The argument has a political (right vs. left wing) and scientific dimension.
The classic approach could be considered to directly relate to governing whilst the scientific approach is directly linked to Lombroso.
- Started with the enlightenment period which took place during the early industrialisation of Europe, the French Revolution and later, the American Revolution.
During this time the ideas of Cesare Beccaria were influential:
- the power of the monarchy declined
- human rights increased
- freedom increased
- reason was prized over superstition
- Free will was seen as vital
The idea of the social contract also became ubiquitous: that free rational individuals sacrifice part of their freedom so it maintains peace and security.
Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham utilised a ‘hedonistic calculus’ to argue that individuals used a cost benefit analysis between pain and pleasure. Therefore, most people don’t commit crime if the pain will clearly outweigh the pleasure. The action is right if it creates happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it.
- Cannot assume humans are the same – study the actor not the act
- Imitate the natural science approach
- Subconscious, biological, physiological, stats etc.
- Focus on medical treatment of crime
- Criminals born criminal
E.G Lombroso – profiling according to head size, extra nipples etc.!
How do these ideas link to the beliefs in society topic?
The enlightenment is a key period in social history because it was perhaps the first time the hegemonic status quo was challenged by an organised group of intellectuals which then spread to the public consciousness. One of the reasons some countries in Europe are considered to be more secular is because they experienced the enlightenment. On the other hand, the USA didn’t which has therefore has lead to greater levels of religiosity.
How do these ideas link to the crime and deviance topic?
The classical approach is still very influential particularly upon neo-liberalism (a common ideology throughout the world) which views individuals as rational actors therefore when they commit a crime, they need to be punished fully. The right wing press are an influential part of this ideology. This is very different to the left wing approach which tends to look at wider social factors such as social class.
It could also be argued that there is a subconscious observance to the positivist approach – perhaps legal professionals follow what Cicourel labels the ‘typical deviant’ – someone who might look too dissimilar to the criminal types identified by Lombroso.
Here are the headline findings from Gary Younge’s article on ‘knife crime’:
Knife carrying on the rise?
- Between 2014 and 2016 the number of children carrying knives in London schools rose by almost 50%, while the number of knife offences in London schools rose by 26% (Metropolitan police 2017).
- Centre for Public Safety: In London, ‘the number of victims of youth violence and knife crime injuries have been on a steady if fairly gradual upward trend, and are now back to where they were five years ago‘.
‘Knife crime’ in the news
- The term ‘knife crime’ has only recently entered popular use:
- 2000 – only mention of knife crime in national press and London Evening Standard
- 2003 – 24 mentions
- 2008 – 2,602 mentions
- Post 2008 – huge decrease in mentions
Why does this matter?
- ‘These statistics bear only the vaguest correlation to the frequency of knife crime – which peaked in 2011, by which time the media had begun to lose interest’.
Why is the reporting so far from the truth?
- ‘National data on the number of children and teens killed by knives in any given year is not publicly available’.
Ignorance isn’t bliss
- ‘As a nation we are conscious that there is something out there known as “knife crime”, but as yet we lack any coherent or enduring national response‘.
- ‘Without accessible official data, or well-informed discussion, our understanding of the problem is cobbled together from a mixture of personal assumptions, media representation and political projection’.
Knife crime as a social construct
- ‘Knife crime” is a construct. It does not simply mean, as one might reasonably expect, crimes committed with knives. It denotes a certain type of crime committed by a certain type of criminal in a certain kind of context: It is a crime committed by evil kids – not kids who do evil things, but kids who are quite simply evil’.
Young black male thugs?
- Youth Justice Board research of 32 London boroughs, illustrated that when other relevant social and economic factors were taken into account, race and ethnicity had no significance at all. Crime is more prevalent in poor areas, and since black people are disproportionately poor, they are disproportionately affected – as perpetrators and victims. It’s class – not race or culture – that is the defining issue.
- Ministry of Justice: the number of young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time nationwide is at the lowest rate for a decade.
- The proportion of children who say they have tried drugs halved between 2001 and 2014 and those between the age of 11 and 15 who had tried alcohol is now at its lowest since the National Health Service started asking in 1988.
- The Metropolitan police last year revealed that the overwhelming majority of children and young people who carry knives are not gang members. Many are just scared and carry them for protection.
- ‘Take the construct as a whole and you have the ingredients for a tabloid-induced moral panic, in which young black men, who reside outside our basic moral norms, roam crime-infested, hostile cities in pursuit of hapless victims’.
- According to a recent Unison report, between 2010 and 2016 £387m was slashed from youth services; between 2012 and 2016 a total of 603 youth clubs were closed.
- Last year, research by the thinktank CentreForum revealed that these mental health services turn away, on average, 23% of the children referred to them for treatment by GPs, teachers and others.
Discuss how far sociologists would agree that the main causes of riots is poverty. (12 marks)
- Please write your answer on A4 lined paper.
- You should only spend a maximum of 12 minutes writing the answer. Feel free to plan it first.
- Suggested structure:
- Introduction – define riots; where have they taken place; identify the complexity of reasons
- Paragraph 1 – agree with the statement and explain why poverty might help cause riots; give examples and use Marxism to support your argument
- Paragraph 2 – disagree and give an alternative reason. For example, you might utilise the New Right and argue that because most of the London rioters were teenage males, there has been a breakdown in parenting and discipline (by schools and police)
- Paragraph 3 – disagree with poverty being the only cause and give an alternative reason – Bauman blames consumerism and the resultant relative deprivation for example
- Paragraph 4 – disagree with poverty being the only cause and give an alternative reason – for example, you might discuss the breakdown in community in many places, ethnic division or perhaps unfair policing
- Conclude – which are the most important causes? Why are riots likely to take place again in the UK and the USA? Why don’t most people riot?
Choose a modern riot (from the last 50 years) and find out:
-Long term causes
-Short term causes
Please present in a poster format – add images and make it eye catching.
I can highly recommend the documentary, ‘The House I Live In’ which I watched on Netflix recently. It explore the “war on drugs” in the U.S.A in a critical and thoughtful manner and is full of useful information for your upcoming exams…