The Usefulness of Sociological Theories in Explaining Crime and the Control of Crime

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The Usefulness of Sociological Theories in Explaining Crime and the Control of Crime

This paper seeks to explore the usefulness of Sociological Theories in explaining crime and whether in doing so there arises implications for probation practice. I shall begin by providing a brief explanation for the historical development of criminological thinking, starting with Classicism and moving onto Positivism both which lay the foundations for the development of sociological theories in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Analysis of the literature has highlighted the vast array of theories to which my attention will be paid. However, due to the limitations of this piece of work and in order to provide an in-depth account
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Classical thinking viewed individuals as free-willed rational decision-makers whose choice to commit crime was guided by hedonism, in terms of maximum pleasure for minimum pain. The focus of Classicism was on the crime and not the social or physical chrematistics of the offender. It was also based on what Beccaria termed a ’social contract’, a contractual relationship between the individual and the state to which individuals within society were bound. He believed that a social contract drawn up by rational people would create 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number' (Rosher 1989, p5) and would mean that,

‘individuals would be willing to grant Governments the power to punish to the extent that was necessary to protect themselves from the crimes of others’ (Cavadino & Dignan 2002, p46).

The social contract required individuals to sacrifice a portion of their personal liberty in the interest of common good and the purpose of the law was to ensure that common interest were met. Beccaria proposed that ‘perpetual servitude’ had a greater deterrent effect than capital punishment and would therefore deter individuals from committing crime.

Criticisms of this school of thought spurred the emergence of Positivism. In contrast to Classicism, Positivism aims to search for the
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