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Sociology And Criminology

During the twentieth century, the sociological approach to criminology became the most influential approach. Sociology is the study of social behavior, systems, and structures. In relation to criminology, it may be divided into social-structural and social-process approaches.

Social-Structural Criminology Social-structural approaches to criminology examine the way in which social situations and structures influence or relate to criminal behavior. An early example of this approach, the ecological school of criminology, was developed in the 1920s and 1930s at the University of Chicago. It seeks to explain crime's relationship to social and environmental change. For example, it attempts to describe why certain areas of a city will have a tendency to attract crime and also have less-vigorous police enforcement. Researchers have found that urban areas in transition from residential to business uses are most often targeted by criminals. Such communities often have disorganized social networks that foster a weaker sense of social standards.

Another social-structural approach is the conflict school of criminology. It traces its roots to Marxist theories that saw crime as ultimately a product of conflict between different classes under the system of capitalism. Criminology conflict theory suggests that the laws of society emerge out of conflict rather than out of consensus. It holds that laws are made by the group that is in power, to control those who are not in power. Conflict theorists propose, as do other theorists, that those who commit crimes are not fundamentally different from the rest of the population. They call the idea that society may be clearly divided into criminals and noncriminals a dualistic fallacy, or a misguided notion. These theorists maintain, instead, that the determination of whether someone is a criminal or not often depends on the way society reacts to those who deviate from accepted norms. Many conflict theorists and others argue that minorities and poor people are more quickly labeled as criminals than are members of the majority and wealthy individuals.

Critical criminology, also called radical criminology, shares with conflict criminology a debt to Marxism. It came into prominence in the early 1970s and attempted to explain contemporary social upheavals. Critical criminology relies on economic explanations of behavior and argues that economic and social inequalities cause criminal behavior. It focuses less on the study of individual criminals, and advances the belief that existing crime cannot be eliminated within the capitalist system. It also asserts, like the conflict school, that law has an inherent bias in favor of the upper or ruling class, and that the state and its legal system exist to advance the interests of the ruling class. Critical criminologists argue that corporate, political, and environmental crime are underreported and inadequately addressed in the current criminal justice system.

Feminist criminology emphasizes the subordinate position of women in society. According to feminist criminologists, women remain in a position of inferiority that has not been fully rectified by changes in the law during the late twentieth century. Feminist criminology also explores the ways in which women's criminal behavior is related to their objectification as commodities in the sex industry.

Others using the social-structural approach have studied GANGS, juvenile delinquency, and the relationship between family structure and criminal behavior.

Social-Process Criminology Social-process criminology theories attempt to explain how people become criminals. These theories developed through recognition of the fact that not all people who are exposed to the same social-structural conditions become criminals. They focus on criminal behavior as learned behavior.

Edwin H. Sutherland (1883–1950), a U.S. sociologist and criminologist who first presented his ideas in the 1920s and 1930s, advanced the theory of differential association to explain criminal behavior. He emphasized that criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others, usually in small groups, and that criminals learn to favor criminal behavior over noncriminal behavior through association with both forms of behavior in different degrees. As Sutherland wrote, "When persons become criminal, they do so because of contacts with criminal patterns and also because of isolation from anticriminal patterns." Although his theory has been greatly influential, Sutherland himself admitted that it did not satisfactorily explain all criminal behavior. Later theorists have modified his approach in an attempt to correct its shortcomings.

Control theory, developed in the 1960s and 1970s, attempts to explain ways to train people to engage in law-abiding behavior. Although there are different approaches within control theory, they share the view that humans require nurturing in order to develop attachments or bonds to people and that personal bonds are key in producing internal controls such as conscience and guilt and external controls such as shame. According to this view, crime is the result of insufficient attachment and commitment to others.

Walter C. Reckless developed one version of control theory, called containment. He argued that a combination of internal psychological containments and external social containments prevents people from deviating from social norms. In simple communities, social pressure to conform to community standards, usually enforced by social ostracism, was sufficient to control behavior. As societies became more complex, internal containments played a more crucial role in determining whether people behaved according to public laws. Furthermore, containment theorists have found that internal containments require a positive self-image. All too often, a sense of alienation from society and its norms forms in modern individuals, who, as a result, do not develop internal containment mechanisms.

The sociologist Travis Hirschi has developed his own control theory that attempts to explain conforming, or lawful, rather than deviant, or unlawful, behavior. He stresses the importance of the individual's bond to society in determining conforming behavior. His research has found that socioeconomic class has little to do with determining delinquent behavior, and that young people who are not very attached to their parents or to school are more likely to be delinquent than those who are strongly attached. He also found that youths who have a strongly positive view of their own accomplishments are more likely to view society's laws as valid constraints on their behavior.

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