Basis of Schools of Thought in Criminology
There are as many schools of thought and theories of criminology as there are types of crimes. Defining crime, according to Tom O’Connor, is “surprisingly difficult” to answer due to different definitions influenced by time and culture. O’Connor identifies a list of eight the most common approaches found in the criminology field:
- The legalistic view is the most common approach in criminology. A crime is something that breaks the law. Lawbreakers are responsible for their actions, although they can justify or excuse them to an extent. The legalistic view, however, forces them to take responsibility for their actions.
- The conduct norms view regards crime as something that violates normal conduct. Every group a person belongs to has some sort of code of right and wrong, often based on ethics, family background, religion, tradition, and other factors. When the norm is broken, it is a violation of socially acceptable norms within that group.
- The social harm view is most closely associated with white-collar crime. This view highlights the lack of balance and fairness between crimes that punish individuals and crimes that punish corporations but not the people behind them. For example, BP is paying a huge economic price for its disastrous spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but it is unlikely that individual employees will be held personally responsible. Yet a minor drug offense can get person several years in prison. Criminologists from this view see crime as any “socially harmful act.”
- The human rights violation view takes a longer look at crime. Crime is not limited to individual incidents of personal injury but can be seen in a larger context that challenges the general acceptance of violations that impact a person’s right “to a dignified human existence.” This can include imperialism, sexism, racism, even the right to an education and employment. It takes to heart the Declaration of Independence’s defense of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that belong to every person.
- The deviance and social control view says defining crime is a subjective action. Crime is the result of “stigmatization, isolation, rejection, segregation, punishment, treatment, or rehabilitation.” “Criminalization” happens when laws are “selectively applied to certain behaviors.”
- The social problem theory believes that crime is defined more and more by polls and public opinion that are strongly influenced by the media, which it views as a serious problem.
- The sin or evil view highlights similarities between theology and criminology. It compares the similarities between criminal intent and an evil mind. Although many criminologists and sociologists have pointed out the futility of believing that evil causes evil, they generally agree that laws require the guilty to assume blame and in effect, agree that they are evildoers.
- The chaos view says that it is the laws and social controls of our society that causes “a more or less steady states of chaos.”
A criminal justice program can provide the background necessary for understanding these important schools of thought.
Anthem College Online offers Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in Criminal Justice. For more information on our online program, visit our Web site.
Source: O’Connor, T. Crime Theories in the Field of Criminology. 15 August 2010. Megalinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from http://drtomoconnor.com.