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Exam Advice from the AQA’s 2018 Examiner Report – Paper 3 (Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods)

Below I summarise the 2018 AQA’s examiner report for crime and deviance with theory and methods and add in the questions, which aren’t in the report. You can get both the report and the question paper here!

General Advice 

  • Most students seem to have managed their time appropriately, with few signs that they were unable to complete the paper.
  • Some students showed detailed sociological knowledge and sophisticated understanding that they applied successfully to the set questions, and in general students seemed reasonably well versed in relevant material.
  • However, fewer found success in evaluating the issues raised by the questions.

Question 1

Outline Two ways in which gender may influence the risk of being a victim of crime

  • Most students successfully identified two ways in which gender may influence being a victim of crime.
  • Most answers referred to the vulnerability of women or the influence of patriarchy; many linked this with domestic abuse or sexual crimes.
  • References to male victims usually referred to socialisation and/or to violence related to masculinity, leading to men becoming victims of the violence of other men when they became gang members or spent time in the wrong places.
  • The main reason for failing to score marks was to write about committing crime rather than about being a victim.
  • Some gained partial reward for identifying a particular type of crime of which men or women are likely to be victims but without going on to elaborate on this.

Question 2

Outline three criticisms of the labelling theory of crime and deviance

  • The most frequently cited criticism was that labelling theory is deterministic; this was usually explained correctly.
  • Other frequently cited criticisms included the theory’s failure to explain primary deviance, its romanticised view of deviants or its neglect of structural factors.
  • A significant minority of answers outlined criticisms of the labelling process (for example that labelling is discriminatory or unfair), rather than of the theory.
  • Some students tended to recycle the same criticism in different guises.
  • A few wrote excessively long answers to this question.

Question 3

Sociology examiner report 2018.png

Applying material from Item A, analyse two reasons for social class differences in official crime statistics

  • Most students were able to draw on one or two appropriate points from the Item.
  • More effective answers then developed these points appropriately by employing relevant sociological concepts and studies.
  • For example, ‘agencies of the criminal justice system, such as the police’ was linked to how the police use typifications in activities such as stop and search, how justice may be negotiated etc.
  • ‘some individuals may also have greater… pressure to offend’ was applied to utilitarian crime via relative deprivation or blocked opportunities faced by the working class.
  • In less effective answers, the connection between the potential point from the Item and the material presented was less clearly made.
  • In a minority of cases, students simply offered various sociological explanations of class differences in the statistics but with no application of material from the Item.

Question 4

Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological contributions to our understanding of the relationship between crime and the media (30)

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Good answers included…

  • the social construction of crime news;
  • media representations of crime,
  • criminals and victims; t
  • he role of the media in creating crime (for example, relative deprivation, moral panics and the deviance amplification spiral)
  • the role of new media in contributing both to crime and to its policing.
  • Good answers also had evaluation which was explicit and well linked to the specific issues raised in the answer.

Some answers took a ‘perspectives’ approach, including Marxist, functionalist, feminist or other views. Unfortunately, this approach led many to focus on tangential material, with detailed accounts of the general sociological perspectives that quickly lost sight of the media, crime, or both. However, there were a few very good answers of this type that did succeed in applying such perspectives to the set question.

Question 5

Outline and explain two disadvantages of using laboratory experiments in sociological research (10)

  • Most students could offer two disadvantages of laboratory experiments.
  • Most often these included the artificiality of the setting (often conflated with the Hawthorne effect)
  • other disadvantages included difficulties in identifying and controlling variables, a lack of representativeness or ethical problems.
  • However, many answers failed to explain or develop these points successfully; some simply described an example of an experiment that experienced such problems. Some students did not know the difference between reliability and validity.
  • A minority of students included evaluation, for which no marks were available on this question.

Question 6

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge, evaluate the advantages of using  structured interviews in sociological research [ 20 marks]

Screenshot 2019-06-09 at 08.30.17.png

  • This question proved to be quite challenging for some students.
  • Most were able to put together a list of positivist characteristics as advantages, such as objectivity, reliability, quantification and generalisability.
  • However, most could not evaluate these advantages.
  • Instead a typical response, having provided a paragraph or two on the advantages, gave a list of disadvantages, or a list of reasons why interpretivist sociologists would not like the method.
  • The result was an essay of two halves with little to link them into a coherent answer to the set question.

 

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Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) – The Imitative Aggressive Experiment 

This classic example of a laboratory experiment suggests that children learn aggressive behaviour through observation – it is relevant to the Crime and Deviance module, and lends support to the idea that exposure to violence at home (or in the media) can increase aggressive and possibly violent behaviour in real life.

Bandura-bobo-doll-experiment

Bandura, Ross and Ross (1961) aimed to find out if children learnt aggressive behaviour by observing adults acting in an aggressive manner.

Their sample consisted of 36 boys and 36 girls from the Stanford University Nursery School aged between 3 to 6 years old.

Stage one – making some of the children watch violence 

In this stage of the experiment, children were divided into three groups of 24 (12 boys and 12 girls in each group), and then individually put through one of the following three processes. 

  • The first group of children watched an adult actor behaving aggressively towards a toy called a ‘Bobo doll’. The adults attacked the Bobo doll in a distinctive manner – they used a hammer in some cases, and in others threw the doll in the air and shouted “Pow, Boom”.
  • The second group  were exposed to a non-aggressive adult actor who played in a quiet and subdued manner for 10 minutes (playing with a tinker toy set and ignoring the bobo-doll).
  • The final group were used as a control group and not exposed to any model at all.

Stage two – frustrating the children and observing their reactions

The children were then taken to a room full of nice of toys, but told that they were not allowed to play with them, in order to ‘frustrate them’, and then taken onto another room full of toys which consisted of a number of ‘ordinary toys’, as well as a ‘bobo doll’ and a hammer. Children were given a period of time to play with these toys while being observed through a two way mirror.

The idea here was to see if those children who had witnessed the aggressive behaviour towards the doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards it themselves.

Findings 

To cut a long story short, the children who had previously seen the adults acting aggressively towards the bobo doll were more likely to behave aggressively towards to the bobo doll in stage two of the experiment.

A further interesting finding is that boys were more likely to act aggressively than girls.

The findings support Bandura’s ‘social learning theory’ –  that is, children learn social behaviour such as aggression through the process of observation – through watching the behaviour of another person.

Evaluation

Strengths of the bobo-doll experiment 

  • Variables were well controlled, so it effectively established cause and effect relationships (see the link below for more details)
  • It has good reliability – standardised procedures mean it is easy to repeat.

Limitations of this laboratory experiment

  • This study has very low ecological validity – this is a very artificial form of ‘violence’ – an adult using a hammer on a doll (rather than a human) is nothing like the kind of real life aggressive behaviour a child might be exposed to, thus can we generalise these findings to wider social life?
  • Cumberbatch (1990) found that children who had not played with a Bobo Doll before were five times as likely to imitate the aggressive behaviour than those who were familiar with it; he claims that the novelty value of the doll makes it more likely that children will imitate the behaviour.
  • The effects of exposure to aggression were measured immediately, this experiment tells us nothing about the long-term effects of a single exposure to aggressive behaviour.
  • There are ethical problems with the study – exposing the children to aggressive behaviour and ‘frustrating them’ may have resulted in long term harm to their well-being.

Related Posts 

Laboratory Experiments – advantages and disadvantages

Milgram’s Obedience Experiment – is the other ‘classic’ psychology experiment which usually gets wheeled out for use in sociology.

Further Sources 

This post from Simply Psychology offers a much more detailed account of Bandura’s Imitative Aggressive experiment – NB if you’re an A-level sociology student, you don’t really need to know that much detail for this experiment, this link is just for further reading.

You might also like this video which summarises the Bobo Doll Experiment – although bewarned, it’s a bit cringeworthy

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Analyse two ways in which patterns of crime may vary with social class (10)

Just a few thoughts on how you might answer the above 10 mark question – a possibility for the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods Paper 3

NB – There is every possibility that the actual 10 marker will be much more convoluted (complex) than this, but then again, there’s also the possibility of getting a simpler question – remember you could get either, and there’s no way of knowing which you’ll get – it all depends on how brightly the examiner’s hatred of teenagers is burning when he (it’s still probably a he!) writes the paper… 

FirstlyUnderclass – New Right – highest levels of crime – unemployment/ single parents = low attachment (Hirschi) also less opportunity to achieve legitimate goals (Merton’s strain theory), also more relative deprivation, marginalisation and subcultures (Young). Results in more property crime (theft) , possibly violent crime because of status frustration (Cohen). Backed up by prison stats – disproportionate number prisoners unemployed etc.

In contrast Middle classes supposedly have lower crime rates because they experience the opposite of all of the above.

However, Interactionists argue this difference is a social construction – Media over-reports underclass subcultures and deviance (Stan Cohen), Police interpret working class deviance as bad, middle class deviance as acceptable (Becker).

Secondly… Elite social classes – Because of greater access have the ability to commit different crimes – Corporate Crime – health and safety negligence (e.g. Bhopal) – Marxists = cost is greater than street crime – more people die annually than from street murders (Tombs and Whyte) – Also white collar financial crimes (e.g. Kweku Adeboli/ Madhoff/ Enron) – Total economic cost greater than street crime (Laureen Snider) – often go unpunished because of selective law enforcement (Gordon) – e.g. Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley paying below the minimum wage – but crimes = technically more difficult to prosecute and the public generally aren’t that worried about them.

In contrast ‘the rest of us’ don’t have the ability to commit high level Corporate Crimes, and so any one crime committed by an ordinary individual is relatively low-impact in comparison, although more likely to be picked up by the media and the authorities.

Finally (relevant to both of the above) – the government doesn’t collect any reliable stats on the relationship between social class and offending so we can’t actually be sure how the patterns vary any way!

And a few bonus thoughts on a related question… 

Outline and analyse two reasons why crime statistics may not provide us with a valid picture of the relationship between social class background and patterns of criminal behaviour (10)

First way into the question = pick two different sets of stats on crime and talk them out…

1. Prisoner statistics suggest that…..

2. The Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests that…

Second way into the question…. More general points (easier, but more danger of repeating yourself)

1. The types of crime committed by elite social class are different to those committed by those from lower social classes…..

2. According to Interactionists, the different labels agents of social control attach to people from different class backgrounds mean the crime stats may lack validity…..

3. There are so many different ways of measuring social class and the government doesn’t collect any systematic data on the relationship between social class and crime….

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Zero Tolerance Policing – An Evaluation

A brief evaluation of Zero Tolerance Policing

Zero Tolerance Policing involves the police strictly clamping down on minor criminal activities such as littering, begging, graffiti and other forms of antisocial behaviour. Clamping down might take the form of on the spot fines, or mandatory jail sentences, as with the ‘three-strikes’ rule in California.

The best known example of Zero Tolerance Policy was its adoption in New York City in 1994. At that time, the city was in the grip of a crack-cocaine epidemic and suffered high levels of antisocial and violent crime. Within a few years of Zero Tolerance, however, crime had dropped from between 30 – 50%.

In the UK Zero Tolerance has been applied in Liverpool, a relatively high-crime rate city. Following its introduction in 2005, overall recorded crime fell by 25.7 per cent in the three years to 2008 with violent crime falling by 38%.

Another application of Zero Tolerance is the ASBO – you can get an ASBO for antisocial rather than criminal behaviour, and go to jail if you breach it, thus ASBOs police minor acts of deviance.

The rationale behind the ASBO stems from the right realist (right wing/ new right/ neoliberal view of the causes of crime – they hold the individual responsible for crime, seeing the individual as making a rational choice to commit crime – if people believe the reward of committing crime outweighs the risk of getting caught and the cost of the punishment, they will commit crime – ZT addresses this by increasing the punishments for minor crimes. This also fits in with Broken Windows Theory – by focussing on minor crimes, this prevents these spiralling into major crimes, and it fits in with the New Right’s view that the state should be ‘tough on crime’

The biggest strength of ZT is that it seems to work – as the figures above demonstrate. It is also relatively cheap to implement and seems to have an immediate effect on crime, unlike the more expensive, long term, social solutions preferred by Left Realists. It also makes the public feel as if something is being done about crime, and gives victims a sense of justice.

However, there are many downsides – Firstly, Zero Tolerance Policing in New York resulted in a lot more people being arrested for possession of marijuana – 25 000 a year by 2012 (one every ten minutes) – some of those people lost their jobs or rental houses as a result. If labelling theory is correct, once labelled as a criminal, these people will find it very hard to get jobs in the future.

Secondly, despite the claims of the right wing governments who implemented them, comparative analysis shows that there are other causes of crime reduction – crime has gone down in cities in the US and the UK without the widespread use of Zero Tolerance techniques – Target Hardening, the increased time people spend online (and thus not on the streets), the declining use of drugs, and even abortion have been suggested as the REAL reasons crime is going down.

Thirdly, Zero Tolerance might be racist in consequence – somewhere in the region of 85% of people dealt with under Zero Tolerance in New York were/ are black or Hispanic.

Fourthly ZT focuses on minor crimes, and street crimes, ignoring the more serious crimes committed by elites, which Marxists see as more harmful. It also does little to address the underlying causes of crime.

Finally, and in conclusion, there is the very real possibility that rather than being about reducing crime, ZT policies are ideological in nature – they allow politicians to claim that they are the ones reducing crime by being ‘tough on crime’, but in reality, crime is going down anyway because of other reasons. Thus maybe ZT has been so widely used because it benefits politicians rather than society as a whole.

Related Posts

Environmental Crime Prevention Strategies 

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Key Concepts for A Level Sociology – Crime and Deviance

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

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.

The 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 (detailed notes)

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.

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.

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’.

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.

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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Crime and Deviance Exam Practice Questions (10 markers)

The ten mark question on crime and deviance in the A Level Sociology Crime and Deviance/ Theory and Methods paper will ask you to analyse two reasons/ ways/. Below are a few exemplars (well, one for now, more to follow!) I knocked up, which should get you 10 marks in the exam… 

My suggested strategy for answering these 10 mark questions is to make two points which are as different from each other as possible and then try to develop each point two to three times. You don’t have to evaluate each point, but it’s good practice to put a brief evaluation at the end, but don’t spend too long on this, focus more on the development (which is basically analysis).

NB – Usually there is an item attached to these questions, but more of those later!

Question: analyse two reasons for the formation of subcultures (10)

Point 1 – Consensus theorist Albert Cohen suggested status frustration was the root cause of subculture formation.

According to Cohen deviant subcultures are a working class problem – working class boys try hard in school, and fail, meaning they fail to gain status (recognition/ respect) – these boys find each other and form a deviant group, whereby they gain status within the group by being deviant – by doing things which are against the rules – for example bunking lessons – and the further you go, the more status you get. 

Another Consensus theory which we could apply here is underclass theory – Charles Murray would argue that lower class boys fail at school because their parents don’t work and fail to socialise them into a good work-ethic, hence offering a deeper ‘structural cause’ of why subcultures are more likely to form among the lower social classes.

Hence applying these two consensus theories together, the process goes something like this – and individual is born into the underclass – they are not socialised into a work ethic – they fail at school – they get frustrated – they find similar working/ underclass boys – they gain status by being deviant.

A Problem with this theory is that it blames the working class for their own failure, Marxism criticises consensus theory because the ‘root cause’ of subcultures is the marginalisation of working class youth due to Capitalism.

Point 2 – Interactionists would point to negative labelling as the root cause of subculture formation

According to Howard Becker, teachers have an image of an ‘ideal pupil’ who is middle class – working class pupils don’t fit this image – they dress differently and have different accents, and so teachers have lower expectations of them – they thus don’t push them as hard as middle class students – over the years this results in a self fulfilling prophecy where working class students are more likely to decide they are failures and thus think that school is not for them – It is this disaffection which results in subculture formation.

David Gilborn further applied this idea to the formation of subcultures among African-Caribbean students – according to Gilborn teachers believed black students to be more disruptive and thus were more likely to pick them up for deviant behaviour in class, while White and Asian students were ignored – this marginalised black students who when on to develop anti-school subcultures as a form of resistance against perceived racism.

In contrast to subcultural theory, in labelling theory it is the authorities who are to blame for the emergence of subcultures, rather than the deviant youths themselves.

A criticism of labelling theory is that it is deterministic – not everyone accepts their labels, so not every negative label leads to a subculture.

This should be sufficient to get you 10/ 10. 

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Evaluate Sociological Perspectives on Prison as a Form of Punishment (Essay Plan)

1. Functionalists would point to the positive functions prison might perform in society –Prison could act as a deterrent – thus reinforcing social regulation; and it should also work to maintain equilibrium and balance in our society – making up for the failings of other institutions such as the family and the education system – restoring order through incapacitating those who break the law.

Ultimately however, one might criticize the effectiveness of prison – given that there is a 60% reoffending rate it isn’t really effective in restoring equilibrium in the first place – what prison does most of the time is resocialise people into criminal norms, in the extreme people become institutionalized and unable to reintegrate into society once released.

2. Marxists argue that by relying on prison, we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality and poverty which lead to crime. Furthermore, the imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system; 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; and 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.

Supporting evidence for the Marxist view comes from the fact that there are higher rates of imprisonment in more unequal countries.

Left realists criticise Marxists for absolving criminals from blame – people in jail mostly deserve to be there and their victims are most likely to be working class themselves.
3. Michel Foucault sees the growth of prison as a means of punishment as reflecting the move from sovereign power to disciplinary power – in traditional societies power was exercised on people’s physical bodies – punishment was harsh – it was a spectacle – today power is exercised through surveillance – the state no longer beats criminals – it just subjects them to increased surveillance – the theory is that people change their behavior because they know they are being monitored constantly. Prison seams more humane than physical punishment but in reality it is much more invasive as a means of social control.
One criticism of Foucault is that he fails to recognize that many prisoners do not change their behavior even though they are being watched!

4. Since the 1980s there has been a significant increase in the use of imprisonment in the United Kingdom – numbers have roughly doubled since 1990 with the total prison population now standing at about 84000 and we have one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the western world.

This increase has gone hand in hand with the implementation of Right Realist policies that emphasize rational choice theory as the cause of crime and zero tolerance as the solution to crime. The state claims that tougher penalties are one of the major causes of declining crime rates.

5. However David Garland points out that the crime rate has fallen in many countries over the last two decades, even in those that do not imprison as many people as the UK.

David Garland’s view the increasing use of imprisonment in the United States is that we now live in a era of mass incarceration – the United States locks up a massive proportion of the unemployed (Garland estimates as many as one third of all unemployed people are actually in jail in the USA) – and many of these become locked in a cycle of ‘transcarceration’ – where they shift between different agencies of state control and never fully reintegrate into society once having been in jail.

Garland actually argues that the reason the US and the UK lock up so many people is because of neo-liberalism – neo-liberal policies have made these societies more unequal and more individualistic – life has become harsher – and thus it is easier for the state to justify harsher penalties.

6. Critics of the ‘overuse of prison’ argue that we should employ alternatives – by using curfews, community service and treatment orders – because these have a lower reoffending rate – mainly because they do not remove an offender from society.

It is also worth noting that the characteristics of the prison population are very different to the characteristics of the population as a whole. People who are over-represented include ethnic minority groups, men, the underclass and the young. It is also worth noting that many female prisoners are likely to have suffered physical and emotional abuse and many claim they are in jail because of pressure to do criminal acts coming from their male partners.

7. To conclude, given the massive reoffending rate – and thus failure of prison to rehabilitate offenders – critical perspectives such as Garland’s remind us not to fall into the simplistic analysis of Functionalism and Right Realism who see prison as an effective means of social control.

The critical approaches of Marxism, Foucault and Garland are probably the most useful here as these remind us that it is the rise of neo-liberal hegemony since the 1970s and right realism since the 1990s that have lead to an increasing crime rate, and then to the increases in prison populations experienced in neo-liberal countries such as the UK and the USA.

Related Posts

The Spirit Level – how inequality effects the crime rate

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Crime and Deviance for AQA Sociology – An Overview

A mind map providing an overview of the main topics covered within Crime and Deviance, for the AQA specification. This is how I teach the module – broken down into 15 topics – Every text book is slightly different, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to pass a Sociology exam. This break-down works for me.

Crime and Deviance

Each of the areas above is likely to be the basis of your long essay question in Crime and Deviance, but if the examiners have got a particular hate on in any given year, they may select a more narrow focus (Moral Panics for example, yes that actually happened one year), or just Green Crime – which I’m sure would be truly awful for many students.

More likely is that they’ll ask you a question which cuts across two of the above areas – E.G. Assess Interactionist explanations for variations in patterns of offending by Age or Ethnicity.

Anyway, hopefully this at a glance look at the Content of the crime module is useful. Obviously you need to know more depth – but I couldn’t fit that in and make the map readable.

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Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance

Robert MertonStrain Theory was first developed by Robert Merton in the 1940s to explain the rising crime rates experienced in the USA at that time. Strain theory has become popular with Contemporary sociologists.

Merton argued that the cultural system of the USA was built on the ‘American Dream’ – a set of meritocratic principles which assured the American public that equality of opportunity was available to all, regardless of class, gender or ethnicity. The ‘American Dream’ encouraged individuals to pursue a goal of success which was largely measured in terms of the acquisition of wealth and material possessions. People were expected to pursue this goal through legitimate means such as education and work. The dominant cultural message was if you are ambitious, talented and work hard, then income and wealth should be your rewards.

However Merton pointed out that these goals were not attainable by all, that the structural organisation of the USA mean that the means to get on were not fairly distributed and it was difficult, if not impossible for some to compete an achieve financial success.

Merton developed the concept of ‘anomie’ to describe this imbalance between cultural goals and institutionalised means. He argued that such an imbalanced society produces anomie – there is a strain or tension between the goals and means which produce unsatisfied aspirations.

Merton argued that when individuals are faced with a gap between their goals (usually finances/money related) and their current status, strain occurs. When faced with strain, people have five ways to adapt:

1. Conformity: pursing cultural goals through socially approved means.

2. Innovation: using socially unapproved or unconventional means to obtain culturally approved goals. Example: dealing drugs or stealing to achieve financial security.

3. Ritualism: using the same socially approved means to achieve less elusive goals (more modest and humble).

4. Retreatism: to reject both the cultural goals and the means to obtain it, then find a way to escape it.

5. Rebellion: to reject the cultural goals and means, then work to replace them.

strain theory

Explaining the Higher Rates of Offending Among Lower Social Classes

Merton developed his theory from a well-established observation from official statistics – that a higher proportion of acquisitive crime is committed by those from unskilled manual backgrounds (or ‘lower social classes’).

Merton noted that American society promoted material success as a ‘legitimate goal’, and encouraged self-discipline and hard work as the ‘legitimate means’ of pursuing that goal, with the idea that any individual, irrespective of their background could, with sufficient effort, achieve material success.

HOWEVER, Merton argued that for those from lower social classes, this ‘dream’ had become an ideology, masking the fact that the legitimate opportunities are not available to all, and worse, those who failed to achieve success via legitimate means were condemned for their apparent lack of effort.

This situation puts great pressure on people to achieve material success by illegitimate means (acquisitive crime) to avoid being branded a failure.

In short, Merton argued that America was a highly unequal and divided society which promoted goals that only some of its population could realistically hope to achieve. Many young, working class men especially had internalised the desire to achieve material success (they wanted cars and nice clothes for example), but the only way they could meet these goals was through crime.

Thus, it is not so much the individual’s flaws that lead them to crime, but rather ‘anomie’ in society – the combination of the pressure to be materially successful and the lack of legitimate opportunities to achieve that success.

Critical Points

  • Firstly,  not all working class individuals turn to crime, and so we need something else to explain why some of them do and some of them do not. Subcultural theorists argued that the role of working class subcultures plugs this gap in the explanation – deviant subcultures provide rewards for individuals who commit crime.
  • Secondly, Merton’s reliance on official statistics means he over-estimates the extent of working class crime and underestimates the extent of middle class, or white collar crime.
  • Thirdly, Strain theory only really explains economic crime, it doesn’t really explain violent crime.
  • Marxists point out that lack of equality of opportunity is at the heart of the Capitalist system. (Elites make the system work for them, which disadvantages the lower classes).

Continuing Relevance

  • Merton’s strain theory is an important contribution to the study of crime and deviance – in the 1940s it helped to explain why crime continued to exist in countries, such as America, which were experiencing increasing economic growth and wealth.
  • Baumer and Gustafson (2007) analysed official data sets in the USA and found that instrumental crime rates were higher in areas where there was a ‘high commitment to money success’ alongside a ‘weak commitment to legitimate means’..
  • It is possible to apply Merton’s theory of anomie to explain White Collar Crime – white collar criminals (those who commit fraud at work, for example) might be those who are committed to achieving material success, but have had their opportunities for promotion blocked by lack of opportunities – possible through class, gender or ethnic bias, or possible just by the simple fact that the higher up the career ladder you go, the more competition for promotion there is.
  • The (2009) applies Merton’s strain theory to explain rising crime rates during a period of economic growth in Malaysia, suggesting we can apply this theory to developing countries and that a ‘general theory of crime’ may thus be possible.
  • Philip Bourgeois (1996) In search of respect shows us that some of the most despised criminals have actually internalised Merton’s success goals.
  • Carl Nightingale: On the Edge – Carl Nightingale developed Merton’s Strain Theory, applying it to inner city youths in the 1990s

Sources

Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

This post offers a useful discussion and evaluation of Strain Theory

Revision Bundle for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Bundle

Crime Deviance A-Level Revision.png

It contains

  • 12 exam practice questions including short answer, 10 mark and essay question exemplars.
  • 32 pages of revision notes covering the entire A-level sociology crime and deviance specification
  • Seven colour mind maps covering sociological perspective on crime and deviance

Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts 

Merton’s Strain Theory is taught as part of consensus theory within the A-level sociology Crime and Deviance syllabus. Other consensus theories include:

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Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

The ‘Social Control’ Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. Weak institutions such as certain types of families, the breakdown of local communities, and the breakdown of trust in the government and the police are all linked to higher crime rates.

Hirschi: Bonds of Attachment

Travis Hirschi argued that criminal activity occurs when an individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This attachment depends on the strength of social bonds that hold people to society. According to Hirschi there are four social bonds that bind us together – Attachment; Commitment; Involvement and Belief.

According to this theory one would predict the ‘typical delinquent’ to be young, single, unemployed and probably male. Conversely, those who are married and in work are less likely to commit crime – those who are involved and part of social institutions are less likely to go astray.

Truancy
According to Social Control Theory, truancy is an indicator of low social-attachment, and thus a predictor of criminal behaviour

 

Politicians of all persuasions tend to talk in terms of social control theory. Jack Straw from the labour party has argued that ‘lads need dads’ and David Cameron has made recent speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are also popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; children from broken homes’

Supporting evidence for Hirschi’s Social Control Theory

Evidence for Social Control Theory tends to focus on three problem areas that are correlated with higher crime rates. These are: Absentee parents; Truancy; Unemployment

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Farington and West 1991). Looked at 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s. Found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.

Martin Glyn has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.

Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home, it is claimed. Others are being effectively “born into” gangs as membership is common among older brothers and even parents in some areas. The problem is increasingly threatening some inner-city schools, with teachers claiming that the influence of gang culture has soared over the past three years.

Criticisms of Social Control Theory

  • Some crimes are more likely to be committed by people with lots of social connections – e.g. Corporate Crime
  • Marxism – It’s unfair to blame marginalised people – they are victims of an unfair society which does not provide sufficient opportunities for work etc.
  • Interactionism – Middle class crimes are less likely to appear in the statistics – In reality the attached (middle classes) are just as criminal.
  • By focussing on the crimes of the marginalised, the right wing elite dupe the public into thinking we need them to protect us from criminals (whereas in reality we need protecting from the elite)
  • This may be a case of blaming the victim – We need to look at structural factors that lead to family breakdown (poverty, long working hours, unemployment.)
  • Parent deficit does not automatically lead to children becoming criminals. There are also ‘pull factors’ such as peer group pressure.

Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics