'Explain how crime can be considered as a social construction and contrast this with legal definition of crime. '
'Our nation, right away, has been divided by class, race, national origin and has endured class conflicts throughout history' (Zinn as cited in Welch, 2009). The purpose of this essay is showing that crime is constructed socially rather than individually. To carry out so, I'll concentrate on describing how crime may very well be something of social construction, explaining different factors contributing to just how people perceive particular behaviour as criminal as well as contrasting idea of crime being socially constructed with its legal definition. After discussing theories created by Howard Becker and Karl Marx, it will conclude that criminal behaviour and its consequences are indeed socially constructed.
Reaching consensus over a proper term defining crime has undoubtedly been challenging for criminologists as "there are no purely objective definitions; all definitions are value laden and biased to some extent" (Barak, 1998, p. 21). Hence, it isn't an easy way to give an exact definition to something so diverse. However, the legal definition of crime suggested by Tappan (1947) is agreed by many to be the most precise and clear up to now. It states that "Crime can be an intentional act in violation of the criminal law (statutory and case law), committed without defence or excuse, and penalized by the state of hawaii as a felony or demeanour. " Although, it has also met with criticism from other people who believe that it is too narrow definition (Milovanovic, D. ). Only harms thought as such by state are considered in Tappan's theory which is also limited by those crimes "legally" guilty (Milovanovic, D. ). Additionally it is vital to mark that legal definition of crime not only excludes white collar crime but also does not acknowledge cultural and historical context of law, such as on gambling and prostitution that may be different depending on state or nation (Henry, S. 200). Essentially an act becomes a crime when it breaks the law established by the government of particular society. Naturally what accounts as crime varies depending on different cultures, laws and religions, although there are three main elements deciding crime which remain consistent: harm, social agreement and their reaction. The way society responses to this harmful behaviour varies depending upon the society. For instance, theft conducted in UK may result in getting a warning or minor sentence, whereas in Muslim societies the same person could have his hand cut off for this offence. Looking also from historical perspective, attitudes towards certain acts considered then as criminal also have changed as many of those are no longer seen as crimes. It is therefore clear that this is of crime has undoubtedly been through changes & most probably will continue to change.
The main aspect which legal definition of crime seems failing to consider is the fact that some behaviours are believed as crimes whilst others not. This brings us to the social construction of crime, a concept created and essentially developed by society in conditions of held perceptions, morals, beliefs and values of individuals living within it. These condition the way were such as personality, character and our roles within the society. As people are 'measure' beings, they often times judge themselves and folks around them. The idea of social construction sees criminal behaviour as a mutual interpersonal activity involving actors and audiences (Henry, S. 2009). Therefore, just how someone is recognized and located within a scope of the society has significant consequences for just how we act towards others (Becker, 1963). Societies define crime by their own norms, believes and rules. Whereas rules, which govern everywhere, determine as well correct and incorrect behaviours within the society. Criminal law often mirrors a reasonably extensive point that one behaviour violates some social standards and values (murder, rubbery, etc. ). However, actions regarded as criminal may vary depending on different cultures, laws or religions. In a nutshell, crime is exactly what particular society chooses it to be.
Furthermore, crime is a fundamental part of deviance, theory suggested by Howard Becker. Deviance is not really a quality of the act a person commits, but instead the consequence of the application form by others of rules and sanctions to a 'offender'(Becker, 1963). It isn't only due to humans actions but also depends upon the audience judging particular behaviour as negative or positive. Becker argued that deviance can be defined as a kind of behaviour which differs from the standard, rule-breaking behaviour that is unacceptable in society and depends upon what people see as unacceptable. In such situation where society labelled person as a deviant, it often ends up with isolation of this person who eventually finds the only way to survive through involving in criminal activity. Most of all, crime often arises where the evident segregation of the rich and poor occurs. Karl Marx, on the other hand, suggested that 'class struggles' are underlying problems in societies where in fact the basis of power is wealth and which therefore causes injustice and inequality. Sheptycki (2006) says that "the roots of crime lie in the social structural inequalities of wealth and power. " This viewpoint perceives capitalist societies as ones which choose individual interest over social welfare. Therefore, from the social constructionist viewpoint, crime is a behaviour defined by powerful and privileged people who have authority to make laws that recognise some acts as offensive. Once more, regarding Becker, powerless people, no matter how lousy the damage they done could be, they are likely to be arrested and judged. Individuals who hold more power create then some types of illusions that individuals at the low degrees of social hierarchy (measured on the basis of their income, education degree or even race)- have emerged as dangerous to the society. It not only creates place where people are reliant on state but also discriminates people some way. Government, may be an example here. It defines what crime is by choosing to outlaw some particular act. For example, the problem with drugs which government made illegal. Money tracking laws or tax evasion get caught in different category, which relates to government who creates crime for their own interests. This shows that crimes are created by lawmakers who limit citizen's freedom on the ground of their own moral standards.
Taking into account all the aforementioned factors, we can conclude that crime has inevitably been something of social construction. Notwhistanding the actual fact that crime is a complex and diverse concept without one, accepted definition, what accounts as criminal varies depending on cultures, laws and religions which proves that crime is something of social sonctruction. Definitions of crime are constructed by both cultural norms and values as well as power relations. As well as that we socially condition the meanings of behaviours and their consequences.