Theories of Crime (Complete Revision Notes)

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Sociology Revision
Crime and Deviance:
Society is based on a value consensus. Members of society share a common set of values, beliefs, norms and goals.
Collective conscience ­ shared norms, values and beliefs integrate society by giving individuals a sense of belonging
to something greater than themselves.
Durkheim ­ The Positive Functions of Crime:
1. Boundary Maintenance ­ maintains the boundaries of acceptable behaviour for the society and
strengthens social solidarity.
2. Adaptation and Change ­ e.g. Nelson Mandella and his opposition to the apartheid in South Africa.
Durkheim believed that too much crime threatens to tear the bonds of society apart whereas too little
crime means that society is repressing and controlling its members too much.
Developments of Durkheim's Ideas:
Kingsley Davis argues that prostitution acts as a safety valve for the release of men's sexual
frustrations without threatening the nuclear family.
Cohen argued that crime is an early warning that an institution is not functioning properly.
Criticisms of Durkheim:
+ It focuses too much on the functions of crime for society and ignored the dysfunctions of crime
for individuals.
+ Society doesn't actively encourage or create crime in order to strengthen social solidarity. Just
because crime strengthens social solidarity it doesn't mean that this is why it exists.
+ Durkheim suggests that society needs a certain amount of crime but he offers no way of knowing
what the right amount is. It is too vague.
+ It doesn't fully explain why crime/deviance occurs in the first place.

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Merton's Strain Theory:
Merton (1968) developed Durkheim's "anomie" into his "strain theory".
He said that it is not possible for everyone to achieve the American Dream.
This was a result of the strain between two things: the goals encouraged by our culture and what the institutions
allow people to achieve.
Some succeed by legal means, others turn to illegal paths. Some give up on the goal and others make their own.
Five categories of people:
1. Conformity ­ This is the response of the majority.…read more

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Functionalist Subcultural Theories:
Subcultural strain theories see deviance as the product of a delinquent subculture with different values from those of
mainstream culture.
Subcultural theories criticise Merton and seek to build on his work.
Cohen ­ Status Frustration:
Deviance is mainly a lower class phenomenon resulting from lower classes being unable to achieve middle
class mainstream goals.
This leads to lower classes ­ working class boys ­ at the bottom of the official status hierarchy.…read more

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Marxist approaches focus on class inequalities and they ignore the influence of gender and ethnicity.
The law is seen as a tool for the capitalist class and consequently is not there for the benefit of everyone.
They see capitalism as generating inequality which leads to conflict and ultimately, crime.
Neo-Marxism: Critical Criminology
Neo-Marxists are sociologists who have been influences by many of the ideas put forward by
traditional Marxism but they combine these with ideas from other approaches.…read more

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Evaluation of Neo-Marxism:
+ Stuart Hall et al (1978) have applied Taylor et al's approach to explain the moral panic over mugging
in the 1970's.
+ Taylor, Walton and Young have changed their views since The New Criminology was published.
However, Walton and Young still defend some of the book's approach. They argue that:
1.…read more

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Control Theory: Hirschi (1969)
This theory can be used to support functionalism as it assumes that society is based on a value
consensus and social solidarity.
Control theory differs from other theories of crime as it does not look at why some people commit
crime but looks at why some people do not commit crime.
Control theorists believe that people are less likely to commit crimes if they have strong social
bonds with others who encourage them to exercise self-control and tie them to conformity.…read more

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Interactionism ­ Labelling Theory:
Interactionists focus on the actions of the individual and the meanings behind such actions.
Structuralists see individuals as rather powerless when confronted with outside forces such as poverty etc. whereas
Interactionists see order (and consequently deviance) as a process of negotiation.
Labelling Theory:
The essence of labelling is that an act is only criminal, bad, deviant etc. when it is so labelled i.e. what
is the societal reaction to an act? Therefore, deviance is a societal creation (man-made).…read more

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People weigh up the costs and benefits of their actions. Crime rises because the costs are not high enough to
dissuade people.
Crime can only be reduced through harsher sentences.
Right Realists reject economic factors such as poverty and unemployment as responsible for crime. They point to
rising crime during periods of rising living standards as evidence. Instead, they look to cultural factors such as decline
in morality and respect for authority.…read more

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Lea and Young used the concepts of relative deprivation, marginalisation and subculture to explain
Relative deprivation refers to the gap between expectations people have and the reality of what
they obtain.
Crime can thus arise from the experiences of particular groups even if living standards in general are
Marginalised Groups and Social Exclusion:
Marginalised groups lack both clear goals and organisations to represent their interests.…read more

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Postmodernist theories argue that society is changing so rapidly and constantly that it is marked by
chaos and uncertainty.
Society is fragmented into a huge diversity of groups with different interests and lifestyles.
Social structures have collapsed and have been replaced by growing individualism expressed through
a consumer culture in which individual consumers assert choices about their lifestyles.
The Nature of Crime:
Postmodernists view the category `crime' as simply a social construction reflecting outdates laws
that do not reflect the diversity of postmodern society.…read more


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