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Social Construction of Serial Killers


Serial killing is a homicide category occurring when an offender murders more than three victims unknown to the criminal. It is a product of current social and cultural inclination, which criminologists can use to accentuate motivations (James, 2019). Different social constructions of serial murders are the social structure, social control, neutralization, social process, labeling, and social class theories (Earle et al., 2019). Regarding dissimilarities, social structure focuses on socioeconomic forces, while social class emphasizes inequality strains as serial killing drivers. Conversely, the neutralization hypothesis purports serial murderers use responsibility denial tactics to dodge moral obligations. Social control suggests persons with no religious ties, reputation bonds, personal links, and social connection can be a serial killer. On the other hand, labeling theory claims an offender labeled as a serial murderer internalizes, accepts, and actualizes the criminal behavior.

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Social Structure

The theory suggests socioeconomic forces and cultural deviance influence underprivileged people to engage in serial killing. Individuals have a high probability of engaging in serial murder for material benefits when they lack finances to meet their goals (Earle et al., 2019). Similarly, social segregations trigger discriminated residents to construct deviant subcultures and embrace crimes. Richard Ramirez was a burglar, kidnapper, and serial killer who tormented San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles residents in the mid-1980s (Earle et al., 2019). The juvenile Ramirez worked at a local Inn and used a passkey to steal from sleeping customers to sustain his luxurious life. Ramirez had fourteen burglary accounts at adult age, thirteen serial murders, and eleven rape cases (Earle et al., 2019). The culprit ascribed to satanic subculture and did not express remorse for his delinquencies. The social structure model proposes cultural nonconformity and financial constraints are the drivers for serial murder. However, the concept inaccurately presumes socio-economically stable people cannot be serial killers.

Social Class

The model contends social inequity strains lower class people; therefore, they cannot afford their needs. Lower class people are unemployed individuals or persons with unskilled occupations. The widening division between the lower and the upper class instils the notion of disgrace, suspicion, and jealousy (James, 2019). The social class theory argues lower-class residents with multiple strains engage in serial killings as retaliatory acts. For instance, John Gacy was a sex offender and serial murder who killed more than thirty-three boys and youthful men (James, 2019). Possible criminal behavior drivers were multifaceted stresses, such as a constrained relationship with the father, head injury, and heart complications. An affluent family friend and a contractor molested Gacy in a truck in 1949 (James, 2019). The offender’s serial killer conducts aligned with social class theory because he chose victims based on a shared standing. Gacy lured male targets only from charitable events and murdered them in his ranch next to Norridge.

Social Process

Conversely, social process theory claims all individuals can be serial murders irrespective of gender, class, or ethnicity. Offenders learn serial killer behavior from other criminals because the act is not an ingrained operation. Social process theory argues individuals acquire criminal behavior through verbal and non-verbal communications (Chaemsaithong, 2019). Serial killers who fit in the social process contract are John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. A court in Maryland convicted Muhammad of six cases of serial murder. Besides, Malvo was part of the Beltway sniper shooting accompanied by Muhammad in 2002 (Chaemsaithong, 2019). Muhammad befriended adolescent Malvo taught him serial murder activities. The offenders shared techniques, procedures, and drives vital in sustaining the crime.


On the contrary, the neutralization theory presents serial murders do not undertake the crime at all seasons. The criminals attend community activities, social gatherings, and picnics when not committing atrocities (Earle et al., 2019). Offenders are conscious of moral obligations, but deny responsibility, injury, and appeal for utmost loyalties to justify their atrocities. A serial killer who matches neutralization theory is Harold Shipman. He was a British doctor accused of murdering 215 patients (Earle et al., 2019). Shipman served as a general practitioner at Hyde in and developed a private surgery in 1993 (Earle et al., 2019). In the early career, he was an excellent distance runner and became the vice-captain of High Pavement Grammar School’s athletics team. Shipman denied charges against him and disputed scientific evidence stating he used lethal diamorphine doses to kill patients.

Social Control

Nonetheless, the social control theory purports every individual can be a serial killer, and current society favors criminal behavior. People who abide by the law strive to satisfy religious or personal morals, conform to social standing, and maintain their reputation. A person feels relieved to commit crimes when pious ties, intimate links, social unions, and reputation bonds are absent (James, 2019). A serial murder who fits social control theory is Ted Bundy, who killed twelve people. Budy’s grandparents raised him as a son to evade social stigma linked to birth outside marriage (James, 2019). He found out the truth when a colleague called him a bastard and showed him the birth certificate. Consequently, the offender chose solitude at a young age because he did not comprehend interpersonal relationships (James, 2019). He lacked the personal sense of friendship and did not value social interactions, region, or reputation.

Labeling Theory

On the other hand, the labeling model views serial killer behavior as a product of disgracing social relations and disparaging encounters. Labeling construct purports laws makers are biased regarding particular actions’ criminal perspective (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). The theory operates on the hypothesis once an offender has a label, the entire life follows. The stigma associated with the time an offender spends in a prison engenders bitterness and aggression. A serial killer corresponding to the labeling theory is Samuel Little. The lawbreaker spent three years in jail because he broke into a furniture store in 1961 (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). He was arrested twenty-six times in eleven states for criminal activities, including rape, theft, fraud, and assaults (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). Little confessed to having murdered ninety-three, and the FBI matched him to sixty serial killings (Hodgkinson et al., 2017). Imprisonment moved the serial killer close to crime due to the label society assigned the person. Ultimately, the offender internalized, accepted, and actualized the deviant behavior marker.

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Sociology discipline expounds criminal behavior by analyzing rules and processes binding and separating people, groups, associations, and institutions. Social structure emphasizes socioeconomic forces, while social class highlights inequality strains as serial homicide influencers. On the contrary, the neutralization model implies serial killers employ accountability denial strategies to escape moral commitments. Social control claims individuals with no religious relations, reputation bonds, personal associations, and social fittings can be a serial assassin. Conversely, the labeling theory states an offender marked as a serial murderer adopts, admits, and objectifies the felonious behavior. Criminologists should integrate all approaches of social construction and use them to model correct serial killer behavior.


Chaemsaithong, K. (2019). Names and Identities in Courtroom Narratives. Names, 67(4), 185- 198. Web.

Earle, H., & Clark, J. (2019). Telling national stories in American Horror Story. European Journal of American culture, 38(1), 5-13. Web.

Hodgkinson, S., Prins, H., & Stuart-Bennett, J. (2017). Monsters, madmen… and myths: A critical review of the serial killing literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 34, 282- 289. Web.

James, V. (2019). Denying the darkness: Exploring the discourses of neutralization of Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer. Societies, 9(2), 46. Web.

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