Are right and wrong absolutes? Or are ideas of right and wrong products of the society someone is part of?

One important way in which the sociological perspective differs from the way non-sociologists look at the world is in how deviance is viewed. While most people have pretty clear ideas about what they consider normal or deviant, sociologists are interested in how definitions of deviance vary between groups and societies and why these definitions may change.

 In this exercise you will

  • Explore how views of deviance change over time
  • Learn how sociologists use data to study issues such as definitions of deviance
  • Practice reading tables and graphs.


To study this issue, we will use the General Social Survey.

The General Social Survey is a high quality national survey of adults in the United States. It covers a wide variety of social issues.

Click here to open the data archive in a new window.

Click on GSS Cumulative Datafile 1972-2004

 To study perceptions of deviance, we will use this survey question:

What about sexual relations between two adults of the same sex--do you think it is always wrong, almost always wrong, wrong only sometimes, or not wrong at all?

 Question: Do you think that the  percentage of  the American public gave each of the answers to this question will have changed between 1974 and 2004? If so, how do you think the responses will have changed?

 Next, look at the actual data. To do this, at the data archive, in the space that is labelled row, type: HOMOSEX. In the space that says column type: YEAR.

Under "Chart Options" select Line Chart.

 Click on "Run the Table."

Look at your results.

What was the highest percent that ever said "always wrong"? What year was that?

What was the highest percent that ever said "not wrong at all"? What year was that? 

 Looking at the line graph, did there seem to be change in the American public's attitude about homosexuality between 1974 and 2004? Write a paragraph summarizing the information from the graph and table.

 Regardless of your own feelings about homosexuality, do you think that this data support or do not support the sociological perspective about deviance? Why or why not?