A deviant commits crime due to the inability to acquire guiding norms into his/her life.
by Michelle Calderon ~1~
Criminology is the body of knowledge which considers crime as a social phenomenon.~2~ Criminality includes the processes of making laws,~3~ breaking laws,~4~ and the reacting toward the breaking of laws.~5~ Together,~6~ these three processes form a unified sequence of events.~7~ Criminology is also a systematic study of the nature,~8~ extent,~9~ etiology,~10~ and control of law-breaking behavior. There are several core aspects worth taking into study: the roles of groups and institutions, society arrangements, social roles, dynamics, structure of society, organization as well as disorganization. Two broad concepts play into factor in our study: the social structure concepts vs. the social process theory.
First, we will tackle the theories that involve that of the social structure philosophy. Social structure theories state that criminality is less an individual influence in as much as a product of social forces. Those forces include customs, obligations, laws, morality as well as religious beliefs. Many theorists such as Durkheim, Shaw, and McKay see criminal behavior as part of society, in part due to the reasoning that total consensus is impossible to achieve. Durkheim’s concern with “macro-level” is associated with the term Anomie, meaning without norms or norm-less-ness as an aspect of behavior (Schmalleger, 2002, 196). However, in a pluralistic world, normality is complex, even unattainable in a "macro-level" and therefore, crime is inevitable. "The pluralist perspective mirrors the thought of multiplicity of values and beliefs exists in any complex society." (Schmalleger, 2002, 250).
There are three major types of social structure theories: "(1) social disorganization or ecological approach, (2) strain theories and (3) culture conflict perspective or cultural deviance." (Schmalleger, 2002, 192). Social disorganization puts the concept on a functional whole that determines criminality and states that law is a symbol of solidarity. A deviant commits crime due to the inability to acquire guiding norms into his/her life. Researches have data that prove criminal activities in certain environment as in transition zones (ecological theory) (Schmalleger, 2002, 194). The broken-window thesis environmental criminology are all typical social structure theories in that they focus on the external factors rather than the individual causation of criminality (Schmalleger, 2002, 195). The strain theory depicts delinquency as a form of coping or adapting to difficult social environment. Social acceptance is stressed as the main cause of criminality. The last of the three is the cultural deviance theories which suggest that clashes of values as seen when new immigrants arrive, is the root of crime. The inability to acquire new values to replace old ones not accepted in the new society provides reason to have conflicting ideas about laws within the social norm accepted by the justice system. The special problems with gangs in subcultures are stressed as one example of such issue. With gangs, social acceptance is denied and found instead among deviant groups that instill in their beliefs values that are considered criminal (Schmalleger, 2002, 200).
Within the scope of the social structure theories, "transmission belts" such as parents are expected to provide values and goals specific to their social class they identify with (Cook, 2005, 5). Criminals that fall into the category of deviant in terms of the social structure theory include concepts of the Culture Deviance Theory that argue that lower-class citizens maintain separate value systems. This idea seems to be a consistent theme with structural theorists that assume crime is a lower-class phenomenon. The inability for an individual to meet the standards of "middle-class reasoning rods" lead to other illegitimate misconducts (Cook, 2005, 6). This is similar to the radical theory that holds economic gaps as a root of criminal deviance. Since laws are molded under the umbrella of middle-class values, lower class values are often at conflict with societies viewpoints in legality. Hence, the ever-present belief by most structural theorists that crime is normally a lower-class phenomenon. Some examples of cultural deviance were during the Mafia rise in the United States with the emergence of Italian-Sicilian immigrants as well as gangs in inner-cities. However, this theory is biased because it fails to fails to explain the rise of computer, white-collar, or corporate crimes.
Differential Opportunity Theory integrates strain and social disorganization with subcultures and adhere similar approach to the culture deviance theory. Reaction Formation theory adopts and include psychiatry by stating that the roots of delinquent subcultures is a "collective solution" to the problem of not fitting in. (Schmalleger, 2002, 204).
Overall, the purpose of the theories have to put light into finding a panacea to the problem presented, especially since considered a social phenomenon. Projects and programs were implemented to reduce social disorganization through recreational activities and mentor programs as well as improvement of physical appearances of neighborhoods. Again, one major criticism against such theories is that its approach towards studying "lower-class" deviants is biased and racist since most attribute the root causes of crime and social injustice to poverty. The philosophy fails to add other types of social and economic class criminals such as white collar crimes as mentioned above.
The social process philosophy, on the other hand, focuses on "micro-level" theories: the shift to an explanation for an individual's influence and role within society rather than the social structures societal explanations. This is closely associated with the Social Learning Theory which states that crime is a "normal" process from a learned deviant behavior. Theories said to be a part of this philosophy include Sutherland’s Differential Associations that views learning as the result through socialization in the course of their lifetime. It differs from the structural theories in that it gives the individual a choice to accept deviance or norm behavior. Social process theorists believe criminal activities involve all classes unlike the structure theorists’ view (Cook, 2005, 7).
Culture conflict can sometimes change criminal law by redefining it from time to time. An example given would be the intellectual thinking of Socrates. Socrates was so far ahead of his time. Yet his “modern ideas” were once considered criminal acts (Solovay, 1996, 7). One theory worth noting is the social control theory that imposes conformity comes from a controlled existence. The Containment Theory by Walter Reckless believes that crime can be committed by anyone and coincides with the social control theory. Social reactionists like labeling theorists, are concerned with the effects of the society to the individual: stigmatizing reaction to offenders produces more illegal behavior. Becker is one theorist note worthy because he noted the process of segregation that creates outsiders and that the criminal justice system seems to benefit the higher classes (Cook, 2005, 11). This again reiterates the communistic–based idea of radical theory.
Conflict theorists states that the norms are the outcome of competing interest groups with those holding the most power: (similar again to radical theorists). Other control theorist like Hirsok, reject social strain and assumes an amoral man, devoid of attachments but that an individual must rely on society bonds. Social Developmental Perspective is a process that occurs through reciprocal and dynamic interactions between individuals and various aspects of their environment. Like many life course theorists, it looks at the complexity of the overall influences from birth on. This allows the psychological, biological, familial, interpersonal, cultural, societal, and ecological factors: an integrative theory (Schmalleger, 2002, 229). Important theories are Laub and Sampson's Age-Graded theory that suggests that delinquency is more likely to occur when an individual's bond to society is weak or broken as in adult transitions. This emphasizes the significance to conformity while change over the life course. Turning points are interestingly consistent with the ideas that social process implies: that change affects everything. Reform and rehabilitation is possible with proper requisite turning points while the truth can be said about the opposite scenario where a basically conventional individual will respond to a deviance from the norm. Age plays a factor in this theory due to the fact that most transitions are associated with events such as marriage and graduation and independence. Social capita is the build up of relationships which enhances education and employment which in turn better their chances of criminality. Dual-Taxonomic theory is different in that it plays neuropsychological factors as well as misfortunes such as poverty in causation of criminality. It is one of the few that acknowledges other factors outside of the sociology realm.
Still other theories come into the picture such as "maturity gap", delinquent development theory, evolutionary ecology which all represents change within the scope of a life time’s experiences through social interactions that affect the individual learning criminality. In general with the theories involved, the goal is to have social intervention programs through positive alternatives instead of promoting detention of juveniles. The social process philosophy differs in the structure philosophies in that it focuses on individual choices in human development, hence a process. Do people have an influence on their own life course as it states in the nurture theory? That seems to be the popular question. The criticisms surrounding this philosophy seem to only involve definitional issues. But a strong point can be made as stated previously, against the role an individual choice plays in human development. That can be an even stronger argument with the social structure philosophy.
Karl Marx had a tremendous amount of influence among theorists of both philosophies. One can see that in the Social Order Perspective (Consensus, Pluralist, and Conflict). Early radical criminology involved the "concept of social class and holds that the causes of crime are from social conditions which empower the wealthy and politically well-organized but disenfranchised those who are less fortunate." (Schmalleger, 2002, 252). Feminist radicalists list sex as a factor as well. Such conflict theories fail short of explaining first of all, the rise of the middle-class society as well as well as the gender gap in criminal activities with men accounting for more law violations than women. The factor of segregation and labeling fits into the molding of both philosophies.
It is hard not to notice the stand both philosophies seem to address, that of social problem as the cause of criminality. Even though the social process does add individual choice within the realm of the social aspect, individual free will or rationality is not truly considered a root to the problem. With theories we have studied that included innate characteristics or in-born such as in the areas of biology, genetics, psychology and psychiatry, these two philosophies seem to dig deeper into environmental issues that play into factor. Although some hold a degree of truthfulness in the case of immigrants not able to adapt to new values, such issues as education should be enforced rather than condoning the fact that crime is a normal process in life.
To note, when crimes decrease, there is a concern among criminologists that there is some sort of social disorganization rather than embracing a more harmonious society we live in. Theorists seem to accept these deviant behaviors as part of life. Some even believe that crimes are there for a function, even to change future thinking in society, as in the case of Socrates. In comparing the two philosophies (Social Process vs. Social Structure), the social process theory are more practical in its modern acceptance that change and reform does happen. In some way the belief that crime is functional fits into the philosophy that society's point of views about criminality and laws will change (Solovay, 1966, 02). In comparing both issues, the social process theorists put more emphasis on individual choice. The fact that criminality and its patterns are expected to change with evolution, social structure concepts are behind in their ideas and beliefs as far as which factors play a part in criminal causation.
Cook, D. (2005). Social Structure vs. Social Process Theories. Criminology Lecture – Week Three. (6-11).
Schmalleger, F. (2002). Criminology Today: An Integrative Introduction: Third Edition. (194-252).
Solovay, S. A. & Mueler, J. J. (1996). The Normal and the Pathological. The Rules of Sociological Method Translated. (2-15).