From fear of crime to a general concern about safety and security

The British public today are not so much concerned about crime in the classic sense of the word. They aren’t so worried about being victims of burglary, or theft, or street violence for example. 

People today are less concerned about their chances of being a victim of formally defined crimes. People are more concerned about a broader and more general range of social problems which more subtly undermine their feelings of safety and security. 

For example, people today are more likely to be worried about:

  • Low level bullying such as with children at school. 
  • Gender based harassment, violence and abuse, including grooming. 
  • Hate crimes such as racism.
  • The effects of climate change, so environmental harms. 
  • Immigration and the effects this has on local social cohesion. 
  • People trafficking and human slavery. 

With the possible exception of climate change, not everyone is going to be immediately affected by the above harms. However people are more aware that they exist and that such things are going on in their neighbourhoods. None of these harms are as public or obvious as ‘classic’ crimes such as vandalism, street violence, or thefts. 

The increased awareness that these social harms are part of everyday social life has created a growing sense of unease among many people. 

From fear of crime  in the 1990s to a general concern about safety and security in the 2020s. 

Back in the late 1990s in Britain people were more concerned about ‘classic crimes’ such as burglary and car theft. The crime discourse at that time was largely shaped by mainstream television and newspapers as well as face to face contact. One Ipsos-Mori poll from the mid 1990s showed that 41% of people listed crime (and reducing crime) as one of the three biggest problems facing Britain at that time. 

These findings were largely backed up by a study conducted by Girling et al (2000): Crime and Social Change in Middle England. This was a two year qualitative study of people’s feelings about crime and policing in Macclesfield. (Selected because it was a reasonably affluent, small town where crime wasn’t an immediate day to day problem.) People naturally talked about being concerned about being victims of car theft and feeling threatened by groups of young people hanging out on the street. 

The researchers revisited Macclesfield more recently and found that people were no longer concerned about classic crimes. What they expressed was a complex and varied sense of unease about the issues mentioned in the previous section. 

Why are people more concerned about safety and security today?

People’s increasing sense of unease and susceptibility to feeling insecure is related to the following social changes:

  • Economic growth and then collapse in 2008 has made us feel more vulnerable in general. There is more of a sense that what we have gained can also be lost. 
  • The rise of digital media. The previous 2000 study was done before the age of digital media. Today people access the social world online, meaning a very different, varied, and risk-on public landscape.  
  • Climate change has become much more of a visible issue. 
  • Brexit brought the issue of migration to public attention. 
  • The Pandemic made us more aware of domestic abuse. 

The way the State responds to more global threats such as global terrorism, through increasing surveillance of certain types of people, can also affect how some people experience security issues today. 

Implications 

The idea of fear of crime seems to have had its day. We need to focus on people’s more general sense of danger and difficulty in their daily lives and how they seek safety and security. 

Traditional victim surveys such as the Crime Survey of England and Wales have tended to measure people’s fear of specific crimes in public spaces, such as fear of being assaulted in public or fear of social disorder. These are possibly no longer fit for purpose! 

We shouldn’t make any presumptions about what people are concerned about. What people are worried about varies. It might be anything from how going online opens them up to potential harm in the form of scams, or risk of flooding due to climate change. 

In this sense security can be conceptualised as ‘a set of political practices, governmental speech acts mobilised to justify decisive, speedy, exceptional measures in the face of what is presented as a conceptual threat’. 

Radical Criminology, aka New or Critical Criminology

Emerging in the late 1960s and 70s, Radical Criminology, aka New Criminology combined Marxist and Interactionist approaches, emphasizing capitalism’s role in producing crime, and the subsequent societal reactions. It called for understanding crime through several factors such as wealth distribution and societal response to deviance. Critics argue it offers no practical solution to crime and romanticizes criminals, while ignoring crime victimization of women.

Radical, new or critical criminologies of the late 1960s and 1970s had their basis in Marxism, Libertarianism, anarchism or American populism. 

They sought to understand crime control by referring to power, politics and inequalities and emphasised the need for political activism or praxis. 

Chambliss (1976, Box 1983) saw crime control as an oppressive and mystifying force. Legislation and law enforcement and ideological stereotyping preserved unequal class relations. 

The radical political economy of crime sought to expose the hegemonic ideologies that masked the real nature of crime and repression in capitalist societies. 

Most mundane offending was less harmful than exploitation, alienation, racism and pollution. 

Much proletarian crime could be redefined as a form of rebellion or redistributive class justice. Or the possessive individualism endemic to capitalist society. 

Criminal justice itself created visible crowds of working-class black scapegoats to deflect attention away from a capitalist system in terminal crisis. 

If the working classes did turn to crime they were themselves victims of false consciousness which inflated the nature of petit problems while hiding harms the bourgeoisie did. 

Black prisoners were the victims of race wars, prison the ultimate form of state repression. 

Most people were unaware of how power worked and it was the job of the radical criminologist to demystify. 

Socialism was the answer to the problem of crime.  

The New Criminology

In 1973 Taylor, Walton and Young published The New Criminology which combined Marxist and Interactionist approaches to crime.  They argued criminologists should examine all the different aspects surrounding why a crime takes place – the immediate and wider political reasons as well the societal reaction.   

They argued criminologists should examine how capitalism generates the circumstances of crime, the responses of the police, media, criminal justice system, offender and victim, and how all of these factors interact to influence how the situation develops. 

New Criminologists argued that criminals were lashing out against capitalism, in fact they say that they were mistakenly expressing their anger at capitalism through crime, rather than politics.  They also argued the media created moral panics and scapegoats about particular crimes to divert attention away from issues which may potentially be damaging to the ruling classes.

Book cover: the New Criminology
The New Criminology, published 1973.

The New Criminology was similar to Marxism….

  1. It accepted that the key to understanding crime is the material basis of society – the economy is the most important part.
  2. Believed that capitalist societies are unequal and these inequalities are the root of crime.
  3. Supported a radical change of society – theories of crime are useless unless they offer hope to liberate people from oppression. 

The New Criminology also criticised previous criminological theorising…

  • Marx was too economically deterministic. Taylor et al insist that criminals choose to break the law. External forces do not determine human behaviour.  
  • They dismissed most causal theories of crime and saw control, labelling, and biological theories as too determinist. They believed crimes were deliberate and conscious acts with political motives. 
  • Deviants were not just the passive victims of capitalism, they were engaged in active political struggle. 
  • They wanted socialism not communism. They envisaged a society where hippies, LGBTQ people, and maybe even drug users would be accepted and not turned into criminals. 

The Fully Social Theory of Deviance 

Taylor, Walton and Young developed the Fully Social Theory of Deviance to emphasise seven factors we need to look at to fully understand crime. 

To understand Crime fully we need to look at..

  1. The way in which wealth and power is distributed in society. Here we need to look at the Crimogenic Capitalist system and cyclical economic crises within Capitalism. Also the role of the state in oppressing and marginalising certain groups.
  2. The particular circumstances surrounding the decision of an individual to commit an act of deviance
  3. The deviant act itself and the meaning the individual deviant attaches to it. 
  4. How and why other people in society react to deviance – how do family members, friends and the police react? We also need to look at the media’s power to create ‘folk devils’ 
  5. The reaction needs to be explained in terms of the social structure. How do the public and the police respond to the creation of folk devils ? (the societal reaction)? More broadly, who has the power to make the rules? Why do agents of social control punish some deviant acts more severely than others?
  6. The effect labelling has on the people being labelled. How do  the ‘criminalised’ respond to being labelled?
  7. All of the above together. 

Stuart Hall applied this approach to his study of mugging in the 1970s.  He found that the Government wanted to divert attention away from the economic crisis of the time, so a moral panic was created about black youths in London.  

Criticisms of Radical Criminology. 

Critical Criminology offers us no realistic solution to the problem of crime – if it is Capitalism and the state that are the problems – then a revolution is the only answer. Radical criminology did not receive government funded ‘soft money’ for empiricist research. Some departments closed down. 

It was too idealistic. It is based on some idealised vision of a free future. All capitalist societies are not the same an socialism can be repressive. 

The New Criminology romanticised criminals. In reality most criminals are not struggling against their oppressors in the name of political change, they are just thugs. 

Victim surveys of the 1970s and 80s showed the extent of working class victimisation. They showed us that crime was intra-class, not inter-class. In other words the working classes victimised other working class people, hardly a class struggle against the elite! They ignored the impact street crimes can have on Victims – Left Realism in particular gets back to a ‘victim centred’ approach to crime

They also ignored the victimisation of women. 

The legacy of New Criminology 

Reflecting back on Radical Criminology in the late 1990s, new criminologists accepted some of the criticisms, especially from Feminism. 

In defence of New Criminology they pointed out that it stood up against correctionalism. It encouraged agents of social control to not eradicating deviant behaviour, and encouraged more tolerance!

New Criminology does have a critical legacy. Feminism, Left Realism and Postmodernism are all rooted in the New Criminology . 

Signposting and relevance to A-level sociology

This content is relevant to the crime and deviance aspect of A-level sociology.

How do we explain the increase in retail crime?

Official crime statistics show that there were 33 000 shoplifting offences recorded in March, 31% more than last year.

This is in line with crime data reported by the Co-op, which reported a 35% increase year on year. In the six months to June, the group recorded 1000 incidents of crime every day across all its outlets.

The seriousness of these retail offences also seem to be getting worse. A higher proportion of crimes involve violence and some have involved gangs entering shops and looting.

This is reflective of an increase in retail crime more broadly. The 2022 crime report by the British Retail Consortium reported a more than doubling of violent crimes and abusive behaviour towards staff in 2020-21 compared to 2019-22.

Explaining the increase in retail crime

There are three possible explanations for the above crime trends:

Firstly the cost of living crisis will explain some of the increase in shoplifting. With more people dropping below the poverty line, some will turn to shoplifting. There are more people facing a choice of heating or eating, after all.

Secondly the police have been putting less focus on less serious offences. They have been screening out low-level offences so they can focus on more serious crimes.

When criminals know they are less likely to get caught, they are more likely to commit crime.

Finally, the increase in violent and anti-social offences during lockdown may be explained through increased stress when shopping. It is likely that many of these cases were caused by people getting upset by shortages and lockdown measures in shops.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material seems to support rational choice theory and right realism which are part of the crime and deviance module.

The UK’s illegal plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda

The criminals in the house of commons passed the UK government’s illegal migration bill last week.

The bill will prevent most migrants who enter the UK by small boats from claiming asylum in the UK. Instead they will be detained and some of them deported to Rwanda to claim asylum there instead. Rwanda agreed to a five year trial of this plan recently.

British courts ruled the Rwanda Plan illegal because it breaches article three of the European Convention on Human Rights (1).

UK migration bill in breach of EU convention of human rights, article 3.

Rwanda’s asylum policy is not as strict as the UKs. There is a higher chance some genuine claims for asylum will result in deportations back to countries of origin.

This means more people will be returned to countries where they risk death, imprisonment or other inhumane treatment.

The UK has not deported any migrants to date because the bill is currently not legal. However the government is appealing this decision.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This material is relevant to the crime and deviance module. It is an example of a state crime, by virtue of the British state going against international human rights.

It is also an example of the limits of globalisation. Here we have a nation state restricting the free movement of people. This is globalisation in reverse.

It is also possible to apply critical victimology to this case study. Asylum seekers are the most vulnerable people on the planet. The government is targeting them by putting in place this barrier.

Note that the government isn’t worried about 150 000 wealthy Chinese students studying in the UK. It is only poor migrants it is seeking to stop.

It is also an example of a government responding to a moral panic generated by the media.

The bill is nominally in response to the thousands of migrants entering the UK in small boats in recent years. Britain actually needs migrants, it is just the media who demonizes them, and here the government responds.

This is also going against public opinion. According to one poll conducted in 2023 56% of people think migration is good for Britain.

Sources

(1) Ruling against the Secretary of State’s Rwanda Plan.

Bullying and Sexual Harassment at McDonald’s

The BBC recently uncovered over 100 cases of sexual and racial harassment and bullying in McDonald’s Restaurants in the UK. (1)

Examples included older men groping younger women, aged as young as 16 and talking to them inappropriately sexual ways. Some workers were also the victims of racial and homophobic language.

In one case a manager simply told the victim to ignore the man harassing with her and get on with her job. In other other cases McDonald’s moved managers accused of harassing people to other restaurants.

In some cases it was the victims who felt their harassment claims had not been dealt with quit their jobs.

Personally I thought sacking the people doing the harassing would be the most effective way to make a victim feel comfortable at work again. It would also send out a strong message to other workers NOT to engage in such behaviour.

The law obliges McDonald’s to protect workers from such harassment in the workplace. However the law protecting victims of work based harassment is rather weaker than you might think!

Weak protections for victims of workplace harassment?

If you look at legal advice sites for employers it is clear that sacking the people doing the harassing is a last resort. In fact I get the impression that even in severe cases the harassers will be encouraged to quit rather than sacked.

Most of the advice focuses on suggesting employers provided adequate training for staff in equality and providing a clear code of conduct.

I guess there are so many sexist, racist and homophobic employees that if employees took every case of harassment seriously they’d be sacking a lot of people.

I imagine companies are also reluctant to sack harassers because of the investment they have made in them and the costs of rehiring.

This might also explain why there is so much focus on covering the employers’ in case a victim claims compensation against them.

It seems the legal advice surrounding dealing with harassment is more about saving companies money rather than protecting victims.

Signposting

This material is relevant to the Crime and Deviance module in the second year of A-level sociology.

Sources

(1) McDonald’s Workers Speak out Over Sexual Abuse Claims.

Two ways the media may contribute to an increase in crime

The media can portray role models with glamorous lifestyles and exaggerate the reporting of events, according to the item in the AQA’s Crime and Deviance SCLY2/3 exam paper from November 2021 (1)

In these 10 mark ‘applying material from the item questions you need to use the two ways (in this case) as hooks and elaborate how these may contribute to an increase in crime, applying sociological concepts and theories.

According to the mark scheme you also get some marks for evaluation.

A key hint here is to remember that this is a Crime and Deviance paper, not a media paper, so don’t get too carried away with media concepts, although you should be credited for them, it’s always safer to use core crime and deviance material.

Another thing to be careful of is to include theories and concepts rather than relying on popular examples from the media. You can use examples, and you should do, but make sure you link them to theory.

The rest of this post considers how you might go about expanding on the two points mentioned in item A:

  • The media portraying glamorous lifestyles
  • The media exaggerating events.

How glamorous lifestyles in the media might contribute to an increase in crime

Examples of the media portraying glamorous lifestyles include cribs, many music videos and also lifestyle vloggers on YouTube, which tend to celebrate wealth, conspicuous consumption and people generally having a good time.

Such portrayals give the impression that being wealthy is the norm in a society, and, following Robert Merton’s strain theory this might increase the level of anomie, which can lead to different types of crime depending on how people respond.

Merton theorised that if people don’t have the opportunties to reach what they perceive to be the ordinary success goals in society some of them will turn to utilitarian crime to get what they think they should have, which means economic crimes such as burglary, robbery and theft.

This might explain the prevalence of crimes such as moped snatch-thefts in London recently, and also drug related crimes: those who can’t get jobs might believe the only way they can earn enough money to achieve ‘glamourous lifestyles’ is to deal drugs, maybe as part of a gang, which is something Venkatesh found in Gang Leader for a day.

The media, at least some aspects of it also glamorises gang, gun and drug culture: with many films showing crime as glamorous itself, which might encourage people into gangs and crime more generally.

Other people may look at glamorous western lifestyles in the media and react against it, seeing it as shallow and anti-religious and this might inspire anti-western sentiment and increase conflict in the form of fundamentalist terrorist attacks, this would be a rebellious response in Merton’s theory.

However most people don’t turn to crime because of media portrayals, they just give up on achieving and settle for ordinary jobs and average lifestyles or develop retreatist subcultures, which aren’t necessarily criminal, so it isn’t as simple as the media causing criminal behaviour, people aren’t that passive.

Finally, the portrayal of glamorous lifestyles might themselves be criminal – such as with people on social media boasting about their sports cars and wealth in order to encourage people into investing into get rich quick schemes, such as dodgy crypto DEFI schemes, whereas in reality these are just rug pull scams.

How media exaggeration might contribute to an increase in crime

You could apply moral panic theory here: when the media exaggerate the deviance of youth subcultures , according to Stan Cohen, this attracts more violent people to the subculture so the subculture becomes more violent in reality.

The problem with this is that it relies on the passive audience theory, but audiences are more active today.

There are theories which suggest violence in the media can cause people to be violent, such as Bandura’s Copy Cat theory, but there are many flaws with his original experiment which tried to prove a direct link between media violence and real life violence, and little evidence that there is a link.

Violence in the media may, however, desensitise people to violence in real life and make them less likely to react when they see violent acts.

Similarly with increasing fear causes by the exaggeration of violence. Ordinary people are less likely to go out in public meaning there are less people around to informally police the streets if crime is happening.

The news often exaggerates the extent of violent street crime compared to property crime, and working class street crime compared to middle class white collar crime, and both of these might cause an increase in particular types of crime.

One thing the media exaggerates is the extent of stranger sexual assault and child abduction by strangers, which keeps domestic abuse cases hidden, and may make it easier for partners and friends to keep on abusing because no-one is looking out for these criminals, who are the usual perpetrators.

Similarly with focusing on violent street crime: the lack of focus in the media agenda on high level fraud allows governments and corporations to carry on their criminal operations as usual, according to a Marxist perspective.

Signposting and sources

The main material to draw on to answer the above questions comes from the Crime and Deviance module.

For more examples of how to answer all sorts of A-level sociology exam questions please see my exams page.

The question above can be found in the the AQA’s November 2021 A-level sociology crime and deviance paper, SCLY2/3.

Sociological Perspectives on Donald Trump’s Arrest

Donald Trump was finally arrested and charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, one of which will include the ‘hush money’ he allegedly paid to the Porn Star Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair during his last Presidential campaign.

On the surface this seems to criticise the Marxist Perspective’s theory of selective law enforcement: where the system mainly focuses on prosecuting the marginalised and the poor, and ignores the crimes of the elite. This is very much a case of a member of the global elite being prosecuted.

Although given the amount of time it has taken for this all to get to the prosecution phase, and given that this is happening AFTER Donald Trump has been president, it does seem like an injustice is being done. Can you imagine a working class crack-dealer or burglar getting half a decade of freedom before their case gets processed? (No!)

And probably what will happen next is that Donald Trump’s team of lawyers will pick holes in every sentence of the evidence and find technicalities on which they can delay proceedings until eventually this never comes to trial, which is one of the tactics the elite use to avoid being found guilty of financial crimes, which are notoriously difficult to prosecute because of their complexity.

A porn star claiming she was paid hush money is one thing, finding the paper trail that proves it is quite another, after all!

Beyond Marxism, this is also a very Postmodern media event. This is as much about entertainment and spectacle as it is about justice, and TBH it seems like the justice issue has already got lost in the media spectacle.

I mean this is a serious issue of corruption at the highest level of the American government, but all the public is focused on is the procession of Donald Trump to and from the court room. The visible appearance of the man is someone that is unchanged in many years, and still wealthy, respected, belligerent, and well, entertaining.

I can’t imagine that justice is going to be served here, and I similarly can’t imagine that the public is going to care, this event is already on the level of Love Island!

Something else that is COMPLETELY lost in the media narrative is the gender dimension in all of this. Here we have a powerful man paying off a woman he (allegedly) had an affair with. The misogyny at the heart of this is hardly mentioned while the mainly male prosecutors and defence go about their business!

But then again, one knows not to expect any level of depth from the mainstream media!

Sources

BBC – Donald Trumps’s Arrest.

To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com

Reoffending Rates are Misleading

The reoffending rates probably aren’t going down at all!

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab recently tweeted that reoffending rates had fallen two percentage points compared to the same period in the previous year to 23.1% and down since above 30% in 2009-10.

He even went as far to suggest that this shows how investment in policies such as drug rehabilitation and employment for offenders programmes are working.

However, these claims are misleading because if you dig a little deeper into the reoffending statistics you find it isn’t necessarily the case that ex offenders aren’t reoffending, it could just be that they aren’t getting prosecuted and thus not reappearing on the statistics.

This was the main point that Danny Shaw, previous Home Affairs correspondent for the BBC, made on a recent Radio 4 Analysis show which explored this issue (1).

What is the reoffending rate?

The reoffending rate is the proportion of people who have been released from prison or who have been given community sentence or a fine who within 12 months of that event commit another offence for which they are convicted or given a caution.

So it’s really more accurate to call it the reconviction or recautioning rate rather than the reoffending rate because some people may offend again but just not get caught and processed again.

So the decline in the reoffending rate above could be because the police and courts are getting less effective at getting convictions and giving cautions.

And we have to ask this because the government hasn’t presented any cause and effect evidence which shows that offending rates are going down because of any of their social policies.

A second set of data from the Home Office which shows the outcomes of offences (what happens to a crime after it is reported and recorded by the police in England and Wales) show that charge rates have plummeted, down by 10% from 2014-15 to the 12 months ending September 2022 to 5.5%, and the caution rate has gone from 4.6% to 1%.

Just to emphasis this: the trend in the charge rate for crimes is:

  • 2014/15: 15.5% of crimes were formally charged, or 1/7 crimes resulted in a charge.
  • 2022: 5.5% of crimes were formally charged. Or 1/20 crimes resulted in a charge.

That is a drastic change in just seven years suggesting there is something going very wrong with the Criminal Justice System: the numbers of known offences which are dealt with by the prosecution services has fallen by two thirds in seven years. Surely this must be having an impact on the numbers of ex offenders

Why are the charging and cautioning rates falling?

According to Shaw a combination of two factors explain this:

  1. There has been a changing in the mix of offences, with an increase in the number of sexual offences which tend to be more complex and more difficult to process so less likely to result in a charge or caution.
  2. Police officer numbers fell from almost 144 000 in 2010 to 123 000 in to 2019, a drop of around 21 000

This combination of increasingly complex offences and fewer police officers means that fewer crimes are getting processed and such low rates of charging and cautioning suggest that criminals have got a license to get away with crime.

Statistical analysis paints quite a different picture to Dominic Raab’s spin!

Signposting and sources

This material should be a useful update for anyone studying the Crime and Deviance topic as part of their A-level sociology course, or criminology more generally!

(1) More or Less: Behind the Stats, February 2023

The MET are institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic

An independent report (1) into the culture of Metropolitan police has found that they are still institutionally racist, as well as misogynistic and homophobic.

The report was commissioned after one police officer abducted Sarah Everard who he raped and then murdered, and it is depressing reading that reveals a toxic culture which means casual sexism, racism and homophobia exist and frequently go unchallenged.

Sexism and homophobia in the MET

  • The MET is 72% male and so women are significantly under-represented still.
  • 12% of women working for the MET reported being harassed or attacked and one third said they had experienced sexism.
  • One woman formally complained when she was the victim of sustained harassment and an indecent act by a male superior. He got away with everything and she was made out to be a liar.
  • One in five Lesbian, gay or bisexual officers said they had experienced homophobia and 30% of LGBTQ officers said they had been bullied.
Pie chart showing statistics on outcomes of abuse of position for sexual purposes in the MET
Only 3% of complaints related to ‘abuse of position for a sexual purpose’ were found to have a case to answer.

Racism in the MET

  • The MET is 82% white and thus remains disproportionately white in a capital that is increasingly ethnically diverse
  • Stop and search rates against ethnic minorities are still proportionally higher than against whites.
  • Only 45% of the London population had confidence in the police to do their job effectively, with figures 5-10% lower for Black and Asian respondents.
  • Black and Asian officers are more likely to be disciplined and leave the force early. Black officers are 81% more likely than their white counterparts to go through misconduct processes.
  • There are some shocking individual cases of over racism. For example one Muslim officer found bacon stuffed in boots and one Sikh officer had is beard cut.
statistics on the proportion of BME officers recruited to the MET
The recruitment of BME officers fell dramatically between 2015-16 and 2019-20, but is recovering more recently.

Why is the MET institutionally racist?

The recruitment process was poor: there was no effective screening in place which might prevent racists and sexists intent on abusing their power from entering the force.

The management of officers was poor: there were no effective processes for dealing with bad officers or encouraging and developing good officers.

Complaints against the conduct of officers are frequently not taken seriously, and often just dismissed – thus complaints about sexism and racism often go uninvestigated.

The report talks of a culture of not speaking up about discrimination among officers and a management culture that encouraged this because when people did complain they were met with defensiveness and denial and there could even be negative career consequences for those who raised complaints.

Some of the root causes of the failure of MET to tackle institutional discrimination lie in the Tory funding cuts over the last decade. The MET has relatively less money now compared to 10 years ago, and senior officers have to manage huge numbers of regular officers, meaning it is practically very difficult for them to monitor discrimination.

Also the nature of crime has changed over the last decade: there are a lot more domestic abuse cases which take more police resources to investigate: so the police have less money but a more complex work load.

The unfortunate irony is that while budgetary pressures mean less focus is being put on combatting discrimination within the MET, crime has changed so that there are more cases requiring reasonable officers who aren’t racist, sexist, homophobes to work on them.

Sir Mark Rowley, the MET commissioner since September 2022 accepted that the MET had racist, sexist and homophobic officers and a cultural problem, but refused to accept the use of the term ‘institutionally racist’, as does the Home Office.

Fixing the MET

The report agued that the Metropolitan police needed a ‘complete overhaul’ to fix its problems, highlighting the Specialist Firearms Unit as particularly dissimilatory.

Two specific recommendations included giving the (newly appointed) commissioner new powers to deal with complaints against officers and improving the recruitment process so that racist, sexist and homophobic people are prevented from joining the MET in the first place.

Signposting

This is a depressing reminder that the MET are still institutionally racist. The issue of ethnicity, crime and policing is a core component of the Crime and Deviance unit within A-level sociology courses.

Sources

(1) Final Report: An independent review into the standards of behaviour and internal culture of the Metropolitan Police Service, Baroness Casey of Blackstock DBE CB, March 2023.

(2) The Guardian (March 2023) Met police found to be institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic.

Evaluate the View that Crime and Deviance are Inevitable and Beneficial for Individuals and Society as a Whole

One answer to this AQA A-Level Sociology crime and deviance exam question drawing on Functionalist, Marxist and Labelling Theory perspectives.

This question was the 30 mark essay question on the June 2022 Crime and Deviance A-Level Sociology exam paper.

I have to say TOP MARKS for a fantastic question, lots in here to unpack.

The question came with an item that candidates had to apply which explicitly referenced Functionalists thinking crime was inevitable because not everyone could fit into the norms and values of society, and also that crime was beneficial.

The item also referenced that Conflict Theorists were critical of this view because crime is ‘constructed’ in such as way that it benefits certain individuals.

Quick Question decode….

The question breaks down into two chunks of two…

  1. Evaluate the view that crime is inevitable (and evaluate the theory behind this)
  2. Evaluate the view that crime is beneficial – i. for society and ii. for individuals.

The easiest way to structure this is probably to start off discussing and evaluating the Functionalist view – on inevitability and then whether it’s beneficial and use mainly conflict (Marxist/ Feminist/ Interactionist) views to evaluate Functionalism.

This question also screams out ‘talk about different types of crime and contrast them’.

And I’d also spend some time talking about PostModernism/ Cultural Theories of Crime – but again using these to critique Functionalism and Conflict Theories too.

I’d recommend NOT just doing a paragraph list answer – DONT’ start with Functionalism then do Marxism then do Feminism – that will probably limit you to a mid mark band, C grade – for Bs and As I’m thinking the examiners are going to want an answer that really focuses on using material to critique Functionalism!

However, having said that – it’s kind of hard to avoid discussing Durkheim’s theory – all of it first – it’s how you critique the different aspects of it that will help you avoid a ‘listing the theories’ answer’.

Below is a rough guide to how I’d answer this question….

Evaluate the view that Crime is Inevitable and beneficial for Society and Individuals…

Functionalism

Here you can outline Durkheim’s theory of the ‘Society of Saints‘ – in which he theorised that even in a near perfect society very small acts would become deviant and end up being criminalised because ‘society needs crime’, and in fact that crime is beneficial.

Durkheim in fact argued that crime performed three positive functions – social regulation (people are reminded of the boundaries when criminals are punished), social integration – people bond together more closely against criminals and then it also allows social change to take place (without deviance there can be no change!).

Durkheim’s idea that crime is ‘inevitable’ seems to make sense as it is difficult to conceive of a society in which there is no crime, let alone no deviance. It also allows for the fact that some individuals are always going to break the rules, and so are not entirely controlled by society.

However this is quite a weak theory – it doesn’t say very much – Durkheim didn’t really talk about what kind of acts he was talking about – if bad manners are ‘always going to be inevitable’ then Functionalism as a theory kind of holds together, but if more serious crimes are inevitable in ALL societies – such as murders, treason, revolutions, that undermines the whole of Functionalist consensus theory because if all societies eventually end in conflict, then consensus is only ever a temporary state and societies don’t evolve in the way Durkheim thought.

It’s a very difficult theory to assess this – in terms of minor acts of deviance YES they are always going to be around it seems, but in a way who cares because these don’t harm people or upset the balance of society, but in terms of the more serious crimes – mass organised crimes, terrorism aimed at social change – mass shootings in America by lone individuals – are these the inevitable?

It is impossible to measure at a global and 100 year historical level with any degree of accuracy but as a general rule there do seem to be LESS violent, serious and destabilising crimes in wealthier European Countries, suggesting where we have wealth and inclusion and democracy and human rights, more serious crimes that are going to blow society apart are less likely, but in poorer countries, in Africa for example, which has the highest amount of civil wars for the last half a century, violent crime seems more likely.

But then the most violent States on Earth are the very richest – the USA, Russia, China, all commit human rights abuses but generally against people in remote territories and against people deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’ – so maybe crime is inevitable when we have huge power differentials in the world….?

Marxism

This brings to mind the Marxist perspective on crime – this essentially argues that ‘crime’ in the form of revolution is inevitable as oppression causes increasing exploitation which eventually leads to violent revolution (which by definition are criminal against the existing State) – however this doesn’t really seem to fit the historical record any better than Functionalism, real communist revolutions are far and few between, much more war is about desperation or colonial conquest.

Marxists also argue that things like low level street crime are the outcome of poverty and oppression caused by the inequalities and injustices of Capitalism – this seems to make more sense as a theory of the inevitability of crime than Durkheim’s as there is a correlation between these types of crime and poverty.

In contrast Durkhiems’ theory can’t be tested because he was never specific enough, thus it’s probably better to dismiss the idea as it can’t be proven.

There are also problems with Durkheim’s theory of crime being beneficial is that it comes from the logic ‘that if something in society exists then it must have a function’ – Durkheim was kind of tunnel visioned here and he couldn’t accept the view that some things were just plain dysfunctional and had no social benefit at all.

It is difficult to argue, for example, that domestic abuse has a useful social function – as it is hidden and never seen, and obviously one can’t argue it benefits the victims.

In order for a crime to be deemed beneficial – to perform one of Durkheim’s social functions it needs to be visible….. In this case one might be able to argue that domestic abuse does enhance social integration as people may come together to kick out local abusers from their neighbourhoods – HOWEVER – it’s not a very positive basis for ‘unity’ and not that healthy where people are just united against something else – also there’s no real need for this type of integration is there? I mean doesn’t sport and music and many other things do the same without the crime and harm?

Also with social regulation – maybe crimes being punished remind people of the boundaries – but Marxists have pointed out that some crimes are much more likely to get punished than others – such as working class drug dealers bet punished, not the middle class users who take them.

And thus the Marxist take on crime benefiting some individuals more than others maybe fits better with social reality – we have selective law enforcement and punishment – the working classes are kept in their place while elites are more likely to get away with doing corporate and white collar crime without being noticed.

And when we look at some white collar crimes it’s hard to argue they benefit society – such as the fraud that led to the collapse of Enron – which led to massive losses for ordinary investors and job losses for workers – very few people in fact benefitted from that other than a small amount of criminals who skimmed profit before the crash.

The Labelling Theory of Crime

The item references crime being constructed in such a way that it benefits certain individuals more than others – this is an interactionist point of view – it means that what is criminal is determined by the law which in turn is determined by people.

We can see this most clearly in the way certain drugs are made criminal – for example with cannabis gradually being decriminalised in some states in America – when it used to be criminal law officers could prosecute people for growing and selling it, now in those states were it is decriminalised people can’t be prosecuted – this shows up the varying nature of how some States deem this act to be harmful, others beneficial.

But what’s maybe more important is how some kind of violent acts are not labelled as criminal – for example state violence in war, presumably because whichever territory is being ‘liberated’ is going to benefit from that particular wave of state violence, while ANY violence by ordinary people on the streets is deemed to be NOT beneficial in any way.

In Conclusion

Personally I’d dismiss the idea that crime is inevitable as it’s too broad a statement to be meaningful.

As to the Functionalist idea that crime is beneficial for society – this is too generalised to be true, but it certainly seems to be the case that crime does indeed benefit some people more than others – maybe for that reason it is inevitable, after all, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty WHAT types of criminal and deviant act are inevitable.

Good question, cheers!

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a definitive answer, I just thought I’d have some fun with it!

Sources

The Functionalist view of Crime

The Marxist View of crime

The Labelling Theory of Crime

SignPosting

For further help with how to answer exam questions on the Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods paper you might like my page on exam and revision advice, scroll down for paper three.

The material above is usually first taught as part of the Crime and Deviance topic within A-level sociology

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