To understand social life and human behavior, one must look beyond common sense and individualistic judgment and instead focus on society as a whole. A sociological perspective is an approach that offers a simple way of looking at human behavior and issues in the society at a larger scope. Social issues such as crime are problems that affect the wellbeing of a considerable amount of people within the same society that is beyond the control of the individual person. Such deviant behaviors are influenced to different levels by the institutional structures, social inequality, stratification, demographic shifts, cultural beliefs and norms of the society.
Any deviant behavior that disrupts and violates the prevailing standards of social norms and uprightness is perceived as a crime. These behaviors range from robbery, burglary, fraud, murder, car hijacking, embezzlement and fraud, assault, arson, rape, and false pretenses and are looked down upon by the society (Cote 44). Crime is an integrated aspect of social processes as opposed to being an outlawed subset of social activity. The behavior of one particular individual is not created in a vacuum but as a result of several acting factors within the society, they live in (Cote 43). A critical examination of the social context of the criminal is thus important when addressing these crimes. Robert Merton in his Theory of Anomie explains that crime is usually a socially fostered behavior that is a consequence of discontent and inequality arising from a society that promises much to its people but denies them equal opportunities to attain them.
Crime and deviant behavior are not new to the modern human society. Biblical and historical texts have documented different dark and sinister actions portrayed by people. However, one may argue that these have little or no bearing today given the fact that human beings over the years have evolved, become more enlightened and even learned from their mistakes and those of others who came before them but this is not the case (Morrill et al. 291). Crime and illegal activities have existed in societies since the beginning of the human race traced down to the modern world (Morrill 302). Moreover, human beings have been creative and innovative in devising forms of crime throughout history which is endemic.
Each society generally has distinct Institutional structures such as the political, economic, familial, educational and religious structures. People's places on these structures determine their chances of committing a crime (Westen 18). People placed in lower levels of this structure are more likely to commit crimes as compared to those placed in higher levels due to social disorganization which destroys social control and so these divergent values and transitioning populations produce crime (Akers 184). The middle and lower levels are likely to innovate criminal ways of achieving wealth as compared to the higher level people (Cote 53). Lower levels classes generally accept truant behavior such as defying behavior, an aspect that increases the occurrence of crime Lack of behavior regulation in the lower level structures could lead to a succession of different deviant behavior through generations.
Basically, people within the same society have shared goals and objectives and are regulated by common values and norms but the differentiation in the societal structure affects the achievement of these goals (Westen 28). The differences create a strain between people of different placements which in turn angers people who legitimately are unable to achieve social and economic success. The social definition of success and the preferred means of achieving these goals put pressure on the people who have to either confirm or deviate as a means of achieving these goals (Cote 48). The gap between an individual's current situation and their desired outcome also poses as a strain to them which could, in turn, result in crime (Akers 190). However, the society places more emphasis on success specifically money and wealth than it does on the means of achieving these successes, for instance, a doctor and a fraudulent politician are both admired for their success even though they have different avenues of achieving this success.
Cultural norms, beliefs, mores, and taboos regulate the behavior of people within a given society. Formal laws and regulations enacted by different forms of government also regulate behavior and are backed by the power of government (Morrill 291). Some human behaviors such as walking naked are against the cultural norms but are not necessarily breaking the law. Members of the society must first internalize and socialize norms for social order to be achieved (Westen 214). Most of the cultural norms have been used to draft laws which provide a healthy overlap between the cultural laws and those of government. These laws shape criminal behavior by directing the behavior of humans to behave according to their understanding of the entire social interaction.
The society is supported by social roles and relationships drawing from family and religion. Each relationship comes with duties and responsibilities that support and maintain social control and structure. These obligations regardless of laws and regulations are to be fulfilled to the individuals own volition and so this creates a window for deviant behavior (Westen 216). The fact that individuals are not bound to one relationship only creates a conflict of interest in the social setup and can force them to deviate. The internalization of these familial relationships and the religion provide the individual with the necessary gear to rationally make a decision on what course of action to take.
The society further categorizes people in socioeconomic groups based on their wealth, power, class, race, gender, education, race and income. These stratifications divide the society into hierarchical tiers of dominant and subordinate groups with fine lines that determine the distribution of rights, privileges, duties, power, and influence (Westen 36). The dominant groups enjoy increased privileges and will do anything right or wrong to maintain this status. The subordinate groups, on the other hand, must contest these inequalities in hardship and obstacles against those in higher placements (Cote 45). Disparities in income level and education further clusters the society in different strata where the rich can access good quality education that translates better-paying jobs and lifestyles which the poor who have meager incomes cannot afford.
Feminism and masculinity are prodigies that further divide the society and these influence the occurrence of crime (Akers 23). Certain crimes such as car robbery are expected more within the male gender as opposed to the female even though this does not mean that a woman cannot perform them. Some societies perceive women as more nurturing and caregivers and so incapable of committing crimes while men are more likely to become criminals (Cote 50). These gender expectations cause unfair treatment when it comes to the judging of these crimes by society. For instance, if a man butchers his family, the society does not react surprised but when a woman kills her husband the society rejects her harshly (Akers 24). These stereotypes are further rooted in race where certain races are associated with crime more than others. Minority groups that are often hard stricken by poverty are collated with more criminal reports than the majority groups.
Demographic shifts such as population sizes and characteristics largely influence the occurrence of crime. High birth rates and low death rates mean that the population is growing fast and this put pressure on the resources (Westen 216). When resources are not enough for everyone, survival for the fittest arises and everyone has to compete for their own share. Individualistic societies where a person only cares about themselves and their immediate family emphasize on assertiveness and independence and crime in such societies is more rampant (Westen 218). Collective societies, on the other hand, are generous, helpful and more attentive to the needs of others and these societies typically have low rates of crime.
Although there are discontinuities in the general trend of crime from time to time, the occurrence of crime remains stable. Structural forces influence and maintain crime while the cultural norms and law provide a clear guideline on what is acceptable and what is not. Social inequality and stratification determine the nature and frequency of crime while demographic shifts further fuel the rate of crime. Crime is, however, an important aspect of the society that must be analyzed if one is to understand how society works.
Akers, Ronald. Social learning and social structure: A general theory of crime and deviance. Routledge, 2017.
Cote, Stephane. "How social class shapes thoughts and actions in organizations." Research in organizational behavior31 (2011): 43-71.
Morrill, Calvin, et al. "Seeing Crime and Punishment through a Sociological Lens: Contributions, Practices, and the Future." U. Chi. Legal F. (2005): 289-323.
Westen, Drew. Self and Society: Narcissism, collectivism, and the development of morals. Cambridge University Press, 1985.
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