The definition and measurement of crime and deviance

My notes on the first topic of Crime and Deviance

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  • Created on: 11-11-13 11:50
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Topic 1 The definition and measurement of crime and deviance
The normative definition of deviance
The normative definition is perhaps the commonsense one, this is a version of which most people
suggest when they are questioned as to the meaning of deviance.
A typical definition of deviance would be that it `refers to actions which differ from the accepted
standards of a society' or more sociologically `it consists of the violation of social norms'.
The normative definition provides a simple and clear image of a society in which there are shared
values as a ways of behaving (norms) and the deviant is a person who breaks these shared values.
Finding out what the shared values is relatively easy, as these can be found by various surveys (a good
example is the British Attitudes Survey).
Underpinning this definition of deviance is the belief that society is essentially consensual that is, the
majority of people share similar values. It was the approach used by Durkheim in his explanation of
deviance and its relationship to crime.
Durkheim suggests that every society shares a set of core values, which he called the `collective
conscience'. The more behaviour differed from these core values, the more likely it as to be viewed as
This normative definition of deviance has a number of consequences for the study of offending.
Perhaps most important is that, if there are core values that most people subscribe to, then the main aim
of the sociology of crime and deviance is to explain why some people act in a deviant manner.
Therefore, sociologists who accept the normative definition of deviance will often set out to discover
what differences there are between people who deviate (including criminals and people who behave
Much research goes into exploring how such things as family differences, socialclass differences or
the influence of the peer group makes some people in deviants.
The relativistic approach
The normative definition of deviance starts from the basis that there is a common set of shared values.
The relativistic approach argues that instead, the basis of society is a diversity of values, not a
Societies are just too complex for there to be a clear set of shared values, sociologists from this
perspective point to the conflicts of interest and diversity of beliefs and values that characterize modern
The relativistic approach to deviance therefore suggests that there are different sets of competing
values that coexist and that are constantly in a state of change, jockeying for positions as the more
`socially valued' values of society.
So, the values of society are to be understood less in terms of a consensus of fundamental beliefs and
values and much more as the outcome of some form of dynamic process through which some values
become adopted by society at the cost of other values.
There are two main approaches to how this dynamic process works:
The interactionist or labelling approach according to which the values that emerge as
most highly rated are the result of complex interactions between different groups and
individuals in society.
The conflict approach the most commonly associated with Marxists which argues that
the values of society are dominated by, reflect the interests of the ruling class and
beneath that the dynamics of the dialectic.
The implications of a relativistic approach, as opposed to a normative approach to understanding
deviance are very important for the study of crime and deviance.

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Before we stated `What is the difference between deviants and conforming people, which makes the
deviants act the way they do?' However, the relativistic approach argues that dominant values are just
the outcome of a struggle to get group values accepted rather than another's.
Studying the personal or social characteristics of deviants is not that important, what is far more
important to ask the question `why do some groups' values become the socially accepted ones at the
expense of other groups' values?'.…read more

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When people do actively report an offence to the police, you would think that these statistics at
least would enter the official reports. Yet in any one year, approx. 57% of all crimes reported to the
police fail to appear in the official statistics.
The role of the police
Clearly, the police are filtering the info supplied to them by the public, according to factors that are
important to them.…read more

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The best known
victimisation study is the BCS which is now collect annually since 1982.
Weaknesses: The problem of basing statistics on victims' memories is that recollections are often
faulty or biased.
The categorization of the crimes that has been committed against them is left to the person filling
in the questionnaire, this leads to considerable inaccuracy in the categories.…read more

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Nevertheless the only info that we have already available of who offends, other than from the
official statistics of people who have been arrested, comes from selfreport studies and they have
been very widely used to explore such issues as crime and drug use.
The data explosion and the risk of society
Maguire has pointed out that since the 1970s there has been a huge increase in the number of
statistics gathered on crime and `antisocial behaviour'.…read more

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The stats suggest that crime does not happen to everyone targets the poorer and less powerful
groups in society more than the affluent. They also tell us that violent crimes tend to happen
between people who know each other, even live together.
Types of offenders
According to both official statistics and selfreport studies, offenders are most likely to be young
and male. The peak age of offending for males is 18 and for females around 14.…read more


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