Sociology A2 Crime and deviance

sociologists for crime and deviance

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Postive side to crime- helped society change and remain dynamic.

  • Re-afrrming boundaries
  • Changing values
  • Social cohesion
  • Safety valve

Negatie side to crime- crime leading to social distruption.

  • Anomie- freed from social control and look after their own selfish interests rather than social values.

Collective Conscience- provides the framework with boundaries which distinguishes between actions that are acceptable and those which are not.

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Strain Theory

Members of sociey are set goals and are provided socially acceptable ways of achieving those goals. However not everyone has the same goals. In a stratified society the goals are linked to a persons postition in the society. Those lower down had restricted goals.

The goal is economic and material wealth and the means provided to gain these goals are hard work and educational achievement. 

Deviant behaviour can be seen as strain between the means and the goal. 

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Four crucial bonds that bind everyone in society together

1. Attachment- to what extent we care about other peoples opinions and wishes

2. Commitment- refers to the personal investments that each of us make in our lives. What have we got to loose if we commit a crime?

3. Involvement- how busy are we? Is there time for law breaking and deviant behaviour?

4. Belief- how strong is a person's sense that they should obey the rules of society?


Hirschi believes that the greater the attachment to society, the lower the level of crime.

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Criticisms of Functionalism

Criticism of Merton for failing to consider wider power relations in society. he doesnt address the questions about who makes the laws and who benefits from them.

Merton is wrong to assume that;

  • there is a value consensus in American society
  • that people only deviate because of structual strain
  • most crime is carried out by the working class

Taylor, Walton and Young believe that the Strain Theory cannot account for polictically motivated crime where the law is broken because of commitment to a cause.

Reiner defended Merton, he believes that the theory can be adapted to take into account most of these criticisms.

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"The history of criminal legislation in England and many other countries, shows that excessive prominence was given by the law to the protection of property"

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Laws to protect property are unnecessary in a fudal society, where land is the main source of wealth.

However the increasing importance of trade and commerce and replacement of fedualism with capitalism had resulted in vast numbers of laws protecting property interests of the emerging capitalist class.

"The heart of a capitalist economic system is the protection of private property, which is by definition, the cornerstone upon which capitalist economies fuction. It is not surprising, that criminal laws reflect this basic concern.

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Governments are often reluctant to pass laws which regulate large captialist concerns and which might threaten profitablity. Capitalists use large sums of money trying to attract investment from corporations. They offer new investors tax concessions, cheap loans and grants.

"The state is reluctant to pass laws against pollution, worker health and safety or monopolies. Such measures frighten off the much sought after investment and engender the equally dreaded loss of confidence"

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Greed, self interest and hostility generated from the capitalist system motivates crime. Members of each stratum use whatever means and opportunities their class postion provides to commit crime.

In low-income areas the mugger, pimp, petty theif all use what they have got to get what they can, where as in higher imcome brackets, business people, lawyers politicans, have more effective means at their disposal to have a larger share of wealth.

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Crime is rational, it makes sense in a "dog eat dog" society. This is more true for America as the poor has minimal welfare services compared to other advanced industrial societies.

"Most crimes in this country share a single important similarity- they represent rational responses to the competiveness and inequality of life in captialist societies"

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Gordon argues that the practice of law enforcement in the USA supports capitalism in 3 ways

  • By selecting members of the subject class and punishing them as individuals, it protects the system which is primarily resposible for their criminal deviance.
  • the imprisonment of selected members of the subject class 'legitimately' neutralizes opposition to the system.
  • defining criminals as 'animals and misfits, as enemies of the state' provides a justification for incarcerating them in prisons. this keeps them hidden from view

it concludes that the selective enforcement of the law serves to maintain ruling class power and reinfore ruling class ideology.

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"Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an 'offender'. Deviant behavious is behaviour that people label as deviant." 

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A youth killed himself because he had been publicly accused of incest. When Malinowski had first inquired about the case, the islanders expressed horror and disgust, however on further investigation it turned out that incest was common on the island, and it wasn't really frowned upon provided those involved were discreet. If an incestuous affair became too obvious and public, the islanders reacted with abuse and the offenders were ostracised and driven to suicide.

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He interviewed 75 hetrosexual students to elicit their responses to sexual advances from gays. Kitsuse found that there was a very wide range of response from complete tolerance to bizarre and extreme hatred. One told how he had 'known' that a man he was talking to was homosexual because he had wanted to talk about psychology. There was no agreed definitipon of what constituated a homosexual 'advance' which meant that it was open to negotiation.

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Critcism of Interactionism

Akers criticised labelling theorists for the way he claims the present deviants as being perfectly normal people who are no different from anyone else until someone comes along and slaps a label on them. Akers argues that there must be some reason why the label is applied to certain groups or individuals and not others. As long as labelling fails to explain this, then it is an incomplete theory.

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Argues that the political revoultions only occured when the poor became aware of the sheer scale of the differences between themselves and the rich. Without this knowledge, they generally accept their poverty and powerlessness,

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Improved police perfomance will only come if their reliationships with the community they serve are improved. He says that only with effective police community relationships do the police obtain a flow of information upon which they rely to crack down on crime.

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Criticisim of Left Realists.

  • Huges argues that it fails to explain the causes of street crime. However he also points out some strenghts of Left Realismm it has revived useful concepts such as relative deprevation and highlighted the problem that street crime poses for weaker members of society.
  • Jones argues that left realism fails to experience why some poeple who experience relative deprevation turn to crime while others do not. He also identifies flaws in the emphasis on victims.
  • Ruggiero argues that left realists have neglected corportate and organised crime and that this type of crime cannot really be understood within the framework of the theory.
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Broken Windows-  crime flourishes in situations where social control breaks down. In most communities deviant behaviour is prevented from going further due to comments and actions of the community. However if the incivilities go inchecked then the entire social order of the area breaks down and gradually there is a move to more frequent and more serious crime.

The parallel Wilson uses is abandoned buildings, once one widow was broken, they all were. Once crime is allowed to happen, it flourishes.

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Argues that factors such as lack of investment are far more important than the nature of penalties in determing whether a neighbourhood declines. he also argues that by concentrating on minor offenders would mean that more serious crimes would be more likely to be ignored.

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She has suggested that there are 4 reasons why she calls criminology malestream

  • Male dominance of offenders- majority of offenders are male, so therefore it is more appropiate to study men
  • Male dominance of sociology- majority of academics are male
  • Vicarious identification- what interests males if studied and applied to crime this is most often the lives of the margunal and exciting
  • Sociological theorising- constructed theories without ever thinking about how they could be applied to females.
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Transgressive criminology- criminology itself is a discipline which was tied to male questions and concerns and that it could never answer feminist questions and concerns.

Feminists asked "what can criminology offer feminists?" The answer was to look at a whole range of activities which could harm women and how it can be changed.

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Control Theory

Carlen conducted unstructured interviews with 39 convicted female offenders. she argues that working class women have been controlled through the promise of reward stemming from the workplace and family.

Carlen identifies 3 social spheres where women are subjected to control and trie to show how this restricts their opportunities:

  • control of women at home- the time spent on housework and in caring for children means that women have little time for crime. Daughters are given less freedom than sons to come and go as they please
  • control of women in public- women often choose not to go out into public places because of fear of becoming a victim of crime or harassment.
  • control of women at work- women are usually controlled by male superiors at work and may be intimidated by various forms of harassment.
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Interested in the fact that much of offending behaviour was not economically motivated but simply done for the thrill of the act.

Lower class boys strove to emulate middle class values but lacked the means to attain success. This lead to status fustration- that is a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

criticisms of Cohen

  • no discussion of females
  • the young delinquents must have knowledge to workout what are middle class values and invert them
  • fails to prove that school is the key place where success and failure is demonstrated.
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Working class males havbe 6 focal concerns which are likely to lead to deviancy

1. Trouble- "I don't go looking for trouble...but..."

2. Toughness- a belief that being physically stronger than others is good and being able to demonstrate this.

3. Smartness- that a person both looks good, but is also witty

4. Excitment- that is imporant to search out thrills

5. Fate- that the individual has little chance to overcome the wider fate that awaits them

6. Autonomy- that is important not to be pushed around by others.  According to Miller, young lower class males are pused towards crime by the implicit values of their subculture.

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Argued that there were no distinctive subcultural values rather that all groups in society utilised a shared set of subterrainean values. The key thing that most of the time, most people control these deviant desires.

Technique of neutalization

  • denial of resposiblity
  • denial of victim
  • denial of injury
  • condemnation of condemners
  • appear to higher loyalties
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