Essay on Sociological Theoretical Perspectives regarding Crime

Sociological Theoretical Perspectives regarding Crime

Introduction

Sociology
experts have attempted to employ several theories in the study and elaboration
of issues facing society. This essay will attempt to use three sociological
theories to explain the issue of crime. Functionalism theory explains how crime
is useful to society. Conflict theory elaborates on the structural causes of
crime. Finally, the symbolic interaction theory explains how crime is a learned
behavior. Despite their usefulness in expounding specific aspects of crime,
these theories form a stronger unified theory when taken together.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic
interactionism concentrates on the relationships between people within a
society. According to this perspective, people interact and exchange meaning by
communicating, where communicating involves using language and symbols to make
sense of the social world. Symbolic interactionism is based on three
propositions (Turner, 2003). First, people interrelate with objects in
accordance with the meanings they possess. Such objects can
be physical or abstract like actions and perceptions. Therefore, an
individual’s behavior is determined by their understanding of reality. Second,
interactions with society provide meaning to these objects. Consequently,
people will respond to the meanings attached to objects and not to the objects
themselves. Third, specific circumstances determine how people interpret the
meanings of objects.

Conflict Theory

Conflict
theory postulates that society is in constant conflict as people are competing
for limited resources. Dominance and power ensure there is social order, not
the ability of people to come into an agreement (consensus) or to conform.
People with wealth have power and suppress the powerless poor. Conflict theory
is characterized by three aspects. First, competition is a constant feature of
human relationships. This theory assumes it is the default state. Cooperation is
unlikely in the face of scarce material and intangible resources like money and
social status respectively. Secondly, proponents of this theory assume the
existence of inequality across all social structures and human relationships.
Therefore, those in society that find this power imbalance beneficial to them aim
to maintain that control. Third, war is viewed as possessing the ability to
unify or cleanse societies.

Functionalism
theory

Functionalism
theory is founded on the assumption that every facet of society is useful and
crucial to the survival of that society (Parsons, 1961). Therefore, conditions
that fail to benefit the system in terms of development or maintenance is
considered to be dysfunctional. Socially and culturally, an individual is not
inherently significant. One is only significant in relation to their role or
function to the existing social structures. This structural-functional approach
is mainly concerned with the stability of society, the integration required to
survive for long periods, and the efficiency of such systems. Functionalism,
however, ignores the negative consequences of social order.

Conflict theory on
crime

According
to conflict theory, structural inequality is one of the issues facing society. There
exists an elite that exercises power over the underprivileged. These elites determine
what qualifies as deviant and criminal behavior. Elite dominance is dependent
on the continued exploitation of the poor and is maintained by ensuring social
structures oppress and discriminate against the poor. In conflict theory, crime
is the result of such social and economic inequality. For example, high social
status people commit white-collar crime while low social status people commit
blue-collar crime. Because of this inequality, the punishment doled out on the
two types of criminals is uneven. For example, a CEO guilty of fraud will
receive a minimal or no jail sentence while a factory worker guilty of
vandalism will serve a few months in prison in addition to fines.

Functionalism on crime

Functionalism
theory views crime as a beneficial phenomenon in society. However, the amount
of crime must not be excessive as this could lead to the collapse of society. Crime
is necessary for a few reasons. First, not all individuals in a society will
conform to the communal beliefs and values of society. Second, even in a
perfect society, deviance would exist because the standards of morality would
be too high that even the slightest instance of non-conformity would invite
great disapproval from society. Crime serves to promote social regulation in
that arresting criminals discourages other members of society from being
dysfunctional. It also promotes social integration in that people come together
and collectively condemn criminal activity when certain heinous crimes are
committed. Lastly, crime helps promote social change. In the case where existing
law does not serve the purposes of society, it can be changed. Criminals help
bring such issues into light by testing the boundaries of permissible behavior.

Symbolic
interaction theory on crime

Symbolic
interaction theory posits that individuals interact with objects and derive
their meaning through their interactions with society (Herman & Reynolds,
1994). Therefore, people learn what is normal behavior and what is deviant
behavior from society. A consequence of this line of thought is that criminal
activity is a learned behavior. Because normal people can associate with
deviant people, they can adopt deviant behavior. This approach attempts to
explain why people who come from areas riddled with crime are more likely to
engage in criminal activity.

Conclusion

Crime
and other social issues do not always have simple explanations for how they
occur. The three theories considered here fail to comprehensively explain the
societal issue of crime on their own. The macro and micro-level perspectives of
these theories are instrumental in understanding how society as a whole and
individuals work. The weaknesses of these theories are compensated for in the
strengths of the others.

References

Herman, Nancy J., Reynolds,
Larry T. (1994). Symbolic Interaction: An Introduction to Social       Psychology. Lanham, MD: Altamira
Press.

Parsons, T. (1961). Theories
of Society: Foundations of Modern Sociological Theory.
New             York: Free Press.

Turner, J. (2003). The
Structure of Sociological Theory. 7th ed.
Belmont, CA:          Thompson/Wadsworth.

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