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Essential Criminology, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1704

Research Paper

Criminology is generally the study of crime, criminals, and victims (Lanier, & Henry, 1998). Crime involves a variety of misdeeds; these can be through political corruption, corporate fraud, employee theft, and small offenses committed by ordinary Americans. Criminology is not only defined by a particular unit of social reality, but by its substantive concern, which is crime (Carrabine, Iganski, Lee, Plummer, & South, 2004). To criminologists, the scope of crime is much vaster than what media shows through their coverage of inner-city gang violence, bank heists, car-jacking, workplace homicides, and drug abuse.

Criminology is not just the study of the nature of such harmful behaviors, but it also explains causes and systematic practices which produce patterns of harm in a spectrum of social contexts (Lanier, & Henry, 1998). It is a discipline used by practitioners, policymakers and academics. However, these people can have very different disciplinary concerns which can range from psychiatry to sociology (Carrabine, et. al., 2004). There are different ways to characterize this multifaceted discipline. Today, there are different perspectives of looking at crime or criminal behavior. However, there is a common thread which leads us to the construction of this “criminological” knowledge and how we go about defining this type of behavior (Walklate, 2007).

Criminology has been said to have been rooted in modern ideas (Carrabine, et. al., 2004). This term “modern” refers to features of social and cultural life which has been related to the social structural process. According to Walklate (2007) it is the belief in the power of reason, as well as the reasoning capacities of men which had a powerful effect that other beliefs were influenced by society, and can be evaluated that way. In its simplest form, criminology can be defined as the systematic study of the cause, nature, extent and control of law-breaking behavior. It is an applied social science which is used so that criminologists have knowledge about crime and it is based on empirical research (Lanier, & Henry, 1998).

There are several theories under criminology, and they are all based on different assumptions of why crime is committed and/or why criminals behave the way they do. For the purpose of this paper, five out of the numerous theories in criminology will be discussed. The theories are as follows: 1.) Classical and Neoclassical, 2.) Positivist, 3.) Social Disorganization, 4.) Cultural, and 5.) Constitutive theories.

The classical theory of criminology was in existence before modern criminology started to search for the cause of crime. This theory did not seek to explain why law-breakers behaved the way they do, it was a strategy for administering justice in accordance to rational principles (Lanier, & Henry, 1998). Crime is said to occur when people pursue self-interest without considering effective punishments; this is when law-breakers believe that the benefits of their crime will outweigh the costs. Crime is believed to be a free-willed choice by individuals. There is an underlying assumption in this theory that humans are rational, calculating and hedonistic beings. To deter crime using this theory, if the costs are raised – more effort is required or punishment is more severe. The information about these costs and benefits of crime are believed to be obtained through direct experiences with punishment (Lanier, & Henry, 1998).

With the positivist theory, crime is determined or caused by biological deficiencies in an individual. As later scholars suggested it was caused or determined psychological and sociological factors. Science is used to determine factors which are associated with crime (Cohn, Farrington, & Wright, 1998). The approach of the positivist theory is to study the criminal. This was done through accurate observations of human features which demanded rigorous methods. According to Cohn, Farrington and Wright (1998) the positivist theory of criminology is the application of the scientific method in order to study the biological, psychological, and social characteristics of the criminal. This included detailed observations, experimentation and the use of controlled samples.

The social disorganization theory believes that disorganized communities cause crimes because of informal social control. This is when social control breaks down and criminal cultures emerge. It is the lack of efficacy to fight crime and disorder. The concept of this theory is concerned with understanding the social ecology of a certain city (Cohn, et. al., 1998). Social ecologists drew parallels between how they believed living organisms maintained themselves and the maintenance of their social lives. This meant that in order to determine patterns of criminal behavior, theorists tried to understand patterns in the growth and development of the city. This theory was the first theory to consider the social origins of criminal behavior, as opposed to the individual’s roots of crime (Cohn, et. al., 1998).

Cultural criminology attempts to integrate cultural studies with the fields of criminology. Insights of cultural studies are infused with contemporary criminology. This is done through examining mediated networks in which cultural criminologists trace the interactions through which criminals, control agents, the media, or others in general construct the meaning of crime (Ferrell, 1999). This symbolic interaction is elaborated by highlighting the prevalence of mediated crime imagery. Crime and the criminal take political meaning. The understandings of crime and crime control are seen through social and political constructions. This makes crime very sensitive to mass media. By utilizing these perspectives of crime and criminology, the politics of crime is unraveled as played out through mediated anti-crime campaigns (Ferrell, 1999).

Constitutive criminology is based on the postmodernist concepts of critical criminology. This is when there is an inequality between power and material well-being, and thus resulting in conditions which lead to street crime as well as corporate crime. According to Henry and Milovanocic (2000) crime is the power to deny others their ability to make a difference. This theory assumes that capitalism and market economy are especially prone to crime because it creates a vast inequality. This inequality impoverishes many and it provides opportunities for the powerful to exploit those below them (Henry, & Milovanovic, 2000). According to constitutive criminologists, a major source of crime comes from the nature of its power structure. This is due to unequal power relations which are built on the constructions of difference. In this theory, crime is defined as the harm resulting from individuals who invest energy in inequality and harm-producing relations of power. Simply put, crimes are nothing less than people being disrespected (Henry, & Milovanovic, 2000).

All five theories differ in terms of belief, however all of them have one objective and goal; this is to define crime in their own areas of study. The classical as well as the positive theories both believe that crime and criminal behavior can be justified by the individual. Though they present different perspectives on how to describe crime, or how crime is started, their focus is on the same aspect: the criminal. The classical theory believes that people are generally free-willed and they are accountable for their own actions, whilst the positivist theory has a more scientific approach. This is where criminal behavior is justified through psychological defects in an individual, that the criminal may not have the free-willed choice as the classical theory suggests.

Social disorganization, cultural and constitutive theories all focus on aspects outside the individual. They believe that crimes are committed due to external aspects of the law-breaker, and these conditions cause the individual to commit crime. Social disorganization, like the positivist theory suggests a more scientific approach. However, their focus is on a different subject where one is the individual, the other is the environment. The cultural theory believes in social constructivism, that crime can be defined according to how it is conceived by society, the media in particular. This is the theory which sees crime in its political aspects. This is where crime is seen as a construction, whilst the constitutive theory believes that crime is related to power and shows Marxist characteristics in its beliefs. Crime is not defined by how society perceives it, nor can it be traced by the patterns of the environment, it is caused by the oppression of people by those who are in power or in control.

The research methods in criminology are done through criminal profiling; this is where the scientific method and critical thinking is used. The scientific method of research is conducted to investigate why something works the way it does. Other questions such as how something happened, or why it happened can be investigated through the development of hypotheses; this is verified by testing or other means (Turvey, 2002). The scientific method is structured around a process which is designed to build scientific knowledge by answering specific questions about observations. This is done with the help of critical thinking, this is where indiscriminate questioning of all evidences and assumptions, no matter what the source, is used. The scientific method of research is generally the particular approach to knowledge building and problem solving by scientists of every kind, including criminologists (Turvey, 2002).

Criminology has many different aspects. It is more complicated than what media portrays it to be in shows of criminal investigation and criminal behavior. There are many different ways of looking at crime and the criminal, however there is no one right way to define the two. Some theories believe that it is the crime which is the problem, and some believe the genesis is from the criminal, whilst others think its society that we should blame. There are still many studies and theories on criminology, all intertwining yet differing in beliefs and assumptions. However, despite the numerous theories already present, there is still much to learn about criminology and many more theories to be developed throughout the years to help criminologists prevent crime and / or punish the law-breakers.

References

Lanier, M.M, & Henry, S. (1998). Essential criminology. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Turvey, B.E. (2002). Criminal profiling: an introduction to behavioral evidence analysis, 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Ferrell, J. (1999). Cultural Criminology. Annual Review of Sociology, 395(1).

Henry, S., & Milovanovic, D. (2000). Constitutive criminology: origins, core concepts, and evaluations. Social Justice, 27(2), 268.

Cohn, E.G., Farrington, D.P., & Wright, R.A. (1998). Evaluating criminology and criminal justice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Carrabine, E., Iganski, P., Lee, M., Plummer, K., & South, N. (2004). Criminology: a social introduction. New York: Routledge.

Walklate, S. (2007). Understanding criminology: current theoretical debates. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.

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