Sociology Crime and Deviance - Summaries

These are the summaries that are found at the end of each chapter for the crime and deviance section


Functionalist, Strain and Subcultural Theories

  • For functionalists, society is based on value consensus, which deviance threatens
  • But it also performs positive functions such as reinforcing solidarity and adapting to change
  • Strain theories argue that deviance occurs when people cannot achieve society's goals by legitimate means
  • Merton argues that this produces a 'strain to anomie' that may result in innovation, ritualism, retreatism or rebellion
  • Subcultural theories see much deviance is a collective rather than individual reponse
  • A.K.Cohen argues that subcultural deviance results from status frustration and takes a non-utilitarian form 
  • Cloward and Ohlin see three different deviant subcultures (criminal, conflict and retreatism) arising form differences in access to illegitimate opportunity structures
  • Recent strain theories argue that capitalist economies generate greater strain to crime
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Labelling Theory

  • For labelling theory, an act only becomes deviant when labelled as such by others, through societal reaction
  • Not every offender is labelled, and labelling theory is interested in how the laws are selectively enforced against some groups by the agencies of social control
  • This means that official statistics are invalid
    - They only tell us about the types of people the control agencies have labelled, not the real patterns of crime
  • Labelling theory is interested in the effects of labelling
  • It may cause the label to become the individual's master status
  • A deviance amplification spiral may result, in which increased control leads to increased deviance
  • Labelling theory has implications for criminal justice policies, suggesting we should avoid labelling individuals unnecessarily to avoid a self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant career
  • Labelling theory is criticised, for example for determinism and for failing to explain primary deviance and the origin of the labels. 
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Marxist Theories

  • Traditional Marxists see crime as inevitable in capitalist society because it breeds poverty, competition and greed
  • All classes commit crime, but because the ruling class control the state, they make and enforce laws in their own interets, criminalising the working class while escaping punishment for their own corporate crimes
  • The law also performs an ideological function by giving capitalism a caring face
  • Traditional Marxism is criticised for ignoring non class inequalities that affect crime and for determinism 
  • Neo-Marxism or critical criminology is less deterministic
  • It sees crime as a conscious meaningful choice often with a political motive
    - A rebellion against capitalism
  • Neo-Marxism combines elements of Marxism and labelling theory in a 'fully social theory' of deviance
  • It has been criticised by left realists as 'left idealism' that ignores the real harm crime does to working class people  
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Realist Theories

  • Realists see crime as a real problem. especially for the poor
  • Right realists are conservatives
  • They see the cause of crime as partly biological and partly social
  • They see crime as a rational choice based on calculating the risks and rewards 
  • Because causes cannot easily be changed, they focus on deterring offenders through prevention and punishment 
  • They are criticised e.g. for ignoring structural causes of crime
  • Left realists are reformists socialists
  • They argue that Marxists and labelling theorists have not taken crime seriously
  • They identify three causes of crime
    - Relative deprivation
    - Subculture
    - Marginalisation
  • In late modern society, economic insecurity together with the media's materialistic messages is increasing relative deprivation
  • The solution lies in accountable policing and tacking structural causes of crime 
  • They are criticised e.g. for focusng on street crime and ignoring corporate crime 
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Gender, Crime and Justice

  • Official statistics show males commit more crime than females
    - But chivaly thesis argues that they underestimate female offending because the criminal justice system treats women more leniently
  • However, this may be because their offences are less serious
  • Some feminists aruge that the system is biased against women, especially when they deviate from gender norms
  • In explaining gender differneces in offending, sex role theory focuses on socialisation 
  • Feminist theries emphasise patriarchal control that reduces females' opportunity to offend
  • Carlen argues that when the reward system for female conformity fails, females are likely to offend
  • The liberationist thesis argues that as women become more liberated, they adopt 'male' patterns of offending 
  • Messerschmidt argues that crime is a resource some subordinate men use to accomplish masculinity
  • Winlow argues that globalisation and de-industrialisation mean that some men now achieve masculinity through participation in a combination of paid work and crime in the night-time economy
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Ethnicity, Crime and Justice

  • Official statistics show that blacks and other ethnic minorities are more likely to be stopped, arrested and imprisoned
  • This may be because they are more likely to offend, or because of racism in the criminal justice system, or because they are more likelly to fall into the demographic groups who are stopped
  • Self-report studies show lower offending rates among minorities than among whites
  • Black defendants are more likely to be acquitted but if convicted are more likely to be jailed
  • Left realists argue that blacks do have a higher crime rate because of their greater relative deprivation and social exclusion
  • Neo-Marxists argue that black criminality is a social construction serving to distract attention from the crisis of capitalism
  • Minorities are more likely to be victims of crime, while being both over-policed and under-protected
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Crime and the Media

  • The media give a distorted image of crime
  • For example, they over represent violent crime and exaggerate the risk of victimisation
  • The fact that news is a social construction based on news values such as dramatisation and violence helps to explain the media's interest in crime
  • Some see the media as causing crime, for example through imitation
  • However, studies generally show only small and limited effects 
  • Left realists argue that the media increase relative deprivation among the poor, who then turn to crime to achieve the lifestyle portrayed by the media
  • The media also cause moral panics, identifying a group as folk devils and exaggerating the threat they pose, leading to a crackdown and creating a deviance amplification spiral
  • New media such as the internet have created new opportunities both for cyber-crime and for surveillance and control of the population
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Globalisation, Green Crime, Human Rights and State

  • Globalisation has bought with it the spread of transnational organised crime
    - For example, trafficking drugs and people 
  • Globalisation also brings de-industrialisation and insecurity, which lead to increased crime
  • It has also led to new forms of 'glocal' criminal organisation, with fluid networks and 'franchises' rather than the old mafia-style fixed heirarchies
  • We now live in 'global risk society', where human-made threats include massive environmental damage
  • Green criminolgy adopts an ecocentric view and starts from the notion of harm rather than criminal law
  • It identifies both primary and secondaary green crimes
  • State crimes include genocide, war crimes and torture
  • The state has the power to commit massive human right abuses and to legitimate its crimes using neutralisation techniques
    - Such as the denial of responsibility
  • Human rights abuses are more likely to occur
    - E.g. when the enemy is portrayed as sub human 
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Control, Punishment and Victims

  • Situational crime prevention focuses on reducing opportunities for crime 
    - E.g. through target hardening
  • One problem is displacement, where criminals respond by seeking softer targets
  • Environmental crime prevention focuses on mending 'broken windows' and zero tolernace policing 
  • Social and community prevention strategies attempt to tackle the root causes of offending
  • However, most prevention strategies ignore crimes of the powerful
  • For functionalists, punishment functions to promote solidarity
  • For Marxists, it preserves the status quo and is shaped by the economic base
  • Foucault argues that disciplinary power now governs individuals through surveillance and self-surveillance 
  • Prisons have become the key institution of punishment and there is a trend towards mass incarceration
  • Community punishments may simply cast the net of control more widely 
  • Positivist victimology focuses on victim proneness or precipitation
  • Critical victimology emphasises structural factors such as poverty, and the state's power to apply or deny the label of victim
  • The poor, the young and ethnic minorities are at greater risk of victimisation 
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  • Durkheim used suicide to demonstrate that a scientific sociology was possible
  • Using official statistics, it would study social facts that shape behaviour 
  • Two social facts, integration and regulation, determine the type and level of suicide 
  • Douglas criticises Durkheim for using statistics, since these are merely the product or coroners' labels, and for ignoring actors' meanings
  • He recommends qualitative case studies to discover these and the real rate of suicide
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