Groups define certain things as crime

Different societies and same society at different times develop different interpretations of crime. According to William Chambliss ruling society groups define certain things as crime and others not. Drug abuse or gambling are considered criminal because society seeks to regulate these particular types of behaviour. Such offences often drift in and out of the legal codes and their status is determined by public opinion, custom or economic reasons. English vagrancy laws of 1349 stipulated that giving money and other forms of relief to the unemployed was an offence.

Why? The landowners were experiencing a chronic shortage of labour following the Black death of 1348. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim considered crime to be an integral aspect of society and a "normal" social phenomenon in the sense that it has existed in all societies throughout history. Durkheim felt that mala prohibita crimes function in society as a means of defining the limits of acceptable behaviour, serving as a vehicle for social change by extending and testing those boundaries (Hazel Croall 1998).

Western society's present liberal attitudes toward sexual behaviour, for example, have emerged out of an era when certain sexual acts were classified as criminal. Abortion provides another pertinent example of a shift in the public perception of what constitutes a crime. In 1973 the U. S. Supreme Court (in ROE V. WADE) decriminalized abortion, declaring it instead to be a right guaranteed to women under the Constitution. That decision would probably have been impossible 20 years earlier, given the then-existing public attitudes toward abortion. Legal definition of crime not only changes over time but also vary across cultures.

In some countries the sale and consumption of alcohol is a crime, in others the sale and consumption of opium, heroin or cannabis is perfectly legal. English law describes that primarily crime can be mala in se (wrong in itself or real crime for example murder, theft, serious assault etc. ) or mala prohibita, (prohibited not because they are morally wrong but for other legal, political or social reasons). While most criminal codes include murder, assault, theft and fraud, many other activities are subject to what is described as criminalization and decriminalization.

It means a legislation that makes something illegal into legal or legal into illegal. Currently there have been arguments that the use of some soft drugs such as cannabis should be legalized. Law is the outcome of socio economic and political compromises and power plays, legal definitions of crime must therefore be considered alongside social constructions and political processes. According to one definition crime is human conduct that conflict with the interest of the segment of the society that has the power to shape the public policy.

Social and legal construction of crime are both related to political processes as laws are made in parliament and social construction may reflect political interest. For Marxists, the state, which makes the law, represents (directly or indirectly) the interests of the ruling class. Law is a coercive instrument of the state, used to maintain the existing social order. Many criminal offences are created as a result of pressure from powerful groups who see their interests being threatened.

Even laws that do not benefit the ruling class directly may do so indirectly. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). De Haan claims that crime is an ideological concept which serves to maintain political power relations; justifies inequality and serves to distract public from more serious problems and injustices' (De Haan, 1991, p. 207) The events of September 11 were a blessing in disguise for the President Bush to divert the attention of a benumbed public from the consequences of weak economic and political policies.

The hypocrite Bush government buried its problems behind the unjustifiable war in Afghanistan and Iraq and employed constant warnings of terrorist attacks to give itself enough time to regain control in economic field and popularity on domestic front as a wartime leader and hero. In conclusion it could be said that crime is an evolving concept influenced by social, legal and political factors which are all interrelated.

The law is a system of codified institutionalized norms, which are vary by time place and culture and accompanied by predetermined punishment responses. Where do laws come from? They are politically and socially constructed therefore are always changing and difficult to define. It certainly demands that we address broader aspects of social, political and legal processes to understand the concept of crime.


Croall, H. (1998) Crime and Society in Britain. England Pearson education Ltd. Maguire,M. Morgan, R. Reiner,R. (2002) The oxford handbook of criminology 3rd ed. UK . Oxford university press. Muncie,J. Mclaughlin, E.(2002) The problem of crime 2nd ed. London. Sage publications and the Open university. Jones, S. (2001) Criminology 2nd ed. UK. Butterworths ,Lexis Nexis group.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. -George Washington Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. -George Washington Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.