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01.08 Crime in Society

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  1. Outline
    1. Deviance, crime, and social control.
      1. We will define and discuss these 3 terms.
    2. Sociological explanations for crime and deviance
      1. We will discuss 3 different sociological explanations for crime and deviance; Merton’s strain theory, labeling theory, and Travis Hirschi’s social control theory
    3. Conclusions
      1. We will conclude with main points and takeaways from today’s lesson
  2. Deviance, Crime, and Social Control
    1. Deviance: behavior that violates widely held social norms
      1. What is considered deviant varies from culture to culture
    2. Crime: deviance that has been formalized into law
    3. Social Control: efforts by society to regulate behavior
      1. There are both formal and informal mechanisms of social control. Formal mechanisms include laws, the criminal justice system, and police officers. Informal mechanisms include verbal messages, facial expressions, and ostracism.
  3. Sociological explanations for crime and deviance
    1. Merton’s strain theory
      1. This theory explains crime and deviance as a function of inequality. The theory predicts that people who pursue culturally-valued success goals, but lack conventional means to attain them will instead turn to crime and deviance. Thus to the extent that society is structured unequally, crime and deviance are predicted to exist.
    2. Labeling theory
      1. This theory explains crime and deviance as a product of individual identity. Labeling theory argues that behavior isn’t as important as how people react to behavior. The theory predicts that people who are treated as deviants and criminals will internalize that label, and thus continue to behave defiantly as that is how they view themselves.
    3. Social control theory
      1. This theory assumes we are all innately deviant and that we must develop bonds to society that prevent acting on deviant impulses. There are 4 bonds: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment refers to emotional connections to others. Commitment refers to a connection to non-deviant activities. Involvement is simply time spent doing non-deviant activities. Belief is about having respect for society’s core rules and laws. The greater these connections, the less likely someone will behave defiantly as they have more to lose.
  4. Conclusions
    1. Deviance is behavior that violates widely held norms.
      1. Crime is simply deviance that has been formalized
    2. Social control refers to attempts by society to regulate behavior
      1. There are both informal and formal methods of social control
    3. Sociologists view crime and deviance as a product of society, not of individuals.

Reference Links

Video Transcript

Today we’re going to be talking about crime, deviance, and social control. 


In this lesson we will start by defining and discussing 3 important terms; deviance, crime, and social control. Next, we will discuss 3 different sociological explanations for crime and deviance; strain theory, labeling theory, & social control theory. While different in their own ways, each theory will focus on society as the main driver of deviance and crime, not individuals. We will wrap up today’s lesson with some important takeaways and conclusions.


To begin, let’s define and distinguish deviance & crime. Deviance is behavior that violates widely held norms. Notice that this definition is abstract and general, not specifying any particular behavior as universally deviant. That is because deviance is culturally determined, and thus what is considered deviant will vary from one context to the next. Talking loudly in the library is considered deviant, but screaming at the top of your lungs at a sporting event is not. Crime is simply deviance that has been formalized into law. Traffic violations, drug possession, and embezzlement are examples. These behaviors are considered both deviant and criminal because they carry legal ramifications. Talking loudly in the library is just deviant as usually i assume it doesn’t come with legal ramifications, just interpersonal ones.


Social control refers to the ways in which society attempts to regulate behavior. The criminal justice system, laws, and police officers are formal mechanisms of social control. Yet social control goes beyond formal means. Have you ever frowned or yelled at someone, or maybe even hit someone when they angered you? All of those behaviors are mechanisms of what we call informal social control. Essentially, informal social controls are the ways in which we control the behaviors of one another without needing formal, outside authorities. If you think about it, these informal mechanisms are crucial to our socialization. Children learn what not to do because of informal sanctions they receive from their parents, peers, and even strangers.


Interestingly, mechanisms of formal social control often conflict with mechanisms of informal social control. As an example, teenagers are often pressured by their peers to drink alcohol prior to the age of 21. This would be considered informal social control as the teenager’s peers are trying to regulate the teenager’s behavior. Ofcourse, this would conflict with laws that mandate the legal drinking age as 21.


So remember, deviance is behavior that violates widely held norms. Crime is simply deviance that has been formalized into law. And social control are attempts by society to regulate behavior both formally and informally.


Alright, we are going to now cover 3 different sociological theories of crime & deviance. The common thread that you will see is that they all view crime as the product of society rather than the product of individuals. The theories argue that it is circumstances and social environments that really drive deviant and criminal behavior.  Our first of the 3 is Merton’s strain theory, also known as anomie theory. This theory starts off with 2 assumptions. First, every culture has widespread goals concerning success that are pursued and valued by most everyone. In the United States for example, most everyone values and pursues occupational success, wealth, a happy family, etc. The 2nd assumption is that within a given culture there are legitimate ways in which to pursue such goals. Again using the U.S. as an example, the legitimate or right way to achieve success is to work really hard and get a good education. So, for some people, they accept the cultural goals and have access to the legitimate means of pursuing those goals. Merton coins these individual conformists. Other individuals also accept the goals but crucially, do not have the same access to the legitimate means. Merton coins these individuals as innovators. Innovators are whom Merton’s theory primarily predicts crime and deviance to come from. People who want everything that everyone else wants but don’t have access to the same means; Merton predicts in this case these individuals are likely to turn to crime and deviance in order to achieve the success that they value. In broader terms, this theory essentially predicts crime and deviance to result from inequality. To the extent that society is structured unequally, crime and deviance is expected to result. Thus, crime and deviance are not so much a reflection of individuals differences but rather a product of society and how it is structured.


Our next theory is labeling theory which is something you may hear about in a number of different courses. Here is the logic of labeling theory: Perceiving a deviant act leads to labeling the deviant. Labeling the deviant (and internalizing the label) leads to recidivism. The focus of labeling theory is not so much on the action of an individual but rather on the reaction of others. Deviant behaviors are those that are so labeled. It’s helpful to distinguish between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is the first time someone behaves deviantly. Labeling theory doesn’t care so much about primary deviance. Labeling theory cares about secondary deviance, which is the more frequent and often severe deviance that results from being labeled as a deviant. The implications of labeling theory are often seen in our criminal justice system. Think about how criminals in our society are treated. Depending upon the crime, they might have to pay a fine, go on probation, or even be put behind bars. Importantly, if their crime is serious enough, wherever they go and whatever they do, they will often be reminded of their criminal status. In many states, felons cannot vote, cannot be selected for jury duty and must inform people of their criminal past when applying for a job, applying for school, or applying for a home loan. What labeling theory argues is that all of these different interactions in which people are reminded and labeled as a criminal are likely to at least in part, make a criminal internalize that label. This means that they will come to define themselves at least in part as a criminal. It is just who they are. And thus once that label is internalized it will then drive their behavior as people are motivated to behave in ways that are consistent with how they see themselves. All told, labeling theory argues that the way in which our society treats criminals might actually create more crime, as criminals internalize that label and thus continue to behave criminally.


Our third and last theory of deviance comes From Travis Hirschi. Social control theory starts off with the assumption that we are all inherently deviant and driven to deviant impulses unless certain social controls are put in place. There are four “bonds to society” that are needed to connect us to society and prevent deviance behavior. The four bonds are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment is just as it sounds; it is all about having warm, emotional connections to others. To the extent that you develop warm, positive connections to others you are less likely to behave deviantly because it risks weakening or losing those attachments. The second and third bonds we can group together; commitment and involvement. These bonds are all about having connections to non-deviant activities. Commitment is the extent of your dedication to non-deviant activities such as a job or hobby. Involvement is just the amount of time that you spend pursuing non-deviant activities. Put together, these 2 bonds are the logic of afterschool programs in elementary school. Give kids some non-deviant activities to do for a while and they are much less likely to go out and get in trouble. The last bond belief, is about having respect for society’s core rules and laws. The greater this respect, the less likely you will behave deviantly. All told, these four bonds give you what Hirschi calls “stakes in conformity”. Essentially having these ties to people, non-deviant activities, and to the rule of society make deviant behavior more costly. Thus, preventing deviant behavior according to social control theory is all about creating bonds between people and society. Without such bonds, deviant impulses are predicted to run rampant!


To conclude today’s lesson, deviance is behavior that violates widely held social norms. Crime is simply deviance that is formalized into law. Social control refers to society’s attempts to regulate behavior. Social control is accomplished both formally and informally. And then our 3 sociological theories of crime; 1) Anomie theory, which argues deviance and crime results from inequalities, 2) Labeling theory, which argues crime and deviance result from being labeled and treated as a criminal/deviant, and 3) social control theory, which argues bonds to society are needed to prevent deviant behavior. Remember, each of these 3 theories argues that crime and deviance are the result of society (culture and social structure) and not of individual, innate differences.


We love you guys! Go out and be your best self today! And as always, Happy Nursing!