Criminal and deviant behaviour

In my essay I am going to look at the explanations that sociologist have given for criminal and deviant behaviour. Before I give the sociologists explanations, I must define what is meant by, crime and deviance. Crime is an act that breaks the criminal law of a particular society and government at particular times; also the criminal law is always likely to change. The criminal law defines boundaries of acceptable behaviour. To murder, to rob, to rape someone are a few examples of crime. Deviance is a behaviour, which breaks or departs from the norms or standards of the majority in society but does not break the criminal law.

Behaviour like farting, spitting and burping is in our culture and society seen as deviant but may not in others been seen as deviant where burping for example could be compliment after a meal. The way to dress and what sort of "language " somebody uses could be seen as deviant and can lead to hostile and critical reaction from the majority. For something to be called deviant it has to cause a critical reaction and disapproval from others in a particular society. For sociologist there is a relationship between crime and deviance behaviour.

All criminal behaviour is deviant, but not all deviant behaviour is criminal. Homosexuality and abortion at one time were considered criminal offences, but is now legal, although they are still seen by some as deviant. Crime and deviance is non-static, it is something, which changes according to different cultures, social groups and societies across time. There are a lot of different types of explanations given that has been trying to explain crime and deviant behaviour. Biological theories see crime as natural; you are born criminal and marked for life unable to change.

Cesare Lombroso, an Italian psychologist in the nineteenth century, in his book L' Uomo Delinquente, argues 'That you are born criminal because of your genetic make-up'. He put it down to chromosome pattern or hereditary traits. Especially facial characteristics are signs of this theory. High cheekbones and large ears and jaws are a few to mention. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck theory is 'Boys with a chunky muscular physique are twice as likely to commit crime'. Hans Eysenck reckons 'That extroversion is the inherited basis of criminal behaviour.

Extroverts take longer to learn the rules of society, they are more likely to break them, and thus more likely become convicted criminal'. Psychologist's theories are based on abnormal experiences rather than inherited. Faulty parent – child relationships in earlier stages in life can have a lasting effect and influence on the personality. Parents can be a good or bad influence and example for their children. Psychological causes are seen as treatable compere to the biological approach where there is no cure in sight. Sociologists question and reject these ideas and have their own explanations.

They lack convincing and supportive evidence. A lot of studies show that a large number of the population, particular juveniles, at one time in their life did commit a crime. If criminals are abnormal so must be than a large number of the population. I will concentrate on the three major sociological perspectives and how they interpret and analyse crime – Functionalism, Interactionism, and Marxism. The functionalist theory is based on shared norms and values which form the foundation of social order and crime is something which breaks or departs from this shared norms and values.

Emile Durkheim, the father of the functionalistic approach argues in his book 'The Rules of Sociological Method' that crime is inevitable and a normal aspect of social life and an integral part of all societies. Not every member of society can be equally committed to share values and moral beliefs and that is why crime is inevitable. He also argues that a limited amount of crime is necessary and beneficial because it marks the boundaries of society, reinforces these boundaries and brings about change. Crime is functional because it sustains conformity and stabilises society.

It might be odd to say that crime is necessary, especially that crime is a behaviour that breaks rules, and useful for society and functional but it gives the community an opportunity to reassert standards, which he or she had broken. If society wants to exist as a unit than there must be a consensus on shared values and norms and a need to react against those who do otherwise. If crime is functional, that does not mean as more crime as the better, only a certain level is good to a healthy society or it would became dysfunctional.

Merton, also a functionalist, argues 'That criminal behaviour results because of inequality of access to achieve goals in society with legal means'. A special importance or significance is given on certain goals in some societies but they are not available to most of them. A flash sportscar, lots of money, big house, an adorable good looking partner, holidays in exotic locations are only a few to mention. This could result in anomie, a situation in where society lacks social and moral standards, where shared values norms or rules no longer direct behaviour, when it loses his influence, a kind of lawlessness.

Day in, day out in our society we are exposed to material success and the emphasis attached to it, just follow the daily newspapers, magazines, advertising, radio and TV and film industry. Some groups clearly have different degrees or means to access their goals while others are well equipped to achieve these goals through means that are legal. There are also groups who face a very difficult, almost impossible task, to ever realising their goals. In these circumstances, where people try to achieve material success but does not have the opportunities to reach them through legal means, that there is a situation of anomie.

The strong desire to achieve something and the contradiction to realise it results into a gap. To fill this gap people have to find ways to adapt to it. Merton has five possible ways to adapt to this gap. 'Conformity: accepting the goals and means; Innovation: chasing goals through crime; Ritualism: abandon goals but sticking to the legitimate means of achieving them; Retreatism: abandoning both the goals and means; Rebellion: abandon goals and means and replace them with new ones. Merton's theory is based on middle class goals but not every criminal is after material gain, just look at vandalism, violence, juveniles and sex offenders.

Also some adapt to a situation of anomie while others do not'. Albert Cohen, a functionalist, questions the theory that criminal behaviour is caused by the desire for material gains, he looks at the educational system for his explanation. The significance of middle-class values is embodied in schools. Individuals categorised, as working class, do not have access to material and privileges that the rest of society has and will suffer from status frustration that leads to a sub-culture where their form they own groups and gangs with their own values and morals. They will adopt an outlook to turn the middle-class values on his head.

Anything goes wrong in the system of the middle-class the working class see it as good. Cohen comperes it in terms of the 'street corner boy' with the 'college boy'. 'Working class boys are likely to reject the school values because they suffer disadvantages in the educational system and have not being brought up to accept them'. In the 1960's and 1970's the functionalist approach were challenged by the interactionist approach, also known as the labelling theory. Value consensus, a standard functionalist position, see crime as straightforward and easy identifiable but not so the interactionist.

The interactionist put his attention upon the interaction between deviants and those who define or label them as deviant. Interactionists would also argue that criminals are not essentially different from normal people because various studies show that only a very few have not broken the law and that frequently many still do so without their crime being recorded. Howard S. Becker, one of the first exponents of the interactionist approach, suggest 'That there is no thing as a deviant act, it only becomes one when others perceive and define it as such.

Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people label so and to whom the label has been successfully applied. It depends how the act is interpreted, who commits the act, when and where it happens, who observes it and the interaction in that situation'. If two students smoke a cigarette on the school premises and getting caught there would be a different response as when two teachers would do the same act. Having sexual intercourse at home would be seen as normal acceptable behaviour but the same act in public is deviant and criminal. Most people have stereotypical views, often label individuals or groups before they even commit criminal actions.

Others attached with labels such as homosexuals, drug-addicts, alcoholics are seen as such and 'normal people' respond to them in a negative way. The consequences of labelling can result into a snowball-effect, where the so labelled act accordingly and becomes more attached to that label. He or she will be rejected in by society and forced and so encouraged into more deviance. Jock Young's work in the late 1960's on 'hippies' found that as hard as the police try to get rid of the drug problem in London's Notting Hill as more it grew. He reckons 'That because of excessive police action and amplification, a spiral of increases being created.

It becomes a greater value for the group to take drugs and symbolise their differences and defiance of social injustice'. Marxist approaches to crime are not easy to explain. Explanations are based on the wider Marxist theory of society and the system itself must be investigated. Sociologists developed within the framework of Marxism the theory that crime is related to the power structure of society because Marx and his co-author Engels never proposed a theory of crime. They see those who own and control the means of production are largely holding the power.

A relationship between the powerful and the powerless reflects in the superstructure were the state, agents of social control, the law and definitions of deviance in general, reflect the interest of the ruling-class. The state becomes an instrument, which support and maintain the interest of them and also controls the subject or working class. Laws only benefit the ruling minority. Crime is largely the product of capitalism and the high rate of crime, especially in industrial nations, is an indicator of the contradictions and problems in such a system. The criminal law, as the Marxist point out, reflects the interest of the ruling class.

Much of the law is about protection of property and seen as evidence to underline this point. Taylor, Walton and Young in their book 'Critical Criminology (1975)' point out 'That old laws have been reactivated and new laws created in order to control and contain an ever widening range of socially problematic behaviour'. New laws also have been created to regulate industrial dissent and the rights for workers to organise. Also various studies demonstrate how the law reflects economic interest and how it support the interest of the ruling class against threatening or disruptive behaviour.

It enables the powerful to get away with exploiting the people without breaking the law. White-collar crime is largely ignored, but in fact costs the state billions of pounds, far in excess of social security fraud. Lauren Snider claims in an article 1993 'That corporate crimes does more harm than the 'street crimes' such as burglary, robbery and murder, which are usually seen as the most serious types of crime. She pointed out that corporate crime costs more, in terms of both money and lives, than street crime.

Despite the enormous costs of corporate crime both penalties and the chances of prosecution for those involved are usually small also to create the impression that corporate crime is minimal'. Exposure of the widespread corporate crime could well threaten capitalist power. By ignoring white-collar crime it gives the impression that criminals are mainly from the working classes. This takes away attention from the 'ruling-class' and their crimes. Looking at all the evidence of these perspectives it is extremely difficult to pick out one perspective above the others. Each perspective offers ideas that seem relevant for crimes place in society.

Not one perspective can stand-alone, I believe that retrieving information from each perspective gives a better-balanced picture. Some form of deviance is good in order for social change to occur, but a deviant act for some only becomes deviant when others perceive and define it as such and who are the real deviants, the one exploiting the majority or those who are in prison?


Marsh, Ian Crime, London and NewYork,PublisherLongman1986, P. 12 Cesare Lombroso, from book L'UomoDelinquente Marsh, Ian Crime, London and New York, Publisher Longman 1986, P. 13, Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck