TOPIC 1: Deviance and control theories

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The normative definition

  • Deviance = 'behaviour which differs from accepted standards of society'
  • Found in functionalist view
  • Norms = shared values/ways of behaving
  • Deviant = breaks shared values
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The relativistic approach

  • Societies are too complex to have clear set of shared values
  • Conflict of interest - diversity of beliefs/values that characterise modern societies
  • Interactionist/labelling approach = most important values are result of complex interaction between different individuals
  • Marxism = values of society dominated by/reflect interests of ruling class
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The functionalist view of crime and deviance

  • Society = essentially consensual
  • Durkheim = society shares set of core values --> 'collective conscience'
  • The more behaviour differs, the more likely it is to be viewed as deviant

Two sides of crime and deviance:

  • Positive side = helped society change, remain dynamic
  • Negative side = too much crime leading to social disruption


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Functionalists: the positive and negative aspects

Positive aspects of crime

  • Durkheim = crime is inevitable
  • Slightest slip would be regarded as serious offence
  • Certain amount of crime served useful/necessary purpose in society
  • Reaffirming boundaries = resulting court ceremony/publicity publicly reaffirms existing values --> public punishments
  • Changing values = degree of sympathy, change in values, change in law to reflect changing values
  • Social cohesion = entire community draws together in shared outrage (with horrific crimes), community strengthened

Negative aspects of crime

  • Durkheim = crime becomes dysfunctional when rate is unusually high
  • Anomie = collective conscience weakened in periods of great social change/stress, people free from social control, look after own social interests --> crime rates increase
  • Merton (1938) = Durkheim was too vague --> socially approved goals not available to substantial proportion of population, people turn to crime and deviance
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Relativist approaches

  • Sees crime as imposition of one group's values into law over values of another group

Interactionism (labelling theory)

  • Becker = different groups competing to have particular values elevated to position of being passed into law --> may/may not reflect views of population
  • Moral enterpreneurs = successful in promoting values, have them made into law
  • Media creates moral panic --> e.g. politicians/the public clamour for intro of laws which reflect interests of moral enterpreneurs


  • 2 opposing sets of values - those of ruling class and proletariat
  • Ruling class successfully imposes values on society --> control over institutions
  • Values viewed as deviant and deviant/illegal = reflections of power of ruling class
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Social control

  • Inevitable that society has some form of boundaries --> ensures acceptable norms of behaviour are adhered to
  • Only restricted number of values/norms are acceptable = provides predictability

Informal social control

  • Exercised on daily basis in daily interactions

Formal social control

  • Exercised by the criminal justice system
  • People being to pursue own selfish interests - when social control breaks down
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Informal social control - individuals

  • Hirschi (1969) = people look after own short term interests if people not controlled by shared social values
  • 4 crucial bonds:
  • 1) Attachment = caring about other people's opinions/values
  • 2) Commitment = personal investments
  • 3) Involvement = time and space
  • 4) Belief = strong sense of obeying rules
  • Greater attachment to society = lower crime level
  • Improving factors will lower crime levels
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Informal social control - the family

Farringon and West (1990) = 411 working class males, studied until late 30s:

  • Extent of offending - 1/3 were recorded offenders (by age 25)
  • Concentration of offending - less than 6% accounted for over 50% of convictions
  • Offenders more likely to come from homes with poor parenting/poor/single parent families
  • Failure within family to provide socialisation can lead to crime - supports Hirschi

Dennis and Erdos (1993) = decline in role/presence of fathers weakened external patterns of social control, undermined internalized forms of social control

  • Changing role of women in family - increasingly dominant
  • Increase in fathers leaving families - young males do not have role models, no discipline
  • Cohabitation - values/commitments not fixed but flexible, weakens idea of strong central values, strengthens view of morals being relative/negotiable

Scraton (2002) = rejects Dennis, accuses him of mixing up moral arguments/letting personal opinions affect interpretation of results

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Informal social control - the community

Charles Murray (1990):

  • Increase in 'underclass' over previous 30 years
  • Young people who have no desire for employment, prefer to live off benefits, have range of short-term sexual liaisons, have children born outside serious relationships
  • Children of 'underclass' brought up with little/no concern for values
  • Now generation of young people who do not share values of wider society --> more likely to commit crime
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Informal social control - crime and communitariani

Etzioni (1993):

  • Changes in modern society pushed decision making further away from local communities
  • Discouraged from tackling anti-social behaviour
  • People losing interest in controlling community
  • Social problems sorted out by local people
  • Communitarianism popular with New Labour government
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Informal social control - social capital

Putnam (2000):

  • Huge decline in communities/community organisations over last 20 years
  • Individualism/rise of TV/social mobility = contributed to fragmentation of social groups
  • Communities with low levels of social capital --> higher rates of crime

Portes (1998):

  • Criticises idea of social capital arguing communities for some means exclusion for others
  • Racism/vigilantism/gang conflicts results from integrated community
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Criticisms for informal social control

  • People break law because of lack of control from communities/families = agreement in society about core values --> Marxists reject this

Scraton (1997):

  • Deviance = indication of class conflict
  • Reflecting attempts of working class to resist oppression of ruling class

Matthews and Young (1992):

  • Decline of community controls/resulting increase in crime = directly harmful for working class

Box (1983):

  • Agrees with right-wing writers
  • Release from social control propels people into committing crime
  • More likely to commit crime when released from control --> can see unfairness of system
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Formal social control


  • CJS looks after interests of society
  • Societies can only exist if there are common core values
  • Other values exist that do not have widespread acceptance
  • CJS reaffirm boundaries, demonstrate to population which activities will be deemed illegal
  • Law reflects consensus/maintains solidarity


  • Mechanistic/less complex societies = punishment based on retribution, demonstrates society's abhorrence
  • More complex societies = shifts away from public punishment, force person to make amends


  • CJS operates for benefit of working class
  • Any opposition to capitalism quashed
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Late modern perspective

Foucault (1977):

  • More subtle forms of punishment in late modern societies
  • Discipline became extended/diffused --> no longer haphazard, more agents of social control
  • People police themselves
  • State seeks to control through minds of population --> e.g. cognitive therapy
  • People always feel like state is watching them
  • Circular-shaped prison (panopticon) --> allowed officer to sit in centre of prison and watch all prisoners, prisoners unable to see officer
  • Never knew when being watched, ensure to always behave as prison wanted

Stan Cohen (1985):

  • Penetration = law expected to penetrate through society, conformity/control part of job that institutions engaged in
  • Size and density = millions of people working for state, range of control agencies increasing, process larger numbers of people
  • Identity and visibility = growth in subtle forms of punishment, e.g. CCTV --> state handed over part of monopoly of controlling people to private organisations, growth in private security
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