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Modernization and Crime - Definitions: Complex Phenomena

social functional criminal society

First, crime is behavior defined as criminal by the law of the state. States typically undergo profound changes in modernization processes. So do criminal law and its enforcement. Thus, while behaviors change during modernization, so does their definition as criminal versus lawabiding. Both changes affect crime records.

Second, modernization is the replacement of traditional structural elements by modern ones. In the context of development theory, modernization is understood as a trend toward urbanization, mass communication, general political participation, and general education (Lerner). Classical sociologists have understood modernization as a movement from small social units (Gemeinschaft) toward mass society (Gesellschaft) (Ferdinand Toennies), toward functional differentiation (Émile Durkheim), toward high levels of rationality (Max Weber), or toward modern action orientations such as universalism, achievement, and affective-neutrality (Talcott Parsons). Closely related are recent debates on social networks and social capital that have also been applied to the understanding of crime (Hagan). Modernization is often thought to diminish the closure of social networks, and, as a consequence, social capital and social control. Finally, the term civilization is relevant for our theme. Civilization refers to people's growing capability of self-control, especially in the public sphere, in the context of evolving states and increasingly complex social configurations (Elias).

This terminological overview indicates the complexity of the phenomenon. First, modernization is obviously multidimensional. Second, not all dimensions—for example, urbanization, universalistic action orientation, or functional differentiation—necessarily progress at the same time or pace. We may thus, depending on place and time, face different constellations of components of modernization. Each of these constellations may have a specific effect on crime. Third, modernization may well not be unidirectional. For example, an increase in functional differentiation may cause problems of coordination and integration and these tradeoffs may initiate a trend toward dedifferentiation. These kinds of reversals are the underlying structural condition of what is often referred to as postmodernity.

It is thus not surprising that different empirical patterns can be observed depending on the researcher's focus on long-term European modernization, recent trends toward postindustrial society in the Western world, or modernization in post-Communist Europe or in countries of the third world.

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over 7 years ago

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