Defining Deviancy Down: Moynihan's Insight into Societal Norms

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 873 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2023

Words: 873|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2023

Table of contents

  1. The Concept of Defining Deviancy Down
  2. Historical and Contemporary Examples
  3. Implications of "Defining Deviancy Down"
  4. Addressing the Phenomenon
  5. Conclusion

In his thought-provoking essay, "Defining Deviancy Down," Daniel Patrick Moynihan explores the intriguing concept of how societies adapt to increasing levels of deviant behavior and redefine what is considered normal. This essay delves into Moynihan's insights, examining the implications of "defining deviancy down" on our culture, values, and social order.

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The Concept of Defining Deviancy Down

Moynihan's central premise in "Defining Deviancy Down" is that societies tend to adjust their tolerance for deviant behavior as the prevalence of such behavior increases. This adjustment can occur consciously or unconsciously and often results in reclassifying actions that were once considered deviant as normal or acceptable.

The Proliferation of Deviancy: Moynihan argues that as societies evolve, they face an increasing influx of deviant behavior, ranging from criminal acts to social norms that challenge traditional values. This proliferation can stem from various factors, including changing demographics, economic shifts, and shifts in societal attitudes.

Normalization of Deviance: In response to this influx, societies gradually lower the threshold for what is deemed acceptable behavior, effectively "defining deviancy down." This normalization can lead to a skewed perception of what constitutes normalcy. For example, behaviors that were once universally condemned, such as public profanity or online harassment, can become commonplace, causing individuals to question whether their concerns are justified or overly conservative.

Impact on Social Order: Moynihan suggests that this redefinition of deviancy can erode social order and create an environment in which previously unacceptable behaviors become the new norm, potentially compromising the fabric of society. When society lowers its standards for acceptable conduct, it can lead to an increase in crime rates, reduced trust in institutions, and a breakdown of social cohesion.

Historical and Contemporary Examples

To illustrate the concept of "defining deviancy down," Moynihan provides historical and contemporary examples.

Historical Example - Family Structure: Moynihan points to the changing dynamics of family structure. In the past, non-marital childbirth was considered deviant behavior, but as its prevalence increased, society redefined it as an accepted norm, contributing to shifts in family values and dynamics. This historical example highlights how societal attitudes can adapt to changes in behavior, potentially altering the fundamental building blocks of society itself.

Contemporary Example - Political Discourse: Moynihan's insights are particularly relevant in today's political discourse. He argues that the normalization of extreme rhetoric and divisive behavior has led to a lowering of the standards of civility in public discourse. This phenomenon can contribute to increased polarization and a breakdown in constructive political dialogue, hindering the functioning of democratic institutions. As society becomes more accepting of inflammatory language and behavior in political discourse, it risks undermining the principles of reasoned debate and compromise that are essential to a healthy democracy.

Implications of "Defining Deviancy Down"

The phenomenon of "defining deviancy down" has several significant implications for society and its values.

Erosion of Traditional Values: As society redefines deviancy, it may erode traditional values and moral standards. Actions that were once universally condemned can become normalized, potentially weakening the moral fabric of society. For instance, the widespread acceptance of casual dishonesty in various spheres of life, from politics to business, can erode trust and ethical behavior, leading to far-reaching consequences.

Social Fragmentation: The normalization of deviant behavior can contribute to social fragmentation. When previously unacceptable actions become accepted, it can lead to divisions within society, as individuals and groups may hold differing views on what is morally acceptable. This division can hinder social cohesion and make it challenging to address shared problems or challenges effectively.

Challenges to Social Order: The reclassification of deviant behavior as normal can pose challenges to social order. It may lead to increased crime rates, reduced trust in institutions, and a breakdown of social cohesion. For example, the acceptance of unethical behavior in corporate settings can lead to financial scandals and economic instability, with far-reaching consequences for society as a whole.

Addressing the Phenomenon

Addressing the phenomenon of "defining deviancy down" requires a concerted effort from both individuals and society as a whole.

Media Responsibility: The media plays a significant role in shaping societal norms. Responsible journalism and media practices can help counteract the normalization of deviance by promoting ethical reporting and discourse. By providing accurate information and presenting a range of perspectives, the media can contribute to a more informed and responsible public discourse.

Educational Initiatives: Schools and educational institutions can incorporate lessons on ethics, values, and critical thinking into their curricula to encourage individuals to question and analyze societal norms critically. Promoting a culture of ethical behavior and responsible citizenship from a young age can help instill values that resist the normalization of deviance.

Community Engagement: Engaging in open and constructive dialogue within communities can help establish shared values and promote a collective commitment to upholding moral standards. By fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility, individuals can work together to resist the normalization of deviant behavior and uphold ethical norms.

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Moynihan's concept of "defining deviancy down" offers a thought-provoking lens through which to examine the evolving norms and values of society. As societies adapt to changing circumstances, they must grapple with the challenge of maintaining ethical and moral standards in the face of increasing deviance. Recognizing the phenomenon of "defining deviancy down" is the first step in addressing its implications and working collectively to ensure that our society's values and norms remain rooted in principles of decency, ethics, and social cohesion.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Defining Deviancy Down: Moynihan’s Insight into Societal Norms. (2023, September 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“Defining Deviancy Down: Moynihan’s Insight into Societal Norms.” GradesFixer, 12 Sept. 2023,
Defining Deviancy Down: Moynihan’s Insight into Societal Norms. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Defining Deviancy Down: Moynihan’s Insight into Societal Norms [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 12 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:
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