Notes on New Deviancy Theory of Crime

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Notes on New Deviancy Theory of Crime

New deviancy theory emerged in the 1960s and early 1970s. It was primarily a radical response to positivist domination of criminology (that crime is the result of individual, physical, and social conditions).

The new deviancy theorists believed in free will and creativity. According to this theory, crime is that behaviour which violates the interests of the powerful. The definition of crime or deviance depends upon two activities: one, an act of an individual or a group, and second, another individual or group with different values must label the initial activity as deviant.

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Human beings constantly generate their own system of values. Within a pluralistic society, certain groups termed as “the powerful”, “the bureaucracy”, “the moral entrepreneurs” with more power than others impose their values upon the less powerful, labelling those who infringe their rules with tags of ‘deviants’ or ‘criminals’.

Thus, people who evolve different values or experiment with various forms of behaviour are labeled by the authorities as ‘an alcoholic’, ‘a homosexual’, ‘a drug addict’, ‘a thief’, ‘a psychopath’ and so on.

For example, a college girl who may be good at studies and is likely to get a position in the university examination but because she conceives without being married would be labeled an unwed-mother or a deviant girl. An officer, who may be very efficient hard-working and competent but if he takes alcohol every day, would be labeled an alcoholic.

In explaining the causes of crime, people usually talk about motivation, i.e., why a person indulges in a deviant act. They hold that the basic difference between one who deviates and one who conforms lies in the character of their motivations. Thus, psychological theories find the cause of deviant motivations or acts in the individual’s early experiences.

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Sociological theories look for socially structured sources of strain’ in society, or social positions which have conflicting demands placed upon them so that these position-holders seek an illegitimate way solving the problems their position produces.

In this way, some theories focus on individual characteristics (positivism), some on structural antecedents of the criminal act (sociological), and some on the act itself (classicism), but the new deviancy theory focuses on ‘reaction’. It holds that administration of crime and not its origin is the key to understanding criminal phenomenon (Duster, 1970: 10).

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