Just Sociology

Exploring Theories of Crime and Deviance: Perspectives and Criticisms

Crime and deviance continue to be critical topics of study in sociology. Over the years, several theories have been developed to explain and understand the occurrence of crime and deviant behavior in society.

These theories have been developed by various scholars, each using different methodologies and approaches to understand the phenomenon. This article provides a brief overview of some of the major theories on crime and deviance.

It also outlines the critiques and limitations of these theories.

Functionalism

The functionalist perspective, developed by mile Durkheim, posits that crime and deviance are necessary for the functioning of society. This theory emphasizes the importance of social integration, social regulation, and social chance.

Durkheim argues that crime and deviance serve as a social glue that reinforces the norms and values of society, contributing to social cohesion. According to functionalism, deviant behavior is a result of social disorganization and a lack of social structure.

Bonds of Attachment

Introduced by Travis Hirschi, the theory of bonds of attachment posits that social bonds, such as commitment, attachment, involvement, and belief, prevent individuals from engaging in criminal activities. According to this view, individuals who have strong social bonds are less likely to engage in criminal activities because they have more to lose.

Strain Theory

Robert Merton’s strain theory posits that people may turn to crime when they face a strain between their goals and the available means of achieving them. Individuals in society are pushed to achieve success goals, but not all have legitimate means of achieving them.

Strain theory highlights the importance of access to resources in preventing criminal behavior.

Subcultural Theory Albert Cohen

Subcultural theory, developed by Albert Cohen, posits that delinquent behavior results from a lack of success in the conventional society’s status hierarchy. Individuals that are not successful in conventional societies’ goals resort to alternative subcultural values which mark them as deviant.

Subcultural Theory Cloward & Ohlin

Cloward and Ohlin’s subcultural theory posits that criminal behavior is a response to the lack of legitimate opportunities for achieving wealth and success. The theory argues that there is an illegitimate opportunity structure within society that provides opportunities for criminal activities.

According to the theory, criminal activities occur in three types of subcultures: criminal, conflict, and retreatist subcultures. New Right/Underclass theory

The underclass theory, developed by Charles Murray, focuses on the long-term unemployed, welfare recipients, and the subsequent rise in poverty and crime.

The theory draws a direct link between the welfare state and an increase in criminal behavior.

Labelling Theory Becker

Labelling theory, developed by Howard Becker, argues that social agents of control, such as the police or educational institutions, label individuals as deviant and reinforce the stigma associated with their behavior. The theory emphasizes the role of labeling in the formation of deviant careers and subcultures.

Marxism Gordon

Marxian theory argues that crime results from the inherent competition and self-interest in capitalist societies. Marxist criminologists such as Gordon highlight the role of capitalism in producing crime and inequality, and the prison system as an instrument of state power to suppress opposition instead of rehabilitating offenders.

Marxism Chambliss

Marxist theory argues that crime is rooted in social inequality and the unequal distribution of resources in society. Chambliss states that crime is not committed exclusively by the working class but by all sections of society, although the working class is controlling the means of production.

The theory posits that the criminal justice system serves the interests of the ruling class.

Neo-Marxism The New Criminology

Neo-Marxism, also known as the new criminology, developed by Taylor, Walton, and Young, sought to address some of the limitations of Marxism. This theory emphasizes the systemic nature of crime and the importance of understanding the role of power in society.

Neo-Marxists argue that crime is a political issue and focus on the victims of crime and the political heroes who act to address social problems.

Realism in general

Realist theories emphasize practical solutions to crime prevention and control. They focus on developing strategies that work and are cost-effective.

The critique from Marxists is that realist theories ignore the root causes of crime, such as poverty and inequality, and focus only on the surface level of crime.

Left Realism Lea + Young

Left realism focuses on the social, economic, and political conditions that lead to crime.

The theory highlights the importance of relative deprivation, subculture, and marginalization in contributing to criminal behavior. Left realism differs from other realist approaches in that it focuses on reducing inequality as a means of reducing crime.

Left Realism Lea and Young

This left-realism approach focuses on policing as a means of reducing crime. The theory posits that community policing is a more effective strategy for reducing crime than more aggressive and militarized policing tactics.

However, Marxists criticize the theory as a means of state control.

Right Realism James Q Wilson

Right realism, proposed by James Q Wilson, emphasizes the cost-benefit analysis of crime. The theory focuses on situational crime prevention, target hardening, and broken windows tactics.

The theory posits that reducing the opportunity for crime and making crime unattractive would reduce crime rates. Marxists criticize the theory for its lack of focus on root causes and for ignoring the role of poverty and inequality in contributing to crime.

Postmodernism Robert Reiner

Postmodernism posits that crime is a result of increasing consumerism and the commodification of daily life. The theory argues that increasing crime rates are an inevitable result of increasing consumption and the loss of traditional values.

However, the theory cannot fully explain the recent decrease in crime rates since the mid-1990s.

Late Modernism Jock Young

Late modernism, developed by Jock Young, posits that contemporary societies are marked by a “vertigo of late modernity,” leading to anomie and a crisis of masculinity. The theory emphasizes the importance of understanding the cultural and social context of crime.

Marxists criticize the theory for its similarity to relativist and strain theories. Criticisms of

Functionalism

The functionalist perspective has been criticized for its assumption of value consensus, which is not always true in society.

Additionally, the theory ignores non-utilitarian forms of crime, such as white-collar and corporate crimes.

Criticisms of

Bonds of Attachment

The theory of bonds of attachment has been criticized for its lack of specificity, as lack of attachment doesn’t automatically lead to criminal behavior.

The theory also ignores “pull factors,” such as the benefits and rewards of criminal behavior.

Criticisms of

Strain Theory

Strain theory has been criticized for exaggerating working-class crime, and for ignoring non-utilitarian forms of crime, such as white-collar and corporate crimes.

Criticisms of

Subcultural Theory Albert Cohen

Subcultural theory has been criticized for its assumption that status frustration inevitably leads to a deviant subculture. Willis’ critique of the theory argued that many working-class boys did not value the middle-class status hierarchy, and instead, wanted to stay working-class.

Criticisms of Subcultural Theory Cloward & Ohlin

Cloward and Ohlin have been criticized for their assumption that all individuals are committed to achieving wealth and success, and their theory ignores those who are satisfied with not achieving wealth and success.

Criticisms of New Right/Underclass Theory

Structural failing of the capitalist system is a reason for criticism of the underclass theory.

Marxists argue that high crime rates are not directly related to unemployment, but rather the structural inequalities that result from capitalism.

Criticisms of Labeling Theory Becker

Labelling theory has been criticized for blaming officials and absolving offenders of responsibility.

Criticisms of

Marxism Gordon

Critics argue that crime still exists even in communist societies.

Criticisms of

Marxism Chambliss

Critics argue that crime rates are decreasing while inequality is increasing, which goes against the Marxist theory’s predictions.

Criticisms of

Neo-Marxism The New Criminology

Critics argue that neo-Marxists romanticize working-class criminals and neglect the importance of victims.

The theory has also been criticized for its feminist critique, which ignores the role of gender in the criminal justice system.

Criticisms of

Realism in general

Marxists argue that realist theories ignore the root causes of crime, such as poverty and inequality, and focus only on the surface level of crime.

Criticisms of Left Realism Lea + Young

Critics argue that left realism ignores the root causes of crime and focuses only on reducing inequality.

Criticisms of

Left Realism Lea and Young

Marxists criticize community policing as a means of state control.

Criticisms of

Right Realism James Q Wilson

Critics argue that right realism’s focus on reducing opportunity does not address the root causes of crime, such as poverty and inequality, and ignores the role of the criminal justice system in perpetuating injustices.

Criticisms of

Postmodernism Robert Reiner

Critics argue that postmodernism’s narrow focus on consumerism cannot fully explain the decrease in crime rates since the mid-1990s.

Criticisms of

Late Modernism Jock Young

Critics argue that late modernism is too similar to strain theory and relativist theories, and ignores the root causes of crime. The theory has also been criticized for its similarity to postmodernism.

Conclusion

In conclusion, theories on crime and deviance have provided vital insights into the causes of criminal behavior. However, each theory has limitations and critiques that must be considered when trying to understand criminal behavior fully.

As the study of crime and deviance continues, it is essential to use theories as tools to explain social phenomena but also to understand their limitations and critiques fully. In summary, this article provided an overview of major theories on crime and deviance, as well as their critiques and limitations.

The theories provided various perspectives on understanding criminal behavior and highlighted the importance of social, economic, and political factors. Understanding the critiques and limitations of these theories is necessary to fully understand the complexity of criminal behavior in society.

FAQs:

Q: What is the functionalist perspective? A: The functionalist perspective posits that crime and deviance are necessary for the functioning of society.

Q: What is the strain theory? A: The strain theory posits that people may turn to crime when they face a strain between their goals and the available means of achieving them.

Q: What is Marxism? A: Marxism argues that crime results from the inherent competition and self-interest in capitalist societies.

Q: What is left realism? A: Left realism focuses on the social, economic, and political conditions that lead to crime, and it differs from other realist approaches in that it focuses on reducing inequality as a means of reducing crime.

Q: What is the limitation of the functionalist perspective? A: The functionalist perspective assumes value consensus and ignores non-utilitarian forms of crime.

Q: What is the critique of Marxism? A: The critique of Marxism is that crime still exists in communist societies.

Q: What is the critique of labeling theory? A: The critique of labeling theory is that it blames officials and absolves offenders of responsibility.

Q: What is the critique of late modernism? A: The critique of late modernism is that it is too similar to strain theory and relativist theories and ignores the root causes of crime.

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