Crime & Deviance theories



  • Structural - source of crime located in structure of society, crime is caused by society
  • Social order and cohesion based on value consensus, agencies of social control protect this

Durkheim (1895)

  • Anomie causes crime, but crime is functional, certain level is beneficial for society
  • 4 positive functions of crime - enables social change, strengthens norms and values, acts as safety valve (stop bigger crimes happening), act as warning device (draws attention to issue)

Merton (1968)

  • Strain between goals of society (wealth) and acceptable means of achieving goals (job)
  • Some cannot access legitimate means so turn to crime and deviance
  • 5 responses to strain - conformity (accept goal and means), innovation (accept goal, reject means), ritualism (reject goal, accept means), retreatism (reject goal and means) and rebellion (new goal and new means)
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Evaluation of Functionalism

Evaluation of Durkheim (1895)

  • First social explanation of crime and deviance
  • Fails to explain why certain groups are more/less likely to commit crime and deviance
  • Marxists - Durkheim overestimates value consenus and level of crime
  • Not all crime is functional, e.g. 9/11

Evaluation of Merton (1968)

  • Tries to show why people commit crime, in terms of dominant cultural values of society
  • Evidence to support - more theft/burglary in economic crisis, less access to means
  • Assumes value consensus in America, but groups have different values
  • American Dream may not apply to UK society
  • Assumes a materialistic culture, ignores non-utilitarian crime
  • Ignores key variables e.g. ethnicity, gender, age, locality
  • Marxists - fails to consider power (who decides goal and means)
  • Marxists - ignores white collar crime with no strain experienced
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Subcultural Functionalism

  • Developed in 1950s/60s as response to criticisms of functionalism, build upon Merton's work
  • Explain deviance in terms of subculture of certain group, not position in the social structure

AK. Cohen (1955)

  • Lower working class boys cannot achieve goals due to cultural deprivation
  • Suffer from status frustration and turn to delinquency to gain status from peers
  • Alternative set of norms and values are adopted - delinquent subculture

Cloward and Ohlin (1960)

  • Explain different types of working class delinquency - focus on theft or violence etc
  • Those who cannot access legitimate opportunity structure may use illegitimate one
  • 3 types of subculture - criminal, conflict, retreatist. Depends on social environment

Miller (1962)

  • W/C have unique focal concerns - toughness, smartness, excitement, leads to crime
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Evaluation of Subcultural Functionalism

Evaluation of AK Cohen (1955)

  • Explains crime with no monetary reward, involves gaining status rather than money
  • Lyng - people get thrill from edgework, not a deliberate rebellion but just for fun
  • Box (Marxist) - wrong to assume they originally accepted mainstream values

Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin (1960)

  • Explain w/c deviance not concerned with monetary gain (non-utilitarian crime)
  • Ignore overlap between subcultures e.g. criminal gangs often deal drugs, maybe more types

Evaluation of Miller (1962)

  • Murray (New Right) - agrees, there's a distinct underclass whose values encourage crime
  • Little evidence that these focal concerns are restricted to w/c males, over-generalises

Matza's evaluation of Subcultural theories

  • Everybody has subterranean values and use techniques of neuralisation, no w/c subculture
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  • Structural, conflict - source of crime and deviance located in structure of society
  • Capitalist infrastructure beneficial to ruling class only, capitalism is criminogenic

Capitalism creates criminal motivation - due to inequalities and poverty 

  • Chambliss - capitalism encourages consumer greed, produces relative deprivation
  • Gordon - crime is a rational response to the capitalist system, found in all classes

Selective law creation and enforcement - to protect ruling class power and control w/c

  • Snider - laws threatening big business unlikely to be enforced beyond minimum level
  • Pearce - H&S laws perform ideological function, produce false consciousness

Ruling class crime is hidden - extensive but remains unpunished

  • Levi - organisations often don't prosecute to avoid negative publicity
  • Clarke - management turn blind eye to theft and allow for it in staff wages
  • 4 types: crimes against consumers, against employees, environmental, financial frauds
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Evaluation of Marxism

  • Highlights impact of selective law enforcement and how white collar crime is under-policed
  • Draws attention to how inequality in society can lead to criminal behaviour
  • Not all w/c people who experience poverty commit crime, overpredicts amount of crime and ignores non-class inequalities such as ethnicity and gender
  • Romanticises criminals, sees them as 'Robin Hood' figures
  • Some groups resist capitalism, too deterministic and ignores free will
  • Not all capitalist societies have high crime rates, e.g. Japan and Switzerland
  • Not all crimes of the powerful go unpunished, cooperations often do pay for their crimes
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  • 'New Criminology', uses Marxism and Interactionist approach to understand process
  • Considers societal factors, individual motivating factors and interactionist factors
  • Criticises Marxism for ignoring victims and harm caused, and having one-dimensional view

Taylor et al

  • To fully analyse crime, the wider social and immediate origins of act, actual act, immediate and wider origins of societal reaction and outcomes of reaction should be considered

Hall (1978)

  • Studied moral panic over mugging, Britain in 1970s
  • Black mugger used as scapegoat for other social ills
  • Crisis of capitalism caused high unemployment and fall in living standards
  • By making young black men someone to fear it united the fractured white UK society
  • Labelling led to process of deviancy amplification, leading to widespread race riots
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Evaluation of Neo-Marxism

  • Important critique of traditional Marxist economic determinism 
  • Big influence on the development of Left Realism
  • Marxists - moves too far away from traditional Marxism, over-emphasises independence of CJS from capitalist economy
  • Feminist criminologists - too malestream and ignores power of patriarchy in analysis
  • Left Realists - romanticises view of criminals and ignores w/c victims of street crime
  • Methodologically, remains complex and difficult to apply
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  • Theories of crime ignore women as victims or criminals, too malestream
  • Heidensohn suggests it's due to male sociologists, and low levels of female crime

Reasons why women commit less crime

  • Smart (1976) - women seen as double deviants, highly stigmatised for crime
  • Carlen - patriarchal control discourages female crime, but generates crime against women
  • Gender role socialisation, women experience more informal social control

Contributions of feminism

  • New focus on female offending and experiences of women in CJS
  • Challenge to chivalry thesis and that women enjoy chivalry
  • New focus on women as victims
  • How women are treated by the CJS in **** cases
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Evaluation of Feminism

  • Hirchi's control theory supports Carlen's idea, controls discourage crime
  • Contributed to understanding of female criminals and victims
  • Challenged long-standing assumptions such as chivalry thesis
  • Over-state effect of gender on crime rates, and ignore statistical evidence that most female offenders are w/c
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Labelling theory

  • Most people commit deviant and criminal acts, only some are caught and stigmatised for it
  • Focus on understanding reaction and definition rather than causes of act


  • Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people label as deviant, not the actual act
  • Moral entrepreneurs create and enforce rules, and impose definitions of deviance
  • Police stereotype and use selective judgement to decide how to deal with deviancy/crime
  • People are responded to by their master status, and the process is a deviant career


  • 2 types of shaming: disintergrative and re-intergrated
  • Type of re-intergrated is restorative justice, remove label and prevent further crime


  • Primary deviance: not been publicly labelled, has few consequences
  • Secondary deviance: publicly exposed, label attached, may lead to more deviance
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Labelling theory continued


  • Police officer's decisions to arrest are influenced by stereotypes about offenders
  • CJS and police show class bias, justice is negotiable

Jock Young

  • Response to deviance by police and media can generate increase in deviance
  • Stigmatisation leads to isolation and strengthens them in their deviance

Stan Cohen

  • Perceptions of crime are created or informed by media
  • Moral panics develops due to deviancy amplification
  • Groups are labelled as 'folk devils' and stereotyping occurs
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Evaluation of Labelling theory

  • Explains link between media and crime
  • Avoids 'us and them' approach - regarding deviant as different to other people
  • Helps us understand why some groups are more likely to be labelled than others
  • Takes a micro interpretivist approach, understand meanings behind act

Evaluation of Becker

  • Process of being labelled is open to negotiation, e.g. self-negating prophecy

Evaluation of Lemert

  • Durkheim - beneficial to identify primary deviance, crime is functional
  • Some may be more law-abiding after label, punishment was a deterent

Evaluation of Stan Cohen

  • McRobbie and Thornton - moral panics idea is outdated, growing sophistication 
  • This approach gives offenders a passive victim status
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Environmental / Ecological approach

  • Examine relationship of crime to places and time
  • Study whether physical environment can lead to crime, as higher crime rates in urban areas

Shaw and McKay

  • Divided Chicago into five concentric zones, which had different crime rates in each
  • Most crime happens in zone of transition due to population turnover, social disorganisation, cultural transmission and high levels of poverty


  • Opportunity theory, likelihood of offence depends on target attractiveness and accessibility
  • Theory is used by Right Realists, encourage use of situational crime prevention

Hobbs et al (2002)

  • Crime rates vary according to time, nocturnal economy is when most crime takes place
  • 3/4 of all violent crimes in urban areas occur during weekend between 9pm and 3am
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Evaluation of Environmental / Ecological approach

  • Influential in govenment and policing policies - strong links to Right and Left Realism
  • Explanations enabled police and local authorities to adapt policing strategies e.g. changing licensing hours of local pubs and bars
  • Doesn't explain reasons why people commit offences

Evaluation of Shaw and McKay

  • Confuse where people live with where they commit the crimes
  • Bottoms - model doesn't fit most European cities, British research failed to repoduce clear patterns on concentric zones
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Control theory

  • Societies can only exist if there is some social order and stability, or would be social chaos
  • Less complex societies rely on informal control as have sense of community

Hirschi (1960)

  • Agrees with Durkheim that social order is based on shared values and socialisation
  • 4 social bonds why people don't commit crime, and conform to society's rules
  • Belief - people share moral beliefs and respect for others
  • Attachment - people have stake in conformity, don't want to risk loss of job or money
  • Commitment - sensitive to and interested in wishes of others e.g. friends, family, community
  • Involvement - Involved and kept busy in activities, no time or opportunity for crime
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  • Society is rapidly changing and marked by chaos, uncertainty and risk
  • Fragmented into huge diversity of groups with different lifestyles and interests
  • Crime is social construction, outdated definition, doesn't reflect diversity of modern society
  • Go beyond legal definition of crime, develop wider notion of crime based on justice and respect for people's chosen identities and lifestyles

Henry and Milovanovic

  • Not just about breaking laws but about using power to show disrespect by causing harm
  • 2 forms of harm: harms of reduction and harms of repression
  • Harms of reduction - power is used to cause immediate loss or injury
  • Harms of repression - power is used to restrict future development e.g. hate crimes
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Postmodernism exam application

  • Evaluates other theories e.g. studying crime in terms of social structure and core values which the criminal deviates from
  • Society is now characterised by fragmentation of this social structure
  • Each crime is individual and expresses whatever identity an individual chooses
  • Crime is motivated by individual causes, including intangible emotional reasons e.g. the need for a thill - Lyng's study of edgework
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Basic Realism

  • Dispute theories that claim crime is social construction
  • Find practical ways to tackle crime and trust official statistics
  • Criticise theories e.g. about moral panics, need to take crime seriously
  • Criticise theories which romanticise criminals e.g. labelling and Marxism
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Left Realism

  • Develop practical policies to tackle crime, 
  • By tackling poor parenting and educational failure, less w/c youth will commit crime

Lea and Young

  • 3 causes of crime: relative deprivation, subculture and marginalisation

Crime control and prevention

  • Address causes of crime by implementing social/community crime prevention strategies

Social policies

  • PACT, community groups, SureStart, youth clubs

Kinsey et al (1986)

  • Police need to improve clear-up rates to deter offenders, improve community relations and restore confidence in police by spending more time investigating crime
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Evaluation of Left Realism

Evaluation of Lea and Young

  • Explain social causes of crime by tackling inequalities
  • Recognise most victims are w/c, and tackle fear of crime
  • Explain why most crime happens in deprived inner city areas, explain crime patterns
  • Neglect other responses to relative deprivation and marginality, e.g. Merton's ideas
  • Relied on victim surveys but these tend to over-report or under-report some crimes

Evaluation of Left Realist crime prevention strategies

  • Hirschi - agrees that less crime will occur if there is more social control
  • Focus on low level street crime or violent crimes, ignore crimes of powerful or environmental
  • Right Realists - almost treat victim as offender, too 'soft' on crime
  • Many of these measures are very costly, SureStart cost £1 billion a year between 2001-10
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Right Realism

  • Reduce impact that crime has on people's lives, aim to reduce crime by tackling criminals
  • People are naturally selfish, crime will always exist, value consenus and shared morality


  • Rational choice theory, individuals choose to commit crime
  • Crime has increased due to poor policing, weak community controls and lenient punishment 

Crime control and prevention

  • Designing out crime (situational crime prevention)
  • Target hardening (situational crime prevention)
  • Wilson and Kelling - Broken windows theory (environmental crime prevention)
  • Heavier/stricter policing and punishment (increased social control)
  • Encouraging communities to take more responsibility (increased social control)
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Evaluation of Right Realism

Evaluation of Clarke

  • Hirschi agrres that people won't commit crime if risks outweigh benefits e.g. bonds
  • Postmodernists e.g. Lyng - deviance isn't always rational, often spontaneous and for thrills

Evaluation of situational crime prevention 

  • Marxists - ignores white collar crimes and true cause of crime: capitalism
  • Those living in deprived areas most likely to be victims, least likely to afford target hardening

Evaluation of Wilson and Kelling

  • It is lack of investment and not 'incivillities' that cause neighbourhoods to decline
  • Left Realists - reduces solutions to crime to short-term fixes, rather than long-term economic improvement in deprived communities to generate jobs

Evaluation of heavier/stricter policing and punishment

  • Very expensive, may 'displace' crime to areas with less strict policing, may form subcultures
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