Sociology of Crime: Crime is a Social Phenomenon

There is a connection between criminology and sociology because it is impossible to understand crime without studying the larger society. The idea of crime derives from the concept of deviance in society. Deviance involves breaking a social norm and evoking negative reactions from others. Some norms are considered more serious, and some are turned into laws. Laws are norms stipulated and enforced by the government Crime is deviance that breaks a law.

crime as a social phenomenon

The distinction is important because what is considered crime is both perspective and dependent on many other factors. So, despite the normal assumption, crime first must be seen not as a fixed concept, but as one that flows and changes with the time period, leadership and a better understanding of the social issue. This is easy to understand examining for instance at the use of marijuana in the United States.

Made from hemp, a crop believed to first be used off the coast of China during the Stone Age.  According to the, North America was first introduced to hemp in 1606. Early on, descendants of the European conquerors used it in many facets of life. Farmers grew hemp that was used across multiple different products, such as paper, lamp fuels, and ropes. In the 1700s, farmers were even legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop. George Washington grew hemp on his plantation.

In terms of approaches to sociology has three primary paradigms or ways of looking at crime, Probably the most unpopular perspective is the functionalism perspective. Under functionalism nothing exists that does not have a function. Sociologists like Emile Durkheim theorized since crime exists in all society, it must serve a function because if not it would not be universal. Crime helps maintain society and create greater cohesion; it provides targets of collective moral outrage.

Conflict theory sees deviance as a result of social conflict. For the powerful to maintain their power, they marginalize and criminalize the people who threaten their power. Inequality is reproduced in the way deviance is defined. Police target minority groups and creates laws and policies that target them. Efforts to make legal sagging pants illegal and the concentration camps at the United States southern border are examples.

Social Constructionism emphasizes that various social problems, including deviance and crime, are not inherent in certain actions.

A symbolic interactionist perspective developed by Howard Becker States that deviance is caused by external judgments (labels) that change a person’s self-concept and the way others respond to him or her. Those in power create (construct) norms and define what is deviant. For example, often in high schools two students will the action and 2 different results.

It is also important to understand the responses are important to how we see crime. The insurrection on the United States Capitol building on January 6, 2021 offers an example. First, let us understand the area near the capitol is a restricted area. Occasionally people have went to the area by car. Yet the responses are different.  The mostly White attackers were not harmed even if when they posed a serious threat. On February 24, 2018, Jessica Ford a resident of La Vergne, Tennessee drove her vehicle into the security barriers around the capital. Despite reportedly holding a pistol while still behind the steering wheel and previous encounters with near the White House, “resulting in numerous arrests for a variety of criminal violations,” she was apprehended peacefully.

In contrast, in October 2013, Miriam Carey was shot to death after being forced into the security barriers by police after what described as a brief high-speed car chase from the White House to near the U.S. Capitol that was captured in part on video.

Many Black lawmakers and activists have pointed out the apparent double standard in how law enforcement responded slowly to the mostly white rioters at the Capitol and how police interactions with unarmed Black people like Carey often result in death.

Any study of crime must also consider this along with history using laws to control certain groups and elements of society. It must also consider the history, intent, reasons application of laws. Race, gender, class, age and other social factors play a part in the creation of laws. Most drug laws in the US are a reaction to stereotypes around Black men wanting White women and minorities being to control themselves on drugs and alcohol.

Protest movements have historically been viewed as criminal by many in power who see them as a threat to their power. As Black Lives Matter protests were happening globally, many police officers and white supremacist posed as an activist in order to loot and commit other crimes in the name of the protest. Despite this, the protesters were largely peaceful though many were injured and some killed by police and white supremacist. There are even reports that Donald Trump wanted to activate the national guard against the Black Lives Matter protest.

In contrast, the government’s complicity during the US Capital and the relatively gentle treatment of the mostly white group committing treason and plotting to overthrow the government must not be forgotten. Days following saw major characters arrested and given organic meals in jails and released quickly after trying to sell stolen information to the Russians.

So, their lessons about crime and law are to be learned, but these lessons will only matter if we address the systematic oppressions that exist within our society. Deviance is often a reaction to the unequal distribution of wealth, opportunities, resources, access, and human rights. Crime is the perspective of the large society, which labels individuals, groups, and segments of society. There is no inherent crime, it is severe deviance that is labeled as such and that varies from society to society.

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Myron T. Strong, Ph. D. | Assistant Professor of Sociology| The Community College of Baltimore County| Essex Campus, BESS 230 | 443-840-1289 |