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Chapter 14

SOC101Y1 Chapter Notes - Chapter 14: Malum Prohibitum, Uniform Crime Reports, Social Constructionism

Course Code
Robert Brym

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Chapter 14: Crime and Deviance
Life depends on people following, however unconsciously, agreed-upon rules
Conceptions of Crime and Deviance
Crime and Deviance as Norm-Violating Behaviour
One way of conceptualizing crime or deviance is to emphasize its rule-breaking
qualities, focusing in particular on its behavioural dimensions
o Refer to the rules in question as norms
Generally accepted ways of doing things
Most important norms are written laws (norms the state enforce)
o Deviance involves breaking a norm
o Crime involves breaking a law
All human societies have norms about appropriate behaviour
o Some norms have wide scope, applying to more or less everybody in the
Murder, robbery
o Other norms may only apply to particular subgroups
Drinking age
o Can be gendered too
Male escort
Norms enforced in many ways
o Most important of them are laws which are regulated by a criminal justice
o Responds to law violators in legally prescribed ways
o Other norms do not require legal intervention
o More likely to be enforced informally
Communal pressure
How do we distinguish between diverse kinds rule-breaking behaviour?
o John Hagan (1991)
Suggests that norm violations can be differentiated by how serious
they are, as gauged by three different measures of seriousness
(1) How harmful the act in question is deemed to be
(2) How much agreement there is that the behaviour in
question is wrong
(3) The severity of the sanction, or punishment, imposed on
that behaviour
Employs his conception of “seriousness” to identify different kinds
of deviance

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Designates a small group of offences as consensus crime
(acts felt to be very harmful and wrong, and which the
harshest criminal sanctions are refereed to in legal
philosophy as crimes mala in se) crimes that are evil in
Selected group are called conflict crime (means that
members of the community disagree over whether the
behaviours in question are harmful, wrong or deserving of
severe criminal sanction, in law these are considered mala
prohibita) crimes wrong by definition
Not all norm-violating behaviour is illegal
o Subject to varying degrees of social stigma
May be condemned, ostracised, and medicalized because of a
marker that sets them off from others
o Hagan categorizes these as social deviations
o Hagan reserves the term “social diversion” for minority heterosexual and
homosexual activities as well as forms of symbolic or expressive deviance
involving adolescents
For the latter, adolescents often judged on appearance
Generally the more serious the form of deviance, the less likely it is to occur
Hagan’s typology is subject to change
Crime and Deviance as Labels and Social Constructs
Labelling Theory
Crime and deviance not just about how members of society react to some
This understanding is the starting point for a second approach to the study of
deviance and crime, one that sees deviance and crime as a matter of definitions or
labels that have been applied to some behaviours but not others
o Labelling theorists believe that publicly recognizing somebody as criminal
or deviant is an important cause of criminal or deviant behaviour
Crime and deviance are not distinctive types of human behaviour
o Cannot divide human activity into its criminal and noncriminal variants
based on behaviour alone
o Few acts are viewed as wrong under all circumstances
o No universal form of crime and deviance
What counts as criminal or deviant behaviour varies by time and place

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The legality of a drug is determined as much by the status of its users as by the
amount of harm done by the drug
Social Constructionism
Similar to the labelling approach
o Broadly concerned with all kinds of social problems, whereas labelling
theory applies specifically to crime and deviance
o Stand in contrast to the norm-violation approach that we began with
Objectivist approach to crime and deviance
Objectivist accounts of crime and deviance focus on the behaviour itself
o Assumed that we know what crime and deviance is, how much harm is
done by it, and what needs to be done about it
Labelling and social-constructionist theorists argue that crime and deviance
become problematic because some people (most powerful) define them as such
Focus on activities and claims that result in new crimes being defined
More generally, social constructionism advises that so-called objective facts are
not always responsible for the criminal or deviance status of a particular condition
Argue that while objective conditions and agree-upon facts play a role in the
designation of deviance, they are rarely the decisive determinants of whether a
particular behaviour is defined as such
Crime in the News
If it bleeds, it leads
Public has a big appetite for crime stories that the news media are happy to
Media do not report all criminal incidents
o Violent crime is reported more regularly than property or white-collar
o Crimes of violence appear in the news reports in numbers disproportionate
to their incidence in official crime statistics
Shape how readers, viewers and listeners feel and think about crime and deviance
o Canadians overestimate the rates and underestimate the severity of
criminal sanctions for crimes
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