Theories of crime and deviance

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  • Created on: 12-04-14 17:53

being labelled as deviant can affect future behavi

being labelled as deviant can affect future behaviour

  • interpretivists argue we form our self identity by interpreting how others respond to us and internalising the reaction. A label can have a positive or negative effect and helps define them in their own eyes as well as in others. Becker calls this "self concept"
  • Becker argues self concept of deviance can increase deviant behaviour. If a person is shamed by others for being deviant, they may join criminal gang to relieve feeling of rejection. This reinforces the label of criminal and makes it even harder to shift - Becker calls this The Deviant Career
  • The label of criminal is not easily removed by society - it becomes master status. On release from prison many cannot find housing, work, or trust from others due to label as criminal.
  • Jock Young(1971) - studied drug users in Notting Hill to demonstrate process of becoming deviant. Users develop deviant self concept as drug use illegal. The deviant element becomes their main identity. Those around them respond negatively which makes drug taking more significant part of their lives. Their drug taking increased as result.
  • Goffman(1961) - negative label of being 'mad' is imposed on the patient by society and psychiatry - the patient must eventually conform to it.
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Lemert(1951) primary and secondary deviance

  • primary deviance = the initial act
  • secondary deviance = deviant acts committed after the individual has accepted the label of deviant
  • most people commit some acts of primary deviance, but isn't significant 
  • when there's a societal reaction the individual is labelled as deviant
  • when an individual feels the 'weight' of the deviant label, they sometimes commit more of the behaviour. Lemert calls this secondary deviance
  • public reaction to an individual labelled deviant can be very powerful, i.e people committing suicide.
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people aren't as passive as interpretivists sugges

  • Ronald Akers(1967) - criticises Becker + Lemert for presenting individuals as powerless. Deviance isn't something that happens to people, but a choice that they make.
  • Taylor, Walton and Young(1973) - many forms behaviour widely viewed as deviant. Deviants know they are breaking the law or social rules before any societal reaction, but they still do it.
  • Marxists accuse interpretivists of ignoring the role of power in defining crime and deviance. certain groups have power to define what is deviant and what isn't.
  • Gouldner(1973) - accused interpretivists of being fascinated with deviance - they aren't interested in chagning sopciety, simply hanging out ith deviants.
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control theory - "why don't more people commit cri

control theory - "why don't more people commit crime?"

  • origins in Durkheim's belief that all socities need to have shared values. collective conscience
  • Hirschi(1969) - looked at reasons why people don't commit crime. There are 4 social bonds that hold society together - attachment to society, commitment to society, involvement in society, belief that society's rules must be obeyed
  • the more strongly these bonds are felt, the less likely an individual is to commit crime
  • Wilson and Kelling(1982) - broken windows thesis. when crimes - even minor ones like breaking windows - go unpunished, people start to feel there is no social control and lose their sense of belonging. Detachment leads to increasing crime rates.
  • Etzioni(1993) - in the past, poor communities policed themselves. System has broken down and criminal underclass taken over. Can only be undone by creating greater sense of social integration e.g neighbourhood watch schemes.
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postmodernists - crime due to people's sense of id

postmodernists - crime due to people's sense of identity

  • society is becoming increasingly fragmented
  • people's sense of identity has more to do with what they see in the media and the brands they wear and less to do with family, religion or local area. People think of themsleves as individuals rather than a part of society. Foucalt called this process individualism.
  • as this trend continues people feel less attached to society and are more likely to commit crime.
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social control keeps order in society

  • functionalists argue deviance must be kept to a low level
  • small amount of deviance = positive
  • social control benefits everyone in society
  • Marxists agree social control essential to keep order. Capitalism exploitative system which uses social control to prevent rebellion and revolution. Social control benefits the ruling class.
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Marxists - social control maintained through hegem

Marxists - social control maintained through hegemony

  • informal social control achieved through socialisation where indidivudals are taught to accept values and norms which support status quo in society. These ideas are supported by institutions such as education and legal systems
  • This ideology is presented as common sense and neutral. However, neo-marxists such as Gramsci argue they're designed in the interests of those in power.
  • Alternative ideas are overwhelmed by the dominance of ruling class ideology
  • the ability to informally control ideas and values in this way is hegemony
  • parts of the capitalist class hegemony is the belief that the legal system operates in the interests of everyone in society. The legal system is actually a method of formal scoial control over the population. Legal system backs up the ideas and values of the ruling class ideology.
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Marxism - law inequality

ruling class law breakers are less likely to be punished

  • law is not enforced equally in capitalist society
  • Laureen Snider(1993) - w/c crimes i.e burglary don't cause as much harm to society as corporate crime
  • ruling class ideology presents the burglars as 'real criminals' and a threat to society, mainly through media. Corporate law breakers get little media condemnation and are treated more leniantly by legal system
  • if corporations are charged they can afford best legal advice
  • Chambliss(1978) - American city Seattle - those in power were able to use their power to conduct criminal activity and avoid prison. Found organised crime ring which included elite businessmen and politicians who used money to bribe officials.
  • Gordon(1976) - selective enforcement of law and selective reporting by media gives impression that criminals mainly w/c. Diverts attention from ruling class crime + divides w/c when the w/c criminal becomes target of anger rather than system itself.
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traditional Marxists overlook other effects on cri

traditional Marxists overlook other effects on crime

  • believe the cause of crime lies in the Capitalist system. Their view that if you end Capitalism you end crime is rejected by many. There's crime in socialist societies such as Cuba, and other capitalist societies such as Switzerland have very low crime rates.
  • Feminists accuse traditional marxist theory of ignoring the role of patriarchy
  • left realists say traditional marxism focuses too much on corporate crime. They dispute the arguement that other crimes such as burglary are insignificant, as the victims are w/c.
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new criminology - criminals choose to break the la

Taylor, Walton and Young's The New Criminology(1973)

  • attempt to present a thorough Marxist analysis of crime, because Marx failed to do so
  • Their aim was to move the sociology of crime on from the idea that society should be trying to remove deviant behaviour to a need to understand and accept it.
  • criminals were not passive individuals as traditional marx stated. Crime was a conscious, meaningful and deliberate choice individuals made to try and change society
  • most crime is a deliberate fight against capitalism. Political action groups use crime to agitate the system. Robbery seen as a way of redistributing wealth.

7 aspects of a full social theory of deviance

  • how wealth and power are distributed
  • uniqued circumstances of each deviant act
  • nature of the deviant act
  • reactions of the rest of society
  • who has power to make rules about response to deviance
  • the effect of being labelled deviant has on an individual
  • how all these factors interlink
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new criminology - criminals choose to break the la

Hall et al(1978)

  • applied the social theory of deviance to media reports involving large numbers of muggings conducted by black muggers.
  • the media analysed the situation in terms of:
  • social economic and political conditions - the country was in economic crisis. Unions+militants threatening state power.
  • motivation of the state - gov. wanted to feel in control of the situation
  • motivations of the media - press and broadcasters want a dramatic story
  • what happened - policy arrested more people. Media reported this and presented muggers as a threat to society, creating unjustified moral panic.
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left realism - policy must accept crime is real &

  • Lea and Young(1984) - criticised other left wing writers(marxists) for overlooking reality of crime in Britain by focusing on the problems within Capitalism
  • left wing social policy and debate on crime must start accepting that:
  • crimes other than white collar crime are a problem
  • there has been a rise in crime in Britain since ww2
  • being a victim of crime is a significant event
  • fear of crime is a real factor in shaping modern urban lifestyles - especially for women.
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Kinsey,Lea,Young - recommended changes in police p

Kinsey,Lea,Young - recommended changes in police policy

  • British policing needs to be based on creating and maintaining communication between policy and local communities
  • public should have a key role in deciding police policy. Setting up Police Authorities which are democratically elected from the public. These should formulate policy and direct police action.
  • this would create consensus policing
  • key role of police should be "full and proper investigation of crime" which they believe has decreased in recent years
  • the police need to increase their detection and pickup rates. At the time of writing, only 12% of recorded crime was cleared up. Figure improved since then
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left realists - relative deprivation factor in cau

left realists - relative deprivation factor in causing crime

  • Lea and Young(2002) - sense of relative deprivation is major factor leading to crime. When an individual feels deprived in relation to similar social groups, they turn to crime to 'solve' the problem and resolve the feeling.
  • It's not actual deprivation but the feeling of being deprived relative to someone else that triggers this response. Why crime occurs in all strata - rich can feel deprived in relation to super rich
  • Lea and Young - feeling of deprivation are compounded by consumer culture of modern Britian - advertising + media - present what you could have and what othes do
  • Therefore rising living standards can lead to rising crime rates
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Left realists - social inequality must be fought

Left realists - social inequality must be fought in order to reduce crime

  • deprivation + marginalisation = causes of crime
  • order will only come from a fair and just society
  • need for all social agencies to have a direct aim of removing inequality
  • Left realists use square of crime to show interactions between four elements which affect crime. All four elements should work together to understand and reduce crime.


  • Left realism has influenced Labour policy since 1997
  • Tony Blair - "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" - sums up left realism well.
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criticism of left realism

critics say if Left Realism was correct, there would be more crime.

  • Hughes(1991) - left realists fail to explain why some people who experience relative deprivation see crime as a solution and others don't. There would be a lot more crime if relative deprivation was the main cause.
  • Kinsey, Lea and Young didn't collect enough data to develop a full theory on crime. Their theory only focuses on property crime.
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Right Realism - influenced U.S social policy

  • Wilson(1975) - individuals commit crime because the gains outwigh the chances of being caught and punished
  • wilson said it was necessary to issue harsh punishment even for minor offenses, to act as deterrent
  • has been put in action in social policy of zero tolerance, first in U.S and now in UK(middlesborough)
  • Wilson and Kelling(1982) - broken windows - damage to a neighbourhood has to be put straight away or crimes and delinquency will get out of hand. Leaving one broken window sends the message that you can get away with crime.
  • Wilson and Kelling advocate taking resources and police supervision away from areas where law and order has broken down - once social order has gone it's almost impossible to regain, so it's not worth wasting resources trying. Recommends diverting police to areas which aren't too far gone, to prevent breakdown in those areas.
  • Wilson and Hernstein(1985) - there is a biological predisposition to crime in some individuals - but can be removed with right socialisation. Single parent families more likely to have criminal children.
  • Murray(1997) - the higher the risk of going to prison, the less likely people are to commit crime.
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right realism criticism

  • arguement criminals are biologically different has been rejected by many as coming from theories that have already been discredited.
  • Jones(1998) - investment in run down areas is not a waste. Investment in these areas makes a positive difference to the communities who live there.
  • Matthews(1992) - found no evidence that tolerating broken windows leads to crime.
  • Zero Tolerance policies have led to a big rise in the U.S prison population - e.g "three strikes and you're out" policy which means three serious offences automatically result in life imprisonment.
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Cohen(1966) - 2 ways deviance maintains social ord

Cohen(1966) - 2 ways deviance maintains social order

  • deviance such as prostitution provides a safety valve for releasing tension without threatening social stability
  • deviant behaviour is used as a warning device by society to identify emerging social problems.
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Merton - crime = response to failing societies goa

Merton - crime is a response to failing to achieve socities cultural goals

  • Robert Merton(1968) - American study - vast majority of individuals share same goals but don't have same access to means of achieving them
  • main cultural goals in America = success+wealth. main way of achieving this is education. When someone drops out or is expelled, this creates anomie.
  • individuals who fail at standard route of success innovate to find alternate and deviant means of reaching success and wealth - i.e crime
  • they may also retreat from society - by dropping out, drinking, or taking drugs
  • they may also rebel against society, and engage in protest and revolution
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Functionalists - C+D are useful/necessary

  • crime and deviance have a function in society
  • crime and deviance reinforce value consensus - people unite in outrage
  • Durkheim(1897) - deviancy allows for social change to occure. Society needs some change to remain healthy and stable. If society acts positively to deviant behaviour it starts the process of change toward non-deviant.
  • crime moves from functional to dysfunctional when level of crime is either too high or too low.
  • too much crime threatens social order
  • too little crime and there's no change.
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subcultural theories - values of groups encourage

subcultural theories say cultural values of some groups encourage deviance

  • some deviance is conformity to norms and values - just different ones to mainstream society
  • Cohen(1955) - w/c boys suffered from lack of opportunities to succeed, due to cultural deprivation. Leads to dissatisfaction with their position in society - status frustration
  • tension released by joining subcultures which have different values for achieveing status. Values tend to be the reverse of mainstream society. Behaviour deviant in society becomes the norm within the subculture.
  • Cloward and Ohlin(1960) - combined ideas of Merton + Cohen - believed there was a legitimate and illegitimate opportunity structure 
  • access to illegitimate opportunity structure is no more equal than access to legitimate one. In some areas there may be gangs which provide access to illegitimate opportunity, in others there aren't. Explains why not all frustrated w/c boys turn to crime.
  • Cloward and Ohlin - where there's no access to criminal gangs, frustrated adolescents form violent gangs.
  • those who fail in both legitimate & illegitimate retreat from society
  • subcultural theory criticised for assuming everyone aspires to mainstream goals.
  • Taylor, Walton, Young(1973) - point to hippies who don't share these goals.
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Miller - C+D come from w/c cultural values

  • W.B Miller - lower w/c culture, not subcultural gangs, were what encouraged lawbreaking behaviour
  • values passed from generation to generation to encourage w/c men to break the law
  • delinquents are simply conforming to focal concerns of their culture - focal concerns = thrill seeking+ macho toughness
  • Miller criticised from the start
  • Bordua(1962) - idea that w/c lead their lives isolated from the rest of society is flawed to begin with
  • Millers ideas were supported by New Right
  • Charles Murray(1990,1993) - there's an underclass in British+US society with a distinct culture and value system which encourage deviant behaviour.
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Marxists - C+D consequence of capitalism

  • the rich and powerful decide what is considered deviant and criminal in society to suit their own interests. Most common group convicted is w/c - Marxists say system is rigged against them.
  • Bonger(1916) - robbery+property theft inevitable response to the extremes of wealth and poverty in capitalist society. The individual is forced in to crime by structure of society
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Feminist theories of crime

  • Heidensohn(1989) - malestream sociology is gender blind. Most sutdies are conducted by men who fucsed on male crime and ignored the role of women, either as victims or criminals.
  • official stats suggest women commit fewer crimes, and different types of crime to men
  • Theories trying to explain the differences:
  • sex role theory - women bought up to be passive+conformist
  • Heidensohn(2002) - in patriarchal society women have less chance to commit crime. Can't commit financial fraud if not in charge of large company etc. Women tend to commit crimes relating to home or wife, e.g shoplifting.
  • Westwood(1999) - female identities changing and women adopting more male behaviour patterns. Could be linked to increase in female crime.
  • Carol Smart(1995) - womens' crime has to be looked at as a part of womens' broader experience in society. e.g women are often invisible victims of deomestic violence.
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Interactionists - deviant people not different fro

Interactionists - deviant people are not different from everyone else

  • deviants are not characteristically different from the rest of population. They are deviant becuase their behaviour is labelled deviant by others in society
  • there aren't any universal causes of crime that need to be 'discovered'
  • deviance is relative - varies over time and place and between societies and people

Becker(1963) - deviance is behaviour which is labelled so by others

  • interpretivists like Becker were the first to challenge the assumption that sociologists should focus on what causes people to act in a deviant manner.
  • Interpretivists instead studied how an act or behaviour becomes labelled as deviant by the rest of society - and the consequences of this.
  • The same behaviour gets different reactions based on the social situation. Nudity acceptable at home, deviant in public.
  • The reaction of those around you is what makes you recognise your behaviour as deviant.
  • "deviance is not a quality that lies in the behaviour itself but in the interaction between the person who commits an act, and those who respond to it"
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