Crime and deviance (Theories)

These are theories to crime and deviance

I have mixed different resources as well as my own to create these revision cards.

GooD lUCK :) 

  • Created by: atm
  • Created on: 19-05-18 20:00


Every society shares a set of core values, which he called the Collective conscience.

Behavior that differs from the Core Values, is viewed as deviant.

He argued there is a positive side of crime and Negative as well.

POS: Changes in Values: individuals or groups fight against the law that they feel is wrong, which eventually will be seen as outdated. e.g. LGBT

Reaffirming Boundaries: Punishing criminals to reinforce social solidarity and value consensus. e.g. Adulterer being stoned to death

Social Cohesion: When a horrific crime takes place, the entire community come together in outrage and there is a sense of belonging to the community is therefore strengthed. e.g. Manchester Bombings.

However, too much crime has negative consequences. This is due to anomie and egoism.

Anomie: This occurs when there is a great social change or stress, and the collective conscience becomes unclear.

Egoism: This is when the collective conscience is too weak from the selfish desires of individuals. 

Durkiem argues that crime is inevitable because some individuals will be inadequately socialized.  

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Strain Theory

People commit a crime when they cant achieve their goals by legitimate means. Merton had realised that not everyone had the same opportunities to achieve the goals.

Merton had identified five different forms of behavior:

Conformity: Middle Class accepted the culturally approved goals and strive to achieve them legitimately.

Innovation: accept the goals but use 'new' illegitimate means to reach them e.g. theft

Ritualism: He/she emerges to the daily routine and regulations that they lose sight of the goal of material success (internalise legitimate means).

Retreatism: The individual fails to achieve success and rejects both goals and means. 'drop outs'

Rebellion: They reject existing social goals and legitimate means and replaces them with new ones to bring about revolutionary change.

According to Merton majority of crime happens in lower classes who are frustrated with the lack of achievement and turn to crime for success.

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Cloward and Ohlin believed that some subcultures in society have a regular illegal career which is available and recognise illegal means to obtain societal goals. Organised crime = young people will see success. 

Subculture: groups within wider society, whose attitude is shared amongst the subcultural members. Which is different to wider society. For example, different tastes in music.

The illegal opportunity structure has three possible adaptations and  subcultures:

Criminal:There is a thriving local criminal subculture,with successful role models.Yougn people can work their way up the in the criminal hierarchy.Young people are attracted to the career because they can see someone from their own background being successful.Young people are recruited by organisations if they prove they are recourseful  and dedicated.

Conflict:Territorial gangs provide career opporutuntiy which recruit young people in the neignbourhood to their services.They join gangs and release frustrian through violence, and they earn status through winning 'turfs' from the rival gangs.

Retreatist: They fail in both legitimate and illegitmate opportuinity subculutre.They turn to the 'dropout' subculture based on illegal drug use.

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Status Frustration and Subculture

Cohen says that much delinquent behavior was a group activity.

According to Cohen 'lower class' boys aim to follow middle-class values and aspiration but lack the means to attain success.

Their upbringing did not equip them for educational success. 

This leads to status frustration and a sense of personal failure and inadequacy 

They reject the values of acceptable behavior because they cant be successful.

To gain status they change traditional middle-class values by behaving badly engaging in a variety of antisocial activities. By doing this the gaining status from there peer, group, who have adopted similar values

Together they form a subculture that has its own anti-school values and go against the mainstream values of the school and wider 'respectable society'.

it gave them the opportunity to have their crimes witnessed by their peer groups so they could gain more respect from them and increase their status. 

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Labelling theory

Labeling theorists see social control producing further crime. It looks at the impact of the interaction between the criminal and law enforcement agencies.

The social construction of deviance

Becker deviance is a social construct(depends on time and place)

Social groups create deviance by creating rules and applying them to particular groups in society which they would label as 'outsiders'. This means that act or person is only deviant after they have been labeled as a deviant.

Social Construction of statistics on crime= Cicourel argues that we can't take crime stats face value because they are a social construct. they are social construct because not all crimes are being reported and the definition of crime is a social construct? --> what is seen as crime depends on the place, culture etc.

Typifications- CicourelSocial control agencies label people as criminals. He found that police made decisions based on stereotypes such as gender, ethnicity and social class. Police use typifications (stereotypes) of the 'typical delinquent', any individual that fits in that label would be more likely to be stopped and search, arrested and charged.

Working class and ethnic minority young people more likely to be arrested then, middle-class young people because of their socialization they are not culturally deprived so, therefore, they can use their elaborate code and able to negotiate with the criminal justice system.

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Labelling theory 2


Lemert distinguishes between primary deviance (deviant acts before the person is publicly labeled and secondary deviance (deviance that follows after public labeling).Primary deviance has few consequences because no one knows about it. Being caught and publically labeled as deviant has major consequences for individuals as the label becomes a master Status that override others.

This can lead to a self-fulling prophecy and what Becker called a 'deviant career' - as people can't shake off the label. Labeling theorists, therefore, see societal reaction, and labeling people deviant, as producing more deviance then prevent it (deviancy amplification).

Lemert gave the example of Mods and Rockers 

1) two gangs in society was exaggerated by the media and which created a moral panic and increased concern 

2) Police arrested more mods and rockers. They were demonized as folk devils and were marginalized which resulted to further deviance.

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Traditional Marxist

  • Capitalist society is Criminogenic: crime is an inbuilt feature of the capitalist society that emphasizes economic self-interest, personal gain, and consumerism. Crime is a rational response to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies.
  • Relative poverty means some are excluded from participation in a consumer society, encouraging crimes like theft, or vandalism due to the hostility caused by frustration of social exclusion.
  • Laws are instruments to protect the ruling class interests.
  • Box argued that what is defined as serious crime is ideologically constructed - usually committed by the working class, rather than corporate, white collar crime.
  • Official statistics suggest that crime is mainly a working-class phenomenon is largely due to the selective enforcement of the law 
  • Snider suggests the biggest, most costly and most damaging crimes of all are those committed by the ruling class.
  • Individuals, not the system of inequality, are blamed for a crime. This diverts the working class attention away from their exploitation and directs it towards other members of their own class.
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Right realists 2

Biological differences

Wilson and Herrnstein crime is caused by a combination of biological and social factors.

Biological differences between individuals make some people more vulnerable to commit a crime then others, for example, personality traits such as aggressiveness are at risk of offending.

Herrnstein and Murray argue that the main cause of crime is low intelligence, which they also see as biologically determined.

 Socialisation and the underclass

Effective socialization decreases the risk since it involves learning self-control and internalizing moral values or right and wrong. For Right realists, the best agency of socialization is the nuclear family.

Murray argues that crime rate is increasing due to growing underclass who are known for their deviant behaviour and who fail to socialize their children properly

Murray: ‘generous revolution’ = increasing number of people are dependent on the state << this lead to the decline of marriage and increase in single-parent households

However single-parent households are ineffective in primary socialization especially for boys



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Right realism

Realists see crime as a real problem to be tackled

  • They all argue that there has been a significant rise in crime especially in street crime, burglary, and assault.
  • Are concerned with the widespread fear of crime and about the impact on its victims.
  •    They argue that other theorists have failed to offer realistic solutions to the problem of crime. 

Right realists: share the new right or neo-conservative view

The causes of crime

Right realists reject Marxists view and other structural or economic factors such as poverty

For example, they argue against the Marxist view, they point out the old tend to be poor however they have a low crime rate.

For the realist, there are Three factors that cause crime: Individual biological differences, inadequate socialization, and the individuals’ rational choice to offend.

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Right realists 3

Socialisation and the underclass

Boys lack the appropriate male role models which result in young males turn to other, often delinquent, role models on the street and gain status through crime rather than supporting the family. 

Rational choice theory

This assumes that individuals have free will and the power to reason

Clarke argued that the decision to commit a crime is a choice based on rational calculations on the consequences

Consequences are: does the crime reward outweigh the perceived cost, or if the reward of crime appears to be greater than those of non-criminal behavior (therefore people would be likely to offend).

Felson’s for a crime to occur, there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target (a victim or property) and absence of a guardian (policeman/woman or neighbor).

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Left Realism

Lea and Young use these three concepts to explain why working-class people turn to crime.

Relative Deprivation

Young has emphasized how features of society in late modernity have intensified the sense of relative deprivation among young people 

  • Constant exposure in a media-saturated society to a consumer culture from which the poorest are excluded. This creates a 'bulimic society' in which people gorge themselves on media images of expensive consumer lifestyles, but are then forced by economic circumstances to vomit out their raised expectations 
  • Growing individualism 
  • The weakening of informal consent 
  • Growing economic inequality 

The frustration this causes finds outlets in all kinds of thrill-seeking and risk-taking behavior that Lyng called 'edgework', which can lead to crime and violence.

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Left Realism 2


These are people who lack clear goals or representation. Young working class are powerless and unrepresented which leads to rioting and violence. They face social exclusion through unemployment, incivility and this combines with relative deprivation and could lead to anti-social behaviour.

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MANY facing poor economic circumstances do not commit a crime, and so choosing crime is a voluntary act.

Neo-Marxist agree that capitalism is based on exploitation and inequalitity but they believe that Marxists theorist is too deterministic, and interactionist theories are heavily based on free will. Taylor takes a voluntaristic approach that crime often has a political motive.

Neo-Marxist theories view working-class crimes like theft, burglary and vandalism as meaningful and symbolic political acts of resistance to ruling-class oppression.

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  • There is no consensus about what constitutes conformity and deviance 
  • The law and what is defined as 'crime', reflect an outdated metanarrative expressing a particular view among those with power
  • Henry and Milovanovic suggest that crime should be reconceptualised as people using power to show disrespect for, and causing harm of some sort to, others, whether or not it is illegal.
  • Postmodern societies are characterised by a range of features which increasingly undermine people's integration into society and respect for others, and free them from the constraints arising from social norms:
  • Growing individualism 
  • a diversity of values 
  • Consumerism- growing importance of owning goods as a source of identity.
  • rapid change causing anomie
  • insecurity, uncertainty and risk
  • weakening or disintegrating social structures.
  • Growing social fragmentation.

This individualism of identity in postmodern society means that the social causes of crime are undiscoverable, as they lie in the individual, not in society.

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Feminists have criticised much sociological theory and research on crime and deviance :

  • It was males stream - gender issues and female offending is largely forgotten 
  • there was little attempt to explain female offending of other forms of female deviance.
  • female victimisation

Feminist criminology has grown to focus on the following issues:

  • Female offending and experiences of women in the criminal justice system (CJS)
  • Female victimisation, particularly from male physical and sexual violence.
  • The gender gap in offending 
  • The importance of gender identity in the understanding and labelling of crime and deviance.
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