Table of Contents
Criminological approaches can be differentiated based on the level of analysis, in which the macro-level of analysis involves the study of processes at the widespread social level compared to the micro-level of analysis that involves study of the individual at the inter-personal level. Aas (2012: p6) notes that social movements, nation-states, social groups, and disciplines cannot subsist in the absence of working knowledge concerning the qualities and definition of its situated identity, environment, and territory. As a result, it is arguable that the macro-level of study in criminology in terms of widespread social processes should be the more dominant approach in studying why people commit crimes. This could, for example, provide important insights into how shifts from traditional to industrialized societies have influenced the prevalence and incidence of crime. This tendency toward macro-level analysis of crime commission is highly evident in the questions that criminologists seek to answer, such as how societies establish and handle deviance and norms, as well as the factors that cause social change and the results of these changes to the commission of crime (Wright et al., 2013: p107). In this level of analysis, criminologists focus on the broader society as something greater and prior to the sum of individual persons. This paper aims to discuss what macro-level analysis can tell criminologists about the commission of crime, specifically by exploring macro-level theories of crime.
Social Disorganization Theory in Macro-Level Analysis of Crime Commission
Perhaps one of the earliest sociological explanations of crime, the social disorganization theory emphasizes the lack of community stability and integration as a crucial contributing factor to the commission of crime. This theory specifically provides a clear contrast to the more individualized or personalized perspective of crime commission and causation, which according to Andresen (2011: p400) had been more popular prior to this theory’s proposal. Indeed, Sheptycki (2008: p20) notes that this theory allowed for the study of crime commission when probation officers began to identify that majority of delinquent youths they supervised seemed to be from similar neighborhoods or areas even over a period of time. Further, this theory was established based on the fact that patterns of crime commission seemed to happen regularly in some areas or neighborhoods in an unbroken continuity, backward in time. One of the more interesting features of the emergence of this macro-level theory is the use of neighborhoods and areas, which act as a crucial indicator of both crime commission and disorganization (Visser et al., 2013: p296). In this case, economic and social features of neighborhoods are used in the identification of neighborhoods or areas as disorganized.
Similarly, crime commission rates when analyzed at the macro-level are developed on the basis of where the individuals live rather than where the crimes they commit occur. Such a perspective clearly distinguishes the social disorganization point of view on crime commission from the individualistic perspective of crime commission, specifically by suggesting that informal and formal social control are weakened and therefore make it difficult for residents to solve issues of crime (McCall et al., 2011: p372). In this case, formal social control may be considered as the presence of law enforcement whereas the more informal aspect of social control would be linked to control and supervision exercised by institutional representatives such as teachers, neighbors, and parents within the community. Another important feature of this macro-level theory is that it helps identify concentric zones based on growth patterns, particularly with regard to how the growth of urban areas affects the incidence of crime commission. As such, this macro-level theory enables criminologists to zone areas into five main areas which are the central business district, zone in transition, working class homes, upscale apartments and single-family residences, and the suburban zone (Pfaff, 2012: p39).
Judge et al. (2011: p98) note that using this form of zoning shows the pattern of crime commission based on residential zones with the number of crimes committed in zones one and two being particularly high, specifically near sections with business and industrial activities. Thus, analyzing the commission of crime using this macro-level theory shows that residential patterns of crime commission tend to decline from the city center and outwards towards the suburban areas. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the concentric zoning method may not apply to all areas since some may in different stages of growth. On top of showing high levels of crime commission, the inner areas in the concentric zoning method may also be characterized by high levels of different community problems like mental illness and physical illness. Perhaps most importantly, analyzing crime commission at the macro-level based on concentric zoning also shows that areas with the highest rates of crime also tend to experience a high turnover of the population’s racial and ethnic composition (Marchione & Johnson, 2013: p518). Therefore, this form of analysis suggests that community-based issues and areas with characteristic social organization due to high population turnover are responsible for high crime commission rates, rather than the cultural factors expressed via particular ethnic and racial composition.
Macro-level analysis of social disorganization tends to attribute crime commission to an absence of collective efficacy, which refers to the viewpoint that persons living in specific neighborhoods share common expectations and concerns of their neighbors’ behavior. In addition, collective efficacy also proposes that neighbors in these neighborhoods are willing to offer each other support in attempting to control and supervising crime commission especially by the youth (Eisner, 2014: p101). Therefore, parts of the community that have characteristically high levels of collective inefficacy would also be expected to have high levels of social disorganization with the area’s population facing difficulties in the identification and solution of problems in their communities and neighborhoods. Moreover, current conceptualization of this macro-level theory incorporates social capital in aiding criminologists conduct more focused analysis of crime commission. Essentially, social capital is referent to overall social networks and ties within the neighborhood or community. Thus, areas with higher density of social networks and closer social ties would have higher levels of social capital; which would in turn be expected to reduce level of crime commission within the particular neighborhood or community (Eisner, 2014: p101).
Thus, the social disorganization theory allows for a macro-level analysis into why high crime commission rates persist in particular communities and neighborhoods even when there is a high ethnic and racial turnover in the area’s population. In this case, the analysis would show that conditions prevalent in the neighborhood/community with regard to social disorganization have contributed substantially to prevalent crime commission patterns. However, Agozino (2010: p3) also claims that cultural factors play a significant role in explaining levels of crime commission with cultural norms and values influencing the possibility that the individual will commit a crime. For instance, it would be expected that cultures which emphasize on the importance of family ties and the need to maintain the family’s honor have lower levels of crimes committed compared to other societies. Wright et al. (2012: p788) also points out that culture conflict may also cause confusion and tensions, in other words social disorganization, which could lead to increased likelihood and incidence of crime commission. In this case, conflicts or disagreements between norms of cultural conduct and laws could lead to anguish and confusion amongst those emigrating between countries.
A macro-level analysis of criminality allows the criminologist to consider the fact that immigrants are usually politically and socially disadvantaged compared to those communities that are native to the country. Since these immigrants have to assimilate to the cultural norms of their new country, it is possible for cultural conflicts to arise and be manifested in form of crime and criminal behavior (Stansfield, 2014: p510). However, immigrants who live in cultural enclaves in their new countries receive assistance and support from those who have lived in the new country for a longer period and are less likely to commit crime. On the other hand, immigrants who have to live with the majority population and adhere to their norms are more likely to develop behavioral issues due to culture conflict which could be manifested in deviant behavior and increased likelihood to commit crime (Caravelis et al., 2011: p420). Therefore, a macro-level analysis of communities and societies would identify the social disorganization that results from cultural conflict and high turnover in population as a significant contributor to the likelihood and incidence of crimes committed in different areas.
Anomie Theory in Macro-Level Analysis of Crime Commission
The concept of anomie provides another macro-level theory on which criminologists may base their analysis of crime commission, providing significant insights into levels of criminality. Meneses and Akers (2011: p344), for instance, note that in times of economic and social change, societies have undergone transformations in relation to their organizational states especially with regard to the concept of division of labor. Whereas division of labor in simpler organizational states involved interactions based on commonalities and similarities with regard to behavioral norms and values, continued growth and complexity of societal organizational states causes increased complexity in division of labor. In the latter case, interactions are based on mutual needs and interdependence causing societies to lose their ability to meet their populations’ expectations and needs and leads to development of a state of normlessness. As the population’s expectations about aspirations, goals, and behavioral expectations lack clarity, a state of confusion and uncertainty develops which is referred to as anomie (Meneses & Akers, 2011: p344). Such conditions may occur due to a major/sudden change in the society for example in terms of the economy shifting, which may lead to increased deviant behavior.
Although anomie refers to a condition of the community/society and is therefore suitable for macro-level analysis, criminologists can discuss the results of such conditions in individual terms thus allowing for the study of the effect that these conditions have on individual crime commission. Ideas related to social change, anomie, and crime could be examined in connection with the influence of modernization on crime commission, for instance. Kreager et al. (2011: p626) propose a sociological, macro-level view of anomie that focuses on crime as well as deviant behavior patterns, specifically to address more attention to the influence of anomie on deviance and crime commission amongst people from lower social classes. This conceptualization considers anomie as the permanent or structured strain or tension between the achievement of cultural goals that are highly valued in the society, and availability of legitimate means through which such goals may be achieved. In this macro-level theory, society promotes success economically above all other potential definitions of success or accomplishment (Winter et al., 2012: p935). While individuals for the most part will gain such accomplishments through business acumen and/or educational attainment, individuals with less access to such avenues of accomplishment will turn to committing crime and deviant behavior.
Therefore, considering the pressures that society places on individuals to succeed will help in analyzing the likelihood and prevalence of deviant behavior and commission of crime. Freilich et al. (2015: p402) use this macro-level theory of analysis to argue that commission of crime will increase when a cultural system extols common achievement goals for the population, while rigorously resisting or closing access to available modes of achievement for a significant part of the population through social structure. Based on this macro-level analysis, there are several responses that the individual may make to this anomie. Such responses will be based on the individual’s decision to either reject or accept prevailing cultural norms and values on economic success, as well as the licit means through which such success can be achieved. One option the individual could take is to conform, which will result in accepting both the societal goals of success and the licit ways for achieving the same. A second option for the individual in such societies is innovation, which generally involves the acceptance of the goals of achievement while rejecting the licit means for attainment of these achievements (Freilich et al., 2015: p402). These individuals are more likely to turn commission of crimes like theft.
A third option for individuals in such societies is ritualism, in which the individual rejects the accepted goals of success in the society but at the same time accepts the means through which these goals are to be achieved. Bircan and Hooghe (2011: p207) state that this option is usually taken by bureaucratic workers especially within the lower middle class group. A fourth option, which is not as common, is retreatism in which the individual withdraws and drops out of the society by rejecting both the goals and means of achieving success. Those who take this option tend to engage in committing such crimes as drug use and addiction. Finally, the individual may also respond to the conditions created by the anomie through rebellion; in which they not only reject the goals and means of success, but also seek to identify new goals and means of success to replace the ones they have rejected which leads to deviant behavior (Ousey & Unnever, 2012: p590).
This macro-level theory, therefore, provides insights into the cultural and social structures that are mostly responsible for development of conditions that could increase the commission of crime. Zimmerman and Messner (2011: p889) clearly identify that the response and adaptation of individuals to emerging structural situations in their societies plays a critical role in the commission of actual crimes and deviant behavior, noting that the most common adaptation is conformity to cultural norms and values of success. Further analysis of society using this theory can help to clarify causes of deviant behavior and crime. Stowell et al. (2012: p35), for instance, argue that the availability of illicit ways of achieving success is not distributed evenly within the society. As a result, individuals who potentially lack licit means of attaining success as defined in their society may not always succeed in using the illicit means to achieve success. In this case, dealing drugs or robbing banks while being a potentially lucrative illicit means to achieve economic success may not be possible for everyone. Usually, the ability to accomplish these tasks successfully would be determined by social conditions as well (Martinez & Stowell, 2012: p185).
However, the view that commission of crime is essentially motivated by concerns of an economic nature is not accepted across the board. For example, Messner et al. (2013: p1033) argue that commission of crime by juveniles cannot be analyzed based solely on economic success since juveniles are not motivated to a high degree by gaining high-paying employment compared to adults. In this case, commission of crimes by juveniles can be analyzed at the macro-level by considering their school setting as their societal setting. This setting plays a significant role in defining their social identity, in which class-based differences form the basis for commission of crime among young people in lower and working social classes. While all youth wish to succeed in school, middle-class values that dominate most educational institutions act as an impediment for lower-class students to academic success; which may cause the youth to consider the presence of activities and standards that they are unprepared to follow (Pinchevsky & Wright, 2012: p122). Consequent failure in school means that the individual must learn to handle their failure, with the emerging resentment playing a role in the development of deviant behavior and potential commission of crime in the future.
General Strain Theory in Macro-Level Analysis of Crime Commission
This macro-level theory is a further development of the anomie theory, which can be used in the analysis of society and social structure especially in terms of commission of crime. While the previous theory does not account for the reasons why some in the lower social classes turn to crime when they experience strain, Lee and Laidler (2013: p152) argue for the consideration that such strain is prevalent and is not merely he result of dissociation between expectations and aspirations. There are three main types of strain proposed by this macro-level theory that can be useful in analyzing commission of crime. These are failure to attain desired success or goals, removal of stimuli from the society that the individual values positively, and the presence of negative stimuli such as humiliation or physical/psychological trauma. While virtually all individuals may experience at least one of these strains, the interpretation of such strains by the individual determines whether they will turn to committing crimes and engaging in deviant behavior or not (Wortley & Mazerolle, 2013: p44). Strain, however, varies in terms of how it influences the likelihood to commit crime based on proximity in time, duration, and intensiveness.
It is unusual for people to react to feelings of anger and disappointment by committing crime but when considered at the macro-level, the effects of societal values and norms on the individual may make some more aggressive in their reactions. In this case, some individuals could be impulsive, irritable, have low adversity tolerance, and be more prone to blame problems in their lives on others (Gau et al., 2012: p339). Societies that exacerbate such feelings are more likely to have such individuals engaging in deviant behavior, thus turning to commission of crimes. These crimes may be related to attempts aimed at gaining what one has not been allowed to possess or to regain what they have lost, striking back at the identified source of their strain, or an attempt to escape from disagreeable strain and anger. The individual could respond to such strains from society with acts of violence, drug use, vandalism, or theft. Although this theory could be considered as a micro-level explanation of crime commission and deviant behavior, criminologists may also use it to analyze variations in commission of crime across various macro-social units (Gau et al., 2012: p339).
In this case, such variations across macro-social units could be based on variations in levels of strain, as well as in factors that influence and condition the effects that such strain will portend on the commission of crime. Brunton‐Smith and Sturgis (2011: p354) draw on the relative deprivation concept to argue that high income levels, as well as social inequality, could cause some people to experience heightened frustrations or stress. In this case, economic inequality in society may be specified as structural sources of this strain specifically since economic inequality will potentially enhance the individual’s absolute level of blocked access to achieving their goal. In addition, it may also increase the individual’s perception of relative deprivation. Moreover, when society has high levels of economic inequality; individuals will compare themselves to those who are more advantaged and could decide they deserve or want what the latter has and that this is not achievable through licit means or channels. Relative deprivation in this case could result in high negative affect levels among various social collectives, while also enhancing interactive frequencies between frustrated and angry individuals; leading to higher rates of crime commission (Brunson & Gau, 2015: p228).
Thomas and Shihadeh (2013: p1170) also provide a macro-level analysis of crime commission grounded in the class-based strain system, specifically identifying the effect of school system as a subset of social systems on the potential commission of crime by juveniles. In this case, juveniles may react to strain in their school system through various responses one of which is the corner-boy response where the student conforms and comes to terms with the prevailing conditions. While this form of response may involve some form of subsequent delinquency, it rarely degenerates to the commission of serious crime. Students may also respond to school system strain through the college-boy response, which Thomas and Shihadeh (2013: p1170) note involves adjustment to the class-strains caused by the school system, as well as excelling in school by overcoming the sources of this strain and tension. This response rarely involves commission of crime and delinquency. Another form of response to class-based strains caused by the school system is the delinquent-boy response, which Shihadeh and Barranco (2013: p97) state as being resentful about their condition and situation and a rejection of the prevailing school system. Such juveniles become malicious and negativistic and may turn to vandalizing existing symbols of success; thus increasing the levels of crime commission.
Culture Conflict Theory in Macro-Level Analysis of Crime Commission
The anomie, general strain, and social disorganization theories allow for a macro-analysis of society in terms of its acceptable values and norms, as well as how committing crime is a violation of these values and norms. Nivette (2011: p125), however, also argues for the importance of using the conflict perspective in the macro-analysis of society with regard to differences in society caused by a collection of factors and how such differences influence and shape behavioral patterns in society. The culture conflict theory basically proposes the existence of a dominant system of values that society expect to be honored, which migrants must also adhere to and comply with even if they differ significantly from their cultural ideas and norms. Furthermore, other conflict views also hold that basic societal divisions are more responsible for commission of crimes compared to social forces that influence individuals not to comply with values and norms that are commonly accepted (Hipp & Yates, 2011: p978). The radical perspective, which is one of this macro-level theory’s explanations for delinquency and commission of crime, proposes that prevention of crime requires a radical restructuring of economic and social organization.
The latter view of commission of crime argues that criminal behavior is basically the result of the capitalist system, which is based on Marxist ideology despite the fact that Marx did not develop a clear theory on why people commit crime. Light and Harris (2012: p577) state that crimes can be divided into two main types one of which involves crimes of repression and domination that are committed by the elites and ruling classes, as well as by property managers and owners. These crimes generally constitute an attempt by these classes to dominate, as well as control, society’s political, economic, and social institutions. Some of these crimes committed by such classes include environmental crimes, price fixing, and generally most forms of white collar crimes. The second form of crime involves resistance and accommodation, which may include violent crimes such as robbery and larceny, common property, and various types of rebellious activities (Lynch, 2011: p688). In this case, the cultural conflict theory helps identify that such crimes are committed by individuals responding to the ruling class efforts to control their social and economic lives.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that this form of macro-level analysis of society with the aim of explaining commission of crime is more applicable to adults as compared to young people. Graif et al. (2014: p1147) particularly note that the cultural conflict macro-analysis theory focuses more on economic problems and issues, while juveniles would be more focused on peer and social problems, school-linked issues, and other problems apart from economic and employment issues. On the other hand, Cain (2000: p249) argues that it is possible to analyze commission of crime by juveniles using this macro-analytical theory by suggesting that economic concerns and issues among young people also apply to juveniles since capitalist societies extend schooling and prolong adolescence. As a result, these conditions lead to an extension of reliance by the juveniles on acceptance by peers for social alienation, acceptance, or separation from the adult existence of economic independence and work. Thus, Tillyer and Vose (2011: p455) argue that capitalism is more beneficial to adults than to juveniles since it relegates the latter increased dependency and lower social status. Therefore, work and age structures in such societies create conducive conditions for juvenile deviant behavior and increased potential to commit crimes as an act of defiance.
In conclusion, macro-level analysis of society allow for criminologists to view criminality within the larger environmental context within which crimes are committed. Therefore, macro-level theories such as those discussed above allow for more insightful explanations that elucidate origins of deviant behavior and patterns of criminal behavior, instead of merely explaining continuation of these criminal behavioral patterns. However, macro-level analysis of society and commission of crime fails to address how people incorporate and perceive the discussed societal conditions into behavioral motivations. This aspect of understanding the commission of crime is addressed by micro-level analysis.
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