Home Student EssaysThe Explanation Of Criminality

The Explanation Of Criminality

.. l- ity. This theme locates the source of crime in some division within a soicety that is associated with differential accept- ance of legal norms. All sociological explanations, at bottom, assume culture conflict to be the source of crime. Durkheim’s anomie, the deregulation of social life, may be another such feature, as yet inadequately applied to the explanation of crime. Merton’s application of the idea of anomie to the pro- duction of criminality seems plausible in general, particulary if one avoids translating anomie into opportunity. This more general use of the notion of anomie predicts that serious crime rates will be higher in societies whose public codes and even mass media simultaneously stimulate consumership and egilitarianism while denying differences and delegitimizing them (Herrnstein). More concretely, the age distributions and sex ratios of societies or of localities can be interpreted as structural features and related to differences in crime rates.

Thus it comes as little surprise to learn and comprehend that situa- tions in which sex ratio is greatly distorted result in dif- ferent patterns of sexual offense. Homosexualality, including forcible rape, increases where men and women are kept apart from the opposite sex, as in prisons (Blumstein, 1979). Prostitution flourishes where numbers of men live without women but with the freedom to get out on occasion, as from mining camps or mili- tary bases (Blumstein). These more concrete features of the social structure seem at once more obvious and less interesting, however, than the class structure of a society by the way in which its wealth and prestige are differentially achieved and rewarded. It is among these differentials that sociologists and many laymen con- tinue to look for generators of crime. The opportunity-structure hypothesis is one way of attending to class differences and attempting to show how they breed crime.

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It views criminality as adaptive, as utilitarian, as the way de- prived people can get what everyone wants and has been told he should have. There is yet another type of explanation that looks upon the pattern of rewards in a society as causing crime. This theory differs from the opportunity-structure theory in its emphasis. It interprets crime as more reactive than adaptive to social stratification. Reactive hypotheses are related to other structural schema in emphasizing the role of the status system of a society in producing crime and delinquency. As one kind of sociological explanation, these formulations also partake of some of the subcultural ideas and may even speak of delinquent subcultures.

The reactive hypotheses, however, describe criminal subcultures as formed in re- sponse to status deprivation. They see criminality as less tradi- tional, less ethnic, and more psychodynamically generated (Ferrington). They interpret delinquency as a status-seeking solution to straight society’s denial of respect. The reactive hypotheses are, then, a type of structural theory that carries a heavy burden of psychological implication (Ferrington). The pure reactive hypothesis claims that the social structure produces a reaction formation in whom its rules disqualify for status. Reaction formation, or reversal formation, is a psycho- analytic idea: that we may defend ourselves against forbidden de- sires by repressing them while expressing their opposites (Ferrington). In this tense, the behavoirs of which the ego is conscious are psychoanalytically interpreted as a shield against admitting the true urges that have been frustrated.

For example, if one says that if I can’t have it, it must be no good. Thus, it is held, if one can’t play the middle-class game, or won’t be let into it, he responds by breaking up the play (Ferrington). The denial is proof of the desire and when put into the present topic, this results in an unlawful act of criminality. Where the subcultural theorists see delinquent behavior as real in its own right, as learned and valued by the actor, and where the social psychologists agree but emphasize the training processes that bring this about, the proponents of reactive hypo- theses interpret the defiant and contemptuous behavoir of many de- linquents as a compensation that defends them against the ego- wounding they have received from the status system (Ferrington). In scientific work there is a criterion, not pointly adhered to, which says that the simple explanation is preferable to the complex, that the hypothesis with few assumptions is preferable to the one with many.

There are simpler explanations of criminal hostility than the reactive hypotheses. One such theory holds that violence comes naturally and that it will be expressed unless we are trained to control it. Another theory calls envy a universal and independant motive (Herrnstein). Some social psychologists believe that children will grow up violent if they are not adequately nurtured. Adequate nurturing in- cludes both appreciating the child and training him or her to ac- knowledge the rights of others. From this theoretical stance, the savagery of the urban gangster for example represents merely the natural outcome of a failure in child upbringing.

Similarily, on a simple level of explanation, many sociolo- gists and anthropologists believe that hostile behavior can be learned as easily as passive behavior. Once learned, the codes of violence and impatient tendencies of the mind are their own positive values. Fighting and hating then become both duties and pleasures. For advocates of this sociopsychological point of view, it is not necessary to regard the barbarian whose words and deeds laugh at goodness as having the same motives as more lawful per- sons. It needs no radical vision to agree that the school systems of Western societies presently provide poor aprenticeship in adult- hood for many adolescents.

A poor apprenticeship for being grown up is criminogenic. In this sense, the structure of modern countries encourages delinquency, for that structure lacks institutional procedures for moving people smoothly form protected childhood to automonmous adulthood. During adolescence, many youths in affluent societies are neither well guided by their parents nor happily engaged by their teachers. They are adult in body, but children in responsi- bility and in their contribution to others. Now placed in between irresponsible dependence and accountable independance, they are compelled to attend schools that do not thoroughly stimulate the interests of all of them and that, in too many cases, provide the uninterested child with the experience of failure and the mirror of denigration (Herrnstein). Educators are conceiving remedies.

This engages a dilemma–a dilemma of the democratic educators. They want equality and individuality, objectives that thus far in history have eluded societal engineers. Meanwhile, the metro- politan schools of industrialized nations make a probable, but measurable, contribution to delinquency. Some crimes are rational. In such cases, the criminal way appears to be the more effecient way of satisfying one’s wants.

When crime is regarded as rational, it can be given either a structural or a sociopsychological explanation. The explanation is structural when it emphasizes the conditions that make crime rational. It becomes a sociopsychological explanation when it emphasizes the interpretations of the conditions that make crime rational, or when it stresses the training that legitimizes il- legal activities. No one emphasis need be more correct–more use- ful–than another. Conduct, lawful and criminal, always occurs within some structure of possibilities and is, among normal people, justified by an interpretation of that structure.

Both the interpretation of and the adaptation to a structure of possibilities are largely learned. It is only for convenience that we will discuss the idea that crime may be rational as one of the structural, rather than one of the sociopsychological, explantions. The most obvious way in which a social structure produces crime is by providing chances to make money illegally (Herrnstein). Whether or not a structure elevates desires, it generates crime by bringing needs into the view of opportunities. This kind of explanation does not say that people behave criminally because they have been denied legitimate opportunities, but rather it says that people break the law, particulary those laws concerning the definition of property, because this is a rational thing to do.

the idea of rational crime is in accord with the common-sense assumption that most people will take money if they can do so without penalty. Obviously there are differences in personality that raise or lower resistance to temptation. These differences are the concern of those sociopsychological explantions that emphasize the controlling functions of character. However, without attending to these personal variables, it is notable that the common human proclivity to improve and maintain status will produce offenses against property when these tendencies meet the appropriate situa- tion (Ferrington). These situations have been studied by crimin- ologists in four major contexts.

There are, first, the many situations in civil life in which supplies, services and money are available for theft. Theft is widespread in such situations. It ranges from taking what isn’t nailed down in public settings to stealing factory tools and store inventories to cheating on expense accounts to embezzlement. Second, there are circumstances in which legitimate work makes it economical to break the criminal law. Third, there are able criminals, individuals who have chosen theft as an occupation and who have make a success of it. These expert thieves are sometimes affiliated with musclemen or organizers in a fourth context of rational crimes, the context in which crime becomes an economic enterprise fulfilling the demands of a market (Ferrington).

Now specifically on these contexts, crime has been seen as a preferred livelihood. The conception of some kinds of crime as rational responses to structures indicates that in the struggle to stay alive and in the desire to improve one’s material condi- tion lie the seeds of many crimes. some robbery, but more burglary; some snitching, but more boosting; some automobile theft by juveniles, but more automobile transfers by adults represent a consciously adopted way of making a living. All organized crime represents such a preference. The organization of large scale theft adopts new technologies and new modes of opera- tion to keep pace with increases in the wealth of Western nations and changes in security measures.

Such businesslike crime has been changing form craft crimes to project crimes involving big- ger risks, bigger takes, and more criminal intelligence. Conversations with successful criminals, those who use intel- legence to plan lucrative acts, indicate considerable satisfaction with their work. There is pride in one’s craft and pride in one’s nerve. There is enjoyment of leisure between jobs. There is ex- pressed delight in being one’s own boss, free of any compelling routine.

the carefree life, the irresponsible life, is appreciat- ed and contrasted with the drab existence of more lawful citizens. Given the low risk of penalty and the high probability of reward, given the absence of pangs of guilt and the presence of hedonistic preferences, crime is a rational occupational choice for such individuals (Sampson). On a level of lesser skill, many inhabitants of metropolitan slums are in situations that make criminal activity a rational enterprise. Young men in particular who show little interest in school, but great distaste for the authority of a boss and the imprisonment of a predictable job, are likely candidates for the rackets. Compared to work, the rackets combine more freedom, money and higher status at a relatively low cost.

In some organ- ized crimes, like running the numbers, risk of arrest is low. the rationality of the choice of these rackets is therefore that much higher for youths with the requisite tastes. In summary, the structuralist emphasis on the criminogenic features of a stratified society is both popular and persuasive. The employment of this type of explanation becomes political. If the anomie that generates crime lies in the gap between desires and their gratification, criminologists can urge that desires be modified, that gratifications be increased, or that some compro- mise be reached between what people expect and what they are likely to get (Christiansen).

The various political positions prescribe different remedies for our social difficulties. Radical thinkers use the schema of anomie to strengthen their argument for a classless or, at least, a less stratified society. Conservative thinkers use this schema to demonstrate the dangers of an egalitarian philosophy. At one political pole, the recommendation is to change the structure of power so as to reduce the pressure toward criminality. At the other pole, the prescription is to change the public’s perception of life. Criminologists are themselves caught up in this debate.

The major tradition in social psychology, as it has been developed from sociologists, emphasizes the ways in which perceptions and beliefs cause behavoirs. Between how things are (the structure) and how one responds to this world, the social psychologist places attitude, belief, and definition of the situation. The crucial question becomes one of assessing how much of any action is simply a response to a structure of the social world, and how much of any action is moved by differing interpretations of that reality (Sampson). Social psychologists of the symbolic-inter- actionist persuasion attempt to build a bridge between the struc- tures of social relations and our interpretations of them and, in this matter, to describe how crime is produced. Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Blumstein, Alfred.

1979. An Analysis. Crime and Delinquency 29 (October): 546-60. 2. Christiansen, K.O.

1977. A Review of Studies of Crimin- ality. In Bases of Criminal Behavoir, ed. S.A. Mednick and K.O.

Christiansen, p. 641, 654-669 New York: Gardner. 3. Ferrington, David P. 1991.

Explaining the Beginning and Progress. In Advances in Criminological Theory, ed. Joan McCord, vol. 3, p. 191-199,New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction.

4. Freeman, Richard B. 1983. The Relationship Between Criminality and the Disadvantaged. Ch. 6 In Crime and Public Policy, ed.

James Q. Wilson, p. 917-991. San Francisco: ICS Press. 5.

Herrnstein, Richard J. 1985. Crime and Human Nature. P. 359-374, New York: Simon and Schuster.

6. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. P.

30-31, 89-102, Berkeley: University of California Press. 7. Sampson, R.J. 1985. Neighborhood Family Structure and the Risk of Victimization. In The Social Ecology of Crime, ed.

J. Byrne and R. Sampson, 25-46. New York: Springer-Verlag. Sociology.

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