Just Sociology

Exploring the Complex Relationship Between Social Class and Crime

The relationship between social class and crime is a topic that has fascinated scholars across disciplines. Within criminology, this topic has been explored in depth through the analysis of the effects of poverty, unemployment, and other social factors on the behavior of individuals.

In this article, we will examine two important aspects of this relationship – the impact of underclass on high levels of crime, and the tendency of elite social classes to engage in sophisticated forms of criminal activity.

Underclass and High Levels of Crime

Underclass and High Levels of Crime

The New Right perspective on crime suggests that underclass poverty and unemployment cause high levels of crime. From this perspective, unemployed individuals, particularly single parents, are seen as being more likely to engage in deviant behavior due to a lack of social control.

The underlying assumption is that underclass individuals are largely responsible for their own situation and poverty is the result of individual shortcomings. In contrast, Hirschis Social Control Theory suggests that social bonds are what keep people from engaging in crime, a lack of which leads to deviant behavior.

Similarly, Mertons Strain Theory posits that social inequality and the denial of opportunities precipitate a strain on individuals, making them more likely to engage in criminal behavior. This theory proposes that the goal of every individual is to achieve success.

However, the inability to attain success leads to frustration which in turn leads to deviant behavior.

Media Construction of Underclass Deviance

Interactionists reject the New Right perspective and claim that deviance is constructed by society rather than being inherent to individuals. According to this view, the medias construction of underclass crime reinforces public stereotypes and misconceptions about these populations.

Stan Cohens 1972 study of the media reaction to Mods and rockers demonstrated how the media can create and perpetuate negative images of deviance in society. These negative images are intensified even more by the police interpretation of underclass behavior as being inherently criminal.

Beckers Labeling Theory further supports the interactionist perspective by stating that societal agencies such as the police, courts and prisons act as social control agents, labeling and stigmatizing individuals who deviate from the expected norms. This results in a negative self-image that reinforces deviant behavior, leading to a higher likelihood of crime among these populations.

Elite Social Classes and Corporate Crime

Elite Social Classes and Corporate Crime

Marxist scholars argue that access to wealth and power leads to the creation of selective laws that criminalize the actions of the poor, while the actions of the elite remain unpunished. Those in positions of power are able to use their influence to avoid prosecution for their crimes.

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Corporate Crime has shown that corporate crime is more financially profitable than street-level crime, which can result in harm to consumers, workers, and the environment. Tombs’ Laws of the Rich, Whyte’s work on ‘Organizational Corruption and Snider’s account of invisible crimes have all provided evidence of white collar financial crimes that are far more devastating and widespread than individual street-level offenses.

Limitations of Crime Statistics in Measuring Social Class and Crime

Data on elite crimes is much harder to gather than data on street-level crime, leading to limitations in the measurement of social class and crime. The media and government statistics heavily influence the public perception of the relationship between social class and crime.

Government statistics categories such as “blue-collar crime” and “white-collar crime” suggest that crimes are evenly distributed among social classes, yet these classifications are inaccurate in their representation of who commits crime.

Interactionists argue that labels used by society can also influence these misrepresentations by creating selective definitions of crime.

Indeed, the illicit activities of elite actors who are influential in shaping legislation and enforcement tend to remain unreported, and are therefore not included in crime statistics. These limitations in the measurement of social class and crime are therefore key factors in the persistence of inequality and the construction of stereotypes regarding criminal behavior.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while a significant body of research has been conducted on the relationship between social class and crime, the picture that emerges is complex and multifaceted. The New Right perspective, for example, identifies individual factors as the main cause of underclass poverty and links this to high levels of crime.

By contrast, interactionists focus on societal factors, arguing that the media and law enforcement agencies help construct stereotypes that associate criminal behavior with underclass individuals. Similarly, Marxist scholars have emphasized the existence of selective laws and enforcement practices that help to reinforce socioeconomic disparities.

While many of these findings offer important insights into the nature of social class and crime, it is clear that much more research is needed to gain a comprehensive understanding of this important area of study. In summary, the relationship between social class and crime is complex and multifaceted, with various factors and perspectives at play.

The New Right, Interactionist, and Marxist perspectives offer different insights into this relationship, emphasizing individual factors, societal construction of deviance, and selective law enforcement. While much research has been conducted on this topic, more is needed to increase our understanding of the link between social class and crime.

FAQs:

1. What is the New Right perspective on social class and crime?

The New Right perspective links underclass poverty, particularly among single parents, to high levels of crime, suggesting that a lack of social control is to blame for deviant behavior. 2.

How do Interactionists view social class and crime? Interactionists argue that the media and law enforcement agencies construct negative stereotypes around underclass individuals that reinforce deviant behavior and lead to a higher likelihood of criminal activity.

3. What is the Marxist perspective on social class and crime?

Marxist scholars suggest that access to wealth and power leads to selective laws that criminalize the actions of the poor, while the actions of the elite remain unpunished, perpetuating socioeconomic disparities. 4.

How do labels influence our understanding of social class and crime? Interactionists argue that labels used by society can influence misrepresentations of criminal behavior among different social classes.

5. What are some limitations in measuring social class and crime?

Government statistics categories rely on inaccurate classifications such as “blue-collar crime” and “white-collar crime,” and data on elite crimes is more difficult to gather than data on street-level crime, influencing public perception regarding who commits crimes.

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