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The social construction of crime:

·         For Becker, a deviant is simply someone to whom the label has been successfully applied, and deviant behaviour is simply behaviour that people so label.

·         This leads labelling theorists to look at how and why rules are made. They are particularly interested in the role of moral entrepreneurs. These are people who lead a moral ’crusade’ to change the law in the belief that it will benefit those to whom it is applied. However, Becker  argues that this new law invariably has two effects:

·         The creation of a new group of ‘outsiders’- outlaws or deviants who break the new rule.

·         The creation or expansion of a social control agency (police) to enforce the rule and impose labels on offenders.

·         Becker notes that social control agencies themselves may campaign for a change in the law to increase their own power. Thus it is not inherent harmfulness of a particular behaviour that leads to new laws being created but rather the efforts of powerful individuals and groups to redefine that behaviour as unacceptable.

·         Platt argues the idea of ‘juvenile delinquency’ being created by an upper class campaign.

·         Established juveniles as a separate category of offenders and created own courts with extended power to give harsher sentences for crimes such as truancy and sexual promiscuity.

Who gets labelled?

Whether a person is arrested, charged and convicted depends on factors such as:

·         Their interactions with agencies of social control e.g. police

·         Their appearance, background and personal biography

·         The situation and circumstances of the offence.

·         Piliavin & Briar found that police arrested youths based on appearance which lead to assumptions of character.

Cicourel- the negotiation of justice

·         Cicourel found that officers’ typifications- their common sense theories or stereotypes of what the typical delinquent is like- led them to concentrate on certain ‘types’. This resulted in law enforcement showing a class bias, in that working class areas and people fitted the police typifications most closely. Cicourel found that other agents of social control within the criminal justice system reinforced this bias.

·         In Cicourel’s view, justice is not fixed but negotiable. E.g. when a middle class youth is arrested, he is less likely to be charged because his background doesn’t fit with the police’s ‘typical delinquent’.  

Topic vs resource

·         Cicourel's study has implications for the use we make of official crime statistics. He argues that these statistics do not give us a valid picture of the patterns of crime and cannot be used as a resource. Instead we should treat them as a topic for sociologists to investigate.

Method link: Using observation

·         Cicourel used participant and non-participant observations

·         As an observer, went undercover as a police officer on patrol and controlled court cases.

·         As a participant, went undercover as a


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