Social Construction – Crime and Deviance

Lesson objectiveTo explore how crime is socially constructed
Lesson outcomes• To assess how crime and deviance are interrelated
• To explain this in more depth
• Describe the ways that crimes are socially constructed

The social construction of crime

Newburn (2007), suggests that crime is a label attached to behaviour which is prohibited by the state, and has some legal penalty against it. An act only becomes criminalised when the result leads to the involvement of law enforcement agencies.

Postmodernists claim that this construction is fluid. What we, as society, consider a crime changes of time e.g. In the 1950 Alan Turing, one of the greatest minds of the 20th century was sentenced for being a homosexual despite breaking the German Enigma code in WW2 saving millions of lives. ​

The social construction of deviance

Deviance includes both criminal and non-criminal acts, but it is quite difficult to pin down what members of any society or group actually regard as deviant behaviour. Downes and Rock (2007), suggest that ambiguity is a key feature of rule-breaking, as people are frequently unsure whether a particular episode is truly deviant or what deviance is.

Plummer (1979), discusses two aspects of defining deviance, using the concepts of society deviance and situational deviance.

  • Societal deviance – acts that most members of a society regard as deviant because they share similar ideas about approved and unapproved behaviour.
  • Situation deviance – acts where whether or not they are seen as deviant depends on the context or location in which they take place. There are usually five ways this can occur:

1) Non- deviant crimes. E.g. parking and speeding. Because many people commit these crimes they are seen more as bad mannered than deviant.

2) The time, as the examples demonstrates above, in 1950 it was illegal to be homosexual, however, today is isn’t.

3) The society or culture. Deviance is culturally relative meaning its definition changes from country to country. E.g. in 2018, women could drive in Saudi Arabia, before then, it was illegal.

4) The social group. Smoking cannabis may be acceptable among younger members of society, but not older.

5) The place or context. E.g. Having sex in your bedroom is fine, but not in a shopping mall.

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