Social Exclusion & Crime Research Paper Starter

Social Exclusion & Crime

(Research Starters)

How does the marginalization of people in society relate to criminal activity? Are some groups more marginalized than others? What happens when people feel disconnected from others in society, and how does that affect their propensity toward crime? What can be done to ameliorate the correlation between of social exclusion and crime? Questions like these fit into the broader study of crime and deviance and engender theories regarding causes of crime and delinquency (Siegel, 2006). Issues of social stratification and inequality underpin many of these questions — and the answers they generate. First, social and economic inequalities can be viewed as antecedents to social and political unrest, which at times takes the form of criminal activity and violence. Second, the burden of crime is disproportionately distributed across social groups such that the poorest economic groups are among the most likely to be victimized by crime (Thatcher, 2004). In the first instance, social exclusion may lead to crime; in the second, the experience or perpetration of crime may lead to (further) social exclusion.

Keywords Anomie; Social Exclusion; Individual Theories of Crime; Rational Choice; Socialization; Social Control; Social Strain; Structural Theories of Crime

Stratification

Social Exclusion

Overview

How does the marginalization of people in society relate to criminal activity? Are some groups more marginalized than others? What happens when people feel disconnected from others in society, and what is the relationship between that disconnection and crime? Questions like these fit into the broader study of crime and deviance and engender theories regarding causes of crime and delinquency (Siegel, 2006). Issues of social stratification and inequality underpin many of these questions — and the answers they generate. First, social and economic inequalities can be viewed as antecedents to social and political unrest, which at times takes the form of criminal activity and violence. Second, the burden of crime is disproportionately distributed across social groups such that the poorest economic groups are among the most likely to be victimized by crime (Thatcher, 2004). In the first instance, social exclusion may lead to crime; in the second, the experience or perpetration of crime may lead to (further) social exclusion.

Although crime declined in the US between the 1980s and early 2000s, that decline was not shared equally across social groups (Thatcher, 2004). For instance, although theft crimes are more likely to occur within higher economic levels, violent crime and burglary is more likely to be experienced by poorer people. This burden may have the effect of reinforcing other forms of inequality (such as income and health inequalities), which in turn contribute to social exclusion. Demographic change within the poorest groups is of particular note: these groups are more likely to be young, urban, and unmarried and exposed to interactions and spaces where criminal acts are more likely to occur.

What is Social Exclusion?

Social exclusion is a somewhat ambiguous concept that is measured in different ways but that conceptualizes the alienation or disenfranchisement of certain groups of people within a society. Some people are marginalized based on factors related to their social class, race, and gender or age. Social exclusion also applies to people who are perceived to be more likely to deviate from the norms and values of society (e.g., young people are often seen as 'trouble makers,' Greer and Jewks, 2005). Policy makers in the UK measure social exclusion according to levels of income, health, type of housing (e.g., public or private, owned or rented), employment status, and political involvement. Concomitantly, the UK government defines social exclusion as "what happens when people or places suffer from a series of problems such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime, ill health and family breakdown" (www.crimeinfo.org.uk).

Researchers agree that social exclusion is about more than income poverty and financial difficulties. As Young (2001) suggests, social exclusion is multidimensional and involves not only exclusion from economic and political involvement (such as exclusion from the job market or from expressing political views) but also exclusion from a variety of areas of social life, such as exclusion from living in certain neighborhoods and lack of access to medical provision, policing, or housing.

When individuals are excluded from society, they are deprived from social recognition and their value to society (Meyers, 1993). Thus, many individuals feel less obligated to follow the rules of society and positively contribute to their community. Social exclusion can also lead to reduced brain function, poor decision making, drug and alcohol use, and crime.

How has Social Exclusion Occurred?

Social exclusion is a product of vast changes in the way people in modern industrialized societies live, many of which contribute directly to a sense of risk and uncertainty (e.g., instability in family life, economic precariousness, excessive individualism; see Beck, 1992). Not only is there less secure employment in the early twenty-first century than in the mid-twentieth century, but also a larger proportion of the population work in jobs that are insecure (often accompanied by low wages) or they persistently find it difficult to find employment at all (Young, 1991). Some commentators suggest that such changes contribute to social disconnection and community fragmentation such that social ties are loosened (Putnam, 2000). In communities where there are loose social ties, there is some evidence of higher levels of crime, because there is less informal social control (e.g., such as neighbors looking out for each other).

Scholarship in the areas of social exclusion and crime has demonstrated the link between social exclusion and criminal activity (Kramer, 1998). These findings warrant additional discussion and research in so far as they shed light on theories of crime and deviance that go beyond rational choice and suggest sociostructural factors contribute to, and can potentially decrease, the propensity of individuals to engage in criminal activity.

Further Insights

Crime Theories

There are many ways that scholars have tried to explain crime that focus variously on individual choices, personal traits, social process, and structural conflict (Seigel, 2006).

First, for functionalists, crime is a normal part of healthy societies: the rule-breaking associated with crime serves to highlight shared norms and values and reaffirm the basis of society. Thus, in this perspective, crime is even considered necessary to secure and maintain the moral foundation of society. However, such a view takes little account of how crime is distributed across social groups, and as research suggests (e.g., Thatcher, 2004), crime is disproportionately perpetrated and shared by the poorest groups in society. Moreover, functionalist approaches to crime assume that there is consensus about constitutes right and wrong actions or behaviors — not so, argue some scholars (Marsh et al., 1996). For instance, some people are labeled as wrongdoers or criminals because their rule-breaking violates a social norm; thus, the act itself is not...

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