CRIME, DEVIANCE AND SOCIOLOGY
The world perceives ‘deviance’ with a negative mindset however sociologist recognize that it isn’t necessarily bad. (Schoepflin, 2011) While Hitler’s actions can be interpreted as deviant so can Nelson Mandela’s stance against apartheid. In simple terms deviance does mean to stray away from an accepted path but Holborn and Harlambos argue differently. Deviance, in simple language, is actions that do not follow the norms and expectations of a particular social group. Such actions can be rewarded, punished or simply ignored. (Haralambos ; Holborn, 2007)
In terms of this definition, deviance can be divided into 3 types. The first category is when a deviant act receives reward because although it might be different from the norms and expectations of the society, it still upholds societal values. In Nepali context, Anuradha Koirala’s contribution to save and rehabilitate Nepali women sold for prostitution is a deviant act in the sense that it outstood the norms and expectations while she rooted for the values of our society for which she is rewarded. Second, we have actions which differ the norms and expectations of the society and disregard the values of society. Tara Poudel v. District of Kaski (case on incest), an example of this type of deviance, was an act punishable since it was against the norms and values. Finally, there are acts which are either accepted or ignored by people such as people who choose to live in the streets. There people are often neglected/tolerated since they neither follow the norms but do no disregard the values either. They are dismissed as “odd people” by the other who can do a better job of blending into the society.
But deviance is a relative notion, (Clinard & Meier, 2011) what is deviant in one society may not be the same for others. Clinard adds that crime and delinquency are the most obvious forms of deviance since it includes behavior that is most disapproved and barely tolerated by the community. For the purpose of this paper, we will be focusing only on this kind deviance that result in negative sanctions.
Crime and Deviance- A Functionalist Perspective
Deviance breaks the norms and values of the society and at first sight we may assume that this is a threat to social order. Nevertheless some sociologists believe that deviance is necessary since a certain amount of change, which can be brought by deviance, is necessary for the society to progress rather than stagnate. Even Emile Durkhiem supported this argument in The Rules of Sociological Method where he stated that “crime is inevitable and normal aspect of social life,” in fact it is “an integral part of all healthy societies.” (Haralambos & Holborn, 2007) He further adds that since not all the individuals are equally devoted to the value consensus in a society, deviance is bound to occur. He argues that even in a society of saints deviance will eventually occur since the slightest misconduct would be regarded as a bad example by the rest. The value consensus shouldn’t be so strong that it blocks out the frequencies made by so-called deviant act. Such activities could be the moralities of the future and should not be shunned. Therefore, it is not just inevitable but also necessary for change in a healthy society.
Nevertheless, all functionalists agree that although deviance has a positive function, there is a need of social control mechanism such as police, courts and punishments to keep deviance under control to maintain the necessary strength of value consensus in the society.
On the other hand, Robert Merton focuses on the value consensus and collective goals of a society and the difficulties that individuals face while attempting to achieve these goals when they are placed in different structures of the society. In a balanced society there is equal importance given to the cultural goal and institutionalized means but if a society focuses only on the goal, it causes pressure for people. Merton says that “the social and cultural structure generates pressure for socially deviant behavior upon people variously located in the structure.” (Merton R. K., 1968) As per their placement in social structures people have little or no access to institutionalized means but equal pressure to achieve these collective goals. Due to this, they end up doing a deviant act, sometimes to meet the expectations of the society while disregarding the means to achieve it and sometimes as an act of rebellion against the societal expectations. When this situation arises for the sole purpose of achieving “success”, it is called anomie (normlessness). This theory shows that societal structure and culture can generate deviance within the society.
Although his idea is often attacked for assuming that there is value consensus in the society and people have been deviant only because of structural strains, his theory is a plausible attempt to explain the crime rates in the society.
Traditional Marxist Perspectives
The Marxist perspective also provides a framework of understanding crime and deviance. They argue that the society is governed by the rules made by the ruling class for its own benefits. State as a superstructure is influenced by the capitalist economy and creates laws which help protect the economic interest of the ruling class. An act against this is termed as crime. Here, laws are not a result of value consensus but only the ideologies of the ruling class. In fact Laureen Snider (1993) says that “capitalist states are reluctant to pass laws which regulate large capitalist concerns and which might threaten profitability.” (Snider, 2016) The capitalist economy, state doesn’t want to implement laws that may affect business and their profits. The ruling classes have necessary power to make laws that benefits only their own interests. They can make laws that are flexible for investors such as tax concession or against the labors such as low minimum salary levels. Sniders adds that “the State is reluctant to pass- or enforce- stringent laws against pollution, worker health and safety, or monopolies. Such measures frighten off the much sought after investment and engender the equality dreaded loss of confidence.” (Haralambos & Holborn, 2007)
William Chambliss went on to say that laws are only as means of protecting private property of the ruling class and is hence a cornerstone of capitalist society. Some sociologists even argue that such society generates crime itself. Chambliss adds that capitalism generates greed and hostility which motivates people to commit crime or do what they need to do to get what they want. The people with low income commit petty theft, indulge in prostitution or mugging but the higher income group has more access and effective means to get even more benefit. (Haralambos & Holborn, 2007) Supporting this, David Gordon adds that crime is rational in capitalist society and it occurs regardless of the class structure.