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The Influence of Sociological Theories on Criminal Behavior, Capstone Project Example

Pages: 17

Words: 4762

Capstone Project

Introduction

The American Heritage Science Dictionary (n.d.) defines sociology as “The scientific study of human social behavior and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions.”

The Dictionary.com (n.d.) definition of sociology adds that social science also studies how human society functions and its fundamental laws regarding social relationships and institutions in the social world.

According to Mooney, Knox, & Schacht (2007), the study of sociology provides various theoretical perspectives on how people perceive and view the social world, and this allows for the accurate prediction and analysis of specific social behaviors such as criminal behavior. Three of the main theoretical perspectives in the field of sociology are the functionalist perspective, the conflict theory perspective and the interactionist perspective, and these theoretical perspectives explain various aspects of social human behavior (Mooney, Knox, & Schacht, 2007).

Additionally, these three theories offer in-depth insight into how human behavior is influenced by social forces, particularly as it relates to the social issue of crime and criminal behavior in society.

This essay evaluates the influence of the functionalist, conflict and interactionist perspectives on criminal behavior and its interconnectedness to society and social human behavior as a whole.

Annotated Bibliography

Birkbeck, C., & LaFree, G. (1993). The Situational Analysis of Crime and Deviance. Annual Review of Sociology, 19(1), 113-137.

The researchers for this reference piece studied how criminal behavior conforms to the interactionist view of crimes being situational in nature. The researchers did an analysis on how and why people who commit crimes do so based on what the condition of their lives are. It suggests that the excuse for committing crimes, in these instances, can be blamed on what the person has to go through in life.

The findings were gathered by researching case scenarios such as the affects of crimes committed in the home and its correlation to how many people are in the household, and whether or not the household is a lower class home. The study suggests that lower class homes with several children are more prone to domestic violence in the home, than are higher classes.

As it relates to the research question of this paper, the findings of these researchers did show that even though more crimes may be committed in lower class homes, they are still related to specific situations. Suggestions for future research include further analyzing family size and criminal behavior tendencies, but compare and contrast this with lower, middle and upper class families.

Ferrell, J. (1999). Cultural Criminology. Annual Review of Sociology. 25, pp. 395-418.

This researcher takes a look at several theories of sociology, including cultural studies and the interactionist view. The studies focus on controlling crime in society based on culture within society. The research also deals with the media’s role in crime control. Ferrell uses the term “cultural criminology” and deals with how mass media influences how crime is controlled in society.

The researchers used field work and media analysis to study the concept of cultural criminology and state that these techniques engage researchers with appropriate situations and subjects to study. The researchers find that cultural criminology is something that is reason for both panic and pleasure as people read about various criminal news stories in the media, because the media gives the stories a sort of entertainment factor.

Turner, J. H. (1975). Marx and Simmel Revisited: Reassessing the Foundations of Conflict Theory. Social Forces, 53(4), pp. 618-627.

These researchers examine the conflict theory perspective as it relates to crime in society. Their analyses deal with forms of social reality, social processes and social structures. Another key aspect of the research of Marx and Simmel is that it focuses on social change and contends that changing societies create conflicts within society. The research also points out that society changes within its social systems but with this constant change there is always conflicts of interests in society, and the researchers suggests that these conflicts of interests are what causes criminal behavior in society.

Marx and Simmel use propositions to analyze how conflicts arise in society and cause violence. Findings include the notion that organization in society can lessen violent crime and conflicts. Marx and Simmel’s proposition analysis technique are shown to qualify their analyses and show that different types of conflict in society have many different outcomes throughout the conflict process.

Williams, K.R. & Drake, S. (1980). Social Structure, Crime and Criminalization: An Empirical Examination of the Conflict Perspective. The Sociological Quarterly, 21(4) pp. 563-575. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106139

These researchers focus on how the middle and upper class groups in society dominate the lower class groups and focuses on analyzing these groups. Their view is that individual people are not so much to blame for specific types of crimes, but whole groups of people are. For example, just because someone is in a lower class family does not mean that person will be a criminal. However, as a whole, the researchers argue that the lower class population may have a higher percentage of individuals who will commit crimes.

Williams & Drake also focus on the conflict perspective of society which deals with force and coercion as means of controlling society. The results of the study show that laws are developed around what the upper class want and how they want to deal with criminals in society. The perception is that the more wealth and power someone has is an indicator of how well they will be treated in the justice system, as opposed to how those with no wealth and power will be treated in the system.

The researchers find that when lower class individuals are arrested, they are officially labeled as criminals as a group. The view of conflict theorists is discussed as it relates to economic inequality and criminal behavior tendencies, which focuses on how rules and laws are made and governed, and not so much on rule-breaking by the lower class.

Literature Review

As the title of this paper illustrates, the proposed research question is: Do sociological theories influence criminal behavior? This literature review addresses this question and the issues surrounding various cause and effect phenomena of criminal behavior and how it relates to sociological theories.

This literature review also gives an assessment of the methods of research and research tools used to conduct the review, based on four prevalent literature pieces used to compile this research paper. These literature pieces are Crime and Criminology by Susan Titus Reid, The Situational Analysis of Crime and Deviance by Christopher Birkbeck and Gary LaFree, Understanding Social Problems by Linda A. Mooney, David Knox and Caroline Schacht, and Delinquency in Society by Robert Regoli, John Hewitt, & Matt DeLisi.

Reid, S.T. (2011). Crime and Criminology. Oxford University Press, USA, 13th ed.

This literature piece deals with crime and society.

The research of Susan Titus Reid gives an in-depth look at crime and criminology as a societal fixture. This suggests that crime in society is inevitable and just a part of everyday life. Consequently, it is difficult to imagine a society absent of all crime. As Reid (2011) suggests, crime unfortunately is a natural part of the order of human interaction within society. Everyday there is something in the news about crimes people commit and how society deals with the criminals.

Criminology researches, studies and analyzes the criminal mentality and the types of individuals that develop criminal mentalities. The view is that the criminal mentality does not discriminate. The researcher points out that, although the criminal mentality is indiscriminate, the majority of crimes seem to be disproportionately committed by people below middle class status in society. This does not, however, negate the fact that crimes are committed by people from upper class families and statuses as well.

Sociological theories attempt to analyze the nature of crime, the criminal mentality, thought processes and the underlying reasons why certain individuals in society are more prone to criminal behavior than others.

Research findings from Reid (2011) show that society’s social structure contributes to different perspectives on criminal behavior which include a functional consensus approach and a conflict approach. It is also suggested that societal consensus values view criminal acts and crime as something that is supposed to happen in society. However, the conflict approach labels criminal behavior as arising from issues between conflicting groups in society, such as the conflict between those who make the laws and dominate the enforcement of laws (the upper, ruling class) and those who are perceived as being under the law (the working class). Reid (2011) makes no mention of an interactionist approach to crime in society; however, Birkbeck & LaFree (1993) explain how the interactionist approach influences criminal behavior in society.

Birkbeck, C., & LaFree, G. (1993). The Situational Analysis of Crime and Deviance.

Annual Review of Sociology, 19(1), 113-137.

This literature piece focuses on what drives criminal behavior.

Criminal behavior is a product of two separate conceptual events; one of crime and the other of criminality which determines a person’s tendency toward criminal behavior (Birkbeck & LaFree, 1993). This literature research analyzes the different criteria necessary for an individual to get to a point of committing crimes, which is the point when a person actually decides to follow through with committing a crime. The literature also suggests that some crimes still happen, even though a criminality mentality may not exist, because many crimes are committed in the heat of the moment or because of opportunity. Also motives for criminal acts are diverse and may involve calculated intent, revenge, self-defense or self-preservation. Consequently, Birkbeck & LaFree (1993) suggest that many crimes are committed as situational acts.

The research of the situational analysis of crime and deviant behavior is divided between experimental analysis (which is conducted by psychologists) and non-experimental analysis (which is conducted by sociologists).

The non-experimental research is where the interactionist approach is used, because this part of the research is based on the symbolic interaction theory, also known as the opportunity theory. The belief here is that people use symbols to interact with the world they live in, and sometimes this means that a certain individual who may not have a propensity toward criminal behavior, may be enticed to commit a crime if given the opportunity. For example, this type of individual may walk by a car and see a laptop on the seat but will not break the window to get it. However, that same individual may be tempted to take the laptop if he or she knows that the car door is unlocked.

The research concludes with an assessment of what drives criminal behavior as it relates to the experimental and non-experimental research findings, and suggestions for further research are noted.

Mooney, L.A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2007). Understanding Social Problems. Thompson/Wadsworth, 5th ed.

These researchers point out that there are two main elements that influence criminal behavior as a social problem. These two elements are objective and subjective elements.

The researchers suggest that crime and criminal acts need to be viewed objectively as social conditions. Also, social conditions are everywhere. People experience social conditions or perhaps something in the media makes people aware of different social conditions such as a rise in unemployment, or information about a mass shooting, or perhaps a major corporation shuts it doors.

The researchers also suggest that the social problems can be viewed subjectively when it pertains to perceiving social conditions as dangerous to society and that these conditions need to be eliminated.

To develop their findings the researchers studied dependent and independent variables to formulate their hypotheses. This technique was instrumental in studying social problems in society. The researchers then used various data collection techniques such as experiments, field research, interviews and surveys.

Regoli, R., Hewitt, J., & DeLisi, M. (2009). Delinquency in Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 8th ed.

This literature piece analyzes various theories of why criminal delinquency exists in society. This analysis includes evaluations of choice, biological, psychological, developmental and sociological theories. There is emphasis on the sociological theory to include cultural, stress, social control, labeling and conflict related issues affecting criminal behavior in society. As it relates to the title of this research, Sociological Theories and Criminal Behavior, the conflict theory is highlighted.

Researchers of this literature piece used delinquency mapping as a form of illustrating how capitalism ultimately leads to the criminal behavior of lower class citizens of society (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi (2009). This mapping shows an accelerated view of the capitalism-to-criminal behavior process which is described as beginning with a person’s lot in life which determines a person’s interests and values. The continuation of the process involves the notion that different people with different backgrounds are part of different classes in society, and these differences contribute to how groups are formed in society. Laws are then created to combat conflict between the different groups. The dominant, upper class groups control the economic and political activities of society and determine how crimes are punished. This situational aspect of society is perceived as the haves of society controlling the have-nots of society, because the have-nots are commonly perceived as a group of people who are prone to committing criminal acts.

Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi (2009), also analyze how adolescents, who grow up in lower class environments, are more likely to suffer alienation at home and school, and this in turn, leaves them more susceptible to becoming juveniles by developing criminality mentalities, particularly because they may join with other groups of adolescents from the same type of environments. So this approach suggests that the tendency for criminal behavior is developed early in life for those who are prone to developing it.

This research moves along with the evaluation that many crimes are committed for want of luxuries instead of mere survival. This means that people commit criminal acts because they want something they do not have or they commit violent acts against those that have something they want, whether that is money, cars, homes, health, happiness, wealth, peace, family, or any other good things. However, much criminal behavior is driven by insanity or has some type of drug-related origin.

Theoretical Foundations

Theoretical foundations that explain societal behaviors and causative implications of various behaviors are rooted in the three sociological perspectives of functionalism, conflict, and interactionism. These foundations are integral in evaluating and understanding criminal behavior in organized societies.

The Functionalist Perspective and Criminal Behavior

In a sociological context, the functionalist perspective explains how society is made up of various interrelated parts that adapt to form a coordinated structural system. This structural system is made up of social norms, social customs, social traditions, social institutions and social laws. Each part of society contributes to how society functions as a whole (Princeton.edu, n.d.). The findings of Herbert Spencer, a prominent Sociologist of the 19th century, suggest that the various parts of society are in-kind to the different parts of the human body. This analogy suggests that all parts of society are important factors for a successfully functioning society, as it is with the human body that each part is integral to keeping the body functioning properly (Princeton.edu, n.d.).

In terms of its influence on criminal behavior in society, the functionalist perspective allows a society to create a common consensus on how to control this type of behavior, in order to keep it from threatening the cohesiveness of how society functions.

The Conflict Theory Perspective and Criminal Behavior

In contrast to the functionalist perspective of society operating by a consensus of functionally cohesive institutional values, the conflict theory perspective argues that “society is held together by force, coercion, and intimidation” (Regoli, Hewitt, & DeLisi, 2009, p. 235). Different groups of people in society have different values, and this discrepancy in values creates conflict in society, mainly because of competition and power struggles between the haves and have-nots of society.

According to Regoli, Hewitt & DeLisi (2009), the conflict theory perspective suggests that criminal behavior in society occurs when conflicts arise, because the perception is that laws are in place to protect the haves from the have-nots. If fact, “law and its enforcement are tools of the powerful, designed to protect their own economic interests” (Regoli, Hewitt & DeLisi, 2009, p. 235). This suggests that laws are in place for the rich, dominant class to control the working class and that crime is a manifestation of the effects caused by a working class with lowered morals. The conflict theory perspective explains that society causes stressed situations such as high levels of unemployment or low paying jobs among the working class, which leads to the demoralization of certain working class or lower class people, which then leaves them susceptible to developing a criminal mentality. The conflict is in social class division, leaving the lower class divided against the middle and upper class of society.

Interactionist Perspective and Criminal Behavior

The Interactionist perspective contends that people in society use symbolism to interact with each other. People interpret the world based on what they perceive as meaningful and valuable to them. This suggests that social realty is based on value perceptions that are expressed by experiences people create through interaction with the world around them (Tower, Rowe, & Wallis, 2012).

As it relates to criminal behavior, interactionists view crime and criminal behavior as being largely situational (Birkbeck & LaFree, 1993). It is further explained that this means that when humans take action on anything those actions happen in situational settings and that the individual needs to be taken into account, when considering criminal behavior, and not just certain groups of individuals. People deal or cope with situations in different ways and they interpret situations based on how they see them, and this guides behavior. The interactionist views “emphasize that situations are given meaning only through the subjective experiences of actors” (Birkbeck & LaFree, 1993, p. 119), and that all people are not to be treated and assessed in a neutral context. This basically states that each person’s personal experiences are subjective and symbolic, and this is a precursor to developed behavior patterns including criminal behavior patterns.

Methodology and Research Methods

Methods

The methodology used for this paper covers research methods based on theory and gives information on how to view criminal behavior in society, as it relates to each of three areas of sociological theory (functionalism, conflict and interactionism). The research is also investigative of the social world in which we live and how criminal behavior is assessed and treated within society.

The research process is also shaped from the methodology and research methods used in an attempt to ascertain the most likely reasons people in societies commit criminal acts.

The methodology and research methods chosen for this paper stem from the basic theoretical foundation for this paper, and how the direction for the paper was chosen. This is explained for the purpose of positioning the research as a piece of a much broader discussion for the field of sociological theories.

There are significant connections between the sociological theories and literature outlined in this research and the subject question of:  Do sociological theories influence criminal behavior?

My methodology and research methods require gathering data that is significant for the subject of sociological theories. This data was gathered from my research in academic databases such as EBSCOhost and Jstor. These databases were instrumental in allowing me to research the subject matter, find relevant documented sources and analyze the material to develop an adequate compilation of research materials for this research paper.

Research Questions Answered

To answer the research question, noted above, I have used pertinent analyses of scholarly and Internet researched data to point out significant findings in the area of sociological influences in crime, criminality and criminal behavior.

Various viewpoints and theories arise regarding this concept as follows: a) Is criminal behavior taught or are criminally-prone individuals victims of their environments and situations? b) Are common societal structures to blame for driving people to commit criminal acts? c) Is it accurate to assume that lower class individuals are more susceptible to criminal behavior? d) Is group social class an indicator of future criminal behavior trends among certain groups of individuals? e) Do the upper class commit an equal number of crimes, including violent crimes? f) To what extent is the criminal justice system fair and equitable as it relates to dealing with the haves and have-nots of society?

The answers to these questions were sought in the theoretical foundations of three sociological theories. These theories are the functionalist theory, the conflict theory and the interactionist theory. Describing and explaining the underlying causes of criminal behavior in society is addressed from the research materials used.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

My research methods are mainly of a quantitative nature; however, research methods and data collection methods used by the researchers of the data for this paper utilized both quantitative and qualitative data, including interviews and observations.

Research Process

The process of research for this paper includes deductive processes and cause and effect analyses, in order to accurately predict and explain the concepts and indications behind how sociological theories influence criminal behavior. This is an attempt to understand which one, or all, of the three theories is responsible for crime in society and how it is dealt with.

Research Aims

Research aims for this paper are to highlight societal influences in the causes of criminal behavior, to possibly find a way to create social change, and to highlight possible social injustices against class, race or gender, as it relates to criminality and criminal behavior. Social structure is also evaluated in these research findings and what role social, familial or group oppression may play in crime in society. The importance of digging beneath the surface of criminal behavior issues is addressed and how policies and laws impact these issues.

My research included analyzing content data and case studies conducted by the researchers in my data choices, and this outlined the theories, values and ethics used to compile information about the subject of sociological theories and criminal behavior in society.

Research Limitations

My research limitations include limited time and limited resources. If time and resources would have allowed, personal interviews may have been conducted for my own first hand knowledge of the subject matter.

Anticipated Findings

Anticipated findings of this research answers the research question: Do sociological theories impact criminal behavior?

The answer to this question is explained in three results based on the three sociological theories of functionalism, conflict and interactionism as follows.

How Functionalism Answers the Research Question

The functionalist approach views society as a consensus and a system of structured parts that include social norms, customs, traditions, institutions and laws. According to functionalists, each of these parts is significant to how society functions (Princeton.edu, n.d.).

The research findings of Reid (2011) show possible results of a functionalist society by analyzing case studies dealing with children who commit violent crimes. One of these case studies involves a young man by the name of Lionel Tate who was 12 years old at the time of his crime. He killed a 6-year-old child by beating her to death. Tate was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder. His sentence was life in prison without parole. In the midst of the trial, his mother had rejected a plea bargain that would have only put him away for three years in a juvenile detention center. Tate’s sentence was later reversed on the grounds that he may not have been old enough to understand the charges against him. He was given a new trial and offered the plea bargain again, which he accepted, and was released into his mother’s custody. Under this custody, Tate was to be on house arrest for one year and 10 years probation. This is an example of how the functionalist approach deals with criminals in that a consensus of law was reached each time there was a decision to be made about Tate’s fate.

However, the results of this particular case study prove that the approach was ineffective in deterring or preventing Tate from committing other criminal acts. Reid (2011) reports that after Tate’s last sentence, he subsequently went on to violate his probation and commit more crimes to include robbery and weapons possession. He ended up being sentenced to serving 40 years in prison on various charges.

How Conflict Answers the Research Question

Regoli, Hewitt & DeLisi (2009), explains the conflict theory as the cause of criminal behavior in society, due to laws being put in place to protect middle and upper class society from the lower class.

Part of the conflict theory suggests that the dominant, upper class uses laws to control the working class, because the working class is perceived as the ones who commit most of the crimes in society.

The findings of Williams & Drake (1980) analyze how dominant groups of society relate to subordinate groups of society and conclude that appropriate research aims at analyzing these groups as units and not individuals. Williams & Drake (1980) use a case study which compared economic inequality with coercive control, because coercion is a form of conflict in society (Regoli, Hewitt & DeLisi, 2009). The analysis includes indicating that imprisonment, deadly force by law enforcement and police strength are forms of coercion in society to gain and maintain control.

The results of the study found that societal law catered to the preferences of the dominant class, the more inequalities existed in economic power and resources in society.

How Interactionism Answers the Research Question

According to the interactionist view, criminal behavior is a product of individual situations (Birkbeck & LaFree, 1993). This view contends that people commit crimes based on specific situations they may be in at the time. Unlike with the conflict approach that suggests groups of people need to be considered as it relates to criminal activity, the interactionist approach suggests that the individual needs to be considered when dealing with criminal behavior tendencies.

Birkbeck & LaFree (1993) report that researchers deal with objective and subjective aspects of situations to produce units of analyses that are easily compared. Additionally, the researchers explore various individual stimuli that collectively contribute to criminal behavior in society. Birkbeck & LaFree (1993) report on a case study with findings that spousal and parental domestic violence in the home is directly related to the number of children in the home. This is an example of an environmental stimulus creating a situation for criminal behavior to occur. The researchers point out that exploring both situations and environments is instrumental in accurately analyzing their joint effects on criminal behavior. This is because environmental factors are inclusive and can create situations that influence an individual’s mentality toward crime. Therefore, the situation of many children in the home, coupled with other stress stimuli can lead to the criminal acts of parental and spousal violence in the home.

The study concludes that more children in a home often leads to higher rates of violence in the home; however, it is still related to specific situations such as conflicts over how children should behave in the home. The results of this research are proof that situational conditions do, indeed, affect criminal behavior.

Conclusion

As findings of this paper show, it is evident that criminal behavior issues in society are directly related to the three sociological theories of functionalism, conflict and interactionism. Social human behavior encompasses how people interact with each other and the world around them. Sociology studies these behaviors as well as the science behind how the collective behavior of organized groups of human beings, or individuals, develop in a structured society (Sociology, 2012).

Implications of the proposed research in this paper show that criminal behavior in society is a complex mechanism that is also very diverse. Sociological theories give insight into how criminal behavior in society is caused, approached and dealt with in different ways. The functionalist approach deals with crime in society through a consensus method. The conflict approach in society deals with crime by the use of force and the interactionist approach contends that criminal behavior is situational, in nature, and uses appropriate means of controlling it.

All in all, the answer to the research question: Do sociological theories influence criminal behavior? – is yes.

References

Birkbeck, C., & LaFree, G. (1993). The Situational Analysis of Crime and Deviance. Annual Review of Sociology, 19(1), 113-137.

Ferrell, J. (1999). Cultural Criminology. Annual Review of Sociology. 25, pp. 395-418.

Mooney, L.A., Knox, D., & Schacht, C. (2007). Understanding Social Problems. Thompson/Wadsworth, 5th ed.

Princeton.edu. (2012). Functionalism (sociology). Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Functionalism_(sociology).html

Regoli, R., Hewitt, J., & DeLisi, M. (2009). Delinquency in Society. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, 8th ed.

Reid, S.T. (2011). Crime and Criminology. Oxford University Press, USA, 13th ed. Retrieved from http://www.us.oup.com/us/pdf/reid/Reid_Chapter5.pdf

http://www.oup.com/us/pdf/reid/Reid_Chapter6.pdf

Sociology. (n.d.). Dictionary.com. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sociology

Sociology. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Science Dictionary. Dictionary.com. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sociology

Tower, M., Rowe, J., & Wallis, M. (2012). Investigating patients’ experiences: methodological usefulness of interpretive interactionism. Nurse Researcher. 20(1), pp. 39-44.

Turner, J. H. (1975). Marx and Simmel Revisited: Reassessing the Foundations of Conflict Theory. Social Forces, 53(4), pp. 618-627.

Williams, K.R. & Drake, S. (1980). Social Structure, Crime and Criminalization: An Empirical Examination of the Conflict Perspective. The Sociological Quarterly 21(4) pp. 563-575. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4106139

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