Is crime an abnormal act committed by an abnormal person? Most persons confronted with this particular question would undoubtedly say, Yes. They would consider themselves, perhaps not angelic, but certainly law-abiding members of society. However, if these, law-abiding citizens were to focus on the question, their answer might be very different. They might discover that the gene of criminality is in us all. Crime and deviance is not only a normal part of society, it is undoubtedly a product of its very existence.
Through the work of great individuals such as Durkheim and Merton, who thought at great length about the question, and used a variety of theories to explain their subsequent answers. We shall explore five theories that will direct us towards a realistic answer. In pursuit of an answer to the aforementioned question, one must first understand the question itself and its very meaning. Crime itself is a very transient term; it is something that varies through the passage of time, society, geography, and by who commits the act. A sad, yet perfect instance would be the taking of life.
In times of war we are taught the finer skills of killing, awarded medals and held in high esteem for our bravery in the taking of life. The same act committed in peacetime is held with the uppermost reproach, inevitably gaining a reaction consisting of disapproval and punishment. Take for instance the IRA, a group that has fought for the independence of Northern Ireland and in doing so been involved in the murder of many innocent people; to the Irish Nationalists they are heroes, to the British government they are murderers.
Thus what constitutes a crime is not necessarily its rightness or wrongness but whether it has been classified as a crime. The same act committed in one place, at one time, by a certain person, is open to question whether it is illegal by its very classification and by whom it has been classified. In accordance with Marxist theory, it is the views of the powerful that dominate, as they have the ability to make their views prevail. It would then appear that what constitutes a crime is open to debate; moreover, the criminals who we choose to despise, are they no more than mere victims of our own perceptions.
Our own social conditioning? To see why this is, we must look to the very basis of society and how it decides what is right or wrong. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian army doctor, is considered by many as the founder of the scientific school of criminology, drew physiological conclusions. Lombrosos infamous work, LUomo Delinquents (1876), first developed the idea of the atavistic criminal. Atavism, a term originally used by Charles Darwin, suggests that in the process of human evolution some individuals can represent a genetic throwback. Utilizing this idea, Lombroso debated that the criminal individual was born so.
Physical indication of criminal potential could be identified through specific bodily characteristics, all of which suggested the bearer was a throwback from a more primitive age. These physical characteristics included abnormal teeth, extra nipples, extra or missing toes and fingers, large ears and an overly prominent jawbone. Later research however, found no support for Lombrosos ideas. This did not mark the end of physiological theories, though. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck found a casual relationship between biological factors and delinquency.
These factors were based on physical build; they argue that stocky round individuals mesomorphs tend to be more active and aggressive than those with other builds. This may be true, but a criminal is more likely to possess these characteristics because a small weak man would undoubtedly make a very poor criminal. Strength is something that is of benefit when you are to undertake the role of criminal, and thus opens the criminal arena to the mesomorph. Similarly, any bizarre appearance may well exclude the majority from leading a normal life.
Taylor, Walton and Young also provided an alternative explanation for the link between the mesomorph and delinquency. They suggested: It may well be that the lower working-class children, who are more likely to be found in the criminal statistics, are also, by virtue of diet, continual manual labor, physical fitness and strength, more likely to be mesomorphic . It may well be that physiological factors predispose a person to criminal activities but to claim physiological factors, as the sole cause is an unfair notion as it causes society to observe certain people in a stereotypical view.
Thus certain members are virtually ostracized from society, which in turn in counter-productive as it segments society. Psychological theories share particular characteristics with physiological theories in how the deviant is seen. The deviant is seen as entirely different from the population as a whole. It is also evident that psychological theories look upon the deviant as abnormal in comparison with the rest of the population and that this irregularity creates an affinity to deviance.
Psychological theories vary from physiological ones due to the fact that psychological theories are based on mental sickness rather than physical differences. The British psychologist Hans Eysenck asserts that the characteristics of criminality and deviance can be found in the genealogy of the deviant. Thus individuals with the deviant genes, have the inclination to commit an act of deviance, he craves excitement, takes chances, often sticks his neck out, acts on the spur of the moment and is generally an impulsive individual .
John Bowlby was not convinces with, the inherited gene theory, and proposed his own theory that a deviant personality develops due to the lack of maternal care. Thus according to Bowlby theory a psychotic personality develops if there is not an intimate, loving relationship with the individual mother. One of the tendencies of psychopaths is to act without foreseeing or caring about the possible consequences. Therefore they can be considered chronic recidivists, a result brought forward from lack of maternal care.
More than often delinquents, as described by Bowlby come from orphanages or broken homes where they are either deprived of the presence of a motherly figure or an intimate maternal relationship. Sigmund Freud first developed the hypothesis of the id, ego and super-ego. The id being the primitive urges, such as the sex drive and the desire for nourishment . The ego is the conscious part of the mind which makes decisions, which restricts the id, as it foresees possible consequences. The super-ego exists due to socialization; thus all social values are imbedded in the sub-conscious.
Aichorn studied young delinquent boys, and concluded that they had suffered from under-developed egos, he connected this with fact, that most of the boys did not have a loving and intimate relationship with their mothers. Thus social values which are resultant from socialization and motherly care were not imbedded in their sub-conscious. Other sociologist attribute deviance to an over-developed ego, Glover believed criminal behavior was a result of strict oppressive parenting, which results in a guilt ridden and neurotic child.
Hewitt and Jenkins determined that individuals with an overdeveloped super-ego were reserved and restrained, thus it would be unlikely for them to be involved in crime. Those with a under-developed super ego tended to be aggressive and are likely to be involved in crime, finally a third groups exist, were a dual-ego exists. But the individuals have not been completely assimilated into society, they have there own morals and values on which they base their actions, which are criminally inclined, and are usually part of a gang and their actions are deemed morally expectable.
Psychological theories offer realistic and unrealistic views and opinions of crime and deviance. As sociologists blame a myriad of psychological problems on crime, one must consider the fact that for example, many children whose mother has neglected them have not turned to a life of crime. Thus psychological theories are not one hundred-percent valid as there is not sufficient evidence to substantiate them.
Howard Becker one of the early exponents of the interactionist approach, defined deviance as follows: Social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying these rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders . From the suggest theory, it can be derived, that deviance is not the quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label.
It must be noted here however, that not all forms of deviance constitute a crime. To deviate means, literally, to move away or to stray from set standards set in society. Deviance is then, a very broad term covering acts that are seen as abnormal within a particular society, of which crime is a smaller part. Crime is a part of deviance that breaks the formal, written laws of a given society. Thus, all crime is deviance, but not all deviance is crime. Within every society there are accepted normal ways of behaving, often referred to as norms. All laws are norms but not all norms are laws.
We are all victims of conditioning from birth, the way we behave within our society, although open to a small degree of personalization, norms are, suffice it to say, a Socially Transmitted Disease. Norms, refer to specific behavioral patterns, the pursuit of which is expected from every member of a given society. The breaking of a norm would result in the offender being considered deviant, sanctions or punishments would then be applied in direct apportion to the severity of the norm broken, this could range from a disapproving stare, social exclusion, and even death in some societies.
To further reinforce the effective pursuance of these norms and thus, social control, positive sanctions are also applied. Yet, crime is still performed, victims realized and negative sanctions enforced. Theories have been discussed, dismissed, and occasionally accepted. Durkheim believed that crime was a normal part of society and that only too little or too much was undesirable. A certain amount of crime is in fact good for society reinforcing the bonds between the general law abiding public. His theory is that the right level of crime would create interaction between the general public.
Leading to solutions to problems; too little crime would see the end of this interaction and the stagnation of society, too much crime would lead to the loss of shared and dominant guiding principles or normalness. Merton believed that we could divide society into five responses to success: Conformity, accepting the goal and means of achieving it. Innovation: those who would find alternative ways of achieving success e. g. theft. Ritualism, those who would accept that the rewards would never be achieved and yet behaved within socially acceptable ways.
Retreatism, accepting defeat and giving up even trying to achieve i. e. Drug addicts. Rebellion, rejecting rewards and ways of achieving them. e. g. terrorists. In capitalist societies working hard to enjoy the good things in life benefits all society. However, for those who are bombarded by advertising day in, day out, and who do not have the skill or the means to achieve success, these people will still have the desire to achieve it and will thus, take any action to gain this perceived success(drug dealing, crime).
Cohen developed Mertons ideas to include crimes that would not materially gain the offender. Where normal success is perceived as impossible to achieve, it leads to something Cohen refers to as status frustration, acceptable goals rejected and success reinterpreted to include the daring acts of theft, vandalism. Thus, a deviant sub-culture is formed. Cloward and Ohlin add to this by contending that, in some cases, even access to the sub-culture is denied and these individuals fall into the trap of drugs and violence.
Becker focuses on societys creation of deviance through rules and laws, the subsequent enforcement creates a label for the perceived deviant and a suitable label attached, criminal, delinquent etc. The labeling of an individual leads to the judgement of his actions through the assigned label, leading to a reinforcement of the label. The criminal would seek out others who would not judge him to be anything other than normal; these would undoubtedly be persons of the same affliction. The fabrication of income within the group would likely be illegal, arrest would eventually follow and the label reinforced.
Marxist sociologists base their ideas and theories on how the aristocracy strives to achieve full control over society. Marxists seems to believe that young working class males commit most crime mainly due to the media, which reinforces ideas of materialism into people. This will lead to a materialistic capitalist system, that may force working people to commit crime as they have a lower income and may not be able to afford to buy things like the rest of the society. The idea of young working class males committing more crime can be supported by David Matza’s study on juvenile delinquency.
He suggested that people tend to stick to their own norms and values in the society, which will lead to a subculture. Young boys do not receive monetary reward for they crimes they commit such as joyriding, they may commit these crimes because of their failure in the educational system, or the dysfunction of their families. Other types of crime exist in our society; Steven Box suggested what is known as Corporate Crime. This is when people commit crime from where they work for their own benefit such as stealing stationary, abuse of services etc.
Deviants who commit these crimes may not get prosecuted, as it is not probable that they will get caught. This is due to their positions in the social hierarchy as professional, using their influence, they lower the possibility of being caught. For example, stockbrokers, that are involved in the crime of insider trading. This occurs when certain members of an organization tip off their co-conspirators in the devaluation or an increase in price of an organizations. Along with Box’s mystification of crime, it can be seen that laws are bias as it seems to advantage the bourgeoisie.
Functionalists contradicts with Marxists’ ideas as functionalists suggested that law is a reflection of the will of people while Marxists disagree and suggest that law is a reflection of the will of the powerful. Marxists suggested that the law is controlled by the powerful, this was supported by their idea of the manipulation of values, where the mainstream of the society, the court, the police etc. are predominantly middle class and would be bias towards the ruling class people. Law creation is another one as Marxists suggested that most laws be passed by members of the parliament whom is mainly from the bourgeoisie.
They have the ability to manipulate themselves to the laws. Law creation and law enforcement happens in consistently to show why people in control tends to be bias. Marxists also support the information provided from the criminal statistics as it gives evidence to support their idea that working class people commit more crimes than middle class males. On the other hand, criminal statistics was challenged by left realism who believe that criminal statistics is the reality and therefore we should accept it, along with the solutions to attempt to solve the problems to tackle the high levels of crime.
Marxist approach in explaining deviant behavior is only reliable to some extent. Along with the contradictions from other perspectives, it shows that improvements can be added to these ideas. Marxists mainly concentrated on the class distribution and stress that they the ruling class control the norms and values of the society. It will not be classed as deviant unless the bourgeoisie say so and they will not say so unless it is committed by a working class person. There are many theories as to the cause of crime, and it is quite certain that more will develop with time and understanding. Crime has always existed and always will.
Thus we must accept that crime is a normal part of every society and a consequence of its existence. We have all committed some small crime whether we like to think so or not, we are generally in a position where we do not have to commit crime due to our circumstances but others are not. The proportion of crime seems to be directly attributable to each individual societys moral view upon crime, poverty and justice. Even in a world of saints there would be deviance but what would be deemed, as deviance would be of a relative nature and thus, diminutive to our own morally bankrupt society.