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Theories Of Crime And Their Relevance To Deviance Criminology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2617 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Deviance in simple terms means turning away from accepted path, in other words, any act that do not follow the norms and expectations of a particular social group are classified as deviant. According to Wickmann, 1991, ‘deviance is a behaviour that violates the standards of conduct or expectations of a group or society’. The concepts of crime and deviance are ‘a move away from the social norm’, however, not all deviance is crime but all crime is deviance. Crime is a form of deviance that involves a violation of the criminal law and is considered to be illegal, for example, murder, theft etc. Depending on the nature of the act, deviance can be endorsed as positive and rewarded, recognised as negative and punished or simply acknowledged without any reward or punishment. In relation to the above definition, a soldier who attends to a call of distress from someone who is robbed by armed gangs and probably manages to arrest the criminals outside his normal call of duty may be termed as deviant but in the real sense, may be rewarded with a medal, whereas, murderers deviate from society’s norms and values particularly the one placed in human life, that is why their deviance is unanimously disapproved and punished. Some of the deviance can be tolerated or accepted, for example, a manager who wears dress in the office or a person with a house full of cats. Their acts are neither rewarded nor punished by the others instead they might be termed as a ‘bit odd’. Acts defined as deviant vary from society to society. What is considered as deviant in one society might be seen as normal in a different society and this can change in a period of time, for example, in old western societies, women who smoke and apply make- up were seen as deviant but not anymore in modern western societies.

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Those who differ from social expectations are believed to have something wrong with them. This is explained further from different perspectives by the three major theories of crime which are biological, psychological (sometimes referred to as positivists) and labelling theories. Biological theorists base their argument on physical features, whereas, psychological theorists focus on the individual differences in behaviour. However, labelling theorists take a different approach and point out the interaction between deviants and non deviants. Basically, both psychological and biological theories of crime tried to explore the explanations of deviance within the individual unlike the Labelling theories where they seek their explanations of crime within the society.

Sheldon 1949; Glueck and Glueck 1956 have classified people according to their body type and pointed out that, mesomorphs, i.e. those with muscular and athletic body type are more directly associated with delinquency than the endomorphs and ectomorphs due to the fact that they are more aggressive and physical. Endomorphs can be described as those people with soft, obese and rounded in body type, whereas, ectomorphs are thin and tall in body type. However, psychological approaches to criminology argue that our difference in behaviour may make some people more prone to commit crime. These differences in behaviour may evolve from biological or social factors.

Rather than characterising criminals with their physical features and behaviour, The Labelling theorists assess how the societies react to the acts that they labelled as crime. They argue that no act is naturally criminal in itself until when others label it as such, in other words, deviance is in the eye of the beholder.

According to Howard Becker (1963) in A2 Sociology, page 81, ‘Social groups create deviance by creating the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders’. In reference to Becker’s explanation, if married couples stay naked in their bedroom, it is generally seen as a normal behaviour, but if a stranger comes in their bedroom and they still remain naked, then it is usually seen as deviant. If the same scenario happens in certain holiday beaches where people stay naked in the presence of strangers, this would be regarded as normal by the rest of the participants.

Once an individual is labelled as criminal, it may have an impact on his life. They might be seen as irresponsible; therefore, their parental status, their relationship with friends and neighbours will be in question. People might respond to them in terms of the label by applying a self-fulfilling prophecy process and in turn the delinquents might feel secluded from the society because, everyone they come across might react to the labelling in their respective ways, for example, employers may refuse to give them a job, friends might call him with funny titles, etc. Becker argues that, ex- convicts are left with no choice but to return to crime for their livelihood because they may have difficulty in finding job.

Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theories looked at possible problem of personality imbalance based on the functioning of the id, ego and superego. Freudian psychologists suggest that, a person can only lead a stable life if id, ego and super ego are well balanced. If the super ego is weak and the id is strong, a person will seek a physical pleasure. On the other hand, Hans Eyesenck (1964) suggests that, abnormal mental condition is inherited, for this reason, he considers offending as natural and even rational.

The biological theories of crime neglected the influence of heredity. Moreover, almost all of their studies were limited to delinquents in reform schools. There is a possibility of sending the muscular active types to such schools than the skinny ones. On the other hand, psychological approaches of crime cannot explain all aspects of crime due to the fact that, bearing in mind the different nature of crimes, not all the criminals possess distinctive personality characteristics as compared with the rest of the population.

The Labelling theory exposed the weaknesses of the law enforcers, the unreliability of the crime statistics and how society’s reaction to deviance can create more deviance. However, the theory can be criticised on the grounds that it does not point out the possibilities of overcoming a deviant career. It also emphasises on the effects of labelling but ignores the actual victims of crime. Since the labelling theorists argue that deviance could not exist without labelling, it can be interpreted in such a way that a criminal that was not labelled has not deviated or deviants get to know that they deviated after they are labelled, yet most clearly understand that they are going against social norms.

Theorists of crime partly base their arguments according to official statistics provided by Government agencies involved in law enforcement e.g. the Police, Courts etc. In Britain, statistics always indicate that teenagers, working class and members of some ethnic minorities are more prone to commit crime than the middle class, whites and elderly people. Merton, Cohen and Cloward argue that working-class men are the main lawbreakers but they differ in their clarifications as to why they think so. Sociologists use these official statistics figures to figure out why these particular groups are involved in crime. It is normally published on yearly basis and provides two different types of data to anyone who is interested, especially to criminologists, the Police and the Media for their further assessment and research. The first set of data is based on the total number of crimes the Police are aware off. The Police provide accurate number of crimes committed during the year and this helps to compare with the previous years. If there is a rise in figures then the Media normally takes more interest in highlighting and elaborating the increase in crime, however, crimes dealt with by other agencies are not recorded by police and according to Mike Maguire (2002), this can include tax evasion and benefits fraud. The second set of data provides further information about those who have been convicted of offences i.e. age, gender. A number of crime theories are commonly based on these figures.

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The fact of the matter is many crimes are never reported or recorded because no one might have witnessed or the relevant agency might not ascertain that the law has been broken when reported. According to a Scotland yard official, 1954,’ there are only 20 murders a year in London, and not all are serious- some are just husbands killing their wives’ but now Wife beating is never acceptable let alone killing. For this reason, both formal and informal definition of crime may change over time. Dr Ziggy McDonald of the University of Leicester points out that The UK official crime statistics does not reflect our daily experience of crime. He argues that unemployed person is less likely to report a burglary than employed one. In some cases, the witness or witnesses might decide not to report a crime because they are scared, for example the witness to a mafia killing will remain silent unless assured by the police that he will be protected. Other reasons why a crime might not be reported can include, if the criminal is a relative to the witness, a wife who loves her husband might not report a physical violence or a mother will not usually accuse her son if he steals a large sums of money etc.

A number of Sociologists came up with self-report studies which are an alternative way of discovering the characteristics of criminals unlike official statistics. Through questionnaires and interviews, they collect information from people by asking them to provide the number of crimes they committed by themselves and if they have come to the attention of the police. Steven Box (1981) reviewed a number of such studies on delinquency conducted in different countries and as a result he rejected the view presented in the official statistics that working class youths are much more likely to participate in delinquency than middle-class youths. In a separate study conducted by Graham and Bowling (1995) found out that social class never influenced young British males and females to admit having committed offences. However, they pointed out that those from lower classes were more likely to confess to more serious offences. There is a possibility that those who are taking part in questionnaires and interviews may not say the truth about the amount of crime they committed. To clear the doubts, lie detectors were used and in general it was found out that 80% of those who reply the questionnaires and interviews say the truth. Self-report studies may not be completely reliable but it uncovers many more offenders than those who appear in the official statistics, for this reason, it can be considered as more reliable than the official statistics.

In order to overcome the limitations of the annual crime statistics, the relevant authorities carry out victimization studies. In these types of studies, individuals are asked about any crime which have been committed against them in a certain period of time and whether they brought to the attention of the police. During the 2001/2002, British crime survey did a victim survey comprising of 33,000 adults in England and Wales, aged 16 or over. The Home office acknowledged these reports as very useful as the Police statistics. According to Simmons et al, 2002, depending on the nature of the crime, only 42 per cent of these crimes were reported to the police. However, these surveys can never be considered as perfect because people can forget events or consider some of the crime as not important. In the case of victims of rape, some women might feel embarrassed to report a rape in the survey than they do so to the police. According to Hindelang, only 67 per cent of women who reported rape to the police confessed the same to the surveyors especially if the assaulter is a relative to the victim then it is less likely to be mentioned in surveys.

According to Hazel Croall (1998), relating crime with certain race and ethnicity dates back to the nineteenth century during which the Irish were described as ‘dangerous classes’ and as a result they were always seen as likely to be involved in crime. Coreta Philips and Ben Bowling (2002) argue that the public have started to pay more attention to the issue of ‘race and crime’ due to high number of African/Caribbean people in the UK prison. The question was whether the African-Caribbean’s are involved in crime more than the other ethnic minorities or they are being segregated by the criminal justice system. The correlation between race, ethnicity and victimization came in to limelight in the 1990s after an African-Caribbean teenager Stephen Lawrence was killed by a gang of white youths by stabbing him to death at the same time shouting racist abuse at him. Despite considerable evidence against the suspected offenders, no one has been convicted to date. An inquiry known as Macpherson inquiry that was set up after the incident accused the police of ‘institutional racism’. The report exposed the different approach by the police to racially motivated attacks.

In reference to the above, Philips and Bowling (2002) pointed out that after the influx of large number of immigrants from the West Indies and Indian subcontinent in the 1970’s, the rate of crime committed by the settler communities was low as compared with the majority of the population. This was later agreed with by a House of Commons select committee report in 1972 of which they found out that the crime rate for African-Caribbean were similar to those of Whites, while Asian crime rates were significantly lower. However, Philips and Bowling argue that this position was changed when the conflict between the Police and the African-Caribbean communities increased. As a result, many African-Caribbean youths were arrested, particularly for robbery and theft, which later attracted the attention of the entire population. As a consequence, ‘black criminality’ began to be seen as a problem. The view on Asians never changed due to close-ties with their well regulated families. However, that notion vanished after young Bangladeshi men murdered a man in Kings Cross in 1994.

Paul Gilroy (1983) took part in the debate about ‘race’ and crime by saying that black criminality was a myth. He disputes the idea that black criminals belong to an ‘alien culture’ or poorly socialised. Instead, he argues that the ethnic minorities are just trying to defend themselves against unjustly society. He supports his argument by referring to how the British imperialism was resisted especially by both British Asians and African-Caribbeans and that they carried with them to Britain ‘the scars of imperialist violence’. The idea of the police having negative stereotypes of African- Carribeans and Asians instigated the myth of black criminality and the only way they could overcome this was to apply the same techniques they used to oust British imperialism in their respective countries. Gilroy referred to an article in the Police Federation Magazine which stated that, Jamaica purposely shipped its convicts to Britain in order to get rid of criminals in their country. For this reason, Gilroy questions the credibility of the police crime statistics in relation to the high number of African- Caribbean youths involved in street crime.


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