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Explain crime

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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. ...read more.


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) 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. ...read more.


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. ...read more.

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