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The Explanation Of Criminality Essay

From a sociological perspective, explanations for criminal-ity are found in two levels which are the subculture and thestructural explanations. The sociological explanations emphasize aspects of societalarrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. Asociological explanation is concerned with how the structure of a society or its institutional practices or its persisting cultural themes affect the conduct of its members. Individualdifferences are denied or ignored, and the explanation of the overall collective behavoir is sought in the patterning ofsocial arrangements that is considered to be both outsidethe actor and prior to him (Sampson, 1985).

That is, the social patterns of power or of institutions which are held tobe determinative of human action are also seen as having been in existence before any particular actor came on the scene. In lay language, sociological explanations of crime place theblame on something social that is prior to, external to, andcompelling of any particular person. Sociological explanations do not deny the importance ofhuman motivation. However, they locate the source of motivesoutside the individual and in the cultural climate in which helives.

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Political philosophers, sociologists, and athropologistshave long observed that a condition of social life is that notall things are allowed. Standards of behavior are both a pro-duct of our living together and a requirement if social life is to be orderly. The concept of a culture refers to the perceived standardsof behavior, observable in both words and deeds, that arelearned, transmitted from generation to generation and somewhatdurable. To call such behavior cultural does not necessar-ily mean that it is refined, but rather means that it iscultured– aquired, cultivated, and persistent. Socialscientists have invented the notion of a subculture to describevariations, within a society, upon its cultural themes. Insuch circumstances, it is assumed that some cultural prescrip-tions are common to all members of society, but that modifica-tions and variations are discernible within the society.

Again, it is part of the definition of a subculture, as of aculture, that is relatively enduring. Its norms are termed a style, rather than a fashion, on the grounds that the formerhas some endurance while the latter is evanescent. The quarrelcomes, of course, when we try to estimate how real a culturalpattern is and how persistent. The standards by which behavior is to be guided vary amongmen and over time.

Its is in this change and variety that crime is defined. An application of this principle to crimin-ology would find that the roots of the crime in the fact thatgroups have developed different standards of appropriate behavior and that, in complex cultures, each individual issubject to competing prescriptions for action. Another subcultural explanation of crime grows readily outof the fact that, as we have seen, social classes experiencedifferent rates of arrest and conviction for serious offenses. When strata within a society are marked off by categories ofincome, education, and occupational prestige, differences arediscovered among them in the amount and style of crime. Further, differences are usually found between these socialclasses in their tastes, interests, and morals. Its is easy to describe these class-linked patterns as cultures.

This version of the subcultural explanation of crime holdsthat the very fact of learning the lessons of the subculturemeans that one aquires interests and preferences that place himin greater or lesser risk of breaking the law. Others arguethat being reared in the lower class means learning a differentculture from that which creates the criminal laws. The lower-class subculture is said to have its own values, many of whichrun counter to the majority interests that support the lawsagainst the serious predatory crimes. One needs to note that the indicators of class are notdescriptions of class. Proponents of subcultural explanationsof crime do not define a class culture by any assortment of theobjective indicators or rank, such as annual income or years ofschooling. The subcultural theorists is interested in pattern-ed ways of life which may have evolved with a division of laborand which, then, are called class cultures.

The pattern, however, is not described by reference to income alone, or byreference to years of schooling or occupational skill. Thepattern includes these indicators, but it is not 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, bya subcultural description of behaviors is that single or multiple signs of social position, such as occupation or educa-tion, will have a different significance for status, and forcultures, with changes in their distribution. Money and education do not mean the same things socially as they are moreor less equitably distributed. The change in meaning is notmerely a change in the prestige value of these two, but alsobetokens changes in the boundries between class cultures.

Generally speaking, whether one believes tendencies to be goodor bad, the point of emphasis should be simply that the criteria of social class that have been generally employed-criteria like income and schooling-may change meaning withchanges in the distribution of these advantages in a popula-tion. Class cultures, like national cultures, may breakdown. A more general subcultural explanation of crime, notnecessarily in disagreement with the notion of class cultures,attributes differences in crime rates to differences in ethnicpatterns to be found within a society. Explanations of thissort do not necessarily bear the title ethnic, although theyare so designated here because they partake of the generalassumption that there are group differences in learned prefer-ences-in what is rewarded and punished-and that these groupdifferences have a perisistence often called a tradition.

Such explantions are of a piece whether they are advancedas descriptions of regional cultures, generational differences,or national characteristics (Hirschi, 1969). Their commontheme is the differences in ways of life out of which differ-ences in crime rates seem to flow. Ethnic explanations areproposed under an assortment of labels, but they have incommon the fact that they do not limit the notion of sub-culture to class culture (Hirschi). They seem particularlyjustified where differences in social status are not so highlycorrelated with differences in conduct as are other indicatorsof cultural difference.

Thus many sociologists in this field argue that in theUnited States economic and status positions in the communitycannot be shown to account for differences between whites and Negroes or between Southerners and Northerners (Freeman, 1983). In relevance, an index ofSoutherness is found to be highly correlated with homiciderates in the United States. Therefore, there is a measureableregional culture that promotes murder. The hazard of accepting a subcultural explanation and, atthe same time, wishing to be a doctor to the body politic isthat the remedies may as well spread the disease as cure it. Among the prescriptions is social action to disperse therepresentatives of the subculture of violence. Quite apart from the political difficulties of implementing such an en-forced dispersion, the proposal assumes more knowledge thanwhat is available.

We, as a society, do not know what pro-portion of the violent people would have to be dispersed inorder 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 and contaminate their hosts. While sociologists acknowledge the plausibility of med-leys of causes operating 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 prominent hypotheses stress the impact of social structure upon behavior. These proposals minimize thefacts of subcultural differences and point to the sources ofcriminal motivation in the patterns of power and privilegewithin a society. They shift the blame for crime from howpeople are to where they are (Sampson). Such explanations may still speak of subcultures, but when they do, they usethe term in a weaker sense than is intended by the subculturaltheorist.

A powerful and popular sociological explanation of crime finds its sources in the social order. This explanationlooks to the ways in which human wants are generated andsatisfied and the ways in which rewards and punishments arehanded out by the social system. There need be no irreconcilable contradiction between subcultural and structural hypotheses, but their different em-phases do produce quarrels about facts as well as about remedies. An essential difference between these two explana-tions is that the structuralists assume that all the membersof a society want more of the same things than the sub-culturalists assume they want (Herrnstein, 1985). In thissense, the structural theses tend to be egalitarian and demo-cratic (Herrnstein). The major applications of structuralismassume that people everywhere are basically the same and thatthere are no significant differences in abilities or desiresthat might account for lawful and criminal careers.

Attentionis paid, then, to the organization of social relations that affects the differential exercise of talents and interests which are assumed to be roughly equal for all individuals of asociety. Modern structural explanations of criminogenesis derive from the ideas of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim viewed the human being as a social animal as well asa physical organism. To say that a man is a social animal means more than the obvious fact that he lives a long life asa helpless child depending on others for his survival. It means more, too, than that homo sapiens is a herding animal whotends to live in colonies.

For Durkheim, the significantlysocial aspect of human nature is that human physical survivalalso depends upon moral connections. Moral connections are, ofcourse, social. They represent a bond with, and hence a bond-age to, others (Christiansen, 1977). Durkheim states that it is not true, that human activity can be released from all re-straint (Christiansen). The restraint that is required if social life is to ensue is a restraint necessary also for the psychic health of the human individual. Social conditions may strengthen or weaken the moral tiesthat Durkheim saw as a condition of happiness and healthy survival.

Rapid changes in one’s possibilities, swings fromriches to rags and, just as disturbing, form rags to riches,may constitute an impulse to volutary death. Excessive hopesand unlimited desires are avenues to misery (Christiansen). Social conditions that allow a deregulation of sociallife Durkheim called states of anomie. The word derives from Greek roots meaning lacking in rule or law.

As used bycontemporary sociologists, the word anomie and its English eq-uivalent, anomy, are applied ambiguosly, sometimes to thesocial conditions of relative normlessness and sometimes to theindividuals who experience a lack of rule and purpose in theirlives. It is more appropriate that the term be restricted to societal conditions of relative rulelessness for our purpose. When the concept of anomie is employed by structurliststo explain behavoir, attention is directed toward the strainsproduced in the individual by the conflicting, confusing, orimpossible demands of one’s social enviroment. Writers havedescribed anomie in our schizoid culture, a culture that issaid to present conflicting prescriptions for conduct (Ferr-ington, 1991). They have also perceived anomie in the tension between recommended goals and available means. It is import-ant to keep the word anomie in mind to all explanations discussed.

The American sociologist R. K. Merton has applied Durk-heim’s ideas to the explanation of deviant behavior with part-icular reference to modern Western societies. His hypothesisis that a state of anomie is produced whenever there is a dis-crepancy between the goals of human action and the societallystructured legitimate means of achieving them.

The hypothesisis simply, that crime breeds in the gaps between aspirationsand possibilities. The emphasis given to this idea by the pattern of social arrangements. Its is the structure of asociety, which includes some elements of its culture, thatbuilds desires and assigns opportunities for their satisfac-tion (Herrnstein). The emphasis given to this idea by thestructuralists is that both the goals and the means aregiven by the pattern of social arrangements. It is the structure of a society, which includes some elements of itsculture, that builds desires and assigns opportunities for their satisfaction. This structural explanation sees illegalbehavior as resulting from goals, particulary materialisticgoals, held to be desirable and possible for all, that motivebehavior in a societal context that provides only limitedchannels of achievement.

It is a thesis that has appropriatelybeen named strain theory (Hirschi). Sociologist R. K. Merton devised another theory dwelling indelinquency. This type of explanation sees delinquency as ad-aptive, as instrumental in the achievement of the same kindsof things everyone wants. Its sees crime, also, as partlyreactive–generated by a sense of injustice on the part ofdelinquents at having been deprived of the goof life they hadbeen led to expect would be theirs.

This hypothesis, which may with accuracy be described as the social worker’s favorite, looks to the satisfaction of desires, rather than the lowering of expectations, as the cure for crime. To be sure, it ap-proaches the satisfaction of desires not directly but indirectly, through the provision of expanded opportunities for legitimate achievement (Herrnstein). In closing on the oppurtunity-structure thesis, this thesisas a whole sounds plausible, closer attention to its assumprionslessens confidence in its explanatory power. Finally, the proposal that differences in the availabilityof legitimate opportunities affect crime rates is only one version of the structural style of explanation.

The weaknessesof this particular hypothesis do not deny the validity of the structural notion in general. There are features of 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 promote criminal-ity. This theme locates the source of crime in some divisionwithin a soicety that is associated 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 social life, may be another suchfeature, as yet inadequately applied to the explanation of crime. Merton’s application of the idea of anomie to the pro-duction of criminality seems plausible in general, particularyif one avoids translating anomie into opportunity. This moregeneral use of the notion of anomie predicts that serious crimerates will be higher in societies whose public codes and evenmass media simultaneously stimulate consumership and egilitarianism while denying differences and delegitimizing them (Herrnstein). More concretely, the age distributions and sex ratios ofsocieties or of localities can be interpreted as structuralfeatures and related to differences in crime rates.

Thus itcomes as little surprise to learn and comprehend that situa-tions in which sex ratio is greatly distorted result in dif-ferent patterns of sexual offense. Homosexualality, includingforcible rape, increases where men and women are kept apart fromthe opposite sex, as in prisons (Blumstein, 1979). Prostitutionflourishes where numbers of men live without women but with thefreedom to get out on occasion, as from mining camps or mili-tary bases (Blumstein). These more concrete features of the social structure seemat once more obvious and less interesting, however, than the class structure of a society by the way in which its wealthand prestige are differentially achieved and rewarded. It is among these differentials that sociologists and many laymen con-tinue to look for generators of crime.

The opportunity-structure hypothesis is one way of attendingto class differences and attempting to show how they breed crime. It views criminality as adaptive, as utilitarian, as the way de-prived people can get what everyone wants and has been told heshould have. There is yet another type of explanation that looks upon thepattern of rewards in a society as causing crime. This theorydiffers from the opportunity-structure theory in its emphasis. It interprets crime as more reactive than adaptive to social stratification. Reactive hypotheses are related to other structural schema inemphasizing the role of the status system of a society in producingcrime and delinquency.

As one kind of sociological explanation, these formulations also partake of some of the subcultural ideasand may even speak of delinquent subcultures. The reactivehypotheses, however, describe criminal subcultures as formed in re-sponse to status deprivation. They see criminality as less tradi-tional, less ethnic, and more psychodynamically generated (Ferrington). They interpret delinquency as a status-seeking solution to straight society’s denial of respect. The reactive hypothesesare, then, a type of structural theory that carries a heavy burdenof psychological implication (Ferrington). The pure reactive hypothesis claims that the social structureproduces a reaction formation in whom its rules disqualify forstatus.

Reaction formation, or reversal formation, is a psycho-analytic idea: that we may defend ourselves against forbidden de-sires by repressing them while expressing their opposites (Ferrington). In this tense, the behavoirs of which the ego is conscious are psychoanalytically 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 play the 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 act of criminality.

Where the subcultural theorists see delinquent behavior as real in its own right, as learned and valued by the actor, andwhere the social psychologists agree but emphasize the trainingprocesses that bring this about, the proponents of reactive hypo-theses interpret the defiant and contemptuous behavoir of many de-linquents as a compensation that defends them against the ego-wounding they have received from the status system (Ferrington). In scientific work there is a criterion, not pointly adheredto, which says that the simple explanation is preferable to the complex, that the hypothesis with few assumptions is preferable tothe one with many. There are simpler 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. Another theory calls envy a universaland independant motive (Herrnstein).

Some social psychologists believe that children will grow upviolent if they are not adequately nurtured. Adequate nurturing in-cludes both appreciating the child and training him or her to ac-knowledge the rights of others. From this theoretical stance, thesavagery of the urban gangster for example represents merely the natural outcome of a failure in child upbringing. Similarily, on a simple level of explanation, many sociolo-gists and anthropologists believe that hostile behavior can belearned as easily as passive behavior. Once learned, the codesof violence and impatient tendencies of the mind are their ownpositive values. Fighting and hating then become both duties andpleasures.

For advocates of this sociopsychological point of view,it is not necessary to regard the barbarian whose words and deedslaugh at goodness as having the same motives as more lawful per-sons. It needs no radical vision to agree that the school systems ofWestern societies presently provide poor aprenticeship in adult-hood for many adolescents. A poor apprenticeship for being grownup is criminogenic. In this sense, the structure of modern countries encouragesdelinquency, for that structure lacks institutional procedures formoving people smoothly form protected childhood to automonmous adulthood. During adolescence, many youths in affluent societiesare neither well guided by their parents nor happily engaged by their teachers.

They are adult in body, but children in responsi-bility and in their contribution to others. Now placed in betweenirresponsible dependence and accountable independance, they arecompelled to attend schools that do not thoroughly stimulate theinterests 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 democratic educators.

They want equality and individuality, objectives that thus far inhistory have eluded societal engineers. Meanwhile, the metro-politan schools of industrialized nations make a probable, but measurable, contribution to delinquency. Some crimes are rational. In such cases, the criminal wayappears to be the more effecient way of satisfying one’s wants. When crime is regarded as rational, it can be given either a structural or a sociopsychological explanation. The explanation is structural when it emphasizes the conditions that make crime rational.

It becomes a sociopsychological explanation when itemphasizes the interpretations of the conditions that make crimerational, or when it stresses the training that legitimizes il-legal activities. No one emphasis need be more correct–more use-ful–than another. Conduct, lawful and criminal, always occurs within some structure of possibilities and is, among normal people, justified by an interpretation of that structure. Boththe interpretation of and the adaptation to a structure of possibilities are largely learned. It is only for convenience that we will discuss the idea that crime may be rational as one of the structural, rather than one of the sociopsychological, explantions.

The most obvious way in which a social structure producescrime is by providing chances to make money illegally (Herrnstein). Whether or not a structure elevates desires, it generates crime bybringing needs into the view of opportunities. This kind of explanation does not say that people behave criminally because they have been denied legitimate opportunities,but rather it says that people break the law, particulary thoselaws 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 will take moneyif they can do so without penalty.

Obviously there are differences in personality that raise orlower resistance to temptation. These differences are the concernof those sociopsychological explantions that emphasize the controlling functions of character. However, without attendingto these personal variables, it is notable that the common humanproclivity to improve and maintain status will produce offensesagainst property when these tendencies meet the appropriate situa-tion (Ferrington). These situations have been studied by crimin-ologists in four major contexts. There are, first, the many situations in civil life in which supplies, services and money are available for theft.

Theft is widespread in such situations. It ranges from taking what isn’t nailed down in public settings to stealing factory tools and store inventories to cheating on expense accounts to embezzlement. Second, there are circumstances in which legitimate work makes it economical to break the criminal law. Third, there are able criminals, individuals who have chosen theft as an occupation and who have make a success of it. These expert thieves are sometimes affiliated with musclemen or organizers in a fourth context of rational crimes, the context in which crime becomes an economic enterprise fulfilling the demands of a market (Ferrington).

Now specifically on these contexts, crime has been seen as apreferred livelihood. The conception of some kinds of crime asrational responses to structures indicates that in the struggleto stay alive and in the desire to improve one’s material condi-tion lie the seeds of many crimes. some robbery, but moreburglary; some snitching, but more boosting; some automobiletheft by juveniles, but more automobile transfers by adultsrepresent a consciously adopted way of making a living. Allorganized crime represents such a preference. The organization oflarge scale theft adopts new technologies and new modes of opera-tion to keep pace with increases in the wealth of Western nationsand changes in security measures.

Such businesslike crime hasbeen changing form craft crimes to project crimes involving big-ger risks, bigger takes, and more criminal intelligence. Conversations with successful criminals, those who use intel-legence to plan lucrative acts, indicate considerable satisfactionwith their work. There is pride in one’s craft and pride in one’snerve. There is enjoyment of leisure between jobs.

There is ex-pressed delight in being one’s own boss, free of any compellingroutine. the carefree life, the irresponsible life, is appreciat-ed and contrasted with the drab existence of more lawful citizens. Given the low risk of penalty and the high probability of reward, given the absence of pangs of guilt and the presence ofhedonistic preferences, crime is a rational occupational choicefor such individuals (Sampson). On a level of lesser skill, many inhabitants of metropolitanslums are in situations that make criminal activity a rationalenterprise.

Young men in particular who show little interest inschool, but great distaste for the authority of a boss and theimprisonment of a predictable job, are likely candidates for therackets. Compared to work, the rackets combine more freedom, money and higher status at a relatively low cost. In some organ-ized crimes, like running the numbers, risk of arrest is low. the rationality of the choice of these rackets is therefore thatmuch higher for youths with the requisite tastes. In summary, the structuralist emphasis on the criminogenicfeatures of a stratified society is both popular and persuasive.

The employment of this type of explanation becomes political. If the anomie that generates crime lies in the gap between desiresand their gratification, criminologists can urge that desires bemodified, that gratifications be increased, or that some compro-mise be reached between what people expect and what they arelikely to get (Christiansen). The various political positions prescribe different remediesfor our social difficulties. Radical thinkers use the schema ofanomie to strengthen their argument for a classless or, at least,a less stratified society.

Conservative thinkers use this schemato demonstrate the dangers of an egalitarian philosophy. At onepolitical pole, the recommendation is to change the structure ofpower so as to reduce the pressure toward criminality. At the other pole, the prescription is to change the public’s perceptionof life. Criminologists are themselves caught up in this debate.

Themajor tradition in social psychology, as it has been developed from sociologists, emphasizes the ways in which perceptions andbeliefs cause behavoirs. Between how things are (the structure)and how one responds to this world, the social psychologist places attitude, belief, and definition of the situation. Thecrucial question becomes one of assessing how much of any actionis simply a response to a structure of the social world, and howmuch of any action is moved by differing interpretations of thatreality (Sampson). Social psychologists of the symbolic-inter-actionist persuasion attempt to build a bridge between the struc-tures of social relations and our interpretations of them and, inthis matter, to describe how crime is produced. BibliographyBIBLIOGRAPHY1. 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 Bases of 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 in Criminological 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.

6 In Crimeand 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 and Schuster. 6. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency.

P. 30-31,89-102, Berkeley: University of California Press. 7. Sampson, R. J. 1985.

Neighborhood Family Structure and theRisk of Victimization. In The Social Ecology of Crime, ed. J. Byrne and R. Sampson, 25-46.

New York:Springer-Verlag. Sociology

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The Explanation Of Criminality Essay
From a sociological perspective, explanations for criminal-ity are found in two levels which are the subculture and thestructural explanations. The sociological explanations emphasize aspects of societalarrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. Asociological explanation is concerned with how the structure of a society or its institutional practices or its persisting cultural themes affect the conduct of its members. Individualdifferences are denied or ignored, and the expl
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The Explanation Of Criminality Essay
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