Studying Society: Lecture 8
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Studying Society: Lecture 8



These are the slides from my Studying Society course at Durham University’s Foundation Centre. This weeks session focusses on sociological explanations for crime, using the case study of serial ...

These are the slides from my Studying Society course at Durham University’s Foundation Centre. This weeks session focusses on sociological explanations for crime, using the case study of serial killing.



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  • See for a large number of ‘trading cards’ for different social theorists and theories.Crime card game.Give out cards with different crimes on (e.g. domestic violence, fraud etc.) and ask groups to think about which theoreties can provide explanations/ interpretations for different crimes.
  • Most of the components of this stipulative definition could perhaps be challenged.So, for example, to assert that 'there is no relationship between perpetrator and victim' is astringent condition and would certainly exclude some perpetrators, such as Dennis Nilsen andFrederick and Rosemary West, whom most would regard as serial killers. In fact, whatconstitutes a 'relationship' is problematic and it seems Egger is too restrictive in hisconceptualisation of 'relationships'. Indeed, we later suggest that serial killing can usefully beconceptualised as a relationship in the broadest sense of being grounded in patriarchy andcapitalist relations.The assertion that murders have to take place in different locations to be classified as serialkilling again is unnecessarily restrictive. It seems curious to disqualify a killer who lures orforces his/her victims to a specific location to be killed from being labelled as a serial killer.Frederick and Rosemary West, who killed at least nine young women (non-familial victims),will retain the label of serial killers despite committing the known offences at the sameaddress in Gloucester (Sounes, 1995).Source of FBI definition
  • Emphasise focus on British serial killing, and explain structural explanation (and difference to individual explanations)

Studying Society: Lecture 8 Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Natural Born Criminals?
  • 2. OutlineWhat causes crime?Case study – serial killers
  • 3. Theoretical recapTheories Marxism Feminisms FunctionalismSome Karl Marx Germaine Greer Emile Durkheimtheorists David Harvey Anne Oakley Talcott ParsonsKey Capitalism Gender Structurevocabulary Commodity Patriarchy Values Class Exploitation Norms Alienation AnomieFocus Capitalist exploitation Male exploitation of How society is so of workers women stableWeakness Overlooks gender Splintered Doesn‟t explain change Ignore individual Reductionist Downplays conflict
  • 4. Card gameFor each crime consider:Which theoretical viewpoints are most useful in discussing them?Which features of the crime would those theorists focus on?What kinds of questions would they ask?What causes these crimes? How does the theory help explain them?
  • 5. Serial Killing“Serial killing industry” • Film, computer games • Detection software and hardwareRare in UKIndividualised detection efforts are effective • Historical and cultural specificity of SK is ignored
  • 6. What is a serial killer?
  • 7. Defining serial killingEgger (1984) • there must be at least 2 victims; • no relationship between perpetrator and victim; • the murders are committed at different times and have no direct connection to previous or following murders; • the murders occur at different locations; • the murders are not committed for material gain; • subsequent victims have characteristics in common with earlier victims• FBI definition • one or more offenders • two or more murdered victims • incidents should be occurring in separate events, at different times • the time period between murders separates serial murder from mass murder
  • 8. Medical psychologicalexplanationAssumption that individual actors are driven to extreme behavioursbecause of psychological „abnormalities‟
  • 9. Hare Psychopathy Checklist Are you a psychopath?Superficial charm Grandiose sense Need for Pathological lying Cunning and of self stimulation manipulativeLack of remorse Shallow affect Lack of empathy Parasitic lifestyle Poor behavioural controlsSexual promiscuity Early behaviour Lack of realistic Impulsivity Irresponsibility problems long term goalsFailure to accept Many short term Juvenile Revocation of Criminal versatilityresponsibility for relationships delinquency conditional releaseactions
  • 10. Problems with medicalexplanationsMost serial killers are not mad.Growing acceptance of social factors, but still minorCan‟t explain variations in time and space • E.g. Interwar germany
  • 11. Break
  • 12. Hunting Humans (Leyton 1986)First study to suggest that psychological explanation are not enough toexplain multiple killingsConcept of “Homicidal protest” • “the configuration of the social structure is such that some persons when faced with challenges to their position in the social hierarchy react to those challenges through the protest of killing members of the threatening group” Pre-industrial Industrial (modern) Post modern (since 1960s)Killer Aristocratic Middle classes (e.g. Upper working/ lower doctors, teachers) middle class (e.g. security guards)Victim Peasantry „Lower orders‟ (e.g. Middle classes (e.g. prostitutes, servants) university students
  • 13. Pre-industrialLittle evidence of serial killing (esp. withpeasant victims)Aristocrats were threatened by peasantry andmerchant classes • Serial killing about class control • E.g. Gilles de Rais
  • 14. Industrial/ ModernCreation of middle class professionals to serve needs of bourgeoisieSerial killing here symbolic extension of industrialised disciplineEnforced new moral order, one which demanded extraction of maximumvalue from proletariat“heinous conclusion the unprecedented control demanded by the cash-nexus of industrial Capitalism”
  • 15. Post-modern (post 1960s)Significant rise in serial killing from this period • Could be rise in recording and convictionPerpetrator/ Victim class relationship reversed – “those increasingly excluded from desired socio-economic goals were wreaking their revenge upon those whom they saw as frustrating their ambitions, and therefore, being responsible for their exclusion”
  • 16. Killers and their victims in UKPaper looks at 15 trials involving 17 serial killersMixed support for LeytonKillers not from „truly oppressed‟ , overwhelmingly male and all white • Most were working class/ lower middle class occupations • 40% were unemployedVictims were not from middle classes though, generally were fromrelatively powerless groups (young, old, women, gay, unemployed)
  • 17. Evaluating ‟Homicidal Protest‟ in UKLeyton‟s focus on class relations and „modernity‟ seems unhelpful inexplaining UK serial killingIf we broaden scope of social relations to include patriarchySome evidence of material and social frustration in killlersPatriarchy useful in explaining British serial killing • Dominance over women, often violent • Crisis of masculinity
  • 18. ConclusionsEngine of patriarchal capitalism is social and economic competition.Those who can‟t compete are pathologised as the incompetent or lazy.State legitimises this treatment by affording them minimal social andeconomic protection to not exacerbate their idlenessInability of individuals to compete not only has a role in creating serialkillers but the increasing vulnerability of certain groups plays an importantrole in providing the victims for serial killers.
  • 19. Group workRead the information in your case study and answer the following questionsWhat is the class position of the killer? Of the victims? • How can you tell?How might gender and patriarchy explain the killer‟s actions or the choiceof victim?Do you think that these cases supports the homicidal protest thesis?