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    From A Sociological Perspective, Explanations For Criminal- Ity Are Fo Essay

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    und in two levels which are thesubculture and the structural explanations. The sociological explanations emphasize aspects ofsocietal arrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. A sociological explanation isconcerned with how the structure of a society or its institutional practices or its persisting culturalthemes affect the conduct of its members.

    Individual differences are denied or ignored, and theexplanation of the overall collective behavoir is sought in the patterning of social arrangements thatis considered to be both outside the actor and prior to him (Sampson, 1985). That is, the socialpatterns of power or of institutions which are held to be determinative of human action are alsoseen as having been in existence before any particular actor came on the scene. In lay language,sociological explanations of crime place the blame on something social that is prior to, external to,and compelling of any particular person. Sociological explanations do not deny the importance ofhuman motivation. However, they locate the source of motives outside the individual and in thecultural climate in which he lives.

    Political philosophers, sociologists, and athropologists have longobserved that a condition of social life is that not all things are allowed. Standards of behavior areboth a pro- duct of our living together and a requirement if social life is to be orderly. The conceptof a culture refers to the perceived standards of behavior, observable in both words and deeds, thatare learned, transmitted from generation to generation and somewhat durable. To call such behaviorcultural does not necessar- ily mean that it is refined, but rather means that it is cultured–aquired, cultivated, and persistent.

    Social scientists have invented the notion of a subculture todescribe variations, within a society, upon its cultural themes. In such circumstances, it is assumedthat some cultural prescrip- tions are common to all members of society, but that modifica- tionsand variations are discernible within the society. Again, it is part of the definition of a subculture, asof a culture, that is relatively enduring. Its norms are termed a style, rather than a fashion, onthe grounds that the former has some endurance while the latter is evanescent. The quarrel comes,of course, when we try to estimate how real a cultural pattern is and how persistent.

    Thestandards by which behavior is to be guided vary among men and over time. Its is in this changeand variety that crime is defined. An application of this principle to crimin- ology would find thatthe roots of the crime in the fact that groups have developed different standards of appropriatebehavior and that, in complex cultures, each individual is subject to competing prescriptions foraction. Another subcultural explanation of crime grows readily out of the fact that, as we have seen,social classes experience different rates of arrest and conviction for serious offenses. Whenstrata within a society are marked off by categories of income, education, and occupational prestige,differences are discovered among them in the amount and style of crime. Further, differences areusually found between these social classes in their tastes, interests, and morals.

    Its is easy todescribe these class-linked patterns as cultures. This version of the subcultural explanation ofcrime holds that the very fact of learning the lessons of the subculture means that one aquiresinterests and preferences that place him in greater or lesser risk of breaking the law. Others arguethat being reared in the lower class means learning a different culture from that which creates thecriminal laws. The lower- class subculture is said to have its own values, many of which runcounter to the majority interests that support the laws against the serious predatory crimes. Oneneeds to note that the indicators of class are not descriptions of class.

    Proponents of subculturalexplanations of crime do not define a class culture by any assortment of the objective indicators orrank, such as annual income or years of schooling. The subcultural theorists is interested inpattern- ed ways of life which may have evolved with a division of labor and which, then, are calledclass cultures. The pattern, however, is not described by reference to income alone, or byreference to years of schooling or occupational skill. The pattern includes these indicators, but it isnot defined by them. The subcultural theorist is more intent upon the variet- ies of human value.

    these are preferred ways of living that are acted upon. In the economist’s language, they aretastes. The thesis that is intimated, but not often explicated, by a subcultural description ofbehaviors is that single or multiple signs of social position, such as occupation or educa- tion, willhave a different significance for status, and for cultures, with changes in their distribution. Moneyand education do not mean the same things socially as they are more or less equitably distributed. The change in meaning is not merely a change in the prestige value of these two, but also betokenschanges in the boundries between class cultures. Generally speaking, whether one believestendencies to be good or bad, the point of emphasis should be simply that the criteria of socialclass that have been generally employed- criteria like income and schooling-may change meaningwith changes in the distribution of these advantages in a popula- tion.

    Class cultures, like nationalcultures, may break down. A more general subcultural explanation of crime, not necessarily indisagreement with the notion of class cultures, attributes differences in crime rates to differences inethnic patterns to be found within a society. Explanations of this sort do not necessarily bear thetitle ethnic, although they are so designated here because they partake of the general assumptionthat there are group differences in learned prefer- ences-in what is rewarded and punished-and thatthese group differences have a perisistence often called a tradition. Such explantions are of apiece whether they are advanced as descriptions of regional cultures, generational differences, ornational characteristics (Hirschi, 1969).

    Their common theme is the differences in ways of life outof which differ- ences in crime rates seem to flow. Ethnic explanations are proposed under anassortment of labels, but they have in common the fact that they do not limit the notion of sub-culture to class culture (Hirschi). They seem particularly justified where differences in socialstatus are not so highly correlated with differences in conduct as are other indicators of culturaldifference. Thus many sociologists in this field argue that in the United States economic andstatus positions in the community cannot be shown to account for differences [in homicide rates]between whites and Negroes or between Southerners and Northerners (Freeman, 1983).

    Inrelevance, an index of Southerness is found to be highly correlated with homicide rates in theUnited States. Therefore, there is a measureable regional culture that promotes murder. The hazardof accepting a subcultural explanation and, at the same time, wishing to be a doctor to the bodypolitic is that the remedies may as well spread the disease as cure it. Among the prescriptions issocial action to disperse the representatives of the subculture of violence.

    Quite apart from thepolitical difficulties of implementing such an en- forced dispersion, the proposal assumes moreknowledge than what is available. We, as a society, do not know what pro- portion of the violentpeople would have to be dispersed in order to break up their culture; and, what is more important,we do not know to what extent the dispersed people would act as culture-carriers andcontaminate their hosts. While sociologists acknowledge the plausibility of med- leys of causesoperating to affect crime rates, their atten- tion has been largely diverted to specific kinds of socialarrangements that may affect the damage we do to each other. Among the more prominenthypotheses stress the impact of social structure upon behavior. These proposals minimize the factsof subcultural differences and point to the sources of criminal motivation in the patterns of powerand privilege within a society. They shift the blame for crime from how people are to where theyare (Sampson).

    Such explanations may still speak of subcultures, but when they do, they use theterm in a weaker sense than is intended by the subcultural theorist. A powerful and popularsociological explanation of crime finds its sources in the social order. This explanation looks tothe ways in which human wants are generated and satisfied and the ways in which rewards andpunishments are handed out by the social system. There need be no irreconcilable contradictionbetween subcultural and structural hypotheses, but their different em- phases do produce quarrelsabout facts as well as about remedies. An essential difference between these two explana- tions isthat the structuralists assume that all the members of a society want more of the same things thanthe sub- culturalists assume they want (Herrnstein, 1985). In this sense, the structural theses tendto be egalitarian and demo- cratic (Herrnstein).

    The major applications of structuralism assume thatpeople everywhere are basically the same and that there are no significant differences in abilities ordesires that might account for lawful and criminal careers. Attention is paid, then, to theorganization of social relations that affects the differential exercise of talents and interests whichare assumed to be roughly equal for all individuals of a society. Modern structural explanations ofcriminogenesis derive from the ideas of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim viewedthe human being as a social animal as well as a physical organism. To say that a man is a socialanimal means more than the obvious fact that he lives a long life as a helpless child depending onothers for his survival.

    It means more, too, than that homo sapiens is a herding animal who tends tolive in colonies. For Durkheim, the significantly social aspect of human nature is that humanphysical survival also depends upon moral connections. Moral connections are, of course, social. They represent a bond with, and hence a bond- age to, others (Christiansen, 1977).

    Durkheimstates that it is not true, that human activity can be released from all re- straint (Christiansen). Therestraint that is required if social life is to ensue is a restraint necessary also for the psychic healthof the human individual. Social conditions may strengthen or weaken the moral ties that Durkheimsaw as a condition of happiness and healthy survival. Rapid changes in one’s possibilities, swingsfrom riches to rags and, just as disturbing, form rags to riches, may constitute an impulse tovolutary death. Excessive hopes and unlimited desires are avenues to misery (Christiansen).

    Socialconditions that allow a deregulation of social life Durkheim called states of anomie. The wordderives from Greek roots meaning lacking in rule or law. As used by contemporary sociologists,the word anomie and its English eq- uivalent, anomy, are applied ambiguosly, sometimes to thesocial conditions of relative normlessness and sometimes to the individuals who experience a lackof rule and purpose in their lives. It is more appropriate that the term be restricted to societalconditions of relative rulelessness for our purpose.

    When the concept of anomie is employed bystructurlists to explain behavoir, attention is directed toward the strains produced in the individualby the conflicting, confusing, or impossible demands of one’s social enviroment. Writers havedescribed anomie in our schizoid culture, a culture that is said to present conflicting prescriptionsfor conduct (Ferr- ington, 1991). They have also perceived anomie in the tension betweenrecommended goals and available means. It is import- ant to keep the word anomie in mind to allexplanations discussed. The American sociologist R.

    K. Merton has applied Durk- heim’s ideas tothe explanation of deviant behavior with part- icular reference to modern Western societies. Hishypothesis is that a state of anomie is produced whenever there is a dis- crepancy between thegoals of human action and the societally structured legitimate means of achieving them. Thehypothesis is simply, that crime breeds in the gaps between aspirations and possibilities. Theemphasis given to this idea by the pattern of social arrangements.

    Its is the structure of a society,which includes some elements of its culture, that builds desires and assigns opportunities for theirsatisfac- tion (Herrnstein). The emphasis given to this idea by the structuralists is that both thegoals and the means are given by the pattern of social arrangements. It is the structure of asociety, which includes some elements of its culture, that builds desires and assigns opportunitiesfor their satisfaction. This structural explanation sees illegal behavior as resulting from goals,particulary materialistic goals, held to be desirable and possible for all, that motive behavior in asocietal context that provides only limited channels of achievement.

    It is a thesis that hasappropriately been named strain theory (Hirschi). Sociologist R. K. Merton devised anothertheory dwelling in delinquency. This type of explanation sees delinquency as ad- aptive, asinstrumental in the achievement of the same kinds of things everyone wants.

    Its sees crime, also,as partly reactive–generated by a sense of injustice on the part of delinquents at having beendeprived of the goof life they had been led to expect would be theirs. This hypothesis, which maywith accuracy be described as the social worker’s favorite, looks to the satisfaction of desires, ratherthan the lowering of expectations, as the cure for crime. To be sure, it ap- proaches the satisfactionof desires not directly but indirectly, through the provision of expanded opportunities forlegitimate achievement (Herrnstein). In closing on the oppurtunity-structure thesis, this thesis as awhole sounds plausible, closer attention to its assumprions lessens confidence in its explanatorypower. Finally, the proposal that differences in the availability of legitimate opportunities affectcrime rates is only one version of the structural style of explanation.

    The weaknesses of thisparticular hypothesis do not deny the validity of the structural notion in general. There are featuresof the struc- ture of a society that seem clearly and directly antecedent to varying crime rates. Culture conflict is one such general aspect of a society’s structure that seems to promotecriminal- ity. This theme locates the source of crime in some division within a soicety that isassociated with differential accept- ance of legal norms. All sociological explanations, at bottom,assume culture conflict to be the source of crime.

    Durkheim’s anomie, the deregulation of sociallife, may be another such feature, as yet inadequately applied to the explanation of crime. Merton’sapplication of the idea of anomie to the pro- duction of criminality seems plausible in general,particulary if one avoids translating anomie into opportunity. This more general use of the notionof anomie predicts that serious crime rates will be higher in societies whose public codes and evenmass media simultaneously stimulate consumership and egilitarianism while denying differencesand delegitimizing them (Herrnstein). More concretely, the age distributions and sex ratios ofsocieties or of localities can be interpreted as structural features and related to differences in crimerates. Thus it comes as little surprise to learn and comprehend that situa- tions in which sex ratio isgreatly distorted result in dif- ferent patterns of sexual offense.

    Homosexualality, including forciblerape, increases where men and women are kept apart from the opposite sex, as in prisons(Blumstein, 1979). Prostitution flourishes where numbers of men live without women but with thefreedom to get out on occasion, as from mining camps or mili- tary bases (Blumstein). Thesemore concrete features of the social structure seem at once more obvious and less interesting,however, than the class structure of a society by the way in which its wealth and prestige aredifferentially achieved and rewarded. It is among these differentials that sociologists and manylaymen con- tinue to look for generators of crime. The opportunity-structure hypothesis is one wayof attending to class differences and attempting to show how they breed crime. It views criminalityas adaptive, as utilitarian, as the way de- prived people can get what everyone wants and has beentold he should have.

    There is yet another type of explanation that looks upon the pattern of rewardsin a society as causing crime. This theory differs from the opportunity-structure theory in itsemphasis. It interprets crime as more reactive than adaptive to social stratification. Reactivehypotheses are related to other structural schema in emphasizing the role of the status system of asociety in producing crime and delinquency.

    As one kind of sociological explanation, theseformulations also partake of some of the subcultural ideas and may even speak of delinquentsubcultures. The reactive hypotheses, however, describe criminal subcultures as formed in re-sponse to status deprivation. They see criminality as less tradi- tional, less ethnic, and morepsychodynamically generated (Ferrington). They interpret delinquency as a status-seeking solutionto straight society’s denial of respect.

    The reactive hypotheses are, then, a type of structuraltheory that carries a heavy burden of psychological implication (Ferrington). The pure reactivehypothesis claims that the social structure produces a reaction formation in whom its rulesdisqualify for status. Reaction formation, or reversal formation, is a psycho- analytic idea: that wemay defend ourselves against forbidden de- sires by repressing them while expressing theiropposites (Ferrington). In this tense, the behavoirs of which the ego is conscious arepsychoanalytically interpreted as a shield against admitting the true urges that have been frustrated.

    For example, if one says that if I can’t have it, it must be no good. Thus, it is held, if one can’t playthe middle-class game, or won’t be let into it, he responds by breaking up the play (Ferrington). The denial is proof of the desire and when put into the present topic, this results in an unlawful actof criminality. Where the subcultural theorists see delinquent behavior as real in its own right, aslearned and valued by the actor, and where the social psychologists agree but emphasize thetraining processes that bring this about, the proponents of reactive hypo- theses interpret the defiantand contemptuous behavoir of many de- linquents as a compensation that defends them against theego- wounding they have received from the status system (Ferrington).

    In scientific work there is acriterion, not pointly adhered to, which says that the simple explanation is preferable to thecomplex, that the hypothesis with few assumptions is preferable to the one with many. There aresimpler explanations of criminal hostility than the reactive hypotheses. One such theory holds thatviolence comes naturally and that it will be expressed unless we are trained to control it. Anothertheory calls envy a universal and independant motive (Herrnstein). Some social psychologistsbelieve that children will grow up violent if they are not adequately nurtured.

    Adequate nurturingin- cludes both appreciating the child and training him or her to ac- knowledge the rights of others. From this theoretical stance, the savagery of the urban gangster for example represents merely thenatural outcome of a failure in child upbringing. Similarily, on a simple level of explanation, manysociolo- gists and anthropologists believe that hostile behavior can be learned as easily as passivebehavior. Once learned, the codes of violence and impatient tendencies of the mind are their ownpositive values. Fighting and hating then become both duties and pleasures. For advocates of thissociopsychological point of view, it is not necessary to regard the barbarian whose words anddeeds laugh at goodness as having the same motives as more lawful per- sons.

    It needs noradical vision to agree that the school systems of Western societies presently provide pooraprenticeship in adult- hood for many adolescents. A poor apprenticeship for being grown up iscriminogenic. In this sense, the structure of modern countries encourages delinquency, for thatstructure lacks institutional procedures for moving people smoothly form protected childhood toautomonmous adulthood. During adolescence, many youths in affluent societies are neither wellguided by their parents nor happily engaged by their teachers. They are adult in body, but childrenin responsi- bility and in their contribution to others.

    Now placed in between irresponsibledependence and accountable independance, they are compelled to attend schools that do notthoroughly stimulate the interests of all of them and that, in too many cases, provide theuninterested child with the experience of failure and the mirror of denigration (Herrnstein). Educators are conceiving remedies. This engages a dilemma–a dilemma of the democraticeducators. They want equality and individuality, objectives that thus far in history have eludedsocietal engineers.

    Meanwhile, the metro- politan schools of industrialized nations make aprobable, but measurable, contribution to delinquency. Some crimes are rational. In such cases, thecriminal way appears to be the more effecient way of satisfying one’s wants. When crime isregarded as rational, it can be given either a structural or a sociopsychological explanation. Theexplanation is structural when it emphasizes the conditions that make crime rational.

    It becomes asociopsychological explanation when it emphasizes the interpretations of the conditions that makecrime rational, or when it stresses the training that legitimizes il- legal activities. No one emphasisneed be more correct–more use- ful–than another. Conduct, lawful and criminal, always occurswithin some structure of possibilities and is, among normal people, justified by an interpretation ofthat structure. Both the interpretation of and the adaptation to a structure of possibilities are largelylearned. It is only for convenience that we will discuss the idea that crime may be rational as one ofthe structural, rather than one of the sociopsychological, explantions. The most obvious way inwhich a social structure produces crime is by providing chances to make money illegally(Herrnstein).

    Whether or not a structure elevates desires, it generates crime by bringing needs intothe view of opportunities. This kind of explanation does not say that people behave criminallybecause they have been denied legitimate opportunities, but rather it says that people break the law,particulary those laws concerning the definition of property, because this is a rational thing to do. the idea of rational crime is in accord with the common-sense assumption that most people willtake money if they can do so without penalty. Obviously there are differences in personality thatraise or lower resistance to temptation. These differences are the concern of thosesociopsychological explantions that emphasize the controlling functions of character. However,without attending to these personal variables, it is notable that the common human proclivity toimprove and maintain status will produce offenses against property when these tendencies meet theappropriate situa- tion (Ferrington).

    These situations have been studied by crimin- ologists in fourmajor contexts. There are, first, the many situations in civil life in which supplies, services andmoney are available for theft. Theft is widespread in such situations. It ranges from taking whatisn’t nailed down in public settings to stealing factory tools and store inventories to cheating onexpense accounts to embezzlement. Second, there are circumstances in which legitimate workmakes it economical to break the criminal law. Third, there are able criminals, individuals whohave chosen theft as an occupation and who have make a success of it.

    These expert thieves aresometimes affiliated with musclemen or organizers in a fourth context of rational crimes, thecontext in which crime becomes an economic enterprise fulfilling the demands of a market(Ferrington). Now specifically on these contexts, crime has been seen as a preferred livelihood. The conception of some kinds of crime as rational responses to structures indicates that in thestruggle to stay alive and in the desire to improve one’s material condi- tion lie the seeds of manycrimes. some robbery, but more burglary; some snitching, but more boosting; some automobiletheft by juveniles, but more automobile transfers by adults represent a consciously adopted wayof making a living. All organized crime represents such a preference.

    The organization of largescale theft adopts new technologies and new modes of opera- tion to keep pace with increases inthe wealth of Western nations and changes in security measures. Such businesslike crime has beenchanging form craft crimes to project crimes involving big- ger risks, bigger takes, and morecriminal intelligence. Conversations with successful criminals, those who use intel- legence to planlucrative acts, indicate considerable satisfaction with their work. There is pride in one’s craft andpride in one’s nerve. There is enjoyment of leisure between jobs. There is ex- pressed delight inbeing one’s own boss, free of any compelling routine.

    the carefree life, the irresponsible life, isappreciat- ed and contrasted with the drab existence of more lawful citizens. Given the low risk ofpenalty and the high probability of reward, given the absence of pangs of guilt and the presence ofhedonistic preferences, crime is a rational occupational choice for such individuals (Sampson). Ona level of lesser skill, many inhabitants of metropolitan slums are in situations that make criminalactivity a rational enterprise. Young men in particular who show little interest in school, but greatdistaste for the authority of a boss and the imprisonment of a predictable job, are likely candidatesfor the rackets. Compared to work, the rackets combine more freedom, money and higher status ata relatively low cost.

    In some organ- ized crimes, like running the numbers, risk of arrest is low. therationality of the choice of these rackets is therefore that much higher for youths with the requisitetastes. In summary, the structuralist emphasis on the criminogenic features of a stratified society isboth popular and persuasive. The employment of this type of explanation becomes political. If theanomie that generates crime lies in the gap between desires and their gratification, criminologistscan urge that desires be modified, that gratifications be increased, or that some compro- mise bereached between what people expect and what they are likely to get (Christiansen). The variouspolitical positions prescribe different remedies for our social difficulties.

    Radical thinkers use theschema of anomie to strengthen their argument for a classless or, at least, a less stratified society. Conservative thinkers use this schema to demonstrate the dangers of an egalitarian philosophy. Atone political pole, the recommendation is to change the structure of power so as to reduce thepressure toward criminality. At the other pole, the prescription is to change the public’s perceptionof life. Criminologists are themselves caught up in this debate.

    The major tradition in socialpsychology, as it has been developed from sociologists, emphasizes the ways in which perceptionsand beliefs cause behavoirs. Between how things are (the structure) and how one responds to thisworld, the social psychologist places attitude, belief, and definition of the situation. The crucialquestion becomes one of assessing how much of any action is simply a response to a structure ofthe social world, and how much of any action is moved by differing interpretations of that reality(Sampson). Social psychologists of the symbolic-inter- actionist persuasion attempt to build abridge between the struc- tures of social relations and our interpretations of them and, in thismatter, to describe how crime is produced. BibliographyBIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Blumstein, Alfred.

    1979. An Analysis. Crime and Delinquency 29(October): 546-60. 2. Christiansen, K.

    O. 1977. A Review of Studies of Crimin- ality. In Basesof Criminal Behavoir, ed.

    S. A. Mednick and K. O.

    Christiansen, p. 641, 654-669 New York:Gardner. 3. Ferrington, David P. 1991. Explaining the Beginning and Progress.

    In Advances inCriminological Theory, ed. Joan McCord, vol. 3, p. 191-199,New Brunswick, N.

    J. : Transaction. 4. Freeman, Richard B. 1983. The Relationship Between Criminality and the Disadvantaged.

    Ch. 6In Crime and Public Policy, ed. James Q. Wilson, p. 917-991. San Francisco: ICS Press.

    5. Herrnstein, Richard J. 1985. Crime and Human Nature. P.

    359-374, New York: Simon andSchuster. 6. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency.

    P. 30-31, 89-102, Berkeley: Universityof California Press. 7. Sampson, R.

    J. 1985. Neighborhood Family Structure and the Risk ofVictimization. In The Social Ecology of Crime, ed. J. Byrne and R.

    Sampson, 25-46. New York:Springer-Verlag.

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