Crime has become a major area of public and political debate, and is often seen as a sign of underlying problems in society related to inequality, social deprivation and social class, age, gender and race. As commonly understood, crime includes many different kinds of activities such as theft, robbery, corruption, assault, fraud, rape and murder. So the simplest way of defining it is to see it as "an act or omission prohibited and punished by law." (Collins English Dictionary 1997:203)
To explain crime, sociologists looked at the strains in the social structure, at the development of deviant or abnormal subcultures and at the process of social change and urban growth. Some of these theories will be discussed.
Much Sociological work was informed by a Functionalist approach that saw harmony and conformity as the norm for a healthy society (Fulcher and Scott 1999). It was seen as a physical organism with all parts paying a function in mainstreaming the whole, and law reflected a concensus over what was right and wrong. Crime was therefore dysfunctional because it threatened the stability of that society therefore indicating a social problem. Sociologists looked at strains within the social structure at the development of subcultures and the effects on social change and urban growth. Not all however, shared the view that crime was pathological. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995) Durkheim related crime to the effects of rapid social and economic change and argued that a certain level of crime was normal and indeed functional. Using official statistics, he determined that levels of crime did exist in all societies, so was therefore normal. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995). Downes and Rock (1995) criticised this, because seeing crime as functional to society may neglect its severe effects on individuals, families and communities. (Croell 1998) cal1966, please do not redistribute this paper. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this paper elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned.
Durkheim's notion of Anomie was related to the rapid economic change as a result of industrialisation. There was now a new division of labour, and small communities broke up, as factories were located in the towns and cities. This weakened the values of that society resulting in a state of anomie; they regarded their social expectations as unimportant so instead looked after their own interests at the expense of others. (Croall 1998)
Other theories that attempted to link crime to urban growth can be seen in the work of the Chicago School. They produced graphic descriptions of life among the urban poor, and in the process introduced the notion of the criminal area. Cities were associated with crime, but it was in certain parts of the city that crime and deviance seemed to be of a high level. (Reader 1996) In one study, Shaw and McKay (1942) claimed that Chicago was divided into distinctive zones. They suggested that as each successive wave of immigrants arrived in the city, they were forced into the cheapest and least desirable zone. This was the zone of transition, the zone right next door to the business district.
When they examined the official crime statistics of the city, they found that crime in the transition zone was higher than any other residential area. This was explained by the high population turn over which produced a state of social disorganisation; and so crime could flourish as a result. (Tierney 1996) They later extended their explanations and introduced the concept of cultural transmission. Crime had become the cultural norm, transmitted from one generation to the next as part of the normal socialisation pattern and could be found in the most socially disorganised and poorest zones of the city. (Tierney 1996).
In support of this theory, Mays (1954) also found strong evidence of this. After interviewing boys from a Liverpool University Settlement Project, he concluded that the area possessed a particular culture in which shoplifting, theft and vandalism were accepted as normal by the local people. (Moore 1996:50) T.P. Morris (1957) on the other hand drew different conclusions. From his study of Croydon, he found that there were small areas of high delinquency rates but could find no evidence that those in these areas held a coherent set of values which were any different from that of the mainstream society. Instead what Morris (1957) suggested, was that the concentration of delinquents was the result of the council's policy of housing problem families together. These estates had the lowest rents so the poorest tended to choose them. The outcome was those people who were likely to become delinquent were housed in the same area. (Morris 1996)
Although Shaw and McKay's work has been influential, both the theory and research methods had been criticised. The reliance of official police and court records to measure delinquency in a given area has been criticised by Robison (1936). In her study based on the records of both criminal justice and social welfare agencies, she found that juvenile delinquency was evenly distributed through the city, and not just in one area as Shaw and McKay suggested. (Vold and Bernard 1986) However, their new cultural transmission theory was the starting point for subcultural theories. (Croell 1998)
Many delinquent subculture theorists took their general inspirations for explaining crime and delinquency from Robert Merton's (1949) reworking of Durkheim's (1952) notion of anomie. For Merton, anomie was an ongoing process that involved a disjunction or strain between goals and means. There is a cultural stress on being successful (the goal) but yet virtually impossible for the majority of the population to achieve that success in a socially acceptable way (the means), so the desire to achieve socially stressed goals actively promotes deviant behaviour. (Bilton et al 1996) cal1966, please do not redistribute this essay. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do not circulate this essay elsewhere on the internet. Anybody found doing so will be permanently banned.
Like Durkheim, Merton was also criticised for his work. Albert K Cohen (1955) argued that individuals join together in a collective response and not in responding to their social class as Merton suggested. Secondly he argues that Merton failed to take into account such crime as vandalism and joy riding, these crimes do not produce monetary rewards. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995)
Cohen's work is a modification of Merton's theory. He put together the first concept of a subculture, in which they are seen as an adaptation to a strain between cultural goals and approved means. (Croell 1998) Cohen was puzzled by the fact that most delinquent acts were not motivated by economic ends, and suggested that it was status deprivation that motivated them, they feel they are being looked down upon by the rest of society and so are denied any status. Petty theft and vandalism for example provide delinquents with a measure of revenge. (Moore 1996). They develop their own subculture with its own values passed on from one generation the next, this provides them with alternative ways of gaining status, which may lead them into delinquency. Cohen (1955) therefore argues that delinquents are no different from other adolescents in seeking status; they are just 'resolving the need to gain status through their delinquent acts.' (Moore 1996:51)
Those most likely to commit deviant acts were generally found in the lower class schools, living in deprived areas and having the worst chances in the job market. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995) In support of this, a survey of Newcastle's young people found that 60% of boys from multiply deprived families eventually gained criminal records. This suggests that 'poverty can detract from parents' ability to exert effective influence over their children'. (Moore 1996:26) Visit coursework ad in ad fo ad for ad more coursework ad Do ad not ad redistribute
Attempts to uncover subcultures were made in Britain. D Willmott (1966) studied adolescent males in a working class district in London and could find little evidence of a delinquent subculture, but suggested instead that the youths he studied had generally boring lives with uninteresting dead end jobs. To compensate, they would be on the look out for fun and excitement, which sometimes led them into law breaking activities. Thus were unplanned and by no means motivated by economic rewards. (Moore 1996)
The above approaches are just a few examples of many theories offered in explaining and understanding crime. Although all seem to differ from each other, there are some similarities between them. Firstly, their theories of deviance are based in part on official statistics provided by the police and courts. These statistics consistently show that it is the working class poor, young males and members of some ethnic minorities that are all likely to commit crimes than the middle class whites. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995) These figures are taken at face value and are used to try and explain why some groups become criminal. So secondly, Durkheim, Merton, Cohen, Shaw and McKay all assume that it is the working class poor males that are the offenders, though they differ in their explanations as to why. Durkheim's theory and Shaw and McKay's social disorganisation theory both suggest that crime is a result of the breakdown of social controls. Durkheim saw this breakdown when rapid economic change occurred; in contrast, Shaw and McKay suggested it was the result of the large population turnover of immigrants to the poorest part of the city. Merton on the other hand saw the breakdown of social controls as a permanent feature with the majority affecting the working class individual who's stress was on being successful with the impossibility of achieving it. Crime therefore, produced monetary rewards. In contrast to this, Cohen suggested that deviant behaviour was a 'collective response' brought about by status deprivation, thus developing a subculture with its own values. Crime therefore, was seen as a way of gaining status so was, 'Non-utilitarian' and did not produce monetary rewards as Merton suggested. (Haralambos and Holborn 1995:393). So the subculture theory and that of the cultural transmission theory, both stress that crime had become the cultural norm transmitted from one generation to the next. This presents an over deterministic view of the origins of deviance by suggesting that individuals are trapped by circumstances which automatically propel them down the path of deviance. This ignores the concept of choice and alternatives that are available to the individual. (Haralombos and Holborn 1995:396)
As theories, all those mentioned over predict the crimes of the working class poor in that not all working class poor people engage in criminal behaviour and nor could they explain why the majority did not. Whilst they all based their theories around the working class, they neglect the fact that delinquency exists in middle class and upper class societies as well. (Croell 1998)
In defence of these theories, although they have been criticised, they have all contributed considerably in offering an understanding of crime, each theory developed out of another and although their arguments vary, it is in agreement that without the significance to people of living in certain places it would be impossible to understand patterns of crime. (Moore 1996) Marx denied cal1966's realism idea.
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Giddens, A. (1993) Sociology. Oxford: Polity Press
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Vold, G & Bernard, T. (1986) Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press
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