An introduction to crime and deviance

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Deterrence- Punishing the individual discourages them from future offending. ‘Making an example’ of them may also serve as a deterrent to the public at large.

  • Rehabilitation is the idea that punishment can be used to reform or change offenders so they no longer offend. Rehabilitation policies include providing education so they are able to ‘earn an honest living’ on release.

  • Incapacitation is the use of punishment to remove the offender’s capacity to offend again. Policies have included imprisonment, execution etc. Incapacitation has proved increasingly popular with politicians, with the American ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy and the view that ‘prison works’ because it removes offenders from society.

  • This justification is an instrumental one- punishment is a means to an end, namely crime reduction.


    • Retributions means ‘paying back’. It is a justification for punishing crimes that have already been committed, rather than preventing future crimes. It is based on the idea that offenders deserve to be punished.

    • Furthermore, society is entitled to take its revenge on the offender for having breached its moral code. This is an expressive rather than instrumental view of punishment- it expresses society’s outrage.

    Durkheim: a functionalist perspective

    • Durkheim argues that the function of punishment is to uphold social solidarity and reinforce shared values. Punishment expresses society’s emotions of moral outrage at the offence. Through rituals of order, society’s shared values are reaffirmed and its members come to feel a sense of moral unity.

    Two types of justice

    Durkheim identifies two types of justice, corresponding to two types of society.

    • Retributive justice- In traditional society, there is little specialisation, and solidarity between individuals is based on their similarity to one another. This produces a strong collective conscience. Punishment is severe and cruel, and its motivation is purely expressive.

    • Restitutive justice- Durkheim calls this Restitutive justice, because it aims to make restitution- to restore things to how they were before the offence. Its motivation is instrumental, to restore society’s equilibrium. Punishment is still an expressive element, because it still expresses collective emotions.

    • In reality, traditional societies often have Restitutive rather than retributive justice.

    Marxism: capitalism and punishment

    • For Marxists, the function of punishment is to maintain the existing social order. As part of the RSA, it is a means of defending ruling-class property against the lower classes/

    • The form of punishment reflects the economic base of society. As Rusche and Kirchheimer argue, each type of economy has its own corresponding penal system. They argue that under capitalism, imprisonment becomes the dominant form of punishment because of capitalist economy is based on the exploitation of wage labour.

    Foucault: birth of the prison

    • Foucault opens with a striking contrast between two different forms of punishment, which he sees as examples of sovereign power and disciplinary power.

    • Sovereign power was typical of a period before the 19th century when the monarch had power over people and their bodies. Inflicting punishment on the body was the means of asserting control. Punishment was a spectacle e.g. public execution.

    • Disciplinary power becomes dominant from the 19th century. In this form of control, a new system of discipline seeks to govern not just the body, but the mind or ‘soul’. It does so through surveillance.

    • Foucault argues that the prison is one of the range of institutions that began to subject individuals to disciplinary power to induce conformity through self-surveillance.

    • In Foucault's view, disciplinary power has now infiltrated ever part of society, bringing its effects to the human 'soul'. Thus he argues that the change in the form of punishment from sovereign to disciplinary power also tells us about how power operates in society as a whole.

    • Foucault has been criticised on several grounds:

    • The shift from corporal punishment to imprisonment is less clear than he suggests.

    • Unlike Durkheim, he neglects the expressive aspects of punishment.

    • He exaggerates the extent of control e.g. Goffman shows how inmates are able to resist controls in institutions.

    The changing role of prisons

    • Until the 18th century, prison was used mainly for holding offenders prior to their punishment. It was only following the Enlightenment that imprisonment began to be seen as a form of punishment itself, where offenders would be 'reformed' through hard labour, religious instruction and surveillance.

    Imprisonment today

    • Imprisonment is regarded as the most severe form of punishment. However, it is not proved an effective method of rehabilitation- about two thirds of prisoners commit further crimes on release. Many critics regard prisons as simply an expensive way of making bad people worse.

    • 'Populist punitiveness' is where politicians seek to gain electoral popularity by promising tougher sentences for offenders. As a result, the prison population has grown by 70% to a total of 77,000 from 1993 to 2005.

    • One consequence is overcrowding which adds to the existing problems of poor sanitation, lack of edible food and clothing shortages. (Carrabine et al 2008)

    • This country imprisons a higher proportion of people than almost any other in Western Europe. E.g. in England and Wales, 139 out of 100,000 are in prison. Corresponding figures for other countries are France 99, Germany 91 and Sweden 64.

    • The prison population is largely male (only about 5% are female), young and poorly educated. Black and ethnic minorities are over-represented.

    The era of mass incarceration?

    • David Garland argues that the USA and the UK are moving towards an era of mass incarceration. The number of prisons has risen massively since the 1970s with there being 1.5 million state and federal prisoners in the USA.

    • Garland argues that once figures reach these proportions, 'it ceases to be the incarceration of individual offenders and becomes the systematic imprisonment of whole groups of the population'.

    • This may have an ideological function. As Downes argues, the US prison system soaks up about 30-40% of the unemployed, thereby making capitalism look more successful.

    • Garland argues that the reason for mass incarceration is the growing politicisation of crime control. For most of the last century, there was a consensus, which Garland calls 'penal welfarism'- the idea that punishment should reintegrate offenders into society.

    • However, since the 1970s, there has been a move towards a new consensus based on more punitive and exclusionary 'tough on crime' policies, and this has led to rising numbers in prison.

    • Another reason is the use of prison to wage America's 'war on drugs'. This is because drug use is so widespread, it has produced 'an almost limitless supply of arrestable and imprisonable offenders'.


    • There has been a trend towards transcarceration- the idea that individuals become locked into a cycle of control, shifting between different carceral agencies during their lives. E.g. someone might have been brought up in care, sent to a young offenders' institution, then adult prison etc.

    • Some sociologists see transcarceration as a product of the blurring of boundaries between criminal justice and welfare agencies. E.g. Health services are increasingly being give a crime control role, and they often engage in multi-agency working with the police, sharing data on the same individuals.

    Alternatives to prison

    • In the past, a major goal in dealing with young offenders was 'diversion'- diverting them away from contact with the criminal justice system to avoid the risk of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.

    • In recent years, there has been a growth in the range of community-based, such as curfews, community service orders etc. However, at the same time, the numbers in custody have been rising steadily, especially amongst the young.

    • This has led Cohen to argue that the growth of community controls has simply cast the net of control over more people. Cohen argues that the increased range of sanctions available simply enable control to penetrate even deeper into society.

    The victims of crime

    • The United Nations defines victims as those who have suffered harm (including mental, physical or emotional suffering, economic loss and impairment of their basic rights) through acts or omissions that violate the laws of the state.

    • Christie, takes a different approach, highlighting the notion that 'victim' is socially constructed. The stereotype of the 'ideal victim' favoured by the media, is a weak, innocent and blameless individual- such as a baby or old woman- who is the target of a stranger's attack.

    • We can identify two broad perspectives on the study of victims: positivist victimology and critical victimology.

    Positivist victimology

    • It aims to identify the factors that produce patterns in victimisation- especially those that make some individuals or groups more likely to be victims.

    • It focuses on interpersonal crimes of violence.

    • It aims to identify victims who have contributed to their own victimisation.

    • The early positivist studies focused on the idea of victim proneness- to identify the social and psychological characteristics of victims that make them different from non-victims.

    • Wolfgang's study of 588 homicides in Philadelphia found that 26% of homicides involved victim precipitation- the victim triggered the events leading to the homicide.


    • It ignores situations where victims are unaware of their victimisation, as with some cases against the environment, and where harm is done but no law is broken.

    • This approach identifies certain patterns of interpersonal victimisation, but ignores wider structural factors such as poverty and patriarchy.

    • Wolfgang shows the importance of the victim-offender relationship and the fact that in many homicides, it is a matter of chance which party becomes the victim.

    Critical victimology

    • Critical victimology focuses on two elements:

    • Structural factors such as patriarchy and poverty, which places powerless groups such as women and the poor at greater risk of victimisation. As Mawby argues, victimisation is a form of structural powerlessness.'

    • The state's power to apply or deny the label of victim- 'Victim' is a social construct in the same way as 'crime'. Through the criminal justice process, the state applies the label of victim to some but withholds it from others.

    • Tomb and Whyte show that 'safety crimes', where employers' violations of the law lead to death or injury to workers, are often explained away as the fault of 'accident prone' workers.

    • Tomb and Whyte note the ideological function of this 'failure to label.' By concealing the true extent of victimisation and its real causes, it hides the crimes of the powerful and denies the powerless victims any redress.


    • Critical victimology disregards the role victims may play in bringing victimisation on themselves through their own choices or their own offending.

    • It is valuable in drawing attention to the way that 'victim' status is constructed by power and how this benefits the powerful at the expense of the powerless.

    Patterns of victimisation

    • Class- The poorest groups are more likely to be victimised e.g. crime rates are highest in areas of high unemployment and deprivation.

    • Age- Younger people are at more risk of victimisation. Those most at risk of being murdered are infants under the age of one.

    • Ethnicity- Minority ethnic groups are at greater risk than whites of being victims of crime in general, as well as of racially motivated crime.

    • Gender- Males are at greater risk than females of becoming victims of violent attacks. About 70% of homicide victims are male.

    • Repeat victimisation- refers to the fact that, if you have been a victim once, you are very likely to be one again. 4% of the population are victims of 44% of all crime.

    The impact of victimisation

    • Crime may have serious physical and emotional impacts on victims e.g. helplessness etc. Crime may also create indirect victims e.g. family, friends etc. Similarly, hate crimes against minorities can create 'waves of harm' that radiate out to affect others.

    • Secondary victimisation is the idea that in addition to the impact of the crime itself, individuals may suffer further victimisation at the hands of the criminal justice system.

    • Fear of victimisation- Crime may create fear of becoming a victim. Some sociologists argue that surveys show this fear to be often rational. Feminists have attacked the emphasis on 'fear of crime'. They argue that it focuses on women's passivity and their psychological state, when we should be focusing on their safety.


    Durkheim, positivism and suicide

    • Durkheim believed that he could show that suicide had social causes and that this would prove that sociology was distinct and genuinely scientific discipline. While Durkheim accepts that some individuals may be psychologically more predisposed to suicide than others- e.g. as a result of depression- he rejects the view that psychological factors can explain the differences in suicide rates of whole groups or societies.

    Suicide rates as social facts

    • In Durkheim's view, our behaviour is caused by social facts- social forces found in the structure of society. Social facts have three features; 1. They are external to individuals; 2. They constrain individuals, shaping their behaviour and 3. They are greater than individuals- they exist on a different 'level' from the individual.

    • For Durkheim, the suicide rate is a social fact.

    • Using quantitative data, Durkheim analysed the suicide rates for various European countries over a period of several decades in the 19th Century. He noted four regular patterns:

    1. Suicide rates for any given society remained more or less constant over time.

    2. When the rates did change, this coincided with other changes e.g. the rates rose at times of economic depression.

    3. Different societies had different rates.

    4. Within a society, the rates varied considerably between different social groups e.g. Catholics had lower rates than Protestants.

    • For Durkheim, these patterns were evidence that suicide rates could not simply be the result of the motives of individuals. Durkheim explains the suicide rate as the effect of social facts or forces acting upon individuals. In different groups and societies, these forces act with different degrees of intensity, resulting in different suicide rates.

    Durkheim's four types of suicide

    Durkheim identifies two social facts that determine the rate of suicide:

    • Social integration refers to the extent to which individuals experience a sense of belonging to a group and obligations to its members.

    • Moral regulation refers to the extent to which individuals' actions and desires are kept in check by norms and values.

    • Durkheim argues that suicide results from either too much or too little integration or regulation. This gives a fourfold typology (classification system) of suicide:

    1. Egoistic suicide is caused by too little social integration. Durkheim argues that this is the most common type of suicide in modern society.

    2. Altruistic suicide is the opposite of egoistic suicide and is caused by too much social integration. Altruism is the opposite of selfishness and involves putting others before oneself.

    3. Anomic suicide is caused by too little moral regulation. Anomic suicide occurs where society's norms become unclear or made obsolete by rapid social change.

    4. Fatalistic suicide is caused by too much moral regulation. Fatalistic suicide occurs where society regulates or controls the individual completely- where individuals find their 'futures pitilessly blocked and passions violently checked by 'oppressive discipline', crushing all hope.

    Suicide and type of society

    • Modern industrial societies have lower levels of integration. Individuals' rights and freedoms become more important than obligations towards the group. This weakens social bonds and gives rise to egoistic suicides.

    • Traditional pre-industrial societies have higher levels of integration. This group is more important than the individual and this gives rise to altruistic suicide.

    Later positivist approaches

    • Gibbs and Martin argue that Durkheim does not operationalise his concept of integration (define it in such a way that it can be measured). They go on to define integration as a situation where there are stable and lasting relationships. They argue that these end to occur when an individual has status integration- compatible statuses that do no conflict with one another.

    • Other aspects of Durkheim's study have also been criticised. E.g. it is argued that the statistics he used were unreliable and incomplete- in the 19th century, medical knowledge of the causes of death were limited and autopsies rarely performed. Also, many countries lacked the administrative system needed to collect and compile reliable statistics on a national basis.

    Interpretivism and suicide

    • Interpretivists focus on the meanings of suicide for those involved.

    Douglas: the social meanings of suicide

    • Douglas is interested in the meaning that suicide has for the deceased, and in the way that coroners label deaths as suicides. He criticises Durkheim's study of suicide on two main grounds.

    1. The use of suicide statistics

    • The decision to classify a death as suicide is taken by a coroner and influence by other social actors, and this may produce bias in the verdicts reached. Douglas argues that this may explain the patterns that Durkheim found. E.g. The finding that a high level of integration leads to lower suicide rates can be explained by the fact that well integrated individuals may have friends or relatives who might deny that the death was a suicide out of their own feelings of guilt.

    • For Douglas, suicide verdicts and the statistics based on them are the product of interactions and negotiations between those involved- relatives, friends, doctors etc, and factors such as integration influence these negotiations.

    2. Actors' meanings and qualitative data

    • Douglas criticises Durkheim for ignoring the meanings of the act for those who kill themselves and for assuming that suicide has a fixed or constant meaning. In particular, Douglas notes that the meanings of suicide can vary between cultures.

    • Douglas also rejects Durkheim's aim to categorise suicides in terms of their social causes. Instead we must classify each death according to its actual meaning for the deceased. To do this, we must use qualitative methods e.g. case studies. From this we can build a new typology of suicidal meanings.

    • Although Douglas did not carry out any case studies himself, he suggests that in Western societies the social meanings of suicide include escape, repentance, revenge etc. However, he points out that suicide may have different meanings in different cultures e.g. religious ones such as transformation of the soul (getting to heaven).

    • The analysis of suicide notes and so on would allow us to 'get behind' the labels that coroners attach to cases and discover the real meanings of the death for the person involved. From this we could get a better idea of the real rate of suicide.

    Criticisms of Douglas

    • Douglas produces a classification of suicide based on the supposed meanings for the actors. However there is no reason to believe that sociologists are any better than coroners at interpreting a dead person's meanings.

    • Douglas is inconsistent, sometimes suggesting that official statistics are merely the product of coroners' opinions. At other times, he claims we really can discover the causes of suicide- yet how can we, if we can never know whether a death was a suicide and all we have is coroners' opinions?

    Atkinson: ethnomethodology and suicide

    • Ethnomethodology argues that social reality is simply a construct of its members. We create reality using a stock of taken-for-granted, commonsense knowledge. The sociologist's job is to uncover what this knowledge is and how we use it to make sense of the world.

    • For Atkinson, we can never know the real rate of suicide, since we would have to know for sure what meanings the dead gave to their deaths, which is impossible. Therefore it is pointless trying to discover the 'real rate'.

    • The statistics are neither right nor wrong-they too are merely interpretations made by certain officials, and so all we can study is how they were constructed. As Atkinson puts it, the only task for sociologists is to discover, 'How do deaths get categorised as suicide?'

    • Atkinson therefore focuses on how coroners categorise deaths. To do so, he uses a range of qualitative methods, including conversations with coroners. From this research he concludes that coroners have a commonsense theory about the typical suicide. This includes what kind of person commits suicide, for what reasons, what is a typical mode or place of death and so on.

    • Atkinson argues that coroners' commonsense theories lead them to see the following types of evidence as relevant:

    • A suicide note or suicide threats prior to death.

    • Mode of death- e.g. hanging is seen as 'typically suicidal'.

    • Location and circumstances- Death by shooting is more likely to be recorded as suicide if it occurs in a deserted lay-by than when out with a hunting party.

    • Life history- A disturbed childhood or mental illness or a difficult personal situation (e.g. divorce) are seen as likely causes of suicide.

    • Atkinson concludes that coroners are engaged in analysing cases using taken-for-granted assumptions about what constitutes a 'typical suicide'. A verdict of suicide is simply an interpretation of a death based on these taken-for-granted assumptions.

    • If correct, this poses serious problems for theories such as Durkheim's that treat statistics as facts- because all they are doing is spelling out the coroners' theories about suicide.

    Evaluation of Atkinson

    • Structuralists such as Hindess criticise ethnomethodologists' approach as self-defeating. Atkinson's view that the only thing we can study about suicide is coroners' interpretations can be turned back on him. If all we can have is interpretations of the social world, rather than objective truth about it then ethnomethodologists' own accounts are themselves no more than interpretations.

    • However, most ethnomethodologists accept that their accounts are merely interpretations. Unlike positivists, who claim to produce objective, scientific accounts, they do not claim that their interpretations are superior to those of the people they study.

    Taylor: realism and suicide

    • Taylor argues that suicide statistics cannot be taken as valid. Taylor found that coroners saw factors such as a history of mental illness as indicators of suicidal intent and this increased the likelihood of a suicide verdict.

    • Taylor also believes that we can explain suicide. He believes we can discover real patterns and causes, although unlike positivists, he does not base his explanation on suicide rates. Instead he adopts a realist approach. This aims to reveal underlying structures and causes.

    Defining suicide

    • Many theories of suicide focus on acts where the individual was intent on dying and that resulted in death. However, Taylor notes that in many cases, those who attempt suicide are not certain that their actions will kill them. Nor are all who attempt suicide simply aiming to die- some are communicating with others. Therefore, we should look at both successful and unsuccessful attempts and adopt a broader definition of suicide as:

    • 'Any deliberate act of self-defence or potential self-damage where the individual cannot be sure of survival'.

    Types of suicide

    The first two types are inner- or self-directed suicides, where the individual is psychologically detached from others. Because of this, the suicide attempt is a private, self-contained act. There are two types of ectopic(self-directed) suicide:

    1. Submissive suicides, where the person is certain about themselves e.g. they may know they have no future or no reason to go on(e.g. terminal illness).

    2. Thanatation suicides, where they are uncertain about themselves e.g. they may be uncertain about what others thing of them. Their suicide attempt involves risk taking.

    The other two types are other-directed suicides, where the individual has an overwhelming attachment to some other person(s). These suicides are not self-contained, but a way of communicating with others. There are two types:

    1. Sacrifice suicides, where they are certain about others and know they have to kill themselves. Like submissive suicides, their attempt is deadly serious. Usually, either they or the other person has done something that makes it impossible for the individual to go on living e.g. betrayal through affair.

    2. Appeal suicides, where the person is uncertain about others. They have doubts about their importance to the other an attempt suicide to resolve the uncertainty. The attempt is a form of communication that seeks to change the other's behaviour.


    • Taylor's theory is based on his interpretations of the actors' meaning and there is no way of knowing if these are correct, especially in the case of those whose attempts succeeded. Also, individual cases may involve a combination of motives and be difficult to categorise.

    • Taylor's small sample of case studies, while useful in giving insight into motives, is unlikely to be representative of suicides in general.

    • Unlike Durkheim, Taylor has not connected the four types to wider society. However, there are similarities between the two:

    1. Taylor's ideas of certainty and uncertainty parallel Durkheim's notions of fatalism and anomie respectively.

    2. Taylor's self-directed and other-directed suicides parallel Durkheim's egoistic and altruistic suicides respectively.

    • Nevertheless, his theory is original and useful in explaining some of the observed patterns of suicide. It also deals with both failed and unsuccessful suicide attempts.
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