Sociological and Psychological Theories of Crime Causation

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Sociological and Psychological Theories of Crime Causation

The aim of this essay is to compare, contrast and evaluate two sociological theories of crime causation and two psychological theories of crime causation. Sociological Theories of crime, Labelling and Structural Functionalism/ Strain. Howard Becker is a sociologist that is often credited with the development of the labelling theory. However the origins of this theory can be traced back to sociologists at the beginning of the twentieth century who made invaluable contributions to the creation of the “labelling” concept. The first was Charles Cooley who wrote “Human Nature and the Social Order” in 1902, in which he introduced the term the “looking glass self”. This idea suggests that an individual will respond to society based on how the individual thinks society perceives them. Another was Frank Tannenbaum (1938) who studied juvenile participation in street gangs. He argued that when society defines certain behaviour as deviant, a “tag” is then placed upon the individual that displayed the deviant behaviour, thus causing further deviant / criminal behaviour. Although Cooley and Tannenbaum influenced Becker it was the much later influence of Edwin Lamert that truly led the way. Lemert was, by many of his peers, credited with introduction of the ‘original’ version of the labelling theory. In Lemert’s 1951 publication, “Social Pathology” he states that primary deviance is the original offence that causes a figure in authority to “label” the offender as deviant. Furthermore he states that if said offender accepts the deviant “label” offered to them, this will result in further deviance, known as secondary deviance. This may then lead to a “self- fulfilling prophecy” causing the individual to live up to their deviant label. During the 1960’s and 70’s the labelling theory was seen as the main sociological theory of crime. Throughout this period Howard Becker was one of the most prominent advocates of the labelling theory. In 1963 he published “Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance”. Becker argued that once an individual is convicted and passed through the criminal justice system the “label” of an offender becomes their “master status” and in turn, all other elements of the “offenders” identity are dismissed by society and themselves. “The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label” (Becker 1963). Another suggestion made by Becker is that deviance is “socially constructed” due to the fact that what may be interpreted as deviant by some societies, is not to others. The labelling theory also focuses on the influence the mass media has on the “amplification of deviance”. This was highlighted in Stanley Cohen’s “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” which was published in 1972. Cohen argued that the media’s negative reaction to “mods and rockers” during the 1960’s created “moral panics” by exaggerating the situation. This resulted in more arrests, sparking more public anxiety. Many believe that the media is responsible for “moral panics” in recent years for example; the threat of terrorism has been emphasised with newspaper headlines such as “Terror Bombs Explode Across London” and “Al-Qa’eda Brings Terror to London”. Labelling offers explanations of the influence society has on criminals; it also provides a strong argument for the concept of “career criminals”. The theory brings to the forefront how often the law discriminates against certain members of society. Although labelling offers a feasible explanation for secondary deviance, it fails to identify the primary cause of deviance which would imply that without labelling deviance would not exist. It is also suggests that deviants are unaware that they are deviant until they are labelled so. However it could be argued that it is somewhat naïve to assume that individuals would be unaware that certain behaviours go against social norms, when the...
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