Criminological Theory

Topics: Sociology, Crime, Criminology Pages: 7 (2493 words) Published: May 17, 2013
Criminological theories have rarely been concerned with the analysis of female criminality. Typically criminologists have either been content to subsume discussion of women offenders under ‘general’ theories, that is to say they have implicitly assumed the female is dealt with in discussing the male, or they have dealt with them exceptionally briefly in the way that other ‘marginal’ or ‘special’ categories are treated. The reason offered for this overwhelming lack of interest is that within the population of known offenders, female offenders constitute a statistically much smaller proportion than male offenders. With the exception of offences like shoplifting and soliciting, the number of female offenders nowhere exceed the numbers of male offenders known to the police. But this statistical ‘insignificance’ alone cannot fully explain why so little work has been attempted in this area. Rather the relative absence of work on crimes by women may be considered as symbolic of the nature of the discipline of criminology. Traditional criminology in both the UK and the USA has always had close links with social and penal policymaking bodies with the result that research has tended to be directed towards areas officially designated as social problems. Female criminality has not generally been treated as a particularly important or pressing social problem, not only because of its comparative rarity, but also because of the nature of the offences committed by women. Official statistics, which are themselves a problematic source of information in criminology (Hindess, 1973; Wiles,1970), indicate that women engage mostly in petty offences and, with the exception of prostitutes, most appearances by women in court are for first offences. Women do not seem to pose a serious recidivist problem therefore; nor a threat to society, and so fail to constitute a real problem to the agencies of social control. Failing to become a pressing social problem has meant that studies of female criminality have not received much official support or finance with the result that traditional ‘control oriented’ criminology has also shown a lack of interest in this area. The lack of attention devoted to the question of crimes committed by women and their treatment has given rise to the present unsatisfactory understanding of female offenders and the offences they commit. There has been virtually no development of our knowledge in this area with the result that ostensibly scientific works predicated upon unexplicated ideologies have been allowed to stand uncriticized. Recognition of the under-development of criminology and sociology in this area is explicit in Ward’s statement to the U.S. National Commission on Crimes of Violence that: Our knowledge of the character and causes of female criminality is at the same stage of development that characterised our knowledge of male criminality some thirty or more years ago.(Ward, 1968) As a consequence of this lack of development the ideology and methodological limitation inherent in some of the classical works on female criminality still inform contemporary studies and, furthermore, are reflected in the treatment of female offenders. This paper is therefore concerned to reveal the ideological foundations of the major theories of female criminality, in particular the culturally relative, commonsense conceptions of women on which they are based. I shallconcentrate on the works of Lombroso (1895) and Pollak (1950), whose theories are still influential, as well as the work of Cowie, Cowie and Slater (1968) whose analysis of female delinquents reveals the influence of the early theorists. The second part of this paper will focus on the possible implications of the ideologies inherent in these studies of female criminality. The ideology of theories of female criminality. The most significant ideology which informs both classical and contemporary accounts of female criminality is a sexist ideology. It is sexist...
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