Erikson begins his argument with the idea that when convicting a member of a society of committing a violation of law, a group of like-minded people must come together to identify the person guilty of committing the crime, which often times is difficult because they do not stand out. Society as a whole somehow decides which character features it wishes to punish and then builds institutions as a result of punishing these features. Erikson makes the claim that sociologists, in order to decipher which of these features society historical has chosen to qualify as deviant through letting social groups provide their own definitions of what behavior they consider dangerous or embarrassing enough to bring a special circumstance to it.
I find this approach to understanding crime and punishment interesting, especially in regards to how the societal image of deviant behavior transforms throughout time and place.
Erikson also makes the point that each society deals with what they deem as deviant behavior in vastly different ways. In society, the main goal with these methods which he refers to as "deployment patterns" is to deploy the deviants to the edge of society to provide group space for the rest of society.