From A Sociological Perspective, Explanations For Criminal- Ity Are Fo Essay

und in two levels which are thesubculture and the structural explanations. The sociological explanations emphasize aspects of
societal arrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. A sociological explanation is
concerned with how the structure of a society or its institutional practices or its persisting cultural
themes affect the conduct of its members. Individual differences are denied or ignored, and the
explanation of the overall collective behavoir is sought in the patterning of social arrangements that
is considered to be both outside the actor and prior to him (Sampson, 1985). That is, the social
patterns of power or of institutions which are held to be determinative of human action are also
seen as having been in existence before any particular actor came on the scene. In lay language,
sociological explanations of crime place the blame on something social that is prior to, external to,
and compelling of any particular person. Sociological explanations do not deny the importance of
human motivation. However, they locate the source of motives outside the individual and in the
cultural climate in which he lives. Political philosophers, sociologists, and athropologists have long
observed that a condition of social life is that not all things are allowed. Standards of behavior are
both a pro- duct of our living together and a requirement if social life is to be orderly. The concept
of a culture refers to the perceived standards of behavior, observable in both words and deeds, that
are learned, transmitted from generation to generation and somewhat durable. To call such behavior
cultural does not necessar- ily mean that it is refined, but rather means that it is cultured–
aquired, cultivated, and persistent. Social scientists have invented the notion of a subculture to
describe variations, within a society, upon its cultural themes. In such circumstances, it is assumed
that some cultural prescrip- tions are common to all members of society, but that modifica- tions
and variations are discernible within the society. Again, it is part of the definition of a subculture, as
of a culture, that is relatively enduring. Its norms are termed a style, rather than a fashion, on
the grounds that the former has some endurance while the latter is evanescent. The quarrel comes,
of course, when we try to estimate how real a cultural pattern is and how persistent. The
standards by which behavior is to be guided vary among men and over time. Its is in this change
and variety that crime is defined. An application of this principle to crimin- ology would find that
the roots of the crime in the fact that groups have developed different standards of appropriate
behavior and that, in complex cultures, each individual is subject to competing prescriptions for
action. Another subcultural explanation of crime grows readily out of the fact that, as we have seen,
social classes experience different rates of arrest and conviction for serious offenses. When
strata within a society are marked off by categories of income, education, and occupational prestige,
differences are discovered among them in the amount and style of crime. Further, differences are
usually found between these social classes in their tastes, interests, and morals. Its is easy to
describe these class-linked patterns as cultures. This version of the subcultural explanation of
crime holds that the very fact of learning the lessons of the subculture means that one aquires
interests and preferences that place him in greater or lesser risk of breaking the law. Others argue
that being reared in the lower class means learning a different culture from that which creates the
criminal laws. The lower- class subculture is said to have its own values, many of which run
counter to the majority interests that support the laws against the serious predatory crimes. One
needs to note that the indicators of class are not descriptions of class. Proponents of subcultural
explanations of crime do not define a class culture by any assortment of the objective indicators or
rank, such as annual income or years of schooling. The subcultural theorists is interested in
pattern- ed ways of life which may have evolved with a division of labor and which, then, are called
class cultures. The pattern, however, is not described by reference to income alone, or by
reference to years of schooling or occupational skill. The pattern includes these indicators, but it is
not defined by them. The subcultural theorist is more intent upon the variet- ies of human value.

these are preferred ways of living that are acted upon. In the economist’s language, they are
tastes. The thesis that is intimated, but not often explicated, by a subcultural description of
behaviors is that single or multiple signs of social position, such as occupation or educa- tion, will
have a different significance for status, and for cultures, with changes in their distribution. Money
and education do not mean the same things socially as they are more or less equitably distributed.

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The change in meaning is not merely a change in the prestige value of these two, but also betokens
changes in the boundries between class cultures. Generally speaking, whether one believes
tendencies to be good or bad, the point of emphasis should be simply that the criteria of social
class that have been generally employed- criteria like income and schooling-may change meaning
with changes in the distribution of these advantages in a popula- tion. Class cultures, like national
cultures, may break down. A more general subcultural explanation of crime, not necessarily in
disagreement with the notion of class cultures, attributes differences in crime rates to differences in
ethnic patterns to be found within a society. Explanations of this sort do not necessarily bear the
title ethnic, although they are so designated here because they partake of the general assumption
that there are group differences in learned prefer- ences-in what is rewarded and punished-and that
these group differences have a perisistence often called a tradition. Such explantions are of a
piece whether they are advanced as descriptions of regional cultures, generational differences, or
national characteristics (Hirschi, 1969). Their common theme is the differences in ways of life out
of which differ- ences in crime rates seem to flow. Ethnic explanations are proposed under an
assortment of labels, but they have in common the fact that they do not limit the notion of sub-
culture to class culture (Hirschi). They seem particularly justified where differences in social
status are not so highly correlated with differences in conduct as are other indicators of cultural
difference. Thus many sociologists in this field argue that in the United States economic and
status positions in the community cannot be shown to account for differences [in homicide rates]
between whites and Negroes or between Southerners and Northerners (Freeman, 1983). In
relevance, an index of Southerness is found to be highly correlated with homicide rates in the
United States. Therefore, there is a measureable regional culture that promotes murder. The hazard
of accepting a subcultural explanation and, at the same time, wishing to be a doctor to the body
politic is that the remedies may as well spread the disease as cure it. Among the prescriptions is
social action to disperse the representatives of the subculture of violence. Quite apart from the
political difficulties of implementing such an en- forced dispersion, the proposal assumes more
knowledge than what is available. We, as a society, do not know what pro- portion of the violent
people would have to be dispersed in order to break up their culture; and, what is more important,
we do not know to what extent the dispersed people would act as culture-carriers and
contaminate their hosts. While sociologists acknowledge the plausibility of med- leys of causes
operating to affect crime rates, their atten- tion has been largely diverted to specific kinds of social
arrangements that may affect the damage we do to each other. Among the more prominent
hypotheses stress the impact of social structure upon behavior. These proposals minimize the facts
of subcultural differences and point to the sources of criminal motivation in the patterns of power
and privilege within a society. They shift the blame for crime from how people are to where they
are (Sampson). Such explanations may still speak of subcultures, but when they do, they use the
term in a weaker sense than is intended by the subcultural theorist. A powerful and popular
sociological explanation of crime finds its sources in the social order. This explanation looks to
the ways in which human wants are generated and satisfied and the ways in which rewards and
punishments are handed out by the social system. There need be no irreconcilable contradiction
between subcultural and structural hypotheses, but their different em- phases do produce quarrels
about facts as well as about remedies. An essential difference between these two explana- tions is
that the structuralists assume that all the members of a society want more of the same things than
the sub- culturalists assume they want (Herrnstein, 1985). In this sense, the structural theses tend
to be egalitarian and demo- cratic (Herrnstein). The major applications of structuralism assume that
people everywhere are basically the same and that there are no significant differences in abilities or
desires that might account for lawful and criminal careers. Attention is paid, then, to the
organization of social relations that affects the differential exercise of talents and interests which
are assumed to be roughly equal for all individuals of a society. Modern structural explanations of
criminogenesis derive from the ideas of the French sociologist Emile Durkheim. Durkheim viewed
the human being as a social animal as well as a physical organism. To say that a man is a social
animal means more than the obvious fact that he lives a long life as a helpless child depending on
others for his survival. It means more, too, than that homo sapiens is a herding animal who tends to
live in colonies. For Durkheim, the significantly social aspect of human nature is that human
physical survival also depends upon moral connections. Moral connections are, of course, social.

They represent a bond with, and hence a bond- age to, others (Christiansen, 1977). Durkheim
states that it is not true, that human activity can be released from all re- straint (Christiansen). The
restraint that is required if social life is to ensue is a restraint necessary also for the psychic health
of the human individual. Social conditions may strengthen or weaken the moral ties that Durkheim
saw as a condition of happiness and healthy survival. Rapid changes in one’s possibilities, swings
from riches to rags and, just as disturbing, form rags to riches, may constitute an impulse to
volutary death. Excessive hopes and unlimited desires are avenues to misery (Christiansen). Social
conditions that allow a deregulation of social life Durkheim called states of anomie. The word
derives from Greek roots meaning lacking in rule or law. As used by contemporary sociologists,
the word anomie and its English eq- uivalent, anomy, are applied ambiguosly, sometimes to the
social conditions of relative normlessness and sometimes to the individuals who experience a lack
of rule and purpose in their lives. It is more appropriate that the term be restricted to societal
conditions of relative rulelessness for our purpose. When the concept of anomie is employed by
structurlists to explain behavoir, attention is directed toward the strains produced in the individual
by the conflicting, confusing, or impossible demands of one’s social enviroment. Writers have
described anomie in our schizoid culture, a culture that is said to present conflicting prescriptions
for conduct (Ferr- ington, 1991). They have also perceived anomie in the tension between
recommended goals and available means. It is import- ant to keep the word anomie in mind to all
explanations discussed. The American sociologist R.K. Merton has applied Durk- heim’s ideas to
the explanation of deviant behavior with part- icular reference to modern Western societies. His
hypothesis is that a state of anomie is produced whenever there is a dis- crepancy between the
goals of human action and the societally structured legitimate means of achieving them. The
hypothesis is simply, that crime breeds in the gaps between aspirations and possibilities. The
emphasis given to this idea by the pattern of social arrangements. Its is the structure of a society,
which includes some elements of its culture, that builds desires and assigns opportunities for their
satisfac- tion (Herrnstein). The emphasis given to this idea by the structuralists is that both the
goals and the means are given by the pattern of social arrangements. It is the structure of a
society, which includes some elements of its culture, that builds desires and assigns opportunities
for their satisfaction. This structural explanation sees illegal behavior as resulting from goals,
particulary materialistic goals, held to be desirable and possible for all, that motive behavior in a
societal context that provides only limited channels of achievement. It is a thesis that has
appropriately been named strain theory (Hirschi). Sociologist R.K. Merton devised another
theory dwelling in delinquency. This type of explanation sees delinquency as ad- aptive, as
instrumental in the achievement of the same kinds of things everyone wants. Its sees crime, also,
as partly reactive–generated by a sense of injustice on the part of delinquents at having been
deprived of the goof life they had been led to expect would be theirs. This hypothesis, which may
with accuracy be described as the social worker’s favorite, looks to the satisfaction of desires, rather
than the lowering of expectations, as the cure for crime. To be sure, it ap- proaches the satisfaction
of desires not directly but indirectly, through the provision of expanded opportunities for
legitimate achievement (Herrnstein). In closing on the oppurtunity-structure thesis, this thesis as a
whole sounds plausible, closer attention to its assumprions lessens confidence in its explanatory
power. Finally, the proposal that differences in the availability of legitimate opportunities affect
crime rates is only one version of the structural style of explanation. The weaknesses of this
particular hypothesis do not deny the validity of the structural notion in general. There are features
of the struc- ture of a society that seem clearly and directly antecedent to varying crime rates.

Culture conflict is one such general aspect of a society’s structure that seems to promote
criminal- 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. 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.

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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
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Schuster. 6. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. P. 30-31, 89-102, Berkeley: University
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