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Theories within criminology try to explain why and how crime occurs. This is done through examining various facts that are related to the individuals criminal behaviour and the crime they commit. There are a wide range of theories which can be used to explain the causes of crime and deviant behaviour from youths. Youth crime is a major issue in society; this essay will discuss three theories, the differential association theory, the labelling theory and the rationale choice theory. The theories will discussed and how they can explain crime will also be discussed, then a comparison of the theories will be given in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses in explaining youth crime.
The differential association theory is one of the most valued theories within criminology. This theory was first discovered by Edwin Sutherland (1947), he developed the differential association theory in order to explain how youths engage in acts of criminal behaviour. This theory defines criminal behaviour as learnt behaviour which is acquired through social contact with other individuals (Hollin, 2007:...). This theory explains how individuals learn how to engage in criminal behaviour through their attitudes, drive and motive behind the criminal act. An individual is most likely to be involved in criminal behaviour if they spend numerous amount of time with a person who has a criminal background and believes that breaking the law is acceptable. Furthermore Sutherland (1974) identifies nine main factors that can be used to explain why a person engages in criminal behaviour. This essay will now explain the nine factors in detail.
The first factor that Sutherland believes is the reason as to why an individual engages in criminal behaviour is because the behaviour is learned. Differential association theory believes that the actions of an individual are influenced by the people they associate with. It is believed that because the individual main association is with their family, as that is whom they have grown up and live with, so therefore the individual social values and norms are formulated from them. Curran (2001) believes that if an individual is capable of learning what is acceptable within society, then they are also capable of learning what is unacceptable within society. The second factor is learned behaviour though interaction with others in the process of communication. At a very young age children are accustomed in the norms of society, they are taught the roles of both a genders by people around them. They also learn these roles by observing the male or female characteristics relating to the specific gender. Communication includes observations and interactions between people. This communication is an example of how criminals are misled into a life of crime and deviant behaviour (Curran, 2001: 143). The third factor as to why individuals commit crime is through the influence of behaviour from their family. Individuals behaviour can also be influenced by either their group of friends either within their community or at school. Another form of influence can take place through an intimate relationship.
The fourth factor from Sutherland's theory is that learning criminal behaviour involves learning specific techniques, drives, motives and rationalization. Having a primary group of people around does not necessarily mean that the individual will engage in crime, but it does mean that they have the resources into the criminal rationale. For example being around a person who is has been convicted of sexual offence, may give the individual knowledge into how to engage in the same crime, but the individual may choose not to engage in that crime because they know from their socialization of societal norms that a sexual offence is unacceptable. Curran (2001) believes that the specific direction of motives and attitudes is learned from definitions of legal codes such as favourable and unfavourable.
The fifth factor can be noticed when considering cultures form the United Kingdom and the United States. Both countries have various cultures within them and each culture has different perceptions as to what is favourable and unfavourable within society. It is believed that an individual becomes deviant when there is an excess if definitions favourable to the violation of law and unfavourable to the violation of law (Curran, 2001:...). The most important factor within the differential association theory is the sixth factor, which is when individuals associate themselves with people that engage in criminal behaviour and believe it is acceptable. In Pfohl (1994) book on "deviance and social control" it stated that the deviant behaviour can be determined by calculating the difference between the favourable and unfavourable associations (Pfohl, 1994: 301). The seventh and eight factor states that the association vary in duration, priority, frequency and intensity. It also states that the process of learning deviant behaviour involves mechanism mention in the other learning principles. Criminal behaviour is learned through various methods such as cruelty and seduction which could lead to deviant behaviour.
The final factor believes that even though criminal behaviour is an expression of needs and values, it cannot be explained by those needs because criminal behaviour is an expression of the same needs and values. For example if two individuals where both motivated by a need to gain money and respect, but one person engage in criminal behaviour in order to get the money and respect. Whereas the other person engaged in conforming behaviour. So therefore the need for money and respect cannot be used as an explanation for an individual to commit crime.
Academies have tried to prove the differential association theory wrong, whereas Reiss and Rhodes (1964) have proved that the theory can be right, for example they witness young males choosing friends who engaged in criminal activities. Sutherland's differential association theory has been criticised by critics who believed the theory was an illogical theory because individuals who came into contact with criminals did not engage in the same criminal behaviour. Cressey( ) also pointed out that two major weaknesses of the theory where that the definitions where unclear and that the theory left the learning process unspecified.
The second theory that will be discussed is labelling theory. This theory claims that deviance and conformity does not emerge from the individual's actions, but rather from how others respond to the actions. Marcionis and Plummer (2005) state that labelling theory highlights social response to crime and deviance. The labelling theory became dominant in the early 1960s and the late 1970s when it was used as a sociological theory of crime influential in challenging orthodox positivity criminology. The main academics in this theory were Becker and Lement. Lement (1951) first established the view of deviant, and later developed by Becker (1963). Labelling theory has become a dominant paradigm in the explanation of deviance. This theory is created by the assumption that deviant behaviour is to be not only by the violation of norms within society, but also by any behaviour which is defined as labelled or deviant. Deviance is not the act itself, but the responses other individuals give to the act. Becker (1963) believed that social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitute deviance, and by applying those rules to particular individuals and labelling them as outsiders. He also stated that deviance is not the act that the individual commits, but the consequences of the application of others by rules and sanctions to an offender. And the deviant one is whom the label has successfully been applied to.
Deviance has been distinguished into primary and secondary deviance by Lement (1951). Lement described primary deviance as little reactions from others which have little effect on an individual's self-concept and secondary deviance as people pushing the deviant individual out of the social circle, which can therefore cause the individual to seek the company of people who condone deviant behaviour. Lement (1951) further argued that instead of viewing crime as a leading to control, it may be more productive to view crime as something with control agencies structured. Secondary deviance leads Goffman (1963) to define deviant career. Goffman stated that people who acquire a 'stigma' which is a powerful negative label which changes a person's self-concept and social identity. Criminal prosecution is one way in which an individual is labelled in a negative, rather than positive way. Seheff (1984) believes that stigmatizing people can often lead to retrospective labelling, which is the understanding of an individual's past with the present deviance. Seheff (1984) also believes that retrospective labelling distorts an individual's life in a prejudicial way guided by stigma and this is an unfair thing to do. Stigmatizing young people may actually lead them into a deviant career.
Howard Becker (1963) claimed that social groups create deviance by labelling individuals as outsiders. Through an application of infraction constitute deviance. Furthermore labelling theory's approach to deviance mainly concentrates on the social reaction to a deviant act committed by an individual as well as the interaction process that leads up to the labelling. This theory therefor suggests that too much attention has been given to criminals by criminology because criminology views criminals as types of people alongside the insufficient attention to the collection of social control responses. This therefore means that the police, law, media and public association help shape crime. This is supported by the conflict theory which shows how deviance reflects on inequalities and power. This approach may also signify that the cause of crime may be linked to inequalities of race, class and gender. The conflict theory links deviance to the power of norms and the imagery of the rich and powerful, which the law society supports.
The concept of secondary deviance, stigma and deviant career all demonstrate how individuals can incorporate the label of deviance into a lasting self-concept . Becker (1963) believes that labelling is a practical act that has made politicians aware of which rules to enforce and what behaviour they should regard as deviant. The effects upon an individual being publically labelled deviant have been examined by Becker (1963) he believes that a label is an unbiased onion, which contains an evaluation of the individual to whom it is applied. The labelling theory will be a master label in term of captivating over all other statuses the individuals are under. For example if one is labelled as a paedophile, criminal or homosexual it will be difficult for the individual to overlook these labels and see themselves in positive roles such a parent, friend, worker and neighbour. Other people will view that individual and respond to them according to the label, also they will assume that the individual has the negative characteristics associated with the label. Eventually the individual will view themselves in that label because their self-concept is derived from the responses of others. This can then produce a self-fulfilling prophecy where the deviant becomes the controlling one.
The third theory that will be discussed is the strain theory. This theory believes that social structures within society can influence individuals to commit crimes. Merton suggests that there are two important elements of social structure. The first contains cultural goals, the function of the goals, and interests (Merton 1938: 672). The second phase of the social structure defines how society is to go about achieving these goals, by placing regulations and creating laws (Merton 1938: 673). The American dream is a popular culturally defined goal, Merton argued, which through honest-dedicated work, anyone can achieve this "dream" of wealth. Society defines what avenues are to be considered legitimate to achieve this goal, for example, earning a college degree and earning a high paying job would be a legitimate path as defined by our society. Since wealth in American is not distributed equally Merton (1938) argued that strain often occurs for those who are undercapitalized and do not have access to these legitimate means. Merton (1938) illustrates four responses to this strain. The first, conformity, Merton suggests that people who take this path subscribe to cultural goals and go about achieving these goals by using society's "institutionalized means." The second path, innovation, suggests that when a person finds that an obstacle inhibits the ability to achieve the cultural goals, the person will not use institutionalized means; rather, they will employ other means. The third path, ritualism, describes a person that will reject the culture goals of society, but use its institutions as an avenue for advancement. The fourth, is the polar opposite of the path of conformity such that a person who is retreatist will reject cultural goals and its institutionalized means, people that take this path are people who essentially are not part of society (Merton 1938: 674).