What is crime?

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Topic 2:

Crime Read the articles below and, in not more than 500 words, synthesise the key points:

i)                    What is crime?

ii)                  How can society respond to criminality?

 

Text 1

The Nature of Deviance

A popular view denies validity to sociological explanation by asserting the uniqueness and individuality of human beings - in simple terms ‘we’re all different’ - so that generalisations about behaviour cannot be made. Furthermore, this recognition of individual differences is also reinforced by an approval of the fact: again, that ‘it would be boring if we were all the same’.

 

But by no means all the people we encounter who are ‘different’ from us are as easily accepted; foreigners, for instance, may cause us embarrassment and irritation by their peculiar inability to speak our native language or to abide by our ‘sensible’ practices like queuing and some categories of people who are physically different through no fault of their own - whether by infirmity or deformity – can cause us to feel uncomfortable.

 

So, the toleration of differences between human beings is highly provisional, and this is equally so in the case of individuals and groups whose behaviour patterns generally - or particular aspects of them - differ from what is considered ‘normal’. Such individuals or groups are engaging in ‘deviant behaviour’.

 

Assuming for the moment that there exists in a social group some set of shared expectations about what is ‘normal’ behaviour, we have here a conception of deviance as the violation of the accepted norms or social rules of a group or society. Thus nude-bathers, bank-robbers, alcoholics, suicides, shoplifters, adulterers, Marxists, tramps, rapists, ‘tomboys’, skinheads, feminists, murderers and female wrestlers are deviants because they indulge in behaviour which the rest of the society or group regards as socially different, odd, or undesirable.

 

Essentially, deviants are disturbing because they disrupt our picture of reality by behaving in a way which questions our expectations of what ‘normal people’ do - ‘normal people’ only drink in moderation, ‘normal’ women do not indulge in anything so unfeminine as wrestling, ‘normal people’ pay for goods in supermarkets, and so on.

 

The socially defined nature of deviance is highlighted even further when we recognise that what is regarded as deviance in one society may not be so (or not so seriously regarded) in another: that is, deviant behaviour is often culturally relative. Furthermore, within a particular society variations occur over time in what is held to be deviant or criminal: many activities regarded with disapproval in Victorian times (particularly for women) are now commonly accepted with little or no controversy.

 

Most societies, too, suspend or modify temporarily their definitions of deviance in particular contexts and circumstances. In Western societies killing is ordinarily regarded as the most serious of offences, but in the defence of the nation it may become an act of heroism, and even peacetime killing is hedged about with qualifications like ‘self-defence’, ‘manslaughter’, ‘justifiable homicide’, and so on. Thus deviant behaviour cannot be conceived as something which is absolute or universal but must be seen as socially variable and dependent on what a particular society or social group at a particular time defines as deviant.

 

There may exist a widespread consensus on what is deviant in certain spheres of behaviour, but no such straightforward agreement prevails in all other areas. While child battering or bigamy would be unequivocally viewed as deviant by the vast majority of people in Western societies, other activities such as the consumption of soft drugs or the use of contraceptives before marriage evoke no clear-cut consensus as to the extent of their ‘deviant’ nature. The characterisation of some patterns of behaviour as deviant may ultimately depend on the ability of certain groups to impose their definitions of ‘normality’ and ‘deviance’ on the rest of society.

 

Source: Bilton, T. et al. (1981) Introductory Sociology.London: Macmillan, pp. 562-569 (abridged)

 

 

Text 2

Crime and Civilisation

I hesitate to use the word `crime`, because in a way `crime` does not exist, it is just a social definition of certain unwanted acts. Sometimes there is no official action at all following such acts. Look at family matters – teenagers often act in ways that, if it were outside the family, would be labelled as `crime`, but because it is inside it`s just your son, who takes some money from the kitchen table or is hitting his brother. You don`t call that `theft` or `violence` because you know reasons for his behaviour; but if it were a new neighbour`s son you might assume he had a tendency for stealing.

 

Where people do not know each other they feel a need for having officials fix matters. They don`t know a person well enough to say: `Sometimes he gets drunk, but he is no real danger.` The most obvious case of something becoming a crime is hemp, which was a very useful drug for both Europeans and Americans. The whole drug arena is responsible for the most fantastical growth of prison populations in the US and now in Europe. There is a clear influence from the US which has unhealthy consequences for the rest of the globe. It`s not just drugs but a general tendency at work in the industrial world.

 

Source: Christie, N. (1995) The Crime Control Industry.New York: Routledge, pp. 15 (abridged)

 

Text 3

Law and Order

As Europeans began to make contact with the aboriginal denizens of the American forests and the remote islands ofOceania, much thought was given to what the original "state of nature" must have been like. Two interpretations were offered. There were those who shared the views of Sir Thomas Hobbes, the British philosopher, that people lacking a sovereign capable of compelling their obedience would destroy themselves in a "war of all against all." Others, partial to the philosophical speculations of Jean Jacques Rousseau, argued that in "the state of nature" people were peaceful, orderly, honest, and courageous. According to Rousseau, this noble natural endowment was destroyed by the rise of civilization.

 

First hand study of life in small village and band societies has provided little support for Rousseau`s idyll. Anthropologists have yet to find a culture that is completely harmonious, peaceful, and happy. Although modern anthropological research has led to the rejection of the myth of the noble savage. It nonetheless has confirmed the existence of a remarkable contrast between the way prestate and state-level societies prevent internal conflicts from threatening the survival of their respective populations. Both Rousseau and Hobbes were wrong, but of the two. Hobbes was further from the truth.

 

The whole enormous apparatus of “law and order” associated with modern life is absent among village and band-level cultures. Yet there is no “war of all against all.” The Eskimo, the Bushmen of the Kalahari. The Australian aborigines and many other cultures enjoy a high degree of personal security without having any “sovereign” in Hobbes’s sense. They have no kings, queens, dictators, presidents, governors, or mayors; police officers, National Guard soldiers, sailors, or marines;CIA, FBI, Treasury agents, or federal marshals. They have no written law codes and no formal law courts; no lawyers, bailiffs, bondsmen, judges, district attorneys, juries, or court clerks; and no patrol cars, paddy wagons, jails, or penitentiaries. People managed to get along without these means of law enforcement for tens of thousands of years. Why are contemporary state-level societies so dependent upon them?

 

Source: Harris, M. (1975) Culture, people, nature.New York: Harper and Row, p. 218

 

Text 4

The Death Penalty

I want to organise under five simple verbs my own reasons for thinking that the death penalty is a bad thing. If we catch a man who has committed a murder, try him and convict him, we have to do something more with him than punish him. What ought to be done to a convicted murderer can be summed up in the five verbs: prevent, reform, research, deter and avenge.

 

The first is `prevent`. By this I mean preventing the same man from doing it again. In the course of a century there is only one doubtful case of a convicted murderer, after his release at the end of a normal life sentence, committing another murder. I think that that means, statistically, that the released murderer is no more likely to murder again than anybody else is.

 

To turn to the second verb on my list, `reform`. It is clear that, whatever we may think about what is able to be achieved in our prison system by treatment, it is obvious that less can be achieved if you hang a man. One man who is utterly unreformable is a corpse.

 

The next word is `research`. It might be that if we were to keep this man alive and turn psychiatrists and other qualified persons on to talking to him for twenty years during his prison sentence we should find things that would enable us to take measures which would reduce the murder rate.

 

The fourth word, `deter`, is the crux of the whole thing. Abolitionists, as we all know, have held for many years that evidence from abroad has for long been conclusive that the capital penalty is not a uniquely effective deterrent against murder. Retentionists of the death penalty have been saying for years that we are not like those abroad. We are exactly like those abroad, and the death penalty is not a uniquely effective deterrent against murder.

 

The last on the list of my five verbs is `avenge`. Here the death penalty is uniquely effective. If a man has taken life, the most effective, obvious and satisfying form of vengeance is to take his life. For myself - and itASHE2017 is only a personal matter - I utterly reject the idea that vengeance is a proper motive for the State in dealing with convicted criminals.

 

Source: Young, W. (1961) The Futures ofEurope.London: Longman, pp. 223-224 (abridged)

 

 

Text 5

Since ancient times enlightened legal systems have distinguished between juvenile delinquents and adult criminals. The immature generally were not considered morally responsible for their behaviour. However, the punishment of juvenile offenders until the 19th century was often severe. In the U.S., child criminals were treated as adult criminals. Sentences for all offenders could be harsh and the death penalty was occasionally imposed.

 

The first institution expressly for juveniles was founded inNew York Cityin 1824 so that institutionalized delinquents could be kept apart from adult criminals. By the mid-19th Century, other state institutions for juvenile delinquents were established, and their populations soon included not only young criminals but also less serious offenders and dependent children. These early institutions were often very rigid and punitive.

 

In the second half of the 19th Century increased attention was given to the need for special legal procedures that would protect and guide the juvenile offender rather than subject the child to the full force of criminal law. An act of wrongdoing by a minor was seen as an indication of the child`s need for care and treatment rather than a justification for punishing that child through criminal penalties. 

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