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The link between Self Concept and Crime

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 4773 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Self concept is the idea of looking at ones self either with high or low regard. One can look at herself or himself with high or low regard. The main objective of self concept is to show where people should not tell anyone who they are instead you should tell yourself who you would like to be. Self-confidence, self-worth and self-esteem are not tangible goods; they are cultivated and made part of human-beings. This paper shall focus on self-image and how it may lead to crime. It will explore theories that define how crime is committed in relation to valuing themselves. Generally this paper will shed light into ways the society can create criminals or help reduce deviant behavior with positive enlightenment.

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2. Self-Concept and Crime(Overview)

Self concept is the idea of knowing who you are and the ability to control yourself and, stay out of trouble. Self-control is the idea where people also differ to an extent they are vulnerable to the temptations of the moment and so in other words their ability to restrain themselves (Frank&Merilyn, 1999 p.197). (Thio 2010 p.7)According to the positivist perspective; deviance is determined or caused by forces beyond the individual’s control. Studies show that a strong self-image leads to self-confidence and high self-esteem which prevents the youth from listening to what the world would like them to do.

There are so many reasons the youth or any other person involve in deviant behaviors. Some of them maybe the [Relationships] they have with people. Relationships involve those from relatives, the society and friends. Thio, 2010 in his view of relativism says that deviant behavior of which leads to crime does not have any intrinsic characteristics unless there is a thought to of these characteristics. The so-called intrinsically deviant characteristics do not come from the behavior itself; instead they come from people’s minds. These individual can be our friends, our family or our society. Delinquents often times suffer self-images because their relationships do not help them disqualifying what they think about themselves. (Frank&Merilyn, 1999, p22) Crime consists of a transgression against a social contract and therefore crime is a moral offense against the society. They go ahead to say that punishment is justified only to preserve the social contract and therefore the purpose of punishment is to prevent future transgressions by deterring socially harmful behavior. The society needs to do all it can to help prevent its members from involving in crime and that is why relationships in the community play a bigger role in building self-image which minimizes crime or delinquency.

3. Containment Theory

(Frank and Marilyn 1999, p 192) explains delinquents as the interplay between two forms of contraol: Internal (inner) and external (outer).

4. Self-Enhancement

Adolescents are always out to get approval of any little thing they do. This often times leads to gang-life. (Barsani & Marvin1970; p 283) gives a story of how deviance can happen. He says that hanging out happens gradually. One does not realize herself or even himself. Those involved know that the other guys will be at a particular corner so they will go find them. This hanging-out commence into ‘cutting up’ now and then. Later on bigger crimes happen and many suffer because it was not their initiative. From the explanation it is clear that adolescents do so many things just to be ornery. They do what others do until they realize that it often leads them into trouble. They do all these in pursuit of [self-enhancement].

Barsani goes ahead to say that almost every person needs to hangout at a certain age or point so that they get away from monotony. The gang often does things that they think are petty as far as insulting cops so that they get chased. They fail to stop at street lights and expect no one to care that they are making a mistake against the law. To them, they think they should be left alone to do as they please. Gang-life can also be [Normative groups]. [Thio, 2007. P.229] says that if they feel threatened, rebuked or belittled, they may experience “self-rejection” and because of this rejection they may turn to deviant groups made up of youths who have been similarly rejected to meet their need for self-esteem. While [conventional society] may reject them, their new criminal friends give them positive feedback and support to further enhance their new identity, that may engage in deviant behaviors. This is why the society or relationships have a bigger role to playing streamlining how the youth in the society behave. If the only people who approve who they are belong to the normative group then it will be hard for them not to engage in what they do in pursuit for self-fulfillment.

[Self-rejection] can be a very serious problem leading to delinquency. Self-rejection causes the youth to loose direction. (Barsani & Marvin E. 1970, p 253) says “criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons and in the process of communication”. The principle part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups. Groups play a major role in enhancing crime especially among adolescents or high school teenagers. They always want to feel wanted and approved for what they can do and if the conventional society does not do that, someone else will which is the [gang] or normative groups.

5. Social Bond Theory and crime

Social Bond theory according to (Radsonwicz 1977, p 394) says that the idea that the society’s effort to eleviate social problems of deviance through establishment of public policy may aggravet or perpetuates the problems is by no means a novel. (Thio: 2010 p 22) says there are four elements of social bond theory. The first one which is [attachment] is just the virtue that people sort of get attached to the [conventional people and society]. The second is [commitment] to conformity which brings the idea that individuals in the society strive to do the best for the whole society’s well-being. Activities like getting an education, improving professional status, getting a job are just mere commitments individuals undertake for the good of the society as well as their own lives. Failure to do so may lead to other ways of meeting needs which definitely will be involving in deviant behavior. The third is the [involvement] in conventional activities. (Siegel 2007: P 230) says that heavy involvement in conventional activities leaves little time for illegal behavior. When people become involved in school, recreation and family, they become so insulated from potential involvement in crime whereas idleness enhances it.

(Thio: 2007) says that the last which is a belief in the [moral validity of social rules]. People who live in the same social setting often share common moral beliefs: they may adhere to such values as sharing, sensitivity to the rights of others and admiration for the legal code. (Siegel, 2007) goes ahead to give evidences to the social bond theory. Siegel further points out that the following show that social bond theory is true and can work:

The youth who were strongly attached to their parents were less likely to commit criminal acts. They had strong [egos] and [high self esteem]

Commitment to conventional values such as striving to get a good education and refusing to drink alcohol and ‘cruise around’ was indicative of conventional behavior.

Youths involved in unconventional behavior such as smoking and drinking were more delinquency-prone.

Those who shunned unconventional acts were attached to their peers

Delinquents and non-delinquents shared similar beliefs about the society.

Social control theory has its own opposing views for example [friendship]. Whereas Hirsch’s view about friendship says that delinquents are [detached loners] whose bond to their families has been broken but the reality is that a number of delinquents maintain relationships with [deviant peers] and family members. The other element that critics have found fault is that deviant peers in relating with parents whereby Hirschi says that youths attached to drug-abusing parents are more likely to become drug-users themselves. That particular view often times is not true. Restricted scope has also been disapproved where research shows that control variables are more predictive of female than male behavior. [Changing bonds] is another opposing view whereby (Siegel,2007) says that it is possible that at one age level weak bonds[Parents] lead to delinquency while at another strong bonds[at peers] leads to delinquency. The last is that criminal behavior weakens social bonds and vice versa (Siegel, 2007)

Social control theory in general refers to any perspective that discusses the control of human behavior. Among their various forms such theories include explanations based on genetics, neurochemistry, sociobiology, personality and environmental design. Social control theories attribute crime and delinquency to the usual sociological variables (Family Structures, education, peer groups) says (Frank & Marilyn 1999, p 188)

5.1. Testing Social Control Theory

Social control theory may be best for explaining less serious forms of delinquency. Because of its grounding in self-report studies which traditionally have focused on less serious forms of behavior, it makes sense that social control theory works best for minor to moderate delinquency(Frank & Marilyn 1999. P 200). The two find that if the theory is followed, it will help control minor crimes and delinquency.

6.0. Social Reaction Theory

Social theory is sometimes or also referred to as [labeling theory]. (Siegel 2007, P 232) defines it as explaining how careers form based on destructive social interactions and encounters. (Thio 2010, P 35) says that labeling theorists interprets deviance not as a static entity whose causes are to be sought out but rather as a dynamic process of symbolic interaction between both deviants and non-deviants. Yet (Becker 1963:3-18) noting other definitions depend on statistical, pathological, or relativistic views of deviance said that none of them does justice to the reality of deviance thus he saw that deviance can often be in the [eye of the beholder] because members of various groups have different conceptions of what is right and proper in certain situations.

Social reaction theory or labeling theory emanates from symbolic interaction theory by Charles Horton & George which was later picked on by Plumer. (Siegel 2007; 232) says “that the [symbolic interaction Theory] holds that people communicate via [symbols]-gestures, signs, words or images that stand for or represent something else”.

6.1.Labels and labelers

(Thio, 2007) According to labeling theorists, people who represent the forces of law and order as well as conventional morality typically apply the deviant label to those who have allegedly violated that law and morality. (Becker, 1974) Says that a major element in every aspect of drama of deviant is the imposition of definitions that is of situations, acts and people-by those powerful enough legitimated to be able to do so.

Labeling perspectives have a wide range of intellectual influences. These include social psychology, phenomenology and ethnomethodology. Generally speaking labeling perspectives have strong links to the [‘symbolic integrationists’] perspective in sociology. The perspective employs concepts such as ‘self’ and ‘symbol’ in order to explain social behavior and social action.

A symbol can be said to be anything that stands for something else. All human beings have to learn how to respond to different situations by accurately ‘reading’ the symbols around them. The ‘self’ is not psychological concept just like personality but refers to how people see themselves. This in turn is built through social interaction. The term used is [‘looking glass self’] which means that your image of yourself is simply what you see of yourself reflected in those around. Siegel, (2007) emphasizes on the concepts of [interaction and interpretation]. Siegel says that throughout their lives people are given a variety of symbolic labels and ways to interact with others. Rob & Fiona (2000) say that human interaction involves [role-playing]. Individuals go ahead to say that for it to occur, each individual has to be able to ‘take the role of the other’ and to see things as others see them. The essence is that interaction only occurs because each person is able to attribute appropriate meaning to the symbols.

The ‘self’ does not simply passively respond to events and people around it. It also plays an active part in selecting how it depends on people and events around it. How people respond to other people in our social interactions depends upon how they define [situations].

Everything should be understood though as cited by Siegel (2007) that not all labeled people have chosen to engage in label-producing activities such as crime. Some negative labels are bestowed on people for behaviors over which they have little control. Some of these negative labels include the mentally ill and the mentally deficient.

6.2. The Labeling process

Siegel says that it takes a process for someone to show deviant behavior when labeled. There are two types of labeling; positive and negative. Victims of negative labeling can change their behavior when given a chance. The labeling process occurs in six stages namely initial act, detection by the justice system, decision to label, creation of a new identity, acceptance of labels and lastly deviance amplification. Labeling advocates maintain that depending on the visibility of the label and the manner and severity with which it is applied, a person will have an increasing commitment to a deviant career. Stigma is acquired through the process. (Rob and Fiona, 2000) “Once a person has been labeled a particular kind of person, they are liable to be treated in a different kind of way from others who may engage in the same kind of behavior, but who has not been labeled. This process can be represented as:

Negative Labeling


New Identity formed in response to negative labeling

Commitment to new identity based on available roles and relationships

Siegel and the two agree on how labeling yield deviants simply because particular weak individuals of the society decide to do what everyone thinks or the labelers have said or think they are.

6.3. Stigmatization and as a major consequence of Labeling

(Barsani & Marvin E.1970) says that [stigmatization] describes a process of attaching visible signs of a moral inferiority to persons, such as invidious labels, marks, brands, or publicly disseminated information. The Greeks who are apparently strong on visual aids, originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier. The signs were cut or burnt into the body and advertised that the bearer was a slave, a criminal or a traitor who was a blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places. According to (Radzinowicz 1977) later, in Christian times, two layers of metaphor were added to the term. The first referred to bodily signs of holy grace that took the form of eruptive blossoms on the skin and the second is a medical illusion to this religious illusion; referred to bodily signs of physical disorder. In the present world, according to the above author the term is widely used in something like the original literal sense, but is applied more to the disgrace itself than the bodily evidence of it. (Siegel, 2000) says that labeled people may find themselves turning to others similarly stigmatized for support and companionship. Isolated from conventional society, they may identify themselves as members of an [outcast group] and become locked into a deviant career. So in all essence stigmatization is the biggest negative effect of labeling.

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6.4.Preliminary conceptions about Stigma

Society according to (Becker, 1974) establishes the means of categorizing persons and the compliment of attributes felt to be ordinary and natural for members of each other of these categories. Social settings establish the categories of persons likely to be encountered there. Becker goes ahead to say that the demands we make might better be called demands made [‘in effect’] and the character we impute to the individual might better be seen as an [imputation made in potential] retrospect which is a characterization ‘in effect’ a [virtual identity].

(Radzinowicz 1977 p. 389) “The term stigma and its synonyms conceal a double perspective which is: does the stigmatized individual assume his differentness which is known already the evidence on the spot, or does he assume it is neither known about by those present nor immediately perceivable by them? The first perspective deals with the plight of the discredited while the second deals with that of discreditable. This is a very important difference when dealing with stigma although some individuals often times have experienced both perspectives of the stigma.

There is always the [positive] and [negative] side of labeling which eventually leads to stigmatization. If the society stays together when labeling, research shows that this may help reduce crime. Radzinowicz (1977) says that those generally stigmatized may offer temporary or relatively stable solutions to life problems despite the fact that they represent a lower order of human existence. If effective stigmatization imposes penalties, and circumscribes access to conventional means of life satisfactions, it may also provide new means to end sought. For example, becoming an admitted homosexuals which is known as ‘coming out’ may endanger one’s livelihood or his professional career, yet it also absolves the individual from failure to assume the heavy responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. It is also a ready way of fending off painful involvements in heterosexual affairs. Like being sent to a camp for [delinquent] boys is degrading and a career threat, but at the same time it may be an avenue of escape from intolerable home situation where degradation is greater. Another scenario like being committed to a mental hospital is a blot on one’s reputation, where it may be one sure way of stopping a divorce action by a straying spouse, the outcome would be even more intolerable if the action is not undertaken.

Contrally to the above positive side of labeling (Radzinowicz 1977) says that there are reasons why stigmatized persons may seek and find gratifications as well as having to endure painful humiliation and frustrating restrictions associated with deviant status. One has to do with the [dialectical qualities] of cultural values, public policies, laws and social control the other with complex ways in which personal evaluations are made of things and experiences objectively represented as rewarding or punishing.

6.5. Differential Enforcement

This is where the law or legal institutions favor the more privileged than the underprivileged. (Radzinowicz, 1977) says that this is a mechanistic image of deviance. Such an image shows the individual as being mechanically pushed into deviant involvement by an association with deviants. This ignores the individual’s role-taking and choice-making ability. (Barsani & Marvin E. 1970) continues to say that further on, in pursuit to correct this mechanistic image suggests that the experience of associating with deviants is harmless unless the individual identifies with them. He says that deviance is likely to occur if differential identification intervenes between it and differential association; [differential association] which connects to [differential identification] and then yields deviant behavior. The concept of differential enforcement according to (Siegel, 2000) emphasizes the idea of labeling theory. Siegel says that the minorities and the poor are more likely to be prosecuted for criminal offenses and to receive harsher punishments when convicted. Judges may sympathize with white defendants and help them avoid criminal labels, especially if they seem to come from ‘good families’ whereas minority youth are not afforded that luxury. The law is generally differentially constructed and applied, depending on the offenders. It favors the powerful members of society who direct its content its content and penalizes people whose actions represent a threat to those in control, such as minority group members and the poor who demand equal rights (Thio, 2010).

6.6. Differential Social control

A process of labeling may produce re-evaluation of the self, which reflects actual or perceived appraisals made by others. (Siegel, 2000) “When they believe that others view them as antisocial or troublemakers, they take on the attitudes and roles that reflect this assumption; they expect to become suspects and then to be rejected. According to Siegel this process has been linked to delinquent behavior and other social problems including depression. Enhancing or promoting reflective role adheres to informal and [institutional] social control processes. This helps them get over what they have been thought to be.

6.7. Retrospective reading

(Siegel, 2007) “Labelers try to redefine what the person is”. They give a person a new being making them either powerful (for positive labeling) or making him a lesser and more prone to deviance in the cases of [negative labeling]. When a person is labeled, people start to react to the label description and what it signifies instead of reacting to the actual behavior of the person who bears it and that is what is called [retrospective reading].

6.8. Dramatization of Evil

(Bersani & Marvin E. 1970) In the conflict between the young delinquent and the community there develops two opposing definitions of the situation. In the beginning the definition of the situation by the young delinquent may be in the form of play, adventure, interest, mischief, fun. To the community these activities may seem to be a nuisance and evil. The attitude of the community hardens definitely into a demand for suppression. Thus there is a gradual shift from the definition of the specific [acts as evil] to the [individual’s evil]. In such instances, the young delinquent becomes bad because he is defined as bad and because he is not believed if he is good. There is persistent demand in consistency in character and the community cannot deal with people it can define. Therefore reputation is sort of a public definition and once it is established, then unconsciously all agencies combine to maintain this definition even when they apparently and consciously attempt to deny their own implicit judgments.

Tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, emphasizing, making conscious and self-conscious are some of the criminal-making processes; it becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, emphasizing and evoking the very traits that are complained of. The way out of this situation is through refusal to dramatize the evil and the less said about it the better while the more said about something else still better too. The concept of dramatization therefore tends to [precipitate] the conflict situation which was first created through some innocent maladjustment.Therefore, in dealing with delinquent-the criminal, the important thing to remember is that it’s dealing with human beings who are responding normally to the demands, stimuli, approval, expectancy, of the group with whom they are associated. Generally speaking, it’s dealing with an individual and not with a group.

6.9. Primary deviance

(Siegel, 2010) says that primary deviance involves norm violations or crimes that have very little influence on the [actor] and can be quickly forgotten. They are what can be termed as petty crimes.

6.9.Secondary deviance

(Barsani & Marvin E, 1970) The most general process by which status and role transitions take place is socialization. (Siegel, 2007) Secondary deviance occurs when a deviant event comes to the attention of significant others or social control agents who apply negative label. The newly labeled offender then reorganizes his or her behavior and personality around the consequences of the deviant act. It becomes part of them and they practice it.

6.10. Effects of labeling

Labeling has adverse effects on so many people. (Siegel, 2007) Children who are labeled as troublemakers in school are the ones most likely to drop out and dropping out has been linked to delinquent behavior. Even as adults, the labeling process can take its toll for example male drugs users labeled as addicts by social control agencies eventually become self-labeled and increase their drug use. Labeling causes parents to become alienated from children and increase child delinquency that is in cases of negative labeling. People labeled often bring out their negative behaviors. [Self-image] is the best thing that everyone should try to foster in order to reduce crime and delinquency.

6.11. Family image [contextual discrimination]

When dealing with self-image, the family is very important. (Barsani & Marvin E. 1970) says that good relationships in the family yields good character. If the family plays their role in keeping and upholding morals, then children and members of the society will grow with a sense of belonging. When a family is labeled, it should try the much it can to disqualify the label so as to be able to come out of it. The society is made up of families and if single families play their role, it definitely will work.

6.12. Re-evaluation of Labeling Theory

(Thio, 2010, P. 37) “Many sociologists have criticized labeling theory for not being able to answer the question of what causes deviance”. The truth is that the theory is not supposed to tell what causes deviance; it is intended to be nonetiological meaning that it should be concerned about casual questions about deviance. The other thing is that, research shows that the theory has failed to produce consistent support to labeling theorists’ assumptions that the deviant label leads the individual into further deviant behavior. The truth is in this form of example, there are so many poor girls who have been labeled but due to the fact that they have strong bond with their parents, but they end up succeeding. The idea here is not labeling, it is inner-drive and relationships.

(Thio, 1973) gives a view that labeling theory cannot logically deal with hidden deviance and powerful deviants. This theory insists that no behavior can be deviant unless labeled as such and often the powerful commit hidden crime. Labeling theorists in effect say that [the powerful] cannot be deviants because they can only be [labelers].

7.0. Conclusion

Self concept and crime seeks to find out what is the root cause of crime in relation to self-esteem and self-control. Studies show that being labeled deviant produces unfavorable consequences for individual labeled and also labeling individuals as deviant generates favorable consequences for the community. Low self-image or self-esteem as found by many researchers is what leads people to commit crime. If people tell someone that they are this and they just revoke it and work towards the best. Therefore, individuals will not have to think about why it did not happen it was intended. Teenagers, adolescents and everyone in the community need a good communication system, a shoulder to lean on, souls to confide in and a strong person to look upon as a role model. The society needs to take up this responsibility by providing helpful ways to save members who show characteristics of deviant behavior. If this process is applied, it would yield a healthy society.


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