This essay will highlight the difficulty with defining crime and deviance and explore the ways in which crime and deviance are relative terms to time, place and culture.
The social construction of Crime and Deviance will be explained and distinguish between two approaches to defining crime and deviance. The key criminological concepts will be described. The extent to which the official crime statistics are valid indicators of crime will be evaluated.Crime is an action which violates the written laws of a society and is punishable. Deviance refers to behaviour which violates the values and expectations of a social group, not conforming to the norms of society. Social construction is an idea or perception of the norms,developed and maintained by the society based upon the collective views within the social group. Social control ensures people conform to social rules and societies accept norms and values. Implemented through formal and informal agencies.
Crime is deviance that breaks the law, which is a norm stipulated and enforced by the government. Deviance involves breaking a norm and evoking a negative reaction from others. The punishment for crime is more serious than the punishment of deviance.
The difficulty in defining deviance is the fact that it is socially constructed with no absolute definition. Human behaviour is shaped and guided by a set of formal (laws) and informal (norms) rules. The norms of society vary widely. Some people may consider certain acts or behaviour deviant whilst others may consider it as normal, therefore crime and deviance are socially and culturally determined. No act is deviant in and of itself, an act is only recognised as deviant when it is considered as breaking the norm of the society and thatcauses others to react negatively. Many deviant acts go unnoticed or considered as trivial matters, serious deviance acts are typically punished, either formally or informally.
An informal punishment could involve stigmatization or be as mild as a harsh stare. However, a formal punishment is the result of breaking the law, punishment therefore is more likely to be serious, criminals may be sentenced to prison or perform community service. “All crime is, by definition, deviant behaviour, but not all forms of deviance are criminal.” (Livesey 2010)According to Livesey (2010 online) Plummer (1979)explains societal deviance is the behaviour of which the dominant ideology of society considers unacceptable, however situational deviance depends on the time and place.
What is considered as criminal or deviant behaviour changes over time and varies from place to place and therefore is relative. Crime and deviance is also relative to culture, as different cultures have different norms and values. For example, in the United Kingdom homosexuality in the 1950’s was considered deviant and punishable, but now this behaviour isrecognised as normal and completely legal. Homosexuality remains an illegal act in Saudi Arabia, a death penalty could be applied if caught practicing.
A general rule that is applied at a universal level is referred to as absolute, for example murder is considered deviant in all societies whatever the time or place. This will never change, and because this rule is in place people feel protected wherever they are around the globe. Situational deviance depends on the circumstances, for example killing enemy soldiers is the norm for soldiers at war. For social order to exist, shared norms and values are necessary and conformity to them must be enforced. Societies create these rules, without these rules in place there would be no such thing as deviant behaviour. Powerful groups have the ability to impose their definition of normality onto others and those who have power such as police enforce these rules to hold control over the society. Human values are formed through shared views of the majority to what is believed to be right and wrong, good or bad, important or not important. Formal social control is based on written laws and rules, informal social control is how peopleknowingly or unknowingly conform to the unwritten rules of society through the response of others.
For example, an individual will receive unpleasant stares if they answer a call on their mobile phone during a quiet session at a library. According to Livesey, Becker (1963) states: “Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits but rather how people react to what you do.” ThomsonNow (online) describes Hagan’s approach (1994 pg 141, 142, 143) who suggests three main ways to measuring the seriousness of deviant behaviour. The first is the severity of the social response, the second is the perceived harmfulness and the third characteristic is the degree of public agreement. Hagan’s analysis helps further breakdown of four types of deviance and crime.
Social diversion are minor acts of deviance which people usually perceive as harmless, such as pushing in the que. This could elicit a mild reaction from people. Social deviation are acts which are noncriminal departures from the norms but are more serious and therefore subject to official control. Large proportions of people agree that social deviation acts are deviant and somewhat harmful, these acts are usually subject to institutional sanction. Conflict crimes are defined as illegal by the state, but views are controversial in the wider society. These crimes have moderate consequences and can cause disagreement about the severity of the crime, such as smoking marijuana. Consensus crimes are illegal acts that most people agree that such crimes should be met with severe punishment, such as murder.
According to Revise Sociology (2016 – Online) The Labelling approach is associated with Interactionism, which is defining and categorizing an individual or group in a stereotypical way. A label becomes a master status, this is when people are known for certain things and this is seen as their main quality. Negative labels are generally given to the powerless by the powerful. Those in power are able to negotiate their way out of being labelled as criminals even though the acts are the same. For example, in a low-income neighbourhood, a fight between young people is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area it is rather evidence of high spirits. It is predominantly the young, black, males, who are labelled criminals, if a police officer labels a particular ethnicgroup as criminals, the officer will go out and arrest more people belonging to that ethnic group whilst ignoring other crimes. Labelling can have serious consequences on people’s identity, they can develop self-fulfilling prophecies and break the law in the view that it is all they can achieve. A weakness is that Interactionism fails to understand the root cause but more interested in how people and society interact and how this affects criminal behaviour.
The media is used to sensualize street crime and cover up the crimes of the rich and powerful which in turn can mould people’s perception. The media has a long history of exaggerating the deviance, creating moral panicresulting in the public to respond disproportionately and then promoting labelling in the force. White collar crime refers to offences committed in the course of work, usually some form of deception is involved for the purpose of financial gain.
These crimes are usually committed by people of high status and are often hidden from public view and dealt with administratively. This type of crime does not portray any danger to the public but are difficult to prosecute.In England and Wales crime is measured using two different sources. Official Statistics represent crimes reported by the police, they display the rise and falls in crime and can explain patterns and trends in a time period. Quantitative data is collected and published by the Home Office and made available to the public. The reporting of crime is usually described as the tip of the iceberg, the larger part underneath represents the dark figure of crime which occurres but goes undetectedpossibly unreported. People may choose not to report a crime for various reasons such as fear, family loyalty or may feel the incident is not serious enough for police to take further action.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales is also a valuable source which gathers information on the extent and nature of crimes. The purpose of the survey is to collect qualitative data that can then provide the government with robust information to make important decisions about policies related to crime and justice. Members of the public seek protection from the crimes outlined in both the statistics. However, the reliability of these statistics remains questionable, these figures are far from representing a true extent and reality of crimes in the society, data gathered and interpreted are made to suit political and corporate agendas.
Crime and deviance is the product of labelling, it is socially constructed to enable social order and is relative, changes from place to place, culture and time. Social norms are made up of acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, until an act is not recognised as inappropriate it is not deviant.