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SOCI 1F90 Study Guide - Midterm Guide: Social Purity Movement, Feminist Legal Theory, Victimless Crime

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Michelle Webber
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SOCI 1F90: Introduction to Sociology
Midterm Test #3: Exploring Sociology Notes
Date: Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016
What is Criminology?
Criminology is a multidisciplinary field
Criminology is devoted to the development of information about the causes, patterns, and trends of crime
Using a sociological approach means focusing on:
The social context within which criminal law is both created and applied
Explanations of crime that consider structural factors, such as poverty and discrimination
Criminology – the study of crime causation, crime prevention, and the punishment and rehabilitation of offenders
The important areas of interest to criminologist include:
The development of criminal law and its use in defining crime
The causes of law-breaking behaviour
The societal responses to crime and criminal behaviour
The Relationship Between Crime and Deviance
The terms crime and deviance are two distinct phenomena that at times overlap
Crime – behaviours or actions that require social control and social intervention, codified in law
Deviance – actions or behaviours that violate social norms, and that may or may not be against the law
Social Norms – shared and accepted standards and social expectations
The difficulty with this definition of deviance is how these social norms are defined, and by whom
Most, but not all, crimes are understood as deviant, but not all deviant acts are considered criminal
Over time, some deviant acts come to be deemed criminal and some criminalized acts become legalized
Perceptions of deviance can also change
Acts that were once considered deviant can become an accepted element of society, while acts that were once considered
“normal” can actually shift to be understood as “deviant” over time
Sociologists use the term deviance to refer to any acts that involve the violation of accepted social norms
A particular act or behaviour needs to be viewed from the standpoint of the culture within which it takes place, since what is socially
acceptable in one culture may actually be seen as deviant in another
In Canada, some of the most powerful groups involved in the process of defining what is deviant are politicians and governments,
scientists, religious leaders, and the media
Each of these individuals may act as moral entrepreneurs
Moral Entrepreneurs – a person who influences or changes the creation or enforcement of a society’s moral codes
People who act in ways that stray from what is deemed to be socially acceptable behaviour are then subject to social controls, both
informally and formally
Informal social controls occur through our social interactions and includes the ways we attempt to both communicate and enforce
standards of appropriate behaviour
When informal controls are not effective, the state can exert formal social controls through mechanisms such as the criminal
justice system, social workers, and psychiatrists
Criminologists are concerned with the ever-shifting definitions of deviant behaviour and their links to our conceptions of crime
Both deviance and crime are fluid definitions that change over time
Crime, as an instance of deviance that has been made formal via criminal law, is often referred to as “hard” deviance – that is, particular
acts or behaviours that are likely to result in arrest and imprisonment
Classical Criminology: Rational Choice Theory
Classical criminology was developed on the basis of four basic beliefs:
Crime is a rational choice as people enjoy free will
They are able to choose to engage in criminal acts or in lawful acts
Criminal solutions requiring less work yet yielding greater payoffs are understood as being more attractive than lawful solutions
A fear of punishment can control a person’s choices
When criminality is met with measured severity, certainty of punishment, and swiftness of justice, a society enhances its ability to
control crime and criminal behaviour
Classical criminological approaches argued that before a person commits an offence, he or she engages in a rational evaluation of the pros
and cons, costs and benefits of the situation
The person first evaluates the risk of apprehension, then evaluates the seriousness of the potential punishment, and finally judges
the value to herself or himself of the criminal activity
A person’s decision to commit a crime is thus based on the aggregate outcome of this rational weighing of gains and risks
Biological Perspectives in Understanding Crime
The strongest critique of the classical concept of crime came from positivists

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Positivists assumed that once we were able to identify specific physical features distinguishing criminals from non-criminals, it
would then be possible to figure out how to prevent and control criminal behaviour, with the eventual goal of eliminating
criminal behaviour
This view is known as biological determinism
Biological Determinism – the hypothesis that biological factors completely determine a person’s behaviour
Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909)
Major proponent of this new approach
Examined the cadavers of a notorious criminal and discovered that this man shared physical characteristics commonly associated
with animals
Argued that some individuals were born criminals – that they were lower on the evolutionary ladder as a result of a particular
Argued that the criminal man could be distinguished by his anatomy: an asymmetrical face, large ears, particular eye defects, etc.
Sociological Approaches to Crime
Sociologists argue that crime is not simply the result of genetic predisposition, nutritional choices, personal failure, or an individual’s free
Sociologists have been working to shift the focus of criminology toward a consideration of the social environments in which people are
Sociologists emphasize the ecological distribution of crime
This approach encompasses all of the social, geographical, and temporal inequalities connected with the access to and use of
environmental resources and services
Sociologists emphasize the effect of social change and the interactive nature of crime itself
The functions of crime and deviance are in fact important for societies
Functionalists argue that the balancing of these tensions produces society
When a particular group or individual threatens this balance, efforts are made to ensure that everything returns to a state
of “balance”
The functionalist approach to criminality has its roots in Emile Durkheim’s notion of anomie
Anomie is a state of normlessness in which norms are confused, unclear, or absent
Durkheim felt that such normlessness leads to deviant behaviour
Strain Theory
Robert Merton (1938) developed strain theory by drawing on Durkheim’s assertion that societal structure can produce particular social
pressures that may result in deviant or criminal behaviour
Strain Theory – the assertion that people experience strain when culturally defined goals cannot be met through socially
approved means
It is important to understand that this perspective is not suggesting that individual people are simply incapable of controlling their
individual desires, but rather that unattainable goals and desires are being produced at the level of a society
Strain theorists argue that most people within the same society share similar goals and values, and that when legitimate avenues to
achieving those goals are not readily accessible, some will resort to deviant methods to achieve them and others will reject socially
accepted goals altogether and will substitute them with more deviant or criminal goals
Merton’s typology of social adaptation included five social goals along with the means of achieving the goals:
Happens when individuals both accept social goals and have the means to achieve those goals
Happens when an individual accepts society’s goals but she or he is incapable of achieving those goals through socially
approved means
Most strongly linked with criminal behaviour
Adaptation happens when social goals are reduced in importance
Reject societal goals and the legitimate means of achieving such goals
Often found on the margins of society as their lack of success leas to social withdrawal
Involves the creation of an alternative set of goals and means, thus supplanting conventional ones
Happens when people call for and engage in radical change and alternative lifestyles
Illegitimate Opportunity Theory
Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1960) argued that illegitimate opportunities are not necessarily equally accessible to all lower- and
working-class individuals
People are constrained by available opportunities
Illegitimate Opportunity Theory – the assertion that individuals commit crime as a result of deviant learning environments
Cloward and Ohlin studied adolescent boys

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Found that gangs develop specialized delinquent subcultures according to the illegitimate opportunities available to them in their
Identified three types of youth gangs:
Categorized as existing in “stable but poor areas” within which youth are able to establish close connections
with adult offenders, thus creating an environment in which crime can be successfully committed
Characterized by neighborhoods that are much less stable than ones associated with criminal gangs
Often have a high rate of temporary residents, are in physical despair, and are incapable of providing either
legitimate or illegitimate opportunities to their youth
Crime is without organization and operates on an individual and petty level
Members are ones who have been unable to achieve success through socially approved means and are also
not inclined to gain success through illegal means
Often sell drugs or commit petty crimes to have enough money to supply themselves with drugs and alcohol
Conflict Theory
Conflict theorists view crime as the product of class struggle
Their goal is to situate and explain crime within economic and social contexts
Conflict theorists focus on the role that a government plays in producing criminogenic environments and on the relationship between social
power and criminal law
Criminogenic Environment – an environment that, as a result of laws that privilege certain groups, produces crime or
Conflict theorists challenge the commonly held belief that law is neutral and reflects the interests of society as a whole
Conflict theorists are interested in examining how bias plays out in the criminal justice system
They argue that crimes committed by the wealthy, such as corporate crimes, are punished far more leniently than are crimes
committed by those of the lower classes
Conflict theorists take as their base the work of Karl Marx
Marx argued that economic relations structures social relations – including the legal system
The legal system is designed to protect the interests of the ruling class
This protection of the ruling class is obscured from view by ideological constructs such as “fairness” and “equity” for
all under the law
Positioned criminal acts as the result of individuals’ poor choices rather than as an outcome of an economic system serves to
protect and sustain the capitalist class
Symbolic Interactionism
Interactionists argue that criminal behaviour is learned in the same way as any other type of behaviour: through social interactions with
There are two different symbolic interactionist approaches:
Differential association theory
Labelling theory
Differential Association Theory
Edwin Sutherland (1939) developed the differential association theory
Differential Association Theory – criminal behaviour occurs when our association with definitions favourable to crime
outweighs our definitions favourable to law-abiding behaviour
He sought to explain how people come to engage in criminal activity
The main principles of this theory are:
We learn how to behave in criminal ways in the same manner that we learn how to engage in any behaviour
This learning takes place within social interactions with close associations (friends, family, peers)
We come into contact with people who believe in varying definitions of crime (both for and against)
These differential associations affect our decision to engage in criminal acts or not
We are influenced by the intensity, frequency, and duration of our interactions with people
When our interactions are dominated or influenced more by people with favourable dispositions of crime, criminal
behaviour will then occur
Differential association remains influential in studying the friendship patterns of delinquent youth
Differential association positions criminal activity as grounded in rationality
Thus, it ignores crimes that we might categorize as crimes of passion or ones that happen in the heat of the moment
Labelling Theory
Howard S. Becker (1963) developed the labelling theory
Labelling Theory – the assertion that once labeled as deviant, people come to accept the label as part of their identity
He was interested in the effects of people’s reactions and their effects on individuals when particular acts, and those committing
the acts, were labeled as deviant
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