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The Explanation Of Criminality Essay Research Paper

The Explanation Of Criminality Essay, Research Paper From a sociological perspective, explanations for criminal- ity are found in two levels which are the subculture and the

The Explanation Of Criminality Essay, Research Paper

From a sociological perspective, explanations for criminal-

ity are found in two levels which are the subculture and the

structural explanations.

The sociological explanations emphasize aspects of societal

arrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. A

sociological explanation is concerned with how the structure of

a society or its institutional practices or its persisting

cultural themes affect the conduct of its members. Individual

differences are denied or ignored, and the explanation of

the overall collective behavoir is sought in the patterning of

social arrangements that is considered to be both “outside”

the actor and “prior to him” (Sampson, 1985). That is, the

social patterns of power or of institutions which are held to

be determinative of human action are also seen as having been

in existence before any particular actor came on the scene.

In lay language, sociological explanations of crime place the

blame on something social that is prior to, external to, and

compelling of any particular person.

Sociological explanations do not deny the importance of

human motivation. However, they locate the source of motives

outside the individual and in the cultural climate in which he

lives.

Political philosophers, sociologists, and athropologists

have long observed that a condition of social life is that not

all things are allowed. Standards of behavior are both a pro-

duct of our living together and a requirement if social life

is to be orderly.

The concept of a culture refers to the perceived standards

of behavior, observable in both words and deeds, that are

learned, transmitted from generation to generation and somewhat

durable. To call such behavior “cultural” does not necessar-

ily mean that it is “refined,” but rather means that it is

“cultured”– aquired, cultivated, and persistent. Social

scientists have invented the notion of a subculture to describe

variations, within a society, upon its cultural themes. In

such circumstances, it is assumed that some cultural prescrip-

tions are common to all members of society, but that modifica-

tions and variations are discernible within the society.

Again, it is part of the definition of a subculture, as of a

culture, that is relatively enduring. Its norms are termed a

“style”, rather than a “fashion”, on the grounds that the former

has some endurance while the latter is evanescent. The quarrel

comes, of course, when we try to estimate how “real” a cultural

pattern is and how persistent.

The standards by which behavior is to be guided vary among

men and over time. Its is in this change and variety that

crime is defined. An application of this principle to crimin-

ology would find that the roots of the crime in the fact that

groups have developed different standards of appropriate

behavior and that, in “complex cultures”, each individual is

subject to competing prescriptions for action.

Another subcultural explanation of crime grows readily out

of the fact that, as we have seen, “social classes” experience

different rates of arrest and conviction for serious offenses.

When strata within a society are marked off by categories of

income, education, and occupational prestige, differences are

discovered among them in the amount and style of crime.

Further, differences are usually found between these “social

classes” in their tastes, interests, and morals. Its is easy

to describe these class-linked patterns as cultures.

This version of the subcultural explanation of crime holds

that the very fact of learning the lessons of the subculture

means that one aquires interests and preferences that place him

in greater or lesser risk of breaking the law. Others argue

that being reared in the lower class means learning a different

culture from that which creates the criminal laws. The lower-

class subculture is said to have its own values, many of which

run counter to the majority interests that support the laws

against the serious predatory crimes.

One needs to note that the indicators of class are not

descriptions of class. Proponents of subcultural explanations

of crime do not define a class culture by any assortment of the

objective indicators or rank, such as annual income or years of

schooling. The subcultural theorists is interested in pattern-

ed ways of life which may have evolved with a division of labor

and which, then, are called “class” cultures. The pattern,

however, is not described by reference to income alone, or by

reference to years of schooling or occupational skill. The

pattern includes these indicators, but it is not defined by

them. The subcultural theorist is more intent upon the variet-

ies of human value. these are preferred ways of living that

are acted upon. In the economist’s language, they are

“tastes”.

The thesis that is intimated, but not often explicated, by

a subcultural description of behaviors is that single or

multiple signs of social position, such as occupation or educa-

tion, will have a different significance for status, and for

cultures, with changes in their distribution. Money and

education do not mean the same things socially as they are more

or less equitably distributed. The change in meaning is not

merely a change in the prestige value of these two, but also

betokens changes in the boundries between class cultures.

Generally speaking, whether one believes tendencies to be good

or bad, the point of emphasis should be simply that the

criteria of “social class” that have been generally employed-

criteria like income and schooling-may change meaning with

changes in the distribution of these advantages in a popula-

tion. “Class cultures”, like national cultures, may break

down.

A more general subcultural explanation of crime, not

necessarily in disagreement with the notion of class cultures,

attributes differences in crime rates to differences in ethnic

patterns to be found within a society. Explanations of this

sort do not necessarily bear the title “ethnic,” although they

are so designated here because they partake of the general

assumption that there are group differences in learned prefer-

ences-in what is rewarded and punished-and that these group

differences have a perisistence often called a “tradition.”

Such explantions are of a piece whether they are advanced

as descriptions of regional cultures, generational differences,

or national characteristics (Hirschi, 1969). Their common

theme is the differences in ways of life out of which differ-

ences in crime rates seem to flow. Ethnic explanations are

proposed under an assortment of labels, but they have in

common the fact that they do not limit the notion of “sub-

culture” to “class culture” (Hirschi). They seem particularly

justified where differences in social status are not so highly

correlated with differences in conduct as are other indicators

of cultural difference.

Thus many sociologists in this field argue that in the

United States “economic and status positions in the community

cannot be shown to account for differences [in homicide rates]

between whites and Negroes or between Southerners and

Northerners” (Freeman, 1983). In relevance, an “index of

Southerness” is found to be highly correlated with homicide

rates in the United States. Therefore, there is a measureable

regional culture that promotes murder.

The hazard of accepting a subcultural explanation and, at

the same time, wishing to be a doctor to the body politic is

that the remedies may as well spread the disease as cure it.

Among the prescriptions is “social action” to disperse the

representatives of the subculture of violence. Quite apart

from the political difficulties of implementing such an en-

forced dispersion, the proposal assumes more knowledge than

what is available. We, as a society, do not know what pro-

portion of the violent people would have to be dispersed in

order to break up their culture; and, what is more important,

we do not know to what extent the dispersed people would act

as “culture-carriers” and contaminate their hosts.

While sociologists acknowledge the plausibility of med-

leys of causes operating to affect crime rates, their atten-

tion has been largely diverted to specific kinds of social

arrangements that may affect the damage we do to each other.

Among the more prominent hypotheses stress the impact of

social structure upon behavior. These proposals minimize the

facts of subcultural differences and point to the sources of

criminal motivation in the patterns of power and privilege

within a society. They shift the “blame” for crime from how

people are to where they are (Sampson). Such explanations

may still speak of “subcultures”, but when they do, they use

the term in a weaker sense than is intended by the subcultural

theorist.

A powerful and popular sociological explanation of crime

finds its sources in the “social order”. This explanation

looks to the ways in which human wants are generated and

satisfied and the ways in which rewards and punishments are

handed out by the “social system”.

There need be no irreconcilable contradiction between

subcultural and structural hypotheses, but their different em-

phases do produce quarrels about facts as well as about

remedies. An essential difference between these two explana-

tions is that the “structuralists” assume that all the members

of a society want more of the same things than the “sub-

culturalists” assume they want (Herrnstein, 1985). In this

sense, the structural theses tend to be egalitarian and demo-

cratic (Herrnstein). The major applications of structuralism

assume that people everywhere are basically the same and that

there are no significant differences in abilities or desires

that might account for lawful and criminal careers. Attention

is paid, then, to the organization of social relations that

affects the differential exercise of talents and interests

which are assumed to be roughly equal for all individuals of a

society.

Modern structural explanations of criminogenesis derive

from the ideas of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim.

Durkheim viewed the human being as a social animal as well as

a physical organism. To say that a man is a social animal

means more than the obvious fact that he lives a long life as

a helpless child depending on others for his survival. It

means more, too, than that homo sapiens is a herding animal who

tends to live in colonies. For Durkheim, the significantly

social aspect of human nature is that human physical survival

also depends upon moral connections. Moral connections are, of

course, social. They represent a bond with, and hence a bond-

age to, others (Christiansen, 1977). Durkheim states that “it

is not true, that human activity can be released from all re-

straint” (Christiansen). The restraint that is required if

social life is to ensue is a restraint necessary also for the

psychic health of the human individual.

Social conditions may strengthen or weaken the moral ties

that Durkheim saw as a condition of happiness and healthy

survival. Rapid changes in one’s possibilities, swings from

riches to rags and, just as disturbing, form rags to riches,

may constitute an impulse to volutary death. Excessive hopes

and unlimited desires are avenues to misery (Christiansen).

Social conditions that allow a “deregulation” of social

life Durkheim called states of “anomie”. The word derives

from Greek roots meaning “lacking in rule or law”. As used by

contemporary sociologists, the word anomie and its English eq-

uivalent, “anomy”, are applied ambiguosly, sometimes to the

social conditions of relative normlessness and sometimes to the

individuals who experience a lack of rule and purpose in their

lives. It is more appropriate that the term be restricted to

societal conditions of relative rulelessness for our purpose.

When the concept of anomie is employed by structurlists

to explain behavoir, attention is directed toward the “strains”

produced in the individual by the conflicting, confusing, or

impossible demands of one’s social enviroment. Writers have

described anomie in our “schizoid culture”, a culture that is

said to present conflicting prescriptions for conduct (Ferr-

ington, 1991). They have also perceived anomie in the tension

between recommended goals and available means. It is import-

ant to keep the word “anomie” in mind to all explanations

discussed.

The American sociologist R.K. Merton has applied Durk-

heim’s ideas to the explanation of deviant behavior with part-

icular reference to modern Western societies. His hypothesis

is that a state of anomie is produced whenever there is a dis-

crepancy between the goals of human action and the societally

structured legitimate means of achieving them. The hypothesis

is simply, that crime breeds in the gaps between aspirations

and possibilities. The emphasis given to this idea by the

pattern of social arrangements. Its is “the structure” of a

society, which includes some elements of its culture, that

builds desires and assigns opportunities for their satisfac-

tion (Herrnstein). The emphasis given to this idea by the

structuralists is that both the goals and the means are

given by the pattern of social arrangements. It is “the

structure” of a society, which includes some elements of its

culture, that builds desires and assigns opportunities for

their satisfaction. This structural explanation sees illegal

behavior as resulting from goals, particulary materialistic

goals, held to be desirable and possible for all, that motive

behavior in a societal context that provides only limited

channels of achievement. It is a thesis that has appropriately

been named “strain theory” (Hirschi).

Sociologist R.K. Merton devised another theory dwelling in

delinquency. This type of explanation sees delinquency as ad-

aptive, as instrumental in the achievement of “the same kinds

of things” everyone wants. Its sees crime, also, as partly

reactive–generated by a sense of injustice on the part of

delinquents at having been deprived of the goof life they had

been led to expect would be theirs. This hypothesis, which may

with accuracy be described as the social worker’s favorite,

looks to the satisfaction of desires, rather than the lowering

of expectations, as the cure for crime. To be sure, it ap-

proaches the satisfaction of desires not directly but indirectly,

through the provision of “expanded opportunities” for legitimate

achievement (Herrnstein).

In closing on the oppurtunity-structure thesis, this thesis

as a whole sounds plausible, closer attention to its assumprions

lessens confidence in its explanatory power.

Finally, the proposal that differences in the availability

of legitimate opportunities affect crime rates is only one

version of the structural style of explanation. The weaknesses

of this particular hypothesis do not deny the validity of the

structural notion in general. There are features of the “struc-

ture” of a society that seem clearly and directly antecedent to

varying crime rates. “Culture conflict” is one such general

aspect of a society’s structure that seems to promote criminal-

ity. This theme locates the source of crime in some division

within a soicety that is associated with differential accept-

ance of legal norms. All sociological explanations, at bottom,

assume culture conflict to be the source of crime. Durkheim’s

anomie, the deregulation of social life, may be another such

feature, as yet inadequately applied to the explanation of

crime. Merton’s application of the idea of anomie to the pro-

duction of criminality seems plausible in general, particulary

if one avoids translating anomie into “opportunity”. This more

general use of the notion of anomie predicts that serious crime

rates will be higher in societies whose public codes and even

mass media simultaneously stimulate consumership and

egilitarianism while denying differences and delegitimizing

them (Herrnstein).

More concretely, the age distributions and sex ratios of

societies or of localities can be interpreted as structural

features and related to differences in crime rates. Thus it

comes as little surprise to learn and comprehend that situa-

tions in which sex ratio is greatly distorted result in dif-

ferent patterns of sexual offense. Homosexualality, including

forcible rape, increases where men and women are kept apart from

the opposite sex, as in prisons (Blumstein, 1979). Prostitution

flourishes where numbers of men live without women but with the

freedom to “get out” on occasion, as from mining camps or mili-

tary bases (Blumstein).

These more concrete features of the “social structure” seem

at once more obvious and less interesting, however, than the

“class structure” of a society by the way in which its wealth

and prestige are differentially achieved and rewarded. It is

among these differentials that sociologists and many laymen con-

tinue to look for generators of crime.

The opportunity-structure hypothesis is one way of attending

to class differences and attempting to show how they breed crime.

It views criminality as adaptive, as utilitarian, as the way de-

prived people can get what everyone wants and has been told he

should have.

There is yet another type of explanation that looks upon the

pattern of rewards in a society as causing crime. This theory

differs from the opportunity-structure theory in its emphasis.

It interprets crime as more reactive than adaptive to social

stratification.

Reactive hypotheses are related to other structural schema in

emphasizing the role of the status system of a society in producing

crime and delinquency. As one kind of sociological explanation,

these formulations also partake of some of the subcultural ideas

and may even speak of “delinquent subcultures”. The reactive

hypotheses, however, describe criminal subcultures as formed in re-

sponse to status deprivation. They see criminality as less tradi-

tional, less ethnic, and more psychodynamically generated

(Ferrington).

They interpret delinquency as a status-seeking solution to

“straight” society’s denial of respect. The reactive hypotheses

are, then, a type of structural theory that carries a heavy burden

of psychological implication (Ferrington).

The pure reactive hypothesis claims that the social structure

produces a “reaction formation” in whom its rules disqualify for

status. Reaction formation, or reversal formation, is a psycho-

analytic idea: that we may defend ourselves against forbidden de-

sires by repressing them while expressing their opposites

(Ferrington). In this tense, the behavoirs of which the ego is

conscious are psychoanalytically interpreted as a shield against

admitting the true urges that have been frustrated. For example,

if one says that if I can’t have it, it must be no good. Thus,

it is held, if one can’t play the middle-class game, or won’t be

let into it, he responds by breaking up the play (Ferrington).

The denial is proof of the desire and when put into the present

topic, this results in an unlawful act of criminality.

Where the subcultural theorists see delinquent behavior as

“real” in its own right, as learned and valued by the actor, and

where the social psychologists agree but emphasize the training

processes that bring this about, the proponents of reactive hypo-

theses interpret the defiant and contemptuous behavoir of many de-

linquents as a compensation that defends them against the ego-

wounding they have received from the status system (Ferrington).

In scientific work there is a criterion, not pointly adhered

to, which says that the simple explanation is preferable to the

complex, that the hypothesis with few assumptions is preferable to

the one with many. There are simpler explanations of criminal

hostility than the reactive hypotheses. One such theory holds that

violence comes naturally and that it will be expressed unless we

are trained to control it. Another theory calls envy a universal

and independant motive (Herrnstein).

Some social psychologists believe that children will grow up

violent if they are not adequately nurtured. Adequate nurturing in-

cludes both appreciating the child and training him or her to ac-

knowledge the rights of others. From this theoretical stance, the

savagery of the urban gangster for example represents merely the

natural outcome of a failure in child upbringing.

Similarily, on a simple level of explanation, many sociolo-

gists and anthropologists believe that hostile behavior can be

learned as easily as passive behavior. Once learned, the codes

of violence and impatient tendencies of the mind are their own

positive values. Fighting and hating then become both duties and

pleasures. For advocates of this sociopsychological point of view,

it is not necessary to regard the barbarian whose words and deeds

“laugh at goodness” as having the same motives as more lawful per-

sons.

It needs no radical vision to agree that the school systems of

Western societies presently provide poor aprenticeship in adult-

hood for many adolescents. A poor apprenticeship for being grown

up is criminogenic.

In this sense, the “structure” of modern countries encourages

delinquency, for that structure lacks institutional procedures for

moving people smoothly form protected childhood to automonmous

adulthood. During adolescence, many youths in affluent societies

are neither well guided by their parents nor happily engaged by

their teachers. They are adult in body, but children in responsi-

bility and in their contribution to others. Now placed in between

irresponsible dependence and accountable independance, they are

compelled to attend schools that do not thoroughly stimulate the

interests of all of them and that, in too many cases, provide the

uninterested child with the experience of failure and the mirror

of denigration (Herrnstein). Educators are conceiving remedies.

This engages a dilemma–a dilemma of the democratic educators.

They want equality and individuality, objectives that thus far in

history have eluded societal engineers. Meanwhile, the metro-

politan schools of industrialized nations make a probable, but

measurable, contribution to delinquency.

Some crimes are rational. In such cases, the criminal way

appears to be the more effecient way of satisfying one’s wants.

When crime is regarded as rational, it can be given either a

structural or a sociopsychological explanation. The explanation

is structural when it emphasizes the conditions that make crime

rational. It becomes a sociopsychological explanation when it

emphasizes the interpretations of the conditions that make crime

rational, or when it stresses the training that legitimizes il-

legal activities. No one emphasis need be more correct–more use-

ful–than another. Conduct, lawful and criminal, always occurs

within some structure of possibilities and is, among normal

people, justified by an interpretation of that structure. Both

the interpretation of and the adaptation to a structure of

possibilities are largely learned. It is only for convenience

that we will discuss the idea that crime may be rational as one

of the structural, rather than one of the sociopsychological,

explantions.

The most obvious way in which a “social structure” produces

crime is by providing chances to make money illegally (Herrnstein).

Whether or not a structure elevates desires, it generates crime by

bringing needs into the view of opportunities.

This kind of explanation does not say that people behave

criminally because they have been denied legitimate opportunities,

but rather it says that people break the law, particulary those

laws concerning the definition of property, because this is a

rational thing to do. the idea of “rational crime” is in accord

with the common-sense assumption that most people will take money

if they can do so without penalty.

Obviously there are differences in personality that raise or

lower resistance to temptation. These differences are the concern

of those sociopsychological explantions that emphasize the

controlling functions of character. However, without attending

to these personal variables, it is notable that the common human

proclivity to improve and maintain status will produce offenses

against property when these tendencies meet the appropriate situa-

tion (Ferrington). These situations have been studied by crimin-

ologists in four major contexts. There are, first, the many

situations in civil life in which supplies, services and money are

available for theft. Theft is widespread in such situations. It

ranges from taking what isn’t nailed down in public settings to

stealing factory tools and store inventories to cheating on expense

accounts to embezzlement. Second, there are circumstances in which

legitimate work makes it economical to break the criminal law.

Third, there are “able criminals”, individuals who have chosen

theft as an occupation and who have make a success of it. These

expert thieves are sometimes affiliated with “musclemen” or

organizers in a fourth context of rational crimes, the context in

which crime becomes an economic enterprise fulfilling the demands

of a market (Ferrington).

Now specifically on these contexts, crime has been seen as a

preferred livelihood. The conception of some kinds of crime as

rational responses to “structures” indicates that in the struggle

to stay alive and in the desire to improve one’s material condi-

tion lie the seeds of many crimes. some robbery, but more

burglary; some snitching, but more boosting; some automobile

theft by juveniles, but more automobile “transfers” by adults

represent a consciously adopted way of making a living. All

organized crime represents such a preference. The organization of

large scale theft adopts new technologies and new modes of opera-

tion to keep pace with increases in the wealth of Western nations

and changes in security measures. Such businesslike crime has

been changing form craft crimes to project crimes involving big-

ger risks, bigger takes, and more criminal intelligence.

Conversations with successful criminals, those who use intel-

legence to plan lucrative acts, indicate considerable satisfaction

with their work. There is pride in one’s craft and pride in one’s

nerve. There is enjoyment of leisure between jobs. There is ex-

pressed delight in being one’s own boss, free of any compelling

routine. the carefree life, the irresponsible life, is appreciat-

ed and contrasted with the drab existence of more lawful citizens.

Given the low risk of penalty and the high probability of

reward, given the absence of pangs of guilt and the presence of

hedonistic preferences, crime is a rational occupational choice

for such individuals (Sampson).

On a level of lesser skill, many inhabitants of metropolitan

slums are in situations that make criminal activity a rational

enterprise. Young men in particular who show little interest in

school, but great distaste for the authority of a boss and the

imprisonment of a predictable job, are likely candidates for the

rackets. Compared to work, the rackets combine more freedom,

money and higher status at a relatively low cost. In some organ-

ized crimes, like running the numbers, risk of arrest is low.

the rationality of the choice of these rackets is therefore that

much higher for youths with the requisite tastes.

In summary, the structuralist emphasis on the criminogenic

features of a stratified society is both popular and persuasive.

The employment of this type of explanation becomes political.

If the anomie that generates crime lies in the gap between desires

and their gratification, criminologists can urge that desires be

modified, that gratifications be increased, or that some compro-

mise be reached between what people expect and what they are

likely to get (Christiansen).

The various political positions prescribe different remedies

for our social difficulties. Radical thinkers use the schema of

anomie to strengthen their argument for a classless or, at least,

a less stratified society. Conservative thinkers use this schema

to demonstrate the dangers of an egalitarian philosophy. At one

political pole, the recommendation is to change the structure of

power so as to reduce the pressure toward criminality. At the

other pole, the prescription is to change the public’s perception

of life.

Criminologists are themselves caught up in this debate. The

major tradition in social psychology, as it has been developed

from sociologists, emphasizes the ways in which perceptions and

beliefs cause behavoirs. Between how things are (the structure)

and how one responds to this world, the social psychologist

places attitude, belief, and definition of the situation. The

crucial question becomes one of assessing how much of any action

is simply a response to a structure of the social world, and how

much of any action is moved by differing interpretations of that

reality (Sampson). Social psychologists of the symbolic-inter-

actionist persuasion attempt to build a bridge between the struc-

tures of social relations and our interpretations of them and, in

this matter, to describe how crime is produced.

1. Blumstein, Alfred. 1979. “An Analysis.” Crime and

Delinquency 29 (October): 546-60.

2. Christiansen, K.O. 1977. “A Review of Studies of Crimin-

ality.” In Bases of Criminal Behavoir, ed. S.A.

Mednick and K.O. Christiansen, p. 641, 654-669 New

York: Gardner.

3. Ferrington, David P. 1991. “Explaining the Beginning and

Progress.” In Advances in Criminological Theory, ed.

Joan McCord, vol. 3, p. 191-199,New Brunswick, N.J.:

Transaction.

4. Freeman, Richard B. 1983. “The Relationship Between

Criminality and the Disadvantaged.” Ch. 6 In Crime

and Public Policy, ed. James Q. Wilson, p. 917-991.

San Francisco: ICS Press.

5. Herrnstein, Richard J. 1985. Crime and Human Nature. P.

359-374, New York: Simon and Schuster.

6. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. P. 30-31,

89-102, Berkeley: University of California Press.

7. Sampson, R.J. 1985. “Neighborhood Family Structure and the

Risk of Victimization.” In The Social Ecology of

Crime, ed. J. Byrne and R. Sampson, 25-46. New York:

Springer-Verlag.

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