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Why Do People Commit Crimes?

Here is an intorduction to a Sociological essay I recently completed for my University studies on the social reasons why people commit crimes.

Date : 31/10/2011


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Uploaded by : Jack
Uploaded on : 31/10/2011
Subject : Sociology

Why Do People Commit Crimes?

People commit crimes for a variety of different reasons. Maybe they would like some material gain which they could otherwise not afford, or perhaps they find their life mundane and repetitive and need some excitement. This question, if answered correctly, can have a massive impact on society as a whole. As with the new right and many other sociological theories, sociologists can have a big impact upon the laws and ideas which govern us. For example, family tax credits. These were brought about as the new right believed the family to be an integral part of society. Before I attempt to answer why people commit crimes, we have to decipher what type of crimes people commit. There are many different types of crime, and each has different reasoning behind it. Anti-utilitarian crime is perhaps the most seen in our everyday lives, such as graffiti and theft for no material gain. There are also 'Career Criminals' who commit crime on an everyday basis as means to get what they otherwise could not afford and to support themselves in society. There are also many sociological perspectives that approach this question in various ways. The functionalists see crime as a 'Safety valve'. For example, they suggest that if there is no crime, how do you know that there is a problem? Crime then from a functionalist view, is useful as it shows that there is a problem and it needs to be addressed. According to Merton, the American dream causes people to experience pressure to deviate from social norms in order to achieve success in terms of material wealth, even if this means turning to crime. Merton refers to this theory as a 'Strain to Anomie' or Strain Theory. However, the point remains that why is it that some people commit crime, when others do not. People are said to deviate because the disciplines and authority of society are so flawed that they offer few restraints or moral direction (Rock '07). This is an example of Anomie. Anomie is one theory of explaining why people commit crime. Anomie means an absence, breakdown, confusion or conflict in the norms of society and is most widely recognised with the work of Durkheim and Merton. Merton's work shifts the meaning from Durkheim's as a cause of suicide, and places it on deviating from the socially accepted means of material gain. In his classic study 'Social structure and Anomie' he developed anomie and provided an answer for why people commit crime. He proposed that people deviate from the accepted means of material gain as the economic resources in society enables only certain privileged groups to succeed. As they are all chasing the 'American Dream' then, they turn to various forms of individual deviance which seems to offer an alternative means to the same desired end (Merton '38).

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