Sociological Perspectives: Key Concepts

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

Definitions of key terms for the five basic sociological perspectives – Functionalism, Marxism, Feminism, Social Action Theory and Postmodernism.

More details on the perspectives below can be found at the relevant links on my sociological theories page, which has been written to specifically cover the AQA A-level sociology syllabus.

Functionalism

Functionalism is a structural consensus theory which argues that social institutions generally perform positive functions such as maintaining value consensus and social order. Key Functionalist theorists include Emile Durkheim (1858 – 1917) and Talcott Parsons (1902 -1979).

Key concepts associated with Functionalism are defined below….

Anomie

Anomie refers to a state of normlessness which arises because of a lack of social regulation. Anomie occurs when there are either too few rules guiding individual behaviour or where there are conflicting sets of rules, which contradict each other (as in Merton’s Strain Theory)

Functional Prerequisits

Functionalists believed that societies have four basic functions which must be performed in order for them to carry on surviving.

These four basic social needs are:

  • Adaptation – societies need institutions which produce food and things – factories and workplaces for example.
  • Governance – societies need institutions which make decisions – such as governments.
  • Integration – individuals need to be integrated into a society to feel like they belong – education systems possibly perform this function.
  • Latency – this is reproductive function – families usually perform this function.

The above is also known as the AGIL scheme

Functional Fit Theory

Talcott Parsons argued that the functions of the family changed to fit the needs of the wider society as societies moved from pre-industrial to industrial.

In pre-industrial society economic production was done within the family, and the family performed many functions such as the education of children as well as that of production.

However when industrial society emerged and the factory became the primary institution which produced things the functions of the family changed: they were reduced to doing two things: the reproduction of the young and the stabilisation of adult personalities.

Functional Fit Theory demonstrates the Functionalist idea of ‘evolution’ – as societies ‘evolve’ into industrial capitalist societies the family becomes more specialist in the functions it performs, but no less necessary. Meanwhile schools take over the education function from the family.

Mechanical and Organic solidarity

These are two concepts developed by Durkheim to explain the different types of social bonding mechanisms in pre-industrial and industrial societies.

Pre-industrial societies were characterised by mechanical solidarity – this is solidarity based on similarity and day to day togetherness and familiarity. People in pre-industrial societies have solidarity because they are working closely together in a narrow range of institutions and solidarity is achieved automatically or naturally, if you like – that is mechanical solidarity.

More complex industrial societies are held together by organic solidarity – they are larger and have huge amounts of people working in different roles who share nothing in common with other people working in other roles – thus industrial societies require specific institutions to achieve solidarity at the societal level – such as education and trades unions – this is organic solidarity.

Meritocracy

Meritocracy is where individuals achieve based on their ability and effort, rather than on the basis of their social background or who they know.

According to Davis and Moore a Meritocratic education system was a necessary feature of industrial capitalist societies which were characterised by inequalities.

Their theory was that people would accept unequal societies as long as education systems offered individuals the chance to succeed based on their ability and effort then everyone had the chance to get decent qualifications and a decent job and income in later life, irrespective of their social class or ethnic background.

The theory was that those who failed would accept that they had been offered the chance and yet failed on their own lack of merits and so deserved a lower status job than those who where more able and harder working than themselves.

The problem with the concept of Meritocracy is that it is a myth, at least where education is concerned.

Norms and Values

Norms = the normal, typical or expected patterns of behaviour associated with societies or specific contexts or social roles.

Values = major and lasting ideas and beliefs about what is desirable and undesirable. Important sources of values include religion, politics, and one’s family background.

Organic Analogy

The organic analogy is the idea that institutions in society work like organs in a body. In the body different organs have different functions but all of them work together to maintain the whole, and the same is true in societies.

Positive Functions of Institutions

The Functionalist idea that institutions generally benefit society and most people within a society. For example, the nuclear family provides a stable and secure environment in which to raise children and school prepares individuals for work and is necessary for an advanced economy to work effectively.

Role Allocation

Role Allocation is one of the main functions of education systems in industrial societies. It is where students are sifted through a tiered examination system and sorted into their appropriated job roles based on their qualifications.

Social Evolution

Functionalists believe in social evolution rather than revolution. Functionalists recognised that societies changed over time and that some societies evolve to become more complex than more primitive societies.

Industrial Capitalist Democracies are seen by Functionalists as the most complex and evolved societies – they have more specialist institutions devoted to specialising in one specific function than pre-industrial societies – for example children are educated in schools rather than at home.

Social Facts

Durkheim argued that sociology should limit itself to the study of objective social facts rather than subjective individual thoughts and feelings.

Social Facts include such things as collective norms and values and social statistics.

The problem with this is that it fails to recognise that statistics are socially constructed and thus not themselves objective.

Social Integration

Social integration refers to the extent to which people are bonded to other people and institutions in a society. Someone who is working, married, has children and does lots of activities with other people is more integrated than someone who is unemployed, single, childless and does nothing all day.

According to Durkheim’s theory of suicide too much or too little social integration in a society can increase the suicide rate. Healthy societies require a balance of integration and individual freedom.

Social Regulation

Social regulation refers to the amount of rules and regulations to which individuals in a society are expected to conform. As a general rule boys and men in the United Kingdom are less regulated than girls and women in contemporary Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Durkheim theorised that too little or too much social regulation can increase the suicide rate in societies. Just as with social integration healthy societies have a balance between rules and individual freedoms.

Socialisation

Socialisation is the process of learning the norms and values of a society. Functionalists see this a neutral process, important for the maintenance of social order; Marxists and Feminists see this a process which benefits the powerful as the ideas learnt through socialisation maintain the status quo.

Society as a System

According to Functionalists societies should be analysed as systems as they have a ‘reality’ above and beyond the level of individuals who make them up.

Sociologists should focus on the macro level of society using statistics to study society as a whole and how societies change, and we can understand social trends without looking at individuals’ thoughts and feelings.

An example of this lies in Durkheim’s study of suicide – he found that he could predict the suicide rate in a country based on that country’s religion, divorce rate, unemployment rate and other ‘social facts’.

Stabilisation of Adult Personalities

This was one of the two essential functions of the family in industrial societies according to Parsons.

Industrial factory work was hard and stressful for men, but they were able to cope with it because of the traditional nuclear family set up at home – with their wife taking on a caring role and helping them to de-stress when they go home.

This is also known as the ‘warm bath theory’.

Strain Theory

Robert Merton argued that crime in a society increases when there is increasing strain between the stated success goals of a society and the available opportunities to achieve those goals.

Writing in the 1940s Merton believed that rising crime in American could be explained because everyone was told they could get a decent education and then a decent paying job but in fact there were not sufficient legitimate opportunities for everyone to be able to achieve these goals.

Thus some people adapted and retreated into drug use or turned to drug dealing or burglary to get rich and some sort more revolutionary solutions to fix what they perceived as a broken America.

Value Consensus

Value Consensus is agreement around share values. In Functionalist thought is the outcome of effective socialisation and crucial to maintaining social order.

Marxism

Marxism is a structural conflict theory which argues that societies are divided along social class lines. There are two main classes – the Bourgeoisie who own Capital and the Proletariat who must work for wages. In Marxist theory the Bourgeoise control social institutions and use them to maintain their power. The Key Marxist thinker was Karl Marx (1818 -1883)

For the purposes of A-level Sociology Marxism is usually taught in contrast to Functionalism.

The key concepts associated with Marxism are summarised below:

Capitalism and Private Property

Capital refers to financial wealth – especially that used to start businesses (rather than emergency savings or the house you live in). Capitalism is a system which gives private individuals with capital the freedom to invest, make money and retain profit.

The opposite of Capitalism is Communism, where the state owns all the property and makes all of the decisions about what to produce.

In Marxist theory, the Capitalist class are known as the Bourgeoisie – these are the minority class, and are those with capital  who make money from profits on investments. The majority make up the Proletariat, the working class, who have no or little capital and have to work for a living.

Private property is crucial to Capitalism, because the protection of private property rights is what makes the system work: the capitalist class are allowed to maintain the wealth from their investments, rather than having their property redistributed by the state, as would happen under communism.

Exploitation

The relationship between these two classes is exploitative because the amount of money the Capitalist pays his workers (their wages) is always below the current selling, or market price of whatever they have produced. The difference between the two is called surplus value.

Ideological Control  

Marx argued that the ruling classes used their control of social institutions to gain ideological dominance, or control over the way people think in society.  Marx argued that the ideas of the ruling classes were presented as common sense and natural and thus unequal, exploitative relationships were accepted by the proletariat as the norm.

Revolution

Marx believed that political action was necessary to ‘wake up’ the proletariat and bring them to revolutionary class consciousness. Eventually, following a revolution, private property would be abolished and with it the profit motive and the desire to exploit. In the communist society, people would be more equal, have greater freedom and be happier.

Feminism

Feminism is a diverse body of social theory which aims to understand the reasons for inequalities based on gender and gender identity and a political movement which campaigns for greater gender equality.

Some of the key concepts associated with Feminism are defined below…

Patriarchy

‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)

Gender Scripts

The learned patterns of behaviour associated with different genders in a society. Gender scripts incorporate a whole range of gender-norms  associated with different ‘being’ male and female – such as typical ways of dressing, speaking and self-expression more generally. The term ‘gender script’ rather than ‘gender norm’ emphasises the fact that individuals actively have to ‘act out’ their gender-identity, but at the same time a script is just a guide, and individuals have considerable freedom to interpret and play around with the suggested normative ways of expressing gender.

Liberal/ Marxist and Radical Feminism

Liberal Feminists tend to emphasise the importance of securing formal legal equality for women, Marxist Feminists focus on how capitalism perpetuates gender equality, and radical feminists focus on how patriarchy operates across many institutions, especially the family.

Deconstruction

Involves critically analysing normative behaviour or truth-claims more generally, exposing the ‘relational nature’ of knowledge. In Feminist theory, this mainly means exposing the binary opposition ‘male-female’ and all of the traditional norms associated with this division as a social construct, rather than something which is rooted in objective biological divisions.. Such critical analysis forms the basis of breaking down such gender norms and opens up the possibility of a living a life free from the restraint of such g norms.

Interactionism

Interactionism is a social action theory which focuses less on social structure and more on how individuals see themselves and actively construct their own identities through interactions with others. Key interactionist theorists were Ervin Goffman (1922 to 1982) and Howard Becker (1928 to present day).

Some of the key concepts of interactionist theory are summarised below.

The I and the Me

The ‘I’ is the active aspect of one’s personality, the ‘Me’ is the social aspect – the me is one’s social identity, which the ‘I’ reflects on.

The looking glass self

The idea that and individual’s self-concept is based on their understanding of how others perceive them.

Social identity

One’s social identity is how one sees oneself in relation to others in a society. It is likely to incorporate a number of different social roles, such as one’s role within a family and the workplace, and one’s social status in society more generally based on class, gender, ethnicity etc.

Backstage and Front Stage

Key ideas within Goffman’s dramaturgical theory – frontstage is any arena within society where one has to act out one’s identity, such as the workplace or the street, but it might also be in the home itself on certain occasions. Backstage is where one rehearses and prepares for one’s front stage performances, or just relaxes.

Labelling

‘Labelling’ is where someone judges a person based on the superficial ‘surface’ characteristics such as their apparent social class, sex, and ethnicity.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

This is where someone acts according to their label and the label becomes true in reality.

Postmodernism

Postmodernists argue that the old structures and certainties of the modernist era are now gone (hence ‘post’ modernity).  With the shift to late Capitalism and the rise of Consumer society social life is now more fluid and unpredictable and individuals have much more freedom to shape their identities.

Postmodernists also question the certainties of science, including social science and are sceptical about the possibility of social progress.

Two key postmodernist thinkers include Jean Francois Lyotard (1924 – 1988) and Jean Baudriallard (1929 – 2007).

Some of the key concepts associated with Postmodernism are covered below…

Service Sector Economy

The service sector is also referred to as the ‘tertiary’ or third sector economy, in contrast to the first and second sectors – agriculture and industrial manufacturing. A service sector economy is one in which most people work in this third sector, in jobs such as retail, education and financial and informational services rather than manufacturing.

Consumer culture

Consumer society is one in which consumption practices and leisure activities are more important as a source of identity, status and division than work, income and social class background.

Social Fragmentation

The breaking up and splitting apart of communities into smaller groups, which are relatively isolated from each other.

Hyperreality

Jean Baudrillard’s concept to describe a society in which most people cannot distinguish a simulated, media representation of reality, from actual reality.

Signposting

Sociological Perspectives are a key component of the social theories aspect of the Sociology A-level Theory and Methods compulsory module, usually studied in the second year.

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

The Long History of the ‘Underclass’ Thesis

Charles Murray’s Underclass Theory – the idea that there is a ‘hardcore’ of a few hundred thousand families and individuals who are welfare-dependent and responsible a disproportionate amount of crime in society has a long history:

  • In Victorian times there was a concern about a ‘social residuum’, and shortly afterwards it was ‘unemployables’ who were the target of social reformers and politicians.
  • The Eugenics Society was influential in promoting the ‘social problem group’ in the 1930s and the idea of ‘problem families’ in the years following the Second World War.
  • In the 1960s, Oscar Lewis, the cultural anthropologist, popularised the heavily racialised ‘culture of poverty’ theory in the USA.
  • Sir Keith Joseph, former Conservative MP, raised the issue of a ‘cycle of deprivation’ in the 1970s.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, American academic Charles Murray suggested that a ‘plague’ had crossed the Atlantic in the form of an ‘underclass’.
  • New Labour expressed concern about 2.5% of people who were ‘socially excluded’ in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
  • The development of the Respect agenda in the 2000s raised the issue of ‘problem families’ once again.

However, these ideas have flourished, despite no robust evidence which supports the idea of an ‘underclass’, whatever it is called. Professor David Gordon, who led the recent Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom study, the largest ever research project of its kind, has offered the following view of such concepts:

These ideas are unsupported by any substantial body of evidence. Despite almost 150 years of scientific investigation, often by extremely partisan investigators, not a single study has ever found any large group of people/households with any behaviours that could be ascribed to a culture or genetics of poverty … any policy based on the idea that there are a group of ‘Problem Families’ who ‘transmit’ their ‘poverty/deprivation’ to their children will inevitably fail, as this idea is a prejudice, unsupported by scientific evidence. (Gordon, 2011)

Source: Stephen Crossley, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy? – Briefing Paper – November 2015

What are ‘Social Facts’ ?

Social Facts are one of Emile Durkheim’s most significant contributions to sociology. Social facts are things such as institutions, norms and values which exist external to the individual and constrain the individual.

Durkheim

The University of Colorado lists as examples of social facts: institutions, statuses, roles, laws, beliefs, population distribution, urbanization, etc. Social facts include social institutions, social activities and [the strata of society – for example the class structure, subcultures etc.]

The video below provides a useful introduction to the concept of social facts….

The video suggests that the concept ‘social fact’ is a broad term designed to encompass the social environment which constrains individual behaviour.

It uses the analogy of a how the physical structure of a room limits our actions (we can only go in and through the door or windows for example; in the same way the social facts which make up our social environment constrains us – norms, values, beliefs, ideologies and so on effectively limit our choices.

Sociology is about identifying the relationship between the social conditions and people’s behaviour.

 This second video is a bit more complex…

According to Durkheim, social facts emerge out of collectives of individuals, they cannot be reduced to the level of individuals – and this social reality is real, and it exists above the level of the individual, sociology is the study of this ‘level above the individual’.

As far as Durkheim was concerned this was no different to the concept that human life is greater than the sum of the individual cells which make it up – society has a reality above that of the individuals who constitute it.

A key idea of Durkheim – that we should never reduce the study of society to the level of the individual, we should remain at the level of social facts and aim to explain social action in relation to social facts.

(Not in the video) – this is precisely what Durkheim did in his study of suicide by trying to explain variations in the suicide rate (which is above the level of the individual) through other social facts, such as the divorce rate, the pace of economic growth, the type of religion (all of which he further reduced to two basic variables – social integration and social regulation.

In this way sociology should aim to be scientific, it should not study individuals, but scientific trends at the level above the individual. This is basically the Positivist approach to studying society, as laid down in Durkhiem’s 1895 work ‘The Rules of Sociological Method’.

NB Durkheim’s study of suicide is just about the best illustration of the application of social facts that there is – In which he researched official statistics on suicide in several European countries and found that the suicide rate was influenced by social facts such as the divorce rate, the religion of a country, and the pace of economic and social changed – Durkheim further theorized that the suicide rate increased when there was either too much or too little integration and regulation in society. 

The major criticism of Durkheim’s concept of social facts is that the statistics he claims to be ‘social facts’ aren’t – suicide stats are open to manipulation by the people who record them (coroners) – and there is huge potential for several suicides (intentional deaths) to be mis-recorded as open verdicts or accidental deaths and thus we can never be 100% certain of the validity of this data, thus theorising on the basis of cross national comparisons based on said data is risky.

It is possible to apply this ‘social construction critique’ to a range of statistics – such as crime stats, unemployment stats, immigration stats, happiness stats, and a whole load more, which means that while there may be a really existing social world external to the individual, it’s not necessarily possible to know or measure that world with any degree of certainty or to understand how all of the various social facts out there interact with each other. NB This may well explain why no one seems to be able to make predictions about economic crashes, Arab Springs, or election results these days! 

Other critics, such as phenomenologists (kind of like precursors to Postmodernists), argue that the whole concept of an external reality is itself flawed, and that instead of one external reality which constrains individuals there are a multitude of more fluid and diverse social realities which arise and fade with social interaction. From this perspective, we may think there is a system of social norms and values out there in the world, but this is only ‘real’ for us if we think it to be real; this is nothing more than a thought, and thus in ‘reality’ we are really free as individuals. (Monstrously free, if you like, to coin a phrase.)

Do Social Facts Exist?

Durkheim’s view of society and the Positivist method have been conceived over 100 years ago, and it has been severely criticised by Interpretivists and Postmodernists, but this hasn’t stopped many researchers from adopting a quantitative, scientific approach to analysing social trends and social problems at the level of society rather than at the level of the individual, and there does seem to be something in the view that society constrains us in subtle and often unnoticed ways, many of which you would’ve come across over the two year A level sociology course.  

Firstly, the suicide rate still varies according to various social factors (‘social facts’?)

For example, after noting that the male suicide rate is 3 times higher than the female suicide rate, and highest for men in their late 40s, This 2016 suicide report by the Samaritans (UK focus) notes that ‘Research suggests that social and economic factors influence the risk of suicide in women as well as men’

suicide

Hence as Durkheim said in the 19th century, the decision to kill yourself isn’t just a personal decision, it’s influenced by whether your’re male or female and your age. (As a 43 year old male, I don’t find this graph particularly encouraging, then again at least I’m into ‘the hump’ rather than staring at it from my 30s and with only 8 years of shit to go.) 

Secondly, the birth rate/ total fertility rate seem to be effected by a number of ‘social facts’

Think back to the module on the family – while the decision to have babies seems personal and private, the number of children women have, and the age at which they have them seems to be influenced heavily by society. The decline in the birth rate is now  a global trend – and while there are different ’causes’ which have led to its reduction, some of the more common ones appear to be women’s empowerment and education , economic growth and state-promoted family planning.

Web

This isn’t just me saying this, it’s backed up by a whole load of number crunching of global data on birth rates which are summarised in this excellent Guardian article.

According to the The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) there are a number of factors that can play a role in a country’s fertility rates, including its investment in education, the availability of family planning services, the status of women’s rights and the prevalence of early and forced marriage.

“Population dynamics are not destiny,” the UNFPA’s population matters report says. “Change is possible through a set of policies which respect human rights and freedoms and contribute to a reduction in fertility, notably access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, education beyond the primary level, and the empowerment of women.”

Thirdly, educational achievement still varies enormously by (the social fact of) social class background

It’s depressing to have to remind you about it, but from the Education module you learnt that social class background has a profound impact on educational achievement. The graph below shows achievement by FSM pupils compared to all other pupils.  ‘FSM’ stands for ‘Free School Meals’ – to qualify for FSM status a child needs to be in approximately the bottom sixth of households by income -NB FSM is only a proxy for social class, one indicator of it, the only one we have to hand which is convenient. (The government doesn’t collect information on social class and educational achievement for ideological reasons). 

fsm-educational-attainmentKeep in mind that this is the bottom sixth by income compared to all other pupils. If you separated out the top sixth, you’d probably see a 90% 5 A-C achievement rate (or something like that).

Again if you think back to the lessons on material and cultural deprivation, coming from a poor background seems to weigh heavily on ‘poor kids’ while coming from a middle class background confers material and cultural advantage on the children of wealthier parents. Sad to say but educational results in England and Wales are most definitely NOT a reflection of just intelligence.

For the full report click here

The Spirit Level – Equality as a ‘Social Fact’?

One of the best examples of a Positivist approach to social research carried out in recent years is ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.– a study of the effects of wealth and income inequality on a whole range of social problems 

mental-illness

Chapter by chapter, graph by graph, the authors demonstrate that the more unequal a rich country is,the worse its performance is likely to be in a whole range of variables including:

  • life expectancy
  • infant mortality
  • obesity
  • child wellbeing
  • amount of mental illness
  • use of illegal drugs
  • teenage pregnancy rates
  • homicide and imprisonment rates
  • levels of mutual trust between citizens
  • maths and literacy attainment
  • social mobility (children rising in social scale compared with their parents)
  • spending on foreign aid

The authors consider and eliminate other possibilities, and conclude:

 ‘It is very difficult to see how the enormous variations which exist from one society to another in the level of problems associated with low social status can be explained without accepting that inequality is the common denominator, and a hugely damaging force.”

Inequalities erode “social capital”, that is, the cohesion of a society, the degree to which individual citizens are involved in their society, the strength of the social networks within it, and the degree of trust and empathy between citizens.

The mechanisms by which inequality impacts on societies, it is suggested, is that individuals internalise inequality, that their psyches are profoundly affected by it, and that that in turn affects physical as well as mental health, and leads to attitudes and behaviours which appear as a variety of social and health problems.’ 

So if you’ve got an anxiety disorder, blame Thatcher, she’s the one whose government kick started the march towards inequality.

Social Facts… In summary 

According to Durkheim (a French dude from the 19th century), society exists at a level above the individual and it kind of has a life of its own. It consists of social facts such as institutions and the class structure which constrain individuals depending on their relation to said social facts.

Durkheim believed that we should limit ourselves to studying ‘social facts’ at the level of society – aim to understand how and why social trends vary, and do this in a scientific way.

Understanding more about how these social forces drive social change, and deriving the laws which govern human interaction is the point of sociology according to Durkheim, and doing this requires us to study social facts at the level of society, there is no need to focus on individuals.

Some of the findings of this type of research based on social facts include……. 

  • Being male, 40-50, poor, and divorced means you are more miserable and more likely to kill yourself (Oh yeah, I’m not poor, or divorced, so yay I’m OK!)
  • Economic growth, female empowerment, and family planning policies have led to women having fewer babies
  • Being from a poor household means you’re much more likely to get crap CGSEs
  • The more unequal a country in terms of wealth and income the worse of everyone is in pretty much every way imaginable, especially those at the bottom.

So that’s all pretty useful, right? Basically we need to make the world more equal, empower more women, and help poor children and middle aged men more and everything’ll be a whole lot better….

Related Posts 

Positivism in Social Research 

Key Concepts for A Level Sociology – Crime and Deviance

definitions of key concepts for A-level sociology students

A list of definitions of some of the key concepts relevant to the A level sociology crime and deviance module.

Many of the concepts below tie in with sociological perspectives on crime and deviance.

Anomie

Where modern social systems encourage excessive individualism – as a consequence there is a general lack of agreement around norms and values – some commentators describe anomie as a state of normlessness.

Anomie was a key part of Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance.

Bonds of Attachment

Hirschi argued that when an individual is more attached to society they are less likely to commit crime. He theorised that there were 4 main bonds of attachment – commitment, attachment, involvement and belief. For more details please see this post: Hirschi’s Control Theory of Crime.

Broken Windows Theory

A theory of crime developed in the 1980s and associated with Right Realism. Broken Windows theory states that crime increases in areas where there are high levels of ‘social disorder’, characterised by such things as high levels of litter, graffiti and broken windows. These signs give off the impression that people in the area don’t care, and that there are low levels of informal social control, and criminals are thus drawn to such areas. As a result, social disorder and crime increases further.

Context Dependency Deviance

Whether or not an act is deviant depends on the society in which the act takes place, the historical period, and the actors present. The context dependency of deviance emphasises the fact that the same form of behaviour can be considered deviant in one society, but not deviant in another.

Corporate Crime

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.

Crime

The breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a punishment – depending on the society this might ultimately mean imprisonment or the death penalty.

Crimogenic Capitalism

The Marxist idea that the exploitative capitalist system generates crime. According to Marxists, the self-interested pursuit of profit lies at the heart of the Capitalist system. The means whereby the Capitalist class get rich is by exploiting workers through paying them as little as possible to increase their profits, and they also encourage materialism, to increase demand for the goods they produce. A final way capitalism generates crime is by creating inequality – resulting in a significant number of people at the bottom of society (the underclass) who are effectively unable to consume at a reasonable level.

Dark figure of crime

The amount of unreported, or undiscovered crime. These are the crimes which do not appear in Official Police Statistics.

Deviance

Behaviour that varies from the accepted standard of normal behaviour in society. It implies that an individual is breaking social norms in a negative way.

Dog Eat Dog Society

A phrase associated with Marxist Sociologist David Gordon who said that capitalist societies are ‘dog eat dog societies’ in which each individual company and each individual is encouraged to look out for their own self-interest before the interests of others, before the interests of the community, and before the protection of the environment.

Ideology

A set of cultural beliefs, values, and attitudes that underlie and justify either the status quo or movements to change it. The culture of every social system has an ideology that serves to explain and justify its own existence as a way of life. In Sociology, Marxists use the term the ‘dominant ideology’ to refer to the world-view of the ruling class, which they present to everyone else as normal – their world view passes of inequality and exploitation as normal and natural, thus justifying their existence.

Ideological Functions

The idea that institutions such as schools and the media teach a set of norms and values which work in the interests of the powerful and prevent social change. For example, Marxists say the education system performs ‘ideological functions’ for the Capitalist system and the Bourgeois: they believe that the norms of punctuality and acceptance of authority and hierarchy prepares us for our future exploitation at work, which benefits future employers more than workers.

Labelling

Labelling is the process of pre-judging/ categorising an individual based on superficial characteristics or stereotypical assumptions. For example when a teacher decides a scruffy looking student is not intelligent.

For more detailed notes on the this topic please see the labelling theory of crime

Moral Entrepreneurs

A moral entrepreneur is an individual, group or formal organization that seeks to influence a group to adopt or maintain a norm. Moral entrepreneurs are those who take the lead in labelling a particular behaviour and spreading or popularizing this label throughout society.

Neutralisation of Opposition

In Marxist theory resistance to capitalism and eventual revolution should come from the working classes once they realise the injustice of the high level of exploitation they face. However, according to Marxist criminologists, the criminal justice system works to get rid of opposition by selectively locking up working class (Rather than middle class) criminals which prevents resistance and revolution. Selective law enforcement does this in three main ways:

  1. By literally incarcerating (‘incapacitating) thousands of people who could potentially be part of a revolutionary movement.
  2. 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.
  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, thus we are less aware of the injustice of inequality in society.

Official Crime Statistics

Official Statistics are numerical information collected by the government and its agencies – the two main types of crime statistics collected by government agencies are Police Recorded Crime, and the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Crime statistics also encompass Prison Statistics, which include information about the numbers and characteristics of prisoners.

Police recorded Crime

All crimes reported to and recorded by the police. Police forces around the country record crime in categories that are outlined in the Home Office counting rules. These include: violence against the person, sexual offences, robber, burglary, theft, handling stolen goods, fraud and forgery, criminal damage, drug offences and ‘other offences’.

Rational Choice Theory 

Believes individuals make rational (logical) decisions about whether or not to commit a crime  the crime rate is affected mainly by three factors –  the available opportunities to commit crime,  the perceived risk of getting caught,  and severity of the punishment the offender believes they will receive if they are caught. According to Rational Choice Theory, the more opportunities to commit crime, the lower the risk of getting caught and the lower the likelihood of punishment, then the higher the crime rate will be.

Relative Deprivation

Lacking sufficient resources to maintain a standard of living or lifestyle which is regarded as normal or average in a given society; or lacking sufficient resources to maintain a living standard which is approved of by society. While it is possible to measure relative deprivation objectively, there is a subjective element to this concept which can make it difficult to measure – an individual can feel relatively deprived even when they are relatively well-off compared to the average, if they have an unrealistic idea about what ‘the average is’. This concept is associated with Left Realism and Jock Young’s Vertigo of Late Modernity especially.

Self-Report Studies

Surveys in which a selected cross section of the population is asked what offences they have committed. A good example of a self-report study is the ‘Youth Lifestyles Survey’ – although the last one was done over a decade ago.

Selective Law Enforcement

Where the police mainly focus on policing working class (and underclass) areas and the justice system mainly focuses on prosecuting working and underclass criminals, while ignoring 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. A concept associated with Marxist criminologist David Gordon.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Where an individual accepts their label and the the label becomes true in practice.

Social integration

Where people are connected to society through social institutions. The more connections an individual has to social institutions, the more integrated an individual is to society. For example, someone with a job, with a family, and who spends time with others in the community is more integrated than an unemployed single loner.

Social Regulation

reaffirming the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. High levels of social regulation basically mean explicit and clear rules and norms which set out clear social expectations. In Functionalist theory an appropriate amount of social regulation is essential for preventing anomie which leads to high levels of suicide and other forms of deviant and criminal behaviour.

Socially Constructed 

Where something is the product of social processes rather than just being natural. For example, most sociologists agree that crime is socially constructed because people in society decide what crime is law breaking behaviour, and laws are made-up by people and change over time, thus crime varies from society to society. Similarly, we can say that crime statistics are socially constructed because they are the result of a series of social interactions – of people witnessing and reporting crimes and then the police recording them, rather than the stats reflecting the actual real number of crimes in any society.

Society of Saints

A phrase associated with Emile Durkheim which emphasises the inevitability and social necessity of crime. Durkheim argued that even in a ‘society of saints’ populated by perfect individuals deviance would still exist. In such a society there might be no murder or robbery, but there would still be deviance. The general standards of behaviour would be so high that the slightest slip would be regarded as a serious offence. Thus the individual who simply showed bad taste, or was merely impolite, would attract strong disapproval.

Status frustration

A concept developed by Albert Cohen in Delinquent Boys (1956) – he used it to explain working-class male delinquency as being a collective reaction against middle class success – working class boys tried hard in school and failed to gain status, got frustrated, found each other and formed a deviant subculture – status was gained within the subculture by being deviant and going against the rules of the school.

Subculture 

A group which has at least some norms and values which are different to those held in mainstream society, and can thus be regarded as deviant.

The Underclass

A term first coined by American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) – The underclass’ refers to the long term unemployed who are effectively welfare dependent. They have higher rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households and much higher crime rates. Some statistical analysis suggests that the underclass (approximately 1% of the population) might commit as much as 50% recorded crime in the UK.

Victim Surveys

Ask people whether they have been a victim of crime, typically in the previous 12 months. The most comprehensive victim survey in England and Wales is the ‘Crime Survey of England and Wales’.

White Collar Crime

White-collar crime refers to financially motivated nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals. Within criminology, it was first defined by sociologist Edwin Sutherland in 1939 as “a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation”.

Zero Tolerance Policing 

Involves the police strictly enforcing every facet of law, including paying particular attention to minor activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. It actually involves giving the police less freedom to use discretion –the police are obliged to hand out strict penalties for criminal activity.

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