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What have theories of deviance added to our understanding of crime? Why are there so many theories of crime and deviance?

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Introduction

What have theories of deviance added to our understanding of crime? Why are there so many theories of crime and deviance? Sociologists believe that studying theories of deviance are of "tremendous importance to anyone concerned with gaining a valid understanding of deviance in our society" (JD Douglas, 1970). It is important to note that deviance is a general concept that can cover a range of factors, including sexual behaviour and mental illness, but will relate directly to crime in this essay, which will draw upon academic literature to look at some of the key sociological theories for crime and deviance, as well as examples where these theories could be and have been implemented, plus considering problems with the methodology used to to develop theories. I will show that numerous theories exist due to there being numerous interpretations of the term, and because of the diverse range of factors, from social group and class to personal characteristics, that influence criminal tendencies. So what is deviance? All social groups make rules and attempt to enforce them, specifying some actions as right, others as wrong. Someone is seen as an 'outsider' if they break these rules. This 'outsider' can be classified as a deviant, not complying with the social and accepted norm. This individual is seen as "a special kind of person", one that cannot be trusted to live by the given rules. But the person may not agree that their deviant behaviour is due to lack of trust - instead they may not accept the rule (with a different opion from society on what is 'right' or 'wrong'), or may not see those setting the rules as having authoritative status - thus the outsider may feel that his judges are in fact the outsiders. It is important to note that the degree to which one is seen as a deviant influences their treatment - we may tolerate someone occasionally drunk, but think that a thief is "less like us" and thus punish them, whereas a paedophile or rapist is seen as a "true outsider", not wanted in the society. ...read more.

Middle

However, a problem here is that some people may be labelled as deviant even if they have not broken any rules, with the category lacking homogeneity and failing to include all cases that should be in it, therefore common factors of a deviant's characteristics and life experience cannot easily be found. So numerous theories of deviance exist since these fundamental factors cannot be easily claimed - instead there may be some element of speculation or 'guesswork' involved that varies from author to author. Whether an individual is in fact deviant or not, all experience being labelled as outsiders - this can create stigmatism where all members of a community feel that they are being collectively labelled due to the actions of a small number of pure deviants - as was the case for the Blue Hall estate in Stockton on Tees, where the community felt discriminated against regarding employment, education, credit and insurance despite a �26m regeneration process (Hiller, 2000). This theory corresponds with a key conclusion from Shaw and McKay's 1942 study of crime in Chicago - that the collective class character of the locality has the ability to amplify or reduce the criminal traits of the individual. This theory can be important in understanding criminal tendencies - if an individual is labelled as a criminal whether they are are one or not, the 'Pure deviant' will have little reason to change and the 'Falsely accused' may feel that they will be labelled regardless of their actions, potentially leading to criminal behaviour. Integrating deviance with another sociological theory provides interesting reading - for example Becker seeing deviance as collective action, since people act together, actively comparing themselves with that their peers have done, are doinr or may do when carrying out actions. One tries to fit their own line of action into that of others, as does everyone else - this process of 'adjusting' and 'fitting' can be seen as a form of collective action. ...read more.

Conclusion

This interesting theory helps us to understand why responses and attitudes towards different members of society occurs even if they have committed the same deviant act. Such a belief is seen in the UK as well (arguably with reasonable evidence) - a smart-clothed student may be cautioned but a skinhead 'thug' imprisoned for the same deviant act. Bruce Jackson's (1996) essay on the American drugs culture demonstrates well why there are so many theories of deviance by giving various reasons depending on the social group in question. The deviant act of taking illegal drugs is seen within numerous social groups in America, though the given reasons vary - Jackson generalises that high school kids do it for "a kick in any form", college students experiment "as part of a romantic program of self-locating" and kids simply do so "because it's cool", in contrast to the thousands of well-educated, middle-class adults who take drugs to in fact avoid being deviant and instead bright, alert and functional, as Jackson interestingly theorises. This once again emphasises that theories regarding deviance are widespread since there is great variation depending on the social group in question, and Jackson's explicit (if somewhat generalised) reasons for deviant behaviour certainly aids our understanding of why individuals take part in criminal activities. Conclusion Manning (1975) stated that the study of deviance is "an extended train of partially examined and partially exhausted ideas", with sociological theories often being independent from research into and explanation of deviant behaviour. I agree with this, since it is a key reason for there being no clear-cut finalised theory of deviance, and instead numerous ideas, *most* of which are criticised for not considering other aspects. Literature relating to deviance and crime certainly aids one's understanding of criminal activity - whilst academic theories may be widespread and sometimes contradict each other, numerous understandable reasons are given for why people commit crime. It is interesting just how widespread the factors are that influence this, extending outside the circle of social science, as Lombroso showed. ...read more.

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