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Sociological Theories on Crime and Deviance

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CRIME AND DEVIANCE DEFINING DEVIANCE Sociologists define deviance as behaviour that is recognised as violating expected rules and norms. Deviance is more than simple non-conformity; it is behaviour that departs significantly from social expectations. In the sociological perspective on deviance, there is subtlety that distinguishes it from commonsense understandings of the same behaviour. * The sociological definition of deviance stresses social context, not individual behaviour. Sociologists see deviance in terms of group processes, definitions and judgements, not just as unusual individual acts. * The sociological definition of deviance recognises that not all behaviours are judged similarly as all groups. What is deviant to one group may be normative (non-deviant) to another. Understanding what society sees as deviant also requires understanding the context that determines who has the power to judge some behaviours as deviant and others not. * The sociological definition of deviance recognises that established rules and norms are socially created, not just morally decreed or individually imposed. Sociologists emphasise that deviance lies not just in behaviour itself, but also in the social responses of groups to the behaviour. Sociologists distinguish between two types of deviance: formal and informal. Formal deviance is behaviour that breaks laws or official rules. Crime is an example. There are formal sanctions against formal deviance, such as imprisonment and fines. Informal deviance is behaviour that violates customary norms. Although such deviance may not be specified in law, it is judged to be deviant by those who uphold the society's norms. An example is the body piercing that is popular among young people. No laws prohibit this practice, yet it violates common norms about dress and appearance and is judged by many to be socially deviant even though it is fashionable for others. Sociological Theories on Crime and Deviance Functionalism Recalling that functionalism is a theoretical perspective that interprets all parts of society, including those that may seem dysfunctional, as contributing to the stability and continuance of the whole. ...read more.


LABELLING THEORY Labelling theory interprets the responses of others as the most significant factor in understanding how deviant behaviour is both created and sustained. This theory stems from the work of W.I. Thomas, who wrote, "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences'. Labelling is the assignment or attachment of a deviant identity to a person by others, including by agents of social institutions. Therefore, the people's reaction, not the action itself, produces deviance as a result of the labelling process. Once applied, the deviant label is difficult to shed. Linked with conflict theory, labelling theory shows how those with the power to label someone deviant and to impose sanctions wield great power in determining deviance. When police, court officials, school authorities, experts of various sorts, teachers, and official agents of social institutions apply a label, it sticks. Furthermore, because deviants are handled through complex organisations, bureaucratic workers "process" people according to rules and procedures, seldom questioning the basis for those rules or willing or able to challenge them. Bureaucrats are unlikely to linger over whether someone labelled deviant deserves that label, even though they use their judgements and discretion in deciding whether to apply the label. This leaves tremendous room for all kinds of social influence and prejudice to enter the decision of whether someone is considered deviant. Once the label of deviant is applied, it is difficult for the deviant to recover a non-deviant identity. Once a social worker or psychiatrist labels a client mentally ill, that person will be treated as mentally ill, regardless of his or her mental state. Pleas by the accused that he or she is mentally sound are typically taken as more evidence of the illness. A person's anger and frustration about the label are taken as further support for the diagnosis. A person need not have engaged in deviant behaviour to be labelled deviant. ...read more.


However Young sees these policies as nostalgic and doomed attempts to recreate the golden age in the 50s. Young criticises the record of governments including new labour. He argues they have largely only addressed the symptoms such as anti social behaviour; they have been tougher on tackling crime than crimes underlying issues such as inequality. Left realism has succeeded in drawing attention to the reality of street crime and its effects on victims of deprived groups. However it has been criticised. Henry and Milovanovic (1996) argue that it accepts the authority's definition of street crime being committed by the poor instead of defining the problem as being one of how powerful groups do harm to the poor. Marxists argue it fails to explain corporate crimes which is more harmful even if less conspicuous. Interactionists argue that because left realists rely on quantitative data from victim surveys they cannot explain offenders motives. Instead we need qualitative data to reveal their meanings. Their use of sub cultural theory means left realists assume that value consensus exists and that crime only occurs when this breaks down. Relative deprivation cannot fully explain crime because not all those who experience it commit crime. The theory over predicts the amount of crime. Its focus on high crime inner city areas gives it an unrepresentative view and makes crime appear a greater problem then it is. There are both similarities and differences between the two types of realism. For example both left and right realists see crime as a real problem and fear of crime as rational. On the other hand they come from different ends of the political spectrum; right realists are neo conservative while left realists are reformist socialists. It's reflected in how they explain crime; right realists blame individual lack of self control while left realists blame structural inequalities and relative deprivation. Likewise political differences are reflected in their aims and solutions to the problem of crime; the right prioritise social order achieved through a tough stance of offenders while the left prioritise justice achieved through democratic policing and reforms to create greater equality. ...read more.

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