Four Studies Relating to Crime and Deviance Essay Example
Four Studies Relating to Crime and Deviance Essay Example

Four Studies Relating to Crime and Deviance Essay Example

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  • Pages: 12 (3124 words)
  • Published: September 1, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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The purpose of this essay is to describe four studies relating to crime and deviance - each from a different perspective. The Functionalist, Marxist, Symbolic Interactionist and New left realism perspective on crime and deviance will be described. Functionalist, Albert K. Cohen's study of the delinquent subculture and Symbolic interactionist, Howard Becker's labelling theory will be evaluated with the intent to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective.

Crime and deviance are contentious subjects and consequently there are various competing theories, which attempt to extract the essence of both crime and deviance. When evaluating these theories - a coalition of all perspectives produces an in depth understanding of this topic. A definition of crime and deviance can be explained in relative terms, which are dependant on any particular society's interpretation of crime or de


viance. Cultures differ from one society to another and the general consensus of right and wrong within society can also evolve throughout time.

For example, in the 1950's it would have been considered deviant to have sex before marriage. Gradually throughout time this has become acceptable. Crime can also be considered in the same respect. For instance, parents, up until recently had the right to discipline their children by 'smacking', this is now an infraction of the law. (Haralambos, 2000, page 349) However, the foundations in which all societies are moulded upon are the generally agreed values and norms or culture of that society. Once these have been established it is possible to determine a criminal offence or deviant act within that society.

Crime is therefore an infraction of the law. Laws are determined by the political system, which, dependant on the sociological perspective

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are viewed as a reflection of societal beliefs or ideological beliefs of the ruling elite. Deviance is an act that departs from the norms of society - this is known as societal deviance. Situational deviance is the departure from the norms of a particular group. Deviance within a particular group can be any act that does not conform to the norms generated by the group itself. (Haralambos, 2000, page 349)

The functionalist perspective, popular from the 1930's - 50's, views crime and deviance as inevitable within society and regards the social control mechanisms (police, courts) as a necessary component to maintain social order. Functionalists also regard a moderate amount of crime and deviance as a contribution to the maintenance of society. Durkheim (1938) viewed some crime as "an anticipation of the morality of the future". (Haralambos, 2000, page 356) If the social structures become intolerant to any crime or deviance - society would become stagnant.

Ironically, crime can therefore offer positive improvement within society. As a result of crime - the method of implementing and enforcing the law has evolved and improved. Crime highlights to all the institutions within society the areas of concern and poses which new policies need to be adopted to prevail over these problems. In addition crime improves social solidarity and promotes 'team spirit' among the population - as society binds together in their adverse reaction to criminal acts.

Crime has also created a vast amount of employment within the judicial system, police force and prison services. (Haralambos, 2000, page 354) Albert K. Cohen's theory can be viewed as a structural perspective of crime and deviance as he suggests that the social structure dictates

the behaviour of an individual. Cohen's (1955) study of delinquent subculture extends an insight into the reasons why some juveniles deviate from the generally accepted guidelines of society. Cohen was interested in the development of the delinquent subculture and its reasons for existence.

He found that delinquency was more dominant in males situated in the lower class segment of society and its most common conclusion was the 'juvenile gang'. (Haralambos, 2000, page 357) Cohen viewed the creation of the subculture as a collective response to adolescents' low ranking position in the class structure. The difference between classes can often indicate the amount of opportunities available to the adolescent. Upper and middle class families are thought to have the means to succeed using the accepted methods. Whereby the lower class adolescent will rarely be given those legitimate opportunities.

Cohen suggests that usually class differentials and the socialization process are the cause of such subcultures, as residents within the lower class society are inflicted by cultural deprivation and therefore do not have the facilities to compete against the privileged upper and middle class. (Haralambos, 2000, page 357) Cohen believed that lower working class boys originally hold the same "culturally defined goals" as mainstream society. It is the realisation that these goals are unattainable to them that creates 'status frustration' and a sense of rejection.

Cohen suggests that to address this frustration new goals are created as a way of achieving some form of status. Thus the norms and values of mainstream society are rejected and attainable norms and values are produced which redefine the goals. The result is the delinquent subculture, which as Cohen stated "takes its norms from the

larger society but turns them upside down". For Cohen the subculture offers positive rewards pertaining to status, however the subculture will impose certain criteria on its members in order to gain this recognition and prestige. (Haralambos, 2000, page 357)

Cohen expressed that the actions of the delinquent subculture often demonstrate animosity for those able to participate legitimately within society, thus rebelling against an unjust system. This can be considered as reaction formation as delinquents do not have access to this lifestyle and consequently rebel against it. However he also implies that this is not the only reason for defiant behaviour. As the values of the subculture are in opposition to the consensus values - status is therefore offered in the form of excelling in criminal acts and deviant behaviour.

Acts such as theft are not carried out specifically to achieve monetary rewards - theft can provide an opportunity to excel in the delinquent subcultures adaptation of mainstream goals in which value is placed upon a rebellious attitude with regards to conforming on any level. (Haralambos, 2000, page 357) Cohen's study provides an insight into the formation of the delinquent subcultures and an explanation for crime and deviance. He believes subcultures are the product of the search for status, which has been blocked by legitimate means as a result of their position in the class structure.

Most sociologists agree that all individuals require status. However, Cohen's theory is based on the fundamental assumption that there is consensus in society - that all individuals originally have the same values and norms. A functional definition of crime and deviance are therefore based on this assumption. Within some areas of the lower

class segment delinquency may not be seen as deviant - the socialisation process can be different throughout classes establishing different values and norms.

Steven Box (1981) suggested that not all youths accept the mainstream standards of success - it is dependant on the values the individual has which will determine their method of gaining status. Cohen's explanation for the reasons crime and deviance occur offers a valid conclusion for the unequal nature of the social structure. However he does not explain why some delinquent subcultures eventually rejoin society and become law-abiding citizens whilst remaining in the same lower class stratification. For Karl Marx (1848), crime and deviance is simply a product of poverty within the unequal setting of the capitalist society.

This can be viewed structural perspective as it presumes that an individuals' behaviour is dictated by the structure of society. The Marxist perspective became popular in the 1970's and has been developed significantly over the years - various sociologists have illustrated their interpretation using the fundamental Marxist concepts to provide an understanding of crime and deviance. (Moore, 1991, page 68) According to Marxists, laws and the definition of deviance are dictated by the state - a state, which only represents and serves to protect the ruling class ideology.

The process of ideological indoctrination is evident throughout all social structures of society, which all work collectively to support and promote the capitalist system and ruling class values and norms. Capitalism puts extreme importance on personal gain and wealth as opposed to collective well-being. William Chambliss (1976) suggested that, "greed, self interest and hostility are generated by the capitalist society". From this viewpoint, crime and deviance seem to be

a natural response to those within the competitive, wealth obsessed capitalist system. (Haralambos, 2000, page 381)

Marxists maintain that crime and deviance occurs frequently in upper, middle and lower class stratum. Marxists deem Law enforcement within the capitalist society as prejudice towards lower class groups, the younger generation and ethnic minorities, thus people within these categories are more likely to be arrested, convicted and sent to prison. (Moore 1991, 68) "Policing the Crisis", a study carried out by Stuart Hall et al (1979), from a Marxist perspective, suggests that within the capitalist system, the dominant ideological hold the ruling class have over society must be maintained for capitalism to survive.

In the early 1970's Britain was suffering from rising economic problems and an increase in public disorder. This included a significant increase in worker strikes - which could indicate a crisis for capitalism. (Moore, 1996, 75) According to Hall et al, this 'crisis' could have produced the phenomenon now known as 'mugging' - this is simply the American term used to describe any form of street crime involving threatening behaviour or violence. Hall explains that until the 1970's mugging was unheard of in the UK.

However, by 1972 the media had reported a vast amount of 'muggings' particularly with regards to attacks on the older generation - emphasising that this was cause for concern. The media also implied that muggings were a more likely to be carried out by young black males. (Moore, 1996, 75) In 1972, the Home Secretary confirmed this was a significant problem by showing that there had been a 129% increase in 'muggings' over the past four years. Both the media and Parliament were

advocating a strict policing method in the inner cities, where this problem was said to be the worst.

In addition, the police were to "crackdown" on the groups of people most likely to be involved. Society at this point was led to believe that the morality of Britain in general was disintegrating. (Moore, 1996, 75) This 'moral panic' induced by the newspapers in their response to information from governmental statistics was in fact a distortion of the truth. The Home Secretary's figure of 129% increase in 'muggings' was collated from all forms of street crime - from violent to minor. In reality there had been no significant increase in crime.

Hall argued that this 'moral panic' had not materialised from concern for the British public - but rather from a manipulative self-preservation tactic of the capitalist system. (Moore, 1996, 75) Hall suggests that street crime had been a long existing problem extending back to the 19th century - a problem which had significantly increased during the 1950's and mid 60's but yet had not been highlighted and portrayed as a 'moral panic' then. Hall viewed the government and media's sudden preoccupation with street crime as an excuse to legitimise an increase in police power particularly with regards to black youths from lower class areas.

This type of method 'singles out' this group - which in turn can produce an aggressive response to police authority - legitimising oppressive police control. It also serves to re-establish faith in the government and re-asserts control of the masses. (Moore, 1996, page 75) The symbolic interaction perspective became popular in the 1960's and altered the focus of investigation for crime and deviance. Up

until this perspective materialised attention was concentrated in the social structure for an explanation for crime and deviance. Symbolic interaction suggests that it is society itself that creates deviance - social action.

Blummer (1969) indicated that human behaviour is not the result of social forces. He expressed that self-conscious nature of all individuals ultimately determines behaviour - individuals have a one-sided perception of any given situation and this determines their response and actions. (Sociology in Focus, page 475) Possibly the most influential symbolic interactionist is Howard S. Becker - author of "Outsiders", which illustrates his labelling theory. Becker (1963) defines deviance - not as a particular act - but rather an interpretation of that act from the viewpoint of others.

For example, murder is deemed as a deviant act - but in some situations it is considered to be accepted in such cases as war. It is therefore not the act itself but rather other peoples' perception of the act and in which context the act is displayed, which will define it as deviant or acceptable. From this perspective it is society itself that creates and defines deviance. (Sociology in Focus, page 476) Becker suggested that labelling can occur as a result of the stereotypical perceptions others have of certain individuals such as the unemployed, ethnic minorities and youths.

Discrimination against individuals within these categories suggests that they are more likely to be labelled than middle or upper class individuals. Becker's theory emphasises the importance of being publicly labelled as it is possible the label may consume the individuals' identity - it becomes the 'master status', which disallows the individual to be anything other than the label. This

is viewed as a product of societal reaction to the individuals' behaviour - society only sees the label and disregards other aspects of that person. The individual may start to view themselves as others do and act accordingly.

This is known as self-fulfilling prophecy. (Sociology in Focus, page 476) Becker illustrates this point in outlining the treatment of ex-convicts who are often denied the opportunity to work legitimately after incarceration. Rejection from society may cause further deviant behaviour or instigate participation in organised deviant groups. Joining together with others in a similar situation may relieve the individual of the stress associated with being labelled or justify and rationalise deviant behaviour. Similarly drug users are often deemed unemployable and consequently develop illegal habits.

Becker did also point out that this process is not inevitable - not every individual that has been labelled will change his or her self-concept according to the label. (Haralambos, 2000, page 374) Becker's theory has provided an in-depth explanation for the process of labelling and the damage and consequences that labelling can have on an individual. Becker also points out that stereotyping is an important aspect of the labelling process. He highlights discrimination in the process of law enforcement and the contradictory methods of dismissing middle and upper class crime.

Becker's relative definition of has been subject to criticism. Taylor, Walton and Young (1973) have argued that deviance is not defined by the society - but rather by the actions of those who break social rules. For example, they suggest that some deviant and criminal behaviour will always be seen as such; premeditated murder of a child for sordid reasons will always be considered criminal

and deviant regardless of the social audience. In this respect deviance can be defined and can be identified not just from the perception of others in a specific context but in any context.

Another criticism of the labelling theory is that it does not explain why individuals are deviant to begin with before being labelled, not all individuals are deviant as the result of a label. For example, terrorists are not inspired to be deviant as the result of being labelled - but rather motivated by political or religious beliefs. (Haralambos, 2000, page 378) New left realism emerged in the 1980's and could be described as the medium between the 'left idealists' and the 'right realists'.

Both have been accused of ignoring or distorting the nature of crime. Left realism provides a realistic alternative explanation to the reason that crime is committed - whilst acknowledging there is a real problem. (Haralambos, 2000, page 391) Left realists consider themselves as socialists who advocate the reformation of society as opposed to revolution. As such they do not present alternative policies on law and order because they do not believe that justice for society can be achieved without radical transformation within the structure.

They do however promote realistic proposals within the current framework of society to, in effect, give a voice to the private citizen. (Haralambos, 2000, page 391) Left realism's main advocate Jock Young (1993) points out that there has been an alarming increase in crime since the Second World War. Having acknowledged this as a real problem he insists that being tough on crime does not necessarily mean being tough on the criminal. Changing social factors and ensuring the

criminal justice system is as it should be, could alter crime rates dramatically.

Haralambos, 2000, page 391) John Lea and Jock Young deliver an explanation of this in 'What is to be Done about Law and Order'. Lea and Young (1984) characterised crime as a result of 'relative deprivation' as opposed to absolute deprivation. Unemployment and poverty are not deterministic features of crime. (Haralambos, 2000, page 393) Relative deprivation is a feeling of being deprived in comparison to other similar groups or when an individuals expectations of life are not actualised. Relative deprivation is not absolute deprivation.

For example, the individual may have food and clothes, but in comparison to the quality of others' possessions may not be viewed as good enough. According to Lea and Young anybody can feel deprived therefore relative deprivation can occur throughout all classes - which may account for 'white-collar' crime. For white-collar crime to be committed the individual must be in employment and is therefore by no means deprived. However, in comparison to others the individual may feel deprived.

Lea and Young highlighted that it is the feeling of deprivation, which is important. Crime has become more evident in western societies which could be as a result of advertising, which emphasises the importance of wealth and consumer purchases. For example, fashion trends change constantly and importance is placed on dressing accordingly. Lea and Young also view marginalisation as a possible explanation for crime. Marginal groups can be categorised as those who lack political representation and clearly defined goals, this constitutes the young unskilled working class, who are more susceptible to marginalisation.

Lea and Young argue that the marginal groups are more likely to

be involved in violence and riots as a substitute for organised politics. Statistics indicate that working class crime is usually carried out on individuals in the same social strata - this is known as intraclass crime. (Haralambos, 2000, page 393) This is a realistic alternative to the extreme views of other perspectives, which can ignore other aspects to deliver their points. New left realism incorporates the Marxist perspective and adapts it to modern society - detailing attainable possibilities for future society.

Sociologists from various perspectives, consensus - conflict or social action - contribute to the understanding and explanation of crime and deviance within society. Depending on the perspective sociologists view any particular society from, will usually predict their explanation of an individuals compliance with these common conventions or deviation from the accepted path within society. A collaboration of all perspectives extends a greater understanding of crime and deviance rather than using one perspective alone.

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