Etma01 K209 Classicism, Positivism and Social Constructionism

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, Psychology Pages: 5 (1656 words) Published: December 16, 2012
In this essay it is important to introduce the three main perspectives on crime, law and order based primarily on young people. Whilst considering these three areas; classicism, positivism and social constructionism, it is essential to demonstrate an understanding, finally giving a brief discussion of these whilst reflecting the influence these have had on contemporary theory and practice in youth justice.

Classicism and its views on crime and punishment were derived from the philosophy of Enlightenment which gained prominence across Europe in the 18th century; this in contrast to the previous legal and penal systems from the feudal and the absolutist monarchies (Young, J 1981).

The Classicists sought reform for individuals viewing them as free and rational agents. They wanted to move away from the protectionist justice system and wished for an equal, rational, system of justice for all; just as they considered people to be rational they wanted legislation and law to be rational, with the punishment being proportional to the crime (Hopkins Burke, 2008, p. 85).

When considering classicism, in terms of what is a crime and legal foundation, that no matter how serious a crime, a crime is something that conflicts with the authorities of the state and the legislator/judges, through literal interpretation (Muncie, J. and McLaughlin, E. 1996). Crime was also defined further by Muncie and McLaughlin (1996), ‘crime was a violation of criminal law’. They also state that a conviction and crime itself with actus rea and mens rea; the criminal intent of a voluntary act, followed by punishment. However, Classicism and positivism also viewed some members of society as incapable of full rational responsibility, such as children and the insane (Hopkins Burke 2008 pg. 89).

Classicists Cesare Beccaria was influential on Enlightenment thinkers; Bentham a founder of Utilitarianism strived for a legal system whereby punishment was predictable and proportional to the crime. Bentham moved away from the emphasis on criminal motivation and punishment, saying it should be rational and impersonal (Hopkins Burke 2008 pg. 87).

Positivism emerged under the influence of Darwinism (Young, J., 1981) in the nineteenth century. Positivism proposed that human behaviour is not under an individual’s control and secondly positivism looked at scientific methods to view reasons for behaviour. The positivist perspective is that people’s behaviour is determined and not a matter of free will.

Positivists believe that society is based primarily on a consensus about moral values, not on a social contract. The positivist punishment philosophy was not to deter or use retribution but to fix the problem (Earle, 2010, p. 15). These theories, more so that of positivists, co-inside with the work of the youth offending team today as outlined in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 s. 37 to prevent offending and in conjunction with the governments restorative justice programmes and the aims of the government’s Every Child Matters policy of 2002 and the Children Act 2004.

Positivism has problems as well, it over predicted the crime and ignored the criminalisation process. Critics also question their belief in determinism and their view that social scientists and criminologists can be objective or value-neutral in their work. Classicism and Positivism, although different, intertwine to create an interdisciplinary perspective that forms the youth offending teams today.

Issues may arise because of both the political and ethical dimensions on which classicist and positivist perspectives are based and the neutrality of a scientific approach (Earle, R., 2010, P. 16). Undoubtedly these theories were the foundations of other perspectives, such as social constructionism which added another view on crime. Although clearly a social rather than a legal category, it too suffers from an extreme cultural relativism and brings with it difficulties and to this...
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