Just Sociology

Challenging the Fixed Concept: Examples of Socially Constructed Crimes

Crime has traditionally been viewed as a fixed concept, with certain acts deemed inherently deviant and punishable by law. However, social constructionists argue that crime is not a fixed category, but a fluid social construct that changes over time and varies across cultures.

This article will explore the concept of social construction of crime by examining recent changes to law and providing examples of socially constructed crimes.

Recent Changes to Law

Recent changes to law highlight the socially constructed nature of crime. For instance, motorcycle helmets were made compulsory in the UK in 1973, violating individual freedom in the name of safety.

Similarly, the criminalization of rape within marriage in the UK in 1991 illustrated how some actions that were previously deemed consensual could be redefined as illegal. Likewise, informally organized raves were made illegal in 1994 under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, and the Castlemorton rave in 1992 resulted in an injunction order that transformed the peaceful gathering into a criminal activity.

The banning of smoking in public places in England and Wales in 2007 highlighted how gender norms played a role in determining what was socially and legally acceptable. The Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 reflected the changing nature of drug use and the difficulty in regulating legal highs.

The ban on smacking children by the Welsh Parliament in 2020 illustrated how physical punishment of children could be deemed a criminal activity. Lastly, lockdown laws introduced in the UK in response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how the constant review of gathering restrictions and mask rules could create socially constructed crimes.

Motorcycle Helmets

The introduction of compulsory motorcycle helmets in the UK in 1973 was a socially constructed response to the increase in motorcycle accidents. The law required all riders to wear a helmet and imposed fines on those who refused.

Despite initial resistance, the law became widely accepted, and today it is deemed a necessary safety measure. The motorcycle helmet law illustrates how the definition of deviant behavior can change over time with societal changes in values and beliefs.

Rape within Marriage

The criminalization of rape within marriage in the UK in 1991 was a significant moment in the fight against gender-based violence. Up until this point, marital rape was not classified as a crime, and a spouse’s consent to sex was assumed.

However, this legislation recognized rape within marriage as a criminal offense and thereby reaffirmed the right of a woman to control her own body. The law thus illustrates how shifting societal values can redefine what is considered deviant, illegal behavior.

Informally Organized Raves

The criminalization of informally organized raves in the UK under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 demonstrated how the definition of crime can be changed in response to social concerns. Initially seen as a peaceful gathering of like-minded individuals, raves soon became associated with anti-social behavior, particularly drug use, and associated criminal acts.

The Castlemorton rave in 1992 resulted in an injunction order that, by changing the peaceful gathering into an illegal act, highlighted how partial and arbitrary definitions of criminality can be.

Smoking Ban

The introduction of the smoking ban in public places in England and Wales in 2007 highlighted how societal norms can be transformed into legal restrictions. Prior to this, smoking in public was considered socially acceptable, and smokers were not subject to legal consequences for their behavior.

However, as societal norms towards smoking became more negative, and research linked it to various health issues, smoking in public became a socially constructed crime.

Psychoactive Substance Act

The Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 illustrates how the changing nature of drug use creates difficulties for lawmakers in maintaining a clear definition of deviant, illegal behavior. The act was brought in to deal with the increasing availability of legal highs, which created a gray area in the regulation of drugs.

The act attempted to give police powers to outlaw any substance that was psychoactive, regardless of the substance’s potential harm, demonstrating that legality and illegality of drug use were not simply related to their harmfulness.

Ban on Smacking Children

The ban on smacking in children by the Welsh Parliament in 2020 was a signal that the use of physical punishment for children was no longer deemed socially acceptable. The law, in this instance, illustrated how seemingly self-evident social practices can be redefined as illegal through shifting societal values.

The ban reflected an increasing concern towards the impact that physical punishment can have on children, and how it may lead to long-lasting trauma.

Lockdown Laws

The introduction of lockdown laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic served to highlight how legal definitions of criminal activity are subject to constant review and change. Gathering restrictions, face mask rules, and business closures, were introduced rapidly and applied locally, illustrating the flexibility of the law in responding to new social challenges.

Lockdown laws further emphasized that legal definitions of deviance can be created, redefined, and adapted at will.

Conclusion

This article has explored the concept of social construction of crime by examining recent changes to law and providing examples of socially constructed crimes. It has demonstrated how legal definitions of crime can change over time, reflecting shifting societal norms in values and beliefs.

The socially constructed nature of crime challenges the objective status of criminality and highlights the inherently unstable nature of the law in defining criminal acts. Ultimately, social constructionism exposes the limits of legal rationality in defining criminality and highlights the importance of taking a plurivocal view of crime.

In conclusion, this article has explored the concept of social construction of crime by examining recent changes to the law and providing examples of socially constructed crimes. We have demonstrated how legal definitions of crime can change over time, reflecting shifting societal norms in values and beliefs.

Social constructionism exposes the limits of legal rationality in defining criminality and highlights the importance of taking a plurivocal view of crime. With a better understanding of the socially constructed nature of crime, we can develop a more nuanced appreciation of deviant behavior and challenge the limitations of the law in defining it.

FAQ:

Q: What is social construction of crime? A: Social construction of crime refers to the idea that the definition of the criminal act is not fixed, but rather is a fluid social construct that changes over time and varies across cultures.

Q: What are some examples of socially constructed crimes? A: Some examples of socially constructed crimes include motorcycle helmet laws, smoking bans, and the criminalization of marital rape.

Q: Why do societal norms influence criminal definitions? A: Societal norms are important because they shape people’s attitudes towards certain behaviors and can thereby affect legal definitions of deviancy, criminality, and punishment.

Q: Why is understanding the social construction of crime important? A: Understanding the socially constructed nature of crime is important because it challenges the objective status of criminality and highlights the inherently unstable nature of the law in defining criminal acts.

Q: How does social constructionism expose the limits of legal rationality in defining criminality? A: Social constructionism exposes the limits of legal rationality in defining criminality by showing how the law is not neutral and that definitions of crime are partial and arbitrary.

It highlights the importance of taking a plurivocal view of crime to account for varying perspectives and social contexts.

Popular Posts