6 Explaining Crime (Theories)
criminology grew out of a reaction against the barbaric system of law,
justice and punishment that was in existence before 1789. It sought an
emphasis on free will and human rationality. The Classical School was
not interested in studying criminals, but rather law making and legal
processing. Crime, they believed, was activity engaged in out of
total free will and that individuals weighed the consequences of their
actions. Punishment is made in order to deter people from committing
crime and it should be greater than the pleasure of criminal gains.
Classical theory emphasized a legal definition of crime rather
than what defined criminal behavior. The Declaration of Independence
and the US Constitution reflect the Classical movement, thus the law of
today is classical in nature.
Two famous writers during this classical period were Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794) and Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), both led the movement to human rights and free will.
Beccaria thought that crime could be traced to bad laws, not to bad people. A new modem criminal justice system would be needed to guarantee equal treatment of all people before the law. His famous book, On Crimes and Punishment presented a new design for the criminal justice system that served all people. His book dubbed him the "father of modem criminology."
Bentham's concern was upon utilitarianism which assumed the greatest happiness for the greatest number. He believed that individuals weigh the probabilities of present and future pleasures against those of present and future pain. Thus people acted as human calculators, he believed, and that they put all factors into a sort of mathematical equation to decide whether or not to commit an illegal act. He believed then that punishment should be just a bit in excess of the pleasures derived from an act and not any higher than that. The law exists to create happiness for all, thus since punishment creates unhappiness it can be justified if it prevents greater evil than it produces.
Positivists, unlike the classical reformers, sought to explain the world around them. They saw behavior as determined by biological, psychological, and social traits. They focused on a deterministic view of the world, on criminal behavior instead oflegal issues, and the prevention of crime through the treatment (or reformation) of offenders.
The use of scientific techniques was important to the positivists. Data was collected in order to explain different types of individuals and social phenomena. Naturalists and anthropologists formed the theory of evolution which was a very critical component to the study of human criminal behavior by the positivists. Humans were responsible for their own destinies.
The focus on positivism then is on systematic observations and the accumulation of evidence and objective fact within a deductive frame work, thus moving from a general statement to a more specific one.
Criminology, according to Edwin H. Sutherland, one of the modern founding scholars of American criminology, is the body of knowledge which regards crime as a social phenomenon. It includes the processes of making laws, breaking laws, and the reacting toward the breaking of laws. Together, these three processes form a unified sequence of events.
Criminologists have adopted methods of study from varying social and behavioral sciences. Like other scientists, criminologists measure and assess crime over time and place. They also measure the characteristics of criminals, crimes, and victims using various methods.
Certain acts, regarded as "undesireable" by political society are defined as such. Society reacts by punishment, treatment, or prevention. These sequences of events come together to comprise the object matter of criminology.
While many people are intimidated at their very first encounter with theory, it is used almost on a daily basis. You may be one who believes that theory is abstract and has no fundamental basis in the real world. However, whether you realize it or not, you use theory almost all the time. We all make assumptions and generalizations about certain things we are in contact with daily; thus we theorize.
are logical constructions that explain natural phenomena. They
are not in themselves always directly observable, but can be supported
or refuted by empirical findings. Theory and empirical research are
connected by means of hypotheses,which are testable propositions that
are logically derived from theories. The testable part is very
important because scientific hypotheses must be capable of being
accepted or rejected.
Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) replaced the notion of free will and rationality with the notion of determinism. Together with his followers, Enrico Ferri and Raffaele Garofalo, he developed the positivist school of criminology which sought explanations for criminal behavior through scientific research and experimentation. Lombroso believed in the "criminal born" man and woman. He believed they had physical features of ape like creatures that were not fully developed as humans were. Lombroso measured thousands of live and dead prisoners to prove his theory. He noted that criminals lacked moral sense, had an absence of remorse and used much slang. Lombroso later added social and economic factors to his list of crime causation but said they were second in nature to biological, predetennmed factors. His theory however has been kept alive, not by agreement but by much criticism.
Researchers from this school developed empirical sociology, that is, studying humans in their natural environment rather than an armchair look at the social environment. Chicago theorists combined data, such as individual cases with population statistics which constructed an important foundation that has since been the basis for many criminological theories of today.
Members of this school focused upon the city of Chicago (hence the name) as a source for many answers to its probing questions. Many scholars of this time believed that urbanization and mobility into the city was a cause for many of the problems experienced at the time.
Crime was fostered mainly in the slums. Many unemployed people, male, female, young and old, became transients. A plethora of social problems emerged, ranging from poor sanitation, inadequate housing, juvenile gangs, vice, to name a few. People were no longer closely-knit, nor were communities familiar. Many had no one to turn to during these troubled times. Crime was mainly fostered in the slum areas, where many of the immigrants lived. People began to form their own support groups and gangs, which emphasized deviant values. All of this served as a laboratory for the new sociologists at the University of Chicago
The school contributed two methods of study. The first was the usage of official data, such as census reports, housing/welfare records and crime figures. High areas of crime, truancy and poverty were applied to different geographical areas of the city. The second method was the life history, as first studied by early Chicago school theorist, W.I. Thomas. This contributed a shift away from theoretical abstracts to more concrete approaches of the real world and real world related phenomena. The process of becoming deviant or criminal was explained by psycho-social phenomena. They wanted to present human behavior in its natural environment, and this is why the Chicago School is often referred to as the Ecological School
observations by researchers provided a clear analysis that the city was
a place where life is superficial, where people are anonymous, where
relationships are transitory and friendship and family bonds are weak.
They saw the weakening of primary social relationships as leading to a
process of social disorganization.
Chicago criminologists clearly saw pathology in the city, which led to criminality. Much of the research conducted by Shaw and McKay illustrated this point. The Chicago School clearly stressed humans as social creatures and their behavior as a product of their social environment. The social environment provides values and definitions that govern behavior. Urbanization and industrialization break down older and more cohesive patterns of values, thus creating communities with competing norms and value systems. The breakdown of urban life results in basic institutions such as the family, friendships and other social groups to become so impersonal, almost anonymous. As values became fragmented, opposing definitions about proper behavior arise and come into conflict with other behavior. Disorganization is more prevalent in the center of the urbanized city, and decreases with distance. Thus, crime developed through frequent contact with criminal traditions, goals and values that have developed over a period of time in disorganized areas of the city.
Sutherland's Differential Association
In 1939 Criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland proposed his theory of Differential Association in his Principles of Criminology textbook. His final version of the theory was revised in 1947. Differential Association theory states that criminal behavior is learned behavior and learned via social interaction with others. Sutherland relied heavily upon the work of Shaw and McKay, Chicago school theorists, in high rates of juvenile delinquency. Sutherland's theory of differential association still remains very popular among criminologists due to its less complex and more coherent approach to crime causation. It is also supported by much evidence. Sutherland is called the father of American criminology.
Sutherland drew upon three major theories from the Chicago School in order to better formulate his theory. These included the ecological and cultural transmission theory, symbolic interactionism, and culture conflict. Varying crime rates were explained by the culture conflict approach, and the process by which individuals became criminal was expressed by the symbolic interactionism approach. Thus, he formulated his theory with an attempt to explain not only individual criminal behavior but also those of societal groups.
A critique of criminology, written in 1933, by Jerome Michael and Mortimer J. Adler provided a major influence upon Sutherland's thinking, which set the stage for Differential Association. They argued that criminology failed to produce sound scientific evidence, had no coherent theories, and lacked standards. Sutherland set out to create such a theory, based on rigorous, sound scientific standards. The result was the birth of Differential Association. He had revised it at least three different times between the years 1939 and 1947.
Sutherland did not mean that mere association with criminals would lead to criminal behavior. What he meant was that the contents of patterns in association would differ from individual to individual. He viewed crime as a consequence of conflicting values. Differential association is a theory based on the social environment and its surrounding individuals and the values those individuals gain from significant others in their social environment.
Differential Association is based upon these nine postulates:
1. Criminal behavior is learned.
2. Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others persons in a process of communication.
3. The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups.
4. When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes techniques of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes simple and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes.
5. The specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable.
6. A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law.
7. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.
8. The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anti-criminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning.
9. While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those general needs and values, since non criminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values.
According to Differential Association, criminal behavior is learned based on the interactions we have with others and the values that we receive during that interaction. We learn values from family, mends, coworkers, etc. Those values either support or oppose criminal behavior. Sutherland also noted that individuals with an excess of criminal definitions will be more open to new criminal definitions and that individual will be less receptive to anti criminal definitions. The theory does not emphasize who one's associates are but rather upon the definitions provided by those associations. Once techniques are learned, values (or definitions) supporting that criminal behavior may be learned from just about anyone.
Sutherland's Differential Association has received both praise and criticism, mainly upon how it is interpreted. For instance, it doesn't specifically answer why everyone in contact with an excess of criminal behavior patterns doesn't become criminal. However, the answer is simple because Sutherland did not tell us that individuals become criminal by associating with other criminals but rather he tells us that a person becomes delinquent because of an "excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law". The key word is definitions. Differential Association also fails to tell us HOW the first criminal became a criminal. Despite some criticisms, the theory has had an important impact on criminology. Other social learning theories have been based upon Differential Association.
Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist, introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labor in Society, published in 1893. He used anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. This meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. Anomie, simply defined, is a state where norms (expectations on behaviors) are confused, unclear or not present. It is normlessness, Durkheim felt,that led to deviant behavior. In 1897, Durkheim used the term again in his study on Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition. Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. He best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.
The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim proposed two concepts.
First, that societies evolved from a simple, non-specialized form,
called mechanical.toward a highly complex, specialized form,
1. In the former mechanical society people behave and think alike and more or less perform the same work tasks and have the same group-oriented goals.
2. When societies become more complex, or organic, work also becomes more complex. In this society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal.
Anomie thus refers to a breakdown of social norms and it is a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society. Individuals cannot find their place in society without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. He observed that social periods of disruption (economic depression, for instance) brought about greater anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide, and deviance.
Durkheim felt that sudden change caused a state of anomie. The system breaks down either during a great prosperity or a great depression; anomie is the same result.
of Subculture Theories
In criminology, subcultures theories emerged as a way to account for delinquency rates among lower-class males, of these the infamous teenage gang. Subculture theories believe that the delinquent subcultures emerged in response to the special problems that the members of mainstream society do not face.
strain theorists explained crime as a result of frustrations suffered by
lower-class individuals deprived of legitimate means to reach their
goals. Cultural deviance theories assumed that people became deviant by
learning the criminal values of the group to which they belonged to.
This laid down the foundation for subculture theories during the 1950s.
A subculture is defined as a subdivision within the dominant culture that has its own norms, values and belief system. These subcultures emerge when individuals in similar circumstances find themselves virtually isolated or neglected by mainstream society. Thus they group together for mutual support. Subcultures exist within the larger society, not apart from it. The members of the subculture are different from the dominant culture.
The subculture theories we will look at are extensions of strain, social disorganization and differential association theories. Subculture theories help to explain why subcultures emerge (extension of strain), why they take a particular shape (extension of social disorganization), and why they continue from one generation to another (extension of differential association).
For instance, Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti's Subculture of Violence thesis argues that the value system of some subcultures not only demands but also expects violence in certain social situations. It is this norm which affects daily behavior that is in conflict with the conventional society. To better understand and appreciate subculture theories one must first probe into the historical time period of the 1950s. The values of the middle class were dominant and anything else was not considered normal.
Peaking urbanization produced more and more deteriorated cities in America. The suburbs of the middle class were emerging. Delinquency was mainly perceived as a problem of the lower class. The middle class "we-they" separation led to seeing itself as the far superior class.
Overview of Social Control Theories
Theories of social control focus on the strategies and techniques which help regulate human behavior and thus lead to conformity and compliance of the rules of society, including the influences of family, school, morals, values, beliefs, etc.,
Does existence of rules guarantee peaceful existence of the group? Who is to ensure compliance with such rules? Social control theorists are out to study such questions. They are interested in learning why people conform to norms; they ask why people conform in the face of so much temptation, peer pressure, and inducement. Juveniles and adults conform to the law in response to certain controlling forces which are present in their lives. Thus, they are likely to become criminal when the controlling forces in their lives are defective or absent.
Social control theorists argue that the more involved and committed a person is to conventional activities, the greater the attachment to others (such as family and friends), the less likely that a person is to violate the rules of society.
Social control has its roots in the early part of this century in the work of sociologist E.A. Ross. Ross believed that belief systems, not specific laws, guide what individuals do and this serves to control behavior, no matter the forms that beliefs may take.
Social control is often seen as all-encompassing, practically representing any phenomenon leading to conformity, which leads to norms. Others see social control as a broad representation of regulated mechanisms placed upon society's members. In other words, social control regards what is to be considered deviant, violations of the law, right or wrong. Social control mechanisms can be adopted as laws, norms, mores, ethics, etiquette, and customs, which all control and thus define behavior.
Social control theory is viewed from two perspectives.
1. The macrosocial perspective explores formal control systems for the control of groups, including the legal system such as laws, law enforcement, powerful groups in society (who can help influence laws and norms) and economic and social directives of government or private organizations. Such controls can serve to be either positive or negative.
2. The microsocial perspective focuses on informal control systems, which help to explain why individuals conform. It also considers the source of control to be external, that is, outside of the person.