The social construction of crime and deviance

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The social construction of crime

Newburn - crime is basically a label that is attached to certain forms of behaviour which are prohibited by the state, and have some legal penalty against them.While crime therefore seems to be easy to define, as the law states what a criminal act is, there is no act that is in itself criminal. An act only becomes a crime when a particular label of 'crime' has been applied to it, and even very similar acts can be treated very differently depending on the interpretations of the law enforcement agencies, and the context in which the act takes place in. For example, killing someone is not in itself a criminal act: if it happens during a knife fight outside a pub in Britain, it is likely to be defined as criminal, but not if that knife fight is with an enemy soldier in wartime. Changing social attitudes can also mean acts once seen as criminal are no longer regarded as such, and laws are consequently changed over time. The most recent example of this is the altered and more flexible legal position on the level of 'reasonable force' people can use to defend themselves when faced with an intruder in their homes. As Newburn points out, even if crime is defined as whatever the criminal law says it is, the fact that the criminal law varies from country to country, and changes over time, reinforces the idea that there is nothing that is in itself criminal. Even with an act that appears to be against the law, the police and other criminal justice agencies have to interpret - or make a judgement - about whether it was prohibited. If the police do decide to define the act as a criminal one, that does not necessarily mean they will do anything about it, in terms of recording the offence or prosecuting the offender. Crime is therefore socially constructed because there is not act that is, in itself, criminal or deviant - it largely depends on how other members of society see and define it. Crime also covers a very wide range of behaviour, from relatively trivial acts like pilfering from work to very serious acts like **** and murder. It is extremely difficult to develop explanations that account for the vast diversity of acts that are labelled as criminal, since it is not difficult to see that the reasons for shoplifting are likely to be different from those for premeditated murder.

The social construction of deviance 

Deviance includes both criminal and non-criminal acts, but it is difficult to pin down what members of…

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