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SOC205H5 (21)
Chapter 1


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University of Toronto Mississauga
Paula Maurutto

Chapter 1: The Context and Consequences of Theory To search for answers to the crime problem, we must reconsider our biases, learn from the insights and mistakes of our predecessors who have risked theorizing about the causes of crime, and consider clearly the implications of what we propose People tend to feel safe when inside or near their homes, despite locking doors at night, installing alarm systems, and maybe even buying weapons for protection Crime is a serious matter that deserves study and understanding Although there is a decline in crime rates, crime still exists and affects many Not all victims report victimization to the police Minor crimes are more widespread and drug-related offences are commonplace Surveys find vast majority of people have engaged in some degree of illegality Crimes off the streets do not easily come to attention of the police, such as: domestic violence, white collar crimes Crime is a prominent feature of our society It is difficult to make cross-cultural comparisons; nations differ in what is considered illegal and how crime data is collected Crime is not evenly distributed within a nation, such as USA Why is crime prevalent in the US? Why more so in some communities compared to others? Why are people law-abiding and why do people break the law? Why do the affluent, not just disadvantaged, commit illegal acts? Theory in Social Context People have theories about why crime occurs, but where do these ideas come from? Implicit understandings about life, or social experiences – attitudes about crime and social issues comes from many sources Members of the general public are not the only ones whose crime theories are influenced by their life experiences; criminologists and policy makers are not always able to let the data alone guide them – they too live in society and are shaped by it If social experiences influence attitudes about criminality, then as society changes views about crime will change as well (history) Social context plays a critical role in nourishing certain ways of theorizing about crime Other or new theories can become popular with change; analysis of whether old one(s) was right or wrong doesn’t happen Our thinking about crime has been conditioned by our social experiences Theories and Policy: Ideas Have Consequences Ideas have consequences; theory matters Understanding why crime occurs is a prelude to developing strategies to control the behavior by making criminal justice policy based on theories. Different theories suggest different ways of reducing crime Process is interactive, with theory and policy legitimating one another Support for criminal justice policies eventually will collapse if the theory on which they are based no longer makes sense As theories of crime change, so do criminal justice policies Turn of 20 century: Americans believed criminals were feebleminded, so the call to sterilize offenders (preventing criminogenic genes to pass onto offspring) was widely accepted BUT 2 decades later, citizens were convinced causes lay in pathology of environment not person’s genetic makeup (delinquency prevention programs, reformatories were popularized) Politicians claim permissiveness in society causes crime  urged efforts to “get tough” on offenders Changes in theory that underlie changes in policy are a product of transformations in society Shifts in societal opinion influences the credibility of a theory and its ability to justify policies Context, Theory, & Policy Interconnection among social context, criminological theory, and criminal justice policy making Began with the search for the criminal man Criminological Theory in Context Social Context Criminological Theory Chapter in Textbook Enlightenment – mid-1700s to Classical School 2 late 1700s Rise of social Darwinism; Early positivist school – 2 science and medicine – mid- biological positivism 1800s into 1900s Mass immigration, Great Chicago school, anomie- 3, 4, 5 & 6 Depression, post-WW2 strain, control – mainstream stability – 1900 to early 1960s criminology Social turmoil – 1965 to late Labeling, conflict, Marxist, 7, 8, 9, 10 & 15 1970s feminist, white-collar – critical criminology Conservative era – 1980 to Deterrence, rational choice, 12 & 13 early 1990s & beyond broken windows, moral poverty, routine activity, environmental – rejecting mainstream and critical criminology Peacemaking, left realism, new European, cultural, convict – rejecting 9 & 10 conservative theory and policy The new century – 2000 to Biosocial, life- 14 & 15 today course/development – becoming a criminal Inventing criminology: mainstream theories  Chapter 2: Theories that are generally considered foundation of modern criminology Classical school: emphasized rejection of spiritual/religious explanations of crime in favor of view that offenders use reason in deciding whether to commit a crime or not (weigh benefits and costs) - Argued to reform criminal laws so that everyone was treated equally and crime would not be profitable (just punitive enough) - Theories of rational choice and deterrence Positivist school: emphasized scientific study of criminals - 1800-1900s: led by Cesare Lombroso, flourished in Italy - Also popular in USA - Medicine: ask what makes someone sick, similarly should ask what makes one criminal & could answer by studying offen
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