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Outline The View That Crime Is Socially Constructed

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This essay will offer different definitions of crime, suggesting that it is a social construction as it varies across culture, time and belief. It will examine the role of social construction, through interpretation and meaning, in the identification, reporting and legal consequences of criminal acts. After illustrating how fear, escalated by the media, can directly affect crime, it will conclude that crime and its consequences are socially constructed.

The obvious definition of crime is the legal definition of an act which breaks the law. However, the Oxford English Dictionary extends this to include an act which is 'injurious to the public welfare ... An evil or injurious act; an offence, sin; esp. of a grave character' (Mooney et al., 2004, p.6). This normative definition incorporates acts which contravene social welfare, moral codes and religious beliefs. The legal and normative definitions may conflict with one another. For example, killing human beings in warfare may be legally acceptable, but may never be justifiable to a Quaker.

Crimes, from both the legal and normative perspectives, vary across culture, time and belief. For example, bigamy is illegal in this country but acceptable in many African cultures. Cannabis tincture was permissible as a painkiller in Victorian times (Mooney et al., 2004, p.7) but today in the UK possession of cannabis is illegal. Thus crime is defined by a society's own rules, norms and beliefs at any given time in history.

The interpretation of an action as a crime is subject to the meaning it holds. For example, stealing money from an old lady is obviously a crime to and abhorred by the majority of people. However, submitting fictitious expenses to the taxman is widely more acceptable as a perk of the job or a triumph over the taxman. White-collar crime was initially used by Edwin Sutherland (1949) to describe crimes that are committed "... by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation." such as the inappropriate disposal of pollutants to save money. Objectively, all are potentially criminal acts and morally questionable but may be subjectively justified by the individual or group involved.

Evidence suggests that the meaning attached to criminal acts influence the reporting, recording and legal consequences. For example, quantitative evidence or data demonstrates a substantial increase in crime until 1995 and an apparent slight decrease since then (Maquire, 1997, p.158). Qualitative evidence questions this by suggesting that crime is greatly under-reported for reasons such as the feeling that the crime was not serious enough. In contradiction, Maguire (1997) suggests that there is an increased reporting of crimes, for example, through having greater access to a telephone. In relation to conviction, Eitzen (1986,



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