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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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1.2 The immediacy of the still photograph

Let's begin with an example that links an historical event to a photograph. Take a moment to think about the pictures you keep in your ‘mind's eye’. Now think about the Vietnam War for a few seconds. Try to recall what images you associate with that period. It may be that you are too young to recall anything about the time; you may remember it all too vividly. It really does not matter too much for this exercise. Just see what images come into your mind when you think about that time in r
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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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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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4.3 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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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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3.4 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)

S
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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 reas
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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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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 questionnaire below,
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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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2.2 Summary

  • Developments in sports media have included a move towards more sensationalism, very similar to that in other popular cultural fields as represented in the tabloid press.

  • Sport coverage adopts the language of popular culture and its techniques (images, personal stories about family and personal problems).

  • Technologies and technical developments are crucial to the media–sport complex, whereby mediated sport culture creates
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2.1 The historical relationship between sport and the media

We want you to look at two readings that focus on two key moments in the historical relationship between sport and the media. Take this as an opportunity to practise your note-taking skills.

Activity 2

Now read the following extr
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