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Deviance - Relationship Between Deviance And Crime

deviant criminology criminologists behaviors

To a large extent, criminology and studies of deviance have developed along separate tracks although they show much overlap. Criminologists have typically limited themselves to issues about legality, crime, or crime-related phenomena. Students of deviance, on the other hand, have studied crime as well as a wider range of behaviors or conditions that are deviant by one or another of the definitions reviewed but are not necessarily illegal, such as suicide, alcoholism, homosexuality, mentally disordered behaviors, stuttering, and even such behaviors as public nose picking or flatulence, sectarian religious behaviors, and body mutilation. Hence, it is difficult to distinguish criminology clearly from studies of deviance (Bader et al.).

Many criminologists concede that illegal acts are not fundamentally different from legal but deviant acts, except by the fact of illegality itself, which is largely an arbitrary designation by legal functionaries. At the same time, students of deviance readily acknowledge that many deviant acts are also illegal and they have found data about crime especially useful because it is more systematic than most data concerning legal forms of deviance. Recognizing this overlap is obvious among those deviance scholars who employ a legalistic definition of deviance, but almost every comprehensive treatment of deviant behavior, regardless of the definition used, includes a subsection on criminal acts that are also deviant. Furthermore, both camps have raised similar questions and have come to share a common set of theories for explaining the phenomena in their domains. Among other issues, criminologists as well as students of deviance want to explain why the acts they study are deviant or criminal; they want to describe and explain the distribution, frequency, prevalence, and change in the occurrence of various criminal or deviant acts; they want to explain why and how criminal or deviant acts are committed; they want to explain how social groups manage and respond to crime and deviance and how people who are accused or guilty of crime or deviance respond to being accused or managed; and they want to understand how criminal or deviant phenomena affect and are affected by other aspects of social life.

Because of the overlap between crime and deviance, some scholars now regard distinctions between criminology and deviance studies as false and counterproductive, and they have called for a merger of the subject matters. Since all definitions of deviance, except the legalistic one, portray deviant behavior as a more inclusive concept, merger might imply subsuming criminology under the umbrella of deviance studies. Under that conceptualization, criminal behavior would be treated as a special case of deviant behavior—that which is prohibited in law, thereby meriting the possibility of officially imposed sanctions that legal forms of deviance escape. On the other hand, some contend that criminology has already preempted deviance studies so that deviance as a separate subject matter no longer exists or matters (Sumner), and still others contend that the two fields should clearly differentiate themselves by allocating legally related phenomena exclusively to criminology, leaving other forms of disapproved behavior to deviance studies (Bader et al.).

There are two main intellectual barriers to merging criminology with studies of deviance. First, some criminal behavior in some places (such as gambling) is not deviant, at least by most definitions of deviance, so would be subject to criminological study but not to study by students of deviance. The political processes that produce laws can result in behaviors being declared illegal although the conduct is not deviant by any definition except a legalistic one. How those political processes unfold and how enforcement might fare when illegality does not match social reality are of great importance to some criminologists. In addition, some behaviors are deviant at the time they become illegal but later become non-deviant without the law having been changed. Therefore, those intellectually opposed to merger might note that subsuming criminology under deviance studies would exclude some of the more interesting aspects of criminology.

A second intellectual obstacle to conceiving of crime and deviance as one subject matter hinges on disagreements about the nature of human behavior. Some criminologists and some students of deviance contend that all forms of behavior, including specific acts or types of crime or deviance, are more or less distinct, requiring unique explanations. By observing a plethora of differences, such as whether committed by males or females, blacks or whites, young or old, in some circumstances rather than others, whether legal or not, whether regarded as especially serious or not, whether violent or simply immoral, whether committed with planning or spontaneously, and the like, some conclude that specific behaviors have few similarities that would justify their being explained by the same theories. This orientation has generated a large number of explanations of specific behaviors, such as predatory crime (Braithwaite), common juvenile misdeeds (Hagan, 1989), embezzlement (Cressey), mental illness (Scheff), homicide by females (Ogle et al.), and many others.

Challengers, however, contend that various deviant behaviors are only superficially different because similar underlying causal processes operate in most if not all forms of deviance. They often use the analogy of focusing so closely on individual trees that the forest is overlooked. In addition, those who advocate general theory contend that it is necessary in order to achieve scientific goals of explanation and prediction based on assumptions about unity in nature; and that general theory is more parsimonious because specific accounts already overlap, often in unrecognized ways. The generalist orientation has led to a number of theories that aim to account for wide ranges of deviance in a variety of circumstances. These general accounts usually take one of two forms.

One form of general theorizing assumes a universal causal process that generates different forms of deviance under different conditions. The theories attempt to identify that causal process and specify the conditions under which it produces one form of deviance rather than another (some examples are: Akers; Gottfredson and Hirschi; Agnew; Tittle). A second approach to general theory assumes that different causal processes operate at different times and under different conditions. The theories merge several causal processes by specifying when or why one or another will come into play to produce a given form of deviance at a specific point in time or in a given circumstance (some examples are: Braithwaite; Conger and Simons; Elliott et al.; Thornberry).

The generalist orientation clearly implies that crime and deviance are one entity. However, no general theory has yet been generally accepted as better than specific, focused accounts. Therefore, debates concerning the intellectual benefits of general theory and the relative advantages of differentiating criminology and studies of deviance will continue.

The main barriers to conceptualizing deviance and crime as a single entity are not intellectual, however—they are ideological and practical. Criminologists claim a more central role in addressing issues of acute public concern and they position themselves more favorably to receive government funds for research and to offer useful advice for controlling crime. Indeed, criminology has traditionally been identified with practical concerns. In addition, because they regard many forms of deviant behavior that are not illegal as unworthy of serious attention, some criminologists resist identity as students of deviance. Finally, by focusing on illegal conduct and limiting themselves to modern, politically, and geographically demarcated societies, criminologists avoid some of the problems encountered by students of deviance who struggle to identify group boundaries, to measure opinions of group members, or to document disapproval of various behaviors. Students of deviance, on the other hand, often resist the idea that they are also criminologists, maintaining that criminological study is too narrowly focused on behaviors arbitrarily designated by simple acts of legislative bodies. By so limiting itself, criminology ignores a large domain of phenomena crucial for under-standing human behavior and social organization. Some students of deviance also regard criminology as a handmaiden of government, committed to preventing acts that are contrary to the interests of powerful groups who influence the content and enforcement of the criminal law.

Perhaps the major practical barrier to criminology and studies of deviant behavior becoming one subject matter is the tendency of criminologists to orient themselves concretely while students of deviance are relativistically oriented. Assuming that concepts of serious illegality are largely invariant across time and place (Wellford), most criminologists have focused on explanations of criminal behavior or its distribution, with only a minority showing concern with explaining variations in the law. Students of deviance, however, have traditionally emphasized variations in social attributions of deviance and have mainly tried to understand why something is or is not deviant in a given place and time, with only a minority being concerned with explaining behavior itself.

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almost 3 years ago

was a little helpful thanks

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almost 3 years ago

Kindly provide at least the author and Year of publication of this article; needed for citation purposes on a university report.

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about 3 years ago

THIS MATERIAL REGARDING CRIME AND DEVIENCE IS WRITTEN VERY INTERSTING USEFUL.

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about 3 years ago

female

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about 3 years ago

THIS MATERIAL REGARDING CRIME AND DEVIENCE IS WRITTEN VERY INTERSTING USEFUL.

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over 2 years ago

Very helpful ideas. Deviance from the norm is very different phenomena than total violate/ disregard from the law. It is rather more centralized around a pressing for new norms and a break from tradition. :)

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over 2 years ago

The text of this article is taken verbatim from Charles Tittle's Encyclopedia of Crime and Deviance (2002) piece found at .