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Chapter

Cover The Oxford Textbook on Criminology

17. Sociological positivism  

This chapter examines sociological positivism, studying how society or social processes might affect behaviour. Decisions by governments and companies and sociological issues (such as poverty) affect individuals but may also affect whole communities; they may influence the likelihood of many people to choose to offend or be law-abiding. Therefore, the health of the economy or the rate of unemployment, for example, may influence the behaviour of an entire population not just one individual and so may lead to a rise or fall in criminal behaviour. If we can identify which factors in society influence crime, and how they do so, it may be possible to alter those social factors and so decrease criminal behaviour. The chapter looks at three types of sociological theory: social interaction or social process theories, social structural theories, and social conflict theories.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Deviance

1. Theoretical Contexts:  

The Changing Nature and Scope of the Sociology of Crime and Deviance

This book explores the sociology of crime and deviance as an incoherent discipline with relatively independent versions. It considers the diverse theories and perspectives on crime and deviance that can be linked, either directly or indirectly, to the work of Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx, and Max Weber. It also looks at each of the major schools of thought and their assumptions, along with the character and sources of ambiguity that has characterized the sociology of crime and deviance. As an example, the book cites the disagreements regarding the connection between crime and politics. In particular, it discusses the debate over the consequences of the politicization of crime control. Finally, it examines the disparate contexts in which criminology is viewed as an academic enterprise.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Deviance

2. Sources of Knowledge about Crime and Deviance  

This chapter examines various sources of knowledge on the sociology of crime, deviance, and control, noting the lack of a straightforward route to the collection of information available. It argues that information is difficult to obtain due to the tendency of subjects to protect, conceal, or misrepresent. As a result, sociologists of deviance have to content themselves imperfect data. The materials upon which theories are fabricated are characterised by limitations, constraints, and distortions. In addition to the covert nature of deviance, deviants themselves rarely engage in collective efforts to interpret their own behaviour. Due to secret practices and restricted information, rule-breaking is represented to inquisitive outsiders as something else, most research is limited and parochial, and the field of criminology is littered with uncertainties. This chapter also examines a number of methods used by criminologists to dispel those uncertainties. Finally, it discusses the development of criminological theory.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Deviance

3. The Chicago School  

This chapter focuses on the University of Chicago’s sociology department and the work done by its sociologists on crime and deviance during the 1920s and 1930s. The chapter first provides a background on the University of Chicago, its sociology department, and the city. It then considers the Chicago sociologists’ use of ecology in their research, the apparent contradictions in their explanation of criminality and deviance, and their emphasis on moral diversity rather than discord, pathology, or disorganization. It examines the approach used by Chicago sociologists to launch an intellectual assault on the study of the city, focusing on social problems and offering explanations of crime and delinquency based on the peculiar conditions of the so-called zone in transition. What the University of Chicago sociology department accomplished was a decisive break with the haphazard, solitary, and ill-maintained studies associated with proto-criminology. The result was a model of an urban criminology.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Deviance

4. Functionalism:  

The Durkheimian Legacy

This chapter explores the functionalist approach to crime, deviance, and control as well as the criticisms heaped against it. It first considers the central tenets of functionalism, its strengths and weaknesses, and how it has contributed to the sociological perspective on crime and deviance before turning to the views of Émile Durkheim and George Herbert Mead about the functions of crime, deviance, and control. It then discusses developments in American sociology and the legacy of the proponents of functionalism. It also examines the adoption of functionalist approaches for the analysis of crime in American society by scholars such as Kingsley Davis, Robert Merton, and Talcott Parsons.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Deviance

8. Phenomenology  

This chapter examines the phenomenological sociology of crime, deviance, and control. It first discusses the central issues relating to phenomenology, particularly with respect to knowledge, good and evil, and deviant phenomena. It then discusses some of the arguments put forward by phenomenologists, citing the link between experiences and consciousness and how phenomenology relates to social order. It also considers the work of Aaron Cicourel, Egon Bittner, David Sudnow, and others on the phenomenological sociology of crime and deviance, as well as the emergence of phenomenological criminology. The chapter concludes by reviewing some of the criticisms of phenomenological work on deviance.

Chapter

Cover The Oxford Textbook on Criminology

20. Right and left realism  

This chapter focuses on realist criminologies which emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The two main strands were right realism and left realism, so called because of the political leanings that influenced them. Realist criminologies were, in basic terms, theoretical developments grounded in and informed by sociological positivism (right realism) and critical criminologies (left realism). Realism itself is an important social scientific concept, developed to try to provide a basis for understanding social realities which are not directly observable or precisely measurable, but undoubtedly have material substance and affect human behaviour, such as the law. More recently, we have seen a further variation emerge in the form of ‘ultra-realist’ criminology, which seeks to challenge and extend the definition of ‘crime’ to encompass the idea of ‘social harm’, thereby making a connection with concerns about the environment or damaging state and corporate activity.

Chapter

Cover Understanding Jurisprudence

7. Law and social theory  

This chapter examines the subject of social theory and, in particular, the sociology of law and analyses the leading theories of a number of writers who adopt a ‘sociological perspective’. The theories of Roscoe Pound, Eugen Ehrlich, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas are discussed. Each espouses a different approach to the analysis of law and the legal system, but what they have in common is the attempt to explain the role law plays in society. Their contribution is an important one, although it is sometimes questioned whether the sociology of law has an adequate theoretical grounding.