Criminology is an odd subject which applies the work of various other subjects to the topic of crime. It is made up of a mix of psychology, sociology, forensic science and philosophy but also has its own unique focus. It is problematic as well, in that academics who work in the field still struggle to define the essence of the subject, arguing about what the term ‘crime’ actually refers to. While many take the legal definitions of ‘an act that violates the law’, some have issues with this concept since the law changes over time; so at what time do we take legal definitions of crime as being correct? Crime also varies between cultures, so from which culture do we take legal definitions of crime? Some criminologists would say that ‘crime’ is not a useful term, due to the fact that it is simply a label used by some to assert their power over others. In recent years many criminologists have adopted the definition of crime as anything that causes harm to others or to society. Criminology attempts to theorise why people turn to crime and how best we can stop people from acting criminally. By understanding crime and why it occurs we may be able to stop the problem and, since it’s relatively recent birth, criminology has already provided some very interesting ideas and theories about the origin of crime.
Labelling Theory, a key idea within the subject suggests that, while deviance is usually applied to an action, secondary deviance can also be applied to a person so that they are not just seen as having committed a crime but are seen as a criminal by nature. This label is extremely hard for them to lose and they can be judged for it for the rest of their lives without doing anything more wrong. Some criminologists believe that this deviance is applied by the powerful classes of people to other groups in order to maintain power as, for example, the working classes are often judged as being criminal without even having done anything illegal. Robert Merton conceived the idea that if an individual takes on this label as part of their self-identity, they may be more likely to commit crime since they are already judged for it anyway and having nothing more to lose.
Sub-cultural Theory is another interesting idea in the field of criminology. This theory poses that when individuals struggle to reach the goals set by normal society, such as settling down and getting a good respectable job, they instead form their own sub-cultures within society which have their own goals. These goals may aim for the same values as normal society, such as power and status, but in aspiring to these values within this group the goals will be very different. In gang sub-culture the goals may be to sell the most illegal drugs or to win fights with other gangs. This explains why individuals will commit criminal behaviour that seemingly has no reward for themselves since, though it may not in our general culture, within the sub-culture it may be a step towards reaching goals.
Criminology may seem like quite a predefined subject to study, but when looking closer it is actually very broad. It is actually quite difficult to theorise about all types of crime due to it being such a varied category of behaviour, so any theory to cover all crime would be very complex indeed. Nonetheless the subject is still young and does seem to be becoming more popular in recent years, so with time hopefully there will be many new discoveries made about the workings of crime and its impact on society.
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