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Running Header: Social Construction: A Study of Theory
A Study of Theory
Deviance & Violence CJ266
March 09, 2010
Social Construction: A Study of Theories
In our modern society, advances in technology and science have propelled the study of crime into
new frontiers. While the actual study of crime dates back to earlier decades, these advances have
put crime data and the study of it into the forefront of our society. Criminologists devote their
life to assessing, comprehending, restraining, and helping lawmakers to prevent criminal and
deviant acts. Not all criminal acts are deviant, and likewise all deviant acts are not criminal.
Serial killers with the nature of their crimes cross both categories due to the violence associated
with the crimes, the recidivism of the crimes, and the deviant nature of most serial killers even
though the particular deviance varies per killer. These can include but are not limited to
cannibalism, dismemberment, necrophilia, and sadism. Criminological Theories that began in
the mid 1800’s have been developed and tested over time. With each new advance in technology,
the methods of testing these theories become more exact. In this essay we will discuss the various
Social Construction Theories that today’s criminal justice system uses to control and prevent
criminals such as serial killers from committing their crimes. These consist of the social
structure, social class, social process, neutralization, social control, and labeling theories (Siegel,
Social Structure Theory
Social Structure Theory reasons that the socioeconomic forces drive those in underprivileged
financial situations to commit crime, and that this is the reason for crime. This group of theories
consists of three theories:
o Social Disorganization Theory- primary focus of this theory is environmental
conditions. High unemployment and school dropout rates are symptoms of this
problem in a neighborhood.
o Strain Theory suggests that discord in the goals a person has and what actual
resources one has to attain that goal is the main reason for crime (Siegel, 2007).
Richard Ramirez fits into this theory because he started his killing over
disappointment that a woman did not have anything of value to steal which was
how he supported himself. His first murder was just a burglary gone awry. He then
went on to the following year to become a serial killer claiming 12 more lives in the
span of one year.
o Cultural Deviance Theory due to burden and societal separation people in lower
class areas develop their own subcultures, which do not conform to societal rules.
For example, dad is a drunk, and hangs out with other lower class drunks who
think that it is perfectly normal to beat their wives. By association, they can
reassure themselves that their criminal behavior is normal.
Although Strain Theory might work in relation to some serial killers, overall, it does not seem
that social structure theories work well in relation to serial killers (Siegel, 2007).
Social Class (Anomie) Theory
Anomie Theory group contends that societal inequity causes awareness, which in turn causes
crime. The lower class worker feels strain because they cannot afford the things they need. They
then turn to dealing drugs to attain the means to achieve societal equity. These theories are:
• Institutional Anomie Theory states that because of our incessant need to keep up the
status quo the United States is full of anomie.
• Relative Deprivation Theory says harsh divisions between the upper and lower classes
cause feelings of jealousy and suspicion, which gives the criminal notions of disgrace by
the upper class, thereby causing the criminal to have desires to disgrace them in return.
• General Strain Theory maintains that it is not one type of strain but individuals reacting
to several individualized strains at once are more likely to commit crime.
This theory best fits the serial killer in the fact that most of them seem to have several different
problems all at once. John Wayne Gacy seems to be a perfect example of this. John grew up in a
strict Irish catholic family. He had a bad relationship with his abusive father, whom he wanted to
gain approval from desperately. When he was only eleven, John injured on the head by a swing,
received a blood clot in his brain. This clot caused him severe blackouts and headaches, which
went undiagnosed until he reached the age of 16. Even though doctors remove the blood clot,
health problems continued for him, in less than a year John receives the diagnosis of an
unspecified heart condition. John was also a homosexual, which could not be revealed because of
what his father, might think. (Clark Prosecutor, n.d.)
Social Process Theory
Social Process Theory claims that all people have the ability to be criminals regardless of class,
ethnicity, or gender. The theory claims that if the societal bonds that a person holds are
constructive, then the person will be law abiding if these bonds are counter constructive, the
person will not be. The theories in this group are as follows:
• Social Learning Theory claims that criminals learn from other criminals, and that crime
in itself is learned behavior instead of ingrained. This theory applies well to team serial
killers because of the propensity for them to learn techniques from each other.
• Neutralization falls under social process group as well. This theory states that, criminals
do not act like criminals all of the time. When they are not committing crime they attend
picnics social gatherings, and regular community functions. When they are at these
gatherings, however, it is common to find that the attendees are also comprised of
criminal and deviant members. (Siegel, 2007)
Social Control Theory
Social control theory maintains that every person is born capable of committing crime and that
the society we live in today lends itself more to crime than ever. Just about everywhere, you
look; the opportunity to commit crime exists. People who obey the law do so either out of
personal belief in religion or morals, or due to a need to conform in order to keep their standing
in society and their reputation in check. When these bonds are not present, a person feels free to
break the law. (Siegel, 2007)
Ted Bundy as a good example of social control theory and serial killers, because of the fact that
he resented finding out that who he thought was his older sister was actually his mother. He had
negative attachment to family because of this scenario, and became one of the United States most
notorious serial killers we have ever seen. (Bell, n.d.)
Labeling Theory This theory looks at the careers of criminals as being a product of disparaging
societal relations and disgracing social encounters and the subjective nature of the law. The key
tenets of the theory are as follows:
• Those who currently are making the laws bias the criminal natures of certain behaviors.
This means that what is considered to be a crime is only such because people label the
behavior as a crime.
• People are labeled as well as acts.
• Whether the behavior is positive or negative, prejudiced explanation of behavior is
The theory also works off the assumption that once one is labeled, as for example, a pothead,
meaning a person who smokes marijuana, the rest of their life will follow suit as a pothead with
all of the social stigmatization that follows that association. It also suggests that lawmakers can
change what deems an act to be illegal, to suit their own needs, as was the case with marijuana
Labeling theory seems to work best with serial killers, because of the nature of the crimes.
Almost all serial killers have some deviant desires with maybe the exception of German serial
killers who kill more for money and items rather than sexual gratification, or perversion.
According to the theory once, you are labeled, you are always considered to be labeled as such.
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