Sociology of Crime and Deviance

All societies and social collectivities exercise social control: They expect their members to conform to certain normative expectations and punish, condemn, or reproach persons who fail to meet them. Although the layperson rarely uses the term, the sociologist refers to a society's member's departure from the norms as ''deviance.'' By exercising social control, society's members define or constitute deviance.

Sociologically, four components constitute deviance: One, the existence of a norm or rule or law. Two, someone who violates that norm. Three, an audience that observes or learns about the violation and the violator. And four, a negative reaction to the violation: a snub, punishment, condemnation, arrest, denunciation, ridicule, gossip, social isolation, reproach. Clearly, negative reactions range from slightly to strongly negative, which means that deviance is a spectrum, a matter of degree.

Social control may be formal or informal. Some actions are crimes, or violations of the formal norms we refer to as laws, and call for punishment by the state or government. Whenever the state arrests, prosecutes, and imprisons a miscreant, it exercises ''formal'' social control. By definition, a crime is an action the violation of which activates formal social control. A crime is a specific type of deviance. While all crime is a type of deviance, not all deviance is crime; obesity, full body tattooing, and believing that one has been kidnapped by extraterrestrials exemplify serious but not illegal deviance. Nonetheless, crimes are typically regarded as more serious violations of society's norms and usually generate a higher level of public consensus as to their ''wrongness.'' Crime is studied by criminologists; criminology studies violations of the law, usually from a positivistic or explanatory perspective, in addition to the exercise of formal social control, while the sociology of deviance more often studies low-consensus normative violations, usually by means of ethnographic or qualitative methods.

Addiction and Dependency

Terms such as addiction and dependency are frequently used to describe patterns of illicit drug use. However, there are no universal definitions of these terms and they are frequently used inconsistently and interchangeably. As a result, it is difficult to estimate the number of drug users who can be described as addicted or dependent. Addiction […]


Aggression is any behavior that is directed toward injuring, harming, or inflicting pain on another living being or group of beings. Generally, the victim(s) of aggression must wish to avoid such behavior in order for it to be considered true aggression. Hostile aggression is an aggressive act that results from anger, and is intended to […]

Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse

Normative structures surrounding alcohol use vary greatly over history and geography. In many settings drinking only accompanies rituals of celebration and social solidarity. There is however a long history of solitary and group drunkenness with adverse consequences. Dangers of alcohol consumption are recognized in its prohibition throughout Islam. In general, however, history shows eons of […]

Capital Punishment

In both the USA and the world there are few punishments that are as old or as controversial as the punishment of death. In the international community the death penalty is as old as the code of King Hammurabi of Babylon which called for capital punishment for some 25 different crimes. In the USA use […]

Child Abuse

Child abuse includes all forms of physical, emotional and sexual ill-treatment, neglect, and exploitation. Globally, hundreds of millions of children are victims of violence; the vast majority of perpetrators are parents-family caretakers. In the USA, over 3 million children are reported to official agencies for severe maltreatment each year. These official figures are just the […]


Criminologists differ on how they define crime. One definition is a legal definition: crime is a violation of criminal law. Criminologist Edwin Sutherland calls this the conventional definition of crime because it is commonly used. He adds that it is typical to distinguish a crime from a tort. A crime is a violation against the […]

Broken Windows Theory of Crime

The term ”broken windows” is used to signify the characteristics of neighborhood deterioration. They argue that if a broken window in a building or in a car is left untended, other signs of disorder will increase. Wilson and Kelling (1982) suggest that an unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares for the […]

Corporate Crime

Corporate crime involves organizational lawbreaking and includes offenses such as antitrust violations, the filing of false earnings statements, and misleading advertising. Corporate wrongdoing made headlines in the USA in the early 2000swith scandals involving Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and a host of other commercial giants. The legal concept of corporate criminal liability rests upon […]

Organized Crime

Though the study of organized crime is primarily a sociological pursuit, the phenomenon is a subject of study in numerous other disciplines, including anthropology, economics, history, and political science. Despite, if not because of, this broad and varied inquiry into the topic, there is little consensus on what constitutes ”organized crime.” Perhaps the broadest interpretation […]

Political Crime

Political crime is an illegal offense against the state (oppositional crime) with the intention of affecting its policies or an illegal offense by the state and its agents. Individually based political crimes benefit individuals as do occupational political crimes committed within legitimate occupations and intended to benefit office holders. Organizational political crimes benefit the state […]

Marxist Theories of Crime

Marxist criminological theory asserts that crime is the result of structural inequalities that are inherently associated with capitalist economic systems. Although Marx himself wrote very little about crime, theorists have relied on his economic theory to provide a foundation for a critical theory of criminal behavior. Marxist criminologists argue that a society where some people, […]

Social Control Theory of Crime

The social control theory of crime is fundamentally a theory of conformity. Instead of theorizing about the motivations for criminal behavior, control theorists ask, ”Why do people conform?” Their answers to this question stress the importance of strong group relationships, active institutional participation, and conventional moral values in constraining and regulating individual behavior. When these […]

Social Learning Theory of Crime

The social learning theory of crime basically argues that some people learn to commit crimes through the same process through which others learn to conform. The theory assumes that people are ”blank slates” at birth, having neither a motivation to commit crime nor to conform. The theory then asks two questions. First, at the micro-level, […]

White-Collar Crime

The term white-collar crime was coined by Edwin H. Sutherland in his 1939 presidential address to the American Sociological Society. Sutherland’s focus was on crimes and regulatory offenses in business, politics, and the professions that were committed by persons in the upper classes. To be classified as a white-collar crime the behavior had to be […]

Criminal Justice System

The Criminal justice system in any nation is a set of legal and social institutions designed to apprehend, prosecute and punish criminals; maintain social order by controlling crime and ensuring public safety. The three main branches of a criminal justice system are: (1) law enforcement; (2) courts; and (3) corrections. Each of these branches is […]


Edwin Sutherland defined criminology as the study of law making, law breaking and the response to law breaking. The American Society of Criminology calls it the study related to the measurement, etiology, consequences, prevention, control, and treatment of crime and delinquency. It is noteworthy that the term criminology is often used with ”Criminal Justice.” ”Criminology” […]

Criminology Research Methods

Research methods are procedures for obtaining information on individual or aggregate phenomena in order to: (1) create a general explanation or theory to explain a phenomenon; (2) test the applicability of an existing theory; or (3) test the effectiveness of a policy or program. Criminologists examine juvenile delinquency, adult criminality, and victimization. Criminal justice researchers […]


Cybercrime refers to criminal acts that target or use computers as a criminal instrument, or transmit illegal information using computers. Cybercrime targets or uses computers. Hackers gain access to computers to damage databases or software by introducing viruses or ”denial of service” attacks (i.e., viruses or worms that multiply computer transactions to the extent entire […]

Death Penalty as a Social Problem

The death penalty is the sentence of death after conviction following due process of law. The death penalty has been sanctioned by major juridical and religious traditions. It was defended during the Renaissance and Reformation by many Enlightenment thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. This same period first saw the emergence of the movement […]


In 1955 there were 559,000 patients in public mental hospitals in the USA, the highest there had ever been. At that time, patients were largely committed involuntarily and had long hospital stays. For more than a century, the number of patients at state institutions, historically the primary facilities for the treatment of psychiatric disorders, had […]