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1.1 Why look at photographs?

Age Concern poster: age and identity
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Visual Images in Social Sciences

How do social scientists use visual images?

What does a picture or image tell you? This unit is an introduction to analysing and interpreting photographs as social data. Who controls what the image is saying? You will look at how photographs provide visual evidence and how they can illustrate and support our ideas about society.

This material is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Introducing the social sciences (DD100) which is no longer taught by The
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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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5.2.1 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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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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2.3 A society fascinated by crime?

To make an analogy with the now outmoded vinyl record, if ‘the fear of crime’ track is the A-side of this hit record, the track on the B-side is ‘the fascination with crime’. Fascination may seem an unusual word to associate with the pressing social problem of crime, given its harmful and destructive consequences. After all, we often associate being fascinated with being allured or charmed by someone or something. How might such feelings be associated with those fearful things we call
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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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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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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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Acknowledgements

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

The content ackno
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References

Anderson, B. (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (2nd edn), London, Verso.
Egan, P. (1812) Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism, from the Days of the Renowned Broughton and Slack to the Heroes of the Present Milling Era, vol. 1, London, G. Smeeton.
Holt, R. and Mason, T. (2007) ‘Sensationalism and t
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4 Conclusion

  • Since its invention, modern sport has been closely linked to the mass media as a central part of popular culture.

  • The media have expanded the reach of sports audiences and helped populate and enrich professional sport.

  • Sport provides exciting content for the media through comprehensible narratives and modern heroes and celebrities.

  • The media are selective in their coverage of sport, demonstrating inequaliti
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3.2 Summary

  • Modern sport is characterised by stories and heroes.

  • There is enormous interest in the lives of sports celebrities, who become the heroes of the sports stories that the media present.

  • Sports stars may be more ‘real’ than film stars because they actually do what they are famous for (i.e. they really perform athletic feats, they don’t act out parts).


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