6 May 2014

Sociology of Crime: What is crime and deviance?

What is a crime? To many, a crime is a behavior that violates the law. Laws are created to protect people from social harm, but how do we really know what constitutes a social harm?

Take for example same-sex marriage. It is unanimous among many scholars that homosexuality is natural (people are born LGBT). But yet it is considered to be an illegal "behavior" in many countries, and not too long ago it was illegal for same-sex couples to marry in all of North America because many people believed (and some still do) that homosexuality was a mental disorder.

Another example would be marijuana. Marijuana is a plant that many scientists have deemed to be an excellent medicine for a great number of illnesses. Scientists have also deemed marijuana no worse than alcohol and much better than cigarettes. But yet, it is still illegal to grow and use this plant in the majority of countries because there are groups who believe that pot is a gateway drug and that it is highly addictive.

So if you believe in the science provided, where is the social harm in these two examples? Does marijuana kill millions of people every year like cigarettes do? And does the act of same-sex couples marrying harm as many people as, say, sex-traffickers do?

Because of confusions such as these, many believe that looking at deviance (the violation of social norms via behaviours and/or actions) is just as important as looking at social harm when you are studying crime and society because it gives more insight into why an act would be considered a crime by allowing us to ask if the act is a violation of social norm or if it does indeed harm others.

In this series of articles, I will discuss the theories of crime and deviance, and what each sociological paradigm has to say about them.


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