There are three primary explanations for the existence of crime and deviance in society: biological, psychological, and sociological. Deviance can be understood as the variation from the average, as defined by Becker (1963).
4). A deviant individual is someone who can be characterized as breaching the established and unspoken regulations of their society. Paul Broca, a French anthropologist, presented one of the initial theories regarding biological factors, stating that there existed variances in the craniums of offenders compared to the general population. In the 1870’s, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist, theorized that individuals were innately inclined towards criminal behavior.
According to the theory of homo delinquens, these individuals were considered a primitive form of human and labelled as a “genetic throwback” (Bartol, 1980, p25?). This theory argued that while social environment and learning played a role in their behavior, genetics was the main factor (Giddens, 1993, p. 122). Researchers in criminology therefore examined family trees to determine any hereditary influence.
This search yielded no conclusive results due to the inability to differentiate between inherited and environmental factors. In the 1940s, William Sheldon postulated a link between an individual’s physique and their propensity for criminal behavior and deviance. He classified three types of physiques: mesomorphs, characterized by muscular and active builds; ectomorphs, who had thin and frail bodies; and endomorphs, who had more flesh. Sheldon asserted that mesomorphs were more prone to deviant behavior, possibly because gang activities often required athleticism (Giddens, 1993, p.).
123). The viewpoint mentioned above faced criticism for suggesting a connection between physical appearance and deviant behavior unrelated to genetics. However, some researchers argued that criminal tendencies, particularly in males, were associated with chromosomes, indicating a genetic influence. From this standpoint, individuals with an extra Y chromosome had a greater chance of engaging in violent criminal activities.
Insufficient sample sizes for testing have once again led to inconclusive evidence on a theory. The theory suggests that certain crimes could be influenced by natural tendencies towards irritability and aggression. However, experts doubt the hereditary nature of personality traits and even if they were heritable, the link to crime would be tenuous at most (Giddens, 1993, p. 123).
In general, criminologists and researchers agree that genetics may have a small influence on criminal behavior (Bartol, 1980, p. 25). This notion has had a significant impact on studies concerning crime and deviance and has also guided future research. Moving forward, the next theory to investigate is the psychological theory, which suggests a link between crime/deviance and specific personality traits.
Freud believed that morality is developed through self-restraints learned during childhood. According to this theory, individuals who do not learn these self-restraints lack a fundamental sense of morality, which may lead them towards delinquent behavior. This perspective raises the question of whether this lack of morality is considered criminal. Most studies on this topic have been conducted within the prison system, resulting in evidence from a negative perspective. On the other hand, a positive interpretation of this trait could describe it as adventurous, carefree, and impulsive (Giddens, 1993, p. 124).
Individuals without a fundamental moral compass may turn to crime or pursue alternative socially acceptable means to satisfy their wants. Criminologists have observed that numerous criminals exhibit traits akin to those of the overall populace. Nonetheless, it would be illogical to presume that all offenders possess identical attributes as each criminal act takes place in distinct circumstances. According to sociological theory, societal norms and perceptions determine what is classified as criminal behavior.
Each sub-culture has different norms that can be considered deviant in comparison to others. Edwin Sutherland concluded that certain environments encourage criminal behavior and that individuals who associate with such environments are more likely to become delinquents. Robert Merton attributed most crime to anomie, which occurs when the traditional norms of a society are eroded without being replaced by new ones.
Anomie arises when there are no established guidelines to direct behavior in a specific social domain (Giddens, 1993, p. 126). Such a circumstance places a significant strain on behavior when existing norms conflict with actuality. An instance of this is the misconception that individuals from any background can achieve material prosperity.
Unfortunately, individuals who fail to succeed face criticism for their lack of progress, creating significant pressure on them to achieve material success by any means, whether legitimate or not. In response to this pressure, five main types of people emerge. The first group are conformists who adhere to societal values and norms, pursuing success through conventional methods. The second group, known as innovators, also embrace the values but resort to illegal means to achieve their goals.
Among the different groups, those who follow ritualism conform, yet they often overlook the ultimate objective and instead focus on the ritual of accumulating material possessions merely for the sake of having them. Retreatists isolate themselves from society and its values, occasionally in a tangible manner like joining a self-sufficient commune (Giddens, 1993, p. 127). The final group is likely the most familiar among the five, as they are the rebels who reject the values and actively attempt to transform the prevailing values and social structure.
In the 1960’s, Cloward and Ohlin associated anomie with affiliation. This implies that in situations where acquiring wealth through legal methods was extremely rare, individuals were tempted to transition from committing minor, occasional offenses to fully embracing a life of crime and deviance. An influential theory during this era was the labelling theory, which referred to the initial offense committed by individuals as primary deviation when they were caught for the first time.
There is a theory that suggests the secondary deviation happens when someone acknowledges being labeled as a delinquent and then deliberately acts accordingly in order to live up to that label. However, it is uncertain whether labeling itself actually leads to an increase in deviant behavior. This theory argues that every act is not inherently criminal, which may not be accurate in cases such as murder, theft, and rape. Many theorists agree that individuals make a rational choice and believe that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
Every crime, including situations with irresistible opportunities, can be interpreted as actions rather than reactions (Giddens, 1993, p. 131). Labelling theory is widely praised for its effectiveness in interpreting various aspects of crime and deviant behavior (Giddens, 1993, p.
According to Roach-Anleu (1995, p. 45), different theories are useful for explaining certain deviant activities. Most researchers also emphasize the significance of understanding the social environments and context in which crimes occur.