Aqa a2 Sociology Unit 4 Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods

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AQA A2 Sociology Unit 4

Crime and Deviance with
Theory and Methods

This Answers book provides suggestions for some of the possible answers that might be given for the questions asked in the workbook. They are not exhaustive and other answers may be acceptable, but they are intended as a guide to give teachers and students feedback. The student responses for the longer essay-style questions are intended to give some idea about how the exam questions might be answered. The examiner comments (underlined text) have been added to give you some sense of what is rewarded in the exam and which areas can be developed. Again, these are not the only ways to answer such questions but they can be treated as one way of approaching questions of these types.

Section A Crime and deviance

Topic 1 Theories of crime, deviance, social order and social control


1 Behaviour that differs from the normal, incurs disapproval, and is subject to some form of sanction.

2 Behaviour that contradicts consensus norms and values. (The approach of seeing deviance in normative terms is shared by functionalists and the New Right.)

3 He meant that in any society with rules there will be people who break them. A deviance-free society is therefore impossible.

4 ‘Anomie’ literally means ‘normlessness’ but here Durkheim meant a state where large numbers of people are insufficiently integrated into society’s norms and values.

5 Durkheim regarded small instances of deviance as functional because deviant people can be ahead of their time and bring about positive social change (e.g. suffragettes); deviance can act as a marker of the boundaries of appropriate behaviour; and deviance can sometimes promote social cohesion by binding people together in moral outrage against it.

6 Hirschi’s premise was that most criminologists were approaching the problem from the wrong angle. Instead of asking why people commit crime, he asked why people are so conformist. His answer lay in the idea of the strength of the ‘bonds of attachment’ that connected people to society, in terms of what integrated them and what they had to lose if they got caught.

7 Strain theory or ‘anomic paradigm’.

8 Merton explained crime in terms of goals and means. He assumed everyone in society shared the same goal/values (the ‘American Dream’) and that those whose opportunities were blocked, meaning that they could not attain their goals legitimately, would use illegitimate means to achieve them.

9 American subcultural theory developed in the 1950s and 1960s as a response to Merton’s failure to explain non-material crime. Like Merton, Cloward and Ohlin explain working-class crime in terms of blocked opportunities and goals, which sometimes result in ‘illegitimate career structure’, but they disagree that delinquents share the same values and goals as the rest of society. They see the lower-working-class delinquents as sharing their own deviant subcultural values (‘criminal’, ‘conflict’ or ‘retreatist’).

Albert K. Cohen sees deviance as a reaction to what he terms ‘status frustration’. He saw young males who were faced with failure choosing a delinquent subculture and achieving their own status from rule breaking.

In contrast, Walter B. Miller sees lower-working-class deviance resulting from people being socialised into deviant subcultural values he called ‘focal concerns’. Miller also makes a connection between delinquency and boys who were brought up in female-headed, lone-parent families.

Exam-style question

Here is a suggested plan to give you guidance on how to answer such questions.


Functionalists adopt a structuralist, macro, top-down approach to explaining crime. As a theory, functionalism derives from the work of Emile Durkheim and consequently adopts a normative approach; therefore functionalists’ explanation for a social problem like crime tends to focus on inadequate socialisation. AO2 point: Marxists argue that functionalists focus too much on working-class crime and ignore white-collar and corporate crime, while interactionalists argue that they ignore processes like labelling.

Main body

Emile Durkheim used ‘anomie’ to apply to people who have been insufficiently integrated into society’s norms and values. He also identified three characteristics associated with deviance: the normal, the universal and the functional. In the case of the functional, the theory is that in small amounts deviance can promote beneficial social change, unite people in their moral condemnation and set boundaries about what is acceptable.

AO2 point: The advantage of Durkheim’s work is that it provides an explanation for crime in terms of inadequate compliance to norms and values. However, as a theory it struggles to explain why some are more criminal than others or why some types of crime take place.

In response to these criticisms, Robert Merton adapted Durkheim’s anomie (which he felt was used too vaguely) through his ‘strain theory’. He identifies the strain between people’s wants (goals) and their ability to achieve them (means) in a five-fold anomic paradigm.

AO2 point: Merton’s big contribution to the debate lies in linking crime to blocked opportunities, through explaining the crime of ‘innovators’ who share the goal (American Dream) but have to use illegitimate means to achieve them. However, Marxists would point out that white-collar crime and corporate crime cannot be explained by blocked opportunities.

Merton’s ideas are supported in the recent research of several theorists including Carl Nightingale, Philippe Bourgois and, most recently, Robert Reiner and Jock Young.

AO2 point: However, Laurie Taylor described the groupings of his anomic paradigm as over-simplistic: ‘the fruit-machine theory of criminology’. He also came in for criticism from the subcultural theorists for failing to explain the non-material crime of juvenile delinquency.

Albert K. Cohen uses the term ‘reacting formation’ to describe how delinquent youths suffering from ‘status frustration’ respond by inverting the rules to enhance their status based on delinquent activities.

AO2 point: One strength of Cohen’s argument is that it explains non-material crimes like vandalism and graffiti. However, it fails to explain other sorts of crime where the motive may not be status but money or pleasure. Cohen has also been criticised for ignoring female deviance.

Cloward and Ohlin put forward the idea of an ‘illegitimate career structure’ to explain how those denied access to lucrative legitimate employment may be tempted into crime. This overlaps with Merton’s blocked opportunities but they disagree with Merton that lower-class delinquents share the same goals and values as the rest of society.

AO2 point: Although Cloward and Ohlin link crime to three subcultures (criminal, conflict and retreatist) they have been criticised for not explaining why there is also corporate and white-collar crime or how the higher classes are also able to succeed through an ‘illegitimate career structure’.

To explain juvenile delinquency, Walter B. Miller uses the concept of ‘focal concerns’ to refer to the deviant subcultural values into which the lower class are socialised. This portrays youth as autonomous, seeing delinquent behaviour as a normal part of the macho lower-class culture into which they are socialised.

AO2 point: However, Miller has been criticised for also ignoring female deviance and for ignoring the fact that ‘focal concerns’ can be observed across the social-class spectrum. In addition, postmodernists, such as Lyng and Katz, would argue that his analysis ignores the role of emotions in driving crime, although one of his focal concerns is ‘excitement’.

Travis Hirschi’s contribution to the debate is to ask not why some commit crime but why so many people are conformist. He uses the concept of ‘bonds of attachment’ to explain that the more integrated people are to societal norms, values and laws, the less likely they are to commit deviant and criminal acts.

AO2 point: One strength of Hirschi’s argument is that it does explain why most people are conformist and why crime is committed. However, unlike Marxists, he cannot explain why people who are well integrated into society commit white-collar crime.


Most functionalist explanations are linked in some way to the concept of anomie. AO2 point: However, functionalist analysis is preoccupied with working-class crime and does not explain why crime is committed by middle- and upper-class people as well.


1 Willem Bonger

2 Laureen Snider

3 Edwin H. Sutherland

4 Chambliss discovered a web of connections between organised crime and politicians, senior police officers and businessmen. In addition, he found that the police frequently ignored the illegal activities of these elites and focused on the working class and working-class areas.

5 Croall argues that the seriousness of corporate crime gets softened through the use of terms like ‘cons’, ‘rip-offs’ and ‘fiddles’.

6 The authors of The New Criminology (Taylor, Walton and Young) were criticised for portraying crime as political, as an act of class consciousness by an oppressed and alienated proletariat. They romanticised crime, seeing it as redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, whereas in reality most acts of crime are committed by the working class on the working class. Feminists like Pat Carlen argue that they ignored patriarchy and power.

7 He went on to develop Left realism and looked back at his work on New Criminology critically, calling it ‘Left idealism’.

8 The explanation of the CCCS was that because they were young, they were not tied down by ideology or finance and were capable of resisting the controlling mechanisms of capitalism by developing rebellious and deviant youth styles.

9 CCCS generally: This Marxist subcultural approach of the 1970s–80s saw youth styles (teddy boys, skinheads, punks etc.) as a form of resistance to capitalism. It argued that young people are neither locked into the media-driven ideology of capitalism nor the necessity to buckle down to the demands of earning a living and paying bills. However, Stan Cohen criticises the CCCS for selectively using evidence to reflect class-based resistance. Shane Blackman argues that most youth subcultures are not class based but have more to do with locality, age or sexuality.

Phil Cohen: Phil Cohen studied ‘skinheads’ (and ‘mods’) in the East End of London, concluding that youth subcultures are a symbolic solution to the wider conflicts such as the decline of the traditional working class community along with poor housing and employment prospects. However, critics argue that he is imposing motives into the youth’s behaviour that may simply not exist. They may simply be racist or enjoy violent confrontations.

Mike Brake: Brake sees the resistance of working-class youth as a ‘magical’ response before becoming trapped by financial constraints in adulthood. As such he is implying a degree of acceptance that their future adult lives may be dull and routine, but see youth as a period of escapism and enjoyment before settling down. Brake’s ideas are coherent, but it should be remembered that most young people did not join youth styles and were ordinary young people.

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