Sociology A2 theories crime and devanince

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Functionalist theories


  • society has a consensus of vales that make it harminous
  • socialisation and social control make society peaceful
  • crime inevitable and is normal
  • crime happens because people are not socialised properly and the people do not share the same values any more resulting in anomine
  • crime has two functions: boundary maintence and adaption and change

boundary maintence: making sure people know what is right and wrong and do not cross that line

adaption and change: everything was once a crime e.g being gay it stops society getting old


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Critisms of functionalists

  • Durkhiem says that tthere must be a certain amount of crime but does not say how much excatly
  • there is not a reason given as to why crime happens in the first place
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Strain theory

Merton says people start deviant behaviour when they can't achieve socially applied goals legitamatley.

factors causing deviance are structural and cultural

American dream

  • emphasis on materialistic items
  • ideology claims that American  society is meritocrate when this is not the case
  • there is a strain between being able to achieve the goals and the illgetimate ways they can do so

Deviant adapations to strain

position in society affect how you can adapt to anomie, five adaptions:

conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion

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Strenghts to strain theory

1. most crime in america is property - americans are materalistic

2. crime rates for working class are higher as they have less opportuinty to achieve through the correct means

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Subculutral theories

AK Cohen Status frustration

  • deviance is the result of lower class inability to achieve in e.g education
  • cirtises merton on two grounds

1. does not focus on groups

2. focuses solely on material gain

  • m-class boys face anomie in education:

1. culutrally depreived have no skills to achieve what is accpeted

this then turns in status frustration: rejecting mainstream values and truns to others who are in the same situation

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Subcultural theories

alternative status hierachy

  • subc offers illegitmate opportunity for boys
  • providing the alternative staus hierachy
  • what society praises they don't
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Subcultral theories

Clowarh and ohlin: 3 subc's

  • Merton is right and deviance stems from response to not being able to achieve
  • not everyone adapts to a lack of legitmate oppoertunites to crime, some turn to ultriaiain crime some turn to drug use and voilence

the difference are down to unequal access to legitmate opportunity but unequal access to illlegitmate opportunity structure

depending on the neighbourhood depends on what opportunites are there:

1. criminial: can get an apprenticeship and are trained

2. conflict: loosely organised gangs

3. retreatist: drug culutral

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Subculutral theories: clowhard and ohlin evaluatio

  • ignore crimes done by the wealth to hurt ht epoor
  • tries to expain different types of crimes with w-class
  • the boundaries for the crimes are too sharp
  • assumes everyone shares the same goals
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Labelling theory

Social construction of deviance

Becker (1963) social groups create deviance by making rules and people who are 'outsiders' are deviant. an act or a person only becomes deviant when labelled by others as so

Differential enforcement

  • social control agencies tend to label certain groups
  • studies showed that police arrests are based on stereotypical ideas


  • police use typifications (steroetypes) of the 'typical deliquent'
  • individuals fitting this are more likely to be stopped and searched etc:
    • w-c ethnic juves more chance of being arressted
    • m-c juves less likely to fit the typifications as families can negoiate
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Labelling theory - the effects

Primary and secondary deviance

labelling people as deviant encourhgaes them to so then this causes secondary deviance


acts not pubilicy labelled often trivial not thought to be deviant


result of socetial reactions. labelling somones as an offender excludes them others may just see the label and not the person, this is then the persons master status


being labelled causes the sfp they live up to the label. the causes secondary deviance further soceital reaction may cause individual joining a sub c - the weed smoking hippies

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Labelling theory - the effects

Deviance amplification spiral

controlling deviance leads to more deviance and the greater attempts to control it cause more deviance

Folk devils and moral panics:

  • study of the mods and rockers uses the concept of deviance amplification spiral
  • media exageration and distortion began a moral panic
  • there was a call for a crack down and the police began arressting more youths
  • this provoked more concern
  • marganlsining the mods and rockers

This points out a key deffiernce with functionalism:

functionalist see deviance as producing social control and labellings see it as producing more deviance

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Marxist theoires

it is a structural theory


structure of capatalism explains crime

1. criminogenic capatlism

-crime in ineveiatble because capatlism is crimingoenic

working class crime based on ecplotation as a result of:

poverty as crime is the only wasy to survive

crime only way of obtaining consumer goods encouraged by capatalism

alientation causes frustration leading to non-ultriaian crimes

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Marxist theories

2. state and law making

  • law making enforcements serving the interests of the capatilistds
  • laws to proctect private property basis of capatlist economy
  • ruling class have power to make laws that are harmful to the lower class

3. selective endorsment

  • selective enforcement of the law
  • crimes by powerful are less likley to be treated as criminal such as breaking health and safety laws
  • only 1.5% of cases were prosecuted
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Marxist theories

4. Ideological functions of crime and law

  • some laws such as health and safety are thought to actually benefit the working class but they aew just there to make companies look like they care
  • statisitcs fail to show working class crime
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Marxist theories - neo marxist: critical criminolo

  • they agree with tradtitional marxists that it is based upon the cpatalist society
  • they believe that capatilism should be based with a classless society


  • the idea that we have free will
  • crime is conscious choice that people choose with a policitcal motive

Fully social theory of deviance

  • comphernesive theory that would change soicaty for the better which will have two main sources:
  • traditional marxist ideas about unequal distrubtion of wealth and power to enforce the law
  • labelling theorys ideas about the meaning of the deviat act for the actor, soecital reactions to it and the effects the deviant label has on the individual
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Marsixt theories

it is determinsitc: assumes that workers commit crimes for the need for econmic benefit, when this is not always the case

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Realist theories - right realism

they see that street crime is the main problem

attitudes to other theoires: they believe that no one has solved the main problem of crime and that they are too symthatetic on the offenders

practitical solutions: through control and the correct punishment

causes of crime:

reject that factors such as poverty cause crime and that crime is a prodict of three factors:

1. biological differences: these are what make people more likely to commit crime

2. underclass: nuclear families are the best way of socialisastion and they are being undermided by the welfar state as people can have kids and not pay nothing etc.

3. rational choice theory: people choose to commit crime and are more likley to do so if they don't think they will get punished

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Realist theoires - right realism

solutions to crime

control and punishment of the offenders:

1. keep neighbourhoods orderly with regualar patrols ect

2. have a zero tolerance policy put into place focusing on patrolling the streets

3. reduce the rewards accoiscated with crime and increase its costs


1. ignores structural poverty

2. ignores corporate crime

3. ignores underlyign causes of neighbourhood crime

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Realist theoires - left realism

like marxists as inequality causes crime, unlike them because gradual reforms are the only way forward.

Critisms of other views:

T-marxists: neglect working class crime and its effects

Neo-marxists: mostly victimise other working class people

Labelling: negelcts real victims

There are three causes to crime:

1. relative depreivation: crime has its in roots in relative deprevation

2. subc: groups solution to the probel of relative deprivation

3. marginalistaion: unemployed youths are marginalised  they have no organistation etc.

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Realist theories - left realism

Late mod and crime

crime is throughout society

working class crime is due to

1. harsher welfare, more unemployment, job insecurity, poverty

2. weaker informal social controls

  • there is realtive deprivation downwards, there is now resentment of those on benefits
  • less consensus about what is acceptable
  • public are less tolerant and demand harsher control


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Realist theories - left realism

solutions to crime

1. democratic policing: the police used to rely on the public for information, now that has dried up so they need to in back the trust and invovle the community more

2. reducing inequality: remove the underlying cause and have a major structural change


  • ignores crimes done to the poor
  • over predicts working class crime
  • relys purely on quantantive data from questionnaires and does not look and qualatitave date from other sources
  • makes greater problem as it focuses on the problem areas
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