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2 Accounting information systems

A system can be defined as a group of elements that are formed and interact to achieve goals or objectives. You spend all your life with systems – your home, your work, your family, the school you attended. An organisation is a system in which a number of people work together to achieve particular objectives.

Within each system there are smaller systems. The one everyone knows is the solar system. Within it, each of the planets is, itself, a system. Taking Earth, each country i
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1 What is accounting about?

Let's start with a question – we shall call questions ‘Activities’. For many of these activities you will need a pen and paper, or you can use the unit Forum, to note down your own ideas. Once you have completed the Activity you should return to the text, read the comments that follow the activity, and then think again about your answer. Change it, if you like. Once you are happy that you have understood the comments and that your own answer is alright, you should continue to read
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5.2.1 Beyond the UK

We have focused on crime in one society, in one period – the late twentieth-century UK. But crime is also becoming increasingly globalised. This is not simply to say that crime occurs throughout the world, which it certainly does. It is to highlight ways through which crime is becoming organised across borders.

One example would be cross-border criminal gangs. The American-Italian Mafia is now in global competition with Eastern European and Russian Mafias who are in turn up against Ch
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5.2 Where can we go from here?

As this discussion has unfolded we have progressively shifted the focus from a description of crime, either through the common-sense story or through the detailing of statistical evidence, to competing explanations. But this is not the end of the story, well not quite.

Crime is an important area of social scientific inquiry in its own right. But looking at crime has allowed us to connect with many other important topics which are of concern to all social scientists.

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5.1 How did we get here?

We began this unit by posing the question: what is a crime? Shouldn't we be finishing with a clear and unambiguous answer to this? Well we are sorry to disappoint you, if that is what you were expecting, but it doesn't look to us as if there is a simple, unambiguous answer. At the very least, according to Sections 1 and 2 of this chapter, there are: legal and normative definitions of crime; recorded and unrecorded crimes; the crimes we fear and the crimes that fascinate us; and stories of cri
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4.7 Summary

  • The social sciences have generated a range of explanations of criminal behaviour, running on a spectrum from overwhelmingly structural causes to overwhelmingly agency-driven causes.

  • Structural explanations locate the causes of criminality in abnormal or deviant biologies, pathological or problem families and deviant sub-cultures.

  • Agency-driven explanations, like rational choice theory, argue that crimes are an every-day exp
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4.6 Agency explanations: rational choice theory

The work of the Chicago School, despite the potential pitfalls of participant observation, does demonstrate that if you want to know why people commit crimes it makes sense to ask them. In his memoir of a criminal career in the early twentieth century entitled Jail Journey, Jim Phelan wrote:

The robber is a tradesman who, from economics or other motivation, chooses a trade with greater rewards and dangers th
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4.5 Structural explanations III: cultures

An early and influential body of research by the Chicago School of sociology explained criminal behaviour in terms of cultural structures. The school studied American male juvenile delinquents – or young offenders – in inter-war American cities (Shaw and McKay, 1969). Here we use the term culture to describe the web of meanings and values that individuals live their life within. (Recall from Section 1.1 how important every-day norms and conventions were in defining the meaning of c
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4.4 Structural explanations II: families

Our second example of structural explanations of criminal behaviour takes a different starting point. It looks at pathological or problem families and the transmission of criminal careers within them. This work is most closely associated with the social-psychological research of David Farrington (1994).

Farrington's argument has two core components. First, he argues that criminal offending is part of a larger syndrome of anti-social behaviour. A syndrome is a medica
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4.3 Structural explanations I: biology

There is a long and uneven tradition of claims that the origins of crime and deviance are biological. In the nineteenth century it was claimed, for example, that brain sizes and skull shapes could explain criminal behaviour. This kind of crude biological determinism has long been discredited, but it gave way to a more subtle and notionally scientific model of genetic determinism.

In the early twentieth century advocates of eugenics claimed to have created the science of improving
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4.2 Structure and agency in the explanation of the crime problem

The social sciences are both united and divided by the debate over structure and agency. That debate turns on the degree to which people are either free to act as they choose or are constrained by forces beyond their control and possibly beyond their perceptions.

Structural explanations of human behaviour argue that an unrestrained freedom of action is an illusion. Human behaviour is neither random nor purely self-determined. There is always a range of constraints, rules, pressures, es
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4.1 Exploring the claims about crime

The claims of the common-sense story of crime that we unearthed in Section 3 were, broadly speaking, about the start of the story (how things were then) and the end of the story (how things are now). But most stories have a middle. A middle that gets you from the beginning to the end, that explains how one state of affairs is transformed into another. The former claims are primarily descriptive. The claim in the middle would be explanatory. It would need to address questions lik
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3.4 Interpreting the crime problem

The Whole City, My Lord, is alarm'd and uneasy. Wickedness has got such a Head, and the Robbers and Insolence of the Night are such that the citizens are no longer secure within their own Walls or safe even in passing their Streets, but are robbed, insulted, and abused, even at their own Doors … The citizens are oppressed by Rapin and Violence.

(Defoe, 1730, quoted in Reiner, 1996, p.2)


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3.3 Quantitative and qualitative evidence

The Tables above provide official quantitative evidence: evidence, data or information which is expressed in numerical terms. On the face of it, this clearly shows that recorded crime increased significantly throughout the twentieth century, albeit with some ‘dips’ in recent years. Common sense is confirmed. But there are problems with these data. Remember, we are looking here at crimes recorded by the police. Do you think that all crimes are recorded? There might be different
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3.2 Counting the crime problem

What kind of evidence would support the claims of the common-sense narrative? Where would it come from and where would you find it? Most social scientists would start with the people who actually spend their time counting these things – governments. Government agencies of all kinds spend a great deal of time and money producing official statistics, recording crime rates, conviction rates, the size of prison populations, and so on.

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2.1 Social attitudes towards crime

Crime, then, is a social construction. We had to break down the definition of crime and the process of recognising crimes to explore that. This is an analytical approach to the issue, which simply means unpacking an idea or a process into its separate components so that we can examine them more closely. But most of the time we don't think about crime analytically. We think about it as a narrative, as a story.

At a personal level we may tell the story, over a drink, of our
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1.3 Summary

  • Crime has multiple meanings. Those meanings are socially constructed. The most important differences in the meanings of crime occur between strictly legal definitions and those that relate crime to the breaking of other codes and conventions – normative definitions. These may be formal moral codes like religions, or more informal codes of socially-acceptable behaviour.

  • Both these ways of thinking about crime vary historically, across soci
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1.2 The recognition and pursuit of crime

Whatever crime might mean, it can still land you in trouble. So given our answers to the questionnaire, why aren't we doing time at Her Majesty's Pleasure, or paying off an enormous backlog of fines? Not only the meaning of crime, but also the transformation of a potentially criminal act into conviction and imprisonment, is an irreducibly social process.

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1.1 The meaning of crime

Activity 1

What is a crime? Good question, but how to go about answering it? For most of us, most of the time, crime is something other people do. So why not check that against personal experience? Have a go at the questionnair
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10.2 Other sources of help
Learning how to learn: a process we all engage in throughout our lives, but no single method of learning guarantees success. This unit aims to make the process of learning much more explicit by inviting you to apply various ideas and activities to your own study as a way of increasing your awareness of your own learning. Most learning has to be an active process – and this is particularly true of learning how to learn.
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