Sociology - Crime and Devience

In what ways does the media distort our ideas abou

Dramatic and sensational crime is overrepresented by the tabloyds in order to sell more magazines or newspapers because these topics are enticing to the reader.

  • Human interest and victim appeal - Crime in the news is also more likely to be read/viewed and remembered by consumers.
  • They report on more novelty cases involving the elderly and children causing moral panics amongst parents about 'stranger danger' and leaving the elderly feeling overly cautious and agraphobic.
  • Produce fallacies - That the middle class are more likely to be victimised and that the police are more effective than they actually are.
  • COHEN & YOUNG: 'News is not discovered but manufactured; (Some stories are selected and others rejected).
  • However recent trends worth noting - Increace tendency to show police as corrupt and young, WC offenders as main characters in T.V and film.
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Define the terms 'Moral Panic' and 'Folk Devils'.

Moral Panic: Mass uproar caused by exaggerations of crime made by the media implying that everyone is in danger of being a victim of crime when actually they're not. Folk Devils: people who are portrayed in the media as being deviant. Terms created by Stan Cohen that both relate to the deviancy amplification cycle. The cycle starts when a crime is committed; the media then reports this crime and in glamorizing it, they scare the public who then demand that the police take action (puts pressure on the legal system). By continually reporting violent crimes, the media make more money in the process and the public continues to put pressure on law enforcement, until a different crime is committed which the media reports and the cycle starts again.

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Identify how female inocence may be a myth.

Women are more likely to commit crimes like shoplifting which are hard to detect and 'victimless' crimes like prost1tution are less likely to be reported.

Female criminality may be underestimated due to chivalry:

  • Police reluctant to arresting women.
  • Juries less likely to convict them or give them 'softer' sentences.
  • See women as been manipulated by men to committ crimes - this thinking is sometimes applied to the moors murder case of Bradley and Hindley.


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Explain how Caspi and Moffitt's theory may act as

Early biological theories such as that of Lambroso were highly reductionist. (Ignored social factors).

Most other sociological research focuses soley on the significance of nurture and enviromental factors.

Caspi and Moffitt stress the interaction between biological and enviromental influences.

They discovered that the MAOA gene (which controls violent and agressive behaviour) comes in high and low activity and that people who are born with the low activity gene are likely to becoming deviant if they are also affecteed by a bad upbringing.

Whats more facinating is that the MAOA gene is only present in the X chromasone, therefore women have a better chance of gaining high levels of MOAM than men which may account for why they are less criminal.

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How do New Right theories explain male offending?

  • Parsons: Male criminality is the product of socialisation differentation. Boys are brought up to be adventerous, energetic and competative - atributes which can often lead to criminality.
  • Cohen: Male criminality due to the lack of role models within the nuclear family (dad at work) resulting boys becoming part of a sub-culture.
  • Murray: Growth of single parent families are to blame for leaving boys without appropriate role models to guide them in the development of their masculinity.
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Compare the account given of female offending by H

Heidinson is more concerned with why women commit so little crime rather than why men commit so much crime and this she believes is down to patriarchy and control over women in society.

  • Teenage girls are regarded as more vulnerable and so as a result of parent anxitey are confined to a 'bedroom culture' (based around romance, fashion and the private domestic space of the girls).
  • Ultimatly this fear then leads on to shape their own understanding of crime in womanhood, making them more causious of male violence or sexual assult.

She argues that New Right theories disregard the importance of constructed gender roles.

  • Boys are taught to be energetic and brave while girls to be dismissave and reformed.
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Define the Functionalist perspective of crime.

Durkheim believes crime is inevitable due to cultural diversity and differential socialisation.

Kingsley Davis argues that crime can somtimes act as a safety valve that release pressure in order to prevent worse things from happening (prostitution could prevent rap3).

Simmilarly Cohen believes that crime can also act as a warning to institutions and the police signifying that changes in the system need to be made.

Other functions of crime include:

  • It acts as a boundary maintenance (reinforces the values of society) and can lead to the purpose behind punishment which is to reform criminals and protect the public.
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What are the criticisms of the Functionalist evalu

  • Some crimes have no benefits in society, (who does child abuse help?).
  • Functionalism fails to explain why crime happens in the first place.
  • Ignors individuals in society, (how is crime functional for the victims?)

In relation to Mertons theory

  • Unfaily assumes a certian type of person will be a criminal while ignoring other groups. (Does not give an explanation for white-collar criminals).
  • He is a white, MC man in the early 20th century, therefore his views may be limited and biases agains others. (He ignors gender, ethicity and age).
  • Only applies to crimes that are motivated by a desire for material goods.
  • Ignors profitless crimes (non-utilitarian crimes) such as violence or vandelism.
  • Doesn't consider the changes and norms and values, (Postmodernists would argue that people want lots of different things now).
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Explain strain theory.

Merton's evaluation which states crime is a result of unequal chances of success and the strong emphasis on money and achievement (leading to strain and tention whereby crime becomes attrative).

He claims there are 5 resposes to strain:

  • Conformity - follow the established norms and succees.
  • Ritualism - alternatively reject the idea that you'll ever be wealthy but still believe in hard, honest work.
  • Inovation - still hold the same goals as above but have to think of new ways of obtaining wealth.
  • Rebellion - replace social values with new ones.
  • Retreatism - dropping out of the system.

The latter 3 are thought allow for crime to become present as a consequence.

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Outline the problems with Cloward and Ohlin's theo

  • Like Merton's theory, it unfaily assumes crime is a working class activity.
  • Forgets about how the law focuses on crimes of the weak and represents the powerful.
  • Forgets that delinquency is often just a stage of life.
  • It assumes too ridgid boundaries between subcultures, (some criminals fall into all three catagories).
  • They assume material success is important everybody when perhaps many people have very different goals.
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Explain Subcultural Strain Theory.

Cohen's Subcultural Strain Theory is often seen as an advancement on Merton's Theory as it addresses some of the issues Merton chose to neglect.

His studies differed from Merton's because he looked at group rather than individual responses. Found that all people share the craving to aquire status, and if people cannot achieve status within conventional structures (such as employment) then they will often turn to alternative status hierarchies. (Group values may also be very different from that of societies which explains why non-utilitarian crimes are comitted).

This was then developed further by Cloward and Ohlin who highlighted the differential illigitimate opportunity structures:

  • CRIMINAL SUBCULTURES - Some people have the opportunity to learn skills from established criminals that will assist them in commiting utilitarian crimes. (safe-cracking for example).
  • CONFLICT SUBCULTURES - In less stable communities people tend to fall into loosely organised gangs where being strong and ruthless in your crimes gains you status.
  • RETREATIST SUBCULTURES - For those who fail in both legitimate and illegitimate opportunity structures.
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What are the two major motivations for female offe

Carlen found from looking at her study of female working class convicts that offending behaviour was motivated by 2 factors:

  • THE CLASS DEAL - Failure to material rewards prized by consumer society due to no or insufficient qualifications and experiences of poverty.
  • THE GENDER DEAL- Failure to gain the emotional and relationship rewards associated with conformity to female role. (Many of the women had been in care, often as a result of abuse at home and often had abusive relationships with men in adult life).

Both leading the women to feel like they had nothing to loose.

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Outline the problems with the Femenist account of

  • Methodology: The women participating in the research might have given Carlen the answers they thought she wanted to hear. (Social desirability bias)
  • Sample: The sample copuld be considered too small and unrepresentative.
  • Determinism: Both theories regard women as simply the puppets of social forces beyond their control.
  • Reductionism: Is it really plausable to dismiss biology completely from an account of male and female criminality? (Especially in light of Caspi and Moffit's research)
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Define the Liberation thesis.

An advancement of the feminist account developed by Alder that considers women's involvement in crime has increased as gendered differences between women and men are diminished and they are given the opportunity to become more involved in crime.

However through evaluating this theory we find that...

  • Levels of female crime started to rise before the feminism of the 1970's.
  • Most female criminals come from the working classes but feminism has had its greatest impact on the lives of middle class women.
  • When they are involved in crime women often still remain an inferior position to men.
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What are the 3 ways in which we might try to measu

  • Rates of imprisonment - Black people make up around only 3% of UK population but 6% of the prison population. (Rates of imprisonment however may reflect racism in the justice system, it may just be that more black people are getting sent to prison due to labelling).
  • Victim surveys - BSC results show that black people are 'overreptresented' as offenders by victims. (But is this due to the majority of crime black males find themselves involved in are easy to detect and therefore more likely to be reported).
  • Self report studies - Graham and Bowling found very similar levels of crime rates in both white and black respondents and lower rates in asian. (It should also be noted that cultural differences may reflect on whether the respondants trust the researchers enough to give them valid information).

Are these valid measures of criminality?

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Does the criminal justice system discriminate agai

British crime survey suggests black people are 7 times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, this is possibly because...

  • Police operate with certian stereotypes about young, black males and this may be reflected in their practice.
  • This is then reinforced through 'canteen culture' - beliefs and attitudes about ethnic minorities are passed on from one generation of officers to the next.
  • Other factors include people who are WC, young and live in an urban enviroment are also more likely to be targeted and the majority of black people also fit into these subcatagories.
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How may police cautions help us understand why bla

Cautions are administered by police rather than courts for minor offences, they require an admittance of guilt and are part of a persons criminal record. Statistics show that while white people are more likely to accept these cautions black people would rather defend their case in a court where they face the posibility of being charged.

This may be because...

  • The lack of trust they have with the police.
  • The court prosicution service is more likely to drop ethnic minority cases because the evidence is weak and may be based on stereotypes, (Bowling & Phillips).
  • Less likely to be found guilty by a jury.
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What is the social constructionist interpretation

Gilroy & Hall are two social constructionists who argue that black criminality is a myth or part of a moral panic which has an ideological function. They also claim that raising black crime is the result of political resistance and inequality.

That black people are infact used as a distraction to divert attention away from the unfairness of capitalist society.

In response to the social constructionists, left realists such as Jock Young put forward a few points…

  • Gilroy and Hall are inconsistent – black crime can’t be a myth and a response to oppression and inequality.
  • Negative stereotypes exist about other ethnic groups who have lower crime rates than white people - so it is an odd form of racism that targets black people selectively.
  • Much of crime is driven by wanting to join capitalist consumerism. It is romantic nonsense to see this as political resistance.
  • Victims of black crime are usually of the same race, it is a betrayal of the black community to pretend that black crime is a myth.
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Outlien what is ment by the anti-positivist theory

In contrast to the Functionalist/Positivis/Realist perspective is the Anit-Positivists theory.

Realists seems to make assumptions about crime such as:

  • Criminals constitute as a group of people distinct from the rest of society.
  • Criminal statistics are objective measures of who commits crime.
  • What counts as crime is conclusive, a given phenomena.


These assumptions are challenged by social construct theories such as labelling theory, (Howard Becker).

  • (Being lablled by the police sets people on a track to a deviant career).
  • Criminal statistics
  • What constitutes as a crime is culturally and historically relative, moral entrupeners are people who are constantly trying to change laws and social norms in both a permitting and restrictive sense.
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Give 3 examples of labelling theory.

  • Lemert - distinguished the difference between the initial act (primary deviance) and the social reaction (secondary deviance) that results in a deviant label being attached to the agent which affects their status in society making crime attractive and therefore the self-fulfilling prophecy occurs.
  • Jock Young - (Notting Hill study) police targeted a group, (hippies who smoked marihuana). As smoking marihuana was illegal, this marked them as different. The consequence of this was that it alienated the group from society. Smoking marihuana became a bigger part of the group’s identity and it became more widely used as it was a symbol of their difference and a reaction to being singled out.
  • Cohen - Moral panics, folk devils and the deviance amplification cycle.
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Define the difference between left and right reali

Left: Believe envirmental disadvantages can impact on the deviant behaviour of a person.

  • Caspi and Moffitt - (Boisocial model) MAOA gene.

Right: Locate the problem solely in the individual, focus on greater social control, esentially negative view of human beings.

  • Charles Murray - (Underclass and dependency theory) Argues that attempts made by the left-wing to support people through welfare has created an underclass who are not interested in working and are totally dependent on the state. They do not teach their children how to behave properly (rely on the state to do this) who therefore contribute to a disproportionate share of juvenile delinquents.
  • Wilson and Kelling - (Broken windows theory and zero tolerance) Suggest that areas that are neglected encourage people to perform illigitimate acts. They believe that the prevention of crime can be accomplished when objects and buildings (such as a broken window) are replaced and restored so petty crimes such as vandelism have less effect and therefore soon fizzle out.
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What are some critiques of right realism.

  • Self contradictory? How can crime be the result of rational choice (as _ states) AND biological factors at the same time.
  • Focuses attention on street crime and ignors 'white collar crimes'. The poor are subsequently seen as the problem.
  • 'Zero toleranence' was introduced in New York and correlated with falling crime. But the same pattern also followed in other cities that did not take this approach. Meaning the fall of crime could have had more to do with the improved economic system. - Undermindes the right realist view that individuals rather than social factors are crutial in explaining crime rates.
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left realism.

  • Jock Young: (Later work) 3 inter-connected expalnations of crime:

- Relative depravation: people on low incomes or unemployeed were frustrated at being unable to afford consumer goods that they saw owned by others.

- Marginalisation (Social exclusion): people (such as ethnic minorites and the working class) who did not feel bonded to the rest of society were less likely to intervene to prevent or report local crime.

- Subcultures: develop in some areas to which marginalised people were then drawn, younger people more likely to drift into them.

All closely resembles Robert Mertons theory.

  • Wilson and Pickett: Their book 'The Spirit Level' shows very close correlation between inequality and crime, the greater the gap the greater the level of crime.


  • Deterministic - not all relitively deprived people committ crime.
  • Reductionist - marxists argue that left-realism (just like right-realism) accepts the stereotype of the criminal as working class and forgets about the huge damage done by 'crimes of the powerful'.
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Outline the beliefs of Post-modernist Feminists.


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