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Interpretive Approaches. Phenomenology is a view that emphasises the subjective and introspective nature of our experience. Mainly developed through the work of Schutz it has led to such developments as symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology.

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Interpretive Approaches

Phenomenology is a view that emphasises the subjective and introspective nature of our experience.

Mainly developed through the work of Schutz it has led to such developments as symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology.

These approaches are generally referred to as interpretive and see the deviant as no different from other people .

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Interpretive Approaches

  • Labelling Theory

  • Interactionist approaches have been developed into Labelling Theory by Howard Becker in the 1960’s.

  • The basic ideas of Labelling Theory:-

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Interpretive Approaches

The basic ideas of Labelling Theory:-

  • Deviance (and crime) have to be witnessed by others

  • Certain perceptions of the act have to be made

  • It has to be seen by others as ‘deviant’ and hence labelled

  • The ‘deviant’ has to accept the act and the label

  • Others see the person committing the act as deviant

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Interpretive Approaches

Marijuana Users – Becker 1963

Using Marijuana involves one in the process of learning appropriate behaviour

How to hold it, draw on it etc.

Because it is illegal it has to be done in secret

Users are therefore marginalised from the ‘straight’ world

If caught and prosectuted - could lead to losing jobs etc

Lemert says before being caught -this is primary deviance

- only a few know

After being caught - secondary deviance - this could lead to a ‘master’ status… ‘Addict’ .. ‘Druggy’ etc

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Interpretive Approaches

Criticisms Of Labelling Theory

  • Doesn’t explain why some of us are deviants and others aren’t

    - why do some take drugs in the first place?

  • Ignores the power of some groups to label others

    - Young (1971) drug users in Notting Hill were seen as dirty, lazy, idle scroungers by the Police who represented the establishment

    Glamorises deviance

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Interpretive Approaches

Ken Plummer’s Defence Of Labelling Theory (1979)

Others fail to see that labelling is about examining social processes

- How labels are applied and their consequences etc

Power is not ignored - Becker says we need to look at who makes the rules and how labels are applied in different circumstances

Labelling theory never set out to be a universal explanation

Becker himself feels that it has become higher profiled than he meant it to be

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Interpretive Approaches


Ethnomethodologists follow the interpretive line of looking at how deviant and criminal acts come to be defined as such.

Cicourel 1976 looked at juvenile deviants passing through the police and court systems in California. He referred to a ‘negotiation of justice’ process at each stage.

I.e. some were sent on to the next stage of the system while others were let off with warnings etc. He found that MC youths were more likely to be let off with cautions as the Police believed their parents would help to get them back on ‘the right track’

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Interpretive Approaches


Atkinson 1978 found a similar process of negotiation going on when he looked at how coroners made decisions about whether to classify a death as suicide or not

Such research again shows that statistics in such areas need to be taken with care. They are social creations.

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Women and Crime

  • Upto the 1970’s it could be argued that women were ignored in any sociological analysis of crime.

  • Carol Smart was one of the first sociologists to apply a feminist perspective in this area and once again we have mainly female sociologists looking at a female issue.

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Women and Crime

  • The most consistent and dramatic finding …is not that most criminals are working class but that most criminals are….men! Cain 1989

  • For every 1 woman in prison there are 24 men

  • Men commit more crime?

  • Men commit different types of crime?

  • Women are treated more leniently by the courts?

  • These are some of the issues for sociological analysis

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Women and Crime

The Chivalry Factor

Some argue that women basically get away with more with the Police and the Courts. Mott 1983 found that females were more likely to only get cautions when men received more serious punishments for the same crime.

  • Feminist sociologists have argued that women are treated more harshly, particularly with regards to sex crimes. Female criminals – Hindley, West etc. are seen as much worse than their male counterparts.

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Women and Crime

Heidensohn 1985 – gives reasons for women being ignored

  • Vicarious Identification

    Crime and deviance has been glamorised by male sociologists

    Seen as an exciting area to study - captures the imagination - secret admiration for deviants

    Male Dominance Of Sociology

    Males dominate the subject and have monopolised this area

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Women and Crime

  • Lower recorded levels of female crime

    Less female crime so seen as less important

    Most funding has been given to research on males

  • Malestream theories Of Deviance And Research

    Stereotypical views of women

    Place in the home, little girls are made of ‘sugar and spice’ etc.

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Women and Crime

Pat Carlen 1985– Female Criminality

Carlen et al carried out a study of 39 female prisoners aged 15-46 (mainly WC) who had carried out a range of offences including – theft, fraud, arson, burglary and violence.

Women who break the law come from all types of backgrounds

But those in prison (like men) are mainly from poorer socio-econ groups

The more women deviate from their ‘natural roles’ of good mothers etc - the more they are harshly treated by police and courts

Women are convicted more for prostitution

But same as men for shop lifting

Women do more theft - linked to poverty

More single women parents - theft is for others - children etc rather than for themselves (unlike men)