Marxist Theories of Crime – A Summary

Revision notes for A-level sociology, written with AQA sociology A level paper 2: crime and deviance with theory and methods (7192/3) in mind.

If you need to read over this in more depth then check out this long form version of the Marxist Theory of Crime here

Introduction/ The basics

  • Traditional Marxist theories explain crime in relation to power inequalities created by the capitalist system

  • The inequalities and injustices within Capitalism generate crime.

  • Class based analysis – both classes commit crime, the crimes of the elite are more harmful

  • The Bourgeoisie h- have economic power and because of this control the criminal justice system – they defined their own harmful acts as legal and are less likely to be prosecuted for the crimes they commit.

  • Historical Period (for Marxist Criminology) The 1970s

Crimogenic Capitalism

  • Crime is a consequence of the economic structure of capitalism
  • Capitalism is harsh, exploitative and breeds inequality, materialism and selfishness, which combined make crime in Capitalist societies inevitable.
  • See David Gordon’s work on the ‘Dog eat Dog’ society

The Elite Make the Law in Their Own Interests

  • William Chambliss: At the heart of the capitalist system lies the protection of private property
  • Laureen Snider – Many nation states are reluctant to pass laws which restrict the freedom of Transnational Corporations to make profit
  • There is unequal access to the law – the more money you have, the better lawyer you can get
  • Harmful and exploitative acts in capitalist systems are not formally labelled criminal if these harmful activities make a profit – e.g. Colonialism/ Numerous Wars/ Pollution.

All Classes Commit Crime and the Crimes of the Powerful are of particular interest to Marxist Criminologists

  • White Collar Crime = Individual middle class/ elite crime within a company , Corporate = Institutional crime

  • Typical e.g’s include various types of fraud and negligence regarded health and safety at work.

  • The economic costs of Corporate Crime are greater than street crime (Laureen Snider/ Corporate Watch.

  • High profile Corporate Crimes = Bernie Madhoff, the Enron $100bn fraud and the 20 000 dead people as a result of Union Carbide’s corporate negligence in Bhopal, India.

  • Despite being more costly to society, the crimes of the elite tend to go unpunished – As research by Tombs and Whyte suggests

The ideological functions of selective law enforcement

According to Gordon ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  • we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality which generate crime.

  • The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.

  • sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.

Overall Evaluations of Marxist Theories of Crime

Postitive 

  • Dog eat Dog explains both WC and Elite crime
  • TTIP is good supporting evidence for point 2not lone individuals
  • Lots of case studies and stats support the view that Corporate Crimes are harmful – Bhopal!
  • Tombs and Whyte’s research – strongly supports point 3

Negative (criticisms) 

  • X – Crime has been decreasing in the UK in the last 20 years, yet we’re increasingly ‘neoliberal’
  • X – Crime existed before Capitalism and in Communist societies
  • X – Consensus theories argue most people today have private property, so most people are protected by the law
  • X – It’s unfair to compare corporate crime such as Fraud to street crime, the later has a more emotional toll.
  • X – Some Corporate Crminals are punished (e.g. Madhoff)
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Subcultural Theories of Crime – A Summary

Introduction/ The basics

  • Subcultural Theory explains deviance in terms of a deviant group, split apart from the rest of the society which encourages deviance

  • Historical Period: The 1940s- 60S, Underclass Theory – 1980s

Albert Cohen: Status Frustration

  • working class boys try to gain status within school and fail, thus suffer status frustration

  • Some such boys find each-other and form a subculture

  • status is gained within the subculture by breaking mainstream rules.

Cloward and Ohlin: Illegitimate Opportunity Structure (IOS)

  • A combination of strain theory and subcultural theory

  • The type of subculture an individual joins depends on existing subcultures (which form an IOS)

  • There are three types of subculture: Criminal (working class areas/ organised petit crime), Conflict (less table populations), and Retreatist (e.g. drug subcultures) which C and O saw as being formed by people who lacked the skills to join the former two).

Walter Miller: Focal Concerns

  • Saw the lower working class as a subculture with its own set of unique values

  • Working class culture emphasised six focal concerns (or core values) which encouraged criminal behaviour amongst working class youth.

  • Three examples of these focal concerns where toughness (physical prowess), excitement (risk-taking) and smartness (being street-smart)

Charles Murray: Underclass Theory

By the 1980s an Underclass had emerged in Britain.

  • Key features = long term unemployment, high rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households

  • Means children are not socialised into mainstream norms and values and have become NEETS

  • The underclass is 20 times more criminal than the rest of society.

Overall Evaluations of Subcultural Theories of Crime

Positive Negative
  • Unlike Bonds of Attachment Theory recognises that much crime is done in groups, not lone individuals
  • Unlike Functionalism does not see crime as functional.
X – Contemporary research shows gang (subculture) membership is more fluid than the above research stuggests

X – Recent research shows that the underclass doesn’t really exist and working class culture is more complex

X – There is a much wider variety of subcultures today

X – Ignores the role of agents of social control labelling in subculture formation

X – Underclass Theory is ideological – based on moral panics

X – Marxism: ignores the crimes of the elite.

Consensus Theories of Crime -Functionalist and Strain Theories: Summary Version

Introduction/ The basics

  • Consensus Theory – Social Institutions generally work, social control is good, crime is dysfunctional (bad)
  • Closely related to Subcultural Theories
  • 1890 -1940s

Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory

  • Crime is natural and inevitable, society needs crime.
  • There are three positive functions of crime – social integration/ social regulation/ social change

Hirschi’s Social Control/ Bonds of Attachment Theory

  • Crime is most common amongst individuals who are detached from society
  • Four types of attachment – Commitment, Involvement, Attachment, Belief
  • Correlation between truancy, single parent households, unemployment and crime

Merton’s Strain Theory

  • There is a strain between society’s cultural value system (valuing money) and the social structure which fails to provide opportunities for everyone to achieve these goals legitimately.
  • In times of strain, there are five adaptations
  • Three of these are deviant – innovation, retreatism and rebellion.

Institutional Anomie Theory (IAT)

  • Merton’s Strain Theory on steroids.
  • The cultural value system of achieving monetary success has now the core value taught in every institution – The media, and education especially.

Overall Evaluations of Functionalist and Strain Theories of Crime

Positive Negative
  • Generally – recognise the relationship between social structure and crime
  • Durkheim – Crime does exist in every society
  • Durkheim – Recognises that a crime-free society is an unrealistic goal
  • Hirschi – Official Statistics support
  • Merton – Explains different types of deviance
  • IAT – Recognises recent social changes
X –Can’t explain hidden crimes such as Domestic Violence

X – Durkhiem – Fails to ask ‘Functional for whom’ – ignores victims (Left Realism)

X – Can’t explain elite crimes, elites are attached (Marxism)

X – Ignores Power and Labelling, doesn’t recognise that crime stats are socially constructed and elite crimes happen but generally aren’t recorded. (Interactionism)

X – Can’t explain recent decrease in crime.

The Marxist Perspective on Crime

Focuses on how crime is a ‘natural outgrowth of the capitalist system and how the criminal justice system works for the benefits of elites and against the lower social classes.

Marxist criminologists see power being held by the Bourgeoisie and laws are a reflection of Bourgeois ideology. The legal system (lawyers, judges and the courts) and the police all serve the interests of the Bourgeoisie. These institutions are used to control the masses, prevent revolution and keep people in a state of false consciousness.

For the purposes of A2 Sociology, the Marxist perspective on crime may be summarised into four key points:

  1. Capitalism is Crimogenic –This means that the Capitalist system encourages criminal behaviour.
  2. The Law is made by the Capitalist elite and tends to work in their interests.
  3. All classes, not just the working classes commit crime, and the crimes of the Capitalist class are more costly than street crime.
  4. The state practices Selective Law Enforcement – The Criminal Justice system mainly concerns itself with policing and punishing the marginalised, not the wealthy, and this performs ideological functions for the elite classes.

Key Sociologists associated with this perspective are William Chambliss (1978) and Laureen Snider (1993). Examples of more contemporary theorists include Professors Tombs and Whyte (See later).

Capitalism is Crimogenic

Many Marxists see crime as a natural ‘outgrowth’ of the capitalist system. The Capitalist system can be said to be crimogenic in three major ways –

  1. Capitalism encourages individuals to pursue self-interest rather than public duty
  2. Capitalism encourages individuals to be materialistic consumers, making us aspire to an unrealistic and often unattainable lifestyle.
  3. Capitalism in its wake generates massive inequality and poverty, conditions which are correlated with higher crime rates.

The first reason that Capitalism is Crimogenic is because it encourages individuals to pursue self-interest before everything else.

Marxist Sociologist David Gordon says that Capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own interests before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment. If we look at the Capitalist system, what we find is that not only does it recommend that we engage in the self-interested pursuit of profit is good, we learn that it is acceptable to harm others and the environment in the process. Please see KT’s blog post – ‘On The incredible immorality of corporate greed’ for referenced examples of Corporations acting immorally in the pursuit of profit.

Marxists point out that in a Capitalist society, there is immense competitive pressure to make more money, to be more successful, and to make more profit, because in a competitive system, this is the only way to ensure survival. In such a context, breaking the law can seem insignificant compared to the pressure to succeed and pressures to break the law affect all people: from the investment banker to the unemployed gang member.

Marxists theorise that the values of the Capitalist system filter down to the rest of our culture. Think again about the motives of economic criminals: The burglars, the robbers, and the thieves. What they are doing is seeking personal gain without caring for the individual victims.

crimogenic capitalism

Secondly, Capitalism is Crimogenic because it encourages us to want things we don’t need and can’t afford

Companies such as Coca Cola and McDonald’s spend billions of dollars every year on advertising, morphing their products into fantastical images that in no way resemble the grim reality of the products or the even grimmer reality of the productive processes that lie behind making their products. Advertising is a long way beyond merely providing us with information about a product; it has arguably become the art of disinformation.

It is doubtless that corporations benefit through advertising, and modern Capitalism could not exist without the culture of consumerism that the advertising industry perpetuates, and activities have pointed to many downsides. One of the most obvious is that the world of advertising presents as normal a lifestyle that may be unattainable for many people in British Society.

For those millions who lack the legitimate means to achieve the materialist norm through working, this can breed feelings of failure, inadequacy, frustration and anger at the fact that they are working-but-not–succeeding. In short, Advertising creates the conditions that can lead to status frustration, which in turn can lead to crime.

Merton and Nightingale have pointed out that for some the desire to achieve the success goals of society outweigh the pressure to obey the law, advertising only adds to this strain between the legitimate means and the goal of material success.

Thirdly, Capitalism is Crimogenic because it creates inequality and poverty

The Capitalist system is one of radical inequality. At the very top we have what David Rothkopf calls the ‘Superclass’ , mainly the people who run global corporations, and at the very bottom we have the underclass (in the developed world) and the slum dwellers, the street children and the refugees in the developing world.

The Sociologists Zygmunt Bauman points out that the super wealthy effectively segregate themselves from the wealthy, through living in exclusive gated communities and travelling in private jets and armoured vehicles with security entourages. If people can afford it, they move to a better area, and send their children to private schools. However, this doesn’t prevent the poor and the rich from living side by side.

Marxists argue that this visible evidence of massive inequalities give people at the bottom a sense of injustice, a sense of anger and a sense of frustration that they are not sharing in the wealth being flaunted in front of them (the flaunting is the point is it not?) As a result, Capitalism leads to a flourishing of economic crime as well as violent street crime.

William Chambliss even goes so far as to say that economic crime ‘’represents rational responses to the competitiveness and inequality of life in capitalist societies”. As we have seen from previous studies. Drug dealers see themselves as innovative entrepreneurs. So internalised is the desire to be successful that breaking the law is seen as a minor risk.

Marxists hold that more egalitarian societies based on the values of the co-operation and mutual assistance, have lower crime rates, as can be evidence from Bruce Parry’s visit to the extremely egalitarian Island of Anuta

Discussion Questions:

  • Does Capitalism encourage competition over co-operation?
  • Does exploitation lie at the heart of the Capitalist system?
  • Does Capitalism encourage us to be selfish consumers?
  • Does Capitalism cause crime?

The Law benefits the elite and works in their Interests

Basic Marxist theory holds that the superstructure serves the ruling classes, thus the state passes laws which support ruling class interests.

Evidence for this can be found in the following:

  1. Property rights are much more securely established in law than the collective rights of, for instance, trade unions. Property law clearly benefits the wealthy more than those with no property. William Chambliss has argued that ‘at the heart of the Capitalist system lies the protection of Private Property. Consider the fact that there are roughly 100, 000 people recognised as homeless in the United Kingdom1, and 300, 000 houses lying empty2. The rights of the property owners to keep their properties empty are put before the rights of the needy to shelter.
  2. Laureen Snider (1993)argues that Capitalist states are reluctant to pass laws which regulate large capitalist concerns and which might threaten profitability. Having tried so hard to attract investment the last thing the state wants to do is alienate the large corporations. The state is thus reluctant to pass – or enforce – laws against such things as pollution, worker health and safety and monopolies.

While the lack of regulation in these areas is obvious in the third world, in most of Europe, there are many laws protection the environment and health and safety, but fines for them are relatively low, and, until 2007, no individual member of a corporation could be prosecuted for damaging the environment or endangering worker safety through corporate practise.

A further recent example which could be used to support this is the deregulation of financial markets prior to the financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent ‘credit crunch’ and economic recession. The activities of the vast majority of bankers and financiers were not seen as illegal and, far from being prosecuted, many grew rich through the payments of large bonuses.

  1. People have unequal access to the law. Having money to hire a good lawyer can delay trials, meaning the difference between being found not guilty or guilty, and influence the length of one’s sentence and the type of prison one goes to. Thus for Marxists, punishment for a crime may depend and vary according to the social class of the perpetrator. Poorer criminals tend to receive harsher punishments than rich criminals. As evidenced in one of the examples above, Mark Thatcher received only a suspended sentence for assisting mercenaries in a military coup against a democratically elected government.

Discussion Question: Can you think of any other ways in which the law works in the interests of the elite?

White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime

Marxists argue that although they are hidden from view, the crimes of the elite exert a greater economic toll on society than the crimes of the ‘ordinary people’. Laureen Snider (1993) points out that the cost of White Collar Crime and Corporate Crime to the economy far outweighs the cost of street crime by ‘typical’ criminals. Two contemporary organisations: Multinational Monitor3 and Corporate Watch4, specialise in documenting the illegal activities of corporations.

In the section below we look at two types of white collar crime – Fraud and Health and Safety infringements. Both of these sound either terribly complex or terribly unexciting (or both) which means people are generally uninterested in hearing about them, and this general lack of public interest is something which helps the elite get away with an incredibly high level of criminality.

Key Concepts

White Collar Crime: Crimes committed in the furtherance of an individual’s own interests, often against the corporations of organisations within which they work.

Corporate Crime: Those crimes committed by or for corporations or businesses which act to further their interests and have a serious physical or economic impact on employees, consumers and the general public. The drive is usually the desire to increase profits.

The Cost of Financial Crime (Fraud)

Organisations such as Corporate Watch and…. Multinational Monitor, suggest that Corporate Fraud is widespread. The General Accounting Agency of the USA has estimated that 100s of savings and loans companies have failed in recent years due to insider dealing, failure to disclose accurate information, and racketeering. The cost to the taxpayer in the USA of corporate bail outs is estimated to be around $500 billion, or $5000 per household in the USA.5

Case Study – Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion Fraud

In 2009 the disgraced financier Bernie Madoff was sentenced to the maximum 150 years in prison for masterminding a $65bn (£38bn) fraud that wrecked the lives of thousands of investors.

Bernie Madoff’s crimes had thousands of victims

The US district judge Denny Chin described the fraud as “staggering” and said the “breach of trust was massive” and that a message was being sent by the sentence. There had been no letters submitted in support of Madoff’s character, he said. Victims in the courtroom clapped as the term was read out.

Madoff pleaded guilty to 11 counts of fraud, theft and money laundering. The sentencing, in what has been one of the biggest frauds ever seen on Wall Street, was eagerly anticipated. Described by victims in written testimony as a “thief and a monster”, Madoff has become an emblem for the greed that pitched the world into recession. Nearly 9,000 victims have filed claims for losses in Madoff’s corrupt financial empire.

Madoff masterminded a huge “Ponzi” scheme. Instead of investing client’s money in securities, it was held with a bank and new deposits used to pay bogus returns to give the impression that the business was successful. At the time of his arrest in December, he claimed to manage $65bn of investors’ money, but in reality there was just $1bn left.

Corporate America has suffered a series of massive frauds during the past decade, including scandals at Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and more recently the financial empire run by Texas billionaire Allen Stanford. Former WorldCom chief Benrard Ebbers is serving 25 years for accounting fraud. Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison although the sentence was overturned. He remains in prison awaiting resentencing.

Discussion Question: Are crimes such as fraud more harmful to society than violent crime?

The Ideological Functions of Selective Law Enforcement

Marxism crime

David Gordon argues that the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals. By and large the system ignores the crimes of the elite and the middle classes, although both of these classes are just as likely to commit crime as the working classes.

Gordon argues that the disproportionate prosecution of working class criminals ultimately serves to maintain ruling-class power and to reinforce ruling class ideology (thus performing ‘ideological functions’ for the ruling class.)

According to Gordon ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  1. By punishing individuals and making them responsible for their actions, defining these individuals as ‘social failures’ we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty that create the conditions which lead to crime.
  2. The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.
  3. The imprisonment of many members of the underclass also sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.
  • We may also add a fourth benefit, that all of the police, court and media focus on working class street crime means that our attention is diverted away from the immorality and greed of the elite classes.

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Crime Deviance A-Level Revision.png

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Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts

Selected Sources 

1 http://www.crisis.org.uk/policywatch/pages/homelessness_statistics.html

2 http://www.aboutproperty.co.uk/news/planning/urban-planning/nearly-300000-empty-houses-in-england-$482464.htm

3 http://www.multinationalmonitor.org/

4 http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/

5 The Documentary: The Corporation has a very good section on the extent of corporate crime

Related Quote…

‘The real criminals in this society are not all the people who populate the prisons across the state, but those people who have stolen the wealth of the world from the people’ (Angela Davis, former leader of the Black Panthers).

Sociological Research on Gangs

In the aftermath of England’s ‘summer of violent disorder’ in 2011, the British Prime Minister David Cameron was unequivocal in apportioning blame: ‘At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes’.

A few days later, Cameron declared ‘concerted, all-out war on gangs and gang culture. . . a major criminal disease that has infected streets and estates across our country’

Unfortunately for David Cameron the image he is painting of gangs is largely nonsense, at least according to to this recent Thinking Allowed Podcast which looks at a recent piece of research on a gang in Glasgow, the main aim of which was simply to explore what gang membership actually meant to the gang members (rather than doing what David Cameron did which is spouting nonsense based on media stereotypes).

glasgow gangs

The research is by Alistair Fraser – ‘Urban Legends: Gang Identity in the Post-Industrial City (first chapter for free). He’s based at Glasgow University and spent 4 years embedded with a gang known as the Langview Young Team – working as a social worker and and outreach worker, spending time hanging out with various gang members (mostly losing at table tennis apparently) and living as part of the local community for 18 months.

He researched one gang – The Langview Young Team (YTM) – a shifting cast of 14-16 year white males who had all grown up in a small territorial area without travelling outside much.For context on Glasgow gangs this article by a local paper is worth a quick read.

Some of his main findings were:

  1. The idea that the gang is like a club which you’re either in or out of and which affects every aspect of members’ lives wasn’t true – rather the gang was a fluid and shifting source of identity for members.
  2. Membership wasn’t fixed or static or stable – its membership was diffuse and shifting. It was not a coherent group, and it was actually quite hard to tell who was a member because there were no initiation rituals.
  3. The gang was something which many people grew up with but grew out of.
  4. The gang was contingent and situational – it was based mainly on a sense of place, linked to structural exclusion and physical immobility linked to living in a post-industrial area in decline (lack of other opportunities).
  5. Violence existed, but less than you might expect.
  6. Status was mostly gained through constant battles of one one-upmanship, often linked to games of football and other games.

Identity in the gang was rooted in two things – in physical locality and also to a sense of local history – membership passed down from older to younger members – young people basically inherited gang membership by virtue of living their whole lives in one area.

Changes in the community meant that there was declining space available for young people to gather this (and possibly the rise of mobile technology) related in young people retreating from the street, which means that there is possibly a decline in gang-identity.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that Fraser argues that that the typical media-representation of gangs as tight-knit groups who demand a kind of ‘master-status’ commitment from members is misleading. He suggests that there are a such a wide-variety of gangs that we shouldn’t lump them all in the same category – we really need new concepts to describe the variety of different types of gang that are out there (and maybe something a little more up to date than Cloward and Ohlin’s ‘three types of subculture.)

Very finally, something else which was discussed was the relevance of the self-fulfilling prophecy – if officials label a diffuse gang of people as a gang, the leaders emerge claiming to be leaders of it!

Brief Evaluation/ Uses

A very useful piece of research that can be used to slate the relevance of consensus subcultural theory – clearly things have moved on!

Very useful example of a piece of Interpretivist ethnography (what does membership mean to the members?)

Of course it is only gang – so Cameron may be right about gangs in London, they could be different!?!

 

The Underclass Theory of Crime

the underclassAn American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) first coined the term ‘the underclass’ to refer to that group of people in America who were long term unemployed and effectively welfare dependent. In the late 1980s he argued that the first generation of underclass were then having children and socialising the next generation of children into a culture of worklessness, thus creating a potential problem for US society because of this group being essentially cut off from ordinary social life and are not constrained by ordinary norms and values like ordinary working people. At that time, Murray looked across to Britain and warned us that in 20 years time we would be facing a similar problem….

Low and behold, A recent article reporting on some relatively recent sociological research from The Times Newspaper (NB – Link is to the Telegraph, not behind an evil pay wall like The Times) reported that….

Two decades after the American sociologist Charles Murray warned that a big new underclass was looming, official studies and ministerial papers — which ministers have chosen not to highlight — reveal that it has finally arrived in the form of the NEETS.

Aged between 16 and 24, they number 1.1m and are responsible for a social and economic drag on society that is vastly disproportionate to their numbers. A study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimates that each new Neet dropping out of education at 16 will cost taxpayers an average of £97,000 during their lifetime, with the worst costing more than £300,000 apiece.

Their impact on crime, public health and antisocial behaviour was so marked that the study found that a single 157,000-strong cohort of 16 to 18-year-old Neets would cost the country a total of £15 billion by the time they died prematurely in about 2060. They are, says the study, 22 times more likely to be teenage mothers; 50% more likely to suffer from poor health; 60% more likely to be involved with drugs and more than 20 times more likely to become criminals.

[In response to these figures Charles Murray commented…]

“When I was looking at Britain in the 1980s, the offspring of the first big generation of single mothers were small children,” said Murray, speaking from his home in America. “Now they are teenagers and young adults and the problems are exactly those that I was warning they would be — high crime rates and low participation in the labour force. These people have never been socialised and they simply don’t know how to behave, from sitting still in classrooms to knowing you don’t hit people if you have a problem. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to take these people now and provide basic conditioning. There has always been a small underclass but now you have got a major problem, who are being called the Neets.”

Related Posts

The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

Robert Merton’s Strain Theory 

 

Subcultural Theories of Deviance

Subcultural Theory: The Basics

A Subculture is a group that has values that are different to the mainstream culture. Subcultural theorists argue that deviance is the result of whole groups breaking off from society who have deviant values (subcultures) and deviance is a result of these individuals conforming to the values and norms of the subculture to which they belong.

In contrast to Social Control theorists, it is the pull of the peer group that encourages individuals to commit crime, rather than the lack of attachment to the family or other mainstream institutions. Subcultural theory also helps explain non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and joy riding which strain theory cannot really explain. Deviance is a collective response to marginalisation.

There are four people you need to know about for Subcultural Theory:

1. Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration Theory
2. Cloward and Ohlin’s three types of subculture
3. Walter Miller – the focal concerns of the working class
4. Charles Murray – the underclass and Crime (links to the New Right)

Albert Cohen: Deviant Subcultures emerge because of Status Frustration

Albert Cohen argues that working class subcultures emerge because they are denied status in society. Just like Merton, Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.

Cohen argued that many boys react to this by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there are several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.

This delinquent subculture reverses the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who are the most deviant. Status may be gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.

This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first starts in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gang membership

Subcultural Theory 2: Cloward and Ohlin’s 3 types of subculture

Cloward and Ohlin develop Cohen’s subcultural theory further, expanding on it in order to try and explain why different types of subculture emerge in different regions. They suggest that the ‘illegitimate opportunity structure’ affects what type of subculture emerges in response to status frustration – The varied social circumstances in which working-class youth live give rise to three types of delinquent subculture.

1. Criminal Subcultures are characterised by utilitarian crimes, such as theft. They develop in more stable working class areas where there is an established pattern of crime. This provided a learning opportunity and career structure for aspiring young criminals, and an alternative to the legitimate job market as a means of achieving financial rewards. Adult criminals exercise social control over the young to stop them carrying out non-utilitarian delinquent acts – such as vandalism – which might attract the attention of the police.

2. Conflict subcultures emerge in socially disorganised areas where there is a high rate of population turnover and a consequent lack of social cohesion. These prevent the formation of stable adult criminal subcultures Conflict subcultures are characterised by violence, gang warfare, ‘mugging’ and other street crime. Both approved and illegal means of achieving mainstream goals are blocked or limited, and young people express their frustration at this situation through violence or street crime, and at least obtain status through success in subcultural peer-group values. This is a possible explanation for the gang culture which is increasingly appearing in run down areas of the UK, and possibly explains the UK riots of 2011.

3. Retreatist subcultures emerge among those lower class youth who are ‘double failures’ – they have failed to succeed in both mainstream society and in the crime and gang cultures above. The response is a retreat into drug addiction and alcoholism, paid for by petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution

Alternative Perspectives to Consensus Subcultural Theories of Crime

  1. Paul Willis’ 1977 study of the Counter-School-Culture represents a Marxist critique of consensus subcultural theory. Willis argued that the working class lads formed a subculture in order to ‘have a laff’ in a school system which they had accurately identified as being irrelevant to their futures. Unlike Cohen, these lads never aspired to be middle class, they identified themselves as working class, rejected middle class aspirations, and rejected the middle class system of the school – thus why Willis coined the term ‘counter (against) school culture’.
  2. David Matza has developed what might cautiously be termed an Interactionist approach to understanding subcultures. Matza suggested that there were no distinct subcultures among young people. Rather, all groups in society share a set of subterranean values. These are simply deviant values that encourage us to go against social norms – the urge to party hard, drink too much, swear, stealing, punch the idiots you work with and sleep with your brother’s wife etc. These are usually held under control, but sometimes emerge at peak leisure times – weekends, holidays and so on. The difference between a persistent offender and a law-abiding citizen is simply how often and in what circumstances these subterranean values emerge.
  3. Postmodernists point out that the nature of subcultures today has changed, in that subcultures are much more common today than they were in the 1960s. Today, subcultures are just a normal part of life. Subcultural theory assumes that there are ‘mainstream norms and values’ which subcultures deviate from. This is wrong according to Postmodernism – in society today, deviance and hence subcultures are ‘normal’, which renders the whole of subcultural theory irrelevant in helping us to understand crime and deviance.

Related Posts 

Subcultural theories of deviance are the second group of theories of crime on the A level crime and deviance specification (AQA), normally taught after functionalist and strain theories.

The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

Robert Merton’s Strain Theory 

Evaluate the Contribution of Marxism to our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (30)

An essay plan on the Marxist Theory of Crime and Deviance – starting with an introduction outlining the Marxist conception of social class and then covering 4-5 key points such as the costs of corporate crime, selective law enforcement and crimogenic capitalism, with some overall evaluations and a conclusion to round off. 

Brief intro outlining key ideas of Marxist Theory (links to Theory and Methods):

  • Conflict Perspective
  • Class Structure (Bourgeoisie/ Proletariat)
  • Capitalism/ Economic Power = other forms of power (Private Property)
  • Exploitation/ extraction
  • False consciousness/ ideological control
  • Political Perspective supports working class struggle and revolution

Point One – The law is made by the elite and supports their interests

  • William Chambliss said this
  • Against the consensus view of the law
  • Most of the law is protection of Private Property
  • The whole history of Colonialism supports

Point Two – All classes commit crime, the crimes of the elite are more harmful and they are more likely to get away with it

  • Laureen Snider said this
  • High profile case studies support this – Bernie Madhoff/ Bhopal
  • Statistically supported by Tombs and Whyte

Point Three – Selective Law Enforcement and Ideological Functions

  • Working class crime more likely to be punished and criminals jailed
  • NOT interactionism, although their work supports this
  • 3* ideological functions – e.g. neutralisation of opposition

Point Four – Crimogenic Capitalism

  • Crime is a natural outgrowth of Capitalism
  • David Gordon ‘Dog Eat Dog society’
  • Capitalism breeds desire, selfishness, materialism

Bonus Point Five – Add in Neo-Marxism – The Fully Social Theory of Deviance

  • Taylor, Walton and Young – Moral Panics against WC crime = a tool of social control
  • Stuart Hall – Policing the Crisis – good illustration of the above
  • See criminals as a ‘revolutionary vanguard’

Best Overall Evaluations

Positive 

  • + Better than Consensus Theory – doesn’t ignore power and inequality
  • + The law does benefit the rich more because the poor have no significant property
  • + Highlights the cost of Corporate Crime and the injustice (links to Victimology)
  • + On the side of the many victims of Elite Crime

Negative 

  •  – Economically Deterministic – Evidence that crime exists in non-capitalist societies and crime is going down in the UK
  • – Postmodernism – Doesn’t explain recent changes in crime – causes are more complex
  • – Realisms – Not pragmatic – offers not immedate ways of controlling crime
  • – Realisms – out of touch with working class victims of crime

Conclusion – How Useful is this theory?

  • + Useful if you’re a victim of elite crime and think long term political change is required to end this problem.
  • – Not useful if you’re a victim of ‘ordinary working class crime’ and want immediate solutions to your problems.

Official Crime Statistics for England and Wales

The two main sources of official statistics on Crime in the UK (or rather England and Wales!) are:

  1. Police Recorded Crime – which is all crimes recorded by the 43 police forces in England and Wales (as well as the British Transport Police)

  2. The Crime Survey for England and Wales which is a face to face victim survey in which people are asked about their experiences of crime in the previous 12 months.

NB – There are other sources of official statistics on crime, which I’ll come back to later, but these are the two main ones.

Below are three very good web sites which you can use to explore crime stats from the above two sources. The point of this post is really just to direct students to good sources which they can use to explore these statistics (strengths and limitations of crime statistics posts will be forthcoming shortly!)

OneCrime in England and Wales

Published by the Office for National Statistics, Crime in England and Wales provides the most comprehensive coverage of national crime trends. I’d actually recommend starting with the methodology section of this document, which states

‘Crime in England and Wales has 2 main data sources: The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and police recorded crime. The CSEW is a face-to-face victimisation survey in which people are asked about their experiences of crime in the 12 months prior to the interview. Police recorded crime figures are supplied by the 43 territorial police forces of England and Wales and the British Transport Police.’

Crime trends UK

Twohttps://www.police.uk/

This is a good starting point for exploring crime statistics. You can click on an interactive map which will show you how much crime there is in your area. NB this map shows you only police recorded crime, and there are many, many crimes which are not recorded, for various reasons.

Crime in Kent

Threehttp://www.ukcrimestats.com/

This site describes itself as ‘the leading crime and property data’ website – scroll down for a nice colour coded analysis of crime trends for a number of different crime categories. Reported month by month (2 month data lag). I think the table below is CSEW data

What I particularly like about this web site is that it provides data tables by police force – Here’s a link to data for the Surrey Police (Local link, I teach in Surrey, where my measly teacher salary makes me feel poor because of the sickening and unjustified wealth in the local area.) The data below is Police Recorded Crime data.

Crime in England and Wales

When looking at statistics on crime, make sure you know whether the stats come from Police Recorded Crime or the Crime Survey of England and Wales (a victim survey) – the two figures will be different, and the difference between them will be different depending on the type of crime – for example the stats for vehicle theft are quite similar (because of insurance claims requiring a police report) but domestic violence figures are very different from these two sources because most offences do not get reported to the police, but many more (but not all) get reported to the CSEW researchers.

Related Posts

Official Statistics in Sociology

Crime Statistics Revision Video

Sociological Perspectives on Crime and Deviance

A brief overview of some sociological perspectives on crime and deviance – from Functionalism through to Right Realism. 

Theory

Summary

Functionalism

Argue that societies need a limited amount of crime, because crime is inevitable (society of saints argument) and that crime performs three positive functions: regulation, integration and change. Also see Durkheim’s work on suicide.

Social Control Theory

The cause of deviance is the breakdown or weakening of informal agencies of social control such as the family and community. Criminal activity occurs when the individual’s attachment to society is weakened. According to Hirschi there are four types of social bond

Merton’s Strain Theory

Crime and deviance occur in times of anomie when there is a ‘strain’ between society’s socially approved ‘success goals’ and the opportunities available to achieve these goals. Crime occurs when individuals still want to achieve the success goals of society but abandon the socially approved means of obtaining those goals.

Subcultural Theory

Explains deviance in terms of the subculture of certain social groups. Deviance is the result of individuals suffering ‘status frustration’ and conforming to the values and norms of a subculture which rewards them for being deviant. Focuses on crimes of the working class.

Traditional Marxism

Explain crime in terms of Capitalism and the class structure – The Ruling classes make the law to benefit them, the law protects private property. Ruling and Middle class crime is more harmful than working class crime but ruling classes are less likely to get caught and punished for crime. Selective law enforcement performs ideological functions. WCs commit crime due to the ‘dog eat dog’ values of capitalist system – selfishness, materialism.

Interactionism

Focus on how crime is socially constructed, on how certain acts become defined as criminal or deviant, and how certain people are more likely to be defined as deviant than others. Labelling Theory and Moral Panic Theory are key ideas within Interactionism.

Neo-Marxism

Fuses Traditional Marxist and Interactionism. Crime is an outgrowth of capitalism, but moral panics over the relatively minor crimes of marginalised groups make the public side with the ruling class against the marginalised, maintaining social order. Believe that criminology should focus on highlighting the injustices of the Capitalist System in order to change society.

Left Realism

Concerned with working class crime, believe that we should work with the system in order to improve the lives of the victims of crime, who are mainly working class. Marginalisation, relative deprivation and subcultures are the main causes of crime and we should aim to tackle crime on multiple fronts – more community (less militaristic) policing and tackling poverty and marginalisation within communities are solutions.

Right Realism

Right Realism is more concerned with practical solutions to crime. Relatively simple theories such as rational choice and Broken Windows theory explain crime and Zero Tolerance Policing and Situational Crime Prevention are the solutions