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Sociology Behind Factors that Influence Criminal Outcomes

According To Social Psychologists, How Do Victim, Offender And Third-party Interactions Impact Upon Criminal Outcomes?

During the late 1940s, Sutherland (1947) advanced that explanations of crime and deviance are of either a situational or a dispositional nature. Additionally, he argued that of the two explanations, situational ones might be of the most importance. Hirschi & Gottfredson (1986) made a critical distinction in light of this issue, the distinction was between the terms crime and criminality. Crime, they proposed refers to ‘events that presuppose a set of necessary conditions’. Criminality on the other hand refers to ‘stable differences across individuals in the propensity to commit criminal acts’ (Hirschi & Gottfredson, 1986: 58). They went on to point out that criminality is necessary, but is not a sufficient condition for crime to occur, since crime requires important situational inducements.

Despite these propositions, social psychologists in the following decades tended to focus on dispositional theories of crime and deviance, that is, focusing on individual differences. There is a wealth of literature focusing on motivations and characteristics of criminal offenders (e.g. Cohen, 1955,as cited in Birkbeck & LaFree, 1993; Cloward & Ohlin, 1960), and a modest amount attending to the victims of crime (Cohen, Kleugel, & Land, 1981). However the suggestion is well documented

(e.g. Hepburn, 1973; Athens, 1985; Luckenbill, 1977) that there is a need for research to focus on the sequential development and interactional dynamics of criminally violent situations. This is based on the notion that violence is, at least in part, situationally determined (Felson & Steadman, 1983). Symbolic interactionism is such a guiding approach in this field, so it is important to clarify what sets it apart from others in the area; there are two main important such points. Firstly , social interactionist theory focuses on the objective fact of situations (as overlooked by criminologists), and secondly their subjective definition by actors (as overlooked by both opportunity and experimental psychologists).

It was Goffman (1967) who set the ball rolling as it were for symbolic interactionism. He uniquely emphasized the nature of the violent criminal act as important, instead of just the criminal actor. It was his notion of a ‘character contest’ that inadvertently proposed one of the first violent criminal behaviour theories of its kind. An individual...

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Category:   Sociology

Length:   17 pages (3,860 words)

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