The Explanation of Criminality



From a sociological perspective, explanations for criminal-
ity are found in two levels which are the subculture and the
structural explanations.
The sociological explanations emphasize aspects of societal
arrangements that are external to the actor and compelling. A
sociological explanation is concerned with how the structure of
a society or its institutional practices or its persisting
cultural themes affect the conduct of its members. Individual
differences are denied or ignored, and the explanation of
the overall collective behavoir is sought in the patterning of
social arrangements that is considered to be both "outside"
the actor and "prior to him" (Sampson, 1985). That is, the
social patterns of power or of institutions which are held to
be determinative of human action are also seen as having been
in existence before any particular actor came on the scene.
In lay language, sociological explanations of crime place the
blame on something social that is prior to, external to, and
compelling of any particular person.
Sociological explanations do not deny the importance of
human motivation. However, they locate the source of motives
outside the individual and in the cultural climate in which he
lives.
Political philosophers, sociologists, and athropologists
have long observed that a condition of social life is that not
all things are allowed. Standards of behavior are both a pro-
duct of our living together and a requirement if social life
is to be orderly.
The concept of a culture refers to the perceived standards
of behavior, observable in both words and deeds, that are
learned, transmitted from generation to generation and somewhat
durable. To call such behavior "cultural" does not necessar-
ily mean that it is "refined," but rather means that it is
"cultured"-- aquired, cultivated, and persistent. Social
scientists have invented the notion of a subculture to describe
variations, within a society, upon its cultural themes. In
such circumstances, it is assumed that some cultural prescrip-
tions are common to all members of society, but that modifica-
tions and variations are discernible within the society.
Again, it is part of the definition of a subculture, as of a
culture, that is relatively enduring. Its norms are termed a
"style", rather than a "fashion", on the grounds that the former
has some endurance while the latter is evanescent. The quarrel
comes, of course, when we try to estimate how "real" a cultural
pattern is and how persistent.
The standards by which behavior is to be guided vary among
men and over time. Its is in this change and variety that
crime is defined. An application of this principle to crimin-
ology would find that the roots of the crime in the fact that
groups have developed different standards of appropriate
behavior and that, in "complex cultures", each individual is
subject to competing prescriptions for action.
Another subcultural explanation of crime grows readily out
of the fact that, as we have seen, "social classes" experience
different rates of arrest and conviction for serious offenses.
When strata within a society are marked off by categories of
income, education, and occupational prestige, differences are
discovered among them in the amount and style of crime.
Further, differences are usually found between these "social
classes" in their tastes, interests, and morals. Its is easy
to describe these class-linked patterns as cultures.
This version of the subcultural explanation of crime holds
that the very fact of learning the lessons of the subculture
means that one aquires interests and preferences that place him
in greater or lesser risk of breaking the law. Others argue
that being reared in the lower class means learning a different
culture from that which creates the criminal laws. The lower-
class subculture is said to have its own values, many of which
run counter to the majority interests that support the laws
against the serious predatory crimes.
One needs to note that the indicators of class are not
descriptions of class. Proponents of subcultural explanations
of crime do not define a class culture by any assortment of the
objective indicators or rank, such as annual income or years of
schooling. The subcultural theorists is interested in pattern-
ed ways of life which may have evolved with a division of labor
and which, then, are called "class" cultures. The pattern,
however, is not described by reference to income alone, or by
reference to years of schooling or occupational skill. The
pattern includes these indicators, but it is not defined by
them. The subcultural theorist is more intent upon the variet-
ies of human value. these are preferred ways of living that
are acted upon. In the economist\'s language,