The IRB sucks
Making your life like hell
Research will be dope
The IRB sucks
Making your life like hell
Research will be dope
The staging and pre-service training (PST) portions of my Peace Corps experience have been extremely busy. Since our arrival in Miami, for a short but sweet staging, we have had our plates full with discussion, group work, paperwork and individual reflection. Lucky for us, each day has been insightful and encouraging. I’ve been a part of a lot of bureaucratic/institutional trainings and they are not all like this. The Peace Corps staff we have the opportunity to work with are really special. They are passionate, qualified and energetic teachers. So, many thanks to the PC Peru staff, both within the U.S. and in-country!
Perhaps some of my favorite exercises and discussions I’ve participated in, both in staging and PST, have dealt with topics of self-identity. In staging we were instructed to construct an identity map. This is a graphic heuristic where one places themselves (their name) in the middle of a sheet of paper. Growing outwards from the center are additional lines all connected to more bubbles. The idea is to fill these bubbles with aspects or characteristics that construct their identity. Once completed, an identity map’s true potency is revealed, elucidating the intersectionality and complexity of one’s identity.
When we completed this exercise in staging, we had a blank sheet of paper and plenty of room to list out the myriad elements that coalesce to construct our identity. My identity map consisted of things like (in no important order): vegan/veggie, bi-lingual, spiritual, mid-twenties, extrovert, master’s student, coach, American, soccer player, rock climber, white, younger brother, symbolically ethnic, son, upper class, heterosexual, male, skier, poet, mindful, community developer and good listener. These were all things, at the time, that resonated with the identity I held and was projecting. We then were instructed to share these maps with a partner, and talk about which facets of our identity we thought were going to be easy to maintain during our service in Peru and which we were going to struggle with. I was glad to have a thoughtful conversation with a fellow trainee, Joe, who helped me unpack a bit more the complexities embedded within a person identity.
Today in PST, during a discussion about diversity, we were instructed to construct another identity map. I remember thinking, ‘oh, here we go again’, because after all, we were all pros with identity maps right? Enlightened, self-aware, soon-to-be Peace Core volunteers, no doubt.
Our instructor, Miryam, made it clear that she understood the fact that we already made a map in staging. Nonetheless, she wanted us to make a new one, but this time, with a few stipulations. After doling out sheets of paper, this time with only 8 bubbles in which to fill, she left us to our own creative devices; subsuming the infinite facets of our identity on one sheet of paper with 8 bubbles…
After some contemplation I provided these 8 elements of my identity (again in no important order): white, American, athlete, comedic/satirical, writer, male, observer/listener, and minority (in Peru). Already I saw a difference between the map I created in staging, and the map I currently had in my hands. After finishing the first version of our map, we then were instructed to cross out 3 of the 8 elements. I eliminated: American, comedic/satirical, and athlete. We then were instructed to cross out two more. I chose: white, and male. Finally, with the three remaining elements, which for me were writer, observer/listener, and minority (in Peru), we were told to switch maps with a partner, and without talking, eliminate the two least important facets of each other’s identity. Much to my satisfaction, and thanks to the careful contemplation of another trainee, Lesia, the last portion of my identity standing was: observer/listener.
Seeing the evolution of my identity map was a valuable experience. One that I will more than likely repeat throughout my service. I appreciated these exercises for their ability to elucidate a few important points:
For the past 15 weeks, I have worked on a research project examining social justice issues in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. The local chapter of Not In Our Town (NIOT), a non-profit organization that fights against bigotry and discrimination, commissioned my graduate sociology class to ‘hold up a mirror’ of the Bloomington-Normal community, reflecting back the good and the bad.
The project was wide in scope. We conducted focus groups and interviews, analyzed crime and segregation data, produced GIS maps, analyzed archival research and performed case studies of best practices employed by other community organizations. What we found was both disheartening and hopeful.
The results from this project were publicly presented to local residents, community leaders, elected officials, as well as faculty and students of Illinois State University.
Prior to the presentation, I participated in a radio interview with the local public radio. I was joined by two of my colleagues who also participated in the research. Some of the findings that were shared in the radio interview can be found HERE.
The professor of the course, Dr. Frank Beck, also interview with the local radio station and shared some information about the project as well as some of the findings. Further information from that interview can also be found in this article.
Overall, the project was very rewarding. We learned a lot about the community we all live in. I am excited for the future of Bloomington-Normal and for the implications of our research.
Food scholars have found that some areas within the alternative food movement, such as farmer’s markets and natural-grocers, operate as exclusionary spaces that primarily serve privileged white shoppers. The rhetoric used, attitudes upheld and physical characteristics of these spaces ostracize non-white individuals, effectively making the high quality, organic and locally grown food inaccessible to them. This ethnographic study examines a natural grocer and farmer’s market in Boulder, CO, utilizing the usage of qualitative interviews, a secondary sample, participatory observation and discursive analysis.
Through these methods, similar results were found in conjunction with the previously completed literature on this topic. First off, this research argues that the natural-grocer and farmer’s market are overwhelmingly white spaces and are fraught with simultaneous conspicuous and inconspicuous modes of exclusion. With these characteristics in play, it is argued that the alternative food movement, in the form of farmer’s markets and natural-grocers, is inhibited from its true potential of serving diverse populations. Lastly, this study will attempt to offer up some ideas for improvements in these areas in hopes of turning the white spaces of many (not all) farmer’s markets and natural-grocers into locations that accurately depict and welcome the vibrant community working for them and surrounding them.
The Absence of Foreign Language
In whiteness theory, color-blindness is when the absence of racial identifiers in language is seen as non-racist. Alfalfa’s is inherently a color-blind institution because of its location in the city of Boulder, a predominately white and affluent community. However, the key word here is predominately because Boulder also has a large native non-white population. It is also an international tourist destination and home to thousands of foreign students. Due to the absence of foreign language at Alfalfa’s, some of these people are automatically unable to shop there or struggle their way through the process of translation. None of the items sold, or menus advertising the food at Alfalfa’s are bi-lingual. The only presence of another language is a decorative Chinese or Japanese symbol above the seafood and sushi section.
The absence of foreign languages transforms Alfalfa’s into a white space. The language used at Alfalfa’s makes white people perceive this landscape as normal and natural while non-whites could feel uncomfortable and unwelcome (McCullen 2001). When writing about alternative food institutions Guthman (2008) ascertains, “Few people of color attend these programs; many feel isolated, and excluded…not only because of the language employed but also in fear of challenging” (p.394). In the case of Alfalfa’s, the language employed is English and the idea of convincing an entire corporation to include bi-lingual items and signs is a monumental task, even for a white person. The complete absence of a foreign language at Alfalfa’s discourages and dissuades non-whites from shopping there, inherently defending the whiteness perpetuated there.
White Savior Imagery
Alfalfa’s is very heavily focused on providing local, sustainable, and organic products to their customers. With this mission of providing high quality foods, also comes a commitment to the environment. The institution is very much concerned with minimizing their carbon footprint, further placing this commitment onto their customers. Patrons of Alfalfa’s are encouraged to recycle, compost, re-use and only when absolutely necessary, throw something away. As customers walk to the trash bins to recycle, or compost they read a “Did You Know?” placard. The sign reads, “Did you know we diverted 4,105 food packets, 38,561 energy bar wrappers, 2,658 beauty care packages and over 13,230 bags from land fills?” This is no doubt good work, and promotes sustainability awareness, however it paints a white face over the alternative food movement; because majority of the employees and customers of Alfalfa’s are white, it creates a white savior image, attributing all the good work to white people.
The sign ignores the other persons involved in the process and points all the success to the white customers and employees privileged enough to shop there. There is no reference towards the waste management employees who are doing majority of the dirty work, if not all, transporting and processing the conveniently disposed of trash. Slocum (2007) perfectly describes the effect of this, “These well-intentioned food practices reveal both the transformative potential of progressive whiteness and its capacity to become exclusionary in spite of itself. Whiteness coheres precisely, therefore, in the act of ‘doing good’” (p. 520). The “Did You Know?” signage placed all around the store effectively disconnects the races, creating an unrealistic image of who is really responsible for sustainability practices, and ultimately, saving the earth.
Perpetuation of Whiteness
Looking further into the language used at Alfalfa’s, I found that whiteness is not only defended through rhetoric, but also prolonged. Alfalfa’s provides numerous local options for produce, and other products in their store. Each is labeled uniquely, informing the customer where it came from. In addition, scattered throughout the store (almost like a brainwashing technique) are signs that read, “Shop Local, Shop Alfalfa’s”. Language such as this is an example of the prolongation of whiteness because it creates what Alkon and McCullen call the “white farm imaginary”.
Customers of Alfalfa’s valorize the predominately white vendors who “grow their food”, rendering invisible the low-paid predominately non-white workers who do the bulk of the cultivation (Alkon and McCullen 2011). The “Shop Local, Shop Alfalfa’s” signage fetishizes the products, creating a white and ideal conceptualization of embeddedness (within a community and lifestyle of sustainable living) that seductively brings patrons back time and time again. Alkon and McCullen argue, “…The color of faces customers see at the market influences who they believe grows the food they buy, and in the case of our markets, confirms the customers’ notion that sustainable agriculture is done by white family farmers” (p.946). Similarly, employees and customers of Alfalfa’s hold romantic notions of what farmers and community members should look like that both defend and perpetuate an affluent habitus of whiteness.
The lack of color at alternative food sites constructs color-blind conceptualizations in the minds of white patrons and farmers. This in turn is acted upon using mechanisms of racism such as racist language (McCullen 2001; Guthman 2008). When examining a place like Alfalfa’s with a sociological imagination I also found this to be true. The signs, menus, and labels all maintained an unfortunate white mentality. The racist discourse paired with the complete lack of foreign language inadvertently excludes potential non-white customers.
Furthering the exclusion is the insider ambiance found at natural grocers. The attitudes attached to shopping sustainably, local and organic are inherently white. Valiente-Neighbours (2012) writes, “The unequivocal celebration of the local foodshed neglects a discussion about the power relations and social inequalities (such as racism or sexism) within the supposed “foodshed” or locality” (p. 533). In the case of Alfalfa’s, the “celebration” that Valiente-Neighbours brings to light is connected to the insider ambiance. The ambiance has a universal quality, in other words it is assumed to be widely shared and normal. This is precisely the ambiance’s ostracizing characteristic, othering whoever else does not fit into it; because Alfalfa’s is such a white space, the insider ambiance is therefore white, further gentrifying color to the fringe.
Additionally, whiteness theory gives a perspective in which to analyze the different aspects of white privilege at play in the alternative food movement. McIntosh (1989) vividly depicts white privilege “as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and bank checks” (p. 1). Within that knapsack is not only the access to high-quality organic food, but also leisure time to enjoy shopping in a space overwhelmingly your own color, down to the words being read or spoken. To have such good food with such willing employees to serve you is a privilege. Alfalfa’s disproportionately benefits white people and provides pathways to block attempts to change it.
The mere completion of my participant observation and involvement in academic research is an item of white privilege. Along with that is the privilege to further the research, to continue asking questions. Whiteness studies and the alternative food movement create an incredibly interesting intersection. Racial studies of food are a crucial focal point in the flattening of the uneven road that is the alternative food movement. With that, I believe my study contributes some questions, or tools if you will, to help galvanize the construction. (1) What physical changes can be made to natural-grocers in order create a more encompassing environment, further creating a more inclusive ambiance? (2) With a better understanding of privilege, how would the interactions within natural grocers between whites and non-whites change? However, physical changes to the landscape will not completely solve the inequitable characteristics found within the alternative food movement. A social revolution is needed; a type of awareness that sweeps over the color-blind rhetoric and universal whiteness, adding color to the alternative food movement and exposing the truly vibrant communities surrounding the markets. Hopefully in the future, the veil overshadowing the inequitable alternative food business will be torn away, revealing the true structure and color of food.
I pick a mask from the shelves.
Dressed to impress
I begin to feel the stress.
I hope my face fits
And withstands the social hits.
Deviant behavior is characterized by departing from social norms and values. Each culture has a unique set of ethnics, and the thoughts and actions beyond this set of beliefs are considered deviant. Like the differences amongst these collections of values, so too does difference exist with respects to the individual and type of behavior. Social scientists have worked hard to understand these diversities, and through this hard work, patterns begin to develop. Some examples of these trends follow the differences in race, class and gender. By applying sociological theory to these three characteristics, this paper will attempt to expand on the commonalties and differences that are at play within these groups and how each one interacts with deviant behavior.
Most societies and cultures, if not all, have developed some form of social doctrine. Within this doctrine is a set of socially constructed rules. These rules, social in context, are dependent upon which culture they operate in and because of this, can vary quite dramatically between other external cultures and even internal subgroups. These rules help to maintain a relatively smooth way of life, without them, the social fabric begins to break down. The complete absence of a social doctrine is anarchy and chaos, but occasional inklings of rule breaking is what social scientists have deemed deviant behavior. Through observation and research, scientists have been able to identify patterns and trends that correlate to deviant behavior, such as race, class and gender. Within these specified categories, the research can show us who is committing deviant behavior and why.
Before one can look at how deviance correlates with social characteristics like race, class and gender, they first must develop an understanding of the behavior itself. In general, deviance describes an action or behavior that violates social norms (Macionis and Gerber 2010). Deviance or deviant behavior (used interchangeably), can be a violation of a formally enacted rule or law. Crime is a perfect example and the one most notably researched. Deviance can also be a violation of a social norm.
There are two types of social norms, folkways and mores. Folkways are customs of daily life. They are mildly enforced social expectations such as saying hello and goodbye. Failing to say goodbye might be socially awkward but it is not met with punishment. This is where a distinction exists from a more. Social mores come from the Latin word for “manner” or “custom”. Despite similar beginnings, it is different from a folkway in that it is a societal norm that is considered to have greater moral significance (Macionis and Gerber 2010). Mores are strictly held cultural beliefs and behaviors, so strict in fact, that some sort of punishment is often a result of rejecting social mores. In most cultures, committing murder is considered a more that strays far from social norms and is punishable by prison time, and sometimes death.
Between folkways and mores, societies are able to outline commonly held beliefs that act as an agent of social control. A deviant person is one who leaves societal rules behind and performs deviant behavior. The doctrine that the individual is breaking is important, but perhaps more interesting are the characteristics of the deviant person themselves. The first characteristic in conjunction with deviance and crime we will examine is race.
Racial Differences in Deviant Behavior
When looking at racial disparities in deviance and criminal behavior, the statistics can be quite shocking. There are obvious differences in the experiences of a Black individual compared to that of a Hispanic individual, and so on across the racial spectrum; because of these differences, scientists have begun to take a closer look.
In 2013, a Black individual was six times more likely than a non-Black person to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone in another race (Rubenstein 2016). In general, Asian populations have the lowest criminal rates, followed by Caucasians, and then Hispanics. The Black population has the highest criminal rates and occurrences of deviant behavior. This pattern holds true for almost all crime categories and age groups (Rubenstein 2016; Ulmer, Harris and Steffensmeier 2012). These differences are so stark, that they cannot be ignored. So why do some scholars think they exist?
One way in which to examine racial differences in deviant behavior is to apply the Structural Disadvantage Framework. This framework assumes there to be embedded institutional factors that permeate into social life, providing privileged experiences for some and disadvantaged experiences for others. Unfortunately, this divide between privilege falls along racial boundaries. The Structural Disadvantage Framework seeks to explain these disparities by examining structural forces within a society as sources of disadvantage and consequently of deviant behavior. In their studies of gaps in disadvantage and crime between racial groups, Ulmer, Harris and Steffensmeier found significant heterogeneity in the White-Black, White-Hispanic, and Black-Hispanic gaps (2012). In other words, they found suggestive variety in the experience of underprivileged individuals and deviance amongst racial groupings. With higher amounts of advantage came lower levels of crime, while higher amounts of disadvantage translated into increased levels of crime. Along the same vein, they found that Black individuals have the highest homicide and violent crime rates, followed by Hispanics and then Caucasians (Ulmer, Harris, Steffenmeier 2012). These differences in crime rates correlated directly to key structural disparities between the groups.
The structural functions that the Structural Disadvantage theory looks at are the circumstances in which individuals and groups of people live. These circumstances can be chosen, however, most structural characteristics are worked into the architecture of an organized society. In their studies, Ulmer, Harris and Steffensmeier found Black and Hispanic poverty levels to be twice that of Caucasians (2012). This strong presence of poverty often forces or encourages risky decision making, often resulting in increased deviant behavior and crime. For example, one individual might consider a criminal career to make money when they cannot secure a job. More research on the topic has found other sources of disadvantage that correlate with criminal behavior such as unemployment, educational inequality, residential segregation, social disorganization, and subcultural adaptations to disadvantage. These circumstances are often found in non-White racial neighborhoods and help to exacerbate the amount of deviance found within them. It is argued that the long legacy of racism and discrimination, stretching back to times of slavery and indentured servitude, is responsible for putting these people and places at a disadvantage from the start (Steffensmeier et al. 2010; Kubrin and Weitzer 2003).
Class Differences in Deviant Behavior
Very closely related to the ideas of structural disadvantage and race are criminological theories of class differences. Like race, scholars have spent quite a bit of time attempting to explain the relationship between social class and deviant behavior.
One classic explanation comes from American sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910-2003) which he coined Strain Theory. Merton argues that the desire to achieve success is a cultural goal that is present across all social levels. However, the means to achieve such success are allocated in such a way that some groups are privileged while others are deprived. The discrepancy that deprived classes experience, between desire for success and attainment of success, leads to an increase in deviant behavior and crime (Merton 1957). In other words, lower socioeconomic classes experience a strain that more privileged classes do not experience, hindering them from the same opportunities and quality of life. It is at this point where Strain Theory and the Structural Disadvantage framework intersect— both acknowledging the macro level phenomena that control groups of people, pushing some into success while others into lives of deviance.
To the contrary, it is important to understand that crime and deviant behavior also exist within higher socioeconomic classes, however, the crime that exists within these realms can be much different.
The term ‘white-collar crime’ was popularized by another American sociologist by the name Edwin H. Sutherland (1906-1957). To get a better understanding, the FBI includes the following offenses among the white-collar definition: public corruption, money laundering, health care fraud, embezzlement, price-fixing, anti-trust violations etc. Sutherland argued that important sociological differences existed between these types of crime and more conventional crimes such as burglary or murder. In general, Sutherland ascertained that these differences lay across a class difference—conventional crimes being committed by lower socioeconomic class and white-collar crime by those in higher socioeconomic social classes (1940). Knowing what we know now about racial differences in deviance and poverty, it is safe to argue that conventional crimes of violence mainly pertain to non-White populations operating within disadvantaged social classes while examples of white-collar crime tend to be found within White communities not experiencing the same strain. Of course there are exceptions to the case, but it is important to understand the generalizable patterns that permeate into societies.
Gender Differences in Deviant Behavior
Another lens social scientists have used to examine the full scope of deviant behavior is with gender. In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 73% of all people arrested in 2002 for serious crimes were male. Although this statistic is somewhat recent, it is a trend that has been observed for decades. So the question became, why is deviant behavior primarily a male phenomenon? One way in which to attempt to answer this question arises from Conflict Theory. In general, conflict theorists call to attention the unequal power within groups and societies. They are interested in focusing on processes of tension, inequality and conflict and how these items generate social phenomena, which in this case is deviant behavior.
Historically, women have been excluded from essential social processes and restricted to the home. In some cultures, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, their presence in public is unwelcome, resulting in less access to opportunities for criminal behavior (Carrabine et al. 2009; Rossi 1985). In addition, it his hypothesized that cultural norms attached to women, such as their subordinate position in some societies and submissive behavior, also eliminate occasions for deviant acts (Rossi 1985). Overall, these scholars argue it is the regulation of women—often by their over powered male counterparts—and the conflict that exists between them, that results in higher amounts of deviance for men than women. It is with this thinking that one scholar posited, “most crimes would remain unimaginable without men” (Collier 1998).
A second way to examine the relationship between deviant behavior and gender is to apply Gender Theory ways of thinking. In this mode of thought, researchers and scholars attempt to find out what it means to be a ‘man’. Gender theorists look at issues of power, dominance, aggressiveness, achievement, competition and status attainment. Through this, they argue that masculinities are always contested and never fixed. In other words, it is through avenues such as dominance and competition that men, more so than women, assert themselves. “Doing gender” in this way results in committing criminal activities—both conventional and white-collar— such as violence, rape and corporate crime (Carrabine et al. 2009).
Furthermore, gender theorists look at issues of self-control to deepen their understandings of the differences between genders, and their applications of deviant behavior. It has been argued that theorists of deviance overestimate the effect of opportunity on crime, or lack thereof, and do not shed enough light on the “substantial self-control differences between the sexes” (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990: 147). On both sides of the gender binary, low self-control is significantly related to deviant behavior. For men, crime is ubiquitous amongst the population where self-control emerges as the catalyst for deviance. For women on the other hand, the act of deviant behavior is dependent on individuals with low self-control gaining access to illegal opportunities (Burton et al. 1998). Here we see a connection to the earlier ideas of gender and crime. Males have more agency to commit acts of deviance especially when compounded with low self-control, whereas females, despite levels of self-control, also need the access to opportunity in order to become deviants. Conflict theorists and gender theorists intersect at this point, creating a more robust explanation for the correlation that exists between gender and deviant behavior.
Every culture has deviance and the deviant individuals that perform it This is inherent in the construction of social norms and a values. By doing so, a society creates the ‘other’—whether that be a person, thought or action— that operates outside the normal realm of society. Out there, there is a rejection of folkways and mores, and instead, an acceptance of the deviant way of doing things.
Race, class and gender are attached to this way of life and have been used to better understand deviant phenomena. There are distinct differences in the amount of crime throughout the racial spectrum. It is from institutional disadvantages—such as unemployment, educational inequality and social disorganization—coupled with long histories of racism and prejudice that this crime pervades and persuades its way into society (Kubrin and Weitzer 2003; Carrabine et al. 2009; Rossi 1985; Steffensmeier et al 2010). Similarly, these differences can be found amongst the social classes. Much like disadvantage, it is the strain in which lower socioeconomic classes live in that pushes them into lives of crime. In search of some form of success, individuals perform deviant behavior in order to survive (Merton 1957). On the other hand, individuals from higher social classes will commit white collar crimes, perhaps not for survival, but instead in pursuit of some warped conceptualization of success (Sutherland 1940). Nonetheless, deviance exists on all levels of social strata and will continue to do so.
Lastly, scholars of deviance pull in gender to draw connections to deviant behavior. Criminal behavior is largely a male phenomenon. Some posit that it is the sexist regulating of women, and the antithesis for men, that create gendered differences in crime levels (Carrabine et al. 2009; Rossi 1985). Other scholars point to actions of ‘doing gender’ and the cultural stereotypes attached to genders that separate males from females, such as men being aggressive and dominant while women remain submissive and passive (Carrabine et al. 2009). Combining the two sexes, some scholars point to low levels of self-control found in both females and males that contribute to criminal behavior (Burton et al. 1998). Perhaps the most helpful way to see the correlation between gender and deviant behavior is so combine all these perspectives, and to acknowledge the intersectionality of all of them.
Regardless of the lens that one applies to study deviant behavior, it is the curiosity that matters. By being interested and satisfying our curiosities, we work to more fully understand the cultures human beings exist within. This is good work, and needs to be accomplished. With it comes more robust outlooks and data that can one day hopefully help to correct some of the inequalities human societies experience.
Burton, V., Cullen, F., Evans, T., Alarid, L., and Gregory Dunaway. 1998. “Gender, Self-Control, and Crime. Journal of Crime Delinquency. 35(2):123-147.
Carrabine, E., Cox, P., South, N., Lee, M., Turton, J., and Ken Plummer. 2009. Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. London: Routledge.
Gottfredson, Michael R. and Travis Hirschi. 1990. A General Theory of Crime. CA: Stanford University Press.
Kubrin, Charles E., and Ronald Weitzer. 2003. “New Directions in Social Disorganization Theory”. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. 40(4):374-402.
Macionis John J., Gerber, Linda M. 2010. Sociology, Seventh Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.
Merton, Robert K. 1957. Social Theory and Social Structure. Ill: Free Press
Richard, Collier. 1998. Masculinities, Crime and Criminology. UK: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Rossi, Alice S. 1985. Gender and the Life Course. New York. Aldine Publishing Company.
Rubbenstein, Edwin S. 2016. “The Color of Crime, 2016 Revised Edition”. American Renaissance. MA: New Century Foundation. (http://www.amren.com/archives/reports/the-color-of-crime-2016-revised-edition/)
Steffensmeier, Darrell, Jeffery T. Ulmer, Ben Feldmeyer, and Casey Harris. 2010. “Testing the Race-Crime Invariance Thesis: Black, White, and Hispanic Comparisons.” Criminology 48(4):1133–69.
Sutherland, Edwin H. 1949. White Collar Crime. NY: The Dryden Press.
Ulmer, J., Casey, Harris and Darren Steffensmeier. 2012. “Racial and Ethnic Structural Disadvantage and Crime: White, Black, and Hispanic Comparisons”. Social Science Quarterly. 93(3): 799-819.
Criminal behavior has been correlated to numerous characteristics such as gender, socioeconomic class, race and ethnicity. However, this essay we will focus on age and the time dimensions in which a criminal career can exist. Through older and more contemporary forms of research, it has been found that changes in age and criminal activity occur in an orderly way (Thornberry 1997: p.1). The orderly function in which criminals commit crimes is called the life course. By using criminology within the realm of the life course paradigm, social scientists have been able to understand the myriad of fluctuations that occur in the duration of a criminal career. This paper will attempt to provide some ground work on the life course criminology that examines these changes, provide concrete statistics on these trends, and discuss how age-related differences in crime have had impacts on the criminal justice system as a whole.
The relationship between age and crime has been one of the highest researched topics in criminology. The long history of scholarly attention to understanding age and crime has mostly been paid to gathering information with regard to the onset, persistence, and desistance associated with criminal behavior throughout an individual’s life course. The high level of attention has fostered the creation of theories of crime across multiple realms of social science. The commonality that is obvious across these disciplines is that they desire to explain the fluctuations in criminal activity over the life course and why or how involvement in a criminal career changes with the onset of major developmental phases and experiences within the life course (Life Course Criminology 2016).
The Criminal Career
Before one can look at life course theories developed to understand fluctuations in criminal activity, they must first become familiar with the idea of criminal careers. A criminal career is the “characterization of the longitudinal sequence of crimes committed by an individual offender” (Blumstein, et.al. 1986: 12). A criminal career operates within the life course, with identifiable start and end points. In other words, individuals begin their career of crime, persist to commit crimes, and at some point, halt offending. A groundbreaking study completed by Marvin Wolfgang and his colleagues, known as the Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study, planted the roots for this area of thinking. In the Birth Cohort study, Wolfgang, Figlio & Sellin studied the criminal activity among 9,945 males born in Philadelphia in 1945 (1972). Their first important finding was that one third of the cohort had police contact by the age of 17, with most being one-time offenders. Their second influential insight was that 18% of the cohort was responsible for committing roughly half of all offenses and about two thirds of all violent offenses (Wolfgang, Figlio, Sellin 1972). These findings shed light on the adolescent onset of most criminal careers within an individual’s life course and how, in most cases, a small majority is responsible for a large portion of the crime that is occurring (Piquero, Farrington and Blumstein 2007).
With these findings in mind, Wolfgang, Thornberry & Figlio sought to expand the scope to later parts in the original subject’s life courses (1987). In a 10 year follow up of the Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study, they found that of 10% of the original cohort had become chronic offenders, increasing the seriousness of their criminality into adulthood. This insight provided evidence of not only the persistence of criminal careers but also the increasing severity of crimes committed later on in an individual’s career and life course. In other words, as time goes by, chronic offenders—with the beginnings of their careers at an early age—continue to lead lives of crime with mounting cruelty.
In an effort to enhance and extend these research findings, Tracy, Wolfgang and Figlio conducted the Second Philadelphia Birth Cohort Study, which was a study of more than 27,000 individuals who were born in Philadelphia in 1958 and socialized in the 60s and 70s (1990). They found even higher rates of chronic offending among members of the second cohort. Most importantly, they found these chronic offenders to represent only 7% of the cohort with 23% of the offenders being responsible for committing 61% of all the offenses; including 60% of homicides, 75% of forcible rapes, 73% of robberies, and 65% of aggravated assaults (Tracy, Wolfgang and Figlio 1990). It is clear from these numbers and severity of crime, that the earlier hypotheses about crime progression throughout a criminal career were impressively significant.
With these findings about an individual’s criminal career, researchers began to wonder why such changes were taking place and in what context they were occurring. These questions led them to the life course framework and insightful experiences that impact criminal careers.
The Life Course Framework
The life course paradigm can be defined as a series of pathways throughout developmental processes in which there are varying age-dependent expectations and available options in an individual’s decision-making process (Elder 1985). Personal decisions, such as attending college, and natural events like familial death can shape one’s life path and can influence various transitions and turning points within the life course. The criminal career is one such trajectory that operates throughout the life course framework. Other examples might include schooling, work life and y marriage—each with their own potentially positive or negative impacts on the trajectory of the life course (Elder 1985). With the myriad of possible outcomes and transitions within the life course framework scholars look to focus on three main veins.
The first major concept that life course criminologists look at is the development of offending alongside antisocial behavior. Often times, the two come together, with the latter exacerbating the criminal career. Antisocial behavior has been found to increase the progression of crime overtime (Tracy, Wolfgang and Figlio, 1990). In other words, the more antisocial an individual tends to be, the more serious crimes he or she will commit. Second is the effect of risk and protective factors at different ages on criminal activity at varying ages. Some examples of risk factors for a life of crime include scenarios such as truancy and poor social bonding. Protective factors against a criminal career might include items such as local law enforcement presence and strong family bonds. The third important concentration for life course theorists deals with the effects of life events on the course of development and criminal activity throughout the life course. For example, marriage and steady employment have been found to be two of the most influential live events that decrease criminal decisions and lifestyles (Farrington 2003:221). In addition, as individuals develop and mature in later years, they tend to move away from lives of crime and towards more normative lifestyles. These significant characteristics of the life course—antisocial behavior, risk and protective factors, and powerful life experiences—depict a relatively vivid picture in which social scientists can better understand the changes in likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior.
Characteristics of Criminal Behavior
Extensive life course criminology studies have aided in identifying trends of criminal careers as they develop and progress throughout their life course. So much so, that social scientists from multiple disciplines have been able to provide widely accepted conclusions on the likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior, many of which are directly connected to age and maturation.
Through his studies and observations of other research, Farrington—a psychological criminologist— has outlined ten conclusions of criminal behavior.
In a study of 411 males from South London, ages 10-40, Piquero, Farrington and Blumstein uncovered findings that helped in the creation of the listed conclusions (2007). In this long term follow up of individuals previously tracked during childhood in the Cambridge Study of Delinquent Development (West & Farrington 1973), they found that 2 out of every 5 males, approximately 40%, accumulated an official conviction for a crime in some point in their lives; with 17 being the most prevalent age. In addition, they found that an early onset of offending was directly related to having a more extensive criminal career. This was measured by the accumulation of numerous convictions, having higher probability of participation of violence, demonstrating a longer criminal career and displaying involvement in many type of offenses. Piquero, Farrington & Blumstein also found the average length of a criminal career to be 10 years—falling in place almost perfectly with the peak ages of onset in the teen years and desistance somewhere in the late twenties (2007). Lastly, they found that recidivism after the fourth conviction, or a return to criminal behavior, was extremely high at 84.5%. This statistic points to progressive nature of criminals and their almost habitual dependency on crime from one reason or the other.
Changes in the Criminal Justice (CJ) System
From the examination thus far, it is clear that age plays an important role in the nature of criminal behavior. Adolescents commit different crimes than adults, and in different ways. Should this marked disparity hold true with regards to punishment of these crimes in the criminal justice system? In a poll by ABC news, 55% believed that the crime, and not the perpetrators age, should determine their sentencing (Reaves 2001). In other words, children and adults should be tried equally. Let us now turn to what the research has to say.
Historically, children in the CJ system were treated in much the same ways as adults and subject to many of the same criminal justice processes as adults (Richards 2011). Until the mid-nineteenth century, there was no specific category for the juvenile offender in Western CJ systems. For example, children as young as six years of age were being tried and incarcerated in Australia (Cunneen & White 2007). However, it is becoming increasingly acknowledged that juveniles should be subject to a CJ system that is different from the adult system. Scholars and activists have now turned to providing evidence for why this change should come to fruition.
Most proponents of separate punishments for adolescents point to their lack of development and maturity. One researcher writes, “changes in arousal and motivation brought on by pubertal maturation precedes the development of regulatory competence in a manner that creates a disjunction between adolescent’s affective experience and his or her ability to regulate arousal and motivation” (Steinberg 2005: 69-70). In other words, children are not yet equipped with the tools to control some of their urges and decisions that often end in criminal behavior. It’s as if they were starting the engine to an automobile without yet having learned about to drive it. This lag in development is by no means their fault. It is a biological phenomenon that all children must deal with, unfortunately, some are better at it than others. On the other hand, majority of healthy adults do not struggle with this discrepancy; all parts of their cognitive development are completed around age 20 (Steinberg 2005). Due to this completion of maturation, many scholars believe adults should be put in separate categories when it comes to convicting them for crimes that they are undoubtedly responsible for. Children however require an additional acknowledgement of this maturity discrepancy before being convicted.
Fortunately for adolescent criminals within the United States, many changes—drawn from international law— are being made to add this extra protection to U.S. criminal proceedings (de la Vega 2015). De la Vega argues that there are many cases where individual’s rights, especially children’s rights, are better protected under an international standard than under the American Constitution and its statutes. The influence of international law, practice and opinion has been, and continues to be, responsible for much of the criminal justice reform that is occurring in the United States.
In Toper v. Simmons 2005, the Supreme Court abolished the juvenile death penalty. No longer can a child be put to death for his or her crimes. Adults however, can still be convicted with this punishment. The Court specifically looked for evolving values of decency with regards to this punishment, pulling much inspiration from international law that prohibits adolescence from receiving the out dated and biblical punishment (De la Vega 2015). In a similar case, Graham v. Florida 2010, after citing the Roper case, deemed life without parole sentences for juveniles for non-homicide crimes unconstitutional, already international trend. This case, much like its predecessor, reaffirmed the relevance of the international law practice and opinion on the differences between adolescent and adult crimes and punishment (De la Vega 2015).
Along other important characteristics of criminal behavior such as race, ethnicity or gender, age proves to be a dimension worth examining. Each year in an individual’s life is different and these differences can be represented by their life course (Blumstein et al.1986; Elder 1985). Different pathways or trajectories push and pull these people into various decisions and experiences, some better than others. By looking at an individual’s trajectory through the life course paradigm, we can gather more information on the direction they are heading. For some, this means a life of crime and the development of a criminal career. From an early age many people begin their careers. For some, it is short lived and desistance takes place rapidly, while others evolve into chronic offenders. For these individuals, their crimes increase in both frequency and extremity as they journey through their life course (Farrington 2003; Piquero, Farrington and Blumstein 2007; Tracy, Wolfgang and Figlio 1990). Regardless, all crime comes to an end and in the case of this paper, the halting of crime most often comes with old age or conviction. These two milestones mark the end of the criminal career but not necessarily the end of the life course. Some may live on without criminal behavior while others who have become convicted are left in prison or rehabilitated into civil citizens. No matter the outcome, all life courses must also come to end and it’s up to the individual to choose how that is.
Blumstein, A., Cohen, J., Roth, J.A., and C.A. Visher. 1986. “Criminal Careers and Career Criminals”. Vol. 1. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
Cunneen, C. and White, R. 2007. Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia. 3rd ed. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
De la Vega, C. 2015. “Using International Human Rights Standards to Effect Criminal Justice Reform in the United States. Human Rights. Vol. 51, (2).
Elder, G.H. 1985. “Perspectives on the life course” in Life Dourse Dynamics: Trajectories and Transitions. 23-49. Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press.
Farrington, D.P. 2003. “Developmental and Life-course Criminology: Key Theoretical and Empirical Issues. Criminology 41: 221-225.
“Life Course Criminology”. Criminal Justice. Retrieved August 25th, 2016. (http://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/criminology/life-course-criminology/)
Piquero, A.R., Farrington, D., and Blumstein, A. 2007. Key Issues in Criminal Career Research. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Reaves, J. “Should the law treat kids and adults differently?”. Time. May 17th, 2001. (http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,110232,00.html)
Richards, K. 2011. “What Makes Juvenile Offenders different from Adult Offenders?”. Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice. 409: 1-7.
Steinberg, L. 2005. “Cognitive and Affective Development in Adolescence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 9(2):62-74.
Thornberry, T.P. 1997. “Advances in Criminological Theory”. Vol. 7. Developmental Theories of Crime and Delinquency. New Brunswick NJ: Transaction.
Tracy, P.E., Wolfgang, M.E. and Figlio, R.M., 1990. Delinquency in Two Birth Cohorts. New York: Plenum.
West, D.J., and Farrington, D.P. 1973. Who Becomes Delinquent?. London: Heinemann.
Wolfgang, M.E., Figlio, R.M., and Sellin, T. 1972. Delinquency in a Birth Cohort. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Wolfgang, M., Thornberry, T.P., and Figlio, R.M. 1987. From Boy to Man, From Delinquency to Crime. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.