Inequality in the Home

Edgell (1980) Interviewed middle class couples to find out who made the decisions in the relationship. Edgell discovered that men had control over the majority of the decision making.


The decisions which men made were:

•Moving House •Finance •Car

The decisions which women made were:

•Interior Decorations •Food and Other Domestic Spending •Children’s Clothes

The majority of these studies only look at what is perceived to be a ‘normal’ couple, this being a man and a women.

Although Dunne (1999) carried out a study looking at lesbian relationships and how what the domestic division was like in a homosexual couples home.

Dunne (1999)

Dunne carried out a study of lesbian households, Dunne suggests that a fair domestic division of labour can be achieved.

Although this achievement would be difficult because of the society we live in which places great distinction on masculinity and femininity. 


Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 6:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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Conjugal roles

Some Sociologists argue that from the nuclear family, joint conjugal roles have come about. 

Bott (1957)

Bott identified two types of ways which household jobs can be shared.

Segregated Roles- Husband and wives lead seperate lives and have distinct roles

Joint roles- Husband and wife are now more flexable and share tasks

Bott made a link between a couples network connections with friends and the domestic division at home.

Loose friendship networks à Joint Conjugal Roles

Close knit friendship networks à Segregated Roles

Willmott and Young (1971)

Willmott and Young saw how the increase in the nuclear family would lead to joint conjugal roles being developed.

Willmott and Young made a prediction that equal and shared responsibilities would be the norm for British families in the future.

Willmott and Young claimed that households having joint conjugal roles was a result from stage two moving to stage three.

W&Y claimed that although the wife still continues to have primary responsibility, 72% of husbands get involved with housework tasks other than washing up.

Oakley (1974)

Oakley argues that men only have to do a few tasks around the house to qualify as having joint roles.

Oakley’s research found that it was rare for men to do a lot of housework.  She also saw how 10 minutes washing up for a man was the equivalent to an hour of hoovering for a woman.

All of the above was a critique of Willmott and Young’s study!

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 6:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Childhood- Socally constructed?


Phase 1: Early Historical times – childhood did not exist

A child was an infant until they were 7 and then they became an adult. They participated fully in adult society, dress, conversation, gambling etc. evidence for this was from literature, paintings and diaries. Children were seen as unimportant and insignificant. There was parental indifference due to high mortality rate.

Phase 2: Later Historical time – new pattern emerges

Childhood became a distinct separate time of children’s lives. 2 main types of changes took place:

  1. Affective Change: children were seen as playthings, and in need of protection / affection. They were seen as a source of amusement.
  2. Qualitative Change: childhood seen as a time for PIES development. This is because of a. influences of the reformation b. the modern nuclear family emerging.


Support for Aries:

Shorter Pinchbeck & Hewitt all agreed with Aries, because they believed that children became adults at a young age. Shorter stated that families viewed the well being of infants under two with little indifference. Pinchbeck and Hewitt said that the family was an essential unit of social organisation and that adults were the same as children because they were both part of a large extended family.

Criticism of Aries:

Pollack: thought that childhood was always a different phase of life because the mortality rate was exaggerated and surviving children were well cared for.

Fuller: says that Aries didn’t see how the welfare state was growing to protect children.

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 6:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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Measuring crime and deviance

How can we measure crime?

In order to understand why people commit crime, we need first to find out who commits crime and what sorts of crimes are committed. Sociologists use three different ways to build up this picture of crime. Each method provides us with particular information, but also has a number of weaknesses, which need to be identified if our picture is to be accurate.

The three methods of collecting information are: • Official Statistics • Victim surveys • Self-Report Surveys

 Official Statistics

These are drawn from the records kept by the police and other official agencies, and are published every six months by the Home Office. The official statistics are particularly useful in that they have been collected since 1857 and so provide us with an excellent historical overview of changing trends over time. They also give us a completely accurate view of the way that the criminal justice system processes offenders through arrests, trials, punishments and so on.

 Official Statistics as Social Constructions 

 Official statistics cannot be taken simply at their face value. They only show crimes, which are reported to and recorded by the official agencies such as the police. When we dig a little deeper a lot of hidden issues are uncovered. Reporting Crimes Official statistics are based on the information, which the criminal justice agencies collect. But they cannot record crimes if they are not reported in the first place, and the simple fact is that a high proportion of ‘crimes’ are not reported to the police at all.

According to The British Crime Survey (1998), we know that individuals are less likely to report a ‘crime’ to the police if they regard it as:

 • Too trivial to bother the police with.

• A private matter between friends and family, and will seek redress directly (get revenge themselves), or they wish no harm to come to the offender.

• Too embarrassing (male rape)

 • The victim may not be in a position to give information (child suffering abuse)

• They fear reprisals On the other hand, people are more likely to report a crime if:

• They see some benefit to themselves (an insurance claim).

• They have faith in the police ability to achieve a positive result.

Recording of Crimes If people do report an offence to the police, you would think that these statistics at least would enter the official reports. Yet in any one year, approximately 40% of all ‘crimes’ reported to the police fail to appear in the official statistics.

The Role of the Police

Clearly the police are filtering the information supplied to them by the public, according to factors, which are important to them.

Factors Affecting Crime Rates:

 Seriousness They may regard the offence as too trivial or simply not a criminal matter.

 • Social status More worryingly, they may view the social status of the person reporting the matter as not high enough to regard the issue as worth pursuing.

• Classifying crimes When a person makes a complaint, police officers must decide what category the offence is in. How they classify the offence will decide its seriousness. So, the police officers’ opinion determines the category and seriousness of crime (from assault, to aggravated assault for example.)

• Discretion Only about 10% of offences are actually uncovered by the police. However, the chances of being arrested for an offence increase markedly depending upon the ‘demeanour’ of the person being challenged by a police officer. Anderson et al (1994) show that youths who co-operate and are polite to police officers are less likely to be arrested than those regarded as disrespectful.

 • Promotion and relationships at work Police officers, like everyone else, have career and promotion concerns. This involves trying to impress senior officers. However, they also need to get on with other colleagues, who do not like officers who are too ‘keen’, as this makes more work for everyone. Arrests reflect a balance between comradeship and a desire for promotion.

• The role of the courts

Official statistics of crimes committed also reflect the decisions and sentences of the courts. However, these statistics too are a reflection of social processes. Pleading Guilty British courts work on the assumption that many people will plead guilty and about 75% of all those charged do plead guilty. This is often the result of an informal and largely unspoken agreement, whereby the defence will try to get the charges with the lightest possible punishment put forward by the prosecution. The result is an overwhelming majority of pleas of guilty, yet these pleas are for less serious crimes than might ‘really’ have been committed. The statistics will reflect this downgrading of seriousness.

 The Role of the Government

What is considered a crime changes over time, as governments change the law in response to cultural changes and the influence of powerful groups. Any exploration of crime over a period is difficult as any rise or fall in the levels of crime may just be reflecting changes in the law just as much as actual changes in crime.

 Victim Surveys

 A second way of estimating the extent and patterns of crime is that of victim surveys. In these, a sample of the population either locally or nationally is asked which offences have been committed against them over a certain period of time. Strengths of Victim Surveys This approach overcomes the fact that the police don’t record a significant proportion of offences. It also gives an excellent picture of the extent and patterns of victimisation – something completely missing from official accounts. The best-known victimisation study is the British Crime Survey, which is now collected every year and has been in operation since 1982. The BCS seeks to find a representative sample. It asks one person over 16 in 11,000 households: a) whether they had been victims of a crime in the previous year; b) whether they had reported this to the police; and c) whether the police had recorded them. The BCS revealed a staggering gap between the amount of crime committed and that finally recorded by the police.

 The BCS has had a significant influence on policy in Britain. They show that crime is committed against quite specific groups of people- mainly young and male, in specific areas, mainly inner city and adjoining zones. They also show that the statistically ‘average’ person could expect a robbery every five years, a burglary once every 40 years and an assault once every century. However, there are problems with victim surveys such as the BCS.

Weaknesses of Victim Surveys

• The problem of basing statistics on victims’ memories is that recollections are often faulty or biased.

 • The categorisation of what crimes have been committed against them is left to the person filling in the questionnaire – this leads to considerable inaccuracy in the categories.

• Victim surveys also omit a range of crimes such as fraud and corporate crime, and any crime where the victim is unaware of or unable to report a crime.

• Despite being anonymous, people appear to under-report sexual offences.

• The BCS itself suffers from the problem of not collecting information from those under 16 although this is not necessarily a problem of victim surveys as such.

The British Youth Lifestyles Survey (2000), for example, was carried out specifically to obtain detailed information on crimes against younger people. Local Victim Surveys The BCS is a typical cross-sectional survey, and as such may contain some errors – certainly it does not provide detailed information about particular places. This has led to a number of detailed studies of crime focusing on particular areas. These provide specific information about local problems. The most famous of these surveys were the Islington Crime Surveys (1986 and 1990). These showed that the BCS under-reported the higher levels of victimisation of ethnic minority groups, and domestic violence. The Islington Crime Survey – A case study National studies such as the BCS cannot concentrate on crime in specific areas. With this in mind a survey was conducted in London Borough of Islington, to assess the extent of crime and gain the publics evaluation of police performance. A random sample of 2,000 households were surveyed. The study showed a substantial impact of crime on the lives of people in the borough:

• A full third of all households had been touched by serious crime (for example, burglary, serious robbery or sexual assault) in the last twelve months.

 • A quarter of all people always avoided going out after dark, specifically because of fear of crime • 28% felt unsafe in their own homes

 • Over half of the women never or rarely went out after dark, because of their fear of crime.

 • It is sometimes suggested that the public suffer from hysteria about crime particularly about mugging, sexual assault and violence. These worries are said to be out of touch with reality. However the Islington Survey (with its ability to focus in on the highly victimised) provides support for the fact that their fears are in fact justified.

• 46% of people in Islington admitted to worrying “a lot” about mugging, which is not surprising given that over 40 per cent of the borough’s population actually know someone (including themselves and their family), who has been mugged in the last twelve months.

• It was also found that it was not unrealistic to worry about burglary when its incidence in the borough runs at five times the national average.

 • Women tend to be more fearful of crime than men, and many argue that this shouldn’t be the case as ‘official statistics’ show men to be more at risk. However the Islington survey shows that there it is women that are more likely to be victims. A possible reason for this may be down to the nature of the crimes committed against women and their reluctance to report it.

• Sexual assaults are almost exclusively committed by men on to women. So is domestic violence as well as street robbery.

 • In terms of non-sexual assault alone, women in the borough are 40 per cent more likely to be attacked than men.

• Sexual assault in Islington is 14 times the national average

The Media and Sensitisation

Victim surveys are dependent upon people being aware that they are victims; it depends on the ‘victim’ perceiving what happens to them as being a crime. The media play a key role in this as they provide illustrations of ‘crimes’ and generally heighten sensitivity towards certain forms of behaviour. This is known as sensitising the public toward (certain types of) activity, which can be seen as a crime worth reporting. A positive example of this has been the change in portrayal of domestic violence from a ‘family matter’ to a criminal activity.

Self Report Studies

 The third method for collecting data is that of self-report studies. These are surveys in which a selected group or cross-section of the population are asked what offences they have committed. Self-report studies are extremely useful as they reveal much about the offenders who are not caught or processed by the police. In particular it is possible to find out about these ‘hidden offenders’ ages, gender, social class and even their location. It is also the most useful way to find out about victimless crimes such as illegal drug use.

Weaknesses of Self Report Studies

• The problem of validity: the biggest problem is that respondents may lie or exaggerate – and even if they do not deliberately seek to mislead they may simply be mistaken.

The problem of representativeness: because it is easy to study them, most self-report surveys are on young people and students. There are no such surveys on professional criminals or drug traffickers for example.

 • The problem of relevance: Because of the problem of representativeness, the majority of the crimes uncovered tend to be trivial Nevertheless, the only information which we have available to us of who offends, other than the official statistics of people who have been arrested, comes from self-report studies and they have been very widely used to explore such issues as crime and drug use.

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How do Feminists explain crime?

Invisible Female Offenders

 Sociology of Crime and Deviance tends to focus mainly on men. Although that it is true that approximately 80% of offenders are men, there is the other 20% who are women that are simply ignored in many sociological theories. Frances Heidensohn has criticized the male dominance of the subject and has suggested four reasons behind it:

1. Male dominance of offenders As the majority of offenders are men for many sociologists it would therefore make sense to focus on the majority rather than the minority of women offenders.

 2. Male Dominanation of Sociology According to Heidensohn sociology topics of investigation reflect a male view and interests. As it was usually the case that the majority of academics were men.

3. Vicarious identification What interests males is what’s studied, and applied to crime their interest lies in the lives of the marginal and the exciting.

4. Sociological Theorising Male sociologists constructed their theories without ever thinking about how they could be applied to women. Most traditional theories are ‘gender blind’, which in effect means they ignore the specific viewpoint of women. Feminist Debates and Criminology Though male sociologists have largely ignored female offending, feminist writers have sought to include some criminology analyses within their approaches.

Liberal Feminism

This approach to feminism is based on the idea that by bringing women onto the agenda and by demonstrating how women have been ignored in research, then there will be a greater understanding of female deviance. In particular, new theories can be developed which will cover both men and women.

Radical Feminism

 Radical feminists argue that the only way to understand crime is to see it through a female perspective – and research should be based on the assumption that all men are prepared to commit crimes against women if given the chance. Women should construct their own unique approaches to explaining crime and deviance and this should incorporate the threat from men.

Socialist Feminist

 This approach stresses that the position of men and women in general and with reference to crime, can only be understood by locating males and females within the context of societies that are divided by both sexism and capitalism.

Postmodern Feminism

 Smart and Cain argued that the very concerns criminology have (burglary, street crime etc) are actually a reflection of male concerns and therefore women should be looking beyond these to the things that are most harmful to them. In other words they should look at how harm comes to women in the widest sense possible and not just accept the (male) boundaries of criminology.

 Postmodernism and Transgression

 In response to the need for a feminist version of criminology Carol Smart introduced the idea of transgressive criminology. She suggested that criminology itself as a discipline was tied to male questions and concerns and that it could never offer answers to feminist questions. Instead of looking at how feminism affects criminology, she said that they should look at how criminology can affect feminists. This can be done through looking at a range of activities both illegal and legal that harm women and to then look at how they came about and how they can be changed. This idea led to feminists (and sympathetic male sociologists) looking more closely at the way women stayed in at night for fear of becoming victims, at domestic violence and how women were treated by the law in issues of rape and harassment (where they form the overwhelming bulk of the victims).

Male Roles, Postmodernity and Masculinity Smarts idea of transgression linked to the growing importance of postmodern analysis. Some sociologists began to go beyond the traditional confines and to revisit the issue of why most crime is male crime.

Some Criticisms of Feminist Theories of Crime

• Some feminist theories are accused of hypocrisy as they are said to over focus on gender in their explanations of crime and deviance • Some feminist theories are criticised for understating the issues of class and ethnicity

 • Some feminists are accused of an over focus on victimisation and of simplifying the causes of offending.

Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 7:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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How do left and right realists explain crime?

How do left and right realists explain crime?

Who are the Left Realists? In Britain, Left Realism is associated with Jock Young, John Lea and Roger Matthews. Young had become increasingly disenchanted with the Marxist approach, which stressed that criminals should be seen as the victims of the capitalist system and that sociological analyses of crime should stress the criminality of the rich and powerful.

This was generated by a series of local victimisation surveys (Islington, for example), which showed that the real victims of crime were the poor and the powerless, and that these people viewed street crime and burglary as one of the main social problems they faced. Young (1984) argued that it was the role of criminology to provide solutions for policy makers to limit the harm that crime was doing to the lives of the poorer sections of the community. Young labels Marxist criminology, as ‘left idealism’, meaning that it was great in theory, but had no practical solutions.

The left realist explanation of crime has three elements. 1. Relative deprivation 2. Subculture 3. Marginalisation

1. Relative deprivation Runciman (1966) argued that political revolutions only occurred when the poor became aware of the scale of the differences between themselves and the rich. Without this knowledge, they generally accepted their poverty and powerlessness; it is not therefore poverty, which leads to revolution, but awareness of their relative poverty. Applying this concept to crime, Lea and Young pointed out that it is not poverty or unemployment, which directly causes crime, it is the expectations people have and a feeling of resentment about what they could actually earn compared to their expectations that leads to crime.

2. Marginalisation: Marginalisation refers to the situation where certain groups in the population are more likely than others to suffer economic, social and political deprivation. The first two of these elements of deprivation are fairly well known – young people living ‘in inner cities and social housing estates are likely to suffer from higher levels of deprivation than those from more affluent areas. The third element – political marginalisation – refers to the fact that there is no way for them to influence decision makers and thus they feel powerless.

3. Subculture This draws partially upon the Marxist subcultural approach but more heavily from the ideas of Merton Subcultures develop amongst groups who suffer relative deprivation and marginalisation. Specific sets of values, forms of dress and modes of behavior develop which reflect the problems that their members face. However, whereas the Marxist subcultural writers seek to explain the styles of dress, and forms of language and behavior as forms of ‘resistance’ to capitalism, Lea and Young do not see a direct link. For Lea and Young, one crucial element of subcultures is that they are still located in the values of the wider society. Subcultures develop precisely because their members subscribe to the dominant values of society, but are blocked off (because of marginalisation) from success. The outcome of subculture, marginalisation and relative deprivation is street crime and burglary, committed largely by young males.

 Criticisms • Marxist or ‘critical criminologist’ writers, such as Sim have attacked left realism for not actually being realistic. They argue that left realism actually ignores the ‘real’ causes of crime, which lie in the wider capitalist system.

• The approach (like right realism) ignores the crimes of more powerful groups in society and simply concentrates on street crime.

 • Feminist criminologists, such as Pat Carlen have argued that left realist criminology accepts the establishment’s view of what crime is and so concentrates its attention on issues to do with street crime and burglary. They argue instead that one role of criminology ought to be to explore the way that society harms women – for example there ought to be much greater stress upon issues of domestic violence.

In reply, Young has claimed that left realism has been very concerned with domestic violence and sees it as one of the main problems, which left realism, must address. Both right and left realism have had considerable influence on New Labour policy since 1997, with many of their ideas being brought into law.

 Who are the New Right? and what is Right Realism? Charles Murray (1990) argued that over the last thirty years there has been an increase in what he terms ‘the underclass’. By underclass, Murray refers to a clearly distinguishable group of young people who

1. Have no desire for formal paid employment, preferring to live off benefits and the illegal economy;

2. Who have a range of short-term sexual liaisons;

3. Fathers do not see their offspring as their responsibility.

The children of these people are brought up with little or no concern for the values of the society in general, so that there is now a generation of young people who do not share the values of the wider society and who are much more likely to commit crime.

Poorer communities are being destroyed by the underclass that are driving out the majority of law abiding citizens and thus the members of the underclass are becoming ever more isolated and confirmed in their behavior.

 James Q.Wilson who is a right realists wrote a book called Broken Windows, which argued that it was unlikey to find just one broken window, if one was broken there was an extremely high chance that they were all broken. He believed that crime flourishes in situations where social control breaks down. According to him in any community, a proportion of the population are likely to engage in deviant behaviour, this could be activities such as litter dropping, vandalism or rowdy behaviour.

In most communities, this behaviour is prevented from going further by the comments and actions of other members of the local community. Effectively, the amount and extent of these deviant acts are held in check by the response of others. However, if the deviancy goes unchecked, then the entire social order of the area breaks down and gradually there is a move to more frequent and more serious crime. The conclusion drawn from this is that once crime is allowed to happen once it will flourish in the future.

Wilson argued that the police had a crucial role to play in restoring the balance and helping to recreate community. He said that although most police officers engage in law enforcement, ensuring laws aren’t broken and offenders are caught and punished, it does relatively little to reconstruct communities and prevent future crime. He believed that the police should instead be concentrating on order maintenance.

By this he means using the law to ensure that the smaller deviant acts – groups of rowdy youths, noisy parties, and public drug use – are crushed / stopped. According to him, this would help to create a different view of what was acceptable behavior, and would make public areas feel safe again for the majority of people.

After a version of his ideas were adopted in New York, under the slogan Zero Tolerance, and there appeared to be a decline in crime, the term was adopted throughout America and to some extent in the UK as a description of a much harsher form of street policing.

Wilson and Herrnstein explore the ’causes’ of crime. They maintain that crime is just something that is inevitable. However, Wilson argues that people are more likely to commit crime if they are not socialised into acceptable behavior in their childhood by their family – so that certain personality traits, such as ‘impulsiveness’ and ‘lack of regard for others’, are controlled / changed. However, the act of committing a crime depends upon the perception of the person as to whether the advantages of crime outweigh the potential disadvantages or not.

 Etzioni: crime and communitarianism Etzioni, developed a theoretical and political argument known as communitarianism. For Etzioni, changes in modern society pushed decision-making further and further away from local communities and as a result of this people have lost interest in trying to control their community. They regard themselves as powerless and this simply reinforces their acceptance that it is not their job to control others, but the role of the police and the state.

Etzioni argues that only by taking back control and engaging in direct action in a variety of ways to control local offenders and by providing support for those in need locally, will social control be reconstituted.

Criticisms Right realism has been criticised by Platt and Takagi (1977) amongst others because:

• It concentrates exclusively upon working class crimes, ignoring the crimes of the powerful and white-collar crime

• It fails to explain the causes of crime – apart from blaming inadequate socialisation. The approach absolves the government and economic system of any blame.

 • The approach ignores ideas of justice and law enforcement and advocates instead the maintenance of social order- even if it is at the expense of justice. Some Key Criticisms of Right Realists

 • Some right realists are accused of failing to theorise the causes of offending

• Some critics refer to high re-offending rates as undermining the hard line approach to offenders taken by right realists

• Right realists are criticised for ignoring the impact of stratification and poverty

Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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How do interactionists explain crime? (Labelling Theory)

How do interactionists explain crime? (Labelling Theory)

Are offenders different?

Interactionists argue that a mistake most perspectives make is that they assume lawbreakers are somehow different from law-abiding people. The labelling theory suggests that most people commit deviant and criminal acts but only come are caught and stigmatised for it. It is for this reason that emphasis should be on understanding the reaction and definition of deviance rather than the causes of the initial act.

Quote by Howard Becker 1963

“Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.”

The labelling theory has gradually been adopted and incorporated into other sociological approaches – for example Taylor, Walton and Young have used it in Marxists criminology and postmodernists owe a lot to it as well.

Becker argues that

  1. Just because someone breaks a rule it does not necessarily follow that others will define it as deviant.
  2. Someone has to enforce the rules, or at least, draw attention to them – these people usually have a vested interest in the issue.
  3. If the person is successfully labelled then consequences follow. Once publicly labelled as deviant, an offender is left facing a limited number of options.


Responding to and Enforcing the Rules

Most sociological theories presume that once a deviant or criminal act has been committed then the response will be uniform, however this is not the case as people respond differently to deviance or rule breaking. In the early 1960’s gay men were more likely to be stigmatised than now. John Kitsuse interviewed 75 heterosexual students to obtain their responses to (presumed) sexual advances from gay men.  The point of this was to show that there was no agreed definition of what constituted a homosexual advance it was open to negotiation.

In Britain today, British Crime Survey statistics show that young black males are more likely to be stopped and searched than any other group. It is argued that this is a result of the police officers belief that they are more likely to offend than any other social group and they therefore become subjects of routine suspicion. 


Akers criticises Labelling Theorists as they present deviant people as ‘normal’ and the ‘same’ as everyone else until someone comes and gives them a label. He argues that there must be some reason why the label is applied to certain groups / people and not others, and therefore the theory is incomplete, as it doesn’t explain this.

The Consequences of Rule Enforcement

Being labelled deviant and having laws enforced against you is the result of a number of different factors. However, once successfully labelled as deviant various consequences occur for that individual.  The clearest example of this is provided by Edwin Lemert (1972) who distinguished between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is rule breaking, which is of little importance in itself. Secondary deviance is the consequence of the responses of others, which is significant.

The person labelled as deviant will eventually come to see himself or herself as being bad (or mad, Goffman or the example of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest’). Becker used the term master status to describe this process and points out that once a label has successfully been applied to a person than all other qualities become unimportant and they ate responded to solely in terms of this master status. 

Rejecting Labels – Negotiability

The process of being labelled is up for negotiation; some groups or individuals are able to reject the label. An example of this is Reiss’ study of male prostitutes, as although they engaged in homosexual behaviour they regarded what they did as work and maintained an image of being ‘straight’, despite engaging in sexual activity with men.  

Deviant Career

The idea of a master status and negotiability led Becker to devise the idea of a ‘deviant career’. This concept refers to the processes involved in labelling and then whether or not a person takes on the self-image of the ‘deviant’.

Creating Rules

Once labelling theorists began the process of looking at how social life was open to negotiation and that rule enforcement was no different than other social activities, their attention shifted to the creation of rules and laws and why they were made. Traditionally sociologists took a Marxists view that they were made in the interest or the ruling class, or they took a more functionalist view that laws in a democracy were a reflection of the views of the majority of the population.

Becker doubted both these accounts and argued instead that:

“Rules are the products of someone’s initiative and we can think of the people who exhibit such enterprises as ‘moral entrepreneurs’.”

So labelling theorists argue that laws are a reflection of the activities of people (moral entrepreneurs) who actively seek to create and enforce laws. The reasons for this are either that the new laws will benefit the activists directly or that the activists believe that the laws are truly beneficial to society. Becker’s most famous example of this is his study following the outlawing of cannabis in the USA in 1937. Becker as well as other sociologists use term ‘moral crusade’ to describe the movements/actions taken to pass laws.


The idea that those who seek to pass laws or impose rule upon others have been largely accepted by sociologists. However Marxists point out that there is a wider framework in which they develop. They criticise Labelling Theorists for not answering key questions such as; What are the conditions in which some groups succeed to pass laws while others fail?

The Labelling Theory doesn’t address the issue of differences in power between groups, which makes some more able than others to get laws passed and enforced which are beneficial to them.


Labelling and Values – Famous Article by Becker

He argues that the labelling theory has a clear value position – that is, it speaks up for the powerless and the underdog. Labelling theorist seek to provide a voice for those who are labelled as deviant or ‘outsiders’.

Liazos criticises labelling theorists for simply exploring marginally deviant activities and in doing so reinforce the idea of pimps, prostitutes and mentally ill people as being deviant.

Gouldner argued that all labelling theorists did in their studies was criticise doctors, psychiatrists and police officers for their role in labelling. They failed to look beyond these institutions/groups at more powerful groups that benefit from the focus on marginal groups. Gouldner puts forward a Marxists argument, by claiming that attention is drawn away from the ‘real crime’ by labelling theorists. 

Some key Criticisms of the Labelling theories of crime


  • Some labelling theorists are criticised for rejecting the idea that acts in themselves are deviant.
  • Some labelling theorists are criticised for ignoring the causes and impact of primary deviance
  • Some accuse labelling theorists of overstating and generalising the impact of the media on shaping social responses to behaviour
  • Some accuse interactionists of failing to relate stereotyping and labelling to structural forces such as class conflict and hegemonic power.
Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 6:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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How do Marxists explain crime?

How do the Marxists explain crime?

Marxists believe that society is best understood by examining the process whereby the majority of the population are exploited by the owners and controllers of commerce and industry. Marxists argue that this simple, fundamental fact of exploitation provides the key to unlock the explanations for the workings of society.

The key elements of the Marxist or critical criminological approach include:

  1. The basis of criminal law
  2. The dominant hegemony of the ruling class
  3. Law enforcement
  4. Individual motivation
  5. Crime and control


1      The basis of the criminal law

All laws are essentially for the benefit of the ruling class, and reflect their interests. Criminal law therefore operates to protect the rich and powerful.


2      Law creation and the dominant hegemony

In capitalist societies, the ruling class impose their values (values which are beneficial to themselves) upon the mass of the population. They do this through a number of agencies such as the education system, religion and the mass media. (This concept of ruling class values being imposed upon the population is commonly known as hegemony.)

It is the dominant set of values that are the basis from which laws arise in a democracy. However, according to Marxists, the set of values is actually ‘forced’ on the people. Thus what they believe they are agreeing to as a result of their own beliefs are, in reality in the interests of the ruling class.


3      Law enforcement

Despite the fact that the law making process reflects the interests of the ruling class, many of these laws could provide benefits for the majority of the population if they were applied fairly. However, even the interpretation and enforcement of the law is biased in favour of the ruling class, so that the police and the criminal justice system will arrest and punish the working class, but tend not to enforce the law against the ruling class.

4      Individual motivation

Marxist theory provides an explanation for the individual motivation underlying crime. Bonger argued that capitalism is based upon competition, selfishness and greed and this formed peoples’ attitudes to life. Therefore crime was a perfectly normal outcome of values which stressed looking after oneself at the expense of others. But Bonger also said that in many cases, poor people were driven to crime by their desperate conditions.

5      Crime and control

Marxists believe that the ruling class in a capitalist system constantly seek to divert the attention of the population away from the ‘real’ problem the true causes of their situation the capitalist society. Institutions such as the media, religion and the education system reinforce and acts as justifications that the capitalist system is the ‘natural’ and ‘best’ economic system.

Crime plays a significant part in supporting the ideology of capitalism, as it diverts attention away from the exploitative nature of capitalism and focuses attention instead on the evil and frightening nature of certain criminal groups in society, from whom we are only protected by the police. This justifies heavy policing of working class areas, stops and searches by the police of young people and the arrests of any sections of the population who oppose capitalism.

An example of the traditional Marxist approach

William Chambliss’ study of British vagrancy laws provides an illustration of the ways in which laws may be directly related to the interests of the ruling class. Just after the Black Death Plague in 1349 that killed more than one third of the country’s population, a law was introduced that required every able-bodied man to accept work at a low, fixed wage.  This stopped those who had survived from moving from village to village, demanding higher pay. The new law was strictly enforced and produced a supply of low-paid labour to help the workforce shortage.

In 1530, a law was introduced that punished anyone with out a job ‘on the road’, assuming they were highway robbers preying on the traffic of goods along major highways.

In both cases, the law was introduced and imposed in such a way as to benefit the ruling class – whilst apparently being about stopping ‘vagrants’ from travelling around England.


Criticisms of the traditional Marxist approach

1. The victims of crime are simply ignored and the harm done by offenders is not taken into account. )

2. The explanation for law creation and enforcement tends to be one dimensional, in that all laws are seen as the outcome of the interests of the ruling class – no allowance is made for the complexity of influences on law making behaviour.


Crime and control: a Marxist perspective

Box (1983) agrees with the more right-wing Marxist writers in that it is release from social control, which propels people into committing crime.  He states that the capitalist society controls and exploits workers for its own ends / to benefit the ruling class and when people are released in some way from this control, then they are much more likely to commit crime as they see the unfairness of the system.

Box argues that the there are five elements, which can weaken the bonds of capitalist society and propel individuals into committing crime.


1.  Secrecy

If people are able to get away with a crime then they are more likely to attempt to commit crime.  According to Box, this is one key factor which helps explain why white-collar crime such as fraud, takes place.  The majority of white-collar crime simply goes undiscovered.

2.  Skills

Most people are simply unable to commit serious crime.  Minor offending and anti-social behaviour is generally on the spur of the moment. Serious crime however requires planning and knowledge, plus the skill to carry it out. 

  1. Supply

Even knowledge and skill are not enough by themselves.  The potential offender must also be able to obtain the equipment and support to be able to carry out most serious crimes.  For example, a burglar needs a ‘fence’ to sell his stolen goods to.

4.  Symbolic support

All offenders must have some justification for their activities. 

5.  Social support

Directly coupled with the idea of symbolic support is the need for others who share similar values to support and confirm the values which justify crime.  (Social support is another way of describing a subculture)

For Marxists, social control operates for the benefit of the ruling class and once this is weakened, it is possible that people will turn to crime to express their disillusionment with capitalism. 

Critical criminologists still take this position and argue that criminals are engaging in a form of political act in their crimes and that if they were made more aware of the circumstances which propelled them into crime, they may well act in a more politically conventional way. 

Marxist subcultural theory

A second strand of thought which developed from Marxism, was a specific explanation for the existence of subcultures amongst the working class. According to The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, (a group of writers at Birmingham University), capitalism maintains control over the majority of the population in two ways:

  • ideological dominance through the media
  • economic pressures – people want to keep their jobs and pay their mortgages.


Only those groups on the margins of society are not ‘locked in’ by ideology and finance, and thus are able to provide some form of resistance to capitalism. The single largest group offering this resistance is working class youth.

According to Brake (1980) this resistance is expressed through working class youth subcultures. The clothes they wear and the language they use show their dislike of capitalism and their awareness of their position in it.

Brake argues that this resistance however is best seen as ‘magical’.  By magical, he means that it is a form of illusion which appears to solve their problems, but in reality does no such thing. According to him, each generation of working-class youth face similar problems (dead-end jobs, unemployment and so on), but in different circumstances. That is, society changes constantly so that every generation experiences a very different world, with the one constant that the majority will be exploited by the ruling class. 

Each generation expresses their resistance through different choice of clothes, slang and patterns of speech, music and so on. However, each will eventually be trapped like their parents before them. An example of this approach is Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour (1977), a study of working class boys in a secondary school found that, they realise early on the sorts of jobs they were going to get and rejected school and its concerns.  However, their very rejection of school ensures that they were going to fail – thus making their belief true – but of course they have been instrumental in their own failure. 


Criticism of the Marxist subcultural approach

S. Cohen pointed out that these writers were simply biased in their analysis.  They wanted to find that working class youth cultures were an attack on capitalism, and therefore made sure that they fixed the evidence to prove this. He pointed out, for example, that there were many different ways to interpret the subcultural style of the groups, and that the interpretation which the Marxist writers had imposed was just one of many possibilities.

Some key Criticisms of the Marxist theories of crime


  • Accused of  being over reliant on class division to explain offending behaviour
  • Doesn’t explain why most people in most classes do not offend.
  • Accused of over- focussing on offenders and justifying offending behaviour
  • Suggests little can be done to protect people from offending short of revolution


Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 6:31 am  Leave a Comment  
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How do Functionalists explain crime?

How do Functionalists explain crime?


For Durkheim, crime and deviance were central to any understanding of how society functions.  He identified two different sides of crime and deviance for the functioning of society:

+ Help’s society change and remain dynamic

– Too much crime leads to social disruption.

Positive aspects of crime

According to him, crime – or at least a certain limited amount of crime – was necessary for any society. Durkheim argued that at the basis of society was a set of shared values which guide our actions, which he called the collective conscience.  It provides a framework with boundaries, which distinguishes between actions which are acceptable and those which are not. Durkheim discussed four elements of the positive aspect to crime.

1          Re-affirming the boundaries

Every time that a person breaks a law and is taken to court, the resulting court ceremony and the publicity in the newspapers, publicly re-affirms the existing values.

2          Changing values

Every so often when a person is taken to court and charged with a crime a degree of sympathy occurs for the person prosecuted.  The resulting public outcry signals a change in values and, in time this can lead to a change in law to reflect the changing values. 

3          Social cohesion

A third function of crime, according to Durkheim, is to strengthen social cohesion.  He points out that when particularly horrific crimes have been committed, the entire community draws in together in shared outrage, and the sense of belonging to a community is thereby strengthened. 

4          Safety Valve

Deviant acts may be functional as a form of pressure release.

The negative aspects of crime

However, Durkheim stressed that it was a certain, limited amount of crime which performed positive functions for society.  Too much crime, on the other hand, had negative consequences. 


We saw before that, according to Durkheim, society is based on people sharing common values (the collective conscience), which form the basis for actions. However, in periods of great social change or stress, the collective conscience may be weakened. In this situation, people may be freed from the social control imposed by the collective conscience and may start to look after their own selfish interests rather than adhering to social values. Durkheim called this situation anomie.  Where a collapse of the collective conscience has occurred and anomie exists, crime rates rocket.  Only by re-imposing collective values can the situation be brought back under control.


Hirschi: bonds of attachment

Durkheim’s concept of anomie suggests that if people are not ‘controlled’ by shared social values, then they look after their own short-term interests without concern for others. This led Hirschi to turn around the normal question of why do people commit crime to another, equally intriguing one – why don’t people commit crime?

Hirschi focuses sociologists’ attention on what forces hold people’s behaviour in check, rather than what propels them into crime. Hirschi argued that criminal activity occurs when people’s attachment to society is weakened in some way. This attachment depends upon the strength of the social bonds which hold people to society.

According to Hirsci, there are four crucial bonds which bind us together:

1             Attachment :  to what extent do we care about other people’s opinions and wishes.

2             Commitment: refers to the personal investments that each of us makes in our lives. What have we got to lose if we commit a crime?

3             Involvement: how busy are we?  Is there time and space for law breaking and deviant behaviour?

4             Belief:  how strong is a person’s sense that they should obey the rules of society?

Therefore, greater the attachment to society, the lower the level of crime.

Merton: strain theory

In the 1930s, Merton tried to locate deviance within a functionalist framework. For Merton crime and deviance were evidence of a poor fit or a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially approved means of obtaining those desired goals.  The resulting strain led to deviance.

Merton argued that all societies set their members certain goals, at the same time they also provide socially approved ways of achieving these goals.  Merton was aware that not everyone shared the same goals, and he pointed out that in a stratified society, the goals were linked to a person’s position in the social structure. Those lower down had restricted goals.  The system worked well as long as there was a reasonable chance that a majority of people were able to achieve their goals.  However, if the majority of the population were unable to achieve the socially set goals then they became disenchanted with society and sought out alternative (often deviant) ways of behaving. 

Merton believed that the goal of society was economic and material wealth above all else and that the means provided to achieve these goals were hard work and educational achievement.

Different forms of behaviour then could be understood as a strain between goals and means.

  • Conformity – here the individual continues to adhere to both goals and means, despite the limited likelihood of success. 
  • Innovation – the person accepts the goals of society by uses different ways to achieve those goals. Criminal behaviour is included in this response.
  • Ritualism – here the means are used by the individual, but sight of the actual goal is lost.  For example, the bureaucrat or the police officer blindly enforcing the letter of the law without looking at the nature of justice.
  • Retreatism:  here the individual rejects both goals and means.  For example, the person dependent upon drugs or alcohol is included.
  • Rebellion:  Both the socially sanctioned goals and means are rejected and different ones substituted.  For example, this is the political activist or the religious fundamentalist.


Criticism of Merton

Merton has been criticised by Valier (2001) amongst others for his stress on the existence of a common goal in society. Valier argues that there are in fact a variety of goals which people strive to attain at any one time.

Merton is also criticised by functionalist subcultural theorists for focussing on crime as an individual act, rather than a collective/group response.

Remember some of the key criticisms of Functionalist theories of crime


  • Functionalism assumes that there is a common value system to deviate from
  • Functionalists do not recognise sub cultures
  • Functionalists are very accepting of official statistics as valid
  • Functionalists do not explore the motivations and meanings given to deviant acts
Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 6:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Dark Side of the family

 The Dark Side of Family Life

Whilst many of the functionalist theorists point out the positive aspects of the family, some theorists believe that the family is destructive.

The Marxist Perspective

Marxists argue that it is the specific requirements of the capitalist mode of production that have shaped the development of the family in Western industrial societies. Marxists see the family as a means for:

  • Reproducing ‘labour power’ – reproducing future generations of workers.
  • Consuming – consuming the products of capitalism
  • Providing emotional support – Providing emotional support to workers, so helping them cope with the harsh realities of capitalism.
  • Socialising – Socialising children into accepting the inequalities of the capitalist society.


Feminist writers link the idea that the family operates to maintain the capitalist system, with the idea that the family is the major obstacle to women’s freedom, and have therefore developed on the Marxists approach.

Feminists start from the view that most societies are based on patriarchy or male domination. Marxists Feminists see patriarchy as resulting from class inequalities in capitalist societies. Radical Feminists see it as built into the structure of society. Both see the family as one of the main sites in which men oppress women.  

Marxists Feminists

Marxists feminists focus on the oppression of women, rooted in the family and linked to capitalism. For Marxists-feminists writers the family meets the needs of capitalism by socialising children into ruling class norms and values (the ruling class ideology), leading to a submissive and obedient workforce, with false consciousness and stability for capitalism.

Women in the family serve these interests in a number of ways:

  • As mothers within families, women bear children who if male will become the next generation of capitalist ‘wage slaves’.
  • As wives, women serve and service their husbands by doing the housework, cooking meals and satisfying their sexual needs. Their husbands ate thereby refreshed and restored, ready to return to the world of exploitative work under capitalism
  • The family has an ideological role in teaching children to accept an authoritarian and exploitative society. For example by learning to accept authority from parents children also learn to accept authority from schools, employers and the capitalist state.


According to this perspective, the family is an oppressive institution that stunts the development of human personalities and individuality. There is a ‘dark side’ to family life that functionalists play down.  

The Radical Feminists Perspective

Some radical feminists argue that it is the family itself, and it’s associated patriarchal structures benefiting men, that are the root cause of women’s oppression. The sexual division of labour in the family exploits women, since their responsibilities for domestic labour and childcare are unpaid, undermines their position in paid employment and increases their dependency on men. Men often control key areas of decision-making.

Men sometimes use force to maintain control. Domestic violence is widespread and the majority of those on the receiving end are women. Around 570 000 cases are reported each year in the UK and probably a far larger number go unreported. True liberation for women can only result from the abolition of the family and patriarchy, some wish to create a society without families and men.

Liberal Feminist Perspective

Liberal Feminists believe that change is slowly occurring and through persuasion women are slowly getting men to become more involved in sharing household and childrearing tasks. This view is echoed in the concept of the symmetrical family.

Postmodern Feminists

All the feminists’ approaches above can be criticised for failing to acknowledge the variety of domestic arrangements produced by different groups.

Postmodern Feminists highlight the differences between groups of women in different family situations. They avoid making sweeping generalisations about the effects of family life on women. They tend to be sensitive to the different experiences of family life experienced by women of different sexual orientations, ethnic groups, classes and so on.

What are the Criticisms of the Marxists and Feminists?

They see the nature of the family as determined by the needs of the economic system and/or patriarchy. In this sense like functionalists they see the family as performing predetermined functions.

They tend to see a specific form of the family as being necessitated by the social system. Thus like functionalists they tend to ignore the diversity of family forms both within and between capitalist’s societies.

They tend to focus on the negative aspects of family life and ignore the real satisfaction it gives to many individuals.

While the Western nuclear family has many disadvantages it is difficult to see a functional alternative to it. For example the attempt to abolish the family in the Soviet Union was eventually abandoned as impractical. In Israeli kibbutzim today, parents spend more time with their children. According to Brigitte and Peter Berger despite its disadvantages, the nuclear family represents the best environment in which a child’s individuality can develop. They suggest that collective childrearing systems (as in the kibbutz) create more conformist and less creative people than those raised in a nuclear family.

Black feminist writers such as Helen Carby have criticised white feminists for failing to consider the significance of racism alongside patriarchy as a form of domination. They agree that for many black women the family can be an oppressive institution. However, they also point out that black women (and men) are oppressed by racism and that the family often acts as a source of support and resistance to racial discrimination and harassment.

New Right defenders of the family have criticised racial sociologists for attacking the family and undermining it. Some politicians and journalists have argued that a lack of respect for traditional family values is the reason for a variety of social problems including crime, youthful rebellion and educational underachievement. Few sociologists accept this. They see these problems as part of much wider changes in society. Ronald Fletcher has argued that sociologists in recent years have spent too much time criticising the family and have failed to consider how it can be strengthened and assisted in carrying out its role.

Feminists arguing from the post-modern approach have been criticised for losing sight of the inequalities between men and women in families by stressing the range of choices open to people when they are forming families. By stressing the different experiences of women, difference feminists, tend to neglect the common experiences shared by most women in families.

The Psychology of Family Life.

In the 1960’s, a number of psychiatrists began to focus on the harmful effects of family life. R.D. Laing argued that many so-called ‘mental illnesses’ are normal responses to the pressures of family life. However, many psychiatrists rejected his view, arguing that there is a lot more to the cause of mental disorders than family relationships. Others argue that Laing has overstated hid case, but agree that the family can play a major part in the development of certain mental disorders.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is estimated to be the most common type of violence in Britain, although it is very difficult to measure and document because it takes place behind closed doors. It is also difficult to define.

Sclater argues that some behaviour such as kicking and punching id easily recognisable as violence, but behaviours such as threats, verbal abuse, psychological manipulation and sexual intimidation are less easy to categorise and may not be recognised by some men and women as domestic violence.


Measuring Domestic Violence – Elisabeth Stanko

She provides the following estimates of the extend of domestic violence in the UK.

  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men report a physical assault by a partner during their lifetime.
  • Around 10% of women experience domestic violence in any given year.
  • The form of violence is largely male offenders against female victims
  • 1 incidence of domestic violence is reported by women to the police every minute in the UK


Some sociologists have reported increases in female violence against men, but it is estimated that this only constitutes 5% of all domestic violence. Nazroo found that wives often live in fear of men’s potential violence of threats, whilst husbands rarely feel frightened or intimidated by their wives potential for violence.

Feminists Approaches to Domestic Violence

Feminists suggest that domestic violence is a problem of patriarchy. They suggest that domestic violence arises from two sources:

  • Different gender role socialisation – Boys are socialised into masculine values, which revolve around risk-taking, toughness, aggression and so on. Many boys / men are brought up to believe that they should have economic and social power as breadwinners. Socialisation into femininity, involves learning to be passive and subordinate, which may be one reason why women tolerate violence.
  • A crisis in masculinity – Men’s traditional source of identity, i.e. work, is no longer guaranteed. Working women and unemployment have challenged men’s status as heads of households. Women may be demanding more authority in the home and insisting that unemployed men play a greater domestic role – some men see this as threatening their masculinity.


Therefore, violence may be an aspect of the anxiety men are feeling about their economic and domestic role. Feminists argue that as long as men have the capacity to commit such violence, there can never be inequality within a marriage/cohabiting couple.

Shelley Day Sclater’s Article on Domestic Violence.

Key points

  • Critics of the functionalists position, however, pointed out that these assumptions about coherence, unity and harmony do not reflect the realities of family life but an ideal of how society would like families to be. They argued that domestic violence and child abuse are not just private troubles but are related to the hierarchical power structures in families and as such are social problems.
  • Sociologists particularly those of feminist persuasion, have argued that these issues of power relationships in families underline a range of family problems like domestic violence and child abuse.


Some Statistics / Statements

  • Most domestic assaults are attacks by men on women.
  • Undoubtedly some women hurt their male partners, but sociologists would argue that the meanings of male and female violence are different. Male violence is usually instrumental, in that it is linked to men’s attempts to maintain control over women and to enforce men’s authority in the home. Women’s violence is more likely to be defensive; it is not intended to induce fear or to maintain subordination but is used in self-defence, once a fight starts.
  • Using surveys and crime statistics, sociologists have estimated that 1 out of 4 married woman are likely to experience violence.
  • Violence by men against their female partners accounts for about a third of all reported violence. 70% of reported domestic violence is violence by men against their female partners, whilst only 1% is by wives against their husbands.


Four Models to Explain Why Domestic Violence Occurs.

  1. 1.       Male Aggression is Natural
    This model proposes that violence is best explained with reference to biology. Male animals are habitually more aggressive than females and this propensity for aggression manifests itself in human society in the form of domestic violence. However sociologists argue that humans may be animals but the influences of society and culture raise human behaviour above animal behaviour. Human beings are fully conscious and self-conscious; they are capable of rational thought. Therefore from a sociologist point of view the idea that men have natural instincts for aggression in inadequate as an explanation of domestic violence.
  2. 2.       Violence Reflects Individual Pathology / Personality
    This model assumes that there are significant differences between ‘abnormal’ men who abuse their partners and ‘normal’ men who don’t. Dobash and Dobash suggested that abusive men tended to have insecure childhoods. Psychodynamic theories lend some support to this model. They suggest that bout children are socialised to become interdependent and to deny their vulnerable feelings: in this way, men can come to fear dependency and may lash out aggressively if they are reminded of their own needs and vulnerabilities. Sociologists say that it is important not to individualise the problem of domestic violence and to take into account the influence that society and cultural have on patterns of violence.
  3. 3.       Violence Reflects Disturbed Interactional Patterns between Partners.
    This model suggests that violence is a product of pathological interactions between two people; one is as much to blame as the other for its occurrence. On this model violence is a phenomenon in which both partners carry blame. This model is supported by Psychodynamic theories that see partners as having unconsciously selecting each other because of the need to work through unresolved developmental conflicts from childhood and infancy. Sociologists recognise that this model has some explanatory power in helping us to understand how conflict escalates and can end in violence, but it does not really explain the gendered dimension of the problem.
  4. 4.       Domestic Violence Reflects Gendered Power Differences.
    This is the model preferred by feminist’s sociologists. It is suggested that the beating of an individual wife by and individual husband is not an individual or even a family problem; it is a problem of patriarchy, of male domination. All men, not just a few disturbed men have the capacity for violence, and all women are at risk. Violence is something that normal men can resort to if their needs are not met or their expectations are thwarted. Empirical sociological studies offer some support for this model. For instance, research has shown that men’s perception that women have failed to carry out their duties to men’s satisfaction is regarded by many violent men as legitimate grounds for argument, accusations and attacks. Violent episodes are often fuelled by drink, but not always. Sexual jealousy can also be an important precipitating factor. Today although many women go out to work, men still tend to have more material and ideological power than women. With this backdrop violence can be a way of exerting control and maintaining power. It is therefore a social problem that has its roots gendered ideologies and in continuing material inequalities.


Child Abuse

Sociologists have identified four categories of abuse:

  • Physical
  • Neglect
  • Emotional
  • Sexual


Taylor is critical of the research methods used to collect information on child abuse. He points out that information gathered is based on official statistics collected by the Home Office or organisations such as Childline or from victim surveys. All these methods are flawed for several reasons:

  • There is a disproportionate number of working class or poor families featured in the official statistics as they have more regular contact with social workers or police for reasons other than child abuse. Child abuse may be just as common in middle class families but is less likely to be detected as they have less or no contact with these authorities.
  • Moral panics in the media may distort the statistics by over sensitising society to the problem.
  • Victims may not realise they have been abused or may not be believed.
  • Abuse involving physical injury or neglect may be more likely to arouse suspicion than sexual or emotional abuse which tend to have no outward signs.
  • Response rates to victim surveys are very poor. There may be problems arising from the respondent’s willingness and ability to recall things that happened long ago.
  • What counts as abuse changes over time and varies between cultures.


Explanations of Child Abuse

The Disease Model

This model assumes that child abuse is the product of illness or abnormality – a defect in the personality/character of parents. This approach is similar to the media images of child abusers. It sees child abuse as the product of unusual family circumstances.

The Functionalist / New Right Theory

Vogel and Bell maintain that the dysfunction of child abuse may be a lesser evil than the breakdown of the family. They are focussing on emotional abuse where the child is used as an emotional weapon by the feuding parents. From this perspective, such emotional abuse may be preferable to divorce, with all its attendant problems.


Structural Theories

Parton is critical of both the above models as they suggest that child abuse is only found in extreme cases. He argues that it is more routine than society likes to admit. The models above give the impression that only certain sections of society – one parent families and those in poverty – are likely to commit child abuse. He argues that they fail to consider that affluence may disguise child abuse – it may be just as common in middle class households.

Parton argues that structural circumstances in which people live can put great strain on personal relationships. For example at the lower end of the economic scale, it may be the stress of poverty, unemployment, debts and marital problems that may lead to abuse. Middle-class abuse may be due to lack of job satisfaction, financial anxieties and fear of redundancy.

Feminist Theories

This perspective mainly focuses on sexual child abuse, which is mainly seen as a symptom of male power in a patriarchal society. Feminists suggest that sexual abuse is the product of society where males are socialised into seeing themselves as sexually dominant and into sexually objectifying females. Some men in the family may sexually objectify both wife and daughters and view them as sexual property to be exploited.

They do acknowledge that women too can abuse children, but point out that this is very rarely sexual abuse. They suggest that female physical abuse and neglect of children may be the product of their experience of childcare in a patriarchal society. Women’s anger and frustration, expressed through physical abuse, may be the product of the fact that childcare in the UK is regarded as low status work, is often carried out in isolation and may be stressful, boring and unrewarding. Male abuse on the other hand, is simply an expression of masculinity and of men’s need, learned though the socialisation process, to be powerful and dominant.

Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 6:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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