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BSc Accounting with Law/Law with Accounting
BSc Management with Law/Law with Management
2001 2660025, 2770303
W.J. Morrison

This guide was prepared for the University of London by:
W.J. Morrison, LLB (Cant, NZ), LLM, PhD (London), Barrister and Solicitor of
the High Court of New Zealand, Director of the Laws Programme for the External
Programme, University of London.
This is one of a series of subject guides published by the University. We regret that
due to pressure of work the author is unable to enter into any correspondence relating
to, or arising from, the guide. If you have any comments on this subject guide,
favourable or unfavourable, please use the form at the back of this guide.
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believe this signi!cantly affects the academic content of the guide. However, the
university cannot be held responsible for any omissions or errors.
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study ............................................1
General introduction to the course ......................................................................1
The syllabus ..........................................................................................................1
Core texts ..............................................................................................................2
Why study crime? ................................................................................................3
The nature of criminological study ......................................................................4
The diversity of criminology ................................................................................5
Placing criminology in context ............................................................................5
Criminology and the advent of modernity ..........................................................7
The dilemma of criminological knowledge and opinion ....................................9
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation ....17
Essential reading ................................................................................................17
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................17
Learning objectives ............................................................................................18
The dream of criminal statistics ........................................................................18
Durkheim`s analysis of suicide as the paradigm example of positivism
and statistics ........................................................................................................19
International projects to complement criminal statistics ..................................20
Interpreting rises or declines in of!cial statistics ..............................................23
Sample questions ................................................................................................27
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and
positive criminology ..........................................................................................33
Essential reading ................................................................................................33
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................33
Learning objectives ............................................................................................33
Sample questions ................................................................................................46
Chapter 4: Individual and biological perspectives ........................................51
A. Individual Constitutional Factors (Biological theories)................................51
Essential reading ................................................................................................51
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................51
Sample questions ................................................................................................54
B. Mental Factors and Crime..............................................................................54
Essential reading ................................................................................................54
Sample questions ................................................................................................55
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives ....................................57
Essential reading ................................................................................................57
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................57
Learning objectives ............................................................................................57
Further reading....................................................................................................59
Drift theory..........................................................................................................62
Activity-related reading ......................................................................................63
Sample questions ................................................................................................63
Sample questions ................................................................................................67
Chapter 6: Social ecology: crime and the city ................................................69
Essential reading ................................................................................................69
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................69
Learning objectives ............................................................................................69
Changing conceptions of the city ......................................................................80
Current American concerns: the urban underclass and broken windows` ......82
Sample questions ................................................................................................83
Chapter 7: Labelling otherwise known as symbolic, or social
interactionism or social reaction theory ..........................................................85
Essential reading ................................................................................................85
Role, status and stigma ......................................................................................87
Labelling and the ascription of roles ..................................................................87
Focusing attention onto the power of the authorities to ascribe
criminal identities................................................................................................87
Important terms within criminology ..................................................................88
Sample questions ................................................................................................88
Chapter 8: Critical criminology and the development of
Realist perspectives ............................................................................................93
Core texts ............................................................................................................93
New left realism..................................................................................................96
Sample questions ..............................................................................................98
Chapter 9: Feminist criminology......................................................................99
Essential reading ................................................................................................99
Supplementary reading ......................................................................................99
Learning objectives ............................................................................................99
Popular explanations for differential involvement in crime............................101
The theory of one male theorist........................................................................102
Sample questions ..............................................................................................105
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework ........................107
Essential reading ..............................................................................................107
Learning objectives ..........................................................................................107
Consequentialist or Utilitarian philosophy ......................................................111
Why punish at all? Do we need the threat of punishment? ............................112
Punishing as a means to an end? ......................................................................114
Retributive theories ..........................................................................................115
Punishment and desert ......................................................................................116
Are compromise theories possible?..................................................................119
Punishment as a sociocultural paradigm..........................................................120
Is punishment a necessary condition for social order?....................................120
Punishment as an element of culture................................................................121
Reference material ............................................................................................123
How are we to understand developments in penal policy? ............................124
Sample questions ..............................................................................................129
Chapter 11: Policing ........................................................................................131
Issues ................................................................................................................131
Learning objectives ..........................................................................................131
Sample questions ..............................................................................................132
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
Chapter 1
Introduction to criminological
General introduction to the course
This course is an introduction to criminological theory and elements of criminal
justice (policing, prisons and punishment). The Criminal Justice system mediates
between the individual and the State. In earlier times, less complex social units treated
occasions which we now regard as crimes (that is as offences which under the
criminal law are speci!cally liable to punishment by the agents of the State) as sins,
nuisances, or as wrongs against the victim entitling him (or his relatives if he was
murdered) to compensation. The development of the present situation (where such
wrongs are the concern of the State and where suspected offenders are processed by
police and the criminal courts and if found guilty are liable to a range of sanctions
ranging from discharges through measures life, probation and community service to
imprisonment) is the history of the rise of the modern state and the various agencies
of the State.
Criminology is a blanket term for our understanding of crime and of the State`s
handling of crime and related matters. It is necessarily concerned with the relationship
of the individual who breaks the laws of a state and the operation of the State`s power
to lay down laws and to punish for breaches of those laws. Students must not be
surprised to encounter a diversity of material in reading for criminology; material
which may at times verge on the political, the sociological and philosophical, the
rhetorical and the technical. Criminology is not simply an applied law` subject; on
the contrary its history is a battle between those who adopted a primarily legalist
approach towards dealing with crime and those who adopted approaches from the
social sciences, namely, sociology, psychology, psychoanalysis and so forth. The
common focus is the fact of the criminal law, the problem of breaches of it, and the
practical questions of what to do with the offender who has breached such a law, and
the general problem of how to minimise the overall incidents of offending (the social
problem of crime).
The governing aim of the course is to introduce the student to some of the theoretical
issues involved with the attempts to explain crime and elements of the State`s
response, such as policing, the legitimacy of punishment and imprisonment. Because
of this wide coverage you will be encouraged to obtain a working knowledge of the
institutions and policies at work in the area but it is not expected that your knowledge
will equally be deep across the syllabus.
The syllabus
In approaching the study of criminology you will !nd that the syllabus is quite
extensive although you will soon realise that there are many inter-connections and a
continuity of basic themes. You may wish to specialise upon some issues more than
others, but keep in mind that there are often general questions which are designed to
see if you have developed a critical appreciation of the subject as a whole and are able
to see how insights from one part of the course relate to other parts.
Core texts
Walklate, Sandra Understanding criminology: Current theoretical Debates, (Open
University Press: Buckingham, 1998) [ISBN 0-335-19361-7] has a good
introductory coverage that is directed towards contemporary conditions.
Burke, Roger An Introduction to Criminological Theory, (Willan Publishing: Devon,
2001), [ISBN 1-903240-46-8] provides a readable and reasonably comprehensive
introduction to criminological theorising.
The Sage Dictionary of Criminology, complied and edited by Eugene McLaughlin
and John Muncie, (Sage: London 2001) [ISBN 0-7619-5908] would be a valuable
resource. It contains medium-length entries on most of the key terms you are
likely to come across.
Other, sometimes more in-depth, texts are:
Bernard, Thomas and J. Snipes Vold's Theoretical Criminology. (Oxford University
Press: New York) fourth edition [ISBN 0-19-507321-5].
Easily accessible and certainly understandable this gives an overview of traditional
Downes, David and P. Rock Understanding Deviance: a guide to the sociology of
crime and rule breaking. Now in its third edition. (Oxford University Press,
1998) [ISBN 0-19-876533-9].
This is a leading student text for the sociology of deviance in the UK, this text gives a
theoretically sophisticated history of the sociology of deviance in the twentieth
Garland, David The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary
Society. (Oxford University Press, 2001) [ISBN 0-19-829937-0].
This is a masterful survey of the current emphasis of criminal justice and crime
prevention` policies upon achieving a controlled society`. Note that it assumes a lot
of knowledge and it is probably best for you to read this towards the end of your
Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism.
(London: Cavendish, 1995) [ISBN 1-85941-220-3].
This text reads criminology in the changing context of modernity. It is detailed in its
reading and poses a host of questions for contemporary times. Note this was written
primarily with Master`s level students in mind, but it will be assumed that you read
and digest this text in the course of your study.
Lanier, M.M. and S. Henry Essential Criminology. (Westview Press: Colorado and
Oxford, 1998) [ISBN 0-8133-3137-4].
Provides wonderful overviews and helpful tables that contrast the main features of
theories at the end of each chapter.
Tierney, John Criminology: theory and context. (Prentice Hall, 1996)
[ISBN 0-13-380155-1].
Agood account of the development of (mainly) British criminology, putting it in
appropriate academic and social contexts. Amassive collection of major review
articles on most areas of criminology that is certainly valuable for reference is:
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
Maguire, M. R. Morgan and R. Reiner (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology,
second edition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997) [ISBN 0-19-876485-5].
Taylor, Walton and Young, The New Criminology, (Routledge, 1973) is the classic`
critique of traditional criminology and statement of critical` criminology.
J. Lilly et al., Criminological Theory: context and Consequences, (Sage, 1989)
[ISBN 0-8039-2639-1 (pbk.)] has interesting contextual points.
For reference
Elliot Currie, Confronting Crime: an American challenge. (Pantheon Books, New
York, 1985) [ISBN 0-394-74638-8 (pbk)]. This is a very good response to the
conservative challenge in criminology throughout the late 1970s and 1980s.
John Hagan, Modern Criminology: crime, criminal behaviour, and its control.
(McGraw-Hill International Editions, 1987 [ISBN 0-07-100468-8].
Although dated this is an interesting text which may be widely available in areas
outside the UK.
Mike Fitzgerald et al., Crime and Society: Readings in History and theory.
(Routledge in association with the Open University Press, London, 1981).
[ISBN 0-415-02755-1]. Again, while dated, has a number of very good articles.
Sources of useful materials
HMSO publications; The British Journal of Criminology; Journal of Law and
Society; Law and Society Review; International Journal of Sociology of Law;
New Society.
Why study crime?
The !rst reason is that crime is a pressing social problem. Frances Heidensohn is
undoubtably correct in highlighting the anxiety and fascination which crime arouses
in the modern western psyche.
Crime is a major source of social concern today. Look at any daily
newspaper, certainly those published in Western countries, and you will !nd
a signi!cant proportion of their column inches devoted to reports of murder
and theft and accounts of serious trials. For !lms and television, stories of
crimes and their detection are the sources of many plots and series. Increases
in crime rates will often be treated as headline news, and many people see
the law and order issue` as one of the most pressing in modern society.`
(Crime and Society, 1989: 1)
As John Hagen puts it:
Anxiety and anger are probably the most easily understood, if not the most
widely accepted, motivations to study crime. Many people fear crime and
react with apprehension to it The fear of crime is undeniably real. It is a
perennial concern of voters in English-speaking democracies who rate crime
among their nations, most serious problems, and who vote with their money
and lives as well, buying arms for their own protection.` (1987: 1-2)
Crime is both an example and a result of immediate and pressing concerns. The !rst
motivation which drives criminology is the feeling that crime is a serious social
problem and this re"ects for some a feeling that our modern societies are out of
control` in certain key respects. The existence of such a social problem is also
problematic in an important second respect in that it offends against what we may
term certain cultural assumptions of modern Western societies. Later in this chapter
the term modernity` is introduced and it is proposed that the cultural underpinning of
the con!dence of the modern west relies upon certain cultural assumptions such as
progress` and the power of social engineering. Part of the impact of the current crime
problem is that it appears to run counter to the modern West`s dedication to the notion
of progress, prosperity and control over nature. The existence of so much crime in
Western societies shows the underside of modernity`s progress`. The presence of so
much desperation and social unrest complicates the notion that modernity was to
create good` or grand` societies of peaceful coexistence and economic plenty in
which the conditions for harmonious social coexistence would be achieved.
The nature of criminological study
One of the !rst things that may strike a student of criminology is the amount of time
and energy writers have spent over the years discussing the nature` of the subject and
attempting to lay down foundational premises and canons. Although criminology can
to an extent be con!dently de!ned as the scienti!c study of crime` (Hall Williams,
Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1982: 1) this de!nition is open to a whole array of
quali!ers and deeper explanations as to crime and science. In no other subject of the
LLB will the student encounter the self-conscious questioning and continual
adjustment of positions and materials which seems to prevail in criminology. These
contrasts and doubts concern both basic questions of identifying foundational entities,
for example the debate over de!ning whether the phenomena that criminology should
study is crime or deviance, and the way in which the writer should conceive of
him/herself, for instance whether to see him/herself as a detached and impartial
scientist or an engaged critical social commentator.
To study criminology to encounter writings and data from a multitude of disciplines
and perspectives, framed with different assumptions in mind, offering different
images. Moreover, criminology is a subject with a mixed reputation and strangely
ambivalent self-image. While some writers may argue for a strict defence of the rules
of law and identify the seemingly inevitable rise in recorded crime as the result of
societies gone soft on responding to deviance or giving discipline to their children and
lacking in moral !bre, others locate the cause of crime in the failure of modern
societies to achieve social justice and attempt to use criminology as an entry into
wider social criticism and clearly adopt morally charged` positions rather than
attempt value free` social science. (For examples of these disputes read Elliott
Currie`s critique of the conservative positions of James Q. Wilson, or Travis Hirschi,
in Confronting Crime!) Even within any one grouping individuals differ, for instance
among those who espouse value free` science the degree to which writers see
themselves as doing detached social science or applied social engineering differs.
Some practioners appear to see their role as the provision of accurate information on
crime and criminals for the administrative of!cials of the State, while others ask
whose side are we on?` and appear to side with the deviant while possibly attacking
the State for overreaction with some even desiring to dissolve the modern State. The
enterprise of the !rst group, laden with statistics and etiological studies of actual and
potential offenders`, assumes the dry mantle of a social science modelled on the
precepts of the natural science and appears boring and submissive from the
perspective of the second. The second, revelling in the grand theories of Marxism, or
the micro revelations of symbolic interactionism, appears at times politically suspect
or scienti!cally over-romantic to the !rst.
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
The diversity of criminology
Criminology is diverse, historically growing as a "uctuating basket of knowledges`
and perspectives` which the practitioners of a variety of disciplines have deposited.
Its status as a discipline itself is thus laboured and somewhat arti!cial. The
criminologist may be a clinical psychologist, a sociologist, a political theorist, a
lawyer, or a psychoanalyst, to simply name a few who have worn the criminological
hat. Alot of writing used in criminology has been written by individuals for whom
criminology was a temporal pursuit, when from the con!nes and training of their
mother discipline, they brie"y engaged the issues of crime, offending and social
Criminology is thus a contested disciplinary space, a theatre of speech and knowledge
games where anyone is traditionally welcomed as long as he agrees to the terms of
entry; which, since the late nineteenth century appears to be to speak about crime and
criminality using the common language and rules of the scienti!c enterprise`.
Conversely, much of recent development in criminology has questioned those terms.
The conception that the proper criminological approach is to be modelled on the
approaches of the natural science, and thus should only copy their procedures and
objectives, is said to be mistaken. Criminology, it is argued, is about far more than
merely attempting to describe the phenomena of crime and offending in the
reductionist language of the natural sciences. It is about achieving a sophisticated and
critical awareness of a whole range of social problems and social suffering, including
the cruelty which may be done both by an offender and the institutions which purport
to punish` him or her in the name of society`. Additionally, the historical and
labelling approaches call into question the processes whereby events or activities get
to be de!ned as crimes and the growth of the criminal justice system as the means of
response and institution of social control. The range of questions that could be called
criminological is vast.
Placing criminology in context
Criminology is not static. Although there are a certain number of recommended texts
to cover the course there is no possibility of studying a set text which captures the
essence of criminology. You also need an historical sensibility and an ability to
understand multiple perspectives. History is essential, as the Spanish philosopher
Gesset once said about human nature man has no nature he has only a history`, so it
is with criminology. When one reads criminological texts one is engaged in the self-
conscious study of a history. Ahistory that catalogues the various ways in which
members of modern societies, primarily those of the Western developed` world, have
sought to understand the nature of these process of modern society with reference to
the problematics of social control, state power, individual socialisation, crime and
Additionally, the development of criminology can only be reduced to a master
template at the cost of simpli!cation. Complicating any overview of a complex social
phenomenon such as the development of a discipline is at least three major contextual
Formal history
The !rst concern is the formal history of the discipline: in the case of criminology
many criminological works provide a history section in which is presented the
distinction between the classical approach and the positivist. These works present the
two approaches as containing a separate set of assumptions as to human nature and
the nature of society with corresponding sets of policy recommendations. The
classicists (whose heyday was the eighteenth century and who are represented by
names such as the Italian Baccaria and Englishman Bentham) are labelled as
accepting the notions of the freewill of the individual, of rational choice and, mostly,
of the social contract ideal or metaphor for the structuring of the social bond. The
positivists, arising in the late nineteenth century and represented by names such as the
Italians Lombroso and Ferri, are seen as accepting human behaviour as being fully
determined and as largely seeing the social bond as a phase in a socially determined
history (history as progress). For the positivists the government of society becomes
akin to a technical enterprise, while for the classicists it is a moral-political activity.
The classicist sees breaches of the criminal law largely as offences against the social
contract and the rights of other members of the pact. To the positivist offending
against the laws of the society is part of social processes and may be functional in that
it either created an opportunity for a ceremonial reaf!rmation of the social bond or
displayed itself as a symptom` of social pathology, but was, from a unitary point of
view, the dysfunctional behaviour of an individual; a departure from the norm` which
could be responded to as a valuable symptom of pathology either in the individual or
of social process.
In many criminological texts the student is presented with a progressive picture of
criminological history as if criminology was gaining a closer and closer
approximation to the truth` of crime and criminality over time. As Vold, for example,
put it in his second edition:
Classical Criminology represents the development and application to thinking about
crime, the ideas and intellectual frame of reference that in Europe preceded the
application of scienti!c methods and experimental procedure to human behaviour.
The positive school represents the !rst formulations and applications to the !eld of
criminology of the point of view, methodology, and logic of the natural sciences to
the study of human behaviour.` (second edition 1979: 18)
Thus the victory of positivism is seen as a rational advance` over the abstractions and
politics of classicism. The image of criminology gradually but solidly progressing as a
discipline becoming more sure of its knowledge and with an enhanced ability to make
policy recommendations becomes, however, problematic when in the 1960s
criminology is !rst taken to task by writers such as the American David Matza for an
uncritical belief in determinism`, and then splinters into a whole series of competing
`paradigms` and perspectives` in which, however, positivism remains as a dominant
player. The problem with the progressive picture of criminological history is that it
seems to make criminology self-developmental as if there was a steady objective
world out there, a set range of things to be investigated, and criminology was slowly
re!ning its tactics and methodologies in understanding it and coming to understand
what to do to eliminate crime. In other words that there was an autonomous
development of the knowledges of crime and deviance, a growth which was
progressive and that the changes in fashion, or degree of concentration were as a
result of correction false perspectives and slowly getting the correct picture`. This
down plays the essentially pragmatic link between knowledge production and socio-
historical location.
Social-political context
The second concern is the social-political context for the development of criminology
as an intellectual discipline. This traditionally was relatively underdeveloped as most
criminological texts underplayed the impact of politics and philosophical context for
the structuring of social theory (recent texts try to reverse this omission, for example
those of Morrison, Lilly, Tierney, Burke). Largely criminology is seen either as the
result of individuals, for example Lombroso, or of groups, such as the Chicago
school`, as if the development of social theory was totally responsive to the
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
requirements of autonomous individuals or like minded groups facing immediate
problems insulated from broader socio-political evolution. However, the relevance of
the political-social context in which writer work is inescapable and now a subject for
revisionist` histories.
In broad outline it is possible to see that classicism was a doctrine necessarily linked
to the development of rule of law states` over feudal society, of the rights of the
bourgeoisie over aristocratic privileges, and of the creation of a more free social space
for the abstract market` to function as opposed to the settled hierarchies and status
interactions of late feudal society. Positivism, likewise can be seen as responsive to a
different set of demands linked to the spread of political in"uence into lower social
classes in society. The restoring of neoclassical or new right` themes in the mid
1970s and 1980s can also be see as responsive to the vast cost of the welfare state and
the apparent paradox that crime rates were increasing at the same time as the West
appeared to be more prosperous than at any time in history.
The institutions and organisational motifs that make up the systems of crime and
deviance control in the modern west originated in the grand transformations that
occurred from the eighteenth century. Thus these systems are basically the product of
modernity`, a term which is dif!cult to de!ne concisely but which designates what is
essentially new and particular about western societies since the Enlightenment. In the
!eld of criminology the changes are both the context of criminal justice and have
shaped the institutional form of criminal justice. We can mention three that have
shaped criminal justice. First, the development of the modern nation state with its
centralised state apparatus for the formal control of crime, gathering of statistics and
the provision of care` and welfare` for its population. Second, the typologising and
differentiation of the deviant and dependants into separate types, each with particular
sets of scienti!c` knowledge, expertise, and groups of experts`. Third, the
development of organisation outcomes that segregate the deviants, criminals, sick and
dependents into prisons, juvenile reformatories, asylums, mental hospitals, and other
closed purpose built institutions for treatment, punishment, and custody.
Cultural context
The third concern is the cultural context of the discipline`s development. In particular
the various projections or images of what social science was about and how the
!nding link to social policy is an important consideration which are largely unstated
in any writers` text but which are assumed by the writer and which largely de!ne the
purpose of doing social science.
Criminology and the advent of modernity
One way of conceiving of criminology is to see it as the study of the way in which
modern societies have developed with respect to the issues of deviance, crime, crime
control and the State`s ability to de!ne and react to deviance or threats to social order.
Central to such a theme is the notion that there is something special and different
about modern societies which demarcates them from the types and methods of social
cohesion and social control which have gone before them. We can call this the notion
of modernity`. What is meant by modernity? Consider this description of modernity:
There is merit in the 'modernity¨ of a society, apart from any other virtues it may
have. Being modern is being 'advanced¨ and being advanced means being rich, free
of the encumbrances of familial authority, religious authority, and deferentiality. It
means being rational and being 'rationalised¨. If such rationalisations were achieved,
all traditions except the traditions of secularity, scientism, and hedonism would be
overpowered.` (Edward Shils, Tradition, 1981: 288-90.)
The concept of modernity` is troublesome (of the core texts see Morrison,
Theoretical Criminology: from Modernity to post-modernism, and Burke, An
Introduction to Criminological Theory). Grand theorists who have been concerned
with its themes largely locate modernity in terms of a choice between oppressive and
false` traditions (including religion) and empty, rootless freedom. Within
criminological texts Durkheim is sometimes used in this way (see Vold and Bernard,
Theoretical Criminology, Chapter 9 'Durkheim, Anomie, and Modernisation¨).
Interestingly many social theorists refer to a social crisis of modernism in which
criminology is implicated and of which two broad features can be mentioned. First,
we can see many current social problems in terms of a crisis of power whereby
modern societies !nd themselves immersed in a technological ability and knowledge
spiral which gives advances in certain powers, but which outstrips mankind`s ability
to assimilate its consequences and link its meanings (need one mention the present
nuclear capability? or the vast increase in the world`s population and the possibility of
ecological destruction?). Second, the alienative and nihilistic effects of modern culture
on a humanity which has thrust itself free from a context of traditional positioning
and community structures which gave existence meaning, which enabled modes of
practical reasoning appearing natural to those concerned, and which lent a sense of
immediacy to the structures of the world.
Our modern western world, on the other hand, although an urban world where
mankind lives cheek-by-jowl with a multitude of others`, is a place of distance which
demands newer and more complicated forms of social control than previously. For the
modern self-image and self-consciousness, the question of personal identity is not
de!ned by one`s position in the order of things, some embedment in localised
tradition and custom which ultimately seems some participation of self and cosmos,
but by an insulated individualism mediated by concepts such as authenticity, choice,
and the rationality` of ends means relations.
Thus we moderns` live at a distance from those modes of comprehension and
organisation taken for granted by pre-moderns`. As contrasted to the approaches
which stress the primacy of the group or community, the presuppositions of the ideal
type of our social contract political theory, for instance, is of the normalcy of isolated
individualism, of free and calculating atomistic units.
Other relevant characteristics of modernity
These include factors such as the development of industrial society, the capitalist
mode of economic organisation, urbanism, and the advent of liberal democracy and
utopian socialism but there are other features which are both basic and hard to
appreciate such as the handling of time and the notion of change. Modern society is
both the product of dramatic transformations, of immense change and also in a
continual state of change. There appear to be no settled canons or structures that
remain stable and !xed for a long period. Instead some of the basic canons, the notion
of democracy is a good example, are cast in such an abstract frame that the
substantive content, for example whether women have the right to vote or whether it
is fair to say it was a democratic election when the majority of the populace didn`t
bother to vote (as in American Presidential elections), can be subject to variation.
Alongside the vast increase in population growth an inescapable feature is the urban
context of social life - the majority of the world`s population live in cities of 20,000
people or more. As a point of comparison prior to the nineteenth century even in
societies considered urbanised probably fewer than 10 per cent of the population lived
in towns or cities. London`s population in the fourteenth century is estimated at
around 30,000, and when at the turn of the nineteenth century to have reached
900,000 it was not only the largest in the world but dominated England.
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
The routines of this urban life are set within structures responsive to the changing
demands of economic performance. Many of the competing interpretations on social
life can be traced to de!ning modern society`s economic basis as either
industrialisation or capitalisation. The attitude that a theorist takes to issues such as
class and the natural of social interaction differ, depending of whether a more benign
nature functional theory of industrial society as opposed to the Marxist notion of
Capitalist society with its relations of exploitation and domination in which it is
engaged in.
The dilemma of criminological knowledge
and opinion
One of the dif!culties students of criminology can have is that they always have an
opinion based upon the common sense of the times and some criminology certainly
appears close to being other people`s opinions. Part of the pleasure of doing
criminology is, however, to articulate your own ideas and subject them to test. Read
the attitudes of others and see the sense of different perspectives. We have mentioned
that one hope for criminology was to gain secure knowledge that overcame the
diversity of opinions. Culturally criminology is part of the knowledge project of
modernity; part that is, of the idea that it was possible to construct secure modern
societies by replacing arbitrary opinion and politics by pure knowledge. As we have
already noted in giving a starting point to criminology, most criminological texts refer
to the names of individuals or schools of thinkers, such as Beccaria for classicism and
Durkheim for sociological positivism and Lombroso for biological positivism, but the
hopes for social betterment which these authors share in their writing is best stated in
the openly utopian writings of Auguste Comte and Saint-Simon of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries.
In nineteenth-century France, Comte attempted to develop a positive sociology which
would provide a truly scienti!c basis for the reorganisation of society. He shared the
optimism of such philosophers as the Englishman Francis Bacon`s optimism about the
bene!ts of a positive approach to science for humanity but was not blind to the extent
to which this approach clashed with the traditional hegemony of the ruling class. The
very !rst words he had published make this clear:
Rulers would gladly have it taken for granted that they alone can see alright in
politics, and consequently are entitled to a monopoly of opinions in such matters.
They doubtless have their own reasons for speaking in this way, while subjects have
theirs for refusing assent to a principle which, under every point of view, is wholly
absurd.` (Quoted in R. Fletcher (ed.) The Crisis of Industrial Civilisation: the early
essays of Auguste Comte, 1974.)
Secure social knowledge was to provide a new basis for developing social structures
and building social relations. The opinions of the rulers would have to give way in a
new form of knowledge-power combination, a position where the organisation of
society would be the responsibility of scientists and the rationality of the knowledge
they produced. Comte proposed a Law of Three Stages through which all human
thinking had to pass; !rst the theological or !ctive, then the metaphysical or abstract,
and !nally the scienti!c or positive. These stages were dependent upon man`s
knowledge of the universe and himself and in the positive there is a clear cut
distinction between science and morals and the operation of all features in the
universe could be gauged by the operation of the positive methodology whereby
science could in time come to control moral` dilemmas.
It is clear from reading Comte that Europe was to be the crux of progress, of
civilisation, the modes of life of Europe were the progressive destiny of the world.
The power of the west has indeed spread throughout the world. Moreover it is explicit
in the con!dence of this form of writing that the modes of life which have developed
in the west are intrinsically superior to those of other cultures. Of course the spread of
the west has unleashed forces which have corroded or destroyed many of the features
and coherence of the other cultures it has come in contact with. However, the
metaphysics of progressive evolution, which has tended to glorify the dominance of
the west as the necessary result of a system of determinate social evolution where
evolution is judged in terms primarily of technological growth and the ability to
control and change the material environment, has lead to the denial of the resources of
other cultures in favour of the western solution. This eurocentricism dominates
criminological history search as you will-little criminology from the developing` or
third` world can be seen to challenge the theories and presuppositions of that of the
West. If you come across examples of such writings- use it to your advantage to
challenge the presuppositions of mainstream criminology.
One strand of thought which opposes the eurocentric domination is the
anthropological perspective which allows us to appreciate the diversity of modes of
human existence on the globe. Much early anthropology was also ethnocentric
chronicling the weakness and destruction of primitive` races in comparison to the
west and if early anthropological study had one theme in the construction project of
modernity it can be seen as attempting to locate the normal` mode of human
The result, conversely, was to demonstrate diversity and difference rather than
uniformity. At the same time, however, the anthropological dimension to modern
thought also illustrates the essential interconnections of the modern world and the
central unity of the human race. It denies the purported irrationality` of many
primitive practices and demonstrates the richness of non-state institutions, for
example, and there are now no grounds for supposing that those who live in
primitive` societies are genetically inferior to those of the advanced civilisations`.
However, anthropology also demonstrates the complex processes of socialisation and
signi!cation that go to make up the successful normal` members of any society.
Moreover, the question of social order` and conformity, of the normal and deviant, is
not placed on some purely natural` footing by anthropology. Apart from a basic few
measures, such as some protection of life in the in-group` (certainly not necessarily
the protection of strangers) or of the domain of groups, the ordering of societies differ.
Thus while all societies have forms of normal and deviant behaviour and mechanisms
for controlling social interaction we are not led to determine the natural` sanctity of
particular forms of organisation. Instead forms of relativism appear the result, given
modes of social organisation produce particular results, and the potential openness of
social life is demonstrated.
Once we appreciate these perceptions the role of criminology becomes complicated.
It cannot be simply the accumulation of knowledge to control troublesome people in
society, although some criminological knowledge may aid this. Nor can it be solely
the provision of knowledge about social processes to enable the members of the
society to better understand social processes, although this is a laudable aim. It can
also be a form of enquiry about the consequences of what is, and the possibility of
what is not, but could be for human existence.
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
Sample questions
Any question listed here would ask for material from all over the course at least to
illustrate the concerns raised:
1. Consider whether criminology is or should be a science.
2. Criminology cannot be a science because its subject-matter, crime is de!ned by
shifting moral and political concerns.`
Activity 1
Grasping fundamentals
1. The concepts of crime/deviancy and the task of de!ning CRIME` and
DEVIANCY` in modernity.
Criminology (crime-o-logos), broadly de!ned is the logos of crime`. That is to say it
is rational dialogue concerning crime`.
In most texts criminology is simply assumed to be the scienti!c study of crime`
(Hall Williams, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1982: 1); but why should the only
kinds of discourse considered proper criminology` be those called scienti!c`? What
are the appropriate roles of scienti!c perspectives and lay` or common-sense claims?
What are the limits of each? Further, is the concept of crime a scienti!c` or
common sense` category?
In the common sense` or natural perspective the content of criminological study is
clear: we study crime and criminals. The law de!nes what is illegal, people charged
with, convicted and sentenced for criminal offences are criminals and there is
something naturally anti-social about the kinds of acts/omissions that are de!ned as
criminal. An important aspect of the certainty about that approach to the study of
crime lies in the creation and af!rmation of a world which appears natural, in which
the institutions seem rational and the processes reasonable, outcomes secure and
predictable. Thus we save ourselves from ambiguity, ambivalence and vagueness.
But what is/are the process(es) involved when we use the word crime` in respect to
some event/activity/omission/aspect of human behaviour?
Does the answer differ depending upon the historical and social context in which it
is/was asked?
Activity 2
Consider the issues raised in Chapter. 1 Narrating the mood of the times: confusion,
self-doubt, and ambivalence, of Morrison, Theoretical Criminology.
Is the very reason for criminology so tied up with human fears, emotions and
attitudes to social life (including notions of progress and trust) that it is impossible to
accept that the understanding of crime and the policies to be used with respect to it
should be in the hands of scienti!c` experts?
Ask yourself what your presuppositions in beginning the study of criminology
are/were? Do you believe that crime is a social problem`? If so that that give rise to
the questions what causes crime? and is the reason for asking that question to
develop measures to cure` society of crime?
Are you assuming that there is some natural thing or sets of characteristics, which
constitute(s) the essential element to all crimes? Are you also assuming that there are
such a thing as criminals`, who are different from normal` people?
Consider what the link is between assuming that crime` is a natural entity and our
attitude to those adjudged criminals`?
There has been an historical connection between criminological theorising and a
correctional perspective` which saw criminology as a practical discipline, a
discipline that was de!ned in cause-and-cure` terms. Thus the terms crime and the
criminal were taken as standing for real, observable entities and it quickly followed
that the policy implication was to remove or at least incapacitate the problem. Of
course the connection between theory and practice is essential to the enterprise but
consider the following statements from leading writers:
Criminology, in its narrow sense, is concerned with the study of the phenomenon of
crime and of the factors or circumstances.which may have an in"uence on or be
associated with criminal behaviour and the state of crime in general. But this does not
and should not exhaust the whole subject matter of criminology. There remains the
vitally important problem of combating crime.To rob it of this practical function, is
to divorce criminology from reality and render it sterile.` (Leon Radzinowicz,
In Search for Criminology, 1962: 168)
The scholarly objective of criminology is the development of a body of knowledge
regarding this process of law, crime, and reaction to crime.The practical objective
of criminology, supplementing the scienti!c or theoretical objective, is to reduce the
amount of pain and suffering in the world.` (Sutherland and Cressey, Criminology,
1978: 3, 24)
Research in criminology is conducted for the purpose of understanding criminal
behaviour. If we can understand the behaviour, we will have a better chance of
predicting when it will occur and then be able to take policy steps to control,
eliminate, or prevent the behaviour.` (Reid, Crime and Criminology, 1985: 66)
Let us state quite categorically that the major task of radical criminology is to seek a
solution to the problem of crime and that of a socialist policy is to substantially
reduce the crime rate.` (Young, The failure of criminology: the need for a radical
realism`, 1986)
Are these statements similar? Perhaps not. The issue is not to avoid being concerned.
But to understand or re"ect on the distinctions and the connections between
knowledge and practice, between information and wisdom.
And while crime is a problem` one needs to understand what the nature of that
problem is and escape from simple correctionalism. David Matza (Becoming Deviant,
1969), de!ned correctional perspectives as accepting that the aim of study was to
achieve the practical result of elimination of crime and the criminal, further that a
commitment to the methodological principles of positivistic social science was
Understanding the difference between the study of crime and deviancy
In an attempt to control its own subject matter, sociological criminologists tended to
substitute the concept of deviancy` for that of crime`. As the following extract from
Paul Rock illustrates.
A sociological conception of deviancy must dwell on its peculiarly social qualities.
As a signi!cant social entity, the deviant` is the occupant of a special role which is
recognised and ordered in a process of interaction. If a person is not assigned to this
role and not treated as deviant, he cannot be regarded sociologically as a deviant. No
matter how much he may be assumed by some to be a disturbed, disruptive or
atypical individual, his social meaning is not that of deviancy but something else.
Those who would explain his behaviour do not account for social deviancy or a
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
deviant role, but disturbance, disruptiveness or atypicality as they conceive it.
Deviancy is a social construct (social constructs are the interpretations which men
collaboratively give to the objects and events around them. They are rather more than
interpretations, however, because they are also the social phenomena which men
create through their activities and as a result of these interpretations) fashioned by the
members of the society in which it exists. They endow it with importance and
distinctiveness and they assign it to a special place in the organisation of their
collective lives. As Quinney remarks:
'a thing exists only when it is given a name; any phenomenon is real to us only when
we can imagine it. Without imagination there would be nothing to experience. So it is
with crime. In our relationships with others we construct a social reality of crime.
This reality is both conceptual and phenomenal, a world of meanings and events
constructed in reference to crime.¨
Deviant roles are given names (whether Student, Militant, Hooligan, Criminal,
Homosexual or simply Deviant) which single them out for purposes of elucidation,
action and, often, the justi!cation of action. In one study, for instance, Turner and
Surace argued that the presence and behaviour of young Mexican 'zootsuiters¨ in
California evoked hostility. The hostility was marked by ambivalence because, whilst
zootsuiter` conjured up images of delinquency and violence, 'Mexican¨ evoked
images of the romantic and exciting. Collective action against the deviants became
possible only when they were referred to as zootsuiters` and their Mexican facet was
ignored. Condemnatory symbols which are unambiguous can thus mobilise a punitive
The deviant role is given a recognised place in the social structure and those who
assume it are led to expect that becoming deviant will be a fateful process. One of the
basic problems in sociology is to explain the origins, maintenance and effects of
these acts of social placement. Deviancy is a part of the social reality which organises
people`s lives, and this social reality must be the primary material of analysis.`
(Paul Rock, Deviant Behaviour, pp. 19-20).
Can you identify different deviant roles in our society?
a. What are their features?
b. Why are these roles de!ned as deviant?
c. Whose interests are served in their de!nition?
d. What does the sociological concept of role` mean? What function does Rock
attribute to deviant roles in society?
Deviance need not be de!ned in terms of social rule-breaking; of the imposition of a
social construct around an actor; or of the breaking of the criminal law. Deviance has
been de!ned by many scholars as an inner defect within a person which, under
certain conditions, leads to acts of deviance and/or crime. Steven Box, who is clearly
unsympathetic to this view, describes some of the individual differences identi!ed.
For some thinkers, particularly those versed in the mystic arts, demonology and in
some cases theology, deviants were perceived as persons possessed by evil forces, or
bewitched by black magic, or seduced by sorcery, or demented by demons, or
earmarked by God. For example, Erikson suggests that:
'according to the Puritan reading of the Bible there were only two important classes
of people on earth - those who had been elected to everlasting life and those who had
been consigned forever to hell... persons who had reasons to fear the worst would
drift sullenly into the lower echelons of society, highly susceptible to deviant forms
of behaviour.¨
Preordained, or held !rmly in the grip of some less magisterial but none the less
supra-human power, individuals were viewed as helpless; they lived out their fated
lives, the mark of Cain allowed them no other alternative.
Other writers, convinced of a more positive and empiric route to knowledge,
considered that deviant behaviour could be explained by linking it to a physiological
defect. For most of these thinkers the actual defect remained a mystery, although in
some quarters it was thought to be that quality which divided primitive man from
civilised people. Baf"ed by the defect`s exact nature, researchers concentrated on
discovering indicators of it. Since the most obvious candidate for such an indicator
was the human anatomy, this became the object !t for scrutiny. In no time, deviants
were characterised as having deviations in their head shapes, peculiarities in their
eyes, receding foreheads, weak chins, compressed faces, "ared nostrils, long ape-like
arms and agile and muscular bodies. We have progressed [sic] considerably since
these Lombrosian mistaken preoccupations. Now experts reassure us that the root
cause of crime and delinquency lies within the human body. Thus our attention is
drawn to the deviant`s minimal brain damage, nutritional de!ciency, abnormal
chromosomes and the hereditary transmission of low intelligence.
Adherents to another viewpoint were more inclined to favour the idea that deviants
suffered from a psychological defect, although again there were differences of
opinion on the nature of this "aw. To behavioural psychologists, deviants were
individuals whose personalities were not amenable to the normal` processes of social
learning; to numerous thinkers with a psychoanalytic leaning, the deviant was
perceived as a person whose weak super-ego had abdicated control to a riotous id; to
the vocal middle-class intelligentsia, caught on the rising fashion of psychiatry, all
deviants were insane.` (Steven Box, Deviance, Reality and Society, second edition,
1981, pp.2 and 3)
Ask yourself the following:
What is the place of personal responsibility in the explanations of crime that Box
This sociological turn soon led to a diffusion of boundaries. Consider the following
extract from Terence Morris.
The dif!culty in de!ning deviance stems from that of establishing what is normal,
and however obvious that may sound it remains that in a modern urban industrial
society there are a great many de!nitions of what is 'normal¨.
This is at the very root of our problem, for unless order is based upon what people
consider to be normal and acceptable, the order is precarious and dependent not upon
its voluntary acceptance by a majority of individuals but by its imposition against
their will and often against their sense of what is reasonable.
Now order is important to man for two reasons, his comfort and his convenience.
From a psychological point of view it is comforting to know that it is not necessary
to face every social situation as if it were a completely new one. Just as the
housewife in her kitchen relies on her recipes (some in her head and others in her
cookery books) so we have a series of social recipes for dealing with the raw material
of social relationships. Just as potatoes are not normally fried in their jackets so one
would not normally relate to a High Court judge, met at a cocktail party, as if he
were the waiter bringing round the drinks. Certain expectations follow upon
There are also certain presumptions based upon conventional acceptance. Thus a
newspaper placed upon an otherwise vacant seat in a railway carriage indicates that
Chapter 1: Introduction to criminological study
the occupant is temporarily absent: a sign that is as relevant to the man looking for a
seat as it is to the one who has !rst secured it.
In a more important sense the existence of order is a comforting reassurance that the
individual is relatively safe from physical assault, and from the depredation of his
property. At a mundane level people queue for buses and at shop counters, and only
in extreme situations do they !ght to get on public transport. As far as property is
concerned, although a great deal of personal property is stolen, titles to property
cannot be taken away so arbitrarily. At the same time order is conducive to great
convenience. We take pieces of paper, called cheques, write on them and receive
other pieces of paper, called banknotes, which in turn we can exchange for goods and
services. Much of the order in society is in fact derived from the needs of the
economic system, for it is a great convenience to presume that one is safe from
physical attack or the theft of one`s goods; it would be distinctly inconvenient to have
to go about armed against potential attackers and to be obliged to lock, bolt or chain
down everything one owned.
People tend to de!ne the normal` in terms of what they expect, what they are used
to, and what they believe to be morally acceptable. Given certain clues, certain
behaviour is expected...A wedding ring on a woman`s hand is a clue to her presumed
sexual non-availability. Like a suitcase with initials on it, the presumption is that
rights are vested in another, and amorous advances to such a woman are perceived as
'abnormal¨ in the sense of being deviant just as it would be for someone to go off
with the suitcase. When two cars have collided it is expected that the drivers will get
out, exchange names and addresses, and inform their respective insurers. It is not
expected that the two drivers will begin to beat each other, and even verbal abuse
must be severely limited. If they have any lasting dispute about compensation it is
expected that this will be settled by negotiation, or as the last resort, by litigation.
That married women are not to be regarded as objects of sexual predation, that
identi!able personal property is not to be seen as generally available to all comers,
and that disputes about damage are not to be settled by force majeure are precepts
which derive from certain values about marriage, private property, or how disputes
ought to be settled, and it is at this point that the attempt to de!ne normality takes on
an added complexity.
The second part of the problem relates to coming to terms with the relativity of
de!nitions of deviance. For it is not enough simply to say that one man`s virtue is
another man`s vice and that they may both be right. Rather, it is the task of the
sociologist to examine the genesis and maintenance of what may in effect be
competing ethical systems and to discover whether the con"icts between them are as
real or important as the protagonists claim. If few men have a monopoly of wisdom
and virtue it is even less likely that such a monopoly will be possessed by a class or
an interest group.
What the sociologist of deviance must examine is what lies behind the series of short
one-act morality plays in which the dramatis personae are cast in terms of mono-
dimensional stereotypes. He must identify who is de!ning whom, who is impressing
whom, and into what would. When he asks 'why?¨ he may !nd himself talking in
terms of the relationship between ideology, power and social structure. In doing so,
he is not of necessity an iconoclast, any more than the literary scholar is given over
to shredding great writing until it is meaningless tatters, or the anthropologist is
concerned with humiliating his tribe before the world as a pack of superstitious
savages. Like Tiresias he may sit by Thebes below the wall and walk among the
lowest of the dead yet not be precluded from comment or criticism.` (Terence Morris,
Deviance and Control)
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
Chapter 2
Sources of data, criminal
statistics and their
Essential reading
Core texts
Walklate, S. Understanding Criminology. (Buckingham: Open University Press,
1998) pp1-15.
Heidensohn, Crime and Society. Chapter 1. The Social Construction of Crime`.
Downes and Rock, Understanding Deviance. (Oxford, 1998), Chapter 2, Sources of
Knowledge about Deviance`.
Morrison, W. Theoretical Criminology. (Cavendish, 1995), Chapter 8,
Criminological Positivism III: Statistics, Quantifying the moral health of Society
and Calculating Nature`s Laws`.
Jones, S. Criminology. (Butterworths, 1998), Chapter 3 The Statistics on Crime and
their meaning`.
Tierney, John Criminology: theory and context. (Prentice Hall, 1996), Chapter 2,
Measuring crime and criminality`.
Supplementary reading
Coleman, C. and Moynihan, J. Understanding Crime Data, (Buckingham, Open
University Press, 1996).
Maguire, M. Crime statistics, patterns and trends: changing perception and their
implications`, in M.Maguire et al. The Oxford Handbook of Criminology,
second edition, 1997.
More dated is:
Wiles, Paul, Criminal Statistics and Sociological Explanations of Crime`
Lea and Young, What is to be done about Law and Order?, 1984, Chapters 1 and 2.
For a classic left - realist use of statistics.
Bottomley, Decisions in the Penal Process, 1973, Chapter 1 is a discussion on the
nature and construction of criminal statistics. Chapters 2 and 3 analyse how the
discretion invested with the police and courts socially structure the creation of the
of!cial statistics.
Hough, M. and P. Mayhew, Taking Account of Crime: Key !ndings from the 1984
British Crime Survey, 1985, HORS No. 85 is an illustration of how to interpret
such a survey on the extent of crime in Britain.
Box, S. Power, Crime and Mysti!cation, 1983, Chapter 1. Crime, power, and
ideological mysti!cation` argues that the social ideology of the crime problem is
clearly structured by the results of the process of gaining the statistics.
On victim surveys.
Sparks et al, Surveying Victims, esp, pp.16-34 and 2226 - 238.
On self-report questionnaires.
Hindelang M, et al. Measuring Delinquency, (Sage. 1981). See Chapters 4, 5 and 11
and Appendices A, B, and C.
Walker, M. 'Self-reported crime studies and the British Crime Survey` Howard
Journal, 22: 168-176. 1983.
Campbell ,A. 'Self-report of !ghting by Females¨ 1986, 26 British Journal of
Criminology, 28.
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter and selected reading you should be able to:
· identify the sources of data for criminology
· discuss the idea of the social construction of data
· discuss the of!cial criminal statistics, the problems with them and alternative
· adopt a critical reading of claims that changing rates of crime in of!cial statistics
are a true picture of the state of crime.
The issues involved in this chapter are basic to the whole enterprise of criminology.
Speci!cally, positive criminology assumes the nature of crime as a fact`, and works
on the notion that theories of criminal activity as they are revealed in such facts and
presented as criminal statistics can be constructed that become a re"ection of
underlying natural states of affairs. Thus the resulting theory, whether written in terms
of social, biological or psychological states of affairs will involve de!ning new facts
or causal processes which are based on the original facts analysed, for example, the
over-representation of black citizens in the of!cial statistics of the United States.
From the over-representation in the statistics positivism moves to explain this as a
fact of criminality`, as a reality to be explained in terms of differential socialisation,
body size, IQ, or involvement in subcultures of violence and delinquency to give
some examples. We give some indication of the discussion in Chapter 9, however, the
basic issue here is to consider whether the of!cial statistics actually re"ect an
underlying reality of crime and criminality?
The dream of criminal statistics
Early proponents of social statistics expected them to be a powerful tool of analysis
and policy. Social technocrats saw statistics as fact-gathering to aid policy`. As Paul
Wiles points out writers such as William Petty and John Graunt hoped as early as the
seventeen` century that such statistics would be crucial in the making of policy
decisions and in judging the moral health` of the nation. Consequently:
By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, Petty`s hope that
his 'Numbers, Weights, or Measures¨ would make 'intellectual arguments¨ about the
nature of government super"uous, had become a cardinal part of the ideas of the
political economists.`
Bentham`s scheme for Bills of Delinquency were to be a political barometer`,
furnishing data for the legislator to work upon`. Thus criminal statistics were part of
the empiricists:
genuine attempt(s) to go beyond the circle of our interpretations, to get beyond
subjectivity. The attempt is to reconstruct knowledge in such a way that there is no
need to make !nal appeal to readings or judgments which cannot be checked
further.(to obtain) a unit of information which is not the deliverance of a judgment,
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
which has by de!nition no element in it of reading or interpretation, which is a brute
datum.` (Charles Taylor, Interpretation and the sciences of man`, Philosophical
Papers, Vol II.)
Writing from within a Marxist perspective, Colin Sumner has pointed to the general
weakness of crass empiricism` in the traditional development of criminological
What seems to happen is that when a phenomenon is observed spontaneously, the
observer associates its aetiology with the circumstances in which it appears. For
example, in orthodox criminology, research of an empiricist kind has observed the
coexistence of poverty, criminal behaviour, broken family ties and delinquent
juvenile gangs within working class neighbourhoods. From this sighting
criminological researchers have gone on to correlate crime with poverty, broken
homes, working class values, etc. Rather than seeing all these circumstances
(including crime) as normal exigencies of life for a class for a speci!c position within
a particular social structure (and thus comprehending the connections between social
structure and class conditions) the theory-less researchers took the appearances and
attempted to make them explain each other.` (Reading ideologies: an investigation
into a Marxist Theory of Ideology and Law, 1979: 180)
Contemporary philosophers of science such as Charles Taylor have doubts that both
rationalism and empiricism fail to achieve such security for knowledge and see social
theory as an endless series of interpretative structures.
The underlying assumption of the project of securing pure statistics is that such
statistics and tables would provide an accurate re"ection of real trends. That it would
be a mirror of nature`, to borrow the term of a current philosopher, and additionally
the problem of crime could be reduced in some way to a simple question of social
engineering made easier by the feedback such statistics provided on the affectiveness
of policy. However:
In spite of comparatively full collection of of!cially published statistics, the brave
hopes of the nineteenth century have not been ful!led. Crime in England has proved
to be more than a technical problem of social policy. Although some still cling to the
belief that this failure stems from technical defects in the statistics themselves, the
'of!cial¨ !gures seem doomed to remain very imperfect as instruments of social
engineering.`(Wiles, 1974: 201)
The position we have reached is the realisation that of!cial rates of deviance require a
separate explanation from the explanation of the deviance itself. At the least, of!cial
crime rates arise from the interaction of criminal actions and of!cial reactions, both of
which become dependent variables which combine in different formations to give the
end result.
Durkheim’s analysis of suicide as the paradigm
example of positivism and statistics
Durkheim developed an analysis of suicide that has become a motif for constructing
positivist theories upon statistical data. Durkheim argued that suicide, which was
considered a personal act of the will of an actor, was actually highly dependent upon
a range of social factors. By measuring the rates of suicide for various groups and
correlating these with indices of social factors, Durkheim argued he could prove the
social laws of suicide. He did not regard the will of an individual as free but heavily
constrained by a set of laws that "ow through him and these real laws are
discoverable`. The subject is constrained by real, living, active forces, which,
because of the way they determine the individual, prove their independence of him`.
Suicide: A Study in Sociology, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1970). There are
types of suicide determined by their own con!gurations of social facts` (e.g. the
Durkheim built up his distinctions on the basis of treating the of!cial rates as given.
The criticisms of Durkheim mirror those that positivist approaches to criminal
statistics suffered generally.
First, the positivist self-criticism: the data Durkheim analysed was of!cial statistics
from the 1840s to the 1870s and this information is subject to error. Errors of
collection and reportage thus prejudice the analysis through data fault. Similarly,
much of subsequent criminological investigation can be seen as an attempt to explain
the of!cial crime statistics-if these are suspect then the whole analysis is also. The
positivists` message is to correct such errors and to provide real, actual data as `true
facts` upon which to join correlations of observable occurrences`. Such alternative
measures as self-report or victim studies are relied upon to correct the picture the
of!cial statistics give.
Second, the interactionist approach. The statistics are never capable of conversion into
real facts` or actual empirical data` at all since the original or basic data involve a
process of interpretation and symbolic construction of meaning which is unable to be
analysed by positivist methodology other than spuriously.
The interactionist approach to suicide can be seen in Atkinson`s concentration upon
the process` of categorising deaths as suicide`. He rejects the objectivity of a real
rate of suicide that would provide absolutely secure material for analysis. Instead
coroners interact with the situations surrounding death and their courts interpret
events producing suicide rates as a result of the interaction of their common sense`
theories of suicide with the material presented to them. Coroners bring sets of
narrative expectations, or patterns of cultural history, which if the material !ts, mean
that a suicide will most likely be registered. If not further investigation or no suicide
is found. Atkinson, J.M.,Societal Reaction to Suicide`, in S.Cohen (ed.) Images of
Deviance, (Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1971); and Discovering Suicide,
(MacMillian, London, 1978). In criminological literature Aron V. Cicourel does a
similar task with juvenile crime: The Social Organisation of Juvenile Justice,
(Heinemann, London, 1976).
As Harold Gar!nkel Studies in Ethnomethodology, (Prentice-Hall, 1967) argued, one
ought to treat social facts as interactional accomplishments`. When common sense
may lead us to see certain things`, givens` or facts of life` the interactional
perspective presents us with processes and we need to understand the processes
through which the perceivedly stable features of socially organised environments are
continually created and sustained.
The categories of crime and criminal are not references to objective facts`, or mirror
images of objective reality but are constructions of meanings which come out of the
interaction of certain situations. Importantly, the question becomes how do such
meanings become generated? How is the categorisation manufactured?`
International projects to complement criminal
You should constantly bear in mind the international dimensions to criminological
issues. The question of the adequacy of the of!cial criminal statistics to correctly
picture` crime is certainly not con!ned to the relatively wealthy countries of Western
Europe and North America and victim surveys are increasingly conducted in a variety
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
of countries, !nances permitting. That a candidate could show knowledge of such
surveys, their methodologies and of what the results show for their own countries
would be of interest to an examiner.
Most of these surveys demonstrate the internationalisation of the criminological
methodologies developed in Great Britain and the US. For example a key objective of
the New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 1996 was to explore the nature,
extent and distribution of the type of offending to which households and individuals
are subject in their private capacity (as distinct from offences occurring in the course
of their business or employment). The survey draws heavily upon the techniques of
the British Crime Survey. Respondents were asked to report on, and provide detailed
information about, particular forms of criminal victimisation experienced by members
of their household, or by themselves personally, since 1 January 1995. The household
offences the survey focused on were residential burglary and vehicle offences, while
the individual offences comprised sexual offending, all forms of assault, threats,
robbery, arson and wilful damage, and other forms of theft.
Akey task of such surveys is to ascertain the incidence of offending. The NZ survey
estimated a total of offences committed in 1995 (more than two million) far in excess
of those of!cially reported. Violent offending and sexual offending, including threats,
made up almost two-thirds of total offences disclosed in the survey. Damage offences,
which would usually be described as vandalism, were the next most common
category. In terms of other property offending, homes and vehicles were targeted with
about equal degree of frequency, making up a little under 10 per cent of total
One of the interesting calculations that it is possible to make is one of generalised
risk`, thus the data suggest that, on average:
· one house in 14 will be burgled each year
· one woman in 16 will be sexually violated each year; and
· one person in !ve will be the victim of some type of assault (excluding threats)
each year.
Of course the particular individualised` risk of a person may vary with locality and
lifestyle. For grievous assaults, other assaults and threats, the survey distinguished
between violence by those known well to the victim (including family violence) and
violence in"icted by casual acquaintances or strangers. Grievous assaults were
roughly evenly divided between the two groups. Other assaults and threats, on the
other hand, were almost three times more likely to be committed by those known well
to the victim than by strangers or casual acquaintances. This is a highly signi!cant but
not unexpected !nding; it demonstrates that, despite media preoccupation with
violence by strangers, people are in fact just as likely to be seriously injured by those
they know well and are much more at risk of violence from them.
What does one make of the high incidence of offences against the person? Does this
mean that this society is a particularly violent one? It should be noted that over a third
of such offences involve threats of violence or threats of damage to property, which
clearly vary enormously in seriousness and signi!cance. Another third involve sexual
offences that have a large sampling error. These are both omitted from the British
Crime Survey. If these are excluded from the count, then assaults, wounding and
robbery make up 24.7 per cent of total offences, only slightly above the !gure of
20.8% reported in the 1996 British Crime Survey.
How did that survey make the comparison between survey offences and police
One of the purposes of victim surveys is to identify what is commonly called the
dark !gure` of crime-offences which are unreported or which are reported but go
unrecorded. This was achieved by a comparison of the offences disclosed by survey
respondents with the police offence statistics over the same period. It is clear that
there was a large gap between survey estimated offences and adjusted police offence
statistics. Indeed, police statistics were only 12.9 per cent of the offences revealed in
the survey.
There were two reasons for the gap between police statistics and the number of
offences disclosed in the survey. First, only a little over 40 per cent of the cases in
which we were able to collect information on reporting came to the notice of the
police, although this varied from a reporting rate of nearly 90 per cent in relation to
the theft or unlawful taking of a motor vehicle to a rate of only 33 per cent for non-
domestic assaults and 27 per cent for damage. Secondly, only about one - third of the
offences which were reported ended up being recorded, although again the rate varied
substantially from one offence to another.
How does one relate to the picture offered by such surveys? As usual the NZ survey
discovered that while the of!cial statistics on some offences-for example vehicle theft
- seem to mirror the reality of offending experienced by victims quite closely, they
appear to grossly understate the incidence of other offending. In particular, there
appeared to be a vast amount of hidden sexual offending, assaults and threats; most of
these are unreported, or even when they are reported, they often seem to fail to get
into the of!cial statistics, either because they are not recorded at all or because they
are recorded as something different from what our respondents` accounts suggested to
be appropriate. The sexual offending data, of course, are subject to substantial
sampling error and might be questionable on that ground. The data on assaults and
threats, however, are much more robust and cannot be dismissed as a product of the
survey methodology. Does this mean that New Zealand is confronting a law and order
crisis? Again quali!cations must be made.
Each country will vary in the de!ning of offences and the methodology for recording
events under categories. Thus although the proportion of total offenses comprising
assaults, for example, in the NZ survey is greater than in the British Crime Survey,
the NZ practice of recording some discrete incidents as multiple offences undoubtedly
resulted in the counting of some assaults which in Britain would have been
encompassed within some other more serious offence.
Again, average incidence rates such as those so far discussed imply that crime is
evenly distributed. It is not; victimisation is, in fact, very unevenly distributed. As
might be expected, some socio-demographic groups are, on average, more at risk of
being victimised than others. For instance, in our survey, there was a general pattern
of decreasing incidence and prevalence of victimisation with age, and Maori had
signi!cantly higher rates of both incidence and prevalence of assaults and threats than
New Zealand European/European. More importantly, however, even within one socio-
economic group, some individuals are particularly prone to be victimised. Our survey
found that this was particularly the case with violent offending: only 5 per cent of the
total sample (or 6 per cent of those who were the subject of a violent offence) were
victimised !ve or more times, but they accounted for a massive 68 per cent of the
violent offending. Most people, then, have only a small risk of violence, but for a
small minority of multiple victims it would seem to be so common as to be virtually a
normal part of everyday life.
Furthermore, victim surveys represent all incidents that are capable of being
interpreted as involving a criminal offence. In reality, the de!nitions are very wide, so
at that an enormous range of conduct is captured. Assaults and threats, for example,
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
encompass a wide range of conduct, much of which is relatively trivial or could be
regarded as a normal (albeit undesirable) feature of everyday social interaction which
most people cope with without dif!culty and stress, and which they would probably
not regard as the appropriate business of the police or the criminal justice system.
Even robbery (which had a surprisingly low reporting rate) may range from
something as comparably minor as one school pupil taking some lunch off another
with some implicit threat of force involved to something as serious as armed bank
In other words, technical de!nitions of offences are very broad; practical limitations
upon their scope are imposed not only by the working rules of the police but also by
the common - sense de!nitions which members of the public apply to the conduct of
others. It is thus by no means certain that respondents would de!ne as criminal at
least some of the behaviour that they subsequently told the later surveyor. Sometimes
they often believe that the matter is best handled without of!cial intervention. The
researchers interpreted this to imply that there seems to be considerable support
amongst victims for alternative processes and strategies for responding to crime; the
criminal justice system is seen, at least by some, as a last resort and the offending
which comes to its notice is only a small proportion of the behaviour which could
potentially do so`.
Note that the authors of this particular report stated that a general implication was
that trends in of!cial statistics themselves should often be regarded as suspect, since
they are highly susceptible to changes in reporting and recording practices`. As an
example they argued that only a little over a quarter of arson and wilful damage cases
are reported to the police, and only 42 per cent of those are subsequently recorded. Of
all of the arson and damage cases mentioned by our respondents, therefore, less than
12 per cent ended up in the of!cial statistics in 1995. Given that, a relatively small
change in either reporting practice or recording practice, or both, will have a major
effect upon the of!cial statistics. On the above !gures, if the proportion of offences
reported increased from one - quarter to one-third and the proportion of those
recorded remained constant, the of!cial statistics would increase by more than 20 per
cent without any change at all in the actual volume of crime.
Interpreting rises or declines in official statistics
After several decades of rising crime and a growing rhetoric of either nothing works`
or the need to get tough on criminals` crime rates in the US and Europe appear to
have several years of real decline. What processes are at work?
New York City has come to stand as an indicator of broader trends.
In the late 1990s New York City recorded less than 1,000 murders in a year for the
!rst time in more than two decades, as part of a seemingly persisting and sharp drop
in crime. Reported crime fell more than 43 per cent in the city in the later 1990s, and
it has been noted that New York City alone, with 3 per cent of the American
population, accounts for a large part of the national plunge in crime. And, while New
Yorkers may not fear murder on a day-to-day basis, something they do constantly fear
- car theft - shows an equally astonishing drop, from 147,000 in 1990 to 60,000 in
1996, and a further 20 per cent drop in the !rst quarter of 1997.
There is considerable variation in accounts for this decline. Among candidates are:
· the decline of crack cocaine use
· the economic upturn; and
· a change in the policing strategy involving more aggressive policing strategies
and the rise of zero tolerance`.
The argument for economic upturn seems only to explain a small change, the growth
in the American economy was gradual but sustained over a number of years, for most
of which crime increased. Moreover, there was not much of an economic upturn in
New York City for the unskilled and less educated who contribute most to crime.
Indeed, the city`s unemployment rates have remained persistently high, much higher
than the national average. But both the decline of usage in crack cocaine and changes
in policing may have had a large effect.
The new policing strategy implemented in New York was based on a theory called the
Broken Windows` Theory. First expressed by political scientist James Q. Wilson and
criminologist George Kelling in an article for The Atlantic Monthly in 1982, the
theory holds that if someone breaks a window in a building and it is not quickly
repaired, others will be emboldened to break more windows. Eventually, the broken
windows create a sense of disorder that attracts criminals, who thrive in conditions of
public apathy and neglect.
The theory was based on an experiment conducted 26 years ago by Stanford
University psychologist Philip Zimbardo. He took two identical cars, placing one on a
street in a middle-class Palo Alto neighbourhood and the other in a tougher
neighbourhood in the Bronx. The car in the Bronx which had no licence plate on it
and was parked with its bonnet up, was stripped within a day. The car in Palo Alto sat
untouched for a week, until Zimbardo smashed one of its windows with a
sledgehammer. Within a few hours it was stripped.
According to James Q. Wilson, a professor of public policy at UCLAand leading
proponent of Right Realism, There are two sources of disorder: offenders and
physical disorder. [Both] lead people to believe the neighbourhood is run down. The
central problem for police is to take the small signs of disorder seriously and deal
with them. That could be dealing with small-time offenders, or dealing with physical
disorder, or some combination of both`.
Former Commissioner Bratton !rst tested this strategy while he was commanding the
New York Transit Police. Because subway police did not focus on low-level crimes`,
Bratton wrote in an article for the Journal of Law and Policy, subway disorder and
subway crime exploded in the late 1980s. Chronic fare evaders, violators of transit
regulations, aggressive panhandlers, homeless substance abusers and illegal vendors
hawking goods on station platforms all contributed to an atmosphere of disorder, even
chaos, in the subways. I was convinced that disorder was a key ingredient in the
steeply rising robbery rate, as criminals of opportunity, including many youthful
offenders looked upon the subway as a place where they could get away with
Bratton responded by calling on all transit cops to enforce quality of life` laws and by
targeting fare-beaters-people who jump subway turnstiles without paying. It turned
out that the people who broke the law by jumping turnstiles were often the same
people who broke the law by robbing subway riders. The result: a dramatic drop in
crime on the subway. The results look dramatic: the infamous graf!ti is gone and you
can ride subways at virtually any hour without fear. From this experience the task
appeared to widen out the process: the claim was that you could stop the major
offences by nabbing minor offenders. Another word for this was to show zero
tolerance` on minor offences so that the larger offences would not then take place.
In January 1994, newly elected New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put Bratton in
charge of the NYPD. Aformer prosecutor, Giuliani had made crime and quality of life
the major themes of his campaign against former Mayor David Dinkins. Giuliani
hired Bratton because of his interpretation of the Broken Windows Theory. And
Bratton turned Broken Windows loose on the streets of New York.
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
Five thousand more cops were put on the streets, and for the !rst time in decades,
of!cers were told to enforce nuisance laws: under this zero tolerance campaign,
quality of life` patrols snared the drunks, drug users and taggers. Police identi!ed
hot spots` of gun violence by using crime maps. In those areas, special teams came in
to enforce nuisance laws, frisking everyone for the slightest infractions in an effort to
!nd the guys with the guns. There were twice-weekly strategy sessions, known as
Comstat, which focused the strategy of the department`s top command on street crime
patterns. Each precinct was questioned about its crime-!ghting strategy every !ve
weeks, and precinct captains were grilled if their crime rates went up.
Was this revolutionary? Many commentators think so. In general it appears
unprecedented in the history of New York and unprecedented in the history of most
police departments in this country that top police executives pay attention to street-
level crime. Previously, as some commentators (especially newspaper reporters) put it
using popular medical and military speak, most chiefs were caught up with managing
the hospital rather than worrying about diseases. Crime is left to the soldiers, and the
generals pay no attention.`
In other cities where police departments have applied versions of the Broken
Windows Theory - usually choosing to target physical disorder, rather than petty
criminals - it has not proven to be a great success. The resulting programmes have
gone by a host of familiar names: Weed and Seed, Clean Sweep Operation CLEAN.
Typically, they share the strategy of one-time sweeps through high-crime areas during
which the obvious drug and prostitution arrests are made. The area having thus been
weeded`, is then seeded` by a range of city agencies, which !x streetlights, tear
down vacant buildings haul away abandoned cars and make other improvements to
the physical environment. The general claim is that it is a holistic approach, but others
claim it only focuses on the symptoms of social disorder without addressing basic
It`s also an approach that takes the Broken Windows Theory quite literally: by !xing
the windows you deter crime. When the sanitation workers and the code enforcers
and the maintenance men leave the windows tend to get broken again. Targeted areas
tend to deteriorate quickly. Dallas police, for example, abandoned their Operation
CLEAN strategy in 1991 because crime rates in six of seven target areas rose
inexorably after an initial, hopeful drop. Baltimore housing police have seen the same
thing happen in the city`s eight public housing high-rises since they instituted a
similar strategy. Their statistics did go down but then the housing authority put its
spruced-up buildings in the hands of a private security !rm, and the drug dealers
quickly moved back in.
However, the defenders of broken windows and zero tolerance say that the basic
problems are not problems local policy can solve, but local efforts can tackle local
conditions of everyday life and in doing this also deter more serious criminals.
Some crime experts are sceptical that police work alone is responsible for what the
headlines have called a suddenly safer New York`; complaints against the police
have also increased dramatically. Since other cities have started to show similar,
though less spectacular, drops in reported crime, a general consensus is forming
around the notion that urban America is going through some kind of crime correction,
much like the stock market. Driven by the aberrant violence of the crack cocaine
industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, crime just got too high, by this theory.
What goes up, must come down.
Other experts are critical of New York`s tactics, particularly because citizen
complaints of police abuse have skyrocketed. Civil libertarians say the courts became
backlogged because the NYPD is locking up unlicensed vendors and others accused
of extremely minor offences. In this light, some commentators claim that they are just
making problems for later. As Jerome Miller, executive director of the National
Center for Institutions and Alternatives, a non-pro!t organisation that opposes the
nation`s rising rates of incarceration, put it: This Broken Window theory can quickly
deteriorate into the Broken Head theory. And don`t kid yourself that that`s not what`s
going on. Making all these arrests is going to give a large number of criminal records
to large numbers of poor people. So you make people less employable. And that is
going to come back to haunt them later.`
Other commentators are also not impressed with the NYPD`s interpretation of the
Broken Window Theory either. There are complaints of rigged !gures, and that it has
been a self-promoting, publicity driven exercise.
To each of these arguments, New York police have a ready retort. In 1993, one of
every 438 subway fare-beaters arrested was carrying a loaded gun. By 1998, only one
of every 1,034 was armed - evidence, it is claimed, that the bad guys are leaving their
guns at home.
Indeed, the New York strategy may have been too successful. In the end Bratton
resigned amid rumours that Giuliani forced him out because he was getting all the
credit for engineering the drop in crime. He and Maple, a top deputy, have since
accepted posts in the private sector.
Is the city they left behind really safer? The statistics say it is. And the cops certainly
seem happier. Many residents also seem to be satis!ed. They recount with amazement
how the squeegee men disappeared last year from the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.
They say the hookers no longer work Lexington Avenue. They say shattered glass -
the glittery droppings of auto thieves - no longer echoes through Gramercy Park at
dawn. Crime had gotten so out of control that it was happening at our doorstep.
There`s a sense of safety now.`
Certainly the local government claims the credit for these welcome results. Mayor
Giuliani successfully traded upon the reduction in crime when he sought reselection.
But does government really deserve the credit? And, if so, what change in
government caused the transformation?
There has been a shift nationwide to more community policing; but the strategies vary
and the Broken Windows idea is only one of the policing strategies. Crime rates have
also fallen in other cities (for example San Francisco) where alternative strategies are
used. In general the move to community policing with some versions of Broken
Windows seems an attractive theory. Even if it does not reduce serious crime, it
contributes to a better environment.
But there have been other changes in policing and crime control that make it dif!cult
to pinpoint one cause for the lower crime rates. According to The New York Times, in
one neighbourhood that has seen such a decline, Federal, State, and local law
enforcement agencies are working to drive out drug dealers with aggressive policing
tactics. In another New York neighbourhood, a pilot programme has consolidated the
various divisions of the police - housing, narcotics and others - under the control of a
locally based commander, making it easier to co-ordinate investigations and capture
drug pedlars.
It has been argued that an equally sharp drop in teenage murders in Boston is due to
more aggressive control of teenagers on probation as probation of!cers work more
closely with the police. Astory in The American Lawyer attributes much of the
reduction in New York City`s murder rate to an aggressive young prosecutor using the
Federal Racketeering Control Law to put away gang leaders for longer prison terms,
and indeed, in the areas where the gang leaders have been prosecuted and
incarcerated, there has been a sharp drop in homicides.
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
But there have also been other changes, owing nothing to government but to changes
in business practice. Criminologists call this routine action` theory, such as the
decline in the use of cash and the rise of plastic money - and citizens taking more
precautions with their property (car alarms, household security).
Sample questions
1. What purposes are served by measuring crime? Do the of!cial criminal
statistics, together with Crime Surveys, achieve these desired goals?
2. What problems are there in using of!cial crime statistics as a basis for
criminological explanations? Can these problems be alleviated?
3. To what extent is it prudent to base criminal justice policy on the of!cial
statistics? Do alternative measures remedy any problems with using the of!cial
4. (a) The British Crime Surveys provide a more accurate measurement of the
amount of crime in society than the of!cial criminal statistics.`
Critically assess this statement
(b) To what extent has the fear of crime become more of a social problem than
the reality of crime?
5. Does the dramatic rise in crime levels recorded in the of!cial criminal statistics
since the 1950s accurately mirror a crisis in law and order?
6. To what extent can self-report and victim studies measure crime more adequately
than of!cial statistics?
7. Of!cial crime statistics give so distorted a view of the real trends and patterns in
criminal behaviour that they can be of no use in criminological explanation.`
Critically assess this claim.
Assessing Student work and the nature of studying as an external student
Criminology is taught in a variety of university settings. Sometimes a unit is included
in a Law Degree, sometimes it comes in throughout a sociology degree under
different guises, for example, under the heading of sociology of deviance` or
sociology of crime and punishment; etc. This guide is for external students of the
University of London doing Criminology as a single unit.
Studying as an external student means that your access to a well-stocked library
cannot be assumed, nor can tutorial interaction. While it is expected that you will
purchase or have access to the main texts referred to it is doubtful if you will access
the majority of the supplementary reading. However, it is advisable to try and
reproduce aspects of the internal experience. In particular the experience of writing
term essays and assessed work. Therefore, throughout this guide, I will present some
examples of actual student work, such as the following:
NB: This is a real essay. Written as part of the assessment process, in other words it
constituted at least 25 per cent of the marks for that Undergraduate Criminology
course. I judge it to be clearly of !rst - class standard.
It is presented NOT as some form of model answer but as a guide to what can be
achieved. It is a good idea to prepare your own essays of selected topics; being
familiar with the issues and having recall of the material thereby created will prove
invaluable in answering questions in examination conditions.
What can the study of statistics and surveys teach us about crime`?
In order to provide an answer to the above statement the writer`s approach will be as
follows. The writer will provide a mostly qualitative investigation on the of!cial
statistics and the British Crime Survey (BCS).
The writer will highlight both the
advantages and disadvantages of both methods of enquiry and the criminal deviancy
picture that emerges. In conclusion the writer will observe that crime is a social
construct re"ecting a dominant societal ideological belief.
The key of!cial publication in respect of crime !gures is Criminal Statistics, the
annual compilation of data derived from police and court records throughout England
and Wales, which is collated and tabulated by the Home Of!ce Research and
Statistics Directorate. Despite the caution with which they are now treated by
criminologist and Home Of!ce statisticians alike, and despite the increasingly high
pro!le given in Criminal Statistics to comparative data from BCS, these statistics
remain the primary barometer of crime,` used by politicians and highlighted in the
media. They are also in"uential in the resource and strategic planning of the home
of!ce and police forces`.
The latest of!cial !gures (comparable to the BCS) indicate that the total number of
noti!able offences`
recorded by the police in England and Wales in the period April
1997 to March 1998 was 4,545,300. The majority of crimes, 91 per cent, were
property offences (burglary, theft, fraud, forgery and criminal damage) whilst violent
crimes (violence against the person, sexual offences and robbery) accounted for 8 per
cent of all offences recorded during this period.
Although this is the of!cial !gure
referred to in most public debates about the extent of crime, it has to be emphasised
that, even as a record of criminal offences of!cially known to the authorities, it is
anything but complete`.
It might be argued that, for practical purposes, it is perfectly
adequate to judge the size and shape of the crime problem` by means of the
noti!able offences recorded by the police, on the grounds that these embrace the
most serious crimes, for which the vast majority of prison sentences are passed.
'However, they also include large numbers of incidents which it is dif!cult to claim
are any more serious than many summary offences and the offences dealt with
administratively. Changing views about the seriousness or otherwise of particular
kinds of offence have led on occasion to changes in Home Of!ce decisions about
what to include in or exclude from the of!cial crime totals`.
There are important questions, therefore, concerning how individual crimes are
counted. Following the recommendations of the Perks Committee in 1967, clearer
counting rules` were established which tidied up some of the discrepancies between
forces, but at the same time appear arbitrary and undoubtedly understate the relative
frequency of some offences`. The general rule now is that, if several offences are
committed in one incident` only the most serious is counted: that is unless violence
is involved, in which case the rule is one offence for each victim`.
Therefore all
statements about the total volume of crime` have to be hedged about with
quali!cations, even when they purport only to describe crimes of!cially known to
state agencies, if different noti!cation or counting rules were adopted the total could
be raised or lowered signi!cantly at a stroke.
Criminal Statistics currently lists the noti!able crimes, in other words, offences,
recorded by the police under a total of 64 headings. These are grouped under eight
broader headings, namely offences of violence against the person`, sexual offences`,
robbery`, burglary`, theft and handling stolen goods`, fraud and forgery`, criminal
It should be emphasised, however, that
concerns about the tendency of the BCS to
distort the experiences of crime, especially
those of women and ethnic minorities and
the very poor have been raised by several
writers who have instituted a number of
local surveys (Jones et al, 1986 and Genn
1988). These surveys have been funded by
local authorities and examine areas not
touched by the BCS. Their ambit has been
to examine and emphasise the extent to
which victimisation is unequally
distributed among the population. These
surveys (plus self-report studies) provide a
qualitative microscopic view of the
unequally distributed victimisation in our
society. This is in contrast to the
quantitative view presented by the of!cial
statistics and the BCS.
(Maguire, 1997, p.148).
Recorded crime includes those offence
categories which the police are required to
notify the Home Of!ce of for statistical
`Noti!able Offences, England and Wales,
April 1997 to March 1998' found at
Supra No. 2 at p.148.
Most notably, prior to 1977, offences of
criminal damage of £20 or less - which were
not indictable - were not counted, but since
that date they have been de!ned as noti!able
and included. This decision immediately
raised the `total volume of crime' by about
7 per cent (Maguire, 1997, p.150).
(Maguire, 1997, p.151). There is also a
broad guideline stating that only one
offence will be counted in a `continuous
series of offences, where there is some
special relationship, knowledge or position
that exists between the offender and the
person or property offended against which
enables the offender to repeat the offence'.
As an illustration, if the rules were
changed, for example, to allow all cheque
frauds to be counted separately, the
overall `of!cial picture' of crime might
look signi!cantly different.
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
damage`, and other noti!able offences`.
Most of these groups contain a
considerable variety of offences, in terms of both context and seriousness, but most
are dominated numerically by just one or two.
In other words a relatively small
number of offence categories play a major part in determining both the overall crime
total and the size of each offence group in relation to the others. If one analyses the
contributions of the main offence groups to the total number of offences recorded by
the police in 1997 the picture of the crime problem` which emerges is one dominated
by property offences and above all by theft associated with vehicles. It can therefore
be argued that the popular media focus too strongly upon violence and distort its
importance within the overall crime picture`.
A long-standing criticism of the
presentation of of!cial statistics has been that they do not give a clear picture of the
social or situational context of crimes`.
For example, robbery` includes actions as
diverse as an organised bank raid, the theft at knifepoint of the contents of a
shopkeepers till, and a drunken attempt to snatch a handbag or necklace in the
Consequently, the kind of statistic most likely to feature in newspaper headlines are
those referring to apparent trends in recorded crime. In many cases, such !gures refer
only to a rise or fall relative to the previous year, or even previous quarter, paying no
attention to the relationship between the latter and earlier year, or even previous
quarter, paying no attention to the relationship between the latter and earlier years.
'Thus even leaving aside the doubts about whether changes in recorded crime levels
re"ect real changes in criminal behaviour - they can be highly misleading in terms of
longer - term trends. Serious attempts to identify trends in recorded crime adjust for
legislative changes - the most important in the post-war years being the Theft Act
1968 which radically rede!ned a number of key offences including burglary`.
effect, therefore, of!cial statistics tell us which crimes the public choose to report and
how those crimes are dealt with by the police. The data produced by the police will
tell us as much about the method of policing and the level of public concern about
crime as it does about the amount of crime`.
Accordingly, the BCS was instituted to attempt to elicit the true` volume of crime,
that is, attempt to gain an understanding of the dark !gure of crime
. The BCS is
undertaken by members of the Home Of!ce Research and Statistics Directorate and
was !rst conducted in 1982 with further sweeps` in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1996,
1998. The Directorate has just completed the 2000 survey. The BCS has a different
emphasis to that provided by the of!cial statistics. It is a victimisation survey as
opposed to a register of of!cial recorded offences. For that reason, the main rationale
for the survey is that, by asking samples of the public to describe crimes committed
against them within a given recent period, the vagaries of crime reporting behaviour
and police recording behaviour are neatly avoided, and the responses can be grossed
up into a fuller` and hence, by implication, more valid` picture of crime and its
trends in Britain`.
Accordingly, to comment sensibly on the status of knowledge
about crime derived from the BCS, it is necessary to understand how its data are
collected and compiled. The core !ndings of every survey are based on interviews
with more than 10,000 people aged 16 and over. Since 1992, the Postcode Address
File (PAF) has been used as a sampling frame, it being argued that this produces a
better representation of the population.
The offence categories produced by the
BCS are by no means all coterminous with police categories.
In fact, when making
direct comparisons of of!cial` and BCS` crime rates, only 62 per cent of the BCS-
generated offences` can justi!ably be used`.
Alternatively, there are many
categories of offence covered in the police-derived statistics which are not measured
by the BCS.
From 1 April 1998, the coverage of
noti!able offences has been expanded to
include all indictable offences, all triable-
either-way offences and closely associated
summary offences. The guidance rules
issued by the Home Of!ce to the police on
how to count crime were also revised on
that date. Further information relating to
coverage and counting can be found at
A great deal of discretion remains in police
hands about whether and how to record
possible offences which do come to their
notice (Ashworth, 1994) provides an
illuminating account of the police's `gate
keeping' exercise. Reports from the public,
which are the source of over 80 per cent of
all recorded crimes (Bottomley and
Coleman, 1981) may be disbelieved or
considered too trivial or deemed not to
constitute a criminal offence, with the result
that they are either not recorded at all, or
are of!cially `no crimed' later. Calculations
from crime survey data indicate that about
40 per cent of `crimes' reported to the
police do not end up in the of!cial
statistics, for good or bad reasons (Mayhew
and Maung, 1993).
Found at http://www.homeof!
Thus `sexual offences' range from rape to
bigamy to indecency between males, but
more than half consist of indecent assault
on a female. This information can be found
(Davies et all., 1995, pp. 43-45).
(Maguire et all, 1998, p.155).
I bid.
(Taylor, 1997). The comprehensive
article by Ricky Taylor entitled `Forty
Years of Crime and Criminal Justice
Statistics, 1958 to 1997' details 43 pieces
of legislation from the Street Offences Act
1959 to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998
which affect criminal statistics.
This article can be found at
Davies et al, (1995 at p.74). See also
Dingwall and Harding's `Diversion In The
Criminal Process' (1998). They provide an
interesting chapter on the police and their
role in the `diversion process' prevalent in
the criminal justice system.
This change of emphasis was aided by
the ideas proffered by the `left realists' and
by the pioneering work of the
crime surveys.
(Maguire, 1997, p.165).
In other words, national victimisation surveys are much less successful in obtaining
information about some types of incident than others. They do not produce an overall
!gure purporting to represent the total volume of crime` but concentrate instead
upon selected categories of offence which are usually discussed individually or in
sub-groups. The BCS provides an alternative, rather than a directly comparable
overall picture of crime to that offered by police statistics: it is fuller` than the latter
in some respects, but narrower` in others`.
In 1997, the total of noti!able offences
recorded by the police in categories covered by the BCS was 2,450,000, whereas the
BCS produced evidence to suggest that over 10 million offences of these kinds had
been committed in the same year. There is a strong temptation, therefore, to interpret
such !gures as showing that there is four times as much crime` as the of!cial records
suggest: a trap into which many people have duly fallen. The problem lies, however,
in the wide variations between offences in terms of their reporting and recording
rates. These variations mean that the choice of offence groups to include in any
comparison can signi!cantly affect the overall ratio between the survey !gures and
the police !gures`.
What can the study of the BCS teach us about crime`? The central message sent out
by its initial authors was that The bad news is that there is a lot more crime than we
thought, the good news is that most of it is petty`.
This same message is applicable
in today`s climate. The emphasis upon the petty nature of most law-breaking was
designed to de"ect a possible moral panic in reaction to the huge amount of new`
crime revealed by the survey, but it also re"ected the funding that unreported crimes
generally involved much lower levels of !nancial loss, damage and injury than those
reported to the police. Secondly, the main difference where directly comparable
offences are concerned is that vandalism is more prominent among BCS offences
than in the of!cial statistics: it appears from the most recent survey that only about
one in eight cases known to victims ends up in police !gures.
Thirdly, the series of
sweeps` of the BCS, together suggest that overall increases in crime have been less
steep than police !gures suggest. In sum, the general picture painted by the BCS is
one of a fairly steady pattern of increase since the early 1980s, while police !gures
suggest a sharper rise followed by a fall. While political` factors in the broadest
sense may well have played a part, it is likely that the reasons for the "uctuations
were vastly more complex, involving interactions between changes in policing, in
insurance practice, in media attitudes and, indeed, in the public mood``.
Finally, it
is important to remember that the BCS, perhaps even more so than the police !gures,
promotes a picture of crime in which certain modes of offending are prominent and
others are systematically excluded or under-counted. The BCS picture is dominated
above all by offences against private individuals and households which are
committed by strangers at random`.
In conclusion, it can be derived from the study of statistics and surveys that crime is
a social construction. It is dependent on the subjective contingencies of social and
historical circumstances`.
Consequently, a biased` picture emerges portraying a
certain social order, social ideology. The writer would agree with Box (1983)
the criminal categories pertaining to deviant behaviour are creative constructs
designed to criminalise only some victimising behaviours, usually those more
frequently committed by the relatively powerless and to exclude others, usually those
frequently committed by the powerful against subordinates`. This ideology can be
evidenced at !rst hand in the political arena where politicians argue both about the
signi!cance of the statistics and about the causes of crime. Crime has become more
of an election issue since the 1970s. With a general election forecast within the next
year or two we will no doubt witness, yet again, political debates over its existence
and supposed causation.
Nevertheless, the of!cial` view of the extent of deviancy
(Mayhew et al, 1993, pp. 149-51). The
Electoral Register has been used
previously but it was found that it may
signi!cantly under-represent vulnerable
groups such as young people, the
unemployed, ethnic minorities and those
living in rented accommodation.
Participants of the BCS are !rst asked
whether `you or anyone else now in your
household' have been the victim of any of
a series of crimes, each described to them
in ordinary language, since 1 January of
the previous year. They are then asked
whether `you personally' have suffered any
of a number of other offences. If any
positive answers are received, interviewers
complete a detailed `Victim Form' for each
incident, though if the respondent reports
a number of similar events, these may be
treated as one `series incident'. The results
of this exercise are analysed to produce
estimated national totals of both
`household offences' and `personal
offences', based on calculations using,
respectively, the total number of household
and the total adult population of England
and Wales. This information was gained
from the BCS, 1998 at pages 69-75.
As an illustration, according to the BCS
1998 (p.18), offences not in a comparable
subset include thefts in a dwelling, thefts
of personal property, and common
Ibid at p. 17.
These include crimes against
commercial or corporate victims (notably
shop-lifting, burglary and vandalism),
fraud, motoring offences and so-called
`victimless' crimes such as the possession
of or dealing in drugs. The main BCS
schedule also excludes offences against
victims under 16. And sexual offences,
though asked about, are reported to BCS
interviewers so infrequently that no
reliable estimates can be produced.
This information was taken from the BCS,
1998 at pp. 17-25.
(Davies et al, 1995, p.77).
BSS, 1998, at pp. 22-26.
(Hough and Mayhew, 1983, p.33).
BCS, 1998, at p.19.
(Maguire, 1997, p.168).
(Muncie & McLaughlin, 1996, p.21).
This image was strengthened in the !rst
BCS report by the calculation of the
`average risks' of falling victim to various
types of offence: a `statistically average'
person aged 16 or over can expect: a
robbery once every !ve centuries (not
attempts); an assault resulting in injury
(even if slight) once every century; a
family car to be stolen or taken by joy
riders once every 60 years; a burglary in
the home once every 40 years (Hough and
Mayhew, 1983, p.15)
(Muncie & Mclaughlin, 1996, p.7).
At page 11.
As we were in 1994 with Tony Blair's
slogan that governments should be `tough
on crime and tough on the causes of
crime'. The Guardian, (21 March, 1994).
In spite of the fact that The Guardian (8
December, 1999) published an interesting
article on how `of!cial' statistical reform
(as a result of a white paper on national
statistics) will still be subject `to charges
of political manipulation'.
Chapter 2: Sources of data, criminal statistics and their interpretation
is generally accepted by the public.31 Consequently, if we the general public were
provided by the politicians with the results of the alternative` view of the prevalence
of deviancy in society, and afforded an insight as to how the criminal de!nition has
been formulated, we would be much more aware of the crime, power and
ideological mysti!cation`
continually accepted by society through the use of
criminal statistics and victimisation surveys.
Student`s bibliography
Ashworth, Andrew (1994), The Criminal Process - An Evaluative Study, (Oxford:
Clarendon Press), pp.125-155.
Bottomley, K. & Coleman, C. (1981), Understanding Crime Rates, (Farnborough:
Box, Stephen (1983), Power, Crime and Mysti!cation, (London: Routledge),
Coleman, Clive, Moynihan, Jenny (1996), Understanding Crime Data, (Buckingham:
Open University Press), pp.1-90, 132-143.
Croall, H. (1998), Crime and Society in Britain, (London: Longman), pp.15-39.
Davies, Croall & Tyrer (1995), Criminal Justice: An Introduction to the Criminal
Justice System in England and Wales (London: Longman), pp.34-78.
Denny, Charlotte (1999), Finance Roundup: Statistics reform discounted`, in
The Guardian (London: Guardian Media Group), p.29.
Dingwall, Gavin, Harding and Christopher (1998), Diversion in the Criminal Process
(London: Sweet & Maxwell), pp.2-15, 38-48, 98-115.
Ellingworth, D.; Farrell, G.; and Pearse, K. A Victim is A Victim is A Victim`, in
British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 35, No. 3, Summer 1995, pp.360-365
Hough, M.& Mayhew, P. (1983), The British Crime Survey: First Report,
(London: HMSO).
Maguire, M. (1997), Crime Statistics, Patterns, and Trends: Changing Perceptions
and their Implications`, in M. Maguire, R. Morgan, R. Reiner (eds), The Oxford
Handbook of Criminology (Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp.135-179
Mayhew, P.; Aye Maung, N. & (1993) The 1992 British Crime Survey, Home Of!ce
Mirrless-Black, C. Research Study No. 132, (London: HMSO).
Mirrless-Black, C.; Budd, T., Partridge, S. & Mayhew, P. (1998), The British Crime
Survey, England & Wales (London: HMSO). Found at
Muncie, J. & McLaughlin, E (1996), The Problem of Crime, (London: Sage),
Muncie, J.; McLaughlin, E. & Langan, Mary (eds) (1998), Criminological
Perspectives, (London: Sage Publications).
Nelken, D. (ed) (1994), The Futures of Criminology, (London: Sage).
Pad!eld, Nicola (1995), Texts and Materials on the Criminal Justice Process,
(London: Butterworths) pp.1-31
Schlesinger, P. & Tumber, H. (1994), Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of
Criminal Justice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Walklate, Sandra (1998), Understanding Criminology, (Buckingham: Open
University Press), pp.1-15.
Box (1983).
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
Chapter 3
Competing Traditions? Legacies
of classical and positive
Essential reading
Core texts
Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology, 1995, Chapters 4, 5 and 6.
Burke Roger, Criminological Theory, 2001, Chapters 2 and 4.
Lanier and Henery, Essential Criminology, 1998, Chapter 4 Classical, Neoclassical,
and Rational Choice Theories`.
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology. Chapters 1, 2 and 3.
Jones, Criminology, 1998, Chapter 5 The Classical and Positive Traditions`.
Walklate, Sandra Understanding criminology, Chapter 2 Perspectives in
criminological theory`.
Supplementary reading
Roshier, Bob Controlling Crime: the classical perspective in criminology, Open
University Press, 1989.
Jenkins, David History of Criminology: a philosophical perspective.
Lilly, L. et al., Criminological Theory: context and consequences, Chapter 2.
Taylor, Walton and Young, The New Criminology, 1973.
Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments, (!rst published as Dei Delitti e delle Pene, in
1764) (trans. H. Paolucci) 1963.
Ferri, E. Criminal Sociology, (trans. L. Kelly and J. Lisle), 1967.
Foucault, M. Discipline and Punishment: the birth of the prison, Penguin, London,
Garland, D. Punishment and Welfare, 1985.
Jenkins, P. Varieties of Enlightenment Criminology`, British Journal of Criminology,
April 1984.
Mannheim, H. (ed.) Pioneers of Criminology, 1960.
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter and the associated reading you should be able to:
· Identify the main features of the classical and positive traditions in criminology.
· Give an account of their formation and the major !gures involved.
· Assess their continued in"uence
The contrast between positivist, classical and later non-positivist approaches to the
study of crime underlies much of the discussion of crime and the policy implications
of such study. The nature of these distinctions is clearly linked to the historical
development of the discipline and this chapter outlines the early history of these
The Enlightenment context
Current divisions within criminology are a legacy of different conceptual approaches
taken at the time of the Enlightenment that analysed the basic building blocks of
society and gave frameworks for how the science of man` was to proceed.
Hall Williams (Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1982) called classical criminology:
a school of criminal justice philosophy`. It is fair to say that philosophy, in particular
the rationalist methodology of constructing intellectual systems, constitutes the
procedures of classicism while forms of reasoning, largely empiricist in nature,
provide an image of natural science which in"uences positivism.
Vold and Bernard devote a chapter to both classical and positive criminology and
these repay study. However, it must be borne in mind that Vold oversimpli!es and
skates over the debates and distinctions between writers in demarcating the classical
approach from the religious (along with the divine right to rule) which he sees
preceding classicism. For Vold the century between Beccaria and Lombroso marks a
shift in man`s thinking about himself that is of such a magnitude that it may well be
considered an intellectual revolution`. However, the basic conceptual distinctions that
differentiate classicism and positivism were already present in many of the writers
Vold ascribes to the classical school. The chapters in Morrison should be read closely,
even if dif!cult at !rst reading. Burke, may be approached !rst. For an introductory
account of the full range of perspectives read Walklate.
The eighteenth century in Europe worked many changes in science, religion and the
mechanical arts and effectively overturned the settled notions of the natural order of
social and natural life that the medieval period had given primacy to. However,
modern secular social theory did not emerge in one dominant form. Certainly we can
agree with Foucault`s notion of the birth of the sciences of man that the enlightenment
is characterised by placing man and the structures of the world as the new frames of
reference. But the ways in which it does this exhibits qualities of both pessimism as
well as extreme optimism, is romantic as well as realist` on its views of the human
condition. It can be either empiricist or rationalist, indulgent of a priori reasoning and
the grappling with essences` or determined to be based only of observation` of
phenomenon and inductions therein. It can be methodologically individualist`
(i.e. assume man as an analytical individual and a complete object of study) or holist
(i.e. deny that man can be studied as individual phenomena but is necessarily social);
it can lay stress on man as voluntarist or determinate objects, to mention only some of
the possible contrasts it is possible to draw.
It is often said that classicism is not concerned with the causes of crime and you may
wish to see whether you agree with this. Alternatively, some argue that classicism
clearly acknowledges a link between crime and social conditions but that writers such
as Beccaria were actually conservatives (see Morrison, Theoretical Criminology, and
Jenkins, Varieties of Enlightenment Criminology`) and mostly concerned with how
criminals should be dealt with in a way that promoted social stability. Moreover
classicism gives the State the role of de!ning and to mediate the social conceptions of
crime and the reaction and control of it. For classicism the state is central, the
in"uence of positivism, conversely, is to lower the attention given to State power.
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
Positivism is a subset of the growing empiricist science of man. In its critique of the
social contract theory that Beccaria assumed as the basis of social order it reorientated
the focus of study away from questions depicting a hypothetical origin of society and
the ideal social order. It substituted an empirically orientated inquiry combining a
sociological interest in social-cultural development and an anthropological interest in
the structure of human nature.
The positivist approach holds that ultimately science can disclose an objective reality.
As Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi state in a recent work Positive
certainly one feature of positive criminology has always been its belief in an
objective external reality capable of measurement. Public disclosure of the
understood reality, the procedures used for its measurement, and frequent
independent replication are essential tenets of this perspective`.
You should be careful not to use the term positivism in criminology as simply
denoting individualist approaches. It has also a wide sociological use, as is apparent
in looking at criminal statistics. However. the individualist version of positive
criminology is characterised by the search to discover, within the composition of the
individual, the causes of criminal and delinquent behaviour. The scienti!c method is
used to differentiate offenders from non-offenders on a variety of characteristics. The
method of positive criminology assumes that there are identi!able factors that make
people act as they do (determinism) and that the variability to be explained is
associated with the variability in the casual agents (differentiation).
Central Figures of the two approaches examined
It has been common to describe the work of Cesare Becarria as a reaction to a time
when the criminal law and its enforcement were barbarous and arbitrary and to see
him as a humane reformer. This interpretation stresses a social context of secret
accusations, brutal executions, torture, arbitrary and inconsistent punishments, and
class-linked disparities in punishments.
To depict Beccaria as a humanitarian is to simplify but neither is it suf!cient, at least
without unpacking the conception, as Vold unfortunately did not, to characterise the
classical school as simply administrative and legal criminology` which ignored all
other factors which interfered with ease of administration.
This image of classical criminology as rationalising the operation of the criminal
justice system captures a wider range of effects than the simple humanitarian model
but we have to be aware of the cultural and political implications and effects which
the acceptance of classical criminology leads on to. Implicit in classical criminology,
for example, is the issue of the limits of criminal justice. How could a criteria of
justice be constructed which could provide legitimation for new social institutions and
withstand the sceptical/critical attitude which philosophers such as Kant had declared
all modern` institutions had to withstand. Moreover, classical criminology should be
understood within the development of philosophical radicalism and the full
consequences of the developing notion of the rule of law`, the changing political
struggles where a growing middle class sought political power to accompany their
economic power and break down the political monopoly enjoyed in England, for
instance, by the landowning class, and for the hopes of progressive social engineering
epitomised here by the Englishman Jeremy Bentham.
Beccaria considered crime as an injury to society; a notion which !tted well with the
development of a rule of law ideology. It was the injury to society, rather than to the
immediate individual(s) who experienced it, that was to direct and determine the
degree of punishment. Behind this thinking was the utilitarian assumption that all
social action should be guided by the goal of achieving the greatest happiness for the
greatest number`. From this viewpoint, the punishment of an individual for a crime
was justi!ed, and justi!able only, for its contribution to the prevention of future
infringements on the happiness and well-being of others. In today`s world these ideas
may seem common enough but they needed to be constructed` to reform the world of
Beccaria and lead on to our own. For example, Beccaria reasoned that certain and
quick, rather than severe, punishments would best accomplish the above goals:
in order for punishment not to act of violence of one or many
against a private citizen, it must be.public, prompt,.the least possible in
the given circumstances, proportionate to the crimes, [and] dictated by the
laws.` ([1764] 1963: 99)
Torture, execution, and other irrational` activity must be abolished. In their place,
there were to be quick and certain trials and, in the case of convictions, carefully
calculated punishments. Beccaria went beyond this to propose that accused persons be
treated humanely before trial, with every right and facility extended to enable them to
bring evidence in their own behalf. Note, at Beccaria`s time, accused and convicted
persons were detained in the same institutions, and subjected to the same punishments
and conditions. In place of this, Beccaria argued for swift and sure punishments, to be
imposed on only those found guilty, with the punishments determined strictly in
accordance with the damage to society caused by the crime.
It is often said that classical criminology has no idea of the causes of crime but
Beccaria certainly held that economic conditions and bad laws could cause crime.
Additionally, he was clear that property crimes were committed primarily by the poor,
and mainly out of necessity. Moreover, he was aware of what has come to be called
opportunity transfer; that is, that putting a severe punishment on a particular crime
could deter someone from committing it, but at the same time make another crime
attractive by comparison. Beccaria was also aware of the cultural power of severe
punishments to add to the desperation of the populace and encourage them to indulge
in violence. As he put it, laws could promote crime by diminishing the human spirit.
Acareful matching of the crime and its punishment, in keeping with the general
interests of society, could make punishment a rational instrument of government.
Jeremy Bentham extended this with his notion of a calculus` for realising these
Jeremy Bentham
Bentham began with Beccaria`s concern for achieving the greatest happiness of the
greatest number`, a criteria Bentham attributed to the Scottish philosopher David
Hume. Bentham gave precision to this idea, in part, through a pseudo-mathematical
concept he called felicity calculus`. This calculus` was intended as a means of
estimating the goodness or badness of acts, the only measure of right or wrong`.
Thus Bentham declared the entire notion of indefeasible rights and contractual
limitation on the power of government to be either meaningless or else confused
references to the principle of utility. The basis of government was not contract but
human need, and the satisfaction of human need is the sole justi!cation.
Bentham meant to make the law an ef!cient and economical means of preventing
crime. Like Beccaria, Bentham insisted that prevention was the only justi!able
purpose of punishment, and furthermore that punishment was too expensive` when it
produced more evil than good, or when the same good could be obtained at the
price` of less suffering. His recommendation was that penalties be !xed so as to
impose an amount of pain in excess of the pleasure that might be derived from the
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
criminal act. It was this calculation of pain compared to pleasure that Bentham
believed would deter crime. These ideas were formulated most clearly in his
Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, !rst published in 1789:
Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and
pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to
determine what we shall do. On the one hand the standard of right and wrong, on the
other the chain of causes and effects, are fastened to their throne.` (Chapter 1 Sect. 1)
With Bentham, calculation overwhelms the humane approach-his humanism is
always a quanti!able conception. While Beccaria kept to some Kantian notions as to
the dignity of man, Bentham would have none of these limitations upon the scienti!c
reorganisation of utility. For example, Bentham argued that capital punishment should
be restricted to offences which in the highest degree shock the public feeling`. He
went on to argue that if the hanging of a man`s ef!gy could produce the same
preventive effect as the hanging of the man himself, it would be a folly and a cruelty
not to do so (Radzinowicz, 1948: 381-382). He also suggested how capital
punishments might nonetheless be used to maximum effect:
A scaffold painted black, the livery of grief-the of!cers of justice dressed in
crepe-the executioner covered with a mask, which would serve at once to
augment the terror of his appearance, and to shield him from ill-founded
indignation-emblems of his crime placed above the head of the criminal, to
the end that the witnesses of his sufferings may know for what crimes he
undergoes them; these might form a part of the principal decorations of these
legal tragedies.Whilst all the actors in this terrible drama might move in
solemn procession-serious and religious music preparing the hearts of the
spectators for the important lesson they were about to receive.The judges
need not consider it beneath their dignity to preside over this public scene.`
(Bentham, quoted in Radzinowicz, A History of English Criminal Law and
its Administration from 1750, Vol. 1, 1948: 383-384).
The article by Douglas Hay, Property, authority and the criminal law`, in Fitzgerald
et al., Crime and Society: readings in History and Theory, will give you some idea of
the actual conditions which surrounded the operation of the criminal law in England
at this time. The opening chapter of Foucault`s Discipline and Punish, gives a graphic
illustration of the spectacle of public punishment.
Bentham also attempted to radicalise imprisonment, an institution then used mainly
merely to hold persons awaiting trial or debtors. He spent much of his life trying to
convince authorities that an institution of his design, called a panopticon`, would
solve the problems of correction. For Foucault the panopticon is highly representative
of a new style of penal reason, one concerned with disciplining individuals rather than
There were three features to the panopticon. First the architectural dimension; the
panopticon was to be a circular building with a glass roof and containing cells on
every storey of the circumference. It was to be so arranged that every cell could be
visible from a central point. The omniscient prison inspector would be kept from the
sight of the prisoners by a system of blinds unless.he thinks !t to show himself`.
Second, management by contract; the manager would employ the inmates in contract
labour and he was to receive a share of the money earned by the inmates, but he was
to be !nancially liable if inmates who were later released reoffended, or if an
excessive number of inmates died during imprisonment. Third, the panopticon was to
open to the inspection of the world which would control the manager. Two prisons of
the panopticon design were actually built in the United States, however, the !rst was
rebuilt seven years after construction, and the second was redesigned before it was
!nished. Foucault has used Bentham`s ideas for the Panopticon as a prime example of
developing penal rationality which he believes developed into disciplinary power` in
contrast to judicial power`. For Foucault the prison became linked to the knowledges
of positivism and together they gave rise to a whole new method of social control.
This was not the control of command and obedience, which he believes is the method
of the law, but the regulation through knowledge and conceptions of normaley, where
individuals come to internalise perceptions of appropriate behaviour and be subjected
to surveillance and accounting. It is an intriguing exercise to see whether you can
agree with Foucault, whatever your opinion in reading Bentham or Foucault on
imprisonment, should give rise to a multiplicity of doubts as to what imprisonment is
meant to achieve.
Several of Bentham`s ideas were in time picked up. He argued strongly for the
establishment of the of!ce of public prosecutor, and he furthered the notion that
crimes are committed against society rather than against individuals. Beyond this, he
argued that many victimless crimes were imaginary rather than real offences, and he
argued for the development of of!cial crime statistics or bills.indicating the moral
health of the country`.
The Positive revolution: the imagery of science replacing the moral discourse
of crime
Modern science is empiricist in nature which means it relies upon observation,
description, and measurement to build up theories and create its image of the world.
Positivism broke with the classical image of free, willing and self-determining
individuals and suggested that man is a determined entity in the world by his
constitution and his environment and that his behaviour is the result of an array of
biological, psychological or social factors.
Crime does not therefore consist of actions rationally chosen by the offender, the
notion of free will was seen by the positivists as inhibiting the study of the causes of
crime and as diverting attention away from the real causes. Positivism shifted study
away from crime to the criminal and sought the answers in differentiating the offender
from the normal member of society. One danger in positivism lies in its stressing a
consensual culture where all deviation is simply attributed to lack of socialisation or
de!ciency of the individual.
Early statistical analysis
The linkage between a technical interest in crime control and the positive approach in
criminology was !rst evident in the work of the so-called cartographic
criminologists` of nineteenth century Europe, such as the Belgian Adolphe Jacques
Quetelet (1842), the Frenchman Guerry (1833) and the Englishmen Rawson (1839),
Alison (1840), and Fletcher (1849). Their work attempted to match spatial patterns of
crime and offender rates as visible from the developing criminal statistics` with other
indices of the moral` health of the nation (including such mixed features as literacy,
population density, wealth, occupations, nationalities) and the physical environment
(such as climate). Guerry, for example found a correlation of offending rates in France
between 1825-30 with convicted criminals` age, sex and the season of the year.
Rawson concentrated upon employment and the changing features of urban
industrialisation. Quetelet argued the effect of obvious instances of economic
inequalities in small areas.
The work of Adolphe Jacques Quetelet
Quetelet (1796-1874) was trained in mathematics and early success in this !eld made
him a professor with a large reputation. He applied mathematical techniques to a
range of issues, including astronomy, meteorology, and sociology. He illustrates the
fact that so much criminological data and knowledge is the result of applied study
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
rather than a concentrated long-standing effort. For Quetelet scienti!c evidence
resulted from, and was a re"ection of, large numbers of observations rather than
individual occurrences. Quetelet, highlighted a fundamental problem with crime
statistics, namely the gap between known and judged offences` and what statistics
may in common sense be thought to measure, committed offences`. He was clear
that: our observations can only refer to a certain number of known and tried offences,
out of the unknown sum total of crimes committed` (Quetelet, 1842: 82).
Quetelet argued that in well-organised societies this ratio would be close to unity for
serious crimes, and further from unity for less serious crimes. Thus we could be
relatively certain of the moral statistics of crime` within these constraints. These
statistics showed that men commit more crimes and thus we could infer that they
have a greater propensity` for crime than women, and that the young have a greater
propensity than the old. Using !ndings constructed out of many observations and in a
variety of times and places:
we can enumerate in advance how many individuals will soil their hands in the
blood of their fellows, how many will be frauds, how many prisoners; almost as one
can enumerate in advance the births and deaths that will take place. Society contains
within itself the seeds of all the crimes that are to be committed, and at the same time
the facilities necessary for their development. It is society that, in some way, prepares
these crimes, and the criminal is only the instrument that executes them`. (ibid.: 97)
Such patterns were material to work upon to effect improvements. Statistics provided
evidence of a moral condition of society that required remedy:
there is a budget which we pay with a frightful regularity - it is that of
prisons, chains, and the scaffold: it is that which, above all, we ought to
endeavour to abate`. (ibid.: 96)
The oral-ethnographic efforts
Rather than seeking to determine hard scienti!c laws or knowledge for control, the
oral-ethnographic tradition attempts to communicate the human experience and offer
an understanding based vision of the human consequences of social conditions,
poverty and crime. Using direct observations, life histories, unpublished documents
and a range of !rst-hand data sources we are offered commentaries on the effects of
socio-economic change on the structure of social relations.
Fredrich Engels
In The Condition of the working class in England (1845) Engels used his own
impressions of Manchester to comply a radical and sensitive account of working -
class life. You should note that Manchester had been called by a character in
Disraeli`s Coningsby the most wonderful city in Modern times` and was the major
city of England that had come to symbolise the achievement of capitalist
industrialisation in all its grandeur and grimness. Engels used a combination of !rst -
hand observation, economic data, contemporary accounts, pamphlets and newspapers.
The themes of relative deprivation and of crime as a rational reaction to the visible
inequalities produced by the industrial revolution run through his account:
The worker lived in poverty and want and saw that other people were better off than
he was. The worker was not suf!ciently intelligent to appreciate why he, of all
people, should be the one to suffer - for after all he contributed more to society than
the idle rich, and sheer necessity drove him to steal in spite of his traditional respect
for private property.` (1845: 242)
Crime was understandable and a taste of justice for the powerful:
Acts of violence committed by the working classes against the bourgeoisie and their
henchmen are merely frank and undisguised retaliation for the thefts and treacheries
perpetrated by the middle classes against the workers.` (1854: 242)
Engels saw the growth of criminality not only among the deprived working class but
also in the surplus population` of casual workers, what Marx called the lowest
sediment`, and others the residuum`. Engels saw the position is starkly determinist
Apart from over-indulgence in intoxicating liquors, the sexual immorality of many
English workers is one of their greatest failings. This too follows from the
circumstances in which this class of society is placed. The workers have been left to
themselves without the moral training necessary for the proper control of their sexual
desires. While burdening the workers with numerous hardships the middle classes
have left them only the pleasures of drink and sexual intercourse. The result is that
the workers, in order to get something out of life, are passionately devoted to these
two pleasures and indulge in them to excess and in the grossest fashion. If people are
relegated to the position of animals, they are left with the alternatives of revolting
and sinking into bestiality. If the demoralisation of the worker passes beyond a
certain point then it is just as natural that he will turn into a inevitably
as water turns into steam at boiling point.` (1845: 144-5)
This sounds not unlike recent American writings on the underclass` (see Morrison,
Theoretical Criminology, Chapter 17 Contemporary Social Strati!cation and the
development of the underclass`; Walklate, Understanding Criminology, Chapter 6.
Crime, politics and welfare`). The emphasis upon faulty training` early in life is very
familiar if you consider recent writings from the control perspective. However, Engels
is clearly putting this behaviour into a social context, albeit with a reductionism to
environmental determinism, which is missing from much recent conservative writings
(see the criticisms of the conservative position made by Elliott Currie in Confronting
Crime). Furthermore, Engels located the worthy working class as prospective radicals
whose criminality was an inarticulate and unconscious social rebellion.
In all his work Engels did not merely describe conditions but chose to interpret his
material. In his work the author`s values are obvious, indeed self-consciously
exposed. His work is deliberately a treatise against capitalism and the absence of any
concern with the general welfare of society or of social justice on the part of the
capitalists. The weakness with his writing is the possibility that the immediacy and
purity of the experience of the subjects being communicated will be distorted and
twisted by the interpretation.
The surplus group (lumpen-proletariat, residuum, and which is currently the focus of
underclass` writings) became of considerable interest to social commentators of
different persuasions, for example Charles Booth and Henry Mayhew.
Henry Mayhew
Downes and Rock refer to Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) as one of the shadow
criminologists` whose work:
contains much that is repetitive, conjectural, and fanciful. It also contains a great
deal of valuable material and sensible observation. Properly read, it may be
recognised as an anticipation of the theorising that now passes for the sociology of
deviance`. (1982: 51)
His street biography` appears as an early form of social ecology approach to the
study of crime based on observation and description of the social conditions of the
developing urban centres. His four volume London Labour and the London Poor
offered vivid accounts of the expanding masses which !lled the growing cities of
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
Victorian capitalism. Mayhew was ambivalent, on the one hand he de!ned criminals
as those who will not work` (the Tile of Vol. 4) while his descriptions captured much
of the reality of social deprivation which characterised his times.
There are thousands of neglected children loitering about the low neighbourhoods of
the metropolis, and prowling about the streets, begging and stealing for their daily
bread. They are to be found in Westminster, Whitechapel, Shoreditch, St. Giles, New
Cut, Lambeth, the Borough and other localities. Hundreds of them may be seen
leaving their parents` homes and low lodging-houses every morning sallying forth in
search of food and plunder.` (Mayhew, 1862: 273)
Beyond the descriptions of the degradation that characterised this period Mayhew saw
the weaknesses of the human self. The problem was seen in terms of defective
socialisation, to a non-conformity to civilised habits` (Criminal Prisons of London,
p.386) and the policy prescription was clear.
It is far easier to train the young in virtuous and industrious habits, than to reform
the grown-up felon who has become callous in crime, and it is besides far more
pro!table to the State. To neglect them or inadequately to attend to their welfare
gives encouragement to the growth of this dangerous class.` (ibid.: 275)
The demand for reform "ows both from fear and self-interest. It is a reaction to the
image of what this failure of socialisation could accomplish but it also re"ects an
assumption that a healthy individual is an individual capable of exercising self-control
and rational calculation. The new ideal, implicitly at least, is an individual capable of
disciplining his impulses and planning his life.
But as the following analysis shows, although this was the ideal, Mayhew leads on to
the fact that some are by nature un!tted for the assumption of self-control and self-
motivation. Mayhew is clear on the need to differentiate between individual members
of the working masses:
I am anxious that the public should no longer confound the honest, independent
working men, with the vagrant beggars and pilferers of the country; and that they
should see that the one class is as respectable and worthy, as the other is degraded
and vicious.`
Mayhew thought that only 5 per cent of these vagrants and pilferers were deserving`
and in general they constituted a moral pestilence.a stream of vice and disease.a
vast heap of social refuse`. They constituted for Mayhew a dangerous class` and
while he criticised the authorities for not taking steps to enable them to practice trades
in his The Criminal Prisons of London he de!ned our criminal tribes` as that portion
of society who have not yet conformed to civilised habits`. What demarcated these
tribes was that their rationality did not control the passions of their bodies and !t them
for the tasks of hard labour.
Still the question becomes - why do these folk not settle down to industrial pursuits
like the rest of the community?.It is a strange ethnological fact that, though many
have passed from the steady and regular habits of civilised life, few of those who
have once adopted the savage and nomadic form of existence abandon it,
notwithstanding its privations, its dangers, and its hardships. This appears to be due
mainly to that love of liberty, and that impatience under control, that is more or less
common to all minds. Some are more self-willed than others, and, therefore, more
irritable under restraint; and these generally rebel at the least opposition to their
desires. It is curiously illustrative of the truth of this point, that the greater number of
criminals are found between the ages of 15 and 25; that is to say, at that time of life
when the will is newly developed, and has not yet come to be guided and controlled
by the dictates of reason. The period, indeed, when human beings begin to assert
themselves is the most trying time for every form of government - whether it be
parental, political or social; and those indomitable natures who cannot or will not
brook ruling, then become heedless of all authority, and respect no law but their
own.` (1862: 384)
Dividing the poor up into two classes, the wanderers and the settlers`. Mayhew saw
savagery` inhering in the former:
there is a greater development of the animal than of the intellectual or moral nature
of man, and that they are all more or less distinguished for their high cheek-bones
and protruding jaws - for their use of a slang language - for their lax ideas of
property - for their general improvidence - their repugnance to continuous labour -
their disregard of female honour - their love of cruelty - their pugnacity - and their
utter want of religion`. (The Other Nation: 69)
What has become known as the positive school developed these ideas further.
The Italian/Positivist School
Criminological texts usually refer to a group of scholars from Italy who applied the
positive philosophy of the nineteenth century to the study of crime as the positivist
school of criminology. Cesare Lombroso, Raffaele Garofalo, and Enrico Ferri argued
that the methods of natural science were the appropriate tools to make the study of
criminals truly scienti!c. They emphasised the necessity for a controlled investigation
of criminals and non-criminals and, although their own methodologies were
extremely crude and scienti!cally suspect, by determining that proper criminology
had to be scienti!c they laid the foundation for the future development of
criminological theory.
Cesare Lombroso
Lombroso (1835-1909), who graduated from the same university as Beccaria exactly
100 years later (1858 as compared to 1758) frequently is called the father of modern
criminology` while these same texts reject entirely his ideas about the causes of crime.
Lombroso once referred to himself as a slave to facts`. His work can be seen to
reduce human nature to the biology of the immediate post-Darwin era, speci!cally
applying the concept of atavism and the principles of evolution to depict criminals as
biological throwbacks` to a primitive, or atavistic`, stage of evolution. For
Lombroso, criminals could be distinguished from non-criminals by the presence of
physical anomalies that represented a reversion to a primitive or subhuman type of
Between 1859-1863 he served as an army physician in a variety of posts and
examined approximately 3,000 soldiers in a search for the causes of several diseases
in mental and physical de!ciencies. Subsequently, he worked as a prison doctor and
conducted hundreds of post-mortems. While conducting a post-mortem examination
of a particularly famous inmate by the name of Vilella, he discovered a depression in
the interior back part of his skull that he called the median occipital fossa`.
Lombroso claims to have recognised this feature as a characteristic found in inferior
animals and thought he had made the breakthrough:
This was not merely an idea, but a revelation. At the sight of that skull, I seemed to
see all of a sudden, lighted up as a vast plain under a "aming sky, the problem of the
nature of the criminal - an atavistic being who reproduces in his person the ferocious
instincts of primitive humanity and the inferior animals. Thus were explained
anatomically the enormous jaws, high cheek-bones, prominent superciliary arches,
solitary lines in the palms, extreme size of the orbits, handle-shaped or sessile ears
found in criminals, savages, and apes, insensibility to pain, extremely acute sight,
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
tattooing, excessive idleness, love of orgies, and the irresistible craving for evil for its
own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the
corpse, tear its "esh, and drink its blood.`
Consequently, Lombroso conducted thousands of post-mortem examinations and
anthropometric studies of prison inmates and non-criminals, leading him to the
conclusion that the criminal was, in natural reality, a human subspecies, with very
distinct physical and mental characteristics (see editions of L'Uomo delinquent, !rst
published in 1876). Lombroso constructed a fourfold classi!cation: 1) born criminals,
those with true atavistic features, 2) insane criminals, including idiots, imbeciles, and
paranoiacs as well as epileptics and alcoholics, 3) occasional criminals or
criminaloids, whose crimes were explained largely by opportunity; and 4) criminal of
passion who commit crime because of honour, love or anger. They were propelled by
a (temporary) irresistible force. Later additional categories gave some allowance for
the in"uence of social factors and he speculated somewhat as to the interaction of
genetic and environmental in"uences (to some extent a precursor to modern socio-
biological schemes). Although he went some way to developing a multiple factor
approach he never seems to have moved from his contention that the true or born
criminal was responsible for a large amount of criminal behaviour.
Lombroso`s work was subjected to intensive scrutiny by Charles Goring who
published The English Convict in 1913, only four years after Lombroso`s death.
Goring had employed an expert statistician to administer the computations concerning
the physical differences between criminals and non-criminals but after eight years of
research and comparing some 3,000 English convicts with various control groups,
Goring concluded that there was no difference between criminals and non-criminals
except for statue and body weight. Although Goring concluded this was evidence that
criminals were biologically inferior he failed to !nd a criminal type and heavily
criticised Lombroso`s work. Subsequently, the ascription of Lombroso as a founder of
modern criminology is based on the fact that his assertions reoriented modern
thinking about crime from a focus on the offence to a focus on the offender and
redirected emphasis from the crime to the criminal.
Raffaele Garofalo
Born a member of the Italian nobility, Raffaele Garofalo (1852-1934) went on to
become a magistrate, a professor of criminal law, and a prominent member of
government. Garofalo faced up to the epistemological problem that to have a properly
scienti!c approach to the study of crime it was necessary to have a meaningful
de!nition of crime in positivistic terms; one that repositioned crime as a natural
phenomena in the natural world. He distinguished between natural crimes`, to which
Garofalo attached great importance, and police crimes`, a residual category of lesser
Natural crimes` are those which violate two basic altruistic sentiments`, pity
(revulsion against the voluntary in"iction of suffering on others) and probity (respect
for the property rights of others). Police offences` are behaviours that do not offend
these altruistic sentiments but are nonetheless called criminal` by law. Natural crimes
were important both for being more serious and because the category itself provided a
unifying principle, connecting the criminal law and natural social processes.
In Criminology (1885: English translation 1914) Garofalo criticised Lombroso`s
theories as inadequate as an explanation for the natural crimes` of true criminals`,
although he concluded that criminals have regressive characteristics` indicating a
lower degree of advancement`. True criminals lacked the basic altruistic sentiments
and were thus ill-suited for society. They were, in short an evolutionary mismatch and
the solution to this evolutionary problem is elimination.
In this way, the social power will effect an arti!cial selection similar to that which
nature effects by the death of individuals inassimilable to the particular conditions of
the environment in which they are born or to which they have been removed. Herein
the State will be simply following the example of nature.`
While the classical theorists saw the symbolic value of punishments as offering a
means of deterring crime in the general population, Garofalo`s emphasis on
Darwinian reasoning saw society as a natural body that must adapt to the environment
and be protected against crime. The actions of the true criminals indicted their
inability to live according to the basic human sentiments necessary in the society and
their elimination served to protect society, for the lesser criminal incapacitation - by
life imprisonment or transportation would suf!ce. For Garofalo the society ruled over
the individual and the individual represented just a cell of the social body that could
be removed without much loss.
Enrico Ferri
Enrico Ferri (1856-1929) had a varied career as a university professor, trial lawyer,
member of parliament, newspaper editor, public lecturer and author. He spent a year
studying with Lombroso and became his lifelong friend.
Ferri`s work always emphasised the interaction of social, economic and political
factors which contributed to crime but all of which worked at an individual level on
the predispositions of the person. In Ferri`s Criminal Sociology crime was the effect
of multiple causes` that include anthropological, physical, and social factors. Such
factors produced criminals who were classi!ed as: (1) born or instinctive, (2) insane,
(3) passional, (4) occasional, (5) habitual. The positive science of criminality and of
social defence against it` was easy to distinguish from the classical tradition.
The science of crimes and punishments was formerly a doctrinal exposition of the
syllogisms brought forth by the sole force of logical fantasy. Our School has made it
a science of positive observation, which, based on anthropology, psychology, and
criminal statistics as well as on criminal law and studies relative to imprisonment,
becomes the synthetic science to which I myself gave the name 'criminal sociology`.
It is also fascinating to see the ambiguity of the relationship between knowledge and
politics which be-riddles positivism. While positivism claims to be value free and
apolitical when we see it in application as with Ferri we can see a structure whereby it
is claimed that this knowledge is the truth` which must therefore be applied and the
strength of this claim overrules moral-political debate. Such a structure can give rise
to dire consequences. For most of his life Ferri was a committed Marxist and was a
Member of Parliament for many years, he actually lost a professorship because of his
Marxist learnings. But if Lombroso was a slave to facts, Ferri was in awe of the
principle of determinism as in his attempted merger of Marxian and Darwinian
principles into conclusions that today seem highly dubious:
The Marxian doctrine of historical materialism.according to which the economic
conditions.determine.both the moral sentiments and the political and legal
institutions of the same group, is profoundly true. It is the fundamental law of
positivist sociology. Yet I think that this theory should be supplemented by admitting
in the !rst place that the economic conditions of each people are in turn the natural
resultant of its racial energies.`
(1917, p.118)
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
Throughout his life Ferri attempted to integrate his positive science with political
change - he believed wholly in the constructivist project. The various attempts to
change the penal code were rejected because they constituted too great a change from
classical legal reasoning and, disappointed in socialism, Ferri turned to fascism as the
system most likely to implement the type of reforms he thought necessary.
Thorstin Sellin once said that fascism appealed to Ferri because it af!rmed the
primacy of the State`s authority over the individual and constrained the excessive
individualism he had often criticised.
Legacy of the positive school
Garofalo and Ferri saw science and the opinions of scientists as the tools by which
society would change itself and rule over individuals. The decisions of panels and like
bodies judging according to their positivist principles would not include the opinions
of those they were evaluating and judging, nor the opinion of the victim or other
members of the public. Part of their legacy was a trend towards classi!cation and
specialised treatment, with a demand for specialised institutions. Positivism may also
be linked to a change from the classical ideas on coercive policies towards the
disreputable poor, to the development of welfare policy patterned by a deep alteration
in conceptions of human nature and social agency. Many recent critics from the
conservative side have blamed forms of positivism for a demoralising of criminality.
The classical school helped to create the practical and administrative systems for
processing offenders. It created a system capable of handling large numbers and a
process that could adapt to changing social sensibilities. Judges were curtailed in their
ability to dispense discretionary judgments and this protected the offender from
procedural injustice. Classicism provides sets of procedures which aim to ensure
uniformity and predictability - many have argued, however, that the theory does not
really face up to the fact that the criminal laws themselves may be arbitrary and that
equal treatment of unequal circumstances may itself be unjust. Traditional positivism
also did not put the creation of criminal laws onto the questions to be analysed and it
was left until the advent of more critical approaches in the 1960s and 1970s for this
issue to be raised.
Address the following questions
1. What were the background conditions for the rise of classical criminology? What
were the key in"uences upon Beccaria and how did Beccaria use previous writers to
fashion a new legitimacy for criminal justice?
2. What assumptions concerning human nature underlie classicism? In what way does
the classical perspective believe it is possible to control human behaviour? Does it
seek to eliminate crime or simply manage it?
3. What principles of punishment are inherent in the classical perspective? Are these
still appropriate today?
4. What accounts for the continuing appeal of classicism? Why do you think we have
seen a redeployment of classical ideas in the past 15 or so years?
Sample questions
1. The differences between the classical and positive schools in criminology are
grounded not only in differing conceptions of human nature but also different
approaches to government.`
2. Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them.`
Discuss in relation to the academic development of the Classical tradition in
3. The classical conception of crime as rational action is unscienti!c and has
survived only because of its ideological utility.`
4. Either
(a) Crimes need no fancy explanations: they occur whenever social control is
weak and opportunities present themselves.`
Discuss [Note: this is a good example of a question that draws upon different parts of
the course, from social control theory, common-sense explanations, and opportunity
(b) What makes the assumptions of the classical perspective in criminology so
5. Positivist criminology never escaped from the basic assumptions of classical
criminology. It remained wedded to the need to correct crime and was thereby
unable to appreciate the meaning of crime to the offender.`
6. The assumptions underlying the classical criminological conception of crime as
rational action continue to guide the criminal justice system because they accord
to a greater degree than those of positivism with our moral intuitions.`
Assessing student work
Read carefully through the following essay. Try and put yourself in the position of a
university lecturer and assume that this essay is to be an assessed part of the course,
worth at least 25 per cent of the marks. What criteria would you use to mark it? How
would you grade this essay in terms of coverage of the material, consistency in being
directed to the question, use of readings and concluding back to the question as it was
The classical conception of crime as rational action is unscienti!c and has survived
only because of its ideological utility.
The foundations of the classical conception of crime are derived from Cesare
Beccaria`s work Dei Delitti e delle Pene`, written in 1764, in which he proposed a
new way of understanding and responding to crime. The spartan simplicity of his
proposal for an exact scale of punishments for equal acts without reference to the
individual involved or the special circumstances in which the crime was committed`
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
(Vold and Bernard; 1986: 20) may account in part, for the appeal that these notions
still have. A fundamental underpinning of why punishments should be exacted
equally was the concept of the willingness of individuals to sacri!ce a portion of
their personal liberty in order to have a more stable, safe and secure environment.
The paradox here is that whereas on the one hand our own individual sel!shness
means we would like not to be constrained by collective responsibility, some of our
needs are in fact better met if we conform to a social contract. However, social
contract theorists did not take into account the fact that some societies are unfair`.
(ibid.: 28)
The classicism of Beccaria was informed by the view that humans are rational in the
pursuit of their aspirations and will rationally avoid pains including the pain of being
punished. In his view, the pain of punishment must be proportionate to the social
harm caused, invariable with no allowance made for individual circumstances. The
aim, to make an example of an offender and knowledge of their fate will constrain
others from non-conformity. Rational individuals will maintain the social contract
and avoid the pain of punishment. Punishment must also be prompt and certain`.
These last two qualities make so much stronger and more lasting in the human mind
the association of these two ideas (of) crime and punishment. The association of
ideas is the cement that forms the fabric of the human intellect`. (Roshier 1989: 7)
Roshier claims that the failure of Beccaria to allow for the unique circumstances in
which the same class of crimes may be committed resulted in a moral problem
because his insistence that personal characteristics of offenders and circumstances of
their offences should be excluded from consideration in determining punishments.
violates such deep-seated feelings of justice that it has proved to be unacceptable
under any criminal law jurisdiction`. (ibid.: 7) Roshier, too, is subscribing to a basic
notion of human nature - that somehow there are deep seated feelings` that are more
true` than those ideas expounded by rational deliberation and can be relied on to
guide judgments about relative culpability and suitable punishments. This highlights
the "aw in classicism which insisted that punishment was a means to deter future
offenders, rather than re-educate those engaged already in offending.
When Beccaria`s schema formed the basis of the French legal Code of 1791, changes
were gradually introduced to take account of extenuating circumstances. This formed
the basis of neoclassicism. It was obvious that all offenders were not created equally
and thus could not be equally capable of exercising free will, or making rational
choices about responsible or irresponsible behaviour. Most obviously, children could
not be considered as equally culpable as adults, although both may steal, nor should
those who were insane or brain damaged be held as accountable as their more sane or
intellectually capable fellows. An invariable scale of punishments imposed on the
basis of the crime, not the criminal, may be methodical but it is not rational. Even a
system of punishment, which is more responsive to individual circumstances, may
not, strictly speaking, be rational, as it can not be demonstrated that it results in
controlling crime. Beccaria would have argued that the power of punishment to act as
a deterrent is diluted when punishment is no longer invariable, and proposing that
offenders were identi!ably different in some way, from non, offenders, could mean
that people no longer associate the punishment of the other with their own propensity
to transgress and thus be liable for punishment.Nevertheless, Vold and Bernard
quote Taylor, Walton and Young when they claim that, The neoclassical view is,
with minor variations, the major model of human behaviour held to by agencies of
social control in all advanced industrial societies (whether in the West or the East)`.
(Vold & Bernard: 1986: 27)
Arguably, the enduring appeal of classicist or neoclassicist approaches well into the
late twentieth century derive in part from the wish for a simpler world and a sense of
security as well as the endurance of deeply held beliefs about human nature and the
nature of existence. This is despite the rise of social sciences and their plethora of
competing theories and the historical record that the world was never simple, and
people have never felt secure and that non conforming behaviour has always been
managed with more or less brutality but with a view that it was inevitably linked to
social and economic poverty. A lack of control over one`s own and other people`s life
circumstances, uncertainty and anxiety are not new to the human condition, only the
circumstances have changed. One hundred years ago in the Western nations, maternal
and infant mortality, accident and epidemics resulted in destitute orphans, widowed
spouses, impoverishment, hardship and bereavement. Post-modern theorists argue
that the exposure of the limits of rational, scienti!c discourse has contributed to the
current sense of loss of control and anxiety in a period where it is evident that control
is lost because of globalising and hegemonic forces in the economic, geopolitical and
cultural spheres. As the cultural underpinning of the con!dence of the modern West
relies upon certain cultural assumptions, such as (the ideas of) progress`, prosperity
and the power of social engineering, mushrooming of!cial crime rates taunt these,
showing their falseness, exposing the weakness of modernity.` (Morrison: 1995: 3)
If the macro issues are well beyond the understanding and control of ordinary
citizens, they can at least seek to reassert control over transgressions that threaten
their property and their sense of personal security. Modernity hasn`t delivered equal
bene!ts to all citizens and modern` structural and personal inequalities have emerged
which lead to unlawful behaviours. However, The contented seem to believe that
others in society only fail for lack of effort. Or de!ciencies of their constitution such
as a low IQ, and thus argue that payments for welfare and public infrastructure
should be reduced in real terms. It involves a collective refusal to look seriously at
the problems of the discontented.` (Morrison: 1995;1) The work by Charles Murray
and Richard Hernstein in demonstrating` statistically that American society is
increasingly strati!ed according to people`s intelligence, arguing further that
intelligence is the most powerful determinant of poverty and hence of a swathe of
serious social problems, from crime to unemployment and welfare dependency`. (The
Economist; 22/10/94:59) Only 12 months previously he is described as writing a
devastating analysis of America`s !gures for out of wedlock births - the single most
important social problem of our time`. (ibid.:) I would argue that the more important
problem is Murray`s serious lack of understanding that welfare policies, and social
contracts, aren`t necessarily strictly utilitarian - many people just don`t like seeing
other people suffer and will seek to alleviate it. But for those who are dedicated to
narcissism and hedonism, the contented post moderns no matter that the "imsiness
of Mr Murray`s central pillars suggest that his work is less scienti!c than political.`
(ibid.: 60)
Social changes leave many within Western urban populations isolated, lacking the
connections, which arise, along with the tensions, in the interdependencies of
extended families, church, based solidarities and regional identities. The community
is either conceived of as non-existent or as some imaginary we` of popular opinion
or the silent majority. Talk-back radio hosts, who put the lie to Murray`s theory of
people of below average intelligence only earning low wages, orchestrate the voices
of this the silent majority` who all know and agree that crime is bad, and is getting
worse and it should be harshly dealt with. After all, we` were subject to disciplinary
practice as children in order to shape conforming behaviour so punishment has
intuitive appeal. The same awe that is outraged at the levels of car theft and home
Chapter 3: Competing Traditions? Legacies of classical and positive criminology
burglary, are collecting the afternoon paper, avidly reading what amounts to a
worldwide incident sheet and the latest in inadequate political responses which
appear to demonstrate a willingness to solve the problem but actually avoid doing
anything seriously substantial. Social theorists` like Charles Murray help generate
pro!ts for media owners whose circulation is boosted by featuring sensationalist
articles about crime which results in more advertisers seeking to cost-effectively
reach large market segments through a high circulation publication. The same
audience which enjoys a good crime novel, or watching the Prime Suspect series or
seeing a Dirty Harry rerun is fascinated by !ctional crime but not so pleased when
the tawdry reality of car theft, or burglary impacts directly on their well-being.
Humans may be capable of rational calculation but they are also highly emotional
animals, and often turn their calculators off and demand the death penalty. Hence, it
might be argued, the utility of classicism for political parties who generally undergo
what is often called a law and order auction` in the weeks prior to an election. With
so many other areas beyond their ability to control, the ruling elites seek a point of
differentiation not on how they are prepared to eliminate conditions which cause
crime, but how they will satisfy ill conceived but popular ideas of managing
offenders. Crime itself as a category lends itself to this. Although the bulk of crime is
property based and non-violent, homicide and violent assault are what people fear,
and all crime and criminals are con"ated into the one category such that traf!c` !ne
defaulters are as much criminal` as a sadistic serial rapist.
Criminologists berate themselves, our science has failed to deliver policies that will
prevent crime.
.The return to classicism in criminology - the just deserts` movement - has been
worse than a failure. It has been a disastrous step backwards`. (Braithwaite, J. 1992
quoted in Morrison: 1995: 3) How could criminology deliver policies, when within
the discipline there are so many competing positions and within society, an implicit
interest in responding to crime rather than preventing it
And which crimes can be prevented and how? Close reading of the classical social
theorists reveals a basic agreement; the abolition of crime is possible under certain
social arrangements. It should be clear that a criminology which is not normatively
committed to the abolition of inequalities of wealth and power, and in particular of
inequalities of property and life-chances, is inevitably bound to fall into
correctionalism.` (Taylor, Walton and Young:1973: 281) And so it has.
People respond from within whatever framework of understandings is available to
them, including their prejudices, unchallenged assumptions about the natural order
and the desire for situations, which maximise their comfort. Rather than investing in
developing a social contract which might, over the long term, reduce the rate of
offending behaviour, there seems currently only a willingness to invest in more jails,
enact truth in sentencing` legislation and enhance police powers to manage those
crimes which offend public opinion. None of these responses redress the inequality
that can give rise to many criminal behaviours but do serve to consolidate the
relationships of authority, including who has the right to knowledge and who can
in"uence elected of!cials and public policy. Hence, despite the data which suggests
that juvenile detention just consolidates criminal behaviour, or that imprisonment
doesn`t deter future offenders it can be asserted by political and media spokesmen
that the world is simple, that categories are knowable and absolute, that values are
immutable and that they are dedicated to using every means available to defending
Student`s bibliography
Morrison, W. (1995) Theoretical Criminology: From modernity to post modernism,
(London. Cavendish Publishing).
Roshier, R. (1989) Controlling Crime - The Classical Perspective in Criminology,
Milton Keynes: (Open University Press).
Taylor, Walton and Young (1973). The New Criminology, Unwin Brothers Ltd.,
(The Gresham Press).
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminologv (1986) OxIord: Open University Press).
Muncie, J. and McLaughlin, E. (1996), The Problem of Crime, (London: Sage),
Muncie, J; E. McLaughlin, & Mary Langan, (eds) (1998), Criminological
Perspectives, (London: Sage Publications)
Nelken, D. (ed.) (1994), The Futures of Criminology, (London: Sage)
Pad!eld, Nicola (1995), Texts and Materials on the Criminal Justice Process,
(London: Butterworths) pp.1-31
Schlesinger, P. and H. Tumber, (1994), Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of
Criminal Justice, (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
Walklate, Sandra (1998), Understanding Criminology, (Buckingham: Open
University Press), pp.1-15
Chapter 4: Individual and biological perspectives
Chapter 4
Individual and biological
A. Individual Constitutional Factors (Biological
Essential reading
Core texts
Burke, R. An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001, Chapter 5, Biological,
Jones, S. Criminology, 1998, Chapter 14 Biological Factors and Crime`, Chapter 15,
Intelligence, Mental Disorder and Crime`.
Morrison, W. Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism, 1995,
Chapter 6 Criminological Positivism I: The Search for the Criminal Man, or the
Problem of the Duck`.
Lanier and Henry, Essential Criminology, Chapter 5, Born to be bad`: Biological,
Psysiological, and Biosocial Theories of Crime`.
Supplementary reading
Mike Fitzgerald , et al. Crime and Society: readings in history and theory, Chapter
15, R.J. Sapsford, Individual deviance: the search for the criminal personality`.
Wilson James Q. Thinking About Crime, (Random House, New York, 1975).
Wilson James Q. and Richard J. Herrnstein, Crime and Human Nature, (New York,
Simon & Schuster, 1985).
J. Lilly et al. Criminological Theory: context and Consequences, Chapter 7,
Conservative criminology: Revitalizing Individualist Theory`.
Mednick, SA. et. al. The Causes of Crime: New Biological Approaches, 1987,
(Cambridge University Press).
We have seen from our consideration of the early rise of positivism that positivists
regarded assumptions of free will and using moral codes to bind together social
relations as outmoded in the face of the hopes for scienti!c knowledge. Accordingly,
a biological perspective appeared to offer the promise that if man was examined like
other animals the laws of nature that governed human nature could be established.
Under this perspective, human behaviour is determined by factors, which while
universal to the species, reside to a greater or lessor extent in the constitution of the
individual - individuals are therefore to an extent predetermined into a life of crime.
For much of the twentieth century a sociological perspective dominated, individual
explanations were thought to have been buried with the repudiation of Lombroso.
However, a search for physical and constitutional factors continued and interest has
recently become stronger. Many of the problems encountered by the Italian school
have continued for those who have sought the explanation of crime in the constitution
of those who have been apprehended for committing crimes. Individualist
perspectives often appear to reduce the issue of crime to that of the criminal or
offender. Put another way the complex interaction of history, power and social
processes at play in the de!ning and location of the institutions of the criminal justice
system are disregarded in favour of only considering what is thought to be some kind
of natural phenomena` such as criminality` or criminal propensity`.
In his critical analysis of criminological knowledge, Discipline and Punish (1977),
Michel Foucault pointed to the close connection of institutions and the production of
individualist criminological knowledge. It is as well to bear this in mind when you
read the accounts of research such as Sheldon or Kretschmer. Sheldon gained his data
from studying boys referred to his clinic by social services and the juvenile court;
Kretschmer took his subjects from asylums for the criminally insane. In similar
fashion Lombroso found his data, his criminals, in prison. Thus the basis of his theory
on crime, his movement to study not the criminal law but the criminal, presupposed
the naturalness of the criminal law and the State. The State provided the criminals for
these positivists to work upon. As Ferraro put it in 1911: Acriminal is a man who
violates laws decreed by the State to regulate the relations between its citizens`.
(Ferraro, 1972 [1911]: 3)
When Goring analysed Lombroso`s work he came up with a large list of possible
correlating factors. When we follow though his conclusions we see that Goring soon
moves from a search for the cause of crime into the terrain of searching the general
causes of human conduct - he lacks the strength of theoretical structures connecting
physical human constitution with behaviour and then crime. Since crime is not a
natural but a social construction, individualistic forms of positivism have no way of
carefully ascribing importance to their theoretical concepts and little way of linking
variables with the natural phenomena under investigation.
There has been a large array of attempts to link individualistic features to the
commission of crime. They have ranged from attempts to map physical structure of
individuals to types of crime, through well-funded twin studies, chromosome
research, to chemical in"uences such as concern with premenstrual tension. Vold is
apt when he says that these researches often become a matter of shadow boxing with
the general issue of the constitutional factor in human behaviour - crime dissolves as
the issue of concern.
In A General Theory of Crime, Gottfredson and Hirschi review biological positivism
and summarise the whole body of work as virtually meaningless. They conclude, for
instance, that the genetic effect` as determined by twin studies is near zero. This does
not mean that biology has not an explanatory role but that the methods positivism has
inherited have made the research doubtful. Speci!cally:
Biological positivism accepted the State`s de!nition of crime as a violation of law
and of the criminal as someone arrested, convicted, and sentenced for a
crime.Acceptance of the State`s de!nition of crime, science`s presumed view of
causation, and the substantive variables assigned to it by the disciplinary division of
labour did not lead biological positivism to an idea of crime. On the contrary, they
led it to search for the biological causes of state-de!ned crime, an ostensibly
empirical enterprise that was actually constrained by a priority of principles. As a
result, biological positivism has produced little in the way of meaningful or
interpretable research. Instead it has produced a series of !ndings` (e.g.,
physiognomy, feeblemindedness, XYY, inheritance of criminality) that survived only
so long as was necessary to subject them to replication or to straightforward critical
analysis.` (1990: 62)
Chapter 4: Individual and biological perspectives
For Gottfredson and Hirschi, if biological positivism, and positivism in general, really
wanted to say something meaningful about crime it would have to come up with
some abstract concepts which related to human behaviour and which dealt with
human facilities. Their own suggestion is the concept of self-control`, the study of
which would shed light of the propensity to engage in a range of similar behaviour.
James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein`s Crime and Human Nature (1985) was a
return to individualist explanations of crime which received large-scale publicity.
Their approach was biosocial` in which constitutional factors` were argued to
predispose individuals to engage in criminal behaviour. They set out to answer two
questions: why some individuals are more likely than others to commit crime`, and
why some persons commit serious crimes at a higher rate and others do not`. Thus,
like Gottfredson and Hirschi, they distinguish between criminality` or the propensity
of individuals, and crime`, which is regarded as a more general entity in which
factors such as opportunity play a large role. The nature of their biosocial approach is
clear from the following extract:
The existence of biological predispositions means that circumstances that
activate behaviour in one person will not do so in another, that social forces
cannot deter criminal behaviour in 100 per cent of the population, and that
the distribution of crime within and across societies may, to some extent,
re"ect underlying distributions of constitutional factors. Crime cannot be
understood without taking into account predispositions and their biological
roots.` (1985: 103)
As you can imagine their work suffered severe criticism. They favoured some work
that had been conducted with dubious methodology and they concentrated on street
crime` thus neglecting White Collar crime.
As well as the ontological issues oI how could a biological approach explain a social
construction such as crime commission (addressed in Morrison, Theoretical
Criminologv), most critics have Iocused on the methodological problems in the
history oI these studies. Walters and White are representative in their criticism:
the large number of methodological "aws and limitation in the research should make
one cautious in drawing any causal inferences at this point of time. Our review leads
us to the inevitable conclusion that current genetic research on crime has been poorly
designed, ambiguously reported, and exceedingly inadequate in addressing the
relevant issues.` (Heredity and crime: bad genes or bad research`, Criminology 27,
1989: 478
Hall Williams once said that criminology involves studying almost every aspect of
human development and behaviour` (Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1982: 9).
Thus it appears that the issue of the biological aspect to human behaviour will always
be part of criminology. How much weight is placed upon it as an explanation has
varied over time and is linked to the fact that presenting theories of crime in
individual terms detracts attention away from the possible social causes and acts as a
conservative barrier to social programmes. You are free to speculate as to the mixture
of biological and social forces - there is much to dispute!
Sample questions
1. The whole idea of a biological or constitutional cause for crime is fundamentally
2. If crime is normal behaviour is there any explanatory role for those theories that
seek to explain criminality by reference to individual pathology?
3. The earlier reductionism of biological and sociological perspectives is becoming
overcome. Everybody now recognises that only a socio-biological account can
fully explain why any particular individual commits crimes.`
B. Mental Factors and Crime
Essential reading
Burke, Roger An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001, Chapter 6,
Psychological Theories`.
Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism,
1995, Chapter 7, Criminological Positivism II: Psychology and the Positivisation
of the Soul`.
Lanier and Henry, Essential Criminology, Chapter 6, Criminal Minds: Psychiatric
and Psychological Explanations for Crime`.
Vold G. and T. Bernard, Theoretical Criminology, Chapters 5 and 7.
Hans J. Eysenck, Crime and Personality, 1977.
Various theories have been proposed which propose a place for mental factors from
madness to low IQ in the explanation of crime. The British psychologist Eysenck
argued for a comprehensive theory of crime based on the personality of the offender -
his work also reviews earlier efforts.
On a policy level there have been great efforts put into predicting dangerousness` and
the concept of psychopathology. There are grave doubts whether adopting these terms
amounts to anything substantial.
Psychological theories have often been seen as totally opposite to sociological
theories, and thus the leadership of sociology for most of this century had
marginalised psychological explanations. As Gottfredson and Hirschi put it:
Sociology possessed a conceptual scheme that explicitly denied the claims of all
other disciplines potentially interested in crime.Criminology became a !eld closed
to the possibility that disciplines other than sociology had anything to contribute.
By failing to mount a defence of their own position, psychologists effectively
removed themselves from direct involvement in mainstream criminological issues.`
(1990: 70)
It is valuable, however, to attempt to integrate sociological and psychological
perspectives. There are a number of possibilities:
· psychological disturbances could be the channel or medium through which
sociological conditions operate. Here, psychology is a subset of sociology.
Durkheim held this view,
Chapter 4: Individual and biological perspectives
· psychological mechanisms may be the process of individualisation. Thus the
individual is de!ned through his/her psychology, but the material for this is always
contextual and sociology tells us about the context,
· psychological theories may be the building blocks for larger sociological theories.
Sutherland`s Differential Learning theory is an example of this.
Others are up to you!
Sample questions
1. The !gures have demonstrated that heredity is a very strong predisposing factor
as far as committing crimes is concerned.`
2. Does the historical record demonstrate that attempts to explain crime by theories
based on individual propensities exempt the social fabric from blame, and thus
reinforce policies of punitive control? [This is a discussion which takes into
account the different policy implications of individualist and sociological
3. Is the concept of the psychopath` suf!ciently reliable to be of use in criminology
or does it result in the unjusti!ed labelling of individuals?
4. Are learning theories of criminality (such as that proposed by Hans Eysenck)
capable of explaining criminal behaviour?
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
Chapter 5
Introduction to sociological
Essential reading
Core texts
Burke, Roger, An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001. Chapter 7,
Sociological Theories`.
Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism, 1995,
pps.175-188, Chapters 12 and 13.
Tierney, John Criminology: theory and context. (Prentice Hall, 1996).
D. Downes and P. Rock, Understanding Deviance, third edition (Clarendon Press,
1998). The book is subtitled `A Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology, fourth edition Chapters 8, 9, 11, 12
and 13.
Taylor, Walton and Young, The New Criminology, (Routledge, 1973).
Supplementary reading
Heidensohn, Frances Crime and Society (1989).
Fitzgerald, Mike et al., Crime and Society: Readings in History and theory.
J. Lilly et al. Criminological Theory: context and Consequences.
Reiner, R. Crime, law and deviance: the Durkheim legacy`, in Steve Fenton,
Durkheim and Modern Sociology.
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter and associated reading you should be able to:
· appreciate the dominance of sociological understandings
· be able to discuss the in"uence of Durkheim upon criminology and be familiar
with the work of David Matza
· de!ne and use anomie theory
· reinterpret anomie theory for contemporary conditions
· appreciate the restraining and criminogenic effects of culture
· not understand jokes about sociologists.
There is no one sociological perspective, indeed for much of the 20th century
sociology simply was the governing paradigm for criminology, and the question then
was what kind of sociology?` This is still largely the case. Our concentration here is
on anomie, culture and control. American literature often distinguishes between strain
theory and control theory. In strain theory it is assumed that individuals would
normally conform to the social norms and thus their infraction is because of some
strain or pull otherwise. In control theory it is assumed that infraction is actually
normal and naturally occurs when there is an absence of social control. As we shall
see the Chicago School also popularised the notion of social disorganisation theory
whereby processes internal to city growth lead to disruptions in the processes which
normally control behaviour. American literature in particular talked of subcultural
theory, of status theory and opportunity theory. The work of Matza is associated
with neutralisation theory that holds that while most of us hold to the norms and
values of our society, some of us learn to rationalise infractions and therefore
neutralise the binding force of norms. Recently there has been a resurgence of
socialisation theory, which concentrates upon the family situation and the learning of
In giving a foundational personality to sociological perspectives special attention can
be paid to the work of Emile Durkheim.
First, along with Karl Marx and Max Weber he is regarded as one of the three father
!gures of modern sociology. Durkheim was actually the !rst professor of sociology
anywhere in the world.
Second, he set out a framework for doing sociology (sociological positivism) which
has structured much of what has subsequently developed as sociology. In particular he
argued for building sociological theories up from clear data.
Thirdly, his speci!c writings of crime, suicide and anomie have provided a great deal
of stimulus for criminology.
Durkheim is a rich writer who was for some time regarded as out of fashion having
committed the sociological sins of being too functionalist and having neglected
power. However, Durkheim is not such an absolutist writer as his critics have made
out and we cannot but scratch the surface of his work. In criminology he is famous
for three things:
i. the notion that crime is normal
ii. the legacy of anomie theory
iii. the argument that in conditions of advanced division of labour the basis of
moral obligation and social solidarity will become increasingly problematic.
Crime as normal. This is part of Durkheim`s functionalist account of deviance.
Deviance is required for society to work its labelling processes and demarcate the
sacred from the profane, the acceptable from the unacceptable.
Anomie. The comes from the concept of normlessness` or, alternatively,
valuelessness`. Note the duality of anomie.
Anomie comes out a fundamental difference between physical and social needs.
Physical needs can become ful!led naturally, for example physical hunger can be
satiated and then the body itself will resist additional food. Social needs, however,
such as wealth, power, prestige, are regulated externally through the constraining
forces of society. Our social desires are therefore without natural limits or forms, they
are an insatiable and bottomless abyss`. As a consequence freed from regulation the
human experience becomes meaningless, it is social interaction that de!ned the limits
and forms of our humanity. It is not true, then, that human activity can be released
from all restraint.its nature and method of manifestation.depend not only on itself
but on other beings, who consequently restrain and regulate it`.
However, just as an absence of regulation can cause anomie, a pathological over -
regulation also causes anomie. Throughout all Durkheim`s work there is a concern
with the mean. Social processes span a continual tension between over-regulation and
under-regulation, between integration and isolation, between socially provided
identity and individuality.
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
In criminology an essay published in 1938 by Robert Merton (Social Structure and
Anomie`, American Sociological Review, 3: 672-82), and usually referred to as the
most famous essay in the history of sociology, was a direct application of anomie
theory. This lead on to work on subcultural theory, gang studies, and on to theories
that highlighted a different set of lower-class values to the mainstream middle class.
The source of moral obligation and social solidarity
Durkheim`s work alerts us to the more complex nature of social solidarity in modern
societies of advanced division of labour.
At its broadest Durkheim alerts us to the problematic of modernity - to the necessity
for a public philosophy which links together the diverse ethnic and social groupings.
Subcultural theory
This came into prominence with American writings such as Albert Cohen`s
Delinquent Boys, Cloward and Ohlin`s Delinquency and Opportunity, and Walter
Miller`s theory of lower-class culture. Miller, for example, sees lower class culture as
a distinct tradition many centuries old with a structure of its own. He argues six focal
concerns constitute the traditions:
· trouble. Thus lower class men have a preoccupation with trouble and associated
!ghting, drinking and sexual conquests
· toughness. Amacho image-stressing hardness, fearlessness, and skill in physical
· smartness. Acapacity to outsmart others
· search for excitement. Brought on by the extreme "uctuations which characterise
lower-class work cycle
· a resignation to fate. This enables fatal outcomes, such as violence and perhaps
prison for trouble to be accepted
· an ambivalent desire for autonomy.
Socialisation theory
The question of whether faulty upbringing or inadequate supervision links to
delinquency has been tied in with issues of the broken home or forced separation
from the mother or father. Here we are in the interconnections of sociology and
psychology. What is the in"uence of being brought up in a one parent family will
obviously determine on the social context of that family. Much early literature does
not take this into account however.
Further reading
Fitzgerald et al. Crime and Society, Chapter 17, gives a general overview of the
Elliott Currie in Confronting Crime, Chapter 6, addresses the conservative resurgence
on this issue.
The work of David Matza: one writer analysed as an example
As we have seen when positivism became a force within criminology a determinist
view of human nature was accepted as required by the name of science. Within
American writings of the 1960s an anti-deterministic current surfaced. From the
control perspective came the argument that strain theories over-predicted delinquency.
If the root cause of crime was found in slum life, criminal traditions and differential
learning, lack of legitimate opportunity and the emphasis upon property acquisition,
how was it to be explained that most of the individuals living in such situations did
not appear to indulge in persistent criminal or delinquent behaviour? David Matza
replaced hard determinism` by the concepts of drift` and soft determinism`.
First, at odds with the structure of doing criminology as it then was, Matza asked
criminology to begin its theories with a notion of crime which saw it as an
infraction` and to take seriously the empirical features which characterised infractions
(what we might call crime). For Matza an infraction entailed going against what had
been socialised as the moral code of the society and the empirical features of crime
were that it was often transient (rather than permanent), intermittent (rather than
pervasive), characterised not by commitment or compulsion but looser factors and
represented something which most delinquents simply grew out of with age.
Second, in a latter 1969 work, Becoming Deviant (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall)
Matza drew a contrast between correction` and appreciation` as differing stances to
deviant phenomenon. Matza claimed that the goal of ridding ourselves of the deviant
phenomenon, however utopian, stands in sharp contrast to an appreciative perspective
and may be referred to as correctional.` The overriding concern with causation or
etiology`: systematically interferes with the capacity to empathise and thus
comprehend the subject of enquiry. Only through appreciation can the texture of
social patterns and the nuances of human engagement with those patterns be
understood and analysed.` (1969: 15)
The appreciative attitude is on the other hand a subjective view; it demands a
commitment to render the phenomenon with !delity and without violating its
It delivers the analyst into the arms of the subject who renders the phenomenon, and
commits him, though not without regrets or quali!cations, to the subject`s de!nition
of the situation. This does not mean that the analyst always concurs with the subject`s
de!nition of the situation; rather that his aim is to comprehend and to illuminate the
subject`s view and to interpret the world as it appears to him.` (1969:25)
Contrary to these two themes Matza found that positive criminology accounted for
too much delinquency. Taken at their terms, delinquency theories seemed to predict
far more delinquency than actually occurs. In the 1950s Sykes and Matza (1957) had
criticised the total determinism of sub-cultural theory arguing that even the most
obvious criminals` or delinquents were not committed to an alternative set of cultural
values but were actually conventional in their beliefs. Why then were they not
restrained by that powerful instrument of self-control in the modern West, namely the
conscience and the feelings of guilt (as opposed to shame which is engendered by
considering what others feel abut our actions). Should not guilt be aroused in the
psyche of an individual when that individual contemplated the performance of an
anti-social action?
Sykes and Matza highlighted the process whereby the offender while not invincible
against guilt has strong avoidance mechanisms that they termed techniques of
Sykes and Matza claimed that the delinquent did not live in some different or inverted
world where the norms and values were the opposite from those prevailing in
conventional society. Instead we are told he/she shares the values of the larger society.
Theories of delinquent subculture over-predicted crime and over-stressed the
difference between delinquents` and non-delinquents`. This raised the issue to be
explained in terms of why individuals who accepted the conventional morality and
who were essentially integrated into the society and respectful of its regulations
violated its conventions? Sykes and Matza argued that while learning the
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
conventional values of the society individuals could also learn certain excuses or
techniques of neutralisation which temporarily at least neutralised conventional norms
and thus permitted violations in speci!c cases and under certain circumstances
without necessarily rejecting the norms themselves.
Five distinct techniques are developed, all of which have some basis in the society at
· Denial of Responsibility. The offender has learnt to take the words of the social
scientist or humane jurist or social worker who sees him as a product of his
environment; he presents himself as the helpless object of social forces (slum
neighbourhood, bad parents, peer group pressure). Thus guilt cannot be aroused
since the deeds are not his own. Thus his deeds are not his, but the product of
orders, the product of the forces of the society, the country or the military.
Ultimately he can see it wasn`t really him who did it.
· Denial of injury. The delinquent argues that the behaviour has not really caused
any harm. Thus vandalism is only mischief`, car theft is borrowing`, stealing is
getting paid` and done to those who could afford it anyway, gang !ghting is a
private quarrel`. Psychologically the spatial distancing of modernity aids this,
consider a computer fraud.
· Denial of a victim. Like the solider who is only !ghting the enemy, the delinquent
is facing a victim who is also guilty. In other words they had it coming` so why
should the offender care what happened? It is the victims who are the wrongdoers.
· Appeal to higher loyalties. The delinquent presents himself as torn between two
groups, those who were the victims and the smaller group to which he belongs
and owes some allegiance, demonstrates loyalty towards or defends his belonging
to. The needs of this smaller group, the army unit, the family, the gang or the
country in the hour of need, serve to change the nature of the acts he would not
otherwise normally do. What was regrettable, perhaps evil, because it was
required by his loyalty to this group it now becomes justi!ed, perhaps obligatory.
These four defenses do not appear to be positive forces, they appear to have the
impact of shielding the actor from the consequences of his/her acts. As avoidance
mechanisms, they prevent the self-esteem of the offender being washed away and
serve to present him as someone worthy of respect and appreciation. The !fth
technique serves to de"ect the shaming powers of the others who are in
communication with the offender.
· Condemnation of the condemners or Rejection of the rejectors. The delinquent
shifts the focus of attention from his own deviant acts to the motives and
behaviour of those who disapprove of his violations`. This time the other who is to
be viewed as the enemy, if guilt is to be avoided, is the whole class of those who
disapprove of the behaviour in question. The captors are either hypocrites, actually
deviants in disguise, or impelled by personal motives.
Sykes and Matza go on to suggest that the delinquent has picked up and emphasised
one part of the dominant value system, namely, the subterranean values that coexist
with other, publicly proclaimed values possessing a more respectable air`. (1961: 717)
These subterranean, or latent, values include a search for adventure, excitement, and
thrills, and are said to exist side by side with such conformity, inducing values as
security, routinisation and stability. Citing the work of Arthur Davis and Thorsten
Veblen, Sykes and Matza argue that delinquents are actually conforming to society
rather than transgressing it when they put the desire for big money` central to their
value system. Overall, subterranean values make delinquency desirable, while the
techniques of neutralisation allow this desire to take direction and become effectual.
Drift theory
In Delinquency and Drift, (1964, New York, Wiley) Matza speci!cally built an
alternative picture of the delinquent under the dictates of soft rather than hard
The image of the delinquent that I wish to convey is one of drift; an actor neither
compelled not committed to deeds nor freely choosing them; neither different in any
simple or fundamental sense from the law abiding, nor the same; conforming to
certain traditions in American life while partially unreceptive to other more
conventional traditions; and !nally, an actor whose motivational system may be
explored along lines explicitly commended by classical criminology - his peculiar
relation to legal institutions.`
Matza`s appreciation leads not to romanticism or heroics. We are dealing not with the
sensational committed criminal of the media reports, nor the heroic !ghter against the
status quo that Marxist accounts sometimes appeared to suggest. Instead, Matza
stresses the mundaneness of delinquency, its pettiness and its transitoriness. He also
puts central the ambiguity of the moral order. Arguing that the contact and
experiences of the juvenile with the correctional system is itself a criminogenic factor.
The concept of human nature used by Matza is much more open than how the
positivists viewed it; note that neutralisation only makes delinquency possible, as
Matza put it:
Those who have been granted the potentiality for freedom through the loosening of
social controls but who lack the position, capacity, or inclination to become agents in
their own behalf I call drifters, and it is in this category that I place the juvenile
Matza did not consider delinquency as some natural or steady state that overtakes an
individual with the correct propensities once controls are relaxed but something that is
involved in processes. Two processes acted as triggering factors, namely the
combination of preparation and desperation.
· Preparation was the process whereby a person discovered that a given infraction
could be successfully accomplished by someone, and that the individual had the
ability to do it himself and that the fear or apprehension connected with the event
could be managed. Thus even if the person realised that a delinquent infraction
could be managed, it might not occur unless someone learned that it was possible,
felt con!dent that he or she could do it, and was courageous or stupid enough to
minimise the dangers. If these processes did not interact, the possibility would not
become a reality.
· Desperation came into play when the self experienced a form of fatalism, a feeling
that the self was overwhelmed and felt a consequent need to violate the rules of
the system so as to reassert individuality.
Where does this direction lead the criminologist? In Theoretical Criminology,
Morrison suggested that it lead into extentialism, a perspective downplayed by
traditional criminology.
Activity 1
Assessing the relationship between Culture and Crime
The topic may be seen as !rst, asking for an understanding of the idea of Anomie:
from Durkheim to Merton; secondly, thinking about crime and culture more
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
Activity-related reading
Morrison, Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism,
pps.175-183; Chapter 12 Criminology and the Culture of modernity`, especially
pps 273-281; Chapter 13 Crime and Culture in the post-modern condition`.
Lanier and Henry, Essential Criminology, Chapter 10 The Sick Society: Anomie,
Strain, and Subcultural Theory`.
Background, particularly on Durkheim and Merton
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology Chapter 9 on Durkheim, Chapter 11
Strain Theories`.
Sample questions
1. Why does Durkheim speak of crime and being normal` in society? What does he
mean by anomie`? Do you agree that human desires are essentially insatiable
and regulated only by cultural messages?
2. In what way(s) is Merton`s adaptation of anomie theory different from
Durkheim`s? What have been the main criticisms of Merton`s work? Are these
3. Do you accept that there are overriding cultural messages of success in modern
society? Do all people share or accept these messages?
4. Are the cultural messages of contemporary conditions much more complex than
Merton allowed for? What are they? Does it make any sense to talk in terms of
individuals having a different location in social structure? Do some people feel
strain` more then others, or are contemporary cultural messages so mixed that
strain occurs across the social order`?
5. How can Japan`s low crime rate be accounted for? Does it make sense to talk of
cultures of shame as opposed to guilt?
Activity 2
Assessing student work
Read the following and assess this as a 1,500 word essay addressed to the question:
Assess the in"uence of Durkheim upon criminology?
I Emil Durkheim
Emile Durkheim was the !rst French academic sociologist. He faced criticism from
others because he represented a discipline that was not legitimate at his time. Born in
the eastern French province of Lorraine in 1858, son of a rabbi and descending from
a long line of rabbis, he decided quite early that he would follow the family tradition
and become a rabbi himself. He studied Hebrew, the Old Testament, and the Talmud,
while at the same time following the regular course of instruction in secular schools.
Shortly after his traditional Jewish con!rmation at the age of 13, Durkheim, under
the in"uence of a Catholic woman teacher, had a short-lived mystical experience that
led to an interest in Catholicism. But soon afterwards he turned away from all
religious involvement and became an agnostic.
At about the time of his graduation, Durkheim had settled upon his life`s course,
which was not the traditional philosophers calling. Philosophy seemed to him too far
removed from the issues of the day, too much devoted to frivolous hairsplitting. He
wanted to devote himself to a discipline that would contribute to the clari!cation of
the great moral questions of the age and to make a contribution to the moral
solidi!cation of the world. But such moral guidance, Durkheim was convinced, could
be provided only by men with solid scienti!c training. Thus, he decided that he
would dedicate himself to the scienti!c study of society.
II Durkheim`s theories
Durkheim`s concepts regarding social interactions among members of a group are
truly some of the great contributions to modern thought. Durkheim`s positivism is a
method of using indices as expressions of underlying moral phenomenon.
By understanding trends and changes in these observable indices, Durkheim argued,
we can underlying morality of a society.
He rejected biological and psychological interpretations which attempted to explain
behaviour by focusing on the individual. Durkheim rather focused attention on
social-structural factors. Social phenomena arise, Durkheim argued, when interacting
individuals constitute a reality that can no longer be accounted for in terms of the
properties of individual actors. A political party, for example, though composed of
individual members, cannot be explained in terms of its constitutive elements. Rather,
a party is a structural whole that must be accounted for by the social and historical
forces that bring it into being and allow it to operate.
Durkheim`s work focused on the cohesion or lack of cohesion of speci!c groups, not
on individual traits. He showed that group properties are independent of individual
traits and must therefore be studied in their own right. For example, a signi!cant
increase of suicide rates in a particular group indicates that the social cohesion in that
group has been weakened and its members are no longer suf!ciently protected
against existential crises.
In order to explain rates of suicide in various religious or occupational groupings,
Durkheim studied the character of these groups and their characteristic ways of
bringing about cohesion and solidarity among their members. He did not concern
himself with the psychological traits or motives of the component individuals,
because these vary. In contrast, the structures that have high suicide rates all have in
common a relative lack of cohesion, or a condition of relative normlessness`.
This allowed Durkheim to engage in comparative analysis of various structures. By
comparing the rates of suicides in various groups, he was able to arrive at an overall
generalisation. By this procedure he came to the conclusion that the general notion of
cohesion could account for a number of differing speci!c rates of suicide in a variety
of group contexts. Certain groups may have a !rm hold on their individual members
and integrate them fully, while others may leave individuals a great deal of freedom
of action. Durkheim demonstrated that suicide varies inversely with the degree of
integration. When society is strongly integrated, it holds the individual members of
that society under tight control. People who are well integrated into a group are
cushioned to a signi!cant extent from the impact of frustrations and tragedies and
thus, are less likely to resort to extreme behaviour such as suicide.
To Durkheim, men were creatures whose desires were unlimited. Unlike other
animals, they are not satis!ed when their biological needs are ful!led. The more one
has, the more one wants, since satisfactions received only stimulates instead of !lling
needs.` It follows that man`s desires can only be held in check by external, societal
controls. When social regulations break down, the controlling in"uence of society on
an individual is no longer effective and individuals are left to their own devices. Such
a state of affairs Durkheim called anomie`. Anomie refers to a condition of relative
normlessness in a whole society or in some of its component groups. It characterises
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
a condition in which individual desires are no longer regulated by common norms
and where, as a consequence, individuals are left without moral guidance in the
pursuit of their goals. Durkheim explained anomie in terms of the relations between
individuals rather than the biological propensities of individuals. By taking this
approach, Durkheim invented a sociological theory of deviant behaviour. He used
anomie to describe a condition of deregulation that was occurring in society. This
meant that rules on how people ought to behave with each other were breaking down
and thus people did not know what to expect from one another. It is normlessness`,
Durkheim felt, that led to deviant behaviour.
Durkheim introduced the concept of anomie in his book The Division of Labor in
Society, published in 1893. In The Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim proposed
the concept that societies evolved from a simple, non-specialised form called
mechanical, towards a highly complex, specialised form, called organic. Mechanical
solidarity exists where individual differences are minimised and the members of
society are much alike. Organic solidarity, in contrast, develops out of differences,
rather than likeness between individuals. People behave and think alike and more or
less perform the same work tasks and have the same group-oriented goals. When
societies become more complex, or organic, work also becomes more complex. In
this society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal.
Durkheim used anomic suicide as an index to measure the degree of social
integration. He concluded that there are no societies in which suicide does not occur,
and many societies show roughly the same rates of suicide over long periods of time.
This indicated that suicides may be considered a regular occurrence. However,
sudden spurts in the suicide rates of certain groups or total societies point to some
disorder not previously present. Thus, abnormally high rates in speci!c groups, or in
total societies, can be taken as an index of disintegrating forces at work in a social
In a condition of anomie there is a breakdown of social norms. Thus, the social
norms no longer control the activities of members in society. Individuals cannot !nd
their place in society without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions as
well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, con"ict and deviance. He observed
that social periods of disruption (economic depression, for instance) brought about
greater anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide and deviance.
According to Durkheim, a society which is experiencing too high a rate of crime is a
society in which the balance between regulation and individuality has broken down.
A society in which there is no crime would be a rigidly over-policed oppressive
Durkheim also discovered that within any particular society, groups may differ in
their degree of anomie. Social change may create anomie either in the whole society
or in some parts of it. Business crises, for example, may have a far greater impact on
those on the upper class than on the lower. When depression leads to a sudden
downward mobility, the men affected experience a loss of moral certainty and
customary expectations that are no longer sustained by the group to which these men
once belonged. Similarly, the rapid onset of prosperity may lead some people to a
quick upward mobility and hence deprive them of the social support needed in their
new styles of life. Any rapid movement in the social structure that upsets previous
networks in which lifestyles are embedded carries with it a chance of anomie.
In his discussion of deviance and criminality, Durkheim departed from the
conventional path. While most criminologists treated crime as a pathological
phenomenon and sought psychological causes in the mind of the criminal, Durkheim
saw crime as normal in terms of its occurrence. He believed that crime is normal in
any society. The use of the concept of crime is merely the strongest labelling
procedure which maintains social solidarity. Thus, even in a society of perfect saints,
crimes which appear venial to the layman will create there the same scandal that the
ordinary offence does in ordinary consciousness.` Furthermore, no society could
enforce total conformity. If society could, it would be so repressive as to leave no
leeway for the social contributions of individuals. Deviance from the norms of
society is necessary if society is to remain "exible and open to change and new
adaptations. But in addition to such direct consequences of crime, Durkheim
identi!ed indirect functions that are no less important. A criminal act, Durkheim
reasoned, elicits negative sanctions in the community by arousing collective
sentiments against the infringement of the norm. Hence, it has the unanticipated
consequence of strengthening normative consensus in the society.
III Criticism
It is the reliance of law as an expression of social interaction among individuals
which makes Durkheim`s views so important to the sociology of law. However, there
are areas in which Durkheim`s analyses fall short, particularly in the limited role
given to power in politically and economically advanced societies, such as those
societies in much of the Western world. As a result, the conscience collective` may
be only the expression of those in positions of political and economic power. Law is
one of the focal points of con"ict and struggle in modern societies and a major means
by which power is legitimised. It is also the form in which coercion is most routinely
exercised. Durkheims`s insistence on viewing law as straightforward expressions of a
conscience collective` prohibits the exploration of the effect of those in power and
their effect on society. Punishment and criminal law therefore might not be
expressions of a collective but of those who are in political, economic and social
positions of power.
Another criticism of Durkheim`s work focuses on his use of statistics. The data
Durkheim analysed was of!cial statistics from the 1840s to the 1870s and this
information is subject to error. These errors prejudice the analysis. If the crime
statistics used are suspect, then so is the whole analysis. Furthermore, statistics have
a fatal "aw, in that they are not capable of being converted into real facts since the
original data involve a process of interpretation and symbolic construction of
IV Conclusion
Emile Durkheim, the agnostic son of devoted Jews, was passionately devoted to the
quest for truth and knowledge. Even though some of Durkheim`s work is subject to
criticism, his contributions to modern thought were invaluable. His concept of
anomie still provides a valuable tool for use by criminologists and sociologists today.
He instigated and created the theories that spurred modern thought to focus not only
on the individual for answers to human behaviour, but to take a step back and look at
society as its own creature. His science of sociology is left to serve and guide the
whole of humanity.
Chapter 5: Introduction to sociological perspectives
Student`s bibliography
Abraham, J.H.: The Origins and Growth of Sociology, (London, England, Penguin
Books Limited, 1973).
Aron, Raymond: Main Currents in Sociological Thought, (London, England, Penguin
Books Limited, 1967).
Luke, Steven & Scull, Andrew: Durkheim and the Law, (New York, St. Martin`s
Press, 1983).
Maus, Heinz: A Short History of Sociology, (New York, The Citadel Press, 1962).
Morrison, Wayne: Theoretical Criminology: From Modernity to Post-Modernism,
(London, England, Cavendish Publishing Limited, 1995).
Sample questions
1. Gangs and other forms of criminal organisation are a reaction to inadequate
opportunities in some parts of society.`
[This question can be seen as speci!cally relating to the American literature on status
theories, alienation and delinquent subcultures. Downes search for gangs in London
is relevant as is material from social ecology and an appreciative stance would be
bene!cial. A variety of approaches can be taken to such a question.]
2. Evaluate the use of anomie theory as an explanation of trends and patterns in
3. How relevant is Merton`s version of strain or anomie theory to explaining crime
today? In what ways can you suggest his theory be modi!ed to make it more
4. The culture of late-modern societies emphasises consumption and taking control
of one`s life, while poverty and powerlessness is the reality of vast numbers of
people`s lives. Crime is an understandable result.`
5. In what ways can aspects of contemporary culture act as criminogenic forces?
6. How could techniques of neutralisation` act as criminogenic factors?
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
Chapter 6
Social ecology: crime and
the city
Essential reading
Morrison, Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism, Chapter11
'Locality and Criminology: from the Polis to the Post-modern City¨.
Taylor, Ian Crime in Context: A Critical Criminology of Market Societies, Chapter 4
Crime in the City: Housing and Consumer Markets and the Social Geography of
Crime and Anxiety in Market Society`.
The following chapter which is good on presenting the work of the Chicago school,
but is weak on critical analysis.
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology, Chapter 10 Social Ecology`.
Arather long and detailed account of the traditional approaches of criminology is:
Bottoms, Anthony and Paul Wiles Environmental Criminology` in Mike Maguire et
al. The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, second edition (1997).
Roger Burke, Criminology Theory, Chapter 13 Environment Criminology`, is short
and succinct.
Lanier, Mark and Henery, Stuart Essential Criminology, Chapter 9 Crimes of Place:
Social Ecology and Cultural Theories of Crime` provides a very good overview.
Downes and Rock, Understanding Deviance, Chapter 3. The University of Chicago
Sociology Department` has a very detailed and sympathetic account of the
Chicago School.
Supplementary reading
Taylor, Walton and Young, The New Criminology, 1973, pp.110-25.
F. Heathcote, Social Disorganisation Theories`, in Fitzgerald et al. Crime and
Society, 1981 Chapter 16.
Shaw, C.R. and McKay, H.D., Juvenile Delinquency in Urban Areas. (University of
Chicago Press, 1942). An original text worth consulting for a real feel of the
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter you should be able:
· to give an account of the way the city has been studied in criminology
· critically re"ect upon the methodologies and assumptions in the criminological
tradition of dealing with the city
· re"ect upon modern city life and its criminogenic forces
· re"ect upon the advent of mass consumer culture.
The nature of the topic
When we consider the changes that have transformed the contemporary world the
transition from life lived in rural conditions to urbanity stands out. Modern social life
is predominantly lived in the large city. However, by comparison to the images and
criteria of how life has been lived for the majority of social history what we take for
normal, modern city existence, was an unnatural style of life. As compared with the
rhythm of traditional` social existence, our normalcy is a social creation where our
daily routine depends upon previous designs (both architecturally and in city
planning), resource allocations and the movement of both people and environmental
terrain. Decisions as to resources, traf!c planning, zoning legislation not only affect
daily life, but also they have constituted the very things we take for granted as the
contours of that life.
What was order like in the traditional European town/city? Cities were normally
walled, the walls providing a demarcation from the country and acting as a defence
from attack. Security was emphasised through an architecture of protection and
containment, a series of barriers and walls in a system of concentric circles or other
shapes radiating out from a central area of the keep, with a forti!ed drawbridge which
could be raised or lowered across a moat, normally with a portcullis at the point of
control of access to the castle. The early watchman or lookout kept watch beyond the
city walls and moat. The system served both as defence from outsiders and detection
of unusual movement. The space that a moat took up, for instance, is both a barrier to
be crossed and an obstacle that in crossing should throw up warning.
The city, although small by today`s standards, was the focus of elite life and the
pursuit of knowledge, art and culture. Inter-city travel, conducted by road or sea, was
the prerogative of a small ruling or cultural elite or the by-product of trade. The
stranger was easily visible. The pace of life was slow, most people followed the trade
of their family and the traditions and customs enjoyed in the city were mainly the
same as the countryside. In 1800 only slightly more than 4 per cent of the world`s
population lived in cities with populations of more than 20,000, by the mid-1980s the
!gure was over 60 per cent. Cities not only no longer have walls but it is in many
cases virtually impossible to estimate precisely how many people inhabit them, and
instead of the stranger being the obvious exception, city life is a life amidst strangers.
We have already seen some of the nineteenth century descriptions of urban life; many
of their observations are still relevant. However, the most famous tradition of
analysing urban life in criminology "ows from the work of the University of Chicago
department of sociology. The city became the focus of serious sociological concern
when American sociologists sought to develop a scienti!c approach upon the
problems of order in the modern city in the face of the rather turbulent activity of the
early years of this century.
Chicago at the time had the reputation of being the crime capital` of the world and
professional crime and juvenile delinquency featured as an important area of research
alongside homelessness, suicide, drunkenness and vice. The sociology of the
University of Chicago drew upon work being done by bio-ecologists on the structure
and development of plant associations and constructed an ecological approach`.
As used in biology the ecological approach highlighted a process whereby vegetation
and animal life adapts to the environment by distribution over a localised area in an
orderly pattern which enables adaptation to the environment and the attainment of
complementary uses of habitat resources.
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
By analogy a similar process was visualised in the city. The various sub-populations
were viewed as jostling for spatial positions that provided terrain to perform their
diverse functions in a developing division of labour. To Robert Park the city was:
a great sorting and sifting mechanism, which, in ways that are not yet wholly
understood, infallibly selects out of the population as a whole the individuals best
suited to live in a particular region and a particular milieu.` (Robert E. Park, Human
Communities, Glencoe, The Free Press, 1952: 79).
Members of the University of Chicago sociology department (the Chicago school)
transformed the earlier ideas of criminal areas, contamination and the social physics`
of the nineteenth century English observers of urbanisation. In their hands crime rates
became a result of variables demonstrated in the physical environment of zones of the
Amodel was constructed wherein cities grew outwards in a series of concentric zones
from a centre with each of the zones exhibiting specialised activities and populations.
In the centre was a business and industrial zone. Outside this was a zone of transition
characterised by a high predominance of sub-standard housing held for speculation in
expectation of commercial and industrial expansion. In this area the housing is
undesirable and deteriorating but cheap. It is also in close proximity to industry and
business and it houses slums of primary immigrant settlements, the poor and
dispossessed and the vice business. Zone three is characterised by a secondary
immigrant settlement and working men`s homes, while zone four is a better
residential area and the !fth and last is a commuter zone. Shaw and McKay mapped
out juvenile-court referral rates and found that these correlated closely to the zones.
Rates were highest in the innercity or core areas and grew less the further out from
the centre. They attributed causal signi!cance to the concept of social
disorganisation` or disturbance of the biotic balance and social equilibrium`; a
condition found particularly in the interstitial areas (areas in between the organised
natural areas).
In time the general processes of invasion, dominance and succession which
determined the concentric growth patterns of the city were complemented by a series
of individual case studies which portrayed the actual conditions in which individuals
found themselves buffeted around.
Note certain points
The ecological approach is expressly positivistic; all the emphasis is on observable
entities. The social ecology movement was not concerned to produce a self-critical
analysis of the use of theory in its investigations, instead it appeared con!dent about
taking explicitly the methodology of a natural` science and applying it into the social.
One practitioner de!ned it in 1925 as the study of the spatial and temporal relations
of human beings affected by the selective, distributive and accommodative forces of
the environment`. (McKenzie, R.D. The Ecological Approach to the Study of the
Human Community`, in Park, R.E., et. al., The City, University of Chicago Press,
1925.) As with most forms of positivism the task is twofold, !rst to draw up a set of
data, in this case the patterns of spatial distribution and movement, and second, to use
this to get to the underlying reality which is to be analysed through this data. The data
gives the clues as to the underlying processes, but if the data is doubtful, and the
Chicago School relied heavily on of!cial police and court statistics to measure
delinquency in the differing areas, then so is the whole set of forces which are
claimed to lie underneath. (An early critic was Robinson, Sophia, M., Can
Delinquency Be Measured?, (Columbia University Press, New York, 1936).
· The approach appears to reduce the social to the geographical. As the American
sociologist David Matza was later to point out to place the cause of social disorder
as social disorganisation and to locate this in terms of invasion and interstitial
zones has the effect of making social diversity the product of social pathology - it
implies that there is some natural and normal formation of city life and that the
con"icts and strife were a re"ection of the competitive principle of ecological
progress. The reconciliation in social ecology of the apparent diversity of Chicago
life and deviance was achieved via the concept of social disorganisation. You may
feel that this introduces a value position as to what is the desirable form of proper
social life and thus contravenes the actual self-image of social ecology`s value-
free empirical, scienti!c status. To locate delinquency as caused by transitional`
areas in the city where the structure and socialisation practices had broken down
indicates a background assumption of one grand value consensus on social life,
which is problematic.
· As critics such as Taylor et al., (The New Criminology, 1973: iii) have pointed out
the social reality of the modern city cannot be reduced to a series of observations
on the spatial and physical level. This environmental determinism ignores the
whole range of institutional, political, cultural and ideological interactions of
intentional actors.
· One legacy of the early Chicago school`s work is the techniques of information
gathering it enables. This has hidden effects. On the one hand it seems to reduce
the city to a mechanical inventory for study and on the other the lack of
comprehensive theory allows the data to be used in pseudo theories. Hence
combining the idea of competition, data correlating of high rates of delinquency
with concentrations of immigrant groups, may give simplistic solutions.
· Perhaps one legacy of this approach is that it destroys for good the notion that
social process is able to be viewed the same as in the hard sciences! Social
processes can only be understood in the light of their meaning in people`s lives,
which is a result of social and cultural factors.
The ecological approach of the Chicago School and the explanation of crime
Natural areas were classi!ed by the dominant behaviour of their inhabitants.
Local communities were a coming together of diverse individuals (Chicago was
experiencing mass immigration) but a process of selection took place amongst these
individuals and the environment which produced a biotic balance` of communities.
Successive waves of immigration caused different types of housing, living and
working zones to appear with speci!c cultural and physical characteristics. Diversity
was selected out of the communities with each natural area being symbiotic for
particular types of behaviour.
Shaw and McKay demonstrated consistent differences in criminal activity between
zones over an extended time, putting the highest rates in the zone of transition.
Deviance was a natural and compatible response to locational and social factors in
these zones. The concept of disorganisation` provided the connection between types
of area and social behaviour. Thus poor housing, squalid overcrowding, lack of
community provisions in transitional areas were not seen directly as the causal
in"uences of delinquency but operated through the breakdown of inter-area social
control. This notion of disorganisation has had a lasting impact in presenting the
urban environment as a criminological factor.
You must ask, however, what is a socially disorganised area? Shaw and McKay
de!ned disorganisation by means of certain features and processes. Quanti!able
features were rates of truancy, tuberculosis, infant mortality, mental disorder,
economic dependency, adult crime and juvenile delinquency. The dominant features
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
and processes were subsumed in three: the economic status of the community, the
mobility of the community, and its heterogeneity. By implication poverty, high
mobility, and heterogeneity lead to weak social control and high delinquency.
The idea of social disorganisation
We have seen that the thesis of social disorganisation is the crucial criminogenic
factor in the social ecology model, how does this work?
In the social ecology model urban society is seen as a complex whole made up of a
set of interdependent parts (e.g., institutions) which attempt to establish and maintain
an equilibrium state. When there exists a high degree of internal cohesion binding
individuals to institutions and institutions to institutions primarily through consensus
of values, norms, and roles), society is said to be in a state of organisation.
Conversely, when consensus is disrupted a state of disorganisation ensues. Such
disruptions produce disorganisation of varying degrees which will result in a
breakdown of the traditional social control mechanisms that ordinarily prevent
deviations from established norms and roles. Crime is one consequence of this
The intellectual father !gure is said to be Emile Durkheim and his thesis of
modernisation (see Morrison Chapter 2; Vold and Bernard, Chapter 9 Durkheim,
Anomie and Modernisation`). Chicago seemed to be the pure form of the processes of
rapidly increasing urbanisation, migration and industrialisation. This social change
was seen to be undercutting traditional forms of social organisation with its informal
methods of social control. Thomas and Znaniecki (1920) argued that in times of
sociocultural change the relations between individuals and groups undergo a cyclical
process of emancipation from traditional institutions and reconstruction of
institutional ties on the basis of new freedoms. During this process, bonds between
the individual and the group (i.e., informal social control) were thought to vary
constantly. To Thomas and Znaniecki (1920) social disorganisation provided both a
social (a disruption in traditional social control mechanisms of the group) and a social
psychological explanation (an emancipation of the individual from the controlling
in"uence of the group) of deviance. For them social disorganisation represents a
decrease in the effectiveness of the existing social rules to control the behaviour of
Park`s (1928) model of human ecology presented a thesis of variations in the degree
of social disorganisation. Park proposed that individuals in a society with laissez-faire
government and a free-market economy are characterised by a spirit of
competitiveness for their very survival. Out in such a society there exists only limited
opportunities to satisfy this need. As a result of individual efforts to accommodate to
this discrepancy, population distribution patterns segregate various groups. Over time
the process of segregation produces residential enclaves re"ecting the social position
history and economic roles of their inhabitants (i.e. natural areas`). Because of the
constant movement of individuals responding to competition (i.e. the search for
employment and a better way of life), heterogeneity grows within these segregated
areas. As a result primary relationships are strained, diminishing traditional social
control mechanisms of the group. This process, by which authority in"uences of an
earlier culture and system of social control, is undermined and eventually destroyed,
is social disorganisation.
Expanding on the effects of heterogeneity, Sellin (1938) maintained that each person
is a member of, or identi!es with, many groups and thus is exposed to many conduct
norms that may con"ict in any situation. The resulting con"ict of norms was
especially heightened in periods of migration and immigration. Thus, as societies
become more complex, social differentiation results in social disintegration and
con"icting situations. For example, Sellin (1938) asserts that unlike primitive
societies which possess:
a culture of well-knit social fabric, [modern society] shows a multitude of social
groups, competitive interests, poorly de!ned interpersonal relationships, social
anonymity, a confusion of norms and a vast expansion of impersonal control agencies
designed to enforce rules which increasingly lack the moral force which rules receive
only when they grow out of emotionally felt community needs`. (p.59-69).
Shaw and McKay (1942, 1969) attempted to integrate the ecological orientation of
Park (1925), the cultural con"ict perspective of Sellin (l938) and the social
psychological explanation of Thomas and Znaniecki (1920), to explain how urbanism
created social disorganisation and crime. By implication the cure of crime lay in
policies designed to prevent social disorganisation.
Shaw and McKay begin with the urban community` as the theoretical unit of
analysis`. Communities can be differentiated on the basis of their social
organisation/disorganisation. Social disorganisation represents the inability of the
community as a distinct social fact to realise common values` (i.e., the inability of the
community to establish integrative networks around common values and goals)
(Kornhauser, 1978, p.63). The degree of heterogeneity in the community, the degree
of population movement (inter- and intra-city mobility) and the economic situation (as
re"ected in the physical characteristics of the area as well as the resources of its
members), represent characteristics which re"ect the position of a community on the
organisation/disorganisation continuum. Social disorganisation is the sole explanatory
concept in Shaw and McKay`s original formulation. Ethnic heterogeneity, residential
mobility and economic depression/deprivation are viewed merely as indicators of a
community`s degree of disorganisation.
Implicit in Shaw and McKay`s work is a rank ordering of these indicators in their
relative contribution to the disorganisation of an area. Poverty appears to be the chief
contributor to the inability to achieve social organisation: The interpretation of these
is straightforward, poor communities and poor people have inadequate resources`.
(Kornhauser, 1978: 63).
Population instability and racial composition, respectively, add further discriminating
power (the in"uence of heterogeneity can be assessed only after controlling for
community economic level` Kornhauser, 1978: 64). Thus social disorganisation
consists of many components and is not itself directly measured in most empirical
studies. In fact, Shaw and McKay`s empirical testing of their theory treats
disorganisation as an unmeasured concept (Shaw and McKay employed the following
empirical indicators of disorganisation: population increase and decrease, percentage
of families on relief, median rentals, proportion of home owners and the percentage of
foreign-born and Negro heads of families).
To Shaw and McKay, disorganised communities not only imply the inability of a
community to function as an integrated whole but also the inability of the social unit
to control its members through informal means. Characterised by poverty, residential
instability and ethnic diversity, Shaw and McKay suggest that primary relationships
fail to develop, making the existence of co-ordinated efforts at informal social control
improbable. Thus, the inability of the community to function as an integrated whole is
assumed to weaken the informal social control mechanisms within the community
(i.e., the inability to establish and maintain common ideals precludes the
establishment of common action designed to protect and perpetuate conventional
values, norms and roles). Consequently, it is assumed that well-to-do, stable,
homogeneous (i.e., organised) communities possess powerful consistent networks of
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
informal social control, while extremely unstable, heterogeneous, poor (i.e.,
disorganised) communities have weakly co-ordinated efforts of control. Indeed, Shaw
and McKay argue that in organised communities:
the similarity of attitudes and values as to social control is expressed in institutions
and voluntary associations designed to perpetuate and protect these values. Among
these may be included such organisations as the parent-teacher association, women`s
clubs, service clubs, churches, neighbourhood centres and the like.` (1969: 171)
Shaw and McKay equate organisation with social control. They emphasise the effects
of direct external informal controls on the socialisation and behaviour of its members
(i.e., scrutiny, supervision and surveillance designed to preclude deter or detect
deviances. (Kornhauser, 1978: 24)
The weakening of informal social control and the absence of bonds established
around common values in disorganised communities permit the growth of alternative
roles to which youth may be exposed. According to Shaw and McKay (1969: 188),
the development of these divergent systems of values and behaviours requires a type
of situation in which traditional control is either weak or non-existent`.
Thus, unconventional behaviours are allowed to "ourish. Speci!cally, alternative role
models may arise from weakened control while differentiation provides rival cultures
or values which implicitly offer a competing opportunity structure. (To Shaw and
McKay this rival culture was the presence of a delinquent tradition` in the area.) The
presence of an alternative opportunity structure ultimately becomes a fourth measure
of the degree of disorganisation of a community.
Criticisms of social disorganisation
Social disorganisation can be criticised for being a class-relative reference point
adopting a de!nition of organised which indicates a middle-class suburb and which
labels certain communities as disorganised for being different to this. The circularity
or tautology of the argument is apparent since deviance is de!ned in terms of
disorganisation and disorganisation is indexed by deviance. Kornhauser (Social
Sources of Delinquency, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978: 118-120)
locates the problem in the failure of social ecology theorists to be explicit about the
causal structure of their theories. She claims if they really meant that poverty,
heterogeneity and mobility cause social disorganisation and that crime and
delinquency are correlated consequences then they are on safer ground.
But can social disorganisation be quanti!able? Or are all those ideas class speci!c?
An alternative, more hermeneutical (i.e. interpretative), approach relies heavily upon
descriptive and oral recollections. These studies seek to explain slum` and ghetto`
communities in terms which are internal to them. They seek to suspend the class-
reference label of disorganised in favour of drawing out what the forms of
organisation internal to these communities are.
Contrast this with the account of England that Engels gave in The Condition of the
working class in England. He interpreted crime as a rational reaction to relative
deprivation or developed accounts of the deprived working classes, the surplus
population` of casual workers, street sweepers, beggars, prostitutes and pedlars who
were provoked by their acute distress to wage an inarticulate form of warfare against
the bourgeoisie. While deviance was not, however, organised or effective class
activity it showed the potentiality for developing such activity. Engels`s observations
are not merely empirical descriptions but are an exercise in normative interpretation;
it is obvious that aspects of city life offend his notions of social justice.
His recognition of the spatial dimensions of crime and his relating this to the process
of economic development also point to the role of economic determinants in shaping
the process of urbanism.
Henry Mayhew`s street biography` (three readings are contained in Fitzgerald et al.,
Crime and Society) contain a wealth of description as to the occurrence of everyday
deviance and crime - a normal occurrence alongside London`s poverty and decrepit
living environments as well as the transmission of deviant values between deprived
children and the ragged schools.
Although the state of the economy and the lived-in environment appear as causal
factors, Mayhew and Binney also concentrate upon inadequate parental socialisation
and control.
Similarly Charles Booth`s massive enquiry which began in 1886 was based on the
notion that the statistical method was needed to give bearings to the results of
personal observations and personal observation to give life to statistics`. His treatise
on Life and Labour of the People in London (1902-3), which runs to 17 volumes,
places crime in a social, environmental and locational context making deviance part
of the life and work of both perpetrators and victims. Deviance is seen as socially
created rather than being a pathological condition of individuals alone.
Certain writers, such as Phillipson (1971), Taylor et al., The New Criminology, (1973),
have claimed that socially disorganised areas are actually quite organised; it is just
that their forms are not regarded as appropriate although they fall within a
sociological de!nition of organisation. The view held by the form of urban sociology
based rigidly upon the ecological model is criticised as giving a simplistic view of the
slum or inner city as a breeding ground for social problems. The city, it is argued is
more than a particular formation of physical environment that is pathological,
decaying, poorly serviced, squalid and insanitary. The Chicago School had added to
the apparent convergence of of!cial rates of crime, illegitimacy, family instability,
mental illness and so forth, claiming causal links. Their associations !tted in perfectly
with the assumptions of architectural determinism (thus slum clearance projects)
which in simple terms held that clearance of physical slums lead to the destruction of
social disorganisation. That policy can now be seen as a failure and the culture of
poverty theorists, such as Oscar Lewis (1959), who depicted a cultural orientation of
those living in poverty as characterised by an absence of social organisation beyond
the family, a tendency to authoritarianism, helplessness, dependence and inferiority
can be seen as expressions of the oversimpli!cations of such analyses. Participant
observation, conversely, has depicted the high degree of organisation within the
slum` (e.g. Thrasher, 1929, and The Gang, 1937; Suttles, G. The Social Order of the
Slum, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1968). Studies show that there are sets of
social control effective there (Whyte, Street Corner Society, 2 ed. 1955; Glazer and
Moynihan, 1963). There is little evidence that formal agencies of social control
(namely, the police, schools and welfare,) are any more effective on their own in
middle class areas in directing behaviour and structuring social organisation, but that
in such areas these agencies "ow out of middle-class cultural forms themselves and
complement them. However, the feelings of social or individual satisfaction, or
frustration are problematically present in any area and it is unfounded to deny their
existence in the slum`.
In subsequent years the Chicago school took a pluralist approach to the cultural make
up of the city and adopted a synthetic observation of daily life in order to obtain
policy orientated !ndings relevant to the perceived needs of the local populations and
some degree of social welfare planning. The work of Howard Becker, such as
Outsiders (1963), is a case in point. David Matza was to calls this a neo-Chicagoan
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
approach and labelled it appreciation` rather than correctional`. However, even then
their approach remained largely within the uncontested context of a free market
economy and a capitalist political democracy. The world of everyday deviancy was
experienced and communicated; it was set into the wider geographical structure of the
city, but the structural "ows which were deemed relevant were so tied to ecological
modelling or the lived in context of everyday reality that questions of economic
structure or of a differential distribution of power in the national political economic
context were never allowed to be raised as factors which constrained or created daily
city life.
Conversely, Anthony Giddens in his works such as Sociology: a brief but critical
introduction argues that studying the modern city cannot be divorced from
considering the general social characteristics of societies and the general social
transformations brought about by the formation and development of capitalism.
Whereas in pre-capitalist society and the city was the centre of state power it only
hosted a limited range of productive and commercial operations; the vast majority of
the population were engaged in agrarian occupations. It was capitalism, which moved
the population into city life; moreover, it did this in the main by developing entirely
new cities. Manchester, the site Engels observed, for instance, moved from 10,000
inhabitants in 1717 to 300,000 in 1851 when it was a manufacturing centre and more
than 2,400,000 at the end of the nineteenth century.
For Giddens, if the driving force behind the growth of urbanity was capitalist
development then the traits of contemporary urbanism displayed the effects of
commodi!cation`, the process where all entities in the social world come to be
perceived as goods, capable of being bought and sold in order to generate pro!t. Thus
we can make sense of modern urbanism and the structuring of daily life within it by
seeing how space itself becomes commodi!ed in capitalist societies. Modern urbanity
is marked by increasing alienability of land and housing (alienable means that
property can be transferred by some mode of payment). For example the policy of the
1925 English Property Law Legislation is precisely to simplify conveyancing, the
State guarantees registered title to increase the alienability of land. This
commodi!cation is the mediation that ties together the physical milieu and the
productive system of capitalism. Giddens highlights three features:
· capitalist urbanism becomes a created environment which dissolves previous
divisions between the city and countryside, replacing it with a distinction between
the built environment` and the environment of open space`;
· in pre-capitalist societies human beings lived close to nature and many cultures
conceived of themselves as participating in the natural world. Capitalist societies
radically separate human life and nature, in the !rst instance in the capitalist
workplace, in which the technological factor sever human beings from the
in"uence of the soil, weather, or cycle of the seasons. The situating of the
workplace in an urban milieu of commodi!ed space, moreover, strongly reinforces
this. The settings of our lives are almost wholly of human manufacture;
· therefore the very concept of urban sociology is problematic; the urban
environment is constituted as a built environment through a process in which
capitalist production, class con"ict, and the State are intertwined. Perhaps what is
needed is a specie of intermediary concepts, such as theories of housing classes,
which complements the ecological heritage with accounts both of how city-
dwellers strive to in"uence decision-making about the milieu in which they live.
The immediate context in which people live is housing markets, connected to
industrial and !nancial capital, on the one hand, and labour markets on the other.
Locating the distribution of urban neighbourhoods in the active struggles of
groups in housing markets emphasises factors of generalised importance in the
capitalist societies. Considering factors such as access to decision-making as to
allocation of local authority housing, budgets, zoning priorities, political con"ict
between local authorities and central government, leads us away from any notion
that the differentiation of city areas and housing types are a natural process`.
Assessing the imaginative grasp of criminology
Few would dispute that cities are the dominant location of modern human
experiences, they are the site where offenders predominately live, commit crimes and
of victimisation. But how are we to conceive of cities and through what perspectives
are we to locate and understand the social issues and diversity of urbanism, such as
the coexistence of national monuments, luxury housing, shopping malls, diverse
places of entertainment and clubs, poverty, ghettos, crime and victimisation?
I begin with two sets of contrasting quotes.
The !rst comes from Robert Park (who along with Burgess and McKenzie founded
the tradition of human ecology):
Cities, and particularly the great metropolitan cities of modern times.are, with all
their complexities and arti!cialities, man`s most imposing creation, the most
prodigious of human artefacts. We must conceive of our cities the
workshops of civilisation, and, at the same time, as the natural habitat of civilised
man.` (Robert Park, 1936: 133)
The city may be regarded as a functional unit in which relations among individuals
that compose it are determined, not merely by the city`s physical structure, nor even
by the formal regulations of a local government, but rather more by the direct and
indirect interaction of individuals upon one another. Considered from this point of
view, the urban community turns out to be something more than a mere congeries of
peoples and institutions. On the contrary, its component elements, institutions, and
persons are so intimately bound up that the whole tends to assume the character of an
organism.a super-organism.` (Human Communities, The Free Press, Glencoe, Ill,
1952: 118)
The second is from David Harvey (currently Professor of Geography at the
University of Oxford):
Capitalist urbanisation occurs within the con!nes of the community of money, is
framed by the concrete abstractions of space and time, and internalises all the vigour
and turbulence of the circulation of capital under the ambiguous and often shaky
surveillance of the State. A city is an agglomeration of productive forces built by
labour employed within a temporal process of circulation of capital. It is nourished
out of the metabolism of capitalist production for exchange on the world market and
supported out of a highly sophisticated system of production and distribution
organised within its con!nes. It is populated by individuals who reproduce
themselves using money incomes earned off the circulation of capital (wages and
pro!ts) or its derivative revenues (rents, taxes, interest merchants pro!ts and
payments for services). The city is ruled by a particular coalition of class forces,
segmented into distinctive communities of social reproduction, and organised as a
discontinuous but spatially contiguous labour market within which certain distinctive
quantities and qualities of labour power may be found.` (The Urban Experience,
Oxford: Blackwell, 1989: 229)
Question: what kind of imaginative grasp or intellectual consciousness of urbanism is
implied by the two approaches?
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
For Park the city has a natural life of its own with inherent process that operate as:
a great sorting and sifting mechanism, which in ways that are not yet wholly
understood, infallibly selects out of the population as a whole the individual`s best
suited to live in a particular region and a particular milieu.` (1952: 79)
From Park we appear to get an imaginative image of naturalness, of functional
processes and of individuals !tting into these processes as if in some kind of natural
selection. Against this image of naturalness, Harvey offer the ambivalence of human
projects within capitalist markets:
The city is the high point of human achievement, objectifying the most sophisticated
knowledge in a physical landscape of extraordinary complexity, power, and splendour
at the same time as it brings together social forces capable of the most amazing
sociotechnical and political innovation. But it is also the site of squalid human
failure, the lightning rod of the profoundest human discontents, and the arena of
social and political con"ict. It is a place of mystery, the site of the unexpected, full of
agitations and ferments, of multiple liberties, opportunities, and alienations; of
passions and repressions; of cosmopolitanism and extreme parochialisms; of
violence, innovation, and reaction. The capitalist city is the arena of the most intense
social and political confusions at the same time as it is a monumental testimony to
and a moving force within the dialectics of capitalism`s uneven development.`
(1989: 229)
Do we need to arrive at one master-theory` or master-narrative` of urban
development by reference to which we understand the reasons why individuals think
and act as they do in modern life? Perhaps we now know that the attempts by Park
and others to construct a general theory systematising the available knowledge as a
social entity`, as Park`s college Louis Wirth (1938) de!ned the project, was doomed.
For Harvey a general theory of urbanism is probably impossible to construct.
Urbanism is far too complicated a phenomenon to be subsumed easily under some
comprehensive theory.` (1988: 195)
Unfortunately, for most of this century criminologists visualised urbanism through
the lenses of Park`s and Burgess`s human ecology`. Criminology workers with the
legacy of the social ecology` approach bequeathed by what has come to be called the
Chicago School. Only recently, and then in attenuated form, did awareness of the
broader economic and political structures creep into this imagined domain.
The writers of the Chicago school acknowledged some economic considerations, but
these were treated as of secondary importance in the studies informed by the ideas of
social/human ecology. As Susan Smith notes, the Chicago school made an attempt to
combine the practical interests of empathetic ethnography with the technical
interests of systematic empirical-analytical science in order to implement policy-
relevant !ndings sensitive to the needs of the public.` The work was welfare-
oriented`, but remained trapped, however, in the unchallenged context of a laisse-
faire economy and a capitalist political democracy. The world of common-sense
deviancy was experienced and communicated; it was set into the wider geographical
structure of the city; but its unacknowledged sources and unintended consequences
were rarely considered, and never tied into the differential distribution of power
which permeates all social life.` Crime, Space and Society, Cambridge: (Cambridge
University Press, 1986: 195)
Question: did this approach render criminology a tame, uncritical, discourse?
Changing conceptions of the city
Most urban geographers have today escaped from the social ecology model. Even in
criminology the model is not used but Vold and Bernard claim that despite the many
severe criticisms that have been levelled at the work of the Chicago School of Human
Ecology, it [is] a gold mine that continues to enrich criminology today. The individual
cases studies remain classic portrayals of delinquents and their social worlds, the
urban research methods have led to a wide variety of empirical studies, and the
cultural transmission theory underlines much of contemporary theoretical
criminology`. (1986: 183, largely repeated exactly in the fourth edition).
However, most criminological work on the city is extremely tedious and narrowly
focused for that.
In recent years it has changed focus and the ideas of routine activity, the locality of
crime commission, target hardening and the redesigning of estates etc. to cut down on
localised features which appear linked to crime commission have gained in
importance. The hope is that changes in the geographic ordering of routine activities
will alter the pattern of crime` (Bottoms and Wiles, The Oxford Handbook of
Criminology, 1997: 353).
Writers such as David Harvey, on the other hand call upon us to develop a self-
consciously normative discourse of urbanism. He uses in part ideas from Henri
Lefebvre, who was a French Marxist philosopher and sociologist whose publications
began in the 1930s and ended with his death in 1991. The everyday was a central
concept that Lefebvre considered to be his major contribution to Marxism. It denotes
a level between the individual and history. The right to the city (La droit a la ville).
For Harvey we need not only to look at routine activity but seek an understanding of
the processes whereby such routines are produced.
Another vital concern today is the ghetto.
The Chicago School explained the ghetto in a lopsided fashion. As Harvey notes,
Engels, writing some 80 years before Park and Burgess, noted the phenomenon of
concentric zoning in the city, but tried to place it in a perspective where economic
class in"uenced the spatial structure of cities.
Manchester contains, at its heart, a rather extended commercial district, perhaps half
a mile long and about as broad, and consisting almost wholly of of!ces and
warehouses. Nearly the whole district is abandoned by dwellers, and is lonely and
deserted at night..The district is cut through by certain main thoroughfares upon
which the vast traf!c concentrates, and in which the ground level is lined with
brilliant shops. In these streets the upper "oors are occupied, here and there, and
there is a good deal of life upon them until late at night. With the exception of this
commercial district, all Manchester proper, all Salford and Hulme.are all unmixed
working people`s quarters, stretching like a girdle, averaging a mile and a half in
breadth, around the commercial district. Outside, beyond this girdle, lives the upper
and middle bourgeoisie, the middle bourgeoisie in regularly laid out streets in the
vicinity of working quarters. The upper bourgeoisie in remoter villas with free, wholesome country air, in !ne, comfortable homes, passed every
half or quarter hour by omnibuses going into the city. And the !nest part of the
arrangement is this, that the members of the money aristocracy can take the shortest
road through the middle of all the labouring districts without ever seeing that they are
in the midst of the grimy misery that lurks to the right and left. For the thoroughfares
leading from the Exchange in all directions out of the city are lined, on both sides,
with an almost unbroken series of shops, and are so kept in the hands of the middle
and lower bourgeoisie.[that] they suf!ce to conceal from the eyes of the wealthy
men and women of strong stomachs and weak nerves the misery and grime which
form the complement of their wealth.I know very well that this hypocritical plan is
more or less common to all great cities; I know, too, that the retail dealers are forced
by the nature of their business to take possession of the great highways; I know that
there are more good buildings than bad ones upon such streets everywhere, and that
the value of land is greater near them than in remote districts, but at the same time I
have never seen so systematic a shutting out of the working class from the
thoroughfares, so tender a concealment of everything which might affront the eye and
the nerves of the bourgeoisie, as in Manchester. And yet, in other respects,
Manchester is less built according to plan, after of!cial regulations, is more an
outgrowth of accident, than any other city; and when I consider in this connection the
eager assurances of the middle class, that the working class is doing famously, I
cannot help feeling that the liberal manufacturers, the Big Wigs of Manchester, are
not so innocent after all, in the matter of this sensitive method of construction.`
(Engels, The Condition of the English Working Class in 1844, p.46-7)
As Harvey points out, Engels`s depiction of urbanism in 1844 was and still is far
more consistent with hard economic and social realities than was the essentially
cultural approach of Park and Burgess. In fact with certain obvious modi!cations,
Engels`s description could easily be made to !t the contemporary American city
(concentric zoning with good transport facilities for the af"uent who live on the
outskirts, sheltering of commuters into the city from seeing the grime and misery
which is the complement of their wealth etc.). It seems a pity that contemporary
geographers have looked to Park and Burgess rather than to Engels for their
inspiration. The social solidarity that Engels noted was not generated by any
superordinate moral order`. Instead, the miseries of the city were an inevitable
concomitant to an evil and avaricious capitalist system. Social solidarity was enforced
through the operation of the market exchange system.
Engels reacted to London thus:
These Londoners have been forced to sacri!ce the best qualities of their human
nature, to bring to pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city, a
hundred powers which slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been
suppressed in order that a few might be developed more fully and multiply through
union with those of others.The brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in
his private interest becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these
individuals are crowded together within a limited space.The dissolution of mankind
into monads, of which each one has a separate principle, the world of atoms, is here
carried out to its utmost extreme..Hence it comes too, that the social war, the war of
each against all, is here openly declared.people regard each other only as useful
objects; each exploits the other, and the end of it all is, that the stronger treads the
weaker under foot, and that the powerful few, the capitalists, seize everything for
themselves, while to the weak many, the poor, scarcely a bare existence
remains.Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and
nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every man`s house in a
state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and
all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our
social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that
the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.` (op. cit., 23-5.)
Engels, in The Housing Question (1872), pointed to the whole gamut of
consequences, which "owed from this sort of competitive market process.
The growth of the big modern cities gives the land in certain areas, particularly in
those which are centrally situated, an arti!cial and colossally increasing value; the
buildings erected on these areas depress this value, instead of increasing it, because
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
they no longer correspond to the changed circumstances. They are pulled down and
replaced by others. This takes place above all with worker`s houses which are
situated centrally and whose rents, even with the greatest overcrowding, can never, or
only very slowly, increase above a certain maximum. They are pulled down and in
their stead shops, warehouses and public buildings are erected.` (p.23.)
This process (which is clearly apparent in every contemporary city) results from the
necessity to realise a rate of return on a parcel of land which is consistent with its
location rent. It does not necessarily have anything to do with facilitating production.
The process is also consistent with certain other pressures.
Modern natural science has proved that so-called poor districts` in which the
workers are crowded together are the breeding places of all those epidemics which
from time to time af"ict our towns..Capitalist rule cannot allow itself the pleasure
of creating epidemic diseases among the working class with impunity; the
consequences fall back on it and the angel of death rages in its ranks as ruthlessly as
in the ranks of the workers. As soon as this fact had been scienti!cally established the
philanthropic bourgeoisie began to compete with one another in noble efforts on
behalf of the health of their workers. Societies were founded, books were written,
proposals drawn up, laws debated and passed, in order to close the sources of the
ever-recurring epidemics. The housing conditions of the workers were examined and
attempts were made to remedy the most crying evils..Government Commissions
were appointed to inquire into the hygienic conditions of the working classes.` (p.43.)
As Harvey notes, today it is social pathology, epitomised by drugs and crime, which
is important, but the problem does not seem essentially different. The solutions
devised still largely have the same characteristics that Engels noted: that is how to
control these areas from above or outside. Look at the work of Mike Davis in City of
Quartz (partly summarised at the end of the chapter on cities in Morrison, Theoretical
Current American concerns: the urban
underclass and ‘broken windows’
Following a famous article by Professors James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling
(Broken Windows: The police and Neighbourhood Safety`, Atlantic Monthly, March
1982), criminologists as well as many journalists refer to the realities of such inner-
city neighbourhoods as evidence of the broken windows` syndrome - that when a
broken window in a building goes un!xed, soon all of its windows will be broken.
The broken window is an invitation to incivility, disorder, and crime:
Where disorder problems are frequent and no one takes responsibility for unruly
behaviour in public places, the sense of territoriality` among residents shrinks to
include only their own households; meanwhile, untended property is fair game for
plunder or destruction.and a concentration of supposedly victimless` disorders can
soon "ood an area with serious, victimising crimes.` (Skogan, Disorder and Decline,
In the writings of the moral right` Broken bottles`, de!ned as evidence of drug and
alcohol abuse, has an even worse effect on community order and safety than broken
windows. As one recent work puts it:
The fact that government itself licenses the entire mess by letting the liquor stores
proliferate and the broken bottles pile up so high in poor, inner-city neighbourhoods
is the single most compelling symbol that nobody cares, the ultimate invitation to
disorder and crime, the sharp-edged evidence of moral poverty. Without adopting
either the most sinister or the most cynical perspective on the subject, it seems clear
that the high concentrations of liquor outlets in these urban neighbourhoods re"ects
Chapter 6: Social Ecology: crime and the city
the relative power of alcohol producers and wholesalers, who supply liquor outlets,
banks who loan money to store owners, and state regulators whose activities are
more oriented towards the interests of alcohol industry lobbying than the regulation
of that industry, and the relative powerlessness of the poor and unemployed
individuals and groups who live in greater concentration in these areas of high outlet
The time has come to experiment with policies aimed at cutting crime by cutting
alcohol availability and consumption. The place to begin the experiment is in those
poor, minority, high-crime neighbourhoods where the density of liquor outlets far
exceeds city-wide averages. The theory behind this policy experiment should be
guided by the large and methodologically sophisticated body of research which
documents that in inner-city neighbourhoods the relationship between poverty on the
one side and crime and disorder on the other is mediated by community norms and
the extent of citizens` attachments to traditional institutions like home, school, and
We could generally accept, perhaps, the statements of the right that as a rule, the
stronger the community norms and traditional institutional attachments, the weaker is
the link between poverty and crime and the lower are the chances that children
growing up in disadvantaged settings will become deviant, delinquent, or predatory
(assault, rape, rob, burglarise, deal deadly drugs, murder).
But what is one to make of the arguments that we need to return to religion etc. Some
studies have shown that religious af!liation fosters less drinking`. Indeed, one major
study !nds that, even after controlling for all relevant individual characteristics (race,
gender, education, parental education, family structure, religious involvement, and so
on), youths whose neighbours attend church are more likely to !nd a job, less likely
to use drugs, and less likely to be involved in criminal activities whether or not the
youths themselves attend church or have other attachments to traditional institutions.
As is pointed out in Morrison, Theoretical Criminology, we might not have to see this
as the role of religion but of cultural inhibitions, which empirically have traditionally
taken a religious form. This, however, puts the onus on the role of culture and cultural
inducements to crime or to refrain from crime. Which returns us to the notions of
culture and completes the interaction between social ecology and broader ideas of
Sample questions
1. What theoretical and policy contributions can social ecology theory make to the
problem of urban crime in contemporary Britain?
2. How have criminologists attempted to develop a science of the city capable of
highlighting criminogenic processes? Have they succeeded?
3. How have criminologists sought to explain the criminogenic effects of city life?
Have they been successful?.
4. Is the concept of an emerging underclass` of any use for criminological
theorising or does the use of this term simply create an unnecessary and
misleading label?
Chapter 7: Labelling otherwise know as symbolic, or social interactionism or social reaction theory
Chapter 7
Labelling otherwise known as
symbolic, or social
interactionism or social
reaction theory
Essential reading
Core texts
Burke, Roger, An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001. Chapter 8 Labelling
Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism 1995
Chapter 14 Labelling Theory and the work of David Matza`.
Tierney, John Criminology: theory and context, 1996, Chapter 9 New Deviancy
theory: the interactionist approach to deviance`.
Taylor, Walton and Young, (1973) The New Criminology, Chapter 5.
Becker, Howard. The Outsiders, (1963) esp. Chapter 1.
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology, Chapter 14.
Downes and Rock, Understanding Deviance, 1998, Chapter 7 Symbolic
Additional reading
Cohen, S. Folk Devils and Moral Panics, (second edition., Oxford, 1980).
Lemert, E.M. Human Deviance, Social Problems and Social Control, Englewood
Cliffs, 1967.
Plummer, K. Misunderstanding Labelling Perspectives` in Downes and Rock, (eds)
Deviant Interpretations, Oxford, 1979.
Afamous quotation from Howard Becker gives a "avour of the perspective
the central fact about deviance [is that] it is created by society. I do not mean this is
the way it is ordinarily understood, in which the causes of deviance are located in the
social situation of the deviant or in social factors` which prompt his action. I mean,
rather, that social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction
constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling
them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the
person commits but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and
sanctions to an offender`. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully
been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.`
(The Outsiders: 8-9.)
The consequences of the above position range from potentially devastating to the
whole positivist tradition of investigating crime` and the criminal`, to merely adding
another area of study.
The attack on positivism "ows from the reinterpretation of language which the
philosophical perspective underlying the labelling approach gives. Words such as the
offender, the criminal, dangerousness, indeed all naming words`, are now seen not as
a re"ection of a natural reality, but as a snapshot of a social process. Let us, however,
be clear. The radical analysis of labelling is not dominant, it has been accommodated
within the mainstream sociology of deviancy without, it seems, upsetting the
con!dence of empirical work.
Remember the con!dence of positivism: a belief in a determinate external reality out
there that it is possible to measure accurately. The labelling perspective is part of an
alternative position, a perspective that states we can never get to this reality. It claims
reality is linguistically constituted, therefore, we can say that the limits of our world
are the limits of our language.
What is the self in a non-positivist conception? It is an existential self. Aself that
owes its character to no innate human nature`, no given or !xed biological character
is recognised. Instead, for us, as Pascal said, there is nothing that cannot be made
natural; there is nothing natural that cannot be lost`. We construct our own selves,
society constructs human nature. The role of instinct, or natural drives, is lessened
through the inescapable sociality of mankind. The structure of socialisation, of
learning, is the structure to the human self. Our ability to be plastic, to learn
throughout life, enables our culture to also learn. To hold a cumulative technological
power that transforms the environment we live in as a species. The ability to socially
label, to create typologies, categories and, in turn, laws, is part of this cultural
technology. Culture replaces natural instinct` as the means of human survival.
The reality humans face is a cultural one; our descriptive terms, our arrangement, the
divisions we !nd ourselves thrust into, constitute our cultural heritage. Culture, the
tool by which humanity surmounts natural reality becomes the world humanity
confronts and becomes the reality which creates the pressures and demands of social
human existence. Thus the crude empiricist image of reality, a presence out there
which we can safely perceive through our senses, gives way to the realisation that all
senses of reality are culturally channelled and induced. Freed from nature, man
becomes the subject of culture. Dependence on nature is replaced by dependence on
culture. As the anthropologist Geertz put it, a person abstracted from culture would
functionally incomplete, not merely a talented ape who had, like some
underprivileged child, unfortunately been prevented from realising his full
potentialities, but a kind of formless monster with neither sense of direction nor
power of self-control, a chaos of spasmodic impulses and vague emotions.` (Geertz,
C., The Interpretation of Cultures, (New York, Basic Books), 1973: 99)
The reality of social life is therefore a linguistic reality. And, since language is one
kind of symbolic system, a set of conventionalised sounds and signs, we can say that
our reality is primarily based on symbols. The external world is for us a world clothed
in symbols. These symbols identify or indicate certain aspects of the environment to
us and structure our responses to them. All objects can wear several sets of identi!ers,
different meanings, and, therefore, be different objects. Often the thing(s) our
object(s) is socially, may be viewed in incompatible ways. But whether there is one
thing with different meanings, or one meaning with different things, things and
meanings remain inseparable. They are parts of a bonded whole, since things only
exist socially in so far as they have meaning - interest, value, purpose, function, for
us. For the social world we can say that the only way we recognise things in the
Chapter 7: Labelling otherwise know as symbolic, or social interactionism or social reaction theory
world is by conferring meaning or value on them. We endow the world with symbols
and respond to the meanings contained in them. So there are as many things in the
world, and only such things, as we have meanings for at any one time.
Language and other symbolic systems codify these meanings. In using language, or
other kinds of signs such as gestures, we impose a sort of grid on reality. Since
language and other symbolic systems are social products, this is a socially constructed
grid. Thus Alasdir MacIntyre has said that the limits of action are the limits of
description.the delineation of a society`s concepts is therefore the crucial step in the
delineation of its life`. (MacIntyre, A., Amistake about causality in social science`,
in P.Laslett and W.G. Runciman (eds), Philosophy, Politics, and Society, Oxford,
Basil Blackwell, 1962)
Role, status and stigma
I have claimed language is a major determinant of reality for a culture. Age, sex, race,
class subdivide this reality into a series of smaller realities setting up a series of
subcultural realities. But on an everyday level even these subcultural realities tend to
become too large for most individuals. The working class Tory for instance is
someone who appears to have stepped out of a confusion of status; as a worker he
should`, in class terms, vote Labour, the party of the working man. But class status is
only one element in the structuring of an individual`s self position. His relation to the
kind of job he has and aspires to, his schooling, the home life he enjoys, the life lived
among friends and neighbours, his sporting contacts, all provide a range of role-
playing in which various and perhaps con"icting experiences are possible. Various
statuses engaged.
Being young or old, being a woman, is to have a particular social status. So is being
married or unmarried; being a teacher or parent, a neighbour or taxpayer, a prisoner,
an offender, a mental patient or a disabled person. Each status carries with it a set of
expectations and reactions, an ensemble of rights and obligations, a package of social
relations, which both carry stress, and which the living in accordance with constitutes
the performance of a role. Arole is the dynamic aspect of status - it tells us how to
think, feel and behave in ways appropriate to a given status. Thus a set of behaviours
appropriate for sets of status has been prepared - a mother is caring and exhibits the
behaviour of care, a soldier brave and performs bravely, a patient submissive and
obedient to the doctor. To occupy a particular status is to slip into a role as into a suit
of clothes tailored for the occasion. The role is binding on both actor and audience. It
is a reciprocal relationship. It can constrain behaviour more directly and more forcibly
than either language or class.
Labelling and the ascription of roles
This is a process which you may wish to think about. Where do you get your own
sense of self-identity and your image of the roles available for you? We do not invent
our roles but !nd them latent in the statuses we occupy, waiting to be actualised by
our performance. The script has been largely written for us before we appear. As
opposed to a stage actor however, we largely learn our parts unconsciously, unaware
of the social script. Yet the most apparently spontaneous and personal behaviour,
when we feel most ourselves, often turns out to be a replaying of the lines of a
symbolic script written long ago.
Focusing attention onto the power of the
authorities to ascribe criminal identities
As well as the quotation of Becker consider the "avour of:
I propose to shift the focus of theory and research from the forms of deviant
behaviour to the processes by which people come to be de!ned as deviant by others.
Such a shift requires that the sociologist view as problematic what he generally
assumes as given - namely, that certain forms of behaviour are per se deviant and are
so de!ned by the conventional or conforming members of a group`. (Kitsuse, J.,
Societal Reaction to Deviant behaviour`, in Rubington and Weinberg (eds.),
Deviance: The Interactionist Perspective, New York, 1968: 19-20).
The critical variable in the study of deviance is the social audience rather than the
individual actor, since it is the audience which eventually determines whether or not
an episode of behaviour or any class of episodes is labelled deviant.` (Erikson, K.,
Notes on the Sociology of Deviance`, in Becker, (ed), The Other Side, New York,
1964: 11).
Important terms within criminology
The labelling or symbolic interactionalist approach was taken as resting upon three
simple premises:
· human beings act towards things on the basis of the meanings that the things have
for them
· the meaning of such things is derived from, or arises out of, the social interaction
that one has with one`s fellows
· these meanings are handled in, and modi!ed through, an interpretative process
used by the person in dealing with the things he encounters. (Blumer, 1969: 2)
Sample questions
1. How adequate is labelling theory as a general account of crime?
2. Is labelling theory only applicable to marginal forms of deviance?
3. The irony of formal state intervention in social control is that labelling offenders
as criminals leads to more crime being committed but society needs this labelling
in order to af!rm its central values.`
What assumptions lie behind this statement and do you agree with its analysis?
4. Critically assess the legacy of the labelling perspective.
5. The theoretical implications of labelling theory undercut the rationale for much
of the of!cial criminal justice system. Either labelling theory was wrong or it had
to be ignored for the criminal justice system to continue to expand.`
6. Labelling theory was a re"ection of the anti-establishment mood of the 1960s
and left no lasting theoretical legacy.`
Do you agree?
7. The implications of labelling theory should have resulted in a large-scale
reassessment of criminal justice policy; instead they have been mostly neglected.`
8. One major cause of crime is the criminal law. We use it too much and in areas
where other forms of control would be more appropriate.`
Discuss with reference to speci!c areas of criminalisation.
Chapter 7: Labelling otherwise know as symbolic, or social interactionism or social reaction theory
Grade the following essay. (Assume it was written as an essay with a 1,500 word
limit - note it ought to be possible to write four 1,000 word answers in a three-hour
What question do you think it is written in response to? If you can identify a
question, what marks would you give it out of 10 for:
· coverage of material (are there any important points you think the writer
has missed
· structure, i.e. it is well laid out and follows a consistent theme
· usage of texts and quotes from major writers.
How easy do you think it is to mark? How would you mark your own attempts?
Emanating from the traditions of the Chicago school and borrowing conceptually
from sociological approaches such as interactionism`, labelling theory can be viewed
as a major break from earlier classical and positivist explanations of crime and
criminality. Its heritage is partly critical because it challenges the assumption of a
consensus in society regarding core values and norms.
The central tenet of the labelling perspective is that crime and criminal behaviour is a
social process and to give them meaning relies as much on social reaction and
context as on the nature of the behaviour itself. Hence, the focus of concern for
labelling theorists is with the complex processes of action and reaction and how they
result in an individual adopting a deviant identity and lifestyle.
Labelling theory and the process of interaction
Labelling theory has a wide range of intellectual in"uences but the strongest link is to
the symbolic interactionist perspective in sociology, in which the self is viewed not as
a structure but as a process. In what Mead called the self as a social construct`, each
person`s self-image is thought to be constructed largely through interactions with
other people.
The underlying assumption of process - which is at the heart of the labelling
approach - can be explained by breaking it down into four main stages:
i Negative labelling
According to labelling theory, what counts as a crime` is de!ned by social action
and reaction and who is considered criminal` or deviant` is determined by the
labelling process. The importance of the labelling act is summed up by Becker:
.deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits but rather a consequence
of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender`. The deviant is one
to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that
people so label.`
The idea that deviancy is something that is conferred upon an individual by society,
saw a major shift of focus away from the offender to those who do the reacting.
Erikson saw the social audience` as being a crucial factor because how they respond
will ultimately determine whether the act or individual is labelled a crime or deviant.
In Theoretical Criminology, Morrison identi!es three types of audience and the one
labelling theory has concentrated upon most is made up of the of!cials within the
criminal justice system. It is this relationship between the offender and those who
White, R, and Haines, F, Crime And
Criminology An Introduction (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1996, p.5).
Howard Becker. Outsiders. Studies in the
Sociology of Deviance (New York: The
Free Press, 1966, p.14.
have the power to label that has been the key area of analysis for labelling theorists.
They argue that crime is not an objective phenomenon, rather it is shaped by
selective labelling and the nature of interactions between members of the criminal
justice system and the general public.
Becker, in his work on people who were considered to be on the margins of society,
believed the primary reason for their status as outsiders` is because their behaviour
has been labelled deviant by society`s powerful interest groups. Again it is a case of
behaviour only becoming deviant in the labelling process.
(ii) Stigmatisation
A consequence of the labelling process is that stigmatisation can occur. When an
individual is stigmatised it not only affects how they see themselves but also how
others perceive them. Thus, based upon the initial negative labelling, a person is
predominantly viewed by others in terms of one particular pattern of behaviour or
character trait.
An example which clearly illustrates this comes from a (in)famous BBC video on
Greek Asylums, where a man incarcerated in an asylum on the island of Leros said to
his interviewer I`m not ill. It`s you who thinks I`m ill because I`m here.`
(iii) In response to negative labelling and stigmatisation a new identity is formed
One impact stigmatisation has on some people is that they engage in further deviant
activity (remember the adage if you`ve got the name you might as well play the
game`). Another consequence is that the labelling process provides an impetus for
people who have similarly been cast as outsiders to associate with each other.
Membership to this sort of criminal subculture can often end in individuals adopting
a criminal self-image.
(iv) Commitment to deviant label
According to Lemert, in order to understand the role the labelling process plays in a
person`s commitment to criminal activity, it is necessary to distinguish between
primary and secondary deviance. Referring to initial deviant behaviour (e.g. petty
theft, underage drinking) primary deviation simply means the act is performed
without the individual seeing themselves differently (i.e. as a thief or a drunk).
However, it is with secondary deviation that the focus of labelling theory lies. It is
said to occur when, as a result of the social reaction to the initial deviant behaviour
(e.g. being arrested for shoplifting and of!cially labelled as deviant) the individual
undergoes a reorientation not only of their behaviour but their self-concept as well.
What this ultimately means is that they take on the role based upon their status. As I
put it: the application of labels.brings out the behaviour that the label was
supposed to control`.
A major drawback to labelling theory is that is concentrates exclusively on crime as
de!ned by social reaction. Critics argue this is !ne for minor delinquency but crimes
such as murder and rape are not determined on a subjective basis. Rather, they are
characterised by a high degree of social agreement regarding their criminality.
One other criticism levelled at this approach is that it cannot explain why some
people are able to reject certain labels and others do not have this same capacity.
Chapter 7: Labelling otherwise know as symbolic, or social interactionism or social reaction theory
A lasting legacy?
Where labelling theory seems to have the most impact is in the area of juvenile
justice. The notion that young people are especially vulnerable to the labelling
process and if subjected to of!cial social reaction, this could end up in pushing them
into further deviant activity, was also a feature of Matza`s drift theory`.
Recently the Australian criminologist John Braithwaite has also looked to labelling
theory when proposing a new idea of reintegrative shaming as the key to crime
control. His argument is that for shaming to be most effective, it must be
reintegrative as opposed to stigmatising. He highlights the undesirable effects of
labelling, where outcasts are created and the risk of reoffending is heightened and
says that, by contrast, reintegrative shaming seeks to shame the evil deed while
maintaining a relationship with the offender, based on respect.
The offender is then
given the opportunity to re-enter society by way of recognising what they did was
wrong, apologising to those harmed by their actions and being repentant.
At the level of policy development with respect to juveniles, labelling theory has left
a lasting impression. In a number of states and territories in Australia, schemes and
programmes are operating which serve to divert young offenders away from the
formal systems of juvenile justice, thereby reducing the likelihood of stigmatisation.
Other procedures where the labelling in"uence can be seen include the destroying of
of!cial records once a juvenile has reached a certain age and has not reoffended, the
placing of limitations on taking !ngerprints and body samples and lastly, publicity
restrictions in cases before the Children`s Court.
As Frank Tannenbaum, the !rst labelling theorist said, the person becomes the thing
he is described as being`. The premise of labelling theory is that crime and criminal
behaviour is a social process and how they are determined depends upon who does
the labelling. The power to labelling is substantial and has a lasting impact on both
the psychological and social development of offenders. A negative consequence of
being stigmatised is that the individual assumes the identity with which they have
been labelled and then acts accordingly. However, the juvenile justice system in
particular has introduced procedures and programmes which attempt to protect young
people from being negatively labelled and the stigma that follows:
Student`s references
1. White, Rob and Haines, Fiona Crime And Criminology An Introduction, (Oxford:
University Press,1996).
2. Becker, Howard S Outsiders. Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. (The Free
Press, New York, 1966)
3. Braithwaite, John Shame and Modernity`, The British Journal of Criminology,
(1993) vol. 33, no. 1, pp l-18.
4. Braithwaite, John Crime, shame and reintegration, (Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1989)
5. Morrison, Wayne Theoretical Criminology: From modernity to post-modernism,
(Cavendish, London, 1995)
6. Vold, George B; Bernard, Thomas J. and Snipes, Jeffrey B Theoretical
Criminology (fourth edition), (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998).
Braithwaite J. `Shame And Modernity'
(1993) The Brit Journal of Criminology
Braithwaite, J. Crime, shame and
reintegration (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989) 100-1
Vold, George B; Bernard, Thomas J. and
Snipes, Jeffrey B Theoretical Criminology
(fourth edition), (Oxford University Press,
Oxford, 1998).
Chapter 8: Critical criminology and the development of Realist perspectives
Chapter 8
Critical criminology and the
development of Realist
Core texts
Critical criminology
Burke, Roger, An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001. Chapter 11 Critical
Downes D. and Rock, P. Understanding Deviance, 1998, Chapter 10 Radical
Jones, Stephen, Criminology, 1998, Chapter 10. Con"ict, Marxist and Radical
Theories of Crime`.
Lanier and Henry, Essential Criminology, 1998, Chapter 11 Capitalism as a
Criminogenic Society: Con"ict and radical Theories of Crime`.
Tierney, John Criminology: theory and context. 1996, Chapter 11 Post-new deviancy
and the new criminology`.
Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology, Chapter 15 Con"ict Criminology` and
Chapter 16 Marxist Criminology`.
The classic British texts:
Taylor, Walton and Young, The New Criminology, 1973.
Taylor, Walton and Young, Critical Criminology, 1975.
Contempory Critical texts:
Taylor, Ian Crime in Context: A Critical Criminology of Market Societies. (Polity
Press, 1999) [ISBN 0-7456-0667-9].
Which is a sustained critique of the criminogenic effects of mass consumerism and
the international marketplace. It is structured by placing crime and fear` in the
context of the massive social transformations of the late twentieth century.
Young, Jock The Exclusive Society. (Sage, 1999) [ISBN 0-8039-8151-1].
analyses the rise of a society of plenty in which a signi!cant portion is excluded.
Young`s work is the culmination of an intellectual journey from the neo-Marxism of
The New Criminology (1973) through left realism` into this pragmatic but committed
analysis of the complexity of late modernity and the need for social justice. The book
should be read`. Perhaps his thesis can be summed up by his !nal paragraph:
Crime and intolerance occur when citizenship is thwarted; their causes lie in
injustice, yet their effect is, inevitably, further injustice and violation of citizenship.
The solution is to be found not in the resurrection of past stabilities, based on a
nostalgia and a world that will never return, but on a new citizenship, a re"exive
modernity which will tackle the problem of justice and community, of reward and
individualism, which dwell at the heart of liberal democracy.`
On Left realism
Young, J. The Failure of Criminology: the need for a radical realism` in
R. Matthews and J. Young (eds) Confronting Crime Sage, 1986.
Lea, J. and Young, J. What is to be done about Law and Order?, (Penguin,
Harmondsworth, 1984).
Stenson, K. and Brearley, N. Left Realism in Criminology and the Return to
Consensus Theory`, in Reiner, R. and Cross, M. (eds) Beyond Law & Order:
Criminal Justice Policy and Politics into the 1990's, (MacMillan, 1991)
Hall S. et al. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order,
1978. A radical analysis of the moral panics surrounding the rise of
mugging` in relation to the British State.
Pitch, T. Critical Criminology, the Construction of Social Problems and the
Question of rape` 13 Int. Jo. Soc. of Law, 35 1985, is an empirical
application of critical criminology in the area of rape.
Quinney, R. Class, State and Crime, second edition 1980, is a classic
American text applying Marxist theory.
In the 1960s and 1970s a dramatic change came over the study of crime. It was a
movement from accepting a consensus view of social order to one where social order
was riven by con"ict.
It drew on a variety of roots from Marxism to labelling. For
most of the twentieth century a positivist approach dominated criminological
development focusing upon criminal behaviour` rather then criminal law, on the
supposed determining causes of such behaviour, and on the differentiating of
criminals from non-criminals. Recently a return to the eighteenth century classical
roots has occurred with a particular focus on the role of the criminal law in generating
legal labels that constitute the demarcation between the criminal and the non-criminal.
In part, the drive behind the new or critical approach in criminology was an attempt to
expose the background assumptions and structural biases in the traditional research
which leave unproblematic the de!nition and meaning of crime. As Wiles put it in
Laws and rules, rather than de!ning the boundaries of criminology, now have to be
included within criminological explanations. Criminology was forced to encompass
the political nature of deviance and its control, and so examine the relationship
between theory and ideology.` (1976: 17)
This developed aspects of the interactionists labelling theories. However, one of the
consequences of radical interactionism is an invitation into an existentialist world, a
world where many realities are acknowledged and no monopoly on any is claimed.
The world of radical interactionism is emergent and capricious, de!ned and structured
through direct experience and is essentially a human creation, thus, it is said only
humans can understand it. But in the late-modern world the multiplicity of life
experiences and images threatens to overwhelm the individuals` ability to comprehend
with the alienating result of creating a domain of abstracted individuals. Critical
criminology however, seizes upon a deep structural analysis, a holistic approach
which attempts to go beyond experience and tells us of the foundational pressures
which constrain and produce the bedrock conditions of possible knowledge and of
law-making processes. The usual mode of analysis here is Marxist in derivation.
You may !nd it interesting that the !rst
edition of Vold published in 1958 was
regarded as radical in that it openly
espoused a `con"ict' perspective. Therein
Vold stated that he saw social order as
`congeries of groups held together in a
dynamic equilibrium of opposing groups,
interests and efforts. The continuity of
group interaction, the endless series of
moves and countermoves, of checks and an immediate and
dynamically maintained equilibrium.
provides opportunities for a continuous
possibility of shifting positions, of gaining
or losing status, with the consequent need
to maintain an alert defence of one's
position.Con"ict is viewed, therefore, as
one of the principal and essential social
processes upon which the continuing
ongoing society depends. (Theoretical
Criminology, 1958: 204) How that text
was turned into the boring banality of the
fourth edition must be a research project
in its own right.
Chapter 8: Critical criminology and the development of Realist perspectives
In general the New Criminology stepped outside of the traditional boundaries of
criminology refusing to accept the products of the legal enforcement mechanism as its
data. Instead the processes of criminalisation, of state power, of historical
development, of the development of legal ideologies, are brought directly into the
picture. We are asked to consider the human price of modernity and to face up to the
radical disparities beneath the formal equality and liberty of the liberal subject. The
Rule of Law is seen in the Marxist tradition as an ideology hiding the alienation of
man in modern bourgeois (or industrial) society`. The separation of man and women
from humanity via technology, via visions of worth according to property, via
ethnicity, via gender, is at issue. Formal legal and political equality, concealed and
even made greater real social and economic inequality. Behind the operation of the
free market lies the rule of the productive system (the factory); behind the freedom of
trade lies the subjection of colonies and now the third world; behind the freedom to
be your self lies the ideological packaging of what it means to be a desirable and
successful modern`.
The now classical` British text of the New Criminology is The New Criminology:
for a social theory of deviance, by Taylor, Walton and Young. Their approach to
knowledge is expressly one of praxis`, a combination of theory and practice. The
criminologist is a committed member of his/her society, a person who lives the
struggle to create a more human and free society:
one of the central purposes of this critique has been to assert the possibility - not
only of a fully social theory - but also of a society in which men are able to assert
themselves in a fully social fashion. With Marx, we have been concerned with the
social arrangements that have obstructed, and the social contradictions that enhance,
man`s chances of achieving full solidarity - a state of freedom from material
necessity, and (therefore) of material incentive, a release from the constraints of
forced production, an abolition of the forced division of labour, and a set of social
arrangements, therefore, in which there would be no politically, economically, and
socially induced need to criminalise deviance.` (1973: 270)
The authors of The New Criminology are clear as to their values, a normative
commitment to the abolition of inequalities in wealth and power, and the creation of
the kind of society in which the facts of human diversity are not subject to the power
to criminalise`. (The New Criminology: 282; Critical Criminology: 44).
We can see that this perspective differs fundamentally from the view of human nature
which underlies the pessimistic liberalism of 18th century writers such as Thomas
Hobbes. As H. Collins summarises it, Marxist philosophy contains an image of
moving beyond the institutions of law:
The supposition that law will always be necessary rests upon beliefs about
certain constant qualities of human nature such as greed and sel!shness. The
theory of alienation includes the assertion that the materially determined
constant of the human psyche may be fundamentally transformed; under the
communist relations of production, a novel type of personality will emerge
which will be exempt from egocentric lusts for power and wealth.
Accordingly the usual reason given by liberal political philosophy for the
existence of coercive systems of behavioural control like law will no longer
be extant. Men will naturally agree about the proper standards of behaviour
and conform to them without the need for sanctions.` (1982: 120)
This line of thinking has been labelled Left Idealism. Here the law is viewed as an
expression of ruling, class interests and working-class behaviour necessarily violates
these interests expressing a set of requirements of the working class or proletariat`.
The existence of crime is not the normal state of society and a never to be overcome
by phenomena but the positive result of the current structures of capitalism in
particular, the emphasis on property:
a society which is predicated on the unequal right to the accumulation of property
gives rise to the legal and illegal desire to accumulate property as rapidly as
possible.` (Taylor et al., 1975: 34)
The British writers Taylor, Walton and Young were not speci!cally advocating a naive
socialism but capitalism was clearly represented as criminogenic. In his 1980 text,
Richard Quinney stated that crime control and criminality` were to be understood in
terms of the conditions resulting from the capitalist appropriation of labour`. Thus:
The only lasting solution to the crisis of capitalism is socialism. Under late,
advanced capitalism, socialism will be achieved in the struggle of all people who are
oppressed by the capitalist mode of production.
The essential meaning of crime in the development of capitalism is the need for a
socialist society.` (Class, State and Crime, 1980: 67-68)
When, however, what would appear a natural empirical assumption of this approach,
i.e. that crime is a form of class warfare and largely inter-class, is subjected to
empirical analysis it appears open to doubts. Crime is largely intra-class, committed
by people of similar socio-economic background on others largely as opportunity
arises (true even of White Collar fraud). Left idealism turns to complex notions of
ideology and the division of working-class perceptions to account for this at the
expense of making their position untestable, unfalsi!able, and thus regarded as
unscienti!c by many. Its optimistic position is also out of touch with the late modern
times which has witnessed the end of communism` in Eastern Europe and new
positions of Reformism and Left Realism have gained currency.
For some commentators, while it is essential that Critical Criminology raises the
issues of power, exploitation and human subjection, the task is to face up to some of
the empirical issues about what is actually to be done to increase the life chances of
the powerless. This is what the New Left Realism attempts to do.
New left realism
See Burke, Roger Criminology Theory, Chapter 15 Left Realism`.
Walklate, Sandra Understanding Criminology, Chapter 4 Understanding 'left
realism¨`, and Chapter 3 Understanding 'right realism¨.
Texts representative of left realism are:
Elliot Currie, Confronting Crime (Pantheon, 1995); and Crime and Punishment in
America (Metropolitan, 1998)
Mooney, Jane Gender, Violence and the Social Order. (Macmillan, 2000)
Young, Jock The Exclusive Society, (Sage, 1999)
The key early text is Lea and Young`s What is to be Done About law and Order?
There is a short but concise discussion in Downes and Rock Understanding Deviance,
towards the end of the chapter on Radical Criminology.
Our present times certainly no longer believe that it is suf!cient to follow Marx and
place private property as the root of all evil, instead a more complex and greater
appreciation of the problems are to see alienation as rooted in the technological
foundations, organisations and scale of modern society. Left realists try to confront
Chapter 8: Critical criminology and the development of Realist perspectives
the huge inequalities of our present time in a pragmatic but focused manner. One
theme of recent discussions in the UK concerns the idea of the exclusive society. Jock
Young`s The Exclusive Society is the topical text.
Young`s thesis is that the last third oI the twentieth century witnessed a transIormation
in the lives oI citizens in the advanced industrial societies. The golden age oI the
post-war settlement with high unemployment, stable Iamily structures, and consensual
values underpinned by the saIety net oI the welIare state gave way to a new world.
Asocial ordering characterised by structural unemployment, economic
precariousness, a systematic cutting oI welIare provisions and a growing instability oI
Iamily liIe and interpersonal relations. Pluralism and individualism replaced a social
order displaying a relative consensus oI values. Aworld oI material and ontological
security Irom cradle to grave is replaced by precariousness and uncertainty and
whereas social commentators in the 1950s berated the complacency oI a comIortable
never had it so good` generation, those oI today talk oI a risk society where social
change becomes the central dynamo oI existence and where anything might happen.
Key driving Iactors are changes in market Iorces that have transIormed both the
spheres oI production and oI consumption. The move Irom Fordism to Post-Fordism
involves the unravelling oI the world oI work where the primary labour market oI
secure employment and saIe careers shrinks, the secondary labour market oI short-
term contracts, Ilexibility and insecurity increases as does the growth oI an underclass
oI the structurally unemployed.
For Young, a criminogenic culture is generated in that market values that encourage
an ethos oI every person Ior themselves, Iits on top oI a more unequal and less
meritocratic society. At the same time the Iorce oI inIormal social control weakens as
communities are disintegrated by social mobility or leIt to decay as capital Iinds more
proIitable areas to invest and develop. Families are stressed and Iragmented by the
decline oI communities, systems oI support, the reduction oI state support and the
more diverse pressures oI the changing patterns oI work. As the pressures that lead to
crime increase, the inIormal Iorces, which control it, decrease.
The very nature oI order is problematised in that rules are both more readily broken
and their status questioned. Exclusion in the market gives rise to exclusion and
divisions within civil society; but the responses oI the State have repercussions in
reinIorcing and exacerbating the exclusions oI civil society and the market place.
Highlighting the downside of contemporary capitalism is not enough for the realist,
one must seek to at least to identify some aspects which can be used to build new
communities. There is little desire to return to some face-to-face society, some organic
community of living, social bonds and commonly shared ideologies and interests.
Many of the left recognise the bondage of family, status, and religion that prevailed in
these simpler` societies. The new right in current social theory wishes a return to
traditional deference of authority, of socialisation into the need to work, into the
image of secure societies.
The issue is not to return to some simple traditional social ordering of the supposed
past but to think creatively for the future! To construct vibrant perceptions for
pluralist, multi-ethnic and participatory societies of the future.
Sample questions
1. It is becoming apparent to a whole generation of criminologists and sociologists
that it is increasingly dif!cult to distinguish between crime and political and
moral dissent.`
Is this a fair characterisation of radical criminology today?
2. Radical criminologists have disputed the assumptions of the positivist theorists.
What new insights or perspectives, if any, have emerged from their theorising
about the causes and distribution of crime in society?
3. Modern capitalist society is inherently criminogenic.`
Do you agree?
4. We are all realists now. The idealism of the New Criminology` or the
romanticism of labelling theory` is no longer appropriate.`
5. Radical criminology has died, we are all realists now.`
Discuss and evaluate this claim.
Chapter 9: Feminist criminology
Chapter 9
Feminist criminology
Essential reading
Core texts
Burke, Roger, An Introduction to Criminological Theory, 2001. Chapter 10 Feminist
Downes and Rock, Understanding Deviance, 1998, Chapter 11 Feminist
Morrison, Wayne, Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism,
1995, Chapter 16 Modernity Gender and Crime: from the biological paradigm
into feminist interpretations`.
Tierney, John, Criminology: theory and context. 1996, pps.266-72.
Walklate, Sandra, Understanding Criminology, 1998, Chapter 5 Gendering the
Supplementary reading
Daly, K. Different ways of conceptualising sex/gender in criminological theories and
their implications for criminology`, Theoretical Criminology, 1 (1), pp.25-51.
Heidensohn, Frances Crime and Society, 1989, Chapter 5 Gender and Crime`.
Box, Stephen, Power, Crime, and Mysti!cation, 1983, Chapter 5 Powerlessness and
crime - the case of female crime`.
Heidensohn, Frances Women and Crime, 1985, MacMillan.
Carlen, P. and Worrall, A. (eds) Gender, Crime and Justice. Open University Press,
Leonard, E. B. Women Crime and Society: a critique of Criminology Theory,
(Longman, London, 1982)
Smart, C. Women, Crime and Criminology, A Feminist Critique. (Routledge, 1976)
and Law, Crime and Sexuality. Sage, 1995.
Morris, Alison, Women, Crime and Criminal Justice. (Basil Blackwell, 1987)
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter you should be able to:
· discuss whether traditional theories adequately explained the differences in
offending between males and females
· describe the approaches traditional theories took to explaining this difference
· evaluate the difference feminist perspectives have made to criminology.
It has been a staple of criminology that the gender is a major correlate with criminal
involvement. Males commit more offences than females and their offences are more
serious than those of females. As Harris put it:
Such differences are striking indeed: sex appears to explain more variance in crime
across cultures than any other variable. This appears so regardless of whether
of!cially known or hidden ('true¨) rates of crime are indexed.` (Sex and Theories of
Deviance: Toward a Functional Theory of Deviant Type-Scripts`, American
Sociological Review, 1977, p.4)
Historically serious crimes, such as homicide, were largely the preserve of males.
As Nagel and Hagan put it:
The relation between gender and criminality is strong and is likely to remain so.
Women have traditionally been much less likely than men to commit violent crimes
and that pattern persists today.While the relative increase in women`s property
crime involvement is signi!cant, female participation, even in these crimes, remains
far less than that of men.`(Gender and Crime: Offence Patterns and Criminal Court
Sanctions`, in Crime and Justice: An Annual Review of Research, Vol. 4. 1983, p.91)
Males account for the vast majority of those arrested for crimes involving force or
fraud and the victim and self-report studies support the picture. Regardless of age or
type of crime, male involvement is substantially higher than female. Indeed, as
Frances Heidensohn makes clear, if there is an understatement in of!cial statistics it is
of the crimes done to women:
There is little or no evidence of a vast shadowy underworld of female crime hidden
in our midst like the sewers below the city streets. As we have become increasingly
aware in modern times, quite the opposite is true. There is a great deal of crime
which is carefully hidden from the police, from families, friends and neighbours.
Much of this takes the form of domestic violence, the abuse of children both
physically and sexually, incest and marital rape. The overwhelming majority of such
cases involve men, usually fathers and husbands injuring or abusing their wives and
children.` (Crime and Society, 1989: 87)
Writers within the labelling perspective have pointed out how such events as child
abuse and wife-beating have traditionally not been viewed as things which the
criminal justice system would involve itself with. Stephen Pfohl (The 'discovery of
child abuse¨`, Social Problems, 1977) showed that the discovery of childabuse`
which occurred in the United States in the late 1960s was clearly developed by
paediatric radiologists who read the x-rays in hospitals calling increasing attention to
the abuse of children. Concern for the safety of the children was not the only reason -
another was to demonstrate the importance of paediatric radiology and thereby
enhance the low prestige of their speciality within the medical community. Kathleen
Tierney demonstrates how the wife-beating problem emerged in the mid-1970s as an
important social issue when feminist organisations and networks were strong enough
to make domestic violence socially visible, establish victim shelters and earn the
passage of new laws and policing priorities. The media picked up the issue because:
it mixed elements of violence and social relevance.[it] provided a focal point for
serious media discussion of such issues as feminism, inequality, and family life in the
United States - without requiring a sacri!ce of the entertainment value, action, and
urgency on which the media typically depend.` (The battered women movement and
the creation of the wife-beating problem`, Social Problems, 1982: 213-214)
This is one way in which gender awareness or gender power has changed elements in
what is conceived of as crime; another area of concern is the very ability of
criminology to develop itself as an intellectual endeavour which takes gender
seriously. In other words to start to include the gender issue within its theorising; that
is, to include the processes whereby identity and gender (as opposed to sexuality) are
created. To Leonard (1982) the development of criminological theory is a history of
male writings creating theories, such as Merton`s anomie, which appear to be general
to both male and female but which are really only male theories.
Leonard thus asked the question whether theories of crime constructed by men and
intended to be generalisable, i.e. to be of general applicability, were actually theories
of men explaining (male) crime. It appears the answer is theory contingent. While
Chapter 9: Feminist criminology
some theories do have relevance for both men and women, many appear to really be
about males. Another related question is can traditional theories adequately explain
the gender difference in criminal activity?` Again the answer may be that this differs
by theory.
Popular explanations for differential involvement
in crime
· One approach has been to deny that women are substantially less involved (for
example O. Pollak, The Criminality of Women, 1950). See the rebuttal by Frances
Heidensohn quoted earlier.
· Differences rooted in the biological or psychological make-up (examples, the
work of C. Lombroso, La donna delinquent, la prostituta e la donna normal, and
The Female Offender, 1895; W. Thomas, The Unadjusted Girl, 1923; O. Pollak,
The Criminality of Women, 1950).
· Differential socialisation. For example, Carol Smart began her 1976 analysis using
a mixture of socialisation and role theory:
Girls are generally more closely supervised than boys, and are taught to be passive
and domesticated while boys are allowed greater freedom and are encouraged to be
aggressive, ambitious and outward going.both socialisation and the later
development of consciousness and self-perception does vary considerably between
the sexes. As a result of this girls are usually expected to be non-violent and so are
not allowed to learn how to !ght or use weapons. Girls themselves tend to shrink
from violence, and look for protection rather than learn the skills of self-defence,
hence few women have the necessary technical ability or strength to engage in crimes
of violence, armed robberies or gang !ghts.` (1976:66)
· Role identity. For example Scutt writing in 1976 talks in terms of a role you may
certainly !nd long outmoded:
Girls are encouraged to be passive and gentle; they are taught not to !ght with
each other and their brothers.During childhood they are constantly reminded of the
role expected to be adopted in the future; ever present is a mother who represents the
adult they will become. Not so with boys. Father is away from home at the of!ce
every day.` (Role conditioning theory: an explanation for disparity in male and
female criminality`, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 9.
· Both Smart and Scutt, however, are clear that role and socialisation theory can
only provide part answers and that consideration must be given to other factors.
· Opportunity theory. The simple proposition that females have fewer opportunities
to commit the sort of delinquency which is the subject of the criminal justice
system. S Box gives favourable consideration to this in the chapter referred to in
the reading. Smart gives a picture of women whom because of their sex role,
which is mainly focused on domestic arrangements, are denied the opportunity to
engage in anything other then petty or domestic offences`. (1976: 68)
· Power. See the chapter of S. Box`s text entitled Powerlessness and crime - the
case of female crime`.
· Involvement in different forms of control, males as the subjects of formal social
control, females of informal (see for example, the analysis of Hagen. Smart puts
an aspect of this simply: girls have greater restrictions placed on [their] freedom
of movement`, but control is more than this. We can see that socialisation, role
structuring and opportunity are closely related and constitute a particular complex
of social control.
· The expectation that emancipation will cause the rates of offending to converge.
The work of Adler (Sisters in Crime, 1975) was representative of this notion. She
asserted: women are indeed committing more crimes than ever before. Those
crimes involve a greater degree of violence`. (1975: 3) To give a fuller "avour of
her account:
.women, like men, do not live by bread alone. Almost every aspect of their life has
been similarly altered. The changing status of women as it affects family, marriage,
employment, and social position has been well documented by all types of
sociologists. But there is a curious hiatus: the movement for full equality has a darker
side which has been slighted even by the scienti!c community.
In the same way that women are demanding equal opportunity in !elds of legitimate
endeavour, a similar number of determined women are forcing their way into the
world of major crimes.formerly committed by men only. Like her sisters in
legitimate !elds, the female criminal is !ghting for her niche in the hierarchy [of
crime]. (1975: 13-14)
· Others have claimed that:
The new female criminal is more a social invention then an empirical reality and
that the proposed relationship between the women`s movement and crime is, indeed,
tenuous and even vacuous. Women are still typically non-violent, petty property
offenders`. (Steffensmeier, 1980, quoted in Box, 1983: 192)
The number of women subject to custodial punishment is, however, increasing.
Between 1970 and 1980 the average daily population of women in custody almost
doubled from around 800 to 1,500, while at 10
August 2001 the population of
women in prison stood at 3,288 with a further 549 female young offenders (aged
between 15-21).
An interesting aspect of this is the suggestion that an improved perception (from the
point of view of feminism) of women as responsible individuals causes them to be
less perceived by the (mostly male) agents of formal social control as weak, neurotic
or sick` and thus more suitable for punishment.
The theory of one male theorist
The Canadian sociologist Hagan found an explanation for the association between
crime and gender:
in the social organisation of the world of work, the strati!cation system, and the
different means to control men and women.` (Modern Criminology: crime, criminal
behaviour, and its control, 1987: 268. Also developed with others in Class in the
household: a power-control theory of gender and delinquency`, American Journal of
Sociology 92: 788-816)
Structurally, Hagan argued, women were more restricted in their entry into the world
of work, men were more commonly ascribed to the public arena (i.e., the world of
work) and women to the private sphere (i.e., the home). One consequence of this
restriction of women was to make them less available for the public ascription of
criminal and delinquent statuses. Hagan was clear that both crime and work are
sexually strati!ed`. This is backed up by Auld et al.s (1986) analysis of drug dealing
which argued the reasons for girls not becoming involved in heavy drug dealing were
not only cultural but economic. Aproduct of the males wish to dominate this irregular
economy. Historically, the development of a complex division of labour required by
Chapter 9: Feminist criminology
industrialisation and large-scale trade and commerce developed a differentiation
between informal and formal agencies of social control - a decline of in"uence of
local groupings, such as kinship groups, and the prominence of state sponsored
system of segregative control - to cover the arena of work and public spaces. Private
spaces, the domain of the family and largely the terrain of women remained subjected
to informal systems of control. The new forms of work and the experience of social
life in public spaces required and brought into being a new form of social control,
namely, crime control`, as operationalised in modern forms of criminal justice. In the
main, men have been the daily objects of this control because they were the subjects
moving most readily into the new and more public areas of work. For Hagan:
the result was to subject men increasingly to the formal control of the emerging
criminal justice system, while leaving women to the informal social control of the
family.two well, established statistical regularities - the exclusion of women from
the race` for strati!cation outcomes and less crime among women - have as a
common source, patterns of informal social controls involving women, which are
established and perpetuated within the family.` (1987: 268-9)
Hagan`s concept of informal social controls extended beyond the family to include
activities of peer and work groups - importantly it included the pressures that went to
create femininity rather than masculinity. Additionally, Hagan argued that females are
not only the objects, more often than males of informal social control but also the
instruments, speci!cally mothers over children while daughters more than sons were
the objects of this control. Analysers of child, rearing practices are united in saying
that women are the primary socialisers`. In the construction of gender roles for the
children certain requirements` of each role are instilled in the developing child.
As Udry saw it:
by age three, the boy will begin to perceive that some new requirements go with
being male. Males are not supposed to be passive, compliant, and dependent but on
the contrary, are expected to be aggressive, independent, and self-assertive.`
(The Social Context of Marriage, 1974: 53)
For Hagan the relationship to control lay in the fact that aggressiveness,
independence, and assertiveness connote freedom (or the absence of control) more
than restriction`. In this relationship criminal and delinquent behaviour are
recognised as pleasurable, if not liberating. Crime and delinquency can be fun.`
(1987: 271) Thus women de!ne risk-taking less positively than men; women de!ne
involvement in crime and delinquency less positively than men do; women are
therefore less likely to be involved in criminal and delinquent behaviour than men.
The result Hagan suggested is that women are systematically 'over-socialised¨`.
Women are kept in a restricted world vis-á-viz the world of work and public space
through a socialisation sequence that moves from mother to daughter in a cycle that
is self-renewing`. Some commentators appear to argue that there is a new breed of
violent, aggressive women offenders, or that behavioural differences between the
genders are diminishing, or that as the opportunities for women`s participation in the
world of work increase then they will become more frequently the subject of the
agents of formal social control and therefore patters of crime will become more alike.
But Hagan pointed to the increasing double burden` he saw women facing.
Participation in some new kinds of work did not relieve them of responsibilities for
childcare. Alternatively, the relief of some upper-class women is at the expense of
employing underclass home help. Thus, he argued, the home-based concentration
continues and male and female rates of criminality are likely to remain quite different
for some time to come.
You may note that in her 1987 text (Women, Crime and Criminal Justice), Allison
Morris differentiated biological, psychiatric and women`s liberation theories (which
she considered mistaken) from traditional sociological theories (which she considered
had the potential to explain female crime and why female crime occurs less then male
crime. She stated:
Special theories for women`s crimes have not been particularly successful.One that we need to reconsider the relevance of women to criminological
theories. There is no reason to suppose that explanations for women`s crime should
be fundamentally different from explanations for men`s crime, though gender must
play a part of any such explanation.` (1987: 75)
Feminist perspectives
Feminists of various persuasions have argued that traditional criminological theories
have ignored the true experiences of women. For Leonard (1982) the traditional
approaches of criminology leave women invisible, marginal or position women only
within narrow types of deviant behaviour. In 1989 Heidensohn argued that
criminology has not as yet faced up to the full implications of the message of crime
and gender, speci!cally:
that masculinity is at least as much a problem to be analysed and explained as
femininity. In fact logically it is an even greater problem, since it is masculinity
which is associated with crime and delinquency, whereas femininity is linked to
conformity`. (1989: 97)
Feminist analysis highlights the underlying patriarchal structure to social relations.
To quote Chesney-Lind:
It is increasingly clear that gender strati!cation in patriarchal society is as powerful
a system as class. A feminist approach to delinquency means construction of
explanations of female behaviour that are sensitive to its patriarchal context. Feminist
analysis of delinquency would also examine ways in which agencies of social
control.act in ways to reinforce women`s place in male society.` (1989: 97)
Feminist theory has been used to show how patriarchy is an essential backdrop in
understanding much of rape and other sexual and physical violence by men against
women as well as some offences committed by females. Additionally, incorporating
feminism reorientates our appreciation of the usual`. Masculinity provides an
example. Instead of being the assumed normal, we are asked to analyse the full
meaning and structuring of masculinity, its contradictions and weakness and how
these may be connected with violence, sexism, and inter-personal domination and
resistance. Read and re"ect upon the chapter in Walklate, Gendering the criminal`.
Feminism is an underdeveloped source of theoretical inspiration - it is at the cutting
edge of modern social theory and open to new insights and creative approaches.
Chapter 9: Feminist criminology
Sample questions
1. Either
a. Attitudes about sex and gender, rather than genuine difference in the
criminal behaviour of the sexes, in"uence the response of the criminal justice
system to men and women.`
What evidence is there to support this statement?
b. What are the most important claims of feminist perspective in criminology?
2. Why do women commit substantially fewer offences than men?
3. The impact of feminist criminology has been stronger in criticising the
generality of previous theorising than in suggesting new theories on offending.`
Do you agree?
4. Whilst feminist criminology has highlighted the neglected status of women in
traditional criminology it has failed to offer new insights into the causes of
5. Traditional theories explained the difference in offending between males and
females quite adequately; the addition of feminist perspectives has just
unnecessarily confused our understanding.`
6. While feminist criminology has not explained why women commit so much less
crime than males it has refocused attention upon the most important variable
associated with offending, namely masculinity.`
7. Criminology has largely been the study of men by men to the neglect of
analysing gender issues. But we now realise that a key to the explanation of
crime is understanding why so few women commit crime.`
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
Chapter 10
Punishment and the Institutional
Essential reading
Note: The reading on the philosophy of punishment is vast. It has been a much
discussed issue since writing began (some references are given later in the case study
section of this chapter). The outstanding contemporary book on social theory and
punishment is:
David Garland, Punishment and Modern Society. (Oxford University Press, 1990).
On the link between criminology and social policy see core texts:
Heidensohn, Frances, Crime and Society, Chapter 7.
Downes and Rock, Understanding deviance, Chapter 12 Deviance Theories and
Social Policy`.
Currie, Elliot, Confronting Crime: an American challenge, Chapter on prisons is
powerful reading.
Bob, Roshier, Controlling Crime: the classical perspective in criminology, Chapters
8 and 9.
Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison.
The most sophisticated exposition of current crime control is:
Garland, David, The Culture of Control: crime and social order in contemporary
society, (Oxford University Press, 2001) [ISBN 0-19-829937-0].
Learning objectives
By the end of this chapter and the associated reading you should be able to:
· discuss the philosophical justi!cations for punishment
· differentiate the philosophical accounts of punishment from sociological accounts
· discuss the relationship between punishment and the institutional framework that
operates in its name
· discuss the prison and account for the rise in imprisonment in recent decades.
It will be obvious from the rest of the course that there is a substantial inter-
relationship between conceptions of crime and social responses. Chapter 12 of
Downes and Rock, Understanding Deviance, Deviance Theories and Social Policy`
gives a good general coverage. This is similar to Chapter 18 Theory, Research and
Policy`, of Vold and Bernard, Theoretical Criminology. The legal orientation is
focused around the use of punishment.
Philosophy and aims of punishment
The philosophy of punishment attempts to propose rational justi!cations and logical
structures that will provide normative direction to the power to punish.
Punishment is clearly de!ned by classical writers such as Thomas Hobbes and
Bentham as an evil. They are clear that it is pain, moreover it is pain deliberately
in"icted upon a person adjudged by courts of the nation to be an offender and
provided under the institution of the law. For utilitarians punishment is one of the
instruments of government to be applied for the greater good. Critics of liberal
capitalist modernity, such as Karl Marx, have sometimes denied absolutely that there
is any moral right to punish in contemporary societies. For them only in an absolute
just society would a moral right exist.
The philosophical approach that underlined the period of classical criminology mixed
ideas of retribution and deterrence. Punishment was either required as a form of Just
Desert, a suitable form of retribution for a crime regardless of future outcomes (and
thus required simply to do justice`), or was an instrument of deterrence (where the
future outcome was to be the guiding factor). Positivism, with its notions of
differentiation and determinism (or pathology and the illness model) introduced
notions of reform and rehabilitation that were viewed as the most progressive
justi!cation for most of the twentieth century. In fact we should not actually talk of
rehabilitation or reform as a justi!cation of punishment since these perspectives
sought to make punishment redundant in favour of corrective measures of treatment
of the offender, sometimes on the model of crime as a sickness.
It is possible to list seven of!cial purposes of sanctions imposed on offenders:
· restraint or incapacitation: to stop the particular behaviour at issue
· individual or speci!c deterrence: using punishment to reduce the likelihood that
the particular offender will repeat the offence in the future
· general deterrence: punishing one person to reduce the likelihood that others will
commit a similar offence
· reform or rehabilitation: imposing a sanction (which may be exactly the same
thing as a punishment) called a corrective measure or treatment to correct what
was wrong with the individual who committed the crime
· moral af!rmation or symbolic action: punishment is used to af!rm certain social
values and to demarcate the acceptable from the unacceptable, so drawing the
moral boundaries of the society
· retribution: the punishment is expected to match the harm done, to return justice to
a balance
· restitution or compensation: where the sanction seeks to regain a balance through
restoring the value of goods taken or compensating the owner for the loss.
It is a debatable point whether the actual things done in the name of these
justi!cations actually achieve them. For example, were prisons ever treatment
Understanding punishment: a case study in contrasting philosophical and sociological
The questions or issues you should bear in mind here are:
· What is the role of the philosophy of punishment?
· Is it to rationalise and justify social activities so that they have the appearance of
· Or does the philosophy of punishment guide social action and put acceptable
limits on our activities?
· How do we understand punishment socially?
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
Perhaps we can distinguish between punishment as a philosophical concern and
punishment as a concern of social theory, i.e. of sociology. The general idea I suggest
would be that a philosophy of punishment is one of the mechanisms whereby a
normative framework is established for how society is governed, while sociology is a
means by which society is understood. In this way the philosophy of punishment is a
part of the process of providing a philosophical foundation for the domestication of
power. Legitimacy is essential.
As Bauman puts it:
In all order-building and order-maintenance endeavours legitimacy is, by necessity,
the prime stake of the game and the most hotly contested concept. The !ght is
conducted around the borderline dividing proper (that is, unpunishable) from
improper (that is, punishable) coercion and enforcement. The war against violence`
is waged in the name of the monopoly of coercion.
The backdrop to the discussions on punishment: creating modernity and moving to
Shall we question whether societies progress in moral as well in technical terms? At
least until recently this was the accepted explanation of penal change. Our societies,
we were told, had moved from times where the criminal law was an instrument of
repression and arbitrary power to a time where the operation of the criminal law and
the power to punish was rational, humane and just. But a widespread doubt has come
over the issue of whether human societies always progress in moral as well in
technical terms. This century has seen vast technical progress but not only has the
connection between technical and moral progress become untenable, further we have
seen clear examples of moral regression (the Nazi regimes stand as an obvious
example). Furthermore, the scale of some of the problems the human race faces
currently are so vast that any assertion that they have progressed morally seems
somewhat doubtful. The imperfection of human society and of the international order
are painfully obvious at a time where we appear to have gone full circle in terms of a
risk society. Having moved from the naturally precarious existence of primitive life
through the growth of nations, the civilising process` and the development of
modernity to a stage of new threats to the survival of the human race that owe their
foundation to our own cultural creations (for example, ecological disaster, nuclear
proliferation and the state of the third world on a supra-nation level, the state of the
inner cities and the crime problem on an intra-nation level).
In the face of this, one tendency is to foreclose on the possibility of progress. Give up
the notion of the perfect society, or the utopian order of things. But it seems
dangerous to give up on the notion of progress for the image of the possibility of
progress is both an important rallying banner and also instinctively plausible.
In a world of uncertainty, in a world where nobody knows all the answers, and where
all claims to truth are contingent or methodological, it is important to preserve both
the critical perspective and the conditions of change. Or another way, it is important
to keep our societies open (as a group of liberal writers are fond of saying). The
possibility of progress, therefore, implies the necessity of social and political change.
And change is strongly driven by the phenomena of hope, by, that is, the spark which
a new vision of possibility, the encountering of a new opportunity, the realisation that
old boundaries were not as impenetrable as had been thought. The vision of the
different, of new and improved life chances which turns latent desire into action and
thus into change. The banishing of hope amounts to a weakening of the critical
attitude and lowers the possibility of change, for whoever has given up hope has in
actuality accepted the conditions around him.
Zygmunt Bauman, The Individualised
Society, Polity, 2001, p.209.
Identifying opposing views on the philosophy of punishment
It is important to be able to de!ne in general terms what punishment means to us.
Consider a representative quotation:
Punishment is viewed as a social act. That is, it takes place in the context of, and
with the active and passive participation of, communities of people. Punishment has a
symbolic character which is oriented towards denouncing what are deemed to be
harmful or socially repugnant activities. It thus has the function of establishing what
is right` and what is wrong` behaviour by providing a public disapproval of an
offender and/or their offensive behaviour. Punishment has been said to resonate at a
psychological and emotional level in that the administration and rituals associated
with punishment provide a focal point for the expression of deeply felt emotions. A
feature of punishment therefore is symbolically to draw the lines in terms of
acceptable behaviour or conduct, and following of appropriate rules. Furthermore, it
functions to reaf!rm certain forms of authority and belief. That is, the authority of
any particular governing regime is in part based upon how punishment is organised
and carried out in practice.` (White, R., and Perrone, S., Crime and Social Control:
An Introduction, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1997, p.138.)
Punishment involves the in"iction of some unpleasantness on the offender, or
deprives the offender of something valued. But punishment is not just the in"iction
of something unpleasant on the offender: the imposition is made to express
disapproval or condemnation of the offender`s conduct which is in breach of what is
regarded as a desirable and obligatory standard of conduct.`
Philosophical discussions differentiate levels of questions:
· what is the general justi!cation of punishment?
· who may justi!ably be punished?
· how, or how much, may someone be punished?
Particular approaches may be more relevant to one or other question. Retributivism,
for example, may be more relevant to the second question than to the !rst. To the
question: on whom may punishment justi!ably be imposed?` a relevant and
retributivist answer would be only on deserving offenders`. But retributivism may
have little, and perhaps next to nothing, of relevance to say about the general
justi!cation of punishment.
This particular question is concerned with why a society
should have the institution of punishment in the !rst place, why it should have penal
laws at all (i.e. laws that prescribe or forbid various kinds of conduct and that threaten
punishment for violations). On this issue, a deterrence answer appears more apt: a
society has penal laws because it wants to deter people from doing, or not doing,
certain things. But deterrence may have a lesser relevance to the question who may
justi!ably be punished?` than it has to the general justi!cation of punishment. Many
writers recognise this (Martin Golding, for example, states that the classical theories
of punishment should be construed as answers to different questions rather than as
rival answers to the same question.)
The philosophical debate on punishment has traditionally broken up into two main
camps. On the one side are those who adopt a deontological approach (that something
simply is right to do in itself, for example the retributionists, where punishment is
right to in"ict because it is required to do justice). On the other are those who adopt a
consequentialist approach (for example, utilitarianism, or deterrence theories where
punishment is a lesser evil required because the consequences of in"icting it are better
then the consequences of not in"icting it).
Ten, C.L. Crime, Guilt and Punishment:
A Philosophical Introduction, Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1987, p.2.
Golding, M.P., `Criminal Sentencing:
Some Philosophical Considerations', in
Cedarblom, J.B., and Blizek, W.L., (eds),
Justice and Punishment, Ballinger
Publishing Company, 1977, p.89.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
Consequentialist or Utilitarian philosophy
In classical Greece, Plato had Protagoras state:
In punishing wrongdoers, no one concentrates on the fact that a man has done wrong
in the past, or punishes him on that account, unless taking blind vengeance like a
beast. No, punishment is not in"icted by a rational man for the sake of the crime that
has been committed (after all one cannot undo what is past), but for the sake of the
future, to prevent either the same man or, by some spectacle of his punishment,
someone else from doing wrong again.` (Plato, Protagorus)
In the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes set out a sentiment picked up in classical
In revenges or punishments, men ought not look at the greatness of the evil past, but
the greatness of the good to follow, whereby we are forbidden to in"ict punishment
with any other design than for the correction of the offender and the admonition of
In this approach, since punishment is itself an unpleasant experience for the offender
who is punished, the in"iction of punishment can only be justi!ed if it prevents
greater suffering.
The deterrence model was developed by the classical school of criminology during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Taking a rationalist view of man as a pleasure
seeking, pain-avoiding creature, the objective is to construct and depict the institutions
that deal with crime in such a way that they give a strong message to potential
offenders of the consequences of offending. The appropriate penalty will deter
potential offenders from committing crimes.
As Bentham states:
When we consider that an unpunished crime leaves the path of crime open, not only
to the same delinquent but also to all those.entering upon it, we perceive that
punishment in"icted on the individual becomes a source of security to all. That
punishment which considered in itself appeared base and repugnant to
elevated to the !rst rank of bene!ts - not as vengeance but rather, as an indispensable
sacri!ce to the common safety.`
Bentham suggests that punishment may prevent the
occurrence of offences in three ways: by making it impossible or dif!cult for the
offender to break the law again, at least in certain ways; by deterring both offenders
and others; by providing an opportunity for the reforming of offenders. Emphasis
placed on potential offenders is secondary deterrence and deterrence of the offender
themselves is primary deterrence.
The utilitarian theory therefore, is based on the premise that it justi!es punishment
solely in terms of its bene!cial effects or consequences. Many utilitarians subscribe to
the idea that the main bene!cial effects of punishment is to be viewed in terms of the
reduction of crime, and believe that punishing offenders will have the following
· punishment acts as a deterrent to crime
· deterrent effects can be both individual and general. Punishment deters the
offender who is punished from committing similar offences in the future, and it
also deters potential offenders
· the offender who is punished is supposed to be deterred by his experience of
punishment and the threat of being punished again if he reoffends and is convicted
(the individual deterrent effect).
· general deterrent effect works through the threat of their being subjected to the
same kind of punishment that was meted out to the convicted offender.
Farrer, J.A., Crime and Punishments,
Chatto & Windus Publishers.
Grupp, S.E., Theories of Punishment,
Indiana University Press, 1971, p.7.
Bentham, J. `Principles of Penal Law', in
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 1, p.396.
In addition, punishment may have reformative or rehabilitative effects. The offender
who is punished will be reformed in the sense that the effect of punishment is to
change his values so that he will not commit similar offences in the future because he
believes such offences to be wrong. But if he abstains from criminal acts simply
because he is afraid of being caught and punished again, then he is deterred rather
than reformed and rehabilitated by punishment. So the effects of individual deterrence
and rehabilitation are the same, however, the distinguishing feature lies in terms of the
difference in motivation`.
The incapacitate effect provides a third consequence. Simply put, the offender cannot
reoffend if dead or under penal restraint, for example in prison, irrespective of
whether the person is at all deterred or reformed by punishment.
Incapacitation appears justi!ed particularly for those who are not deterred or beyond
treatment`. However, on a general level, consequentialist arguments appear best able
to support the whole structure of law enforcement. Regardless of the prevailing crime
rates, it is assumed that many persons are in fact deterred; were it not for the
operation of the deterrent machinery, the crime rates would still be higher. In this
case, punishment of many offenders is morally justi!ed on grounds of deterrence
alone. While there are some that argue with this position, it can be argued that
deterrence is the primary purpose of the State`s sanctions.
Thus for the deterrence theory the minimal aim of punishment is the protection of
society. It would achieve this purpose in two ways: by preventing the offender from
repeating his offence and by demonstrating to other potential offenders what will
happen to them if they follow his example.
Why punish at all? Do we need the threat of
For the twentieth century liberal philosopher H.L.A. Hart, the case for punishment as
a general social practice or institution, rested on the prevention of crime. People are
punished because we thereby deter potential offenders from becoming actual
offenders, and therefore it is not to be found either in the inherent appropriateness of
punishing wrongdoing or in the continently corrective` or rehabilitative powers of
!nes or imprisonments on some criminals.
Note Wasserstrom`s argument:
a view such as Hart`s is less a justi!cation for punishment than a justi!cation of the
threat of punishment. For it is clear that if we could somehow convince the rest of
society that we were in fact punishing offenders, we would accomplish all that the
deterrent theory would have us achieve though our somewhat more visible
punishments. This is so because it is the belief that punishment will follow the
commission of an offence that deters potential offenders. The actual punishment of
persons is necessary only to keep the threat of punishment credible.`
Is it the threat of punishment and not the punishment itself that deters? If so while
deterrence seems to depend on actual punishment, to implement the threat, it really
depends on publication and may be achieved if men believe that punishment has
occurred even if in fact it has not. Bentham apparently said this clearly: for a
utilitarian apparent justice is everything, real justice is irrelevant`.
Punishment is therefore to be conceived of as a necessary evil rather than a positive
good, a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It follows that we ought to
minimise if not eradicate punishment. In Justice and Punishment Wasserstrom
concluded that two extreme positions emerge in considering the effects of the threat
of punishment:
Grupp, S.E., op. cit., p.7.
Wasserstrom, R. `Some Problems with
Theories of Punishment', in Cedarblom,
J.B. and Blizek, W.L. (eds), Justice and
Punishment, Ballinger Publishing
Company, 1977, p.186.
Mabbott, J.D. `Punishment', in Grupp,
S.E., (ed), Theories of Punishment,
Indiana University Press, 1971, p.41.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
· On one side of the spectrum, are those like Jeremy Bentham, who considered man
to be a rational being choosing between two possible modes of action on the basis
of a calculation of risks of pain and pleasure before deciding upon his actions.
Benthamites believe that we always act in accordance with our own enlightened
self-interest. The consequence of this model is stated as follows: if we make the
risk of punishment suf!cient to outweigh the prospect the gain, the potential law
breaker will, as a rational being, choose to stay within the limits of the law.
· The other side of the spectrum are those who state that this model is unrealistic
and subscribe to the view that When people remain law abiding, it is not because
of fear of the criminal law, but because of moral inhibitions or internalised norms.
If an internal restraint is lacking, the threat of punishment does not make much
difference since criminals do not make rational choices, calculating gain against
the risk of punishment; they act out of emotional instability, lack of self-control, or
because they have acquired the values of a criminal subculture.`
Is it the fear of punishment - a belief in the reality of the threat rather than beliefs
about its type or amount that deters. If so, the nature of the potential offender`s beliefs
about the likelihood of apprehension will be crucial to the ef!ciency of the system.
Moreover, the general deterrent value of punishment might be dependent on the
publicity it receives.
The threat of punishment is seen to be justi!ed simply by its
necessity as a means of making the standards of the criminal law real: as a way of
stating that the meeting of those standards is a matter of duty or obligation.
To summarise the utilitarian position:
· the only acceptable reason for punishing a person is that punishing him/her will
help prevent or reduce crime, thereby reducing the amount of suffering in the
· the only acceptable reason for punishing a person in a given manner or degree is
that this is the manner or degree most likely to reduce or prevent crime
· people should be punished only if the act of punishing produces the best
consequences by way of preventing or reducing crime as a consequence.
What of punishing the innocent? Who may rightly be punished?
The general deterrence argument for punishing the guilty also seems to justify
in"icting unpleasant treatment on those who have not in fact committed offences.
Note how Ten
states the proposition:
Let us now assume that the bene!cial consequences of punishment outweigh the
suffering that it in"icts on offenders. Critics of the utilitarian theory argue that if
punishment is to be justi!ed solely in terms of its good consequences, then
punishment cannot be con!ned to offenders. There might be situations in which
punishing an innocent person would produce better consequences than alternative
courses of action. The utilitarian is therefore committed to punishing the innocent
How can utilitarians respond?
· punishing the innocent is a logical contradiction because punishment implies
guilt`. This response which is sometimes proffered replaces argument by a mere
appeal to de!nition: Punishment, it is said is something we do to an offender for
an offence. Thus, punishment of the innocent is simply a contradiction in terms -
it is not punishment at all.`
Andenaes, J., Punishment and
Deterrence, University of Michigan Press,
1974, p.110.
Lacey, N. State Punishment: Political
Principles and Community Values,
Routledge, London, 1988, p.28.
Lacey, N. op. cit., p.182.
Golding, M.O., op. cit., p.96.
Morrison, W. Jurisprudence: From the
Greeks to Post-modernism, Cavendish
Publishing Limited, London, 1997, p.147.
Ten, C.L., op. cit., p.13.
Lacey, N. op. cit., p.38.
· the premises of the objection are challenged by utilitarians. It is suggested that
punishing the innocent man will not in fact produce the best consequences if we
take into account all the consequences of such punishment the innocent including
the long term and less obvious consequences of such punishment including the
long term and less obvious consequences. Here then the utilitarian response to the
charge that they are committed to punishing the innocent they say that on balance,
the punishment of the innocent will always produce worse consequences than
otherwise. For example, it is claimed that the fact that an innocent man has been
punished would soon leak out and what would then follow would be a loss of
con!dence in the legal system.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by
He stated that punishing the innocent would not always maximise
utility because of the extra suffering caused to the victim by reason of his
innocence and of the risk of damage to the general respect for the legal system
should the travesty of justice ever be discovered. Therefore, the utilitarian
response to the point that they allegedly approve of the deliberate punishment of
the innocent is to respond in the negative and assert that such an action would
have more harmful consequences than bene!cial results. Duff states that this
misses the point - the crucial charge is not that a consequentialist will in fact
punish the innocent, but that he is ready to contemplate it as an open moral
· it is claimed that the only situations in which punishment, the innocent, is
optimistic are hypothetical and fantastic situations rather than situations which
arise, or are likely to occur, in the real world.
On another level, one can argue that one cannot object to a consequentialist account
of punishment merely on the grounds that it would sanction the punishment of the
innocent. No practicable system of punishment can hope to punish only the guilty; in
ensuring that we punish a reasonable proportion of the guilty, we will inevitably
punish some who are in fact innocent.`
But for Duff
· a system of punishment is most obviously defective if it involves the deliberate
punishment of the innocent
· Punishment of the innocent is objectionable not merely because it does not give
the victims a fair chance to avoid it, but because it is a perversion of law and
· the aim of deterring potential offenders does not by itself require a system that
in"icts suffering only on offenders for their offences: We might deter potential
offenders by punishing an innocent scapegoat under the pretence that he is guilty`.
But if so then:
Having threatened to impose punishment on offenders, we are then committed to
punishing actual offenders not only by the need to make the threat believable, but
also because we have in effect promised to do so; thus, in stating this, we are entitled
to punish only those who have voluntarily broken the punish an innocent is
to deny him the respect which is his due, because instead of responding as we have
legitimately threatened to respond to his own voluntary actions, we simply use him
as a means to our further social ends.`
Punishing as a means to an end?
Considerations of general deterrence have proved popular rhetoric, but punishment on
this ground has been attacked as unjust. Bittner and Platt,
contend that Punishment
on the basis of deterrence is inherently unjust. For if an example is made of a person
Ten, C.L. op. cit., 17.
Bentham, J. `Introduction to the
Principles of morals and legislation' (eds)
Burns, J.H. and Hart, H.L.A., Menuen
Publishers, London, 1982, p.158 - 164, in
Lacey, N. State Punishment: Political
Principles and Community Values,
Routledge, London, 1988, p.39.
Duff, R.A., Trials and Punishments,
Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.160.
Ten, C.L. op. cit., p.17.
Schedler, G. `Can Retributivists Support
Legal Punishment?' 1980, 63, The Monist
185, in Duff, R.A., Trials and Punishments,
op. cit., p.158 - 59.
Duff, R.A., op. cit., p.154.
Id., p.172.
Bittner and Platt, `The meaning of
Punishment', 2 Issues in Criminology 79,
(1966), in Andenaes, J. Punishment and
Deterrence, University of Michigan Press,
1974, p.129.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
to induce others to avoid criminal actions then he suffers not for what he has done but
on account of other people`s tendency to do likewise`. This is a frequently raised
criticism for Kant`s moral principle that man should always be treated as an end in
himself, not only as a means for some other end is often quoted in support.
and Platt suggest that Punishment is essential to the law`s effectiveness and that
without its application the law would be meaningless. Thus if it is ethically justi!able
to issue penal laws in order to regulate human conduct, it cannot be ethically unjust to
apply the law in the individual case. It cannot be said that the offender suffers not for
what he has done but on account of other people`s tendency to do likewise`. He
suffers for what he has done in the measure prescribed by the legislature.`
H.L.A. Hart has put it, the primary operation of the criminal punishment consists of
announcing certain standards of behaviour and attaching penalties for deviation, and
then leaving individuals to choose. This, he asserts is the method of social control
which maximises individual freedom within the framework of the law.
Thus, the decisive point does not seem to be whether the law is based on
considerations of deterrence, but rather whether it can be accepted as a reasonable
means to a legitimate end.
From the abolitionist point of view, the notion of controlling crime by penal
intervention is ethically problematic as people are used for the purpose of deterrence,
by demonstrating power and domination. Punishment is seen as a self-reproducing
form of crime. Haan
states that the penal practice of blaming people for their
supposed intentions:
· is dangerous because the social conditions for recidivism are thus reproduced
· is irrational in that it assumes that crime is a result of the individual themselves
· is irrational in making us believe that punishment is the appropriate means of
crime control rather
· we should not seek to isolate the criminal act, but view it in its overall
environmental context.
Abolitionists deny the utility of punishment and claim that there is no valid
justi!cation for it. They criticise deterrence theory for its sloppy de!nitions of
concepts, its immunity to challenge, and for the fact that it gives the routine process
of punishment a false legitimacy in an epoch where the in"iction of pain might
otherwise have appeared problematic.`
Retributive theories
In the late nineteenth century the Victorian judge Stephen stated:
I think it is highly desirable that criminals should be hated, that the punishment
in"icted on them should be so contrived as to give expression to that hatred, and to
justify it so far as the public provision of means for expressing and gratifying a
healthy natural sentiment can justify and encourage it.`
Retributive theories require the features of punishment to be shaped by reference to
the features of the offence for which it is meted.
Thus, a retributive theory is necessarily backward looking in its orientation to
punishment. Its focus is on the offence and nothing else, especially not any social
cost/bene!t or individual eugenics that can be calculated to result from punishments.
The typical concerns of forward looking, consequentialist theories of punishment,
have no place in a retributive theory. Hence, retribution in punishment ignores all
features of the offender`s character, the victim`s situation, all the effects of the threat
or in"iction of punishment insofar as these are distinct from the nature and gravity of
the offence and whatever else is central to characterising the offence itself.`
Kant, I., `The Metaphysical Elements of
Justice (1797)', Ladd, J. (trans.), The
Library of the Liberal Arts, Bobbs-Merrill
1965, in Andenaes, J. Punishment and
Deterrence, University of Michigan Press,
1974, p.129.
Bittner and Platt, in Andenaes, J. op.
cit., p.131.
Hart, H.L.A., `Punishment and
Responsibility', Oxford, 1968, p.23, in
Andenaes, J. op. cit.
Haan, W. `Abolitionism and Crime
Control: A Contradiction in Terms', in,
Stenson, K. and Cowell, D. (eds), The
Politics of Crime Control, Sage
Publications, 1993, p.205.
Christie, N. `Limits to Pain', Oxford,
Martin Robertson, 1982, in Haan, W. op.
cit., p.209.
Stephen, `History of the Criminal Law
of England 81 - 82 (1883), in Rubin, S.
op. cit., p.654.
Bedau, H.A., `Concessions to
Retribution in Punishment', in Cedarblom,
J.B., and Blizek, W.L. (eds), Justice and
Punishment, Ballinger Publishing
Company, 1877, p.51.
For retributivists
· the offender`s wrongdoing is deserving of punishment
· the amount of punishment should be as proportionate as possible to the extent of
the wrongdoing
· it is the offender`s desert, and not the bene!cial consequences of punishment, that
justi!es punishment.
Retributivists differ in their details of their explanation of how punishment is
supposed to give the moral wrongdoer what he/she deserves. Some regard the
punishment of wrongdoers as derivative from a fundamental axiom of justice that
wrongdoers deserve to suffer. Braithwaite and Pettit state: Retributivism, as part of a
deontological theory will give an axiomatic, underived status to some constraint or set
of constraints (the relevant constraints being in relation to giving offenders deserved
punishments). It will assess systems of criminal justice by reference to whether or not
they satisfy those ultimate demands. That the constraints are axiomatic means that the
requirement to satisfy them is prime. It does not turn on the assumption that
satisfaction promotes some independent target`.
Some retributivists try to connect punishment with broader issues of distributive
justice, or justice in the distribution of the bene!ts and burdens of social life. The
offender is viewed as someone who had taken an unfair advantage of others in
society, and thus the meting out of punishment is then needed to restore fairness and
equality among its citizens.
Punishment and desert
Immanuel Kant
appears the de!nitive retributinist: the criminal must be paid back
in mind because he must not be allowed to pro!t from his wrongdoing. To pro!t
would be unjust to his victim, to civil society and indeed to the criminal himself.
If the offender commits an offence then he should suffer the penalty, and that penalty
should be proportionate to the amount of his wrongdoing. Garland summarises:
Utilitarian argument and reformative purposes have given way to an emphasis upon
desert, denunciation and punishment.what was originally intended as a liberal
critique of modernist reasoning in favour of classic Enlightenment restraints has been
taken up by a more punitive anti-modernism, which emphasises the importance of
punishment as a symbol of sovereign power and social authority.`
The retributivist appears to defend the desirability of a punitive response to the
offender: the punitive reaction is the pain the criminal deserves, and that it is highly
desirable to provide for an orderly, collective expression of society`s natural feeling of
revulsion towards, and disapproval, of criminal acts. It is argued that this expression
vindicates the criminal law and in so doing helps to unify society against crime and
put forward a model of the retributive theory of punishment:
· a person may be punished if, and only if, he has voluntarily done something
morally wrong (i.e. committed a crime)
· the punishment must in some way match, or be the equivalent of, the wickedness
of his offence; and
· the justi!cation for punishing men under such conditions is that the return of
suffering for moral evil voluntarily done, is itself just or morally good.
If punishment is the deliberate in"iction of pain and legal punishment the in"iction of
pain on a duly convicted criminal, the right to punish can rest only on the retributive
principle so understood.
Under retributionism:
Braithwaite, J. and Pettit, P. `Not Just
Deserts: A Republican Theory of Criminal
Justice', Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1992,
Ten, C.L. op. cit., p.5.
Kant, I. The Metaphysical Elements of
Justice, (trans.) John Ladd, Bobbs-Merrill,
Library of Liberal Arts, 1965, p.100.
Gardland, D. `Penal Modernism and
Postmodernism', in Blomberg, T.G., and
Cohen, S. (eds), Punishment and Social
Control, Aldine De Gruyter, New York,
1995, p.192.
Grupp, S.E. op. cit., p.7.
Hart, H.L.A., Punishment and
Responsibility: Essays in the Philosophy
of Law, Oxford University Press, 1968,
Berns, W., `Retribution as the Ground
for Punishment', in Baumann, F. and
Jensen, K.M. Crime and Punishment:
Issues in Criminal Justice, University
Press of Virginia, 1989, p.1.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
· the punishment should be made as analogous as possible to the nature of the crime
or to create a proportionate relationship between the offence and the punishment.
This implies that
· the punishment must not be excessive. It must not exceed what is appropriate to
the crime. We must always be able to say of the person punished that he deserved
to be punished as he was punished: this is the reason why one views the
punishment of the innocent as unjust punishment, as is punishment that is
disproportionate with the crime. Furthermore,
· the person punished must deserve the pain in"icted on him
· to be deserved, punishment must be of an offender who is guilty of an offence in
the morally relevant sense of offence`.
To assert that someone deserves to be
punished is to look to his past wrongdoing as reason for having him penalised.
· this orientation to the past distinguishes desert from deterrence theory, which
seeks to justify the criminal sanction by its prospective usefulness in preventing
In brief, for punishment to be just it must be merited by the committing of an offence.
It follows from this that punishment, to be justly administered, must involve:
· care in determining whether the offending person is really a responsible agent i.e.
a autonomous individuals who are assumed to have the capacity to determine
their own ends as free and rational creatures.`
· if he has done nothing wrong for which he deserves to suffer, he ought not be
made to suffer; e.g. he ought not be punished solely to deter others from doing
something. Kant espoused the following view: Judicial punishment can never be
used merely as a means to promote some other good for the criminal himself or
for civil society, but instead it must, in all cases be imposed on him only on the
ground that he has committed a crime.`
· Even if a civil society were to dissolve itself by common agreement of all its
members (for example, if the people inhabiting an island decided to separate and
disperse themselves around the world), the last murderer remaining in prison must
!rst be executed, so that everyone will duly receive what his actions are worth and
so that the blood-guilt thereof will not be !xed on the people because they failed
to insist on carrying out the punishment; for if they fail to do so, they may be
regarded as accomplices in this public violation of legal justice.`
suggests two propositions arising from these passages of Kant:
· Kant`s words, that we punish a man only because he has committed a crime`
require another interpretation if it is to be meaningful. In part, we do support the
man`s punishment because it is his desert for his deeds. [And] in part, the point is
that he acted wrongly or immorally, as distinct from only illegally. He has done
something of a suf!cient wrongfulness to be prohibited by the law.`
· In the second passage Kant states we have an absolute and categorical obligation
to impose a certain penalty. He must be punished if he has performed an act for
which he deserves a penalty. Since the individual was seen as a rational,
responsible and autonomous agent; retributivists make strong assumptions of
voluntariness and responsibility. The agent`s free and informed choice to commit
an offence means that they deserve to be punished, the deepest rationality of the
offender as agent would allow him to see that he should be punished in the given
circumstances. Punishment under these circumstances does thus not violate the
autonomy of the offender as a person, it rather respects him as such`.
As Duff
Middendorff, W. The Effectivenes of
Punishment, Fred B. Rothman & Co.,
1968, p.51.
McCloskey, H.J., `A Non-Utilitarian
Approach to Punishment', in Ezorsky, G.
(ed.), Philosophical Perspectives on
Punishment, State University of New York
Press, 1972, p.121.
Von Hirsch, A. Doing Justice, The
Choice of Punishments, Hill & Wang,
1976, p.46.
Morrison, W., op. cit., p.148.
Kant, I. ¨The Metaphysical Elements of
Justice' (1797), Ladd, J. (trans.), The
Library of the Liberal Arts Bobbs-Merrill
1965, in Morrison, W. op. cit., p.148.
Id. p.149.
Honderich, T., op. cit., p.12 - 13.
Lacey, op. cit., p.154.
states we accord him the respect which is his due as a responsible moral
agent.He may therefore claim a right to be.punished, for his wrongdoing; a
right to be treated, respected and cared for as a moral agent.`
The notion of desert is central and punishment is justi!ed in terms of the desert of the
offender. Retributivists base their assessments of desert both on the harm done by the
act, and on the mental state of the offender as a further element which determines his
culpability. To be deserving of punishment the offender must be moral culpable in
that his act was done in the absence of one of the accepted excuses. One can then
formulate retributive theories of punishment as those theories that maintain that
punishment is justi!ed because the offender has voluntarily committed a morally
wrong act.
in his critique of retributionism examines certain features of an ideally just
society to ascertain what would be the rationale for punishment in such a society
namely, who would be punished and for what conduct; and what their punishment
ought to be. He argues that the rationale for imposing a system of punishment in a
just society would be to secure compliance with rules that are just and this he states is
not a retributivist rationale, for imposing a system of punishment in a just society
would be to secure compliance, its reasons for punishing a violator is not that he
deserves` it because of his guilt, but rather that society meant what it said when it
threatened the punishment in the !rst place and that, he claims is why this view is not
reconcilable with the retributivist viewpoint.
puts forth an explanation of the assertion that a man deserves a
particular penalty`, when we say this we imply:
· that he behaved culpably and ought therefore to be punished
· that the penalty imposed will give satisfactions equivalent to the grievance that
was caused by his actions
· that similar penalties have been and will be, imposed for similar offences
· that he was responsible for his action and performed it with a knowledge of the
possible consequences that would arise in the penalty system
· that, unlike non-offenders, he gained satisfactions attendant on the commission of
the offence.
The !fth point concerns the idea of unfair advantage.
The idea of unfair advantage
One particular version of the retributive theory justi!es punishment in terms of the
claim that the offender has taken an unfair advantage over law-abiding citizens.
Finnis`s modi!ed natural law theory
stated that we have at the present time, a
distribution of certain freedoms, a freedom to do certain things under the law and that
these have been distributed in accordance with the rule of law. He then poses the
question: What happens when someone breaks the law by committing a murder or
robbery? He states that what this person has done is to gain for himself a greater
quantity of social goods than to which he would ordinarily be entitled to, that he has
assumed certain freedoms that the rest of us simply do not have. In this case, we need
to punish the offender in order to restore the balance.
Herbert Morris displayed similar sentiments. In Persons and Punishment`,
envisaged a general justifying aim of punishment, he saw this as being to restore the
balance which the offence disturbed. He declared that there were bene!ts and burdens
in society: where the bene!ts consisted of the non-interference by others, but he stated
that this bene!t was only possible if there was a burden of self-restraint. When the
Duff, op. cit., p.70.
Ten, C.L. op. cit., p.46.
Bedau, H.A. `Concessions to Retribution
in Punishment', in Cedarblom, J.B. and
Blizek, W.L. (eds), Justice and Punishment,
Ballinger Publishing Company, 1977,
p.51 - 73.
Honderich, T., op. cit., p.23.
Braithwaite, J. and Pettit, P., op. cit.,
Ten, C.L. op. cit., p.52.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
criminal violated the rules of the criminal law, they were seen to have renounced the
burden that other law-abiding citizens had accepted. The criminal was then seen as
assuming an unfair advantage over the law-abiding citizens who had accepted this
restraint on them. Punishment was therefore justi!ed as it prevented the weakening of
the disposition to obey the law among the law-abiding citizens.
Retributive punishment is thus perceived as restoring the balance` by cancelling out
this advantage with a commensurate disadvantage. It thus ensures that lawmakers do
not gain from their wrongdoing and punishment is justi!ed because if we failed to
punish lawbreakers it would lead to an unfairness for the law-abiding.
Retributionism appears to rationally reconstruct something close to our normal sense of
the concept of the punishment !tting the crime. The amount that the offender is
punished in order to bring about the just distribution of freedoms within society would
be proportional to the amount of freedom that he had taken for himself unjustly.
However, there are theoretical dif!culties inherent in such a theory.
Firstly, Ten states that the scope of Morris`s theory should only extend to the
punishment of those who violate the rules which are necessary for the survival of
society, for it is only those rules which can confer equal bene!ts on all. The scope of
this theory does not therefore cover all cases in which punishment is thought to be
Similarly, in his text he states that it is dubious to imagine that this theory can justify
our present practices of punishment or anything of the sort. He suggests that this
theory only applies if our society is a just one in which all citizens are genuinely
equal, otherwise there is no equilibrium of equality for punishment to restore. For
example, most detected offenders begin from a point of disadvantage socially, and
thus punishment would only serve to increase that inequality.
Secondly, there is no practical guidance about the fair measure of punishment in any
particular case. Lacey asks what actual punishment would forfeit a set of rights
equivalent to those violated by, say a rapist or murderer? It would be dif!cult to
quantify the level of punishment in order to ensure that it re"ected the amount of
freedom that the offender had assumed for himself.
Thirdly, the view presupposes that there is an independent account of what counts as
an unfair advantage and a just equilibrium.
Finally, Braithwaite
states that the theory which holds up the achievement of an
equilibrium between bene!ts and burdens as the point of the system, by imposing a
counterbalancing disadvantage over his non-violated fellows. Braithwaite suggests
that for all this characterisation tells us, the theory !ts a consequentialist mould just as
comfortably as deontological one.
Are compromise theories possible?
The strength of both utilitarian and retributivist rationales of punishment leaves many
people uneasy as to what really justi!es punishment.
offers the reader with another way of considering the problem. He argues that
the justi!cation of punishment raises a number of different issues, and that any
account which seeks to provide a single answer - whether it be the pursuit of a single
value or a plurality of values - to a single question is inadequate. We have instead to
look for different answers to different questions. Hart distinguishes between three
such questions that must be answered in order to produce a valid justi!cation of
Braithwaite, J. and Pettit, P. op. cit.,
Hart, H.L.A., `Prolegomenon to the
Principles of Punishment', in Hart, H.L.A.,
Punishment and Responsibility, op. cit.,
pp.1 - 27.
Cavadino, M. and Dignan, J. The Penal
System: An Introduction, Sage
Publications, London, (second edition)
· what justi!es the general practice of punishment? i.e. what is it that makes it
necessary and right to have institutions of punishment in the !rst place?
· who may be punished? i.e. concerning the liability to punishment; and
· how severely may we punish? i.e. of the amount of punishment which may be
justi!ably imposed in the particular case.
Hart maintains that the General Justifying Aim of punishment
is the utilitarian one
of deterrence, protecting society from the harm caused by the crime, and which
therefore leads to bene!cial consequences and not the retributive aim of in"icting
pain on offenders who are morally guilty. But the pursuit of the general justifying aim
has to be quali!ed by principles of Distribution` which restrict the application of
punishment to only those who have voluntarily broken the law.
As to the question: Who may rightly be punished? Here, a principle of retribution in
distribution is espoused, and thus only offenders may be punished for their offences.
Punishment as a sociocultural paradigm
In order to appreciate the impact of punishment in society, one needs to consider the
sociological account of punishment. From this perspective, it is argued that methods,
justi!cations and rami!cations of punishment are neither obvious nor rationally self-
evident. To fully understand the various dimensions of punishment, it is therefore
necessary to acknowledge its social foundations and purposes; that is to accept that
punishment is a microcosm of wider social processes.
As Garland states:
punishment is a social artefact serving a variety of purposes and premised upon an
ensemble of social forces.`
It is in this sense that punishment has some of the
qualities of what Marcel Mausee described as a total social fact`.
It is an area of
social life which spills over into other areas and which takes its social meaning as
much from these associations as from itself, thus accumulating a symbolic depth of
meaning which go beyond its immediate functioning. Therefore, according to
` punishment does not just restrain or discipline society, punishment helps
create it`.
Is punishment a necessary condition for
social order?
Emile Durkheim looked to the non-instrumental aspects of punishment - its
emotional aspect, its social origins, its expression of values and cultures
and its
effect beyond the relationship of controlled and controlling. Punishment was not for
Durkheim mere vindictiveness. Durkheim saw punishment playing an important role
in the creation and maintenance of the solidarity that was a necessary condition for
social order and the continued existence of society.
Without punishment Durkheim
anticipated the demoralisation of the upright people in the face of de!ance of the
collective conscience: Criminal acts call forth a collective hostile response in the
shape of punishment, and the punishment serves to restore and reinforce the outrage
of the conscience collective`.
Durkheim saw punishment as not primarily deterrent or reformative, rather it was
produced by collective retributive emotions that then had a useful denunciatory effect.
Its true function was to maintain social cohension. He felt that if an emotional
response did not come to compensate the loss, that this would result in the breakdown
of social solidarity.
For Durkheim, social solidarity was a necessary precondition for collective social
existence, punishment being regarded as important because it was functionally linked
to the maintenance and preservation of social solidarity.
Braithwaite, J. and Pettit, P. op. cit.,
Hart, H.L.A., `Prolegomenon to the
Principles of Punishment', in Hart, H.L.A.,
Punishment and Responsibility, op. cit.,
pp.1 - 27.
Lacey, N. op. cit., pp. 1 - 27.
White, R., and Perrone, S. op. cit.,
Garland, D., Punishment and Modern
Society: A Study in Social Theory,
London: Oxford University Press, 1990,
Id, p.274.
Id, p.276 (original quote from
Michel Foucault).
Howe, A., Punish and Critique: Towards
a Feminist Analysis of Penality, London:
Routledge, 1994, p.116.
Cavadino, M. and Dignan, J. op. cit.
White, R. and Perrone, S. op. cit., p.149.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
Braithwaite calls this rationale for punishment one of moral education`. He quotes
Since punishment is reproaching, the best punishment is that which puts the blame -
which is the essence of punishment - in the most expressive.way possible.It is not
a matter of making him suffer.rather it is a matter of reaf!rming the obligation at
the moment when it is violated, in order to strengthen the sense of duty, both for the
guilty party and for those witnessing the offence - those whom the offence tends to
Durkheim thus saw the role of punishment as reaf!rming and perpetuating society`s
core values and in this sense punishment had an educative effect. Punishment was
depicted as a group phenomenon of great intensity. It was supposedly propelled by
irrational, emotive forces, which swept society`s members into a passion or moral
Punishment would then have the function of limiting the demoralising
effects` of deviance and disobedience. Punishment did not give moral discipline its
authority, rather it prevented discipline from losing its authority. Punishment, here,
had the role of preventing the collapse of moral authority. It ensured that once
established, the moral order would not be destroyed by individual violations that
robbed others of their con!dence in authority.
In this view punishment is a straightforward embodiment of society`s moral order and
provides an instance of how that order represents and sustains itself.
For Durkheim,
crime is in one sense a creation of punishment rather than an instigator of punishment.
Punishment has a broader role than simply responding to speci!c types of crime.
Punishment is not just a negative response to crime, rather, punishment actually
constituted crime in the sense that it de!ned what was criminal and had positive
social effects such as reinforcing social solidarity.
Punishment as an element of culture
Punishment has deep cultural signi!cance. In Punishment and Modern Society
Garland sets out a sociological account of punishment and its role in modern society.
He emphasises the signi!cance of punishment as an element of cultural history: and
he claimed that one can not understand punishment and its evolution without
understanding changing sensibilities. Further, that one cannot understand a culture
without taking account of the role of punishment in its social order and formation.
Garland advocates a move beyond the social control framework. He felt that what
was required was a wider, more "exible and more multi-dimensional framework`
which allowed for the impact of cultural sensibilities on the punishment processes.
Punishment is viewed not simply as an exercise of power, it expressed social
sentiments, notably passion. Indeed, the essence of punishment` was for Garland,
an irrational, unthinking emotion`. Thus punishment needed to be conceptualised not
only in terms of the power to punish, but also as an urge to punish` - as an emotional
reaction which "ared up at the violation of cherished social sentiments.
Garland attempted to describe punishment as a cultural artefact, which embodied and
expressed society`s cultural forms.
Asociology of punishment requires an analytical
account of the cultural forces and values which shaped and in"uenced the idea and
the organisation of punishment. In particular, an account of the patterns that were
imposed upon punishment, which involved complex, moral, religious and emotional
forces which historians had identi!ed as part of the motivational dynamic of penal
reform. At the same time, these cultural forces must be considered against the
background of social relations and historical change which had made it possible for
people to reason in terms of this sociological setting; and in methodologies that would
enable them to promote policies in accordance with their own sensitivities. Morals
Garland, D. (1990), op. cit, p.26.
Id. p.43.
Id., p.26.
Howe, A. op. cit., p.8.
Garland, D., (1990), op. cit., p.3.
Finnance, M. Punishment in Australian
Society, Melbourne: Oxford University
Press, 1997, p.5.
Howe, A. op. cit., p.116.
Garland, D (1990), op. cit., p.193.
Braithwaite, J. and Pettit, P. op. cit.,
p.126. (Quote from: Durkheim, Emile,
Moral Education: A Study in Theory and
Application of the Sociology of
Education, (trans. E. Wilson and H.
Schnurer), New York: Free Press, (1961),
p.181 - 2.)
and sensibilities needed to be located within the grid of social interests and positions
in a way that re"ected the complex realities of cultural life. Thus Garland considered
punishment as a complex cultural artefact, encoding the signs and symbols of the
wider culture in its own practices.
In this sense Garland sought to demonstrate how society`s cultural patterns had come
to be imprinted upon its penal institutions in a way that made punishment a practical
embodiment of some of the symbolic themes. He stated that any phenomenological
account of punishment:
Should never lose sight of the fact that punishment is also, and simultaneously, a
network of material social practices in which symbolic forms are sanctioned by brute
force as well as by chains of reference and cultural agreement. Penal institutions form
a functioning part of a structure of social action and a system of power, as well as
being a signifying element within a symbolic realm, and in reality, neither aspect ever
exists without the other. Penal practices are shaped by the symbolic grammar of
cultural forms as well as by the more instrumental dynamics of social action, so that
in analysing punishment, we should look for patterns of cultural expression as well as
for logics of material interest or social control.`
Penal culture, which Garland meant as being the loose amalgam of penelogical
theory, experience, institutional and professional wisdom,`
was an evolving concept
- that cultural patterns changed over time and that these cultural developments
tended to exert a direct in"uence over patterns of punishment`.
Penal agents (the
professionals involved in the penal process) and penal ideology were seen to work
with broader cultural context, re"ecting the climate of public opinion and the mores
of governmental direction. As a consequence, Garland suggested that the speci!c
culture of punishment in any society would have its roots in the broader context of
prevailing social attitudes and traditions.
Culture is a determinant of punishment. The converse of this statement is also true:
that punishment and penal institutions help shape the overarching culture and
contribute to the generation and regeneration of its terms. It is a two-way process
- an interactive relationship.
In this sense, punishment, like any social institution is modelled by broad cultural
patterns that have their origins elsewhere. However, it also generates its own local
meanings, values and sensibilities, which then contribute to the bricolage of the
dominant culture.
As Garland states:
Instead of thinking of punishment as a passive` 'expression¨ or 're"ection¨ of
cultural patterns established elsewhere, we must strive to think of it as an active
generator of cultural relations and sensibilities. The idea is to indicate just how penal
practices contribute to the making of the larger culture, and to suggest the nature and
signi!cance of that contribution.`
Punishment is therefore one of the many institutions that help support the social world
by producing shared categories and authoritative classi!cations through which
individuals understand each other and themselves. For Garland, this is achieved by
way of an understanding of penal culture. In turn, contemporary society and culture
have a resounding in"uence on penal culture.
Contemporary penality (what Garland referred to as penal modernism`)
claims to
be based upon rationalised practices, and upon a utilitarian and rationalist
Further, utilitarians may argue thus that retributitive principles are to be
considered as an irrational disutility - a pre-modern tradition based upon emotion and
and thus should be afforded no place in considerations of punishment.
Id, p.249.
Id. p.199.
Id. p.198.
Id. p.201.
Id. p.210.
Id. p.198.
Id. p.250.
Id. p.250.
Garland, D. `Penal Modernism and
Postmodernism', in Blomberg, T.G. and
Cohen, S. (eds), op. cit., p.188.
Id. p.187.
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
In a sociological account of punishment we may observe that the justi!cations and
consequences of punishment are not self-evident. Therefore, it is necessary to
acknowledge its social foundations and purposes. It is through a study of punishment
and penal culture that one may gain an understanding of the intrinsic nature of the
concept. It has been observed that the concept of punishment does not exist in
philosophical isolation, rather it is re"ective of the dominant culture and
contemporary sensibilities. The idea of punishment is thus to be considered as a
microcosm of wider social processes.
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Lacey, Nicola, State Punishment: Political Principles and Community Values
(London: Routledge 1988).
McMahon, M. The Persistent Prison?: Rethinking Decarceration and Penal Reform
(University of Toronto Press 1992).
Michael, Jerome And Adler, Mortimer J. Crime, Law and Social Science (New
Jersey: Patterson Smith 1971).
Middendorf, Wolf, The Effectiveness of Punishment, (New Jersey: Fred. B. Rothman
& Company 1968).
Morrison, Wayne Jurisprudence: From the Greeks to post-modernism (London:
Cavendish Publishing Limited 1997).
Newburn, Tim Crime and Criminal Justice Policy (London: Longman 1995).
Pakenham, Frank The Idea of Punishment (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1961).
Rubin, S The Law of Criminal Correction (West Publishing Company 1963).
Saleilles, Raymond The Individualization of Punishment, Rachel Szold Jastrow
(trans.), (Pattersin Smith Publishing Corporation 1968).
Stenson, Kevin and Cowell, David (eds) The Politics of Crime Control (London:
Sage Publications 1993).
Sykes, Gresham M. Crime and Society (New York: Random House).
Ten, C.L., Crime, Guilt, and Punishment: A Philosophical Introduction (Oxford:
Clarendon Press (1987).
Vold, George B. and Bernard, Thomas J. Theoretical Criminology (New York:
Oxford University Press 1986).
Walker, Nigel Sentencing In a Rational Society (London: The Penguin Press 1969).
White, Rob and Perrone, S. Crime and Social Control: An Introduction (Melbourne:
Oxford University Press 1997).
Zimring, Franklin E. and Hawkins, Gordon The Scale of Imprisonment (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press 1991).
How are we to understand developments in
penal policy?
Ian Dunbar & Anthony Langdon, Tough Justice: sentencing and penal policies in the
1990s, (Blackstone 1998) [ISBN 1-85431-725-3].
Tim Newburn, Crime and Criminal Justice Policy, (Longman, 1995)
[ISBN 0-582-234336 PPR].
Since the late 1970s there has been a dramatic increase in the use of imprisonment in
both the UK and the US.
The strengthening of the politics of formal social control and the analysis of David
In the Iace oI the decline oI inIormal social control reinIorcement oI Iormal social
control through the police and punishment becomes more important and
politically deIensible.
One Iavourite examination question has been whether prison works and how to
explain the recourse to imprisonment in the Iace oI questions as to its legitimacy oI its
Two key texts of the early 1990s highlighting this trend were Nils Christie`s Crime
Control as Industry: Towards Gulags Western Style (Sage, second edition. 1994)
which was a devastating analysis of the growth of a crime control industry, and
Thomas Mathiesen`s Prison on Trial (Sage, 1990). Mathiesen took the accepted
justi!cations of punishment and applied them to the operation of the prison. He
argued hat the prison was unable to operate in a way that proved itself legitimate by
all of the supposed rationalisations.
What of contemporary conditions? Prisons, policing and crime control are daily news
items. To mainstream criminologists - such as David Faulkner (who is also chair of
the Howard League for Penal Reform) - it is now obvious that a political revival of
imprisonment` has taken place in the US and the UK. Currently in the UK, instead of
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
considering imprisonment a measure of last resort, both Labour and the Tories are
presenting prison as an instrument of individual reform and public protection, with an
enthusiasm not seen since the middle of the nineteenth century.
In Faulkner`s opinion the movement appears to come from two directions. One is the
development of training and rehabilitative courses within prisons - for offending
behaviour, drug abuse, for sex offenders - which make ambitious claims for their
success in terms of the prisoner`s return to normal life` and the prevention of
re-offending. As well as paying for another 2,660 prison places in the July spending
plan, the Government announced a custody to work` programme, aiming to double
the proportion of prisoners going directly into jobs on release.
Money has been provided to increase by 50 per cent the number of national
quali!cations which prisoners achieve in prison. They have been rising and the
government`s strategy for women offenders is full of similarly good intentions, while
the Tories go further and propose !nancially self-supporting industrial prisons, where
prisoners earn wages from which they will pay for their keep and support their
families. The thesis here is that prisons 'work¨ not only in preventing offenders from
committing further offences against the public, but also in reforming their characters.
The other direction is policies that deliberately increase the use of imprisonment - not
only for dangerous or persistent offenders - for failure to comply with orders or
conditions. The prison population has risen by a half since 1992. The number of
women prisoners has more than doubled, and the population of juveniles under 18 has
tripled. The Tories want juveniles to be imprisoned in even larger numbers.
The prison population is projected to increase by a further 7 - 20 per cent by 2007
depending on what assumptions are made of the effect of new policies and legislation.
Overcrowding seems set to continue inde!nitely.
It becomes more acceptable to send more people to prison if it is thought they will
bene!t from their experience. This also applies upward pressure on the length of
sentences: there is no point in sending people to prison unless they stay long enough
to get that bene!t.
For Faulkner, the trouble is that similar aspirations have failed in the past. Unrealistic
expectations are built up around the effect of prison on future behaviour - but nothing
is done to change the offender`s family and social environment, over which the prison
has no control. Successive governments and the courts have failed to stabilise the
prison population at a level where training and rehabilitation programmes can be
sustained. Thus, measures to improve prisoners` treatment and rehabilitation should
not be promoted on a false prospectus; they have to be realistic and deliverable.
How could the legitimacy of prison works` be established? Faulkner suggests three
conditions need to be satis!ed:
· programmes must be monitored and evaluated. While the present government has
supported research, programmes must be subject to checking and part of a wider
assessment of the prison experience and its social effects:
· the prison population must be stabilised at a level that matches the capacity of the
system to ful!l the promises being made. There should be no new laws on
sentencing until the Government and judiciary come to an understanding on its
purpose and principles; on the intended size, composition and geographical
distribution of the prison population; and on the sentencing practices and
procedures for release by which that optimum size of the prison population is to
be achieved. That is to say, assumptions about sentencing and the prison
population must be turned into policies. There is no longer any other area of the
public sector where it is acceptable just to predict and provide`.
· there must be reform of the prison service itself - of its relationship with other
services and with the communities which it serves and from which it will need
commitment and support; of the composition and skills of its staff; and of its
values and culture.
There is need for human rights standards to be established and maintained in prison.
This would be of bene!t both to the inmates and aid the professional integrity of the
process. Racism, for example, where it exists, shows a more general lack of
professional integrity. The prisons have experienced countless reviews and
reorganisations over the past 40 years. All have been in response to an immediate
political demand or operational crisis; none has found a lasting solution, and none has
examined the system from !rst principles, although Lord Woolf`s report in 1991 came
closest to doing so.
The time has come to re-examine the foundations of the prison system`s authority and
legitimacy. The Human Rights Act provides a special opportunity and a point of
reference: it may in time provide an imperative. But this is not a subject for just
another review, with a chair, terms of reference, invitations to give evidence and a
time limit set by the political agenda.
For Faulkner and others, the UK needs a public debate in which everyone can take
part - through articles in journals, attending conferences and seminars, by
contributions to of!cial rethinking. The state of policing and recourse to
imprisonment poses a challenge to NGOs - for example, the Howard League, the
Prison Reform Trust, the crime reduction charity Nacro, Justice and the International
Centre for Prison Studies - and the media, to help shape the process of penal reform.
Garland and the analysis of the culture of control
David Garland, has produced a masterIul overview oI criminology and crime control
in The Culture of Control. Crime and Social Order in Contemporarv Societv, OUP
2001 |ISBN 0-19-829937-0|.
Garland`s book is premised on a supposition oI surprise. SpeciIically, that a
criminological commentator writing in the 1960s and 1970s could never have
predicted the rise oI what he calls the culture oI control`:
.recent developments in crime control and criminal justice are puzzling because
they appear to involve a sudden and startling reversal of the settled historical pattern.
They display a sharp discontinuity that demands to be explained. The modernising
processes that, until recently, seemed so well established in this realm - above all the
long-term tendencies towards 'rationalisation¨ and 'civilisation¨ - now look as if
they have been thrown into reverse. The reappearance in of!cial policy of punitive
sentiments and expressive gestures that appear oddly archaic and downright anti-
modern tend to confound the standard social theories of punishment and its historical
development. Not even the most inventive reading of Foucault, Marx, Durkheim, and
Elias on punishment could have predicted these recent developments - and certainly
no such predictions ever appeared.` (p.3)
One may Iind Garland`s supposition oI a complete reversal overstated but there is no
denying the development oI a new complex oI Iashionable theories depicting the selI
as a rational calculator and control practices that maximise surveillance and depict the
oIIender as someone other. Garland`s narrative is sophisticated and wide-ranging. He
asserts that up until the late 1970s crime control had an established institutional
structure and established intellectual Iramework. Its characteristic practices, and the
organisations and assumptions that supported them had emerged Irom a long process
oI development. First the modern structures oI criminal justice had Iirst been
assembled in their classic liberal Iorm and then increasingly orientated towards a
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
more correctional programme oI action. All this changed dramatically in the 1980s
and 1990s. Now Garland asks, why is it that Ior both the UK and the US, countries
that view themselves as liberal, non-oppressive states committed to individual liberty
and market Ireedom, Iinding new and eIIective ways oI controlling their citizens
become such a high priority Ior their governments?
Garland Iocuses upon the UK and the US to point out what he takes to be important
similarities in the recent experience oI these two countries. He suggests that these
similarities stem not merely Irom political imitation and policy transIer but Irom a
process oI social and cultural change that has altered social relations in both societies.
He calls these developments late modernity, which has transIormed the experience oI
crime, insecurity, and social order bringing a new and powerIul cluster oI risks,
insecurities, and control problems. The similar processes have been Iiltered through
the diIIerent social, institutional and cultural characteristics oI the two nations. The
particular combination oI racial division, economic inequality and lethal violence that
marks contemporary US, has given it a penal response, a scale and intensity that oIten
seems wholly exceptional. The US is a Western liberal democracy that routinely
executes oIIenders and incarcerates its citizens at a rate that is 6 to 10 times higher
than comparable nations. Garland argues that while the scale is diIIerent, there are
strong similarities in the patterns oI penal responses and in the Iocal points oI public
concerns, political debates and policy developments. Moreover, that there are
important similarities in the problems to which actors in both nations appear to be
responding. SpeciIically, the same kinds oI risks and insecurities, the same perceived
problems oI eIIective social control, the same critiques oI traditional criminal justice,
and the same recurring anxieties about social change and social order.
The most important currents of change:
· the decline of the rehabilitative ideal
· the re-emergence of punitive sanctions and expressive justice
· changes in the emotional tone of crime policy
· the return of the victim
· above all, the public must be protected
· politicisation of crime control and a new populism
· the reinvention of the prison
· the transformation of criminological thought
· the expanding infrastructure of crime prevention and community safety
· civil society and the commercialisation of crime control
· new management styles and working practices
· a perpetual sense of crisis.
In short the orthodoxy`s that prevailed for most of the last century (the twentieth),
what he calls penal welfarism`; have been replaced by a new !eld. For many
practitioners and theorists, there has been an alarming sense of the unravelling of a
conceptual fabric that, for most of the best part of a century, had bound together the
institutions of criminal justice and given them meaning`. By contrast, today, for
better or for worse, we lack any such agreement, any settled culture, or any clear
sense of the big picture.ideological lines are far from clear and.the old
assumptions are an unreliable guide`. (p.4)
For most of the twentieth century the UK and US Governments (largely, albeit with
opposing elements) viewed the direction in which social change was going as an
achievement rather than as a problem. Continuing prosperity and full employment
were to be delivered through a regulated economy at the same time as a social agenda
which extended welfare and civil rights enhanced personal freedoms. But this
dichotomy of economic control and social liberation was transformed as a new
consumer capitalism revolutionalised individual tastes and !tted with a new
commercial service culture that made welfare agencies appear rigidly bureaucratic
and unresponsive to client needs and preferences. Anew complex of theories, a
criminology of everyday life and contradictory theories of the criminology of the self
(which depict offenders as normal, rational consumers, just like us) and criminology
of the other (which offers images of a threatening outcast, the fearsome stranger, the
excluded and the bitter).
The !rst type of criminology routinises crime, allays disproportionate fears and
promotes preventative action. The second demonises the criminal, acts out popular
fears and resentments and provides support for massive state punishment. They
exclude a middle ground that was previously the terrain of welfarist criminology (that
depicted the offender as disadvantaged or poorly socialised and made it the State`s
responsibility, in social and penal policy, to take positive steps of a remedial kind).
Anew complex is accompanied by process of adaptation, denial and acting out.
What are the costs of the new complex? Garland lists the following: a hardening of
social and racial divisions; the reinforcement of criminogenic processes; the alienation
of large social groups; the discrediting of legal authority; a reduction of civic
tolerance; a tendency towards authoritarianism. Garland suggests that mass
imprisonment and private forti!cation may be feasible solutions to the problem of
social order but they are deeply unattractive - at odds with the ideals of liberal
Ultimately, Garland`s text is a criticism of the governing assumptions deeply built into
modernity that the sovereign state can successfully govern by means of sovereign
commands issued to obedient subjects`. Yet the State continually tries to convince us
that it can. The result is a culture of crime control that intensi!es as it fails. What else
could it do? Garland suggests: In the complex, differentiated world of late modernity,
effective legitimate government must devolve power and share the work of social
control with local organisations and communities. It can no longer rely upon state
knowledge`, on unresponsive bureaucratic agencies, and upon universal solutions,
imposed from above.` (p. 205)
Chapter 10: Punishment and the Institutional framework
Sample questions
1. If imprisonment was really such a failure, the prison would not be so resilient a
social institution.`
2. Critically evaluate the return to justice` or just deserts` movement in modern
sentencing policy.
3. Penal policies that seek to incapacitate selectively dangerous offenders are
"awed empirically and ethically.`
4. If we remove the pains of imprisonment` from imprisonment (as experimental
prisons, therapeutic regimes, and alternatives to prison have attempted), can
prison still serve as an effective method of social control?
5. Crime control has become an industry, devouring scarce social resources and
intruding upon civil liberties; part of the problem and not the solution.`
a. To what extent have political considerations rather than a rational sentencing
policy been responsible for the recent dramatic increases in the use of
imprisonment in the US and UK?
b. No rehabilitation or reform can take place within prisons and they should
concentrate upon delivering humane punishment.`
7. The fact that imprisonment does not achieve the objectives normally referred to
in the philosophical accounts is irrelevant since the main function of
imprisonment is not to reform or to punish but to create the impression that
governments are doing something about the crime problem.`
8. Most criminologists argue that the experience of imprisonment is harmful to
offenders and may lead to reoffending, yet the last decade has seen a dramatic
rise in the use of imprisonment in the US and UK. How can this rise in the use of
imprisonment be explained?
9. What explains the dramatic rise in imprisonment rates in the US and the UK in
last 10 years? Has this increase in the use of imprisonment resulted in lower
crime rates?
10. Does prison work?
Chapter 11: Policing
Chapter 11
Newburn, Tim Crime and Criminal Justice Policy, Longman, 1995, Chapter 3 The
police and policing policy`.
Jones, Stephen Criminology, Butterworths, 1998, Chapter 1 The Development of
Crime and Crime Control as Social Phenomena: the role of the Police`.
Heidensohn, Frances Crime and Society, 1989, Chapter 6.
Wilson, David John Ashton & Douglas Sharp, What Everyone in Britain Should
Know About the Police, Blackstone, 2001 [ISBN 1-84174-261-9].
Reiner, Robert The Politics of the Police, second edition 1992, Harvester.
Reiner, R and Shapland, J. (eds) Why Police? Special issue on Policing in Britain`,
British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 27, No. 1.
Understanding the history and development of the British Police.
Storch, R. The Plague of Blue Locusts`, in M.Fitzgerald et al., Crime and Society.
Police Culture
Young, J. and R. Kinsey, Police Autonomy and the Politics of Discretion` in
D. Cowell et al., Policing the Riots.
Police Accountability
Brogden, M. et al., Introducing Policework, Chapter 7.
Smith, Susan Crime, Space and Society, Chapter 6.
Reiner, The Politics of the Police, Chapter 3.
Styles of Policing: Community or consensus v`s para-military.
Kinsey, R. et al,. Losing the !ght against Crime, Chapters 8 and 9.
The Scarman Report, HMSO, 1981.
Learning objectives
You will be expected to:
· be able to give an outline of the history of British policing
· de!ne and discuss the major causes of controversy concerning contemporary
De!nition of Policing
As a concept policing originally referred to the political social health of the
community. Today we tend to associate it with the activities of a special organisation
Ageneral understanding of the role of the police is required. To what extent do the
police act as the embodiment of the legal system, as the representatives of the rule of
Police work is full of discretion, upon what basis do the police exercise discretion and
how does this in"uence the choice of who is charged, and structure the role of the
police as gatekeepers into the criminal justice system?
Sources of controversy about the police:
1. corruption scandals
2. the rule of Law and police accountability
3. the amount of force involved in policing
4. the involvement of policing in defending speci!c institutions or practices;
5. the service role vs thief catching`
6. preventive policing vs reactive policing
7. police effectiveness
8. the development of policing in a pluralist and multi-ethnic society
9. the police as symbols of authority in a "uid and questioning society.
Sample questions
1 The police are better seen as a social service than a crime control agency.`
2. Does community policing` allow a facade of public consensus whilst avoiding
real police accountability?
3. To what extent is the characterisation of policing as a contract or partnership with
the community feasible or desirable?
4. Does police discretion pose an insuperable obstacle to the success of
organisational reforms?
5. What problems are there in assessing the effectiveness of the police?
6. What are the main problems facing policing in the UK? How may these be
7. The most important obstacle to the modernisation of British policing is a
confusion of objectives. At present the social service role takes up an undue
amount of time and should be played down in favour of !ghting crime.`
8. To what extent have changing social and economic conditions made the task of
policing more dif!cult?
9. Can the aims and objectives of policing be ranked in a logical hierarchy so that a
coherent and logical policy be created, or are they incompatible in practice?
10. The biggest obstacle to the reform of policing is outdated 'police culture¨.`
Chapter 11: Policing
11. Many commentators argue that British police forces have lost the trust of the
people. What could be done to regain this trust?
12. Contemporary policing no longer strives to protect the whole society from
offenders. Its function is becoming the protection of the super-class from the
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