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Module team

Prepared for the course team by Peter Hamilton and Kath Woodward


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Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions) and is used under licence.This content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Licence

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this unit:


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References

Arnett, P. et al. (1998) Flash! Associated Press Covers the World, New York, Harry N. Abrams.
Barley, N. (1983) The Innocent Anthropologist, London, Penguin.
Becker, H.S. (1985) ‘Do photographs tell the truth?’ in Cook, T.D. and Reichardt, C.S. (eds) Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Evaluation Research, London, Sage.
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Looking at the family: the 1950s

Activity 4

3.2 Looking at the family

Activity 3

The 1990s wedding photograph

Figure 3
Figure 3: Wedding group in 1997.

Now let us look at the 1990s image. This too depicts a wedding. What makes it different from that of
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2.4 Looking closely at photographs for social data

Activity 2

Look at the photographs of a wedding group in Figures 2 a
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2.3 Realist and conventionalist approaches

In most modern, urban, industrial societies, still images surround people for much of their daily lives: at home, at work, during leisure, while travelling. Does the evidence they offer differ fundamentally from that which comes from facts and figures printed on a page? It may be presented differently but we can derive socially relevant information as readily from a photograph as we can from written or numerical data. In some ways, it can be argued that the information that we can acqu
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2.2 Theories, documents and knowledge

Documentary evidence is often messy and inconsistent, and even where it seems to be ‘factual’ (for example in the form of official records) its precise meaning in terms of wider social processes is far from clear. There is uncertainty about what it means, as well as the representation of uncertainty and diversity in the images. In every case, the meaning of the evidence is dependent on interpretation, that is, the part of the theory we employ to understand what is going on.
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References

Christiansen, K.O. (1977) ‘A review of studies of criminality among twins’ in Mednick, S.A. and Christiansen, K.O. (eds) Bisocial Bases of Criminal Behaviour, New York, Gardner Press, pp. 45–88.
Clarke, R.V. and Coleman, D. (1980) Designing Out Crime, London, HMSO.
Cohen, S. (1973) Folk Devils and Moral Panics, London, Paladin.
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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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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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4.1 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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3.5 Evaluating claims, using evidence

Where does this exploration of evidence lead us? Can we decisively confirm or refute the common-sense stories of the crime problem in the UK?

Through an investigation of quantitative statistical evidence we certainly have some support for the claim that crime has risen considerably. But there are also doubts. The official statistics do not reflect unrecorded crime, and as one probes more deeply into the statistics we find that only certain types of crime have been on the rise. In any ca
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3.1 Claims about crime

Definitions beg questions. So do social narratives and stories. Again, we need, as social scientists, to begin with an analytical task. What are the key claims that are being made in the common-sense story of the problem of crime? What are the core arguments that hold the whole thing together? There are a number of these, but two seem to be particularly important.

Claim 1: UK society in the immediate
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2.2 A society frightened by crime?

We do not have to look too far to find someone saying that the UK is a society gripped by rising levels of crime, anti-social behaviour and incivility; or that disorder threatens social stability. The criminologist Robert Reiner suggests that ‘in the last 40 years, we have got used to thinking of crime, like the weather and pop music, as something that is always getting worse’ (Reiner, 1996, p. 3). So who is telling this story?

Most of us will have heard older family members and fri
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Learning outcomes

On completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • give a definition of crime (in terms of society);

  • state the steps and factors that lead from a crime to conviction;

  • illustrate how society views crime ‘with fear and fascination’;

  • give examples of the relationship between crime rates and the evidence to support these claims.


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Introduction

‘Tough on the causes of crime.’ A famous phrase, but what is crime? This unit examines how we as a ‘society’ define crime. You will look at the fear that is generated within communities and what evidence is available to support claims that are made about crime rates.

This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Introducing the social sciences (DD100) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish t
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