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Example Criminology Essay

Why has the analysis of crimes of the powerful been such a growth area in criminology over the past century?

It is tempting to give a simpleor even simplistic answer to the above question: it is tempting to say thatanalysis and theory of crimes of the powerful have grown so quickly in the lastcentury because the quantity and diversity of such crimes have themselvesexploded outwards. As the number of crimes committed by the powerful have risenexponentially across the years and continents, so the police forces, crime-preventionagencies and legislators of the governments charged with halting these crimeshave had to evolve into larger and more complex organizations also. Forinstance, amongst myriad forms of organized crime that developed in thetwentieth century, one pertinent recent example is the efflorescence ofhigh-tech and internet crime, where professional and international gangsmanipulate technology to extort or steal large sums of money from the public.High-tech crime is of course a recent phenomenon; it did not exist at the turnof the last century. Therefore analysis of such activities by law agencies hasgrown to respond to this new threat; moreover, the analysis and prevention ofsuch crimes has had to grow in sophistication and size just as the crimesthemselves have done. Organized crime - be it narcotic trafficking,prostitution rings, corporate crimes and so on - has become a massiveinternational business, and it has required larger agencies equipped withbetter criminal theory and technology and international cooperation betweenagencies to deal with it. Moreover, the clear lapse between the professionalismand techniques of many criminal organizations and the law agencies that pursuethem will require these agencies to catch-up to the advances of these criminalsin the next decades. And, of course, this catch-up will depend heavily uponadvances in criminal theory and analysis.

'Crimes of the powerful' are notexclusively concerned with illegal activities of the above description, butalso with 'crimes' committed by corporations, by governments, by dictators andeven, in an interesting new perspective, by patriarchal gender structures thatsanction crimes of power against women. The attention of law agencies andlegislators upon these crimes has led to a mass of new analysis and theory bycriminologists on the nature of such crimes. Likewise, several theories competeto describe the causes of organized crime and crimes of the powerful. One suchtheory points to social change as the most profound catalyst in the spread oforganized crime and the detection of organized crime. This theory assimilatesthe teachings of sociology, psychology, anthropology and history to produce adetailed sociological critique of these causes. In the eighteenth or nineteenthcenturies, many acts committed by the powerful that would today be classifiedas criminal were then merely pseudo-illegal or socially disapproved of; theycarried no specific criminal offence. But social and legislative advances havemade the prosecution of crimes of the powerful easier enact. out. For instance,the prosecution of corporate crime is, theoretically at least, far easier toidentify and prosecute than it was in the early twentieth century. Moreover,greater media exposure of the life of corporations and governments hasmagnified their crimes whenever they are committed.

A moment of this essay might be given to discuss exactlywhat is meant by the phrase 'crimes of the powerful'. Indeed, a personunfamiliar with the literature of criminology might be forgiven for regardingthe term as somewhat amorphous and nebulous: he might argue that nearly anycriminal phenomenon could be termed a crime of the powerful. The dictionarydefines a crime as 'an act punishable by law, as being forbidden by statute orinjurious to the public welfare. ... An evil or injurious act; an offence, asin; esp. of grave character' (Oxford, 1989). It is difficult to see how theword 'power' could not be inserted into any part of this definition and for itstill to make sense. There is therefore in the pure 'black letter'interpretation of the law a huge shaded area that allows for misinterpretationof the term 'crime of power'. Can, for instance, a crime of the powerful be aphysical act? Or must it the top levels of an organization? Moreover, the useof the word 'crime' is itself ambiguous. The trafficking of drugs or childrenis clearly illegal and criminal according to the principles of law; but we alsospeak of corporate crimes against the public -- withholding medicines from thedying, adulterating foods etc., -- as 'crimes' even though they have noexplicit recognition as such in law. There is then a near infinite possibleextension of the word 'crime' when one uses the word in the sense of somethingthat ought to be illegal rather than something that is presently illegal. In Smith'swords: 'If a crime is to be understood simply as law violation, matter how immoral, reprehensible, damaging or dangerous an act is, it isnot a crime unless it is made such by the authorities of the state'.

There is moreover often the paradoxical situation where agovernment that commits 'crimes of power' against its people can only belegally recognized as doing such if it passes legislation against itself. Thatis: their This is obviously extremely unlikely to happen and so many suchcrimes go unnoticed. It is often directly against the interests of certaingroups or interests to recognize the existence of certain 'crimes' because thenhave to recognize theory legal existence also. Recently however, one growth ofcriminal analysis of the powerful has come from greater international laws thatallow for the international legal recognition of crimes committed by dictatorsor despots when they would never do this themselves. For instance, SaddamHussein is near universally thought to have committed crimes of power againsthis people; such things were never legally recognized as 'crimes' as such untila body such as the United Nations had the international authority to declarethe illegal actions of heads of states.

Sociologists and psychologists amongst other groups(Chesterton, 1997) have argued that the moral, sociological and psychologicalaspects of 'crimes of the powerful' should be recognized by criminologists to afar greater extent. By using approaches such as these criminologists can addthe activities of environmental pollution, insider trading, and tax evasion tothe public consciousness of what constitute crimes of the powerful. In Sellin's(2003) words 'if the study of crime is to attain an objective and scientificstatus, it should not allow itself to be restricted to the terms and boundariesof enquiry established by legislators and politicians' .

Accordingto scholars authors like Chesterton and Dupont the intense interest in bycriminologists in the analysis and prevention of crimes of the powerful is dueto the massive growth and myriad new forms of these crimes. Perhaps the mostpowerful criminals whose crimes are explicitly illegal are international drugtrafficking organizations. In 2004, according to Smith (Smith, 2004) 550billion of cocaine and other illegal substances were transported illegallyinternationally. This trade is therefore lager than the GDP of many African andother third-world countries. Faced with this massive business and with itscatastrophic social consequences traditional law agencies and their democraticlegislators have had to radically alter the way they investigate and prosecutethese crimes. The extreme complexity and ingenuity of international drugcartels have meant that governments have had to build equally complex systemsof criminological analysis and technique to limit these crimes. Complexintelligence agencies like the MI5 and MI6 in England and the CIA and FBI inthe United States now have innumerable specialist intelligence groups ofscientists, field-officers and so on investigating the criminal nature andconsequences of organized crime such as drug trafficking, the shipping ofillegal weapons and so on.

Perhaps the only organizationson earth with greater power than the above organized crime syndicates are theinternational corporations of Western countries like Britain, America and soon. Many critics of these organizations (Chomsky, 2003) allege that the secretcrimes of these corporations exceed even those of the drug barons. Forinstance, everyone will be familiar with the recent scandals of Enron, Andersonand Paramalat where billions of pounds were swindled by these massivecompanies. This 'white-collar' crime was half a century ago hardly investigatedand such crimes went essentially unnoticed. But greater public consciousness ofthe activities of these companies through the media has theoretically at leastimposed a greater accountability and potential punishment for companies whoexploit either their shareholders or their customers. This increased interestin corporate crime has led in turn to the need for a vast number ofcriminologists to produce theories to explain the causes of such crimes andthen strategies for their prevention.

A further consequence of themedia revolution of the past century and the changed social assumptions of oursociety has meant that the 'crimes of governments' as 'crimes of power' are nowopen to far greater than public and professional scrutiny and analysis thanthey ever have been before. Twenty-four hour television and instant access tonews stories and the daily events of our political life have meant that thepublic can therefore criticise the 'crimes' of their governments with greaterease than before. For instance, the vociferous protests in 2003 by citizens ofWestern democracies against the invasion of Iraq were due to the belief ofthose citizens that their governments had acted illegally and 'criminally' ininvading that country. Traditionally, such crimes do not fall into the sphereof 'criminology' because of the numerous problems identified in the definitionparagraph of this essay. However, criminologists, at least theoretically, andurged by famous opponents of the war like Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, arecoming to analyze and investigate the issues and theoretical difficulties ofholding entire governments to account for committing 'crimes of power'. Many ofthe principles used by criminologists to analyze the techniques and structuresof organized crime yndicates are being suggested to be transferred to ananalysis of the crimes of government. The analysis of government crime mayprove to be one of the most fruitful of the coming decades for criminologists.

In this essay then, the term'crimes of the powerful' refers to such crimes as are carried out by organizedcriminal gangs (either national or international), by corporations, bygovernments, by powerful individuals such as corrupt magnates, businessmen andso on. Such crimes might include: corporate fraud, corporate mal-practise,illegal narcotics or arms; high-tech crimes such as computer fraud.

It is necessary for the studentof criminology to know something of the state criminal affairs at the end ofthe 19th century if he is to find a clear answer for the growth ofanalysis of crimes of the powerful in the twentieth century. One strong reasonwhy analysis of such crimes was less in say 1900 was that many organized crimesdid not exist at all. For instance, the use of narcotics like opium and heroinwere widespread amongst all levels of society but legal also; the trade ofthese drugs were controlled by legally registered companies and there existedno illegal market for their production or importation. Accordingly, since theseacts were no understood as crimes, British police did not need to analyse thebehaviour or causes of these. Moreover, the size of the police force as well asits technical and theoretical know-how were far smaller than they are today inBritain, America, France and so on. Similarly, whilst many companies exploitedthe Victorian workforce, none did so in the systematic and pre-determinedfashion that is characteristic of Anderson, Enron or Parmalat in the past tenyears. Other crimes of the powerful like high-tech computer fraud obviouslyrequired no analysis or theory of criminology since they did not exist at all.Similarly,

The In James' Smith's (Smith,1999, p44) memorable phrase 'At the dawn of the twenty-first century theWestern world faces a plethora of organised criminality of the like that it hasnever known before. From the mass trafficking of illegal narcotics, towhole-scale prostitution, to high-tech computer fraud, to corporate offences ona giant scale, the police forces and criminal prevention agencies of the newcentury will meet challenges as they have never glimpsed in the past. And,a little further on, 'They will no longer compete against petty or isolatedcrimes of individuals, but against the sophisticated and organized attempts tomake vast fortunes by systematically breaking the law. In this contest betweenlaw officer and criminal former is now far behind; it remains to be seenwhether he will catch-up in the near decades' (Smith, 1999, p44).

Another area of rapid growth in crimes of the powerful hasbeen the feminist critique of domestic violence committed against women bydominant males. Feminists of the last few decades have argued cogently thatthe term 'crimes of the powerful' should include also these domestic abusesbecause of the patriarchal structures within our society that promote suchabuses. The explosion of such feminist critiques flows from the fact thatbefore this century there was no feminism as such, and domestic abuse waseither not considered a crime or it was publicly invisible or ignored. Thechanging social philosophies such as liberalism and attitudes of the twentiethcentury gave birth to a greater consciousness for women and therefore greaterdemands for them for social and legal equality. This, in the 1960's and 1970's,leading feminists like Germane Greer campaigned for recognition of thedomination of women by societal institutions and conventions that are massivelyweighted in favour of men. Feminists scholars and theorists argue that the vastmajority of these structures and the crimes they inflict upon women areunreported; marital rape is the most frequent abuse, and nearly 80% of women in this predicament are abused repeatedly(Painter, 1991). A whole host of crimes commited by men supported by socialinstitutions go unreported and unprosecuted. Somefeminists therefore describe a fundamental imbalance in the power structures ofWestern society, and that agencies and organizations should be set up to combatand prevent this crime. In S. Griffin's words: 'Men in our culture aretaught and encouraged to rape women as the symbolic expression of male power'(Griffin, 1971) and Brownmiller says eloquently that rapists are the shock troops ofpatriarchy, necessary for male domination. Some men may not rape, but onlybecause their power over women is already secured by the rapists who have donetheir work for them' (Brownmiller, 1976). This femininecritique therefore demands a considerable extension of the definition of theterm 'crimes of the powerful' to include all those thousands of incidents ofunseen violence issued from an entire gender that has power over another. Inthis sense, arguably feminists have uncovered the 'crime of the powerful' ofall. According to feminists, the truths of this oppression has been recognisedpartially by criminological theorists by the tides of social legislation thathave been passed in recent years to protect women from domestic violence.Nonetheless, say that criminologists yet lack a complete or detailed analyticaltheory of such violence; this itself being reflected by the dominance incriminology of males.

In the finalanalysis, the growth of the analysis of crimes of the powerful may beattributed principally to the growth of the number and types of such crimes andthe subsequent need to investigate and prevent them. Some crimes of thepowerful such as drug trafficking are nearly entirely new to our age, andcriminologists have had to develop wholly new theories and techniques to combatit. On the other hand, entirely new academic critiques like those of feminism,sociology and psychology have identified and produced theories to describe'invisible' crimes of power against groups who before the last century had tosuffer in silence. Criminologists too have had to swallow these theories andthen learn methods and techniques to apply them to our modern world. Similarly,the rise of mass media and the extension of democratic institutions haveenabled citizens with far better information about the behaviour of theircorporations and governments; this awareness has in turn led to a consciousnessof the similarity of nature between 'illegal' crimes like drug-smuggling andcorporate crimes like deliberately withholding medicines from the sick or the invasionof a foreign country. These new fields of investigation have given thecriminologist much to think about. The student of criminology should not forgeteither that the subject he studies had itself evolved over the last century tobecome a highly professional and international and therefore capable of greaterlevels and specializations in analysis than it could ever have been before.

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