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Crime and Deviance    


Nature an  Formal and Informal Rules

Deviance (norm or rule-breaking behaviour)

Crime (specific form of deviance. Breaking of legal (state) norms / rules)

Note: Not all deviance is criminal, just as some forms of crime (e.g. illegal parking) not seen as particularly deviant.

Formal rules: laws (state rules), written rules /regulations (e.g. School rules)

Informal rules: unstated / unwritten rules / norms (e.g. Picking your nose)

Social Construction of deviance: Is deviance an absolute or relative concept?

Historical differences (e.g. abortion, homosexuality, drug use)

Cross-Cultural differences (e.g. alcohol use, dress codes)

Different societies and same society at different times develop different interpretations of deviant / non-deviant behaviour. If same behaviour can be shown to be interpreted differently, suggests deviance is a relative concept (that is, relative to the culture or subculture in which behaviour is interpreted).

Societal and Situational deviance (Plummer): Behaviour considered deviant (illegal?) by society may be acceptable to subcultural groups (e.g. Bank robbery / homosexuality) and vice versa (abortion is legal in UK but unacceptable to some religious subcultures).

Hagan ("The Disreputable Pleasures"): Conflict and Consensus crimes: Seriousness of deviance related to:

Level of social agreement (High = serious / Low = non-serious)
Level of social reaction (strong = serious / weak = non-serious)
Assessment of personal / social harm / injury (High = serious)

Social Construction of Deviance

Interactionism / Labelling theory: "Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label" (Becker): i.e. what is deviant to you is normal to me.

Primary deviance: Norm-breaking that hasn't been publicly-labelled as deviant

Secondary deviance: What happens after someone (e.g. Control Agency such as police) reacts to the fact of your deviance (the consequences of the social reaction to deviant behaviour)

Social reaction: Seen by Interactionists (and Radical Criminologists) as a crucial variable in the understanding of deviance. If no-one reacts to your deviant behaviour, the social consequences are minimal…

Stigma: One possible consequence of being labelled deviant (social disapproval)

Non-culpable deviance: Deviant behaviour for which individual is not held responsible (e.g. madness, disability, some forms of children's behaviour)

Culpable deviance: Deviance for which individual is seen to have responsibility.

Different basic forms of deviance (Good / Admired behaviour. Bad behaviour. Odd behaviour)

Folk devils (S.Cohen) - how and why some groups / individuals are scapegoated / stigmatised (symbolic embodiment of social fears). E.g. Youth subcultures

Moral Panics (see: Deviancy Amplification): Role of media (and moral entrepreneurs) in creation of social concern about deviance.

The Measurement, Extent and Distribution of Crime / Deviance Measurement (note: Reliability and Validity)

Official Crime Statistics (reliable)

Underestimation of crime (especially middle class / female)

Overestimation of crime (especially working class / male)

Reported to and recorded by police

Self Report Surveys (valid) - e.g. Campbell "Delinquent Girls", British Crime Surveys (bi-annual)

Underestimation of some crime (domestic / sexual crime)

Victim Surveys (valid): British Crime Surveys / Islington Crime Survey.

Crime recording depends on: status of complainant, differential law enforcement polices, police and public perceptions / socialisation, moral panics.

Crime reporting depends on: Nature of offence (serious / trivial), embarrassment, fear of reprisal, no faith in police, unaware of victimisation.

Dark figure of crime (difference between actual number of crimes and crimes reported to police): Some crime always reported (e.g. car theft) / Many crimes not reported (e.g. Theft, burglary, fraud)

Interactionism - Official crime statistics reflect police / public perceptions

Radical Criminology ("idealist"): Statistics represent official concerns.

New Left Realism ("realist") - Statistics broadly reflect crime distribution.

Patterns of crime
(Official Crime Statistics)

Social Class - most crime committed by working class

Gender - males generally more criminal than females

Age - young (under 21) commit more crimes than adults (over 21)

Ethnicity - young, working class, blacks commit more crimes (note concepts of age and class here).

Region - less crime in rural areas than in urban areas (inner cities, council housing estates especially). Different types of crime by region.

Overall: Most criminal in our society are young, working class, males.

Explanations: Consider the following concepts:

Socialisation / Social Control (agencies such as family, police). Self controls (middle classes - more to lose, better life chances). Informal controls more effective in rural areas (Tonnies: Gemeinschaft / Gesellshaft)

Visibility of crimes (opportunistic, witnesses, identifiable victims)

Policing strategies (some groups, regions, crimes, policed heavily)

Lifestyles (e.g. Youth = socially active (clubs, pubs, etc.). Relationship between age and crime may have more to do with youth lifestyles than "age".

Opportunity structures (e.g. men and women, young and old, etc. have different chances for committing crimes. Where opportunities similar (e.g. shoplifting, similar levels of crime for above groups). Middle class males commit different types of crime (fraud etc) than working class females.

The Impact of Crime (1): Victimisation

Objective dimension (financial cost, personal effect - "nuisance value")

Subjective dimension (psychological impact - trauma, fear. stress)

British Crime Surveys:

Most victims suffer little effect.

Most serious effects = personal crimes (wounding, robbery, burglary etc. - the effect of "invasion of privacy")

Most serious crime for men = mugging.

Most serious crime for women = domestic violence.

Indirect effects of victimisation:

On family / relatives (e.g. murder)

Witnessing crimes (shock, fear)

Quality of life (effects of prostitution, drug abuse, racial harassment)

Fraud, shoplifting - indirect economic costs to general public


Environmental crimes (pollution etc.)

Repeat victimisation - most likely = burglary, sexual abuse, domestic violence, racial harassment / violence.

The Impact of Crime (2):
The Fear of Crime.

National Surveys: e.g. .British Crime Survey (BCS) - since 1982 - Bi-annual.

Local Surveys: e.g. Islington Crime Survey (Lea and Young)

Victim Surveys:

Most worried = Inner City dwellers (Mawby and Walklate '94); the Elderly (statistically least at risk)

Least worried = young males (most at risk of personal assault)

BCS: 1995

33% feared burglary (Burglary = 6% of all crime)

15% feared mugging (Mugging = 1% of all crime)

Crime most feared by all = burglary

Women most fearful of crime (especially rape)

Islington crime Survey (New Left Realism): fear realistically related to high crime areas

Social Class: Poor fear crime the most (Kinsey and Anderson '92)

Impact of crime greater on poor, elderly because of their status:

Poor = uninsured
Elderly = fear of violence

Zedner '97: Fear is related to general social concerns (moral decline, insecurity, etc.)

Are fears justified / irrational? Or is "fear" precautionary?

Fear related to Risk Avoidance (especially women, elderly): May explain why, statistically, such groups experience "less victimisation".

Is "fear" right way to view this situation?

Lack of reliable and valid empirical data about "fear of crime" and relationship between risk avoidance and victimisation
Risk avoidance behaviour is related to many things (e.g. lack of money, lack of mobility), not just "fear"
People respond to crime in many different ways (shock, anger, etc.), not just in terms of "fear"

Theories of Crime and Deviance (1) Positivist / Functionalist

Positivist: Searching for the causes of crime:

Individual (biological, chemical, genetic, social)

Society (factors that create criminal tendencies within different individuals)

Structural Functionalism:

Durkheim: The functions of crime.

Boundary marking for acceptable / unacceptable behaviour (laws)
Public marking of boundaries (judicial process, media)
Social solidarity / social integration
Too much crime = dysfunctional = social disorganisation (anomie)

Merton (Strain Theory): Explanation for economic crimes

Socialisation (into society's values: "success" (the "American dream")

Responses to disjunction between "ends" and "means" (anomie):

Conformity, Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism, Rebellion.

Ecological (Area Studies): Chicago School (1920's / '30's): Social Disorganisation

Social Darwinism (Park)

Concentric Zone Theory (Shaw and McKay)

Cultural Transmission Theory

Differential Association (Sutherland and Cressey): cf. White-collar crime

UK Areas studies:

Mays (Liverpool 1950's)
Morris (Croydon 1957)
Rex and Moore (Birmingham 1967): "Housing classes"

See also Education: Pupil Subcultures

Reactive (or "oppositional")

A.Cohen - Status Frustration)

P.Willis: Learning to Labour

D.Hargreaves: Social Relations in a Secondary School


W.Miller (Focal concerns of working class youth)

Anomie and Subcultures:

P.Woods (anomie and pupil subcultures)

Legitimate and Illegitimate Opportunity Structures

(Cloward and Ohlin: Criminal, Conflict and Retreatist subcultures).

Delinquency and Drift (Matza): "Guilt" and Techniques of neutralisation.

Feminism (be aware of varieties / differences)


Women as oppressed group / sex class

Legal and status equality

See: Social Distribution of Crime


Interactionist (Social Constructionism): How is reality socially constructed?

Deviance is not a quality of behaviour. Rather it is a quality of how people react to that behaviour (Becker). Deviance = relative concept.

Anti-positivist (there can be no universal causes of crime)

Labelling Theories: (Becker, S.Cohen, Lemert)

Mead: Self development: The "I" and the "Me"

Cooley: The "Looking Glass" Self.



Meanings and Negotiation

Master labels (Becker)

Deviants as "victims of a labelling process"

Primary and Secondary deviation (Lemert)

Deviancy Amplification System (Wilkins)

Examples: Cohen (Folk Devils and Moral Panics); Young (Cannabis users); S.Hall (Mugging)

Folk devils

Moral panics

Moral entrepreneurs (individuals / interest groups - media)

Deviant career

Labels: stickiness, rejection of, negotiation and re-negotiation.

Critical Theories

Traditional / Instrumental Marxism:

Criminals as underclass ("social scum": appropriators of surplus value)

Law: reflects interests of ruling class:

Economic contracts / regulations

Social Order

Power (how laws are created and selectively applied)

Ideology: how ideas about law. Order, crime etc. are manipulated.

Class struggle

Neo-Marxism: Subcultural: e.g.Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies:

Resistance (symbolic): Hall and Jefferson. P.Cohen (Mods)

Hegemony (bourgeois)

Style (and its meaning)

Ethnic and gender subcultures in addition to class and youth (e.g. McRobbie and Garber)

Neo-Marxism: Radical Criminology ("Left Idealism"): Early 1970's

Taylor, Walton and Young (UK), Hall (UK), Quinney (USA)

Deviants as "romantics" / "outlaws" (challenge bourgeois hegemony)

Fully Social Theory of Deviance involves understanding of:

Cultural and Subcultural factors, the deviants' meanings, social reaction, deviant's reaction to this, outcome of the "reaction to the social reaction".

Corporate and environmental crime (white collar criminality). E.g. Chambliss

Relative autonomy of State

Hegemonic role of ruling class

Social class / class struggle

Neo-Marxism: New Left Realism (1980 / '90's)

Lea and Young ("What Is To be Done About Law and Order")

Critical of "Left idealism" / "Left Functionalism" (e.g. Radical criminology)

Official Crime Statistics broadly reliable and valid

3 major concepts:

Relative deprivation

marginalization (political, economic, ideological)

Local crime surveys (e.g. Islington)

New Right Realism

New Right Realism (a "realistic" approach to crime control)

Control Theory (e.g. Reckless (1956), - related to Functionalist theories of crime (Community, Social Solidarity, Integration, etc.)

Hirschi (1969): Strength of social bonds:

Attachment, Commitment, Involvement and Shared Beliefs

1980's / 1990's: Radical Right / neo-conservatism

Wilson ("Thinking About Crime"): Positivist methodology: Focus on:

Creating conformity to moral values (informal social controls)

Visible, street, crime

Increasing chances of criminal being caught (more police, etc.)

Cost / Benefit analysis (rational assessments by criminals)

Libertarianism - self-policing of white-collar, "victimless", crimes, etc.

Decriminalisation of non-violent crimes

Van Den Haag ("Punishing Criminals", 1975): Poor most likely to break law, therefore, should be policed more closely. Objective = deterrence.

Situational Theories: e.g. Gough and Mayhew. (cf. Ecological theory)

Develop ways of making crime "more difficult": Make people:

More aware of opportunistic crime (e.g. advertising campaigns)

Aware of how physical environment encourages / deters crime

Social Control Formal and Informal

Social control involves:


Individual sanction

Agencies of control: Formal (e.g. police and courts), Informal (e.g. Family)

Key concepts:

Power: to create and enforce ideas about normality / deviance

Authority: aspect of power relating to legitimacy

Ideology: ideas about deviance / non-deviance

Informal controls - types of positive and negative sanctions

Formal controls (laws, written rules) - types of positive and negative sanctions

Involves standardised responses to clearly-defined norms

S.Cohen: Changing nature of formal controls:

Increased differentiation and classification of criminals

Increasing segregation of criminals (physical / psychiatric)

Punishment shifts (away from physical torture / degradation)

Increased State involvement (rationalisation / bureaucratisation)


Policing Styles:

Consensual (Community style)

Conflict (Military style - e.g. Northern Ireland)

Pro-active policing:

Experts (e.g. social workers)
Technology (e.g. video)
Community (e.g. Neighbourhood watch)

Unequal application of laws (police discretion / labelling theory)

Institutional racism and sexism

Differential arrest rates (cf. Social distribution of crime etc.):






Agencies of social control: Revise examples relating to following:


The State (government)

Police and Judiciary

Mass Media (cf. Deviancy amplification / Moral panics)

Medical profession / social workers (medicalisation of deviance)

Education system

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