to determine the cause of deviant behavior. Application of constructionist theory is also evident in the shows, as evident by the fact that a majority of suspects and victims are entitled to a lawyer to represent them thus pointing out that there is promotion of preservation of human dignity, worth and freedom regardless the type of crime. From the show, it is observed that most of the time, serious crimes are not viewed to be voluntary, but rather under the subject of determinism. This is evident by the fact that most of the suspects in the murder, even if all evidence point to them, must be subjected to mental tests. The aspect of the positivist theory is widely applied because murder is not viewed as something that is intended.

Stereotyping is popular in television shows featuring murder, homicides and other high-ranking crimes. In the United States, for example, TV shows have featured African American, Latinos, and Muslims as prime suspects of murder/homicides. For instance, CSI show features most African Americans and Latinos being arrested for murder and homicide in the American towns. Stereotyping has heavily contributed to many arrests that are done to many African Americans and the Latinos in the united states. Studies have shown that shows that feature homicide and murder do not contribute to the problem of murder, rather the effect is multifaceted and complex (Ferguson, 2015). Just like train wrecks, traffic accidents and natural disasters, the public fascination with murder and homicide shows, is a definite fixation on violence and calamity. Additionally, the euphoric effect of crime especially in human emotion is similar to that of natural disasters, or roller coaster because it instills fear. According to Ferguson (2015), to them, it is a thriller, and they are excited and fascinated by them. Viewers also do not enact what they see on television, and just like playing video games, it is solely for recreation.


Goode, E. (2015). Deviant Behavior. Routledge.

Ferguson, C. J. (2015). Does media violence predict societal violence? It depends on what you look at and when. Journal of Communication, 65(1).

Taylor, I., Walton, P., & Young, J. (2013). The new criminology: For a social theory of deviance. Routledge.


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