Assess sociological explanations of the relationship between crime and the mass media.

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Rozina Shafi                 March 2003

Assess sociological explanations of the relationship between crime and the mass media

There has been a lot of debate in sociology regarding what consequences the mass media has on the rate and/or production of crime in society.  (The mass media being avenues of communications that reaches out to the masses.)

Functionalist concerns as regards to the study of deviance can be traced back to Emile Durkheim; that societies are held together by a value consensus.  There is always the possibility of a collapse in society if values aren’t constantly reaffirmed and passed on from one generation to the other; therefore maintenance of values is functional of society.

Functionalists see the mass media as an agency of socialisation; that integrates its audience into the universal norms and values of society.  They see the mass media as giving us what we want, and caters for our needs.  Therefore has nothing to do as regarding to what we will be discussed later on, that the mass media increases crime.  They see the mass media as acting as neutral servants for the public and see power being given to the consumer.  Where crime does occur, it is presented in an objective manner, where no biases are portrayed.

However, interactionist approaches criticise functionalists along with other structural approaches as being overly deterministic, because they given causal status to human agencies and neglect the interactional process that the mass media endures.  

Becker looked at the process of the labelling theory and saw that deviance didn’t start with an act itself, but an act that is somehow ambiguous (that doesn’t really have a meaning to it) that leads to an act as deviant.  The critical phase is when the label became public. I.e. when the authorities notice it and along with this come the stigmatisation process.  Everyone now starts to evaluate the identity of the person who has been publicly labelled.  Not only does this label become the master status of the individual, but also everyone re-evaluates that person’s past events and behaviour in line with their master status. This makes it ever more difficult to maintain their “normal” identity, so what happens is that it becomes more and more difficult to engage in everyday activities and opportunities become blocked.  So the only way a person will be accepted is when they go back to the deviant act, therefore causes the person to reorganise their sense of self and results in the self-fulfilling prophecy.

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Interactionists see the mass media as being the creators of moral panics.  They look at the agencies of social control and how the mass media facilitates folk devils. I.e. the drug pusher.

Stanley Cohen looked at the sensitisation process the mass media has regarding crime in the case of the Mods and rockers.  During the 1960’s bank holiday scene, the mass media operated to reinforce and give shape to the crowds expectancy and provide the content of rumours and shared definitions with which ambiguous situations were restructured.  

The behaviour of Mods and Rockers were seen as ambiguous and ...

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