A human being is a social creature, people always wish to be important in the social sphere of life and thus, they try to meet the expectations of it. With such an approach, the society has strong means to form people’s personalities. The community is not only capable to determine the behavioral pattern of people, but can do much more. Social circumstances can also serve as an excuse for illegal actions of various kinds and the notion of criminal act is not only inherent in the society, but also it is inseparable from it.
The views of community create the general image of a person and may even in some way program a person’s future. The research made by Chambliss supports this idea. He had analyzed the behaviors of two groups of young men, the Saints and the Roughnecks, for about two years. Both groups have demonstrated a high level of delinquent activity. The Saints were noticed driving while drunk on the high speed with the lights turned off, removing the warning signs from the roads or stealing lanterns from the constructions, and breaking into abandoned houses (Chambliss 1973, 266). The Roughnecks were noticed walking the streets of the city center drunk, fighting and stealing from people (Chambliss 1973, 270).
Although the quality and the amount of criminal acts are close to being equal, the attitude of society towards two groups was different. The Saints were accepted as decent young men, who just need to have fun sometimes, thus their misdemeanors can be forgiven, while the Roughnecks were perceived as future criminals. The difference in the attitude is explained by the fact that the Saints were from the upper-middle-class families and could afford themselves to use their own cars to travel to a nearby city to spend time there, so they stayed out of sight of the local teachers and official representatives, who were unaware of their actions (Chambliss 1973, 274). The Roughnecks, on the contrary, came from the poor families and could spend their time only in the city center, consequently, they were always in sight of the locals and the police too (Chambliss 1973, 274).
The comparison of these two groups shows the way public opinion influences ones behavior. Almost all the Saints graduated from colleges and later got good job positions, since they were mostly well accepted by their teachers because they knew the boys “were capable of doing better” (Chambliss 1973, 268). Such an attitude also helped them to receive better marks than they actually deserved. Thus, the community pushed the Saints to become what they were expected to be and eventually so it happened as the boys grew up to be successful.
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On the contrary, the Roughnecks were usually accepted as young men “headed for trouble”. Obviously, since they never knew a better attitude, they were not familiar with the better ways of doing things and were not expected to change to better, two of them are sentenced for murders, others did not either enter college or make a legal career, but there were some exceptions. Two boys, who were athletes, managed to receive scholarships, which changed their attitude to their behavior. Both of them graduated after four years of studying and both started teaching and coaching (Chambliss 1973, 275).
Analyzing the two groups brings the idea that the society can easily put a stamp on anyone, but as the time passes, it gets harder and harder for a person to get rid of it. The terrible thing about the story of the boys is that all of them were still young enough to change if they have received a better treatment or if their teachers were more careful and drew more attention to their education. Since the above mentioned scenarios did not happen, it is possible to sum up that society produces its criminals with the existing indifference and unwillingness to help someone change because it is much easier to simply claim that someone is bad then to help him step away from the wrong path.
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The work of professor LaBeff and her colleagues shows that social relations can serve as an excuse for wrong behavior of various kinds. The researchers with their experiment tried to understand the reason why cheating in colleges cannot be stopped and the way students neutralize their feeling of guilt. Three out of five techniques of neutralization were revealed in the course of a study (LaBeff 1990, 306). The most commonly used one was the technique of denial of responsibility. The students explained that considering the circumstances they were forced to cheat, since they had no other option and those circumstances, like the flu, the lack of time to prepare, or fear to get a law mark can serve as an excuse for their actions.
The second technique was the appeal to higher loyalties, which shows that some good intentions to help or the feeling of responsibility for another person can push anyone to wrongful actions and that not being guilty before a close person seems more valuable to people than to obey the law thus, transgressing the rules seems acceptable. The students explained the reasons for cheating either with the desire to help a friend, who had received bad marks before, or with the feeling of responsibility for the marks of some other student, whom the cheater promised to help.
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There were the individuals who stated that cheating was the result of actions of their professors. This technique of neutralization of guilt is called “condemnation of condemners”. The students, who chose this way to excuse the cheating stated that they had no other option, since the professors make examination questions in such way that even if one studies hard, eventually he/she will be unable to provide the correct answers. One of the students expressed a thought that instructors get together and plan how to make the tests impossible to solve to the students. Teachers are often perceived as the reason for cheating and the students believe that their actions are absolutely justified.
One thing that unites all the cheating students is the fact that all of them see themselves as the victims of circumstances and all of them admit that if the situation was different, they would have never cheated (LaBeff 1990, 306). The results of this research show that people can easily blame society for their wrong actions, remove the responsibility from them and replace it on some social circumstances, while, at the same time, the fact that their actions move the society closer to being immoral is ignored. This research also found out that if a student sees that someone is cheating, it is likely that he will not tell the professor about it (LaBeff 1990, 306) thus, the control of the wrong behavior within society is absent. Those who want to make changes for better are outnumbered, since the community itself does not want the wrong behavior to be fully eradicated.
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Emile Durkheim states that the idea of criminal act exists in every society (Durkheim 1966, 263), the difference is only in the approach to understand what is criminal and what is not. In its turn, this difference is dictated by the values of a particular society. The author illustrates this with the example of difference between the reaction to a bad taste and a murder. Obviously, the murder is a much more terrible crime than bad taste is; therefore, the first is punished by the law, while the other can be simply condemned without any sanctions.
The situation may change to a better if a problem of a bad taste will be put inside the society of saints. Durkheim emphasizes on the fact that in the society where a crime like murder or steeling is eradicated, the society will raise the “crime” of a bad taste to a level of a murder and the punishment for it in the society of saints may be the same as the punishment for the murder in any other society (Durkheim 1966, 264). Thus, the notion of crime is inseparable from the human’s nature. A man will always find something that can be perceived as criminal even if it means to exaggerate some small misdemeanor to the size of a serious crime.
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Summing up the ideas of the three works brings about the conclusion that not only a man himself can be inclined to crime or any other type of wrong activity, but the society itself is the a great source that produces the delinquent behavior. The surrounding people may be unwillingly forcing a person to act wrong and that a person may not even be aware that he/she is pushed to do something bad, thus public opinion can strongly influence and determine the lives of people and their behaviors.