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Saturday, May 24, 2014
Subcultural Deviance: The Poverty Pitfall
Subcultural Deviance: The Poverty Pitfall
The main causes of white-collar crime and blue-collar crime are criminals. While this sounds sarcastic, it should be noted that “data from Marvin Wolfgang's famous Philadelphia cohort study suggested that around 5 percent of offenders account for 40 percent of crimes “ (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, 2014, para. 1). In addition, studies of convicted criminals show that “Within three years of release, 67.5% of the 1994 cohort were arrested for a new crime.” (Leipold, 2006, p.546)
This implies that most crime is committed by people that repeatedly commit crime. The question is then, what impels these people to break the law, over and over? A partial answer lies in anomie theory, which examines the stress in an individual caused by the conflict between achieving cultural goals and staying within institutional guidelines to achieve them A person has cultural goals such as success, wealth and station; a person that cannot achieve these goals within the institutional guidelines (the rules and norms of his society) will suffer from some internal strain which must be dealt with through one of five methods of adoption. The second method of adaption is innovation in which a person deals with this strain by achieving cultural goals while subverting or ignoring institutional guidelines. According to Merton, “when the aim of victory is shorn of its institutional trappings and success in contests becomes construed as 'winning the game' rather than 'winning through circumscribed modes of activity,' a premium is implicitly set upon the use, of illegitimate but technically efficient means.” (Williams & McShane, 1998, p.124).However, anomie theory ignores personal goals which are not always the same as cultural goals. Some criminals seek to hurt victims when they have already achieved the cultural goal of wealth. This may reflect an alpha need to dominate, or a hateful person “punishing” victims of different races, different social classes, or of the opposite sex. These could be considered as personal goals, and not cultural goals. Finally, it may be that criminals just can't control themselves to make legal free will decisions. Engel states "criminality is a time invariant personality trait, namely self-control" ( 2012, p.15)
There is not necessarily a difference in the causes of white-collar crime and blue-collar crime. There appears to be a bias in Positivist thinking of the Chicago School that poverty is a cause of crime. According to Williams & McShane, lower-class people are unable to teach their children not to steal. “...they [lower-class children]are also evaluated by adults who use a 'middle-class measuring rod,' a set of standards that are difficult for the lower-class child to attain. These standards include sharing, delaying gratification, setting long-range goals, and respecting others’ property. All of these things intrinsically relate to being brought up with property of one’s own and to having parents who know firsthand the future can be better and hard work pays off. None of these standards are necessarily self-evident to the parents of lower-class children, and they cannot be expected to lie to their children.” (2014, p.92) It may surprise Williams and McShane, but not all poor people are either criminals or welfare clients.
There is a commonality to the sociological theories that criminal behavior is a learned behavior. Differential association theory stresses that criminal tools and values are taught by intimate groups; although focal concern, subculture theory, and differential opportunity theory focus on juveline delinquents and gang culture, the concept that criminal behavior is more likely to be learned in subcultures that are oriented towards criminal activity, This can also be related to differential association theory if we assume that the intimate persoanl group is part of the subculture. It is important to note that subcultures do not have to be gangs of poor youth. The Enron situation provides us with an example of a corporate executive subculture based on criminality. “A lot can be said about the culture that the leaders at Enron created. 'They set the wrong role models, rewarded risky rule breaking and created a ‘win-at-all-cost’ system.” (Khedekar, 2010, p.166). A second counter example can be found in the treason of Boyce and Lee, members of the middle-class that established their own subculture based in spying. It can be argued then that some subcultures, which can be defined in terms of neighborhoods or localities, companies, and social groups, can indeed be more prone to criminal activity. Let us use with the example of the Ivy League and it's graduates. From Travelgate to the Gorelick Wall to the TARP “bailout” scheme, from Gorelick to Geithner (and a book could be written solely on Jamie Gorelick's blundering from scandal to scandal), Ivy League graduates can be found at the center of every business and political scandal or disaster America has dealt with for the last thirty years, if not longer. How can this be accounted for in terms of learned behavior? In 2013, cheating scandals erupted amongst the Ivy league schools at Barnard, Columbia, and Harvard, an issue discussed by Liz Crocker in the article “The Ivy League’s Cheating Problem” (2013) Bur where would the students learn such behavior? From these institutions themselves, possibly? “Pulitzer Prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Golden published The Price of Admission, a devastating account of the corrupt admissions practices at so many of our leading universities “ (Unz, 2012, para.6) Thus it can be argued both that criminality can be caused from learned behavior in a subculture, and that the subculture does not necessarily have to be poor.
The last sentence shows both the strength and the weakness of the sociological theories. Coming from a Positivist influence to explain crime, these theories can be excellent in describing the conditions that criminals operate in, and the possible reasons they decide to commit those crimes. The failure of these theories is the tendency to ascribe poverty as an immutable cause of law-breaking. The biggest failure of these theories is the policy prescriptions that are based upon that premise. Richard Cloward comes to mind immediately with his participation in the formulation of the “Cloward-Piven Strategy”, with the goal of overloading the state and the economy to the point of collapse. Supposedly this would end poverty, but with the examples set from the execution of every other scheme based on Marxist/oppression theory (North Korea and Cuba come immediately to mind), it's not a risk/reward scenario worth pursuing for a thoughtful society. The focus on poverty as a cause of crime also overlooks the motives and decision-making in criminals that are not poor, and further highlights this weakness. Thus we could call the major weakness of this line of thinking “the poverty pitfall”
We should examine two of the sociological theories separately, as they do both a better job of describing criminal motivations and and of not focusing on the “poverty pitfall”. Differential association theory also stresses crime as a learned activity; this theory though is based on a premise of culture conflict. Of course, following from this theory, a society that focuses on mala in se crime and doesn't “busybody” it's neighbors with a plethora of mala prohibita regulations would have less crime. Anomie theory, as described in the first paragraph, has a similarity to differential association theory in that both are more flexible in describing criminal behavior whether it be white-collar crime or blue-collar crime.
In summary, we will state the following: that most crime is committed by the same individuals over and over, that these individuals make the decision to commit crime, that their motive in making the criminal decision may be influenced by behavior that they have learned, that criminal behavior can be learned from participation in a criminally oriented subculture, and that these types of subcultures may be found at every level of social class in society. We have looked at crime though criminological theories based upon the Chicago School; theories that stress crime as a learned behavior, and we have discarded fallacies based on a premise that poor people are a priori criminals. So thus we leap over the “poverty pitfall”.
Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. (2014). Consider repeat offending. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.popcenter.org/learning/60steps/index.cfm?stepNum=30
Crocker, L. (2013, May 12). The Ivy League’s cheating problem. The Daily Beast. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.thedailybeast.com/witw/articles/2013/05/12/barnard-and-columbia-rocked-by-cheating-scandals.html
Engel, C. (2012, February). Low self-control as a source of crime: a meta-study. Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods. Bonn. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.coll.mpg.de/pdf_dat/2012_04online.pdf
Khedekar, D. (2010,October ). Corporate crime: A comparison of culture at Enron and Satyam. Economics & Business Journal:Inquiries & Perspectives :156: Volume 3 :Number 1. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://ecedweb.unomaha.edu/EBJIP2010Khedekar.pdf
Leipold, A. (2006). Recidivism, incapacitation, and criminal sentencing policy. University of St. Thomas Law Journal: Vol. 3:Iss. 3, Article 9. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://ir.stthomas.edu/ustlj/vol3/iss3/9
Unz, R. (2012, November 28). The myth of American meritocracy:How corrupt are Ivy League admissions? The American Conservative. Retrieved April 25, 2014 from http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/the-myth-of-american-meritocracy/
Williams, F. & McShane, M. (1998) Criminology theory: Selected classic readings (2nd edition). Anderson Publishing Co.
Williams, F. & McShane, M. (2014) Criminology theory (6th edition). Pearson