Introduction to Sociology

Introduction to Sociology

Measurable Objectives

  1. Describe what it means to use the sociological imagination.
  2. Describe what it means to say that reality is socially constructed.
  3. Distinguish between different approaches/theories in sociology.
  4. Illustrate ways that culture influences behavior.
  5. Define and recognize basic components of culture (e.g., values, norms, symbols, language.
  6. Describe characteristics of social structure at the micro-level, e.g., social groups.
  7. Describe characteristics of social structure at the macro level, e.g., organizations or social institutions.
  8. Describe what it means to use the sociological imagination.
  9. Describe what it means to say that reality is socially constructed.
  10. Distinguish between different approaches/theories in sociology.
  11. Illustrate ways that culture influences behavior.
  12. Define and recognize components of culture (e.g., values, norms, symbols, language.
  13. Describe characteristics of social structure at the micro-level, e.g., social groups.
  14. Describe characteristics of social structure at the macro level, e.g., organizations or social institutions.

Week 7 Materials

The materials for the week address the issue of Crime & Deviance.

Crime and Deviance are not the same!                                                                                      Crime is a violation of law (local, State, or federal laws).                                                                      Crime is a social construct.

Crime is a product of someone’s reality.


Deviance is any behavior that violates a social norm. Chapter 4 explains values, beliefs, norms  and taboos (you should review the previous section to understand how the notions of deviance change from person-to-person, culture-to- culture, and one society to the next). Deviance is similar to law because it is a social construct. Deviance, however, is not always related to the issue of law. Subsequently, an individual can be deviant and not criminal, criminal but not deviant, and both criminal and deviant.

Context is EVERYTHING! Questions of who did what, where, and how must be addressed. Issues such as race, class, sex, age, etc., also must be assessed to understand whether an act is criminal or deviant.

Test your knowledge:                                                                                                

Is speeding criminal/deviant or both?

Is killing people criminal/deviant, or both?

Is drinking alcohol and driving criminal/deviant, or both?

What about the possession of a firearm in a mall?

These five scenarios may appear to be obvious; however, they might not be as apparent. You must question the class, race, and occupation of the intidivual engaed in the behavior. You may need to know more about the context of a behavior occuring. Speeding is against the law, but it is not considered deviant. In this country, speeding constitutes a social norm; therefore, people who are not speeding are considered deviant.

Killing People: This activity always gets the same response-CRIMINAL!!! Nonetheless, the same rules of context apply when trying to understand the motivation for this behavior. People are killed every day during the war. When soldiers kill, they receive medals of valor instead of lofty jail sentences. Thus, a person in the armed services could kill 1000 people and receive praise. Without the State’s sanction, a person could kill one person and spend the rest of their life in prison. Context is Everything!!!!!!!!!

What makes criminals?????Why does an individual turn to a life of crime? A crime, like all other behaviors, is learned. Children are not born criminals. Something in their environment/culture socializes them to be criminals. Although we will look at the notion of crime in later chapters, I find that discussing crime here allows people to understand the impact of culture and socialization on our behaviors. First, the notion of crime is a social construct. Things are illegal simply because someone in power says they should be. I know many of us believe that laws are in place to protect us; however, can we think of a law that harms or contradicts those that are supposed to protect us? For example, if we look at drug classifications, there are both legal and illegal drugs. If drugs are harmful, how can some be legal and others not? Who chooses what makes one drug legal and another drug illegal? What criteria do they use for this decision? Is this criterion not based on their socialization about right and wrong?

7 Major Theories of Crime & Deviance

Chicago School suggests that crime is a result of environmental interactions. This theory assumes that specific environmental influences push individuals into criminal endeavors. For some, because of their environment, crime is a cultural tradition. Crime is routine in some cultures. Therefore, the people who engage in crime may not see anything “wrong” with their behaviors. If I am 6 years old, for example, and I go “shopping” with my parents and see them putting large items in the shopping cart and small materials in their pockets — The behaviors become normal – I do not see the behavior as stealing, I see the behavior as SHOPPING!

Anomie suggests that crime is because of stress due to a lack of success and a lack of institutional means to obtain success. This theory suggests that people have developed goals and how to achieve the goals. Society identifies institutions to assist us in obtaining specific goals. The so called “American Dream” suggests – to work hard enough, YOU can achieve anything you want! Not only do I have a clear picture of what I want, but society has also creates a blueprint that should assist me in obtaining these things. Work hard, go to school, secure a good job, and the world is yours (of course, this is more difficult than it sounds). In reality, we all cannot go to school. Even if we could all attend school, the school does not guarantee that we will get the job that will secure all the lofty goals we desire. Although people work hard and follow the blueprint provided by society, they still may fail to see the fruit of their labor. For some people, the blueprint does not work.  An individual might begin to manufacture a new blueprint to obtain all the material items the construct of the American Dream promises.  The new blueprint usually entails illegal behaviors. Some might say that criminals are not bad people. They want the same things out of life as everyone else; however, legitimate means of acquisition are blocked. Thus, they must create alternate means of achieving their goals.

Functionalism suggests that crime serves a purpose in society. A proper balance between crime and deviance are beneficial to the social system. Too much crime and deviance will cause dysfunction.  Not enough crime and deviance will cause a dysfunction (Review your previous required reading and lecture materials for a more extensive discussion of Structural Functionalism). Crime serves three unique functions: unite groups, question the normative order, and promote social change.

Value Conflict argues that law is a social construct that illustrates the values of those who have the power to construct them. The law is a product of power relationships. Law creates an unequal binary between those who power and those who do not. Criminals are not bad people; they operate under different values than those who make laws. Law is not about bad/good or right/wrong. Law is about one culture’s superiority over that of another. Criminals are, therefore, criminals because they have a different set of values than those who have the power to construct the rules.

Control Perspective suggests that the law is a tool of oppression. People in power create laws to maintain control over the powerless. This theory suggests that the powerful are not concerned with right/wrong/bad/good/moral/immoral; all they are concerned about is maintaining their power. One group maintains power by keeping another group powerless. Law operates to support the selfish goals and desires of the powerful.

Social Pathology suggests that crime is an economic/production change occurring faster than people can adapt to the new structural expectations. Moving from an agricultural-based society to an industrialized society may have caused some individuals to not progress at the same pace as society. People lose the ability to produce desired needs and wants,  ultimately leading to a life of crime. For example, working at a typewriter factory in the 1960s, provides job security. By 2023, those jobs are gone. If an individual does not transition to working on computers, they will eventually find themselves out of a job. Those with the proper skills can survive. Those who do not have the proper abilities need to find other means of survival. Crime is a natural product of the system and occurs because of necessity.

Labeling Theory states that criminals are just those defined as such. Social definitions that define you as a criminal will ultimately define how people will now treat you (Refer to the text’s discussion of Labeling Theory). If a label sticks, it then evolves into a stereotype. A stereotype is a broad overgeneralization of specific characteristics of an entire population. Stereotypes do not just impact an individual. Stereotypes impact ALL individuals identified by a unique set of characteristics. There are stereotypes about the behaviors of individual races, classes, religious groups, etc. These stereotypes suggest that group characteristics cause them to engage in certain criminal behaviors. These stereotypes evolve into ethnic/racial profiling. Profiling allows us to justify the false imprisonment, harassment, verbal and physical assault, and even killing of people identified through the original labels. The most important thing to remember is that the label identifies you as a criminal even if you are not a criminal. Your actual behavior does not matter.

Key Concepts

Biological Theories of Deviance

Psychological Theories of Deviance

Understanding Crime and Deviance as a Social Construct

Be able to Apply major Sociological Theories to all information covered in the text

Relativistic View of Crime and Deviance

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