Culture, Crime, and Deviance

CCJ3014 TR 3:00-4:15

A society and it’s people are thought to be defined by their culture. Often times we will recognize a location’s culture, as expressed through the peoples who interact within the same general public, and then consequently we associate a geographic region with the culture we see conveyed. This can mean that a certain culture is more easily recognizable than the country or area that it resides in. But what exactly is culture? Culture can briefly be defined as the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning (Schwimmer[1]). This definition covers a broad subject, not only does it include all beliefs and institutions of a society, it also involves the past, present, and future of a civilization by stating that culture is passed through all generations. However, since this is a paper and not a textbook, I will only discuss the relationship between culture, and a personal viewpoint, on criminal and deviant activities.

Being an active member of the American culture, I feel that a large number of sources and institutions have had a role in shaping my ideas about crime and deviance. Parents and family, school and education, religion, friends, television, and the rest of the mass media (including newspapers, movies, magazines, books, video games, etc.) all impact a person’s beliefs on the crime and punishment system our governing body has laid out. The most prevalent factor I believe is a person’s parents. The very first lesson a person receives in deviant behavior comes at a very young age. They perform an action that their mother disapproves of (breaking a vase, spilling some milk, or destroying a toy), and they are subsequently scolded and punished in some manner. They may be yelled at, spanked, or even worse, sent to “time-out” in the corner of a room. Such an incident marks the first time someone learns about crime and punishment. They did something that society in general does not agree with as a sensible activity, and so they are subject to personal misery/pain at the hands of a figure that is in control of your well-being. As you grow older and into an adult, you absorb information along the way as to what is not acceptable behavior, and how harshly an individual will be punished for partaking in such behavior.

However, not everyone grows up with the exact same views on what constitutes a criminal activity. There are subtle differences that vary from person to person. There are practices that are inherently wrong to a culture (i.e. murder, rape), while there are also activities that are less severe and some people feel are wrong and some feel are acceptable (i.e. littering, loitering, graffiti, and public nudity). While the laws of our country/culture may define some of these actions as criminal, many may feel they are simply deviant or even not a problem at all. Personally, when I was younger I would skateboard almost everyday. Because of this fact, I do not feel that trespassing is a criminal offence, and hardly even consider it deviant. I would not feel that trespassing was deviant at all if it was not for the police always informing me that it was and that I “need to leave the premises immediately or I’ll be arrested”. Furthermore, police would accuse me of being responsible for any graffiti that was in the area I was skateboarding in. Such an accusation angered me, so I now hold a grudge against graffiti “artists” and feel that vandalizing is a criminal act. Another example of my opinion on criminal vs. deviant behavior that I have picked up from my upbringing is my view on underage drinking. From about age 16-20, I played in bands that played the majority of their gigs at bars. We were almost always paid in booze, and no one really asked questions about if I was 21 or not. Because I am so used to underage drinking, I feel that such an act is more deviant that it is criminal.

Such small occurrences in my life play a role in whether I identify