The structure of society and its degree of organization are important factors in how they contribute to criminality. Within society there are negative influences of the social environment that contribute to and predispose some people to commit crimes. There are three types of social structure theories that focus on crime and they are social disorganization, strain theory, and culture conflict. These theories examine social structure, social process, social life and how they influence criminal behavior of groups of people.
In America the government, television, institutions, families, and communities to name a few play a huge role in the world years ago and today in why people commit crimes. Society is defined in one dictionary as an organized group of persons associated together for religious, benevolent, cultural, scientific, political, patriotic, or other purposes. Also in another dictionary defined as a part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct. These definitions alone alienate some people apart and characterize or place them into particular groups.
This labeling by society generally has a place for all individuals but is their labeling right or wrong overall? This labeling not only places individuals into a group setting but also tends to eliminate certain individuals or groups of people from particular groups, activities or communities etc. , based on age, sex, religious preference, economic status and other cultural differences. When this is done it can cause people to act out against the individual or group in a negative way through violent or other criminal behavior.
In reference to criminology we can identify three key sociological explanations for crime they are: crime is the result of an individual’s location within the structure of society, crime is the end product of various social processes, and crime is the end product of class struggle. These three key explanations basically cover aspects of life that can influence criminal behavior. In some situations the area that you live in can tremendously affect the behavior of people to make them act out and commit criminal acts because of the presence of criminal behavior in their community.
These areas are usually crime ridden because of the poverty level or people being displaced from other regions. W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki- “The Polish Peasant in Europe and America” (1920) believed that crime rose amongst people who had been so displaced. This crime rise resulted from immigrant’s inability to successfully transplant guiding norms and values from their home culture into their new one. This crime rise became known as the social disorganization theory that depicts social change, social conflict, and lack of social consensus as the root cause of crime and deviance.
This is not only prevalent for people coming from other countries and regions but also for those born and raised in America. In most homes values and positive morals are taught to children but when they are also faced with peer rejection and rejection from other social classes it is hard to hold to the positive things that are taught in the home. This is true for adults in society also if at times faced with adversities and rejection and alienation from other economic classes, social and cultural groups will cause individuals and groups of people to react in a negative and criminal manner as pay back for the treatment.
Crime and deviance arise out of an attempt to obtain the legitimate goals as set by society, but through illegitimate means. The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that criminals steal status items in order to appear ‘normal’ within a materialistic society. Television provides a false normal to its viewers about what life should be like and what type of things people should possess to fit in the world around them instead of being comfortable in their own financial state.
This causes people to go out and commit crimes to gain these materialistic items to fit in where they believe they belong based on commercials, television shows, and even the news. Lower class individuals feel a need to possess items that middle class and higher class individuals or groups possess but instead of obtaining them at a normal rate by working and gaining them in a positive way, they will go out and gain them by any means necessary not realizing that it is not making them appear better or the same but actually giving them and making true the assumptions that the higher class have about those in poverty levels.
This is known as the social strain theory where individuals feel the pressure to reach socially determined goals. This theory depicts delinquency as a form of adaptive problem solving behavior committed in response to problems involving frustrating and undesirable social environments. In the majority of society today it is believed that the rich and powerful social elites rule the world. The criminal justice system and criminal law are thought to be working along with these groups with resulting policies aimed at controlling the poor.
These individuals and groups of people that are higher in power set certain standards of living, values that they believe are acceptable, morals that fit into their perfect world, and what is believed to be good and acceptable behavior for society at large to abide by. This makes those that are poor or not on equal financial status as these individuals and groups feel as though they have no rights or that their voice is not heard. They begin to think that they have no power in the world of the rich and powerful.
Minority groups tend to be alienated and feel of no importance as they are shunned by those of other cultural groups based on the beliefs of their personal cultural background that do not equal up to or match their beliefs. Middle class groups who are not on either of these levels tend to bend towards the rich and powerful elite groups because they believe this is where they are on a rise to leaving the people in poverty and those trying to make ends meet alone to try to fit in to a system that is constantly finding ways to keep them down. This clash of norms in the criminology world is known as culture conflict theory.
This type of conflict within cultures is a great cause of a lot of criminality in America today. The people of greater power have come up with certain norms that a lot of the laws of the land are based on and upheld by the government. This causes America to look at those who are of lower class and live in inner cities as the problem or that their way of living and how they do things is wrong. So in looking at it in that perspective a lot of the activities and things that are done in these areas are viewed closely by law enforcement and other government agencies.
This causes some groups of people to rebel and fight against the powers that be because of their feelings of never being able to measure up to their standards and ways of living. People of lower class begin to develop criminal behavior and believe it not to be their fault and that society at large is the problem and that is why they are committing crimes. Most of these people at one time were working to achieve these types of norms of society be positive means, but as society grows and changes so does certain standards of living that leave these lower-class groups clueless on how to ever reach this status.
The things that come easy to some of these poverty stricken or low-class individuals or groups is criminal activity to achieve some kind of higher level of getting what they desire or what every other American has. In the 1960’s civil rights protestors and those seeking social change were viewed as threatening the established social order. This behavior by these groups and individuals brought in the FBI and the CIA to monitor and control the behavior of these radicals as they were so called.
This was victimization of people that wanted and were just trying to be heard about their views of having equal rights as those of power, other social groups and economic status. There are crimes on either side of the fence but because of low income areas and ghetto neighborhoods, street crimes are more of a priority and looked at prosecuted more so than those in corporate America stealing millions and billions of dollars from companies and other innocent investors. Crimes are crimes regardless of culture, economic status, race, or gender they should be prosecuted accordingly.
There is a movie called Menace to Society (1993) directed by twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes that takes place in South Central Los Angeles. The main character Caine Lawson (Caine) and his friend Kevin Anderson (O-Dog) live in South Central. Caine is a high school student being raised by his Christian grandmother and father in a low income area of South Central called Watts. Caine graduates high school but is constantly trying to have a better life and escape the crime that is so prevalent in this area and amongst his peers.
He in turn begins to sell drugs and obtain expensive cars, jewelry and status amongst his peers and in the streets of where he resides. Caine then gets into a situation that could lead him to prison because of his long-time friend O-Dog killing a Korean store owner in his presence. During the movie they show how they are victimized by police because of where they live and because of their race. They are beaten then dropped off in a neighboring rival neighborhood but are helped by the Mexican gang members.
This movie, Menace to Society, is a great example of all the social structure theories. This shows how society alienates and victimizes people in certain areas then in turn they become to believe that there is no other way of life but through committing crime. Caine makes a statement concerning life in the street: For all the bull**** they try to teach you in high school, I graduated with about half of it. But then, I didn't go to school but half the time. The other half, I was out selling dope. Growing up out here, there was s*** that couldn't be learned in no classroom.
There is another statement that he makes to his girlfriend Ronnie who is moving to Atlanta and she is trying to get Caine to go along with her, he states: Ain’t nothing gonna change in Atlanta. I’m still gonna be black. Just another nigger from the ghetto. You act like Atlanta ain’t in America. They don’t give a f***. This attitude that he gets shows that he believes that there is no where he can go and nothing he can do about his situation because society has set the standards too high to be reached even with an education he has no other alternatives in this society.
In conclusion the organization of society though ever changing plays a tremendous role in criminality. The standards and ‘norms’ that are placed on some American people have them feeling that their back is against the wall and it’s them against the world. Any value system, morals, religious belief, education or lack thereof is judged and deemed as not good enough by those that are in power or of elite status. The government and the laws that are passed based on these value systems and standards of living only set low class people up to be victimized by law enforcement and society as a whole.
This type of system put middle class in a situation of fight or flight; basically rise to our status and go along with us or fight to live in the America we have set up and the way we see life in it to be lived. Living in society is not hard and doesn’t have to lead to a life of crime but some who don’t take the roads they can to live comfortably in their means see no other way but to fight the powers of the land and gain the high life by any means they see fit. REFERENCES:
Schmalleger, Frank Criminology Today: An Integrative introduction Pearson, 2012 Allen & albert Hughes Menace II Society (film), 1993 Yuh-Yuh Li, M. S. Social Structure, Social Control, and Crime in Rural Communities: A Test of Social Disorganization Theory Dissertation; The Ohio State University, 2009 Social Change and Crime Rate Trends: A Routine Approach Lawrence E. Cohen and Marcus Felson University of Illinois, Urbana; American Sociological Review 1979, vol. 44 (August): 588-608 Encyclopedia of Race and Crime Helen Taylor Greene and Shaun L. Gabbidon 2009