Crime is one of the primary concerns of any society

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According to Garland and Sparks (2000), it becomes even more critical to develop effective insights and subsequent policies to cope with the rapid changes in society due to globalization and technology among others. Perspectives in criminology have kept pace with sociology and psychology in particular, recognizing both the role of society and individuals in crime, victimization and punishment (Jackson, 2004). The role of individuals and society in criminality is one of the means to compare and differentiate criminological theories.

Interest in the field hastened in the 20th century with the universal establishment of police force, crime management and control. According to Hirsch and Gottfredson (1990), the study of crime has evolved from being a corollary or application of social science into being a distinct field with the recognition of the impact of crime and victimization to society as well as in consideration of its operation as a social institution in ensuring peace, order and stability. However, the premise that crime as a social construct and individual criminality is not at question, has not been absolute or indistinguishable amongst criminological theories. As Estrada (2004) points out, perspectives have changed significantly over time, as indicated by changes in policies. The need to understand the similarities and contradictions is not so much to establish distinctions between sets of theories but rather to develop insights on the modes or perceptions regarding crime, society and individuals over time.

Criminology and Social Constructions

Before the 20th century the prevailing theories on crime considered individualistic perspective on the development of crime. The motivation to commit criminal acts was considered to be due to the perceived rewards or gains of the acts. In such a setting, the offender actively and deliberately chooses to commit the crime to fulfill a personal desire, derive reward or to pursue an interest. One of the challenges of such a perspective is that there is limited consideration for the development of criminal behaviors or the factors that contribute to their prevalence or the means preempting crime beyond control measures.

Shedler and Westen (2004) believe that there the current perspective on crime, particularly regarding its sociological development still need retooling to accommodate personalities that do not comply with models. One aspect that they refer to is that though there is recognition of conscious and unconscious mind of an individual as well as collective consciousness with the development of psychoanalytic perspectives, there is till a significant reliance on models or archetypes. This in turn may limit cultural or social sensitivity which is a critic cal component of crime as a social construct. Similarly, there are some studies indicating that though general personality theories utilizing psychoanalysis may be sufficient for assessment purposes, they may not provide the same level of insights for the development of interventions or therapy (Jackson, 2004).

The sociological study of crime developed in the 1940's. Influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis, the proposition was that individuals are influenced by their social experience and thus, their desires and motivations can be linked to social developments and issues (Plotnik, 2005). In sociological approaches in the criminology, the perception is that crime is not just individually motivated, going beyond personal choice, motivations, desires or rewards (Brown, 2003). It also diminishes the significance of biological characteristics as precursors of crime. As strange as it may seem based on contemporary knowledge, a number of studies prior to the development of organized police in Europe were conducted to compile physical characteristics of offenders, one of the earliest efforts in profiling (Plotnik, 2005; Oberwittler & Höfer, 2005).

Furthermore, in sociological perspectives, crime is a consequence of the failure of social institutions or programs to communicate to its members socially accepted behavior. In this perspective, what becomes considered to be crime is based on social motivations and values. One of the compelling reasons for following laws and regulations is therefore to avoid social censure (Broidy et al, 2006). Delinquency or offenses are considered to be against society, following the idea of criminal violations to be the basis of civil liabilities.

Crime develops as a consequence of social conditions that create conflict between individuals and groups. To differentiate it from socio-psychological theories, sociological perspectives are less focused on psychological individual characteristics influencing criminal acts but considered the interaction of the person with society as he learns and develops his role in it (Weisburd, 2005, p. 6). Some examples of conflict that exacerbate the prevalence and recidivism of criminal offenders include social exclusion, lack of effective social learning, culture and economic struggles (Newburn & Jones, 2007; Vernon, 2002).

As such, society ahs a right to extract justice from the act of offenders though the crime committed may be directed only at one person. According to the Criminal Justice System (CJS) Strategic Plan 2008-2011, this perspective highlights the role and responsibility of social institutions in ensuring the crimes are controlled punished and justice is delivered to victims (CJS, 2008b). In a similar manner, the standards to evaluate crime and the subsequent response to them are based on social standards which in turn create the means by which society develops criminal justice institutions (Oberwittler, 2004).

Thus, in this view, the statement that "crime is a social construct, individual criminality is not at question", implies that crime is always in the context of society: its origin, development and prevalence are dependent on social conditions and relationships. Society then considered crimes primarily as acts against the collective members of society and thus, society has precedence over the right to extract justice from offenders (Innes, 2005; Broidy et al, 2006).

Viewing Crime as Social Constructs

The conceptualization of crime has had several movements. Chaining perspectives in the study of crime followed trends in sociology, psychology and political science. Before the 17th and 18th century, perspectives and theories on crime emphasized the control of the state to ensure public order and its authority. Subsequently, developments in the concept and application of criminal justice programs followed political changes in the state (Kemshall & Maguire, 2001). Social constructs develop naturally or by intention and serve a social function (Burke, 2005).

Social constructs are developed by society to establish the value or significance of an idea, event or custom within that society and therefore differs from one society to another (Chriss, 2007). However, this does not preclude similarities in the treatment or valuation of these constructs between societies. The terminology implies a collective definition accepted and prevalent in the group which is used to develop laws, regulations or policies and may serve as the basis for opinions or perceptions of individual members of society. The concept of crime is rooted in the perceptions and regulations of members of a society. More recent schools of thought regarding motivation theories have adopted a more complex view on what drives people (Barak, 2005). Most researches have concluded that though society structures alone do not are not directly contribute to the gravity or the occurrence of criminal incidence, there is no doubt that the environmental, situational, and functional in nature or origin of development crime tendencies are greatly influenced by it (Brandon et al, 2008).

Generally, criminal charges translate into parallel civil causes of action: if a prosecutor obtains a conviction, principles of collateral estoppel can be used to establish tort liability in the civil case (Stempel, pp. 224-226, 2006). Evidence proving criminal guilt ordinarily provides most of the evidence needed to prove that a tort occurred. If, however, the prosecution chooses not to prosecute or fails to convict a perpetrator, the victim can still pursue civil action against the offender as provided for by related civil law statutes.

Since the civil burden of proof is less than the criminal burden, the victim can effectively pursue the civil suit even though criminal charges are never filed (Weisburd, 2005). Liability does not attach to such misconduct unless the negligence is a cause of injury or damages. Some states have established criminal liability for unintentional homicide with an offense is considered to be criminal negligence or it would also be possible to consider negligent homicide as a form of manslaughter (Samaha, 2004, pp. 99-100).

These criminal charges require more than just simple negligence. In fact, most well-written state laws require more than gross negligence in criminal prosecution (Estrada, 2005). In the same manner, failure of a criminal conviction does not nullify the right of the victim to seek civil liability of the offender (Crime & Disorder Act Review, 2006). The perspective is based on the idea that a person remains liable for the damages suffered by the plaintiff even if there is no criminal liability (U.K. Parliament - House of Commons, 2002).

The social construction of crime, its modes, impacts, consequence and subsequent punishment and correction, depends on the degree of censure afforded an act (Currie, 2007). In a similar vein, the construct of the crime is subject to prevailing perceptions and prerogatives of the community. In the study of Hall and Winlow (2007), they point out that social conditions and characteristics, in particular culture, and provide for individual perspectives and response for various crimes: censure for different crimes may be equal but the punishment or corrective measure afforded them may differ significantly within and amongst different societies. Furthermore, one act can be construed as crime in one society while being permissible in another.

This does not diminish the significance of the crime or signify contractions in the value of property or individuals but is indicative of the varying motivations and objectives of social response to these criminal acts (Barak, 2005). In this sense, individual contradictions to the social construct do not diminish its application. The contradiction to the social construct is considered more as deviation of the individual rather than as a limitation of the validity of the construct (Baron, 2003). Though many of the common determinations of what constitutes criminal behavior are considered to be based on natural law, the control and correction of crime is based on social perspectives and capacity (Innes et al, 2005).

Criminology Theories

Classical, Rational Choice and Deterrence Theory

Similar in their perspectives, classical, rational choice and deterrence theories are based on 18th century Enlightenment philosophies and in similar fashion reflected a reaction against the dominance of social order versus individual rights (Currie, 2007). This prompted reforms in not only penal programs but also in the valuation of crime and victimization. Thus, though crime remains a social construct, its significance and impact was to be considered on a personal level. This also implies that criminal justice programs are to be motivated to mitigate or decrease the impact of the crime to the victim rather than to hold the offender accountable to society (MacDonald et al, 2005).

More contemporary versions of the theory highlight the power of choice. In this perspective crime remains to a social issue but regardless of the state of society and the level of cognizance or subscription to the law by an individual, the propensity to commit still depends on the volition of the individual (Shoham, 2001). Another consequence of the perspective is that there is an assumption that opting to commit the crime is due to enrichment of the individual or the perception of such. And as such, the reduction of rewards or benefits or the increase of personal loss and risk are the main motivations against committing crime or recidivism (Faulkner, 2007). Individual motivations are presented to be overpowering, defeating social conditioning and learning.

Though these set of theories recognize the influence and significance of social factors in the incidence and prevalence of crime, it contradicts key aspects of the concept of crime as primarily a social construct and that individual criminality is not an issue. The major criticism of the perspective is that such perspectives simply displace the crime ("General Information: Definition of Criminology", 2008). This impairs the concept of jurisdiction and the right of states to pursue crime as well as its responsibility to control it. Furthermore, Parks (2007) points out that there is also an implication that crime is isolated from society and subsequently offenders as well as victims.

Consider the application of the perspective to corrections. Classical, rational choice and deterrence theories suggest that the manipulation of an offender's environment has a tendency to reinforce criminal behavior during incarceration (Wilcox et al, 2003). Thus, there is a reluctance to apply incarceration as a corrective measure or accommodating for various degrees of offenders in a single facility (Lambropoulou, 2005). However, ironically, the perspective suggests that such measures are necessary to reduce victimization. Thus, applying the perspective creates ironies for criminal justice programs (Zedner, 2007).

On a philosophical or purely theoretical level, the criticism is centered on the assumption of rationality. The conundrum is that rationality, referring to the ability of understanding that it would to one's advantage to follow the law, is defined by social standards. Thus, though the perspectives discussed may be implying individual choice supersedes social factors, the definition or context of behavior it expects from individuals is defined by social standards.

Integrated Theory

One of the early significant shifts in perspective that led to the recognition of sociogenic influences in the crime that occurred as a result of the shift between Freudian and Jungian psychology (Burke, 2005). The most contemporary of criminology theories is integrated theory. As the term implies, this perspective suggests the need to use multiple perspectives and approaches in the study and subsequent response to crime. Built significantly on constructionist theories developed in psychology, the idea is that an individual is a product of external and internal factors that create the "whole" person and that neither factors can be valued more than the order.

Furthermore, integrated theory recognizes the value of various criminological theories and tries to create a platform for the bringing together theories beginning from classical to constructionist theories (Tombs, 2007). Bennett and Holloway (2004) among others have been advocating the utilization of not just a singular perspective in personality assessment. The suggestion is that personality assessments and intervention can be enhanced through the use of multi-perceptive approaches to accommodate for culture, politics, economics and social dynamics in personality research development.

One of the key elements of the theory is that it combines perspectives on social structure, social bonding, and social learning theory ("General Information: Definition of Criminology", 2008). There is significant emphasis on the crime as a developmental phenomenon, highlights that the propensity for criminal behavior follows a progression or requires specific conditions. As such, factors associated with criminal behavior are not indicative but rather contribute, if not collaborate to crate the conditions that make individuals susceptible to committing crime (Eitle et al, 2006). The factors are also not to be limited to external, internal factors but rather factors affecting criminal behavior all interact with each other (Deadman & MacDonald, 2004).

The idea of crime as social constructs finds grater support in this set of theory. The perspective suggests that crime is not only something to be studied in a social context but developmental tendencies for criminal behavior are dependent on social turning points. The theory also recognizes the impact of stress and strain to an individual, adding a new dimension to the learning or interaction process that may develop from cultural differences or other social, economic, or political factors that hamper integration. Sheptycki (2007) points out that a significant number of researches have highlighted the growing impact of social disparities to criminal behavior. Supported by the study of Vaughan (2007), the suggestion is that crime is a form of dissonance with society by the individual that develops from personal and social interactions.

Criticisms of the theory should also be recognized. The main variables of the theory, predisposition, provocation, opportunity and constraints need further empirical evidence. Because there are still significant variations in the interpretation of variables, empirical data is necessary to develop a measure of tendencies (Shoham, 2001). Like other theories, there is difficulty in isolating the impact of society and therefore, to a certain degree, accepting crime as a social in this perspective is similar to using in definition the very terminology that is to be defined. However, as MacDonald and associates (2005) have pointed out, there are assumptions to be made about the social basis of crime since crime is an act that impacts other people and the regulations devised for the management of society.


Despite varying opinions and theories, the role of society is recognized by most criminology theories.As mentioned, concepts of crime differ not only based on society but also based on the theories used to study them. All criminology theories focus on the definition and concept of crime as a product of society but tend to differ in the power or consequence of society in the etymology, prevalence and control of crime (Hughes, 2007). For example, in Brodeur and Shearing (2005), the concept of security and crimes against its interest have been molded by geopolitics of the 20th century and more recently by concerns regarding terrorism in contrast to previous definitions that were previously state centric.

Neither do the sets of theories discussed say directly that crime is a purely a social construct but there is recognition of the fact that crime has its social components. A review of the discussions in Maguire and associates (2007) highlights the importance of understanding social factors in the study of crime but considers the assumption of its reliability as a social construct to depend on the theoretical perspective utilized for analysis. In earlier crime theories, there was little recognition of biological or psychological conditions, not so much because the issues were considered to be unnecessary but due to the lack of existing research and scientific testing available to evaluate the factors (Welch, 1998). Considering latter theories, particularly those developed in the last twenty five years, there is greater capacity for research and testing to evaluate social factors in the development of criminal behavior (Crawford, 2003).

Furthermore, the advancements in technology, particularly media, are changing the mode and level of interactions of individuals. In the case presented by Yanich (2005), he points out that due to the greater exposure of children to television, there has been a need to reassess its impact to social interaction and learning. His study indicated that versus traditional person to person interaction, children's education of their environment has become channeled through television or media. Concerns regarding the violent and sexual content of televisions programs and their possible contribution to juvenile delinquency have prompted research on the impact of media to behavioral learning (Pfeiffer et al. 2005). This in turn requires the integration of a number of theories and assumption of social contexts and since media or television programs are used as representations of society (Lynam et al, 2004).

For example, one of the biggest considerations in criminal justice programs has been social exclusion. Social exclusion can result to the alienation and disenfranchisement or members of the society (Currie, 2007). There are many issues that can effect social exclusion among them are educational attainment, social class, cultural background, gender, disabilities and age (Bennett & Holloway, 2004; Deadman & MacDonald, 2004). It has a debilitating effect and deters those experiencing it being able to be productive members of the society out of their inability to access social and economic opportunities regardless of their availability (Squires, 2006). Moreover, it diminishes confidence in social systems and diminishes social bonds that may deter the carrying out criminal activities.

Pattison and Evans (2006) point out that public policies, among which criminal justice programs are included are critical to society because they, "…if implemented, fundamentally change the relationships between citizens and their careers and among careers and the law and the state". Based on current criminal justice programs, there is a strong recognition of the significance of society (Maguire et al, 2007). There is an assumption of the social context and impact of crime. The programs have been based on research highlighting that individual factors attributed to crime such as behavior and delinquency can also be linked to environmental or social factors and therefore reinforces the proposition of crime as a social construct (MacDonald et al, 2005).

For example, in the study done independently by Pridemore (2007) as well as Tombs (2007), they concluded that factors though a person may be vulnerable to criminal behavior, external catalysts are still required. At the same time, Bennett and Holloway (2004) point out that this suggests criminal proficiencies are developed and would likely require the enhancement of skills. These suggest in turn that criminality is not solely in the province of individuality but has significant sociological basis. As evidenced by Mythen and Walklate's (2006) research, they believe that crime should be considered as a phenomenon that does not only occur in a social context but also develop in response to social conditions.

Thus, the propensity for crime and the degree of damage they have is dependent on the degree of strain that develops between the individual and society rather than a conflict of the individual only against one's self (Kubrin et al, 2007). In fact, Bandura (1975) points out that even when offenders commit acts that injure themselves, there is a level of motivation that can be attributed to the need to elicit reaction or response from others. A fact that is now being accommodated for through legislation: the Criminal Justice Bill has prescribed requirements for criminal justice programs to include social reintegration programs as a component to rehabilitation as well as established the liability of social institutions in pre-empting criminality (U.K. Parliament - House of Commons, 2002).


In the collaborative model of criminal justice, which is currently become the mode of most justice programs, the success of the elements depends on the level of cooperation it can achieve with each other. The method of control of performance is the pressure of consequence of non-performance to other departments ("Criminal Justice System", 2008a). In the case of classical, rational choice and deterrence theories, the opinion is that though crime is set social contexts, individual propensities, particularly those considered being intrinsic in people, are the main criteria for committing criminal behavior. In contrast, more contemporary theories such as integrated theory have placed greater significance of the influence of society on individuals. Their main argument that since people's orientation is modeled by their social experience, then the individual, as well as the crime committed, can not be isolated from society.

There is a realization that though a crime may be directed only to one victim, the burden of policing, correcting and rehabilitating that individual is a burden of society since this requires the establishment of social institutions such as the police, judicial systems and correction facilities. Furthermore, it would be impossible to isolate the impact of a crime to just one individual since victimization easily extends to victims' family or friends and other stakeholders in society. More importantly, the idea that crime is a social construct is a cornerstone of seminal criminal justice programs (Maguire et al, 2007). Therefore, the statement that crime is a social construct and that individual crime is arguable is supported by most criminology theories, evidenced by approaches and perspectives in criminology research as well as criminal justice program applications.