The Paradoxes of Crime and Deviance

“CRIME IS ON THE RISE!” Screams the headline.

Tom and I were concerned about this alarming headline so we decided to do a study of crime and deviance.

“Tom, what do our values and norms have to do with crime and deviance?”

“Well Dave, our values are general beliefs about what is right and wrong, the standards which are worth maintaining and achieving in society.

Norms are society’s rules which define correct and appropriate behavior in society, in other words, how to live together in an orderly way.”


“Dave, how do we CONTROL society in order to have the rules adhered to?”

“It stands to reason just knowing the values and norms of society doesn’t mean that people will always conform to them.

So we have agencies that carry out social control.

The formal agencies are the police, courts, probation service and prisons. The Criminal Justice System.

Informal agencies are the family, peers, education, the media, religion and the workplace.

All these agencies seek to encourage conformity by rewards and punishments.”

We both went silent for a couple of minutes trying to soak up and ponder this info.

“Tom, what’s the difference between deviance and crime?’

“Deviance is the failure to conform to social norms.

Crime is behavior which is against the law-law-breaking.

And I will add: A law is an official legal rule, formally enforced by the Criminal Justice System, involving legal punishment if it is broken.”

“People talk from a commonsense view but the trouble with common sense is that there are usually opposite opinions on any subject, people arguing always think their view is the common sense one.”

“So Dave, crime is difficult to understand and control.”

“Yes Tom, crime has been around as long as humans and the public outcries against it are as loud as ever.”


“Is crime and deviance built into the structure of society?”

“Some people think crime is a NORMAL state of affairs.”


“Tom, we’ll get into that later, but here’s another view of crime.

Some people think criminals are simply BAD people, and the only way to deal with them is to punish them.”

“Well Dave, if you go back to the 1600’s, punishments were severe. People were hung for stealing a loaf of bread, some had their hands cut off.”

“That’s right, Tom, BUT those brutal punishments did NOT work. Crime kept increasing.”

“How come, Dave?”

“Because those severe punishments made the people callous, insensitive.

That was a bad person getting punished and this official violence made people feel that human suffering counted for very little.

Now days some people assert criminals have bad genes and it’s inborn and nothing can be done.”


“People ask themselves: Why would someone enter a life of crime and what can be done to help them back to the straight and narrow?”

“One view is that criminals come from broken homes in bad neighborhoods.

These stresses produce people that are insecure and hostile which leads to crime.”

“Dave, probably growing up in poverty and disillusionment these youths don’t feel attached to regular society and they lack opportunities to change their social condition.”

“Some people feel that criminals could be rehabilitated. So we have tried to make prisons NOT entirely for punishment BUT for reform and rehabilitation. Provide criminals in prison with recreational and educational facilities.”

We pondered the rehab view.


“Tom, it all sounds very altruistic BUT it simply has NOT worked. Crime has not fallen. The prisons provide a criminal learning base, inmates learn how to be better criminals. The prisoners uphold the criminal style of life even in prison.”

“So Dave, deprivation doesn’t always lead to crime. Not everyone from a divorced family becomes a crook. Not everyone who is poor becomes a criminal. Deviant people are also found in Middle-Class areas as well as poor ones. Then there is white-collar crime perpetrated by Middle and Upper Class people.”


“There is another theory, it’s called the “Labeling Theory”.

Not every criminal gets caught, but when they do, they get labeled as a criminal. And this label gives them a criminal identity.”

“So, the criminal identity follows them through life and it perpetuates the criminal career.”

“Yes Tom, but the most radical view of crime is that “Crime is Socially Created”.

Thus it is the Capitalist System that makes some people poor and others rich.

Crime can be seen as one version of economic struggle.”

“I see what you are trying to say, Dave, you can blame crime on social stratification. The division of society into a hierarchy of unequal social groups: rich, middle and lower and that creates conflict.”

“Some people say if you could eliminate class domination, you could eliminate crime.”


“Dave, what is the view that encompasses all of this?”

“This will surprise you, Tom. The view declares that crime is NORMAL, even necessary in all societies!”

“What! Dave you’ve got to be joking.”

“I kid you NOT, Tom. Crime and punishment are a basic part of the RITUALS that hold society together.”

“I still can’t believe it.”

“Think about it Tom, the process of punishing or reforming criminals is NOT to have an effect on the criminal, BUT to perform a RITUAL for the benefit of society.”

“Maybe it makes sense now that I remember the definition of a RITUAL. It is a standard ceremonial behavior carried out by a group. Carrying out rituals over and over is what keeps a group together.”

“Now you’ve got it Tom, in the case of punishing criminals, the group that is held together is NOT the criminal group but the REST of society, the people who punish the criminals.”

“Can you give me an example of one of these rituals?”

“The whole courtroom scene is a ritual of the enactment of justice.

The judge symbolizes the Law. The lawyers argue each side of the case and looking on is the public, who are the object of the ritual.

The trial is staged for their benefit. The trial reaffirms the belief in society’s laws and it creates emotional bonds that tie the people together.

The public is impressed that the laws exist and they are NOT to be violated.

These rituals convince society of the validity of having RULES.

The criminal is the raw material for the ritual.”


“People pay a lot of attention to crime, don’t they Dave?”

“Yes, because it reasserts their feelings of righteousness and their membership in a respectable society.”

“So, crime is built into the social structure. The rituals of punishment dramatize the moral feelings of the society and holds them together.”


“I’m wondering, Dave, if the social structure is producing crime, is there a limit to how much it produces?”

“Well Tom, crime NEVER gets to the saturation point.

The law-enforcement side does control some crime, BUT the real reason is that crime sets it’s own limit.”

Tom pondered Dave’s point.

“Tell me Dave, how does crime set it’s own limit?”

“It’s ironic really. Lets look at what happens when crime becomes more and more successful.

The criminal organization becomes a society of their own. It creates their own hierarchy, they make rules and they enforce these rules on their own members.

The more successful a crime organization gets the more it progresses towards normalcy. It starts to approximate an ordinary business.

The very success of the organization tends to make it more law-abiding and they abandon their criminal tendencies. It is forced to create a morality to survive.

Crime actually then, drives out crime. Ironic!”


“In conclusion, crime is built into the social structure. The Criminal Justice System is NOT very effective in counteracting criminality, BUT because crime punishment is used in rituals, it cements society together.

Also, crime has its own limitations, as it becomes organized, it goes back into the normal world, whether it likes it or not.”


“One more thing: Deviance and crime may NOT always be harmful to society!

Without deviance or even crime there would be NO possibility of innovation and change.

The rebels and reformers, the campaigners for peace and justice have all been labeled as criminals.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 30 years for alleged terrorist offences in fighting a white racist society in South Africa, thus changing it and he became President of South Africa.

Che Guevera fought in the 50’s against a corrupt regime in Cuba and the regime was changed and he became Minister of Industry in Socialist Cuba.

It’s often the non-conformists and law-breakers who have contributed to changes which we would regard as a benefit to all.”

Also published on Medium.

2 thoughts on “The Paradoxes of Crime and Deviance

  1. Many subjects have been scrutinised in the Tom and Dave Discussions, may they continue. THREE CHEERS FOR TOM AND DAVE!

    Crime is the only big business to escape government meddling!

    Crime begins in the mind. A person has to think wrong before they act wrong!


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