Assessing The Strengths And Limitations Of Crimes Criminology Essay

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Gender, socially desirable responding and the fear of crime:

(1) I will be assessing the strengths and limitations of using social surveys to investigate fear of crime. One form of social surveys is questionnaires. It includes a list of written questions. The strengths of these are that the researcher is able to contact a large number of people quickly and efficiently. Another strength of questionnaires is that they explore certain areas more then other methods i.e. crime. The questionnaire can be anonymous which means people can answer them privately. This increases the chances of people answering questions honestly because they will not be intimidated by the presence of a researcher. When questionnaires are used to investigate the fear if crime, it is found that men are more likely to actually become victims of crime. Although women are reported to have a higher level of fear then men are. A limitation of questionnaires is that they include closed questions, which the researcher cannot examine complex issues and go into detail. Issues maybe such as hegemonic definitions of masculinity when men are being questioned about their fear of crime, they tend to hold back. Whereas, women are free to express and can sometimes exaggerate. Another type of social survey is structured interviews. The strengths are that the researcher can explore in depth a particular topic and find out the how the respondent feels towards the topic. For example; crime victimisation and fears of crime. Because women have a higher level of fear then men they tend to stay indoors rather then go out.

According to Cohen society is the subject of such periods of moral panic. In his book 'Folk devils and moral panics: the creation of mods and rockers'. A moral panic is a societal response to beliefs about the treats from moral deviants. Cohen used this term as a form of collective behaviour i.e. when a person or a group of people are performing a deviant act which is seen as a threat to society. This is then portrayed by the media and included in newspapers. This moral panic can have an impact on how people view crime in society and begin to feel a fear towards it.

Looking at both types of social surveys that I have mentioned, I have found out that structured interviews are more useful when it comes to investigating fears of crime then questionnaires. This is because structured interviews are much more powerful, they provide a reliable response and is more valid then questionnaires.

Patterns of crime:

(a) Two advantages of using official statistics to measure crime is that, one it gives a general picture of trends in crime. Politicians and the mass media often point to increases or decreases in official figures as a measure of the government's success in tackling crime. Each party places their own interpretation of what the statistics could mean. However, official statistics does show a fear of crime rising. Researchers Pantazis and Gordon (1999) found out the poor are most likely to fear crime. They did a study on household surveys, found out those with the lowest were most likely to fear crime and those with the highest incomes were actually likely, to become victims of crime. Another advantage is that they are readily available. They are accessible for the police and everyone and are cheap to gather information from.

(b) I will examining the view that deviance can best be explained by reference to an individual's social background. I will be using material from these areas 'education' and 'families and households'. Charles Murray (1990) a New Right sociologist argues that deviance can be found in those who are from underclass backgrounds. In both British and American society which have a distinct culture and value system. However, Miller (1962) thought crime and delinquency came from the working class cultural values. He said that the lower working class culture was what encouraged lawbreaking behaviour. According to him values passed from each generation encourages working class men to break the law. Delinquency was then formed from this culture. Because of working class deviant behaviour, they did not achieve well in education and so looked at other ways of gaining some form of success. The working class suffer from status frustration, which means that they find it hard to gain success and so turn to illegitimate ways. Where in this case, they turn to crime eventually. Family can also influence a person's ability to turn to crime. The type of family that you are born into or live in can determine whether you turn to crime or not. Mostly working class people from single-parent families, where they are a lack of male role models, turn to deviant behaviour such as gang violence. Also laws broken in the family can lead to family breakdown and so lead to anomie. However, Functionists Durkheim explained that a little amount of crime is good and necessary in society. This is because crime has a function in society, it allows for social change to occur. Crime can move from functional to dysfunctional when down to the level of crime is either too high or too low.

(c) I will be assessing the view that interactionist explanations of crime and deviance fail to consider the reality of crime as measured in official statistics. Firstly, I will be explaining the interactionists explanation of crime and deviance. Interactionist theory became significant in the study of crime and deviance in the 1960's. They are mostly concerned with the meaning people attach to events or people and so study the societal reaction to deviant behaviour. Unlike positivists, their theory assumes that criminals and deviants are somehow different from non-criminals and non-deviants. They don't look at causal factors in the background or social characteristics of individuals and groups, but look at the process of social interaction in which some actions, individuals and groups were labelled as deviant yet others were not.

Interactionists are different to other sociological approaches; they are concerned more about the internal factors. People are social actors, they have the ability to do more than simply react to external social pressures. Unlike positivist's approaches, they don't see people as largely passive in the way their behaviour is a response to social forces. Interactionists place on the approach the idea that people attach meanings to behaviour. They want to find out why some groups and some behaviour are more likely than others to have the meaning 'crime' or 'deviance' attached to them.

Labelling is one of the most basic aspects of human understanding. Howard Becker (1963) gave the best view on labelling theory. He believed that there is no such thing as a deviant act, it is behaviour that other people label others. Informal labelling happens all the time i.e. in school. But formal labelling can only be applied someone by the authority. However, master labels i.e. being called a criminal can take on a huge effect, once applied it is difficult to live down. From some master labels, some people can be stigmatised and rejected from society. This can lead to crime and can take on a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' approach.

Edwin Lemmert distinguished primary from secondary deviance. Primary deviance meaning deviant acts before they are being labelled. I.e. teenagers who commit some acts that leads to being called a delinquent. Secondary deviance is produced by the reaction to an act and public labelling. It is far more important than primary deviance because, it is the effect on a person's self-image of the reaction of society. Lemmert did a study on stuttering amongst a group of Native Americans who didn't have the ability to speak publicly. A person who stuttered a little would attract attention from others, which would then make the problem worse. A primary deviance which is lead to a secondary deviance from the reactions of people in society.

To help assess this view I will be using Jock Young's research study. Young did a study on hippies they were viewed negatively by the police because of their unusual lifestyle which was seen as deviant to them. They were involved in little criminal activity and minor use of marijuana. But once they were caught hard by the police, marijuana began to be much more important and was used frequently. This was caused from greater deviance from the police which put pressure on the hippies to become more deviant then at they were at the beginning.

Another research study from Stan Cohen on mods and rockers.

Official statistics are a form of secondary data. They are published by the Home Office and give information on the numbers of different types of crimes committed and the social background of offenders. Official statistics are publishes annually. The advantages of official statistics are that they are already available to access as well being cheap. Positivists find it of great use as it helps to explain patterns of criminal behaviour. The official statistics is a large sample, all recorded crimes in the UK are included. Because these statistics are produced every year it now follows a long history, so sociologists find it very useful to compare data over a period of time.

However, criticisms from official statistics are mainly from Interactionists. They argue that these statistics are socially constructed. Although they are interested in finding out how this happens, they don't see how the statistics can be seen as real. Also crime statistics are produced by those in social control such as the police and can include those who might or might not be labelled as deviant. Cicourel criticises official statistics by saying that the working class youths who are arrested by the police were likely to be labelled as delinquents. This is because they fitted the police's idea of a 'typical delinquent' while the middle class were able to negotiate. Working class youth are overly represented in official statistics and so could be the result of the process of negotiation happening through interaction through the police.

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