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What is Sociological Criminology?

By Sarah Valek
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

Sociological criminology is the practice of examining crime from a sociological point of view. Specifically, sociologists see crime as an individual and social problem and believe that it cannot be properly understood without examining the surrounding social, political and economical context. People in this field attempt to understand why people commit crimes and what can be done about it, with a focus on the offender as an individual.

Criminology itself is the scientific study of crime and delinquency. It looks at the causes, correction, and prevention of crime and can be viewed through various academic lenses, like sociology. General sociological theory considers criminal behavior to be a normal response to extreme social circumstances.

Offenders are not necessarily viewed as bad people. A sociologist looks at the social context of a person’s situation, examining the offender’s race, neighborhood, social circle, income level, education level, job or career, and type of childhood to determine why a person became delinquent. There are many specific theories within the field to explain criminal behavior, such as differential association, neutralization theory, and the theory of anomie.

Differential association theory asserts that criminal behavior is learned via communication with intimate personal groups. A person not only learns techniques needed to commit the crime, but the surrounding attitudes, drive, and rationalizations associated with the criminal act. The person is then surrounded by an excess of favorable definitions of crime that outweigh the unfavorable aspects of breaking the law. Therefore, crime is seen as normal and beneficial.

Neutralization theory views a delinquent as someone who redefines deviant behavior to be morally acceptable and therefore justifiable. In that person’s mind, committing a specific crime becomes an explainable, reasonable action, not something viewed as morally objectionable or wrong. The sociological theory of anomie asserts that offenders commit crimes as a last resort. Since the offender was unable to meet his or her goals using legal, socially acceptable means, he or she resorts to illegal tactics to reach the original goal.

According to conflict theory, the less power a person possesses, the more he or she is likely to commit a crime. Dominant groups in society are responsible for making and enforcing laws. Sociological criminology also examines the assumptions society has about criminals and punishment. Students of sociology are taught to question their previously held views of criminals and why people commit crimes.

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Discussion Comments
By subway11 — On Jul 06, 2010

Sunny27- I could not agree with you more. I think greed is a significant factor in many crimes. Most white collar crimes occur because of greed and a feeling that the person is not going to get caught.

But can only wealthy people experience greed? I don’t think so. I believe that greed exists in both poor and wealthy people; it is just the degrees of which they steal that are different.

A poor person might rob a convenience store, while a wealthy person might perform much money laundering tactics. It is still stealing.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 06, 2010

Excellent article, but I would like to add that it not always the person who possesses less power that is more likely to commit a crime.

Many white-collar criminals yielded significant power while they were employed but made immoral choices due to greed. Take Bernie Madoff, for example. He was a financial advisor to many who was sought after all over the world for his elite financial advice.

He ruined his client’s entire livelihood as well as their lives because of greed, not because he was not powerful enough. Sometimes these theories make a simple thing complicated. Bernie Madoff was thief, plain and simple.

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