Lecture 8 Criminology CRCJ 1000-C
SOCIOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRME
Development of sociological criminology; Durkheim: anomie and strain theories; Control theory;
The Chicago School; Broken windows theory; Differential association; Subcultural theories;
Labelling theory and stigmatization.
I. Course Reader, Pp. 271-300.
• Durkheim andAnomie • DifferentialAssociation
• Strain theory • Control Theory
• Chicago School • Sociology of deviance and labelling theory
• Social Learning Theory
SOCIOLOGIES OF CRIME
• Sociological approaches have been/continue to be the most prevalent and widely accepted of all criminological
theories (p. 271)
• Between 60% and 75% of theorizing about crime and delinquency can be attributed to the field of sociology alone.
• Interested in actors, institutions, meanings, symbols, myths, cultures, and norms
Explanations view crime and deviance as ‘normal’or ‘semi-normal’as socially learned responses to social
• Sociology of crime as ‘the body of knowledge regarding crime as a social phenomenon. It includes within its scope
the processes of making laws, of breaking laws, and of reacting towards the breaking of laws’(Sutherland and
• Sociology interested in actors, institutions, meanings, symbols, myths, cultures, and norms.
• Sociological explanation view crime and deviance as “normal,” or “semi-normal” — as socially/culturally learned
responses to social circumstances.
STRUCTURAL THEORIES OF CRIME
• Individual theories focus on behaviours, while sociological theories might ask:
• What does crime and criminality tell us about society?
• Why do some societies deem marijuana use, prostitution, or polygamy to be abnormal or criminal while other
societies do not?
• Why are members of certain social groups or classes more likely to be criminalized than members of other social
groups or classes?
• How do social structures (economy, religion, culture, law, school, family, workplaces, medias, etc.) influence forms
and definitions of deviance?
I. EMILE DURKHEIM (1858-1957)
• Crime and the ‘collective consciousness’
• Normality of crime
• Functionality of crime
• Mechanical and organic solidarity
Foundation for anomie or strain theory: Rapid social change or crisis threatens group norms and social solidarity.
People/groups become uncertain of the appropriateness of their behaviour; unsure about their place in society; and
unsure about the ‘norms’of society itself.
• Anomie = the gap
• Durkheim looked at suicides to understand the anomie (gap) between social change and moral (norm) change.
• Durkheim saw behavior as socially rather than individually determined. Lecture 8 Criminology CRCJ 1000-C
Suicide (1897) — Important Issue Then
• Altruistic — suicide precipitated by an over-commitment to group values and norms; (least popular, kill for the
cause); Ex: someone kills themselves for the job (protest)
• Fatalistic — suicide derived from excessive regulation (e.g., slavery or imprisonment); (slave, prison)
• Egoistic — suicide resulting from a weakening of commitment to group values and goals, especially when the
individual has come to rely primarily upon his or her own resources; (individuals no longer anchored to norms of
society, sick of it and ca not identify with it anymore)
• Anomic — suicide that occurs when rapid or extreme social change or crisis threaten group norms; (changes in
society produce people losing their moral way — upper business class)
Durkheim (1897/1951:253) wrote:
• With increased prosperity, desires increase… Overweening ambition always exceeds the results obtained, great as
they may be, since there is no warning to pause here… since this race for an unattainable goal can give no other
pleasure but that of the race itself… once it is interrupted the participants are left empty-handed… How could the
desire olive not be weakened under such conditions?
• Strong social structures define reasonable limits for desires; but disruptions to social structures allow for unleashed
• Unlimited aspirations create pressure for deviant solutions because of a gap between aspirations and opportunities
• Anomie refers to a state or a condition in society in which the norms are no longer effective in regulating behaviour.
• Durkheim believed that the French Revolution had created an egalitarian society in which all members had a
similar opportunity to succeed or fail.
Durkheim’s conclusions on aspirations were mostly focused on upper classes, whose expectations and aspirations
expand to an insatiable level.
• Aspirations, Durkheim felt, are class related, with the upper classes having higher goals than those below them.
• Poverty insulated the poor from anomie, argued Durkheim.
• Consensus theory: forces of integration and forces of regulation.
• Upper class focus — capitalism was producing a gap and they were producingAnomie
• Durkheim was democrat, thought society and state was democratic institution and despite all conflicts we could
work them out
• Deviance is a social production
• Anomie was mostly focussed on the upper-class (they were changing their norms)
• Forces of integration is the force of social norms
Anomie and Strain Theories
• Durkheim lays framework for understanding how opportunity structures create social disorganization, particularly
from the failure of meeting aspirations.
• Comes here in 1930s and drops termAnomie and called Strain — based on some notion of opportunities, socially
constructed, gaps in that and our individual aspirations
• Strain theories most frequently reflect the notion that crime is an outgrowth of weakness in the social structure.
• Key argument: stresses, frustrations, or strains (hence the name), are generally a product of blocked aspirations,
and thereby increases the prospects for norm violation.
• These theories maintain that norms are violated to alleviate the strain that accompanies failure. Blockage of
legitimate goal attainment is said to encourage deviant solutions.
II. MERTONAND OTHER STRAIN THEORIES
ROBERT K. MERTON (1910-2003)
• ‘Social Structure andAnomie’(1938)
• Critique ofAmerican Culture
• Success paradigm
• Brought term Strain
• “It is only when a system of cultural values extols, virtually above all else, certain common symbols of success for
the population at large while its social structure rigorously restricts or completely eliminates access to approves Lecture 8 Criminology CRCJ 1000-C
modes of acquiring these symbols for a considerable part of the same population, that anti social behaviour ensues
on a considerable scale”
• Crime happens when there's a blockage when people can't obtain goals they wanted to
• Social conditions/social pressures are different based on class position
• Goals are culturally transmitted (to everyone), but institutionally blocked to some (e.g. not available to everyone)
• Merton (1938:680) summarized his argument in this manner: It is only when a system of cultural values extols,
virtually above all else, certain common symbols of success for the population at large while its social structure
rigorously restricts or completely eliminates access to approved modes of acquiring these symbols for a
considerable part of the same population, that antisocial behaviour ensues on a considerable scale.
Robert Merton (1968) indicated that theAmerican Dream is a double-edged sword — the very elements that
contribute toAmerica’s success at the same time foster that “cardinalAmerican vice, deviant
behaviour” (1968:200). (Diagram 1: end of document)
• ‘Initialize means’= follow rules to get to cultural goals
CLOWARDAND OHLIN’S DELINQUENCYAND OPPORTUNITY (1960)
• New look on Merton's theory
• Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin developed strain theory with an emphasis on opportunity structures.
• Believed Merton had failed to acknowledge the role of illegitimate opportunity structures (people's aspirations
that are illegal) in the development of deviant adaptations to anomic conditions. ■ Not universalAmerican
dream, subcultures have different cultural goals.
Still strong theory as structurally we produce deviance
• “Just as the unintegrated slum cannot mobilize legitimate resources for the young, neither can it provide them with
access to stable criminal careers, for illegitimate learning and opportunity structures do not develop” (Cloward &
• They identified three types of illegitimate opportunity structures through which lower-class youth could cope with
their sense of strain or “status frustration.” Produced by structural dynamics of strain:
• Criminal subcultures were found in “organized” slums, where networks of “professional” criminals could take
prospective gang members under their wing and teach them the tricks of the trade. (Organized crime. Opportunity
structure within it)
• Conflict subcultures — based on toughness and a willingness to engage in physical violence — were found in
disorganized slums, where there was little organized criminal activity. (Less about organization and money more
about masculinities and violence)
• Retreatist subcultures were found in both organized and socially disorganized slums — these subcultures
focused primarily on the being and selling of illegal drugs, which individuals used to escape/retreat from a sense of
status frustration (anomie-strain)
• Focus on environment and community: convergence of blocked opportunities (structural) with illicit local
opportunities and norms.
• Concerned with explaining gang and youth delinquency from a sociological perspective.
• Underline that social organization produces socially organized illicit structures (organized crime); which social
disorganization produces anomic illicit structures (disorganized crime).
• Social theory of frustration and strain based from societies organization
AGNEW’S GENERAL STRAIN THEORY
• ‘ARevised Strain Theory of Delinquency’(1985)
• Why do Criminals Offend (2005)
• Individualizing: psychosocial then biosocial
• Temperament, intelligence, heritable traits, etc.
• Strain: Incapacity to achieve internalized cultural goals + Losing something valued + Negative treatment by others
• VS. Individual theories & rational choice
• According toAgnew (1992), the decline in the popularity of social strain theory can be attributed to four major
• The focus on lower-class delinquency; Lecture 8 Criminology CRCJ 1000-C
The neglect of goals other than middle-class status and financial gain;
• The failure to consider barriers to achievement other than social class; and
• the inability to account for why only some people who experience strain turn to criminal activity
• He thought not all strains were material and economical (mental ones)
• Strain: Incapacity to achieve internalized cultural goals + losing something valued + Negative treatment by others
MESSNERAND ROSENFELD’S INSTITUTIONALANOMIE THEORY
• Crime and theAmerican Dream (1994)
• ‘Institutional anomie’: an outcome of a society dominated by the economy and economic pressures at the
expense of other values and behaviour (Messner and Rosenfeld 2009).
• Macro-social and cultural
“Tasks that are primarily non-economic in nature tend to receive eager cultural support, and the skillful
performance of these tasks elicit little public recognition” (Messner & Rosenfeld, 1994:8)
• Ubiquity of capitalist logic
• Individualism and materialism
• “Society organized for crime”
• “Our basic thesis is that theAmerican Dream itself exerts pressures toward crime by encouraging an anomic
cultural environment, an environment in which people are encouraged to adopt an “anything goes” mentality in
the pursuit of personal goals” (2001:61).
• They pointed to an institutional imbalance (institutional anomie), in which the economy dominates the political
system, the educational system, and the family, leading to an amoral “ends justifies the means” attitude in society.
• Institutional-anomie theory helps to explain white collar crime and corporate crime.
Ex. Financial crisis of 2007-2008
• Emergence against General Strain Theory — go back to Merton and that economy produces strain
III. THE CHICAGO SCHOOL
• Park and Burgess’Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921)
• Society is “an organization of control. Its function is to organize, integrate and direct the energy of individuals
• Based at University of Chicago post WW2 — Radical fieldwork (ethnography)
• Durkheim is head kind of radical democratic
• Society as an evolving organism
• Competition (‘ecological order’) → Conflict →Accommodation →Assimilation
An attitude of ‘appreciation’by the School towards the ‘deviant; worlds they were describing: the migrations, the
hobos, the taxi-drivers, the prostitutes, the juvenile delinquents (ethnographies to understand the city).
• Anderspn, The Hobo (1923)
• Thomas and Znaniecki (1918-1920) The Polish Peasant, The Unadjusted Girl (1923) Park, The immigrant Press
• Immigrant press and the Palmer raids
• Ethnographic approach, participant observation
• Dario Melissa on CS: “social control was a matter of integration in a world sharply divided along lines of language,
culture, religion, class, ethnicity, an eminently relative and plural concept, where the official definitions of social
control and therefore of deviance were in the worst case due to the brutal suppression of opposition and in the best
case to that democratic social process that ‘the Chicagoans’valued so highly”
Urban mapping techniques
• Rejected the positivist notion that people were poor because of their evolutionary condition
• Argued it was “the nature of the neighbourhood,” not “the nature of the individual,” that was the primary cause of
• Concentric Zone Theory: deviant characteristics are a property of the environment and not of given groups or
• Concentric zones, norms of the zones change people as they migrate (people conform to norms of zone)
• Zone in transition — most crime in Chicago
• Zone 3 working men's homes
• Residential zone Lecture 8 Criminology CRCJ 1000-C
• Criminality is produced by the nature of the environment (neighbourhoods)
• Diagram 2 (end of document)
• Social disorganization theory: “The socially disorganized Zone in Transition was populated primarily by recently
arrived immigrants, transient workers, and others who could not afford to live in one of the more affluent zones of
the city” (p.276).
• Shaw and McKay’s research argues that social disorganizations led to a breakdown in informal social controls.
• Major emphasis informal social control
• Environment structures values and norms
• We are influenced by SITUATIONAL forces
• Major influence on sociology; particularly urban studies
Design of environment can controlAND shape behaviour through the development of informal norms.
• Similar to CPTED, but focused on informal controls and not individualize ‘rational’calculus.
• Case study of the legacy of the Chicago School: Broken windows theory
• Strength of social organizations, informal controls, determines crime
CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL ECOLOGY: BROKEN WINDOWS THEORY
• Wilson and Kelling (1982).
• “Broken Window: The Police and Neighbourhood Safety.”
• Wilson and Kelling (1982): “The essence of the police role in maintaining order is to reinforce the informal control
mechanisms of the community itself. The police cannot, without committing extraordinary resources, provide a
substitute for that informal control.”
“Above all, we must return to our long-abandoned view that the police ought to protect communities as well as
individuals. Our crime statistics and victimization surveys measure individual losses, but they do not measure
communal losses. Just as physicians now recognize the importance of fostering health rather than simply treating
illness, so the police — and the rest of us — ought to recognize the importance of maintaining, intact, communities