In every society existing in the world, one of the major inevitable issues affecting their well being is a crime, not only as per the law, but also according to the social (documented and undocumented) norms of that particular society. Some of these modes of behavior leading to crime are considered deviant. The identification of deviant behaviors has had many methods and ways, including various theories from professionals especially sociologists. The labeling theory, the interaction theory, the conflict theory, the control theory, the neutralization theory and biological theories are some of the examples of theories that attempt to describe deviant behaviors each in a different way. This paper’s interest, however, only focuses on the cause of these deviant behaviors and in this case only crime (theft, burglary and similar actions that fall under the same category of crime).
According to American sociologist Howard Saul Becker, the cause of deviant behavior should blame not on the individual but on the society and the community that labels the person as deviant. He uses the labeling theory to explain how that causes deviant behavior and in this case, it will be mentioned as a crime. Crime is something no society wishes to be associated with, but no matter how hard they try, it seems inevitable to wipe away crime completely. It is important to note, before proceeding, that the labeling theory has a major weakness; it does not explain the origin of the crime. It only starts by explaining how the society participated in creating a criminal.
The existing people with resumes half filled with criminal records are the societies’ own making. These people are those whose labels got stuck on them after being accused of doing something, even when they were considered innocent. The success of impersonating someone as somebody who he is not shows the extent to which the power of the society can push matters to. Howard explains that there are some failures in the labeling that a society tries on a victim. These victims are those who fought back the false accusations and wiped their names clean thereby redeeming their true image to the public. There are those who, though, try and fail to convince the crowd of their innocence. In the process, they find themselves conformed to become whom the society thinks he is. Such people turn to crime in order to achieve their goals in life. A poor person, for example, will begin stealing from people, commit burglary acts and robbing during odd hours. This, therefore, ends up becoming a cause of deviant behavior.
On the other hand, the founder of sociology of science, Robert K. Merton, also a sociologist, suggested from a functionalist’s perspective, that deviant behavior is caused by unintended consequences of self actions or others. He gave an example of an orphan who had just lost his parents and found himself no one to turn to for help, except a street gang of young homeless kids, who lived and survived by snatching purses and pick pocketing. Following the lack of support there was no other option except the first that he got; an unintended consequence. By joining the street gang and started doing what they do, he broke the social norms of his society; a cause of deviance.
Robert also provided another cause of crime in the society; imbalance between social goals and structurally available means of achieving the goals. In a given society, there are those expectations that are set indefinitely and indirectly for a child when he grows up. Some of these obvious expectations are that the child will grow up to become rich, successful, respectable and famous person. As one grows up, he is bound by these expectations and the pressure to fulfill them sometimes denies them chances of living and enjoying their normal life. If, in the future, the person fails to achieve the social goals, he is depressed and ashamed for not living up to the society’s expectations. In an effort to prove them wrong, an unemployed person will turn into crime in order to be seen rich and successful. Most governments make it a point to associate crime to unemployment, something that turns out as a viable course of the rise in the rate of crime.
Herman, N. J. (1995). Deviance: a symbolic interactionist approach. New York: General Hall.
Merton, R. K., Mongardini, C., & Tabboni, S. (1998). Robert K. Merton & contemporary sociology. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers.