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Different Perspectives of Viewing Crime

Crime should not be taken to refer to some obvious act of commission or omission. Normally, the mention of the word crime brings to mind the image of some deranged character or some fanatical fundamentalist group(s) out to cause some social, political and economic havoc by way of stealing, killing, and/or destroying. While this is true to some extent, such a narrow definition is likely to obscure the actual meaning of crime.

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Consider the case(s) of Socrates, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Galileo Galilei, and others who despite their noble motives were considered as criminals and eventually imprisoned. There are numerous other examples of criminal acts and omissions that contradict the traditional definition of crime. Therefore, it would be prudent to consider crime as a complicated process that can be understood best by examining it from different perspectives.

Chief of the perspectives of examining crime is the traditional Marxist perspective on crime. Scholars like Herbert Manheim observed how legislation or laws of countries like England and others were used to perpetrate crime by giving excessive prominence to the protection of property. Karl Marx observed that laws were mostly in favor of the ruling class.

Criminologists concur with Marx concerning the reasons why the poor get involved in crime. Unequal distribution of power may result in widespread poverty which automatically makes people respond by challenging those who control wealth and other factors of production. Another factor that may lead to a crime that is referred to by Marx as alienation occurs when people in a society are given demeaning work with little or no space for creativity.

The majority of the population is set in a kind of superstructure that serves the interests of the ruling class. The majority of the laws that are passed by the state serve the interests of the ruling class. Collective rights like those of a trade union are given no attention whereas more emphasis is put on laws that establish individual property rights. These laws naturally help the ruling class to manipulate the proletariat or masses mostly through coercion.

Since the ruling class is the one that passes laws, they make sure that every single law of the land reflects their wishes and ideologies. To add insult to an injury, people have unequal access to the law given the fact that they need enough money to hire competent lawyers. The ruling class ensures that the masses are always cash-strapped and therefore powerless. This means that you can be guilty when innocent and vice versa depending on the weight of your pocket.

Thus, according to Marxist, punishment for a crime varies from one person to another depending on the social class of the perpetrator and regardless of the gravity of the crime (Siegel, 2012). Examples of crime under this perspective include White-collar crime, corporate or business crime (i.e., massive frauds), and organized crime like the Mafia which often gets involved in a country’s politics, big businesses, and law. The latter often get involved in grand corruption cases and systematic violence.

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The interactionist perspective looks at deviance from a different angle. It holds three situations to be true. First, the actions of people are guided by the self-interpretation of reality through which they get to assign meaning to events and things. Second, people will observe how others react, i.e., negatively, or positively and finally, they reevaluate and interpret their actions and behaviors according to the symbols and meaning they have learned from other people (Siegel, 2012).

According to this perspective, reality, events, institutions, and people are viewed subjectively and are labeled as being either evil or good but not both. There is no objective reality, for instance, some people might consider music channels like MTV to be offensive, degrading and obscene while others view the same music channel as entertaining. Crime in this perspective is defined along with the same interactions.

The definition of crime and content of criminal law often depends on human perceptions and interactions. For instance, cigarettes are legal, but bhang is not. Also, in some jurisdictions, same-sex marriage is legal while in others it is not. Determining a person’s guilt or innocence according to this perspective involves taking into account the function of labeling and interaction.

The consensus perspective of crime describes crimes as all those behaviors that are believed by the majority of citizens to be repugnant to all elements of society. Criminal law is held to be the agency through which the definition of crimes and their punishment is taken to reflect the opinions, values and beliefs of the general public. Consensus means that a widely accepted agreement exists between the majority of the public on what behaviors should be viewed as crimes and therefore outlawed under criminal law. Homicide is a good example of consensus crime (Laudon, 2007).

This perspective holds that the definition of crime is the prerogative of social authorities who determine what laws are going to be applied uniformly to all members of the society regardless of their class based on beliefs and value systems of the public. There are laws to control corporate crimes for the rich and laws to control violence and thefts among the poor etc. Indeed, criminal law can be mysterious at times, like the adage goes, “yesterday’s criminals are today’s heroes.”


Laudon, K. (2007). Sociology Themes and Perspectives. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Siegel L. (2012). Criminology. 11th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth-Cengage Learning.

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