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UNDERSTANDING CRIME
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  1. UNDERSTANDING CRIME - What is “crime”? - Why does it occur? - What are the best ways of sociologically thinking about and researching It? Prof. David Inglis

  2. LECTURE CONTENTS • Crime in the headlines • Psychological criminology and sociological criminology • The politics of criminology • Functionalist approaches • Neo-functionalist approaches • Sub-culturalist approaches • Labelling theory • Marxist approaches • New Left Realism 10. Evaluation

  3. CRIME IN THE HEADLINES • Crime as a political football • Rising crime rates (?) • Regular scandals and outrages • “Getting tough on crime” • More “policemen on the street”

  4. Psychology of individual criminal Psychology “defective” Cause of crime = individual’s mentality Psychological Criminology

  5. Psychological Criminology HANS EYSENCK - “neurotic extrovert” JAMES Q. WILSON & RICHARD HERRNSTEIN - young males naturally aggressive • thus “naturally” oriented towards criminal acts NORMAL / ABNORMAL

  6. Sociological Criminology • Social reasons for criminal acts • Patterns of crime • Cause of crime = social conditions (varies between approaches)

  7. Sociological Criminology • Social relationsshape individuals and their actions • Social contexts not individuals alone • Society defines what is “ABNORMAL” NO “abnormal” individuals “Abnormal” is a label

  8. The Politics of Criminology • Highly controversial area • Tied up with government policies • Psychological views: right-wing policies • Sociological views: left-wing policies

  9. WHAT IS “CRIME”? Deviance – “any social behaviour which departs from that regarded as “normal” or socially acceptable within a society or social context” Jary & Jary, Collins Dictionary of Sociology • Breaking of social norms • Breaking of informal social rules • Backed up by sanctions - collective morality and opinion

  10. WHAT IS “CRIME”? Crime – “an infraction of the criminal law” Jary & Jary, Collins Dictionary of Sociology Breaking of legal rules Breaking of formal social rules “Formal” = written down, regarded as “official” Backed up by sanctions enforced by bureaucracies • Criminal justice system • Policing • Courts • Prisons

  11. WHAT IS “CRIME”? 1. What counts as “deviance” and “crime” varies: • from society to society • over time (e.g. homosexuality) 2. What counts as NORMAL and ABNORMAL is variable 3. Not all deviance is regarded as crime e.g. cross-dressing 4. Not all crime is regarded as deviance e.g. speeding

  12. FUNCTIONALIST APPROACHES • Crime is a social institution like any other (economy, politics, religion, etc.) • Crime is primarily about MORALITY • Crime is - socially necessary - socially useful (functional) 4. Approach - theorising

  13. FUNCTIONALIST APPROACHES Emile Durkheim • Each part of a society (a social institution) contributes to the smooth-running operation of the whole society • Each of the parts must work together effectively with all the other parts • Crime helps keep the whole society functioning

  14. 1) Cannot have morality without deviance Cannot have law without crime (Black / white – necessary contrast) 2) MUST have crime: • Clarifies what is “good” and “bad” 3) MUST identify deviant minority • To remind majority what acceptable behaviour is 4) TRIALS - “ceremonies of degradation” • produce strong collective feelings • reproduce shared sense of morality

  15. Kingsley Davis - Prostitution • Particular crimes are socially necessary • Nuclear family units – breeding & rearing children • Male ‘anarchic sexuality’ • Prostitution = safety-valve

  16. ISSUES & PROBLEMS: 1) Theorising about “society’s needs” Are there such things? Macro-perspective / victims’ points of view 2) Society requires crime & deviance - murder, paedophilia, rape, etc. These are socially functional Is this true? Davis on prostitution – male bias? 3) HOW MUCH crime does a society require? When is there too much crime? When does crime become socially DYSfunctional?

  17. NEO-FUNCTIONALIST APPROACHES 1) Extension and refinement of original functionalist views 2) Don’t assume crime is always socially functional Crime can be socially dysfunctional 3) Crime happens when different parts of society are not properly coordinated with each other 4) Approach - theorising

  18. Robert Merton Anomie Theory (Strain Theory) Writing in 1930s: 1) Goals 2) Means of achieving goals The American Dream: Goals: wealth & high social status

  19. Merton’s Anomie Theory Legitimate means: • Educational success • Hard work Illegitimate means: • Criminal activities • Gangsterism • Organised crime

  20. WHY do people turn to illegitimate means (criminal activities)? - When strong “anomie” is experienced i) Anomie = blocked aspirations ii) High aspirations (American Dream) VERSUS Actual social situation (lowest social class, poverty, poor schooling, etc.) “Strain” between aspirations (culture) and actuality (low social position) iii) Legitimate means closed Only illegitimate means open

  21. 1930s gangsters Abnormal or typical? High aspirations versus Low social position (poor, immigrants)  Turn to illegitimate means Al Capone

  22. ‘Conformists’: law-abiding majority • Accept society’s goals • Use legitimate means ‘Innovators’: law-breakers • Accept society’s goals • Use illegitimate means Rational response to the situation Crime is society’s fault • Everybody given high aspirations - Some people not given opportunities to pursue them legally

  23. Merton – Issues & Problems • Theory rather than empirically proven 2. EVERYTHING explained in terms of “anomie” (blocked aspirations) - Other reasons? 3. Only explains certain kinds of crime - Murder as “business” / not murder for other reasons

  24. SUB-CULTURALIST APPROACHES • Crime as a product of sub-culture membership • “Deviant” and “criminal” sub-cultures • Sub-cultures exist separately from, and in opposition to, “mainstream” society and culture • Must explore fine-grained details of life in a sub-culture Approach - ethnography

  25. Albert Cohen (1950s) - Working class boys - Frustrated with social position - Rejection of middle class culture - Sub-cultural norms of defiance Cloward & Ohlin (1960s) - Working class boys - Strongly accept middle class values - Have been encouraged to have high aspirations - But are frustrated by social position  crime

  26. W. B. Miller (1950s) Middle class culture VERSUS (Lower) working class culture - Law-abiding / Trouble - Refinement / Toughness & Masculinity - Self-control / Autonomy & freedom Young males over-conform

  27. Issues & Problems • Most crime is not committed by gangs • Assumes strong sense of membership - But drifting in and out of a subculture 3) Over-emphasises the gulf between sub-cultures and mainstream society and culture - Constructs a big divide between “normal” and “abnormal” behaviour - What is “mainstream” anyway? - Everyone is “deviant” in some way; depends on whether they are labelled that way or not

  28. LABELLING THEORY • No action is naturally deviant or criminal No person is naturally deviant or criminal 2. It depends on whether they have been labelled that way by: - Society as a whole - Powerful groups within it - police, courts 3. Approach – symbolic interactionism / ethnography / life-histories 4. Sympathy for “underdogs”

  29. Howard Becker “Outsiders” (1963) Edwin Lemert • Primary deviance • Breaking norms • Secondary deviance - Labelled as a “criminal”

  30. Secondary deviance: 1) Stigmatisation 2) Deviance amplification: • See oneself as a “criminal” • Engage in further “criminal” acts 3) Retrospective labelling 4) “Deviant career” - Vicious circle

  31. Issues & Problems 1. Does not explain WHY crimes occur - Does not look at individual’s motivations - Only looks at society’s responses to crime 2. Assumes individual gets locked into deviant career (may be the opposite?)

  32. MARXIST APPROACHES Karl Marx: 1. Law serves ruling class interests • protects middle classes & ruling groups 2. Law particularly penalises & punishes working classes 3. Bias in law goes unrecognised 4. Approach – theory / some ethnography

  33. Taylor, Walton, Young (1973) The New Criminology 1. Middle class crimesgo relatively - undetected(e.g. tax evasion) - unpunished(e.g. corporate crime) 2. Middle class deviants oftenundetected or let off lightly - likely not to be labelled as ‘criminals’

  34. 3. Working class criminals • Likely to be negatively labelled • Rebels against capitalist system • Crime a disguised form of protest against social inequalities • “Robin Hood” figures

  35. Issues & Problems • Explains all crimes in terms of social class & capitalist society • paedophilia? sex crimes? 2. Overly romantic notion of criminals as working class heroes • Most crime (violence, theft, etc.) occurs WITHIN the working classes

  36. NEW LEFT REALISM 1980s onwards Developed as a response to Marxist approaches Increases in crime HAVE occurred Legitimate public concerns about crime

  37. 1) Need more emphasis on victims of crime 2) Approach: • can’t trust official statistics • many crimes go unreported • Use “victim surveys” 3) Particularly high crime rates in deprived inner cities - deprived groups suffer most crime

  38. 4) Causes: • Not poverty alone • Poverty PLUS other forms of social exclusion • Race and ethnicity 5) Pragmatic approach • Formulate better crime policies • From ‘military policing’ to community policing • Locally-elected police authorities

  39. Issues & Problems 1. Uncritical and naïve? Accept views of “rising crime rates” put about by government, police and media 2. Sold out to the system? 3. Over-emphasis on street crime and thefts - Ignore white collar crime, corporate crime

  40. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT …. 1) Consider both the theoretical and methodological aspects of each approach Theory = connecting crime to wider society Methodology = research methods used How good (or not) are these? 2) Which sorts of crimes are best explained by which approaches? 3) Which seem the strongest and weakest approaches overall? 4) Can different approaches be successfully combined?