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Posted on June 8th, 2012, by

Criminologists find it difficult reach agreement on a definition of crime

The attempts to clearly define had been made since the ancient time and still persists at the present epoch. In fact, the efforts of various specialist which were related to the crime developed their own views on crime in the past but with a little success to find a common, universal definition of crime. Later, as criminology developed as an independent science the agreement between criminologists, specialists working specifically in the field of crime researches, seemed to be quite probable. It least it would be logical that specialists researching deeply crimes, their causes and punishment can reach some common view on crime and work out the universal definition acceptable by all criminologists and understandable to other specialists that directly or indirectly deal with crime prevention.

However, even nowadays, criminologists still argue as for the definition of crime and they still cannot reach an agreement on this problem.

Obviously, the lack of agreement on the definition of crime by criminologists cannot be explained by the insufficient knowledge of the modern criminology about crime or by the existing of such a variety of views on crime that they make its definition practically impossible. In fact, it is practically an unimaginable situation when specialists working in the one and the same field cannot reach an agreement within more than two centuries of the development of the science but, exactly such a situation may be observed in criminology. This is why it would be logical to presuppose that the problem is not in crime itself, which is actually unchangeable, but it is rather the problem of criminologists and their interpretation of the notion of crime.

However, such an explanation of the existence of various definition of crime is quite narrow and insufficient.

Naturally, it is true that there are a lot of criminologists who have their own, unique view on crime and each of them attempt to defend his/her own position rejecting the ideas of the opponents and promoting his/her own definition of crime. On the other hand, it is necessary to realize that criminology, as well as any other science cannot be shaped on the basis of some subjective views of a group of specialists. In stark contrast, criminology, being a science, attempts to objectively reflect the processes that take place in human society and, on such a basis, develop its theoretical concepts and laws. This is exactly, where the essence of major contradictions between criminologists on the definition of crime may be cleared out.

In fact, criminologists, on defining crime, rely on the existing socio-cultural norms, which affect their own interpretation of crimes. As result, the definition of crime highly depends on the existing social and cultural norms which are accepted in society. It should be pointed out that it is not only social and cultural factors that may affect the definition of crimes by criminologists but it is also political and economic factors which influence on the interpretation and perception of crime may also vary dramatically. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the definition of crime by criminologists will vary depending on the existing social and cultural norms, political and economic situation.

It is not a secret that socio-economic and political relations as well as culture are constantly evolving. In other words they are not static and, therefore, they are susceptible to considerable changes which inevitably affect the definition of crime. As a result, the actions which used to be viewed as crimes in the past, may be considered as a norm today, or, vice versa, some actions which used to be a norm in the past are nowadays viewed as a crime. In real life situations, this means that under certain socio-economic, political or cultural conditions one and the same action may be interpreted as crime or may be not. For instance, in totalitarian states the criticism of the ruling regime or attempts to reach political freedom even by means of peaceful protests or simply public disagreement with the ruling regime is traditionally interpreted as crime, while as soon as the totalitarian regime falls and democratic principles become dominant in this particular society the public criticism of the government, political pluralism, etc. become a norm and are not treated as a crime any more. The similar examples may be drawn from socio-economic and cultural spheres. For instance, a couple of centuries ago slavery was the basis of American economy in the South while nowadays it is commonly defined as crime.

At the time, the evolution of society and its socio-economic and cultural norms or political situations do not obligatory mean that the lack of agreement on definition of crime among criminologist is the factor determined by the historical evolution of society solely. If this problem was determined only by the problems of historical changes within society criminologists would probably come to agreement rejecting past contradictions but, in actuality, they still fail to give an unarguable definition of crime. In this respect, it should be pointed out that the interpretation of crime may also vary in different communities, depending on their particular cultural norms that exist at the moment.

What is meant here is the fact that for one community some action may be a norm while or another community this action may be viewed as a crime. Such contradictions may exist not only between different countries but also within a multinational country where various communities create a diverse culture of the country making the common definition of crime quite problematic.

Thus, it should be said that criminologists cannot reach agreement on the definition of crime because of the constantly changing socio-economic and political conditions and cultural diversity that is the characteristic of the modern society and which inevitably affects the definition of crime.

The problem of crime and studying the crimes of the powerful

Basically, all layers of society are susceptible to crimes. It is not a secret that crimes are committed on all levels and it is possible to find criminals among marginalized representatives of the lower classes as well as it is possible to find criminals among the privileged ruling elite of society. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the study of crimes committed by the powerful is particularly important since it provides ample opportunities for better understanding if crimes and the role they may play in society since often the crimes committed by representatives of the power may have a substantially more serious consequences for society than crimes committed by an ordinary criminal. This is why it is very important to study the crimes of the powerful.

Speaking about this type of crimes, it is primarily necessary to point out that crimes committed by those in power are quite rare reach the public. In fact, in various countries the crimes committed by the powerful may be more or less widely spread. What is meant here is the fact that the crimes committed by those in power may be viewed as an indicator of the general level of the development of society. To put it more precisely, the countries, which are characterized by the high level of socio-economic and political development and which are traditionally defined as democratic countries, have a relatively low level of crimes committed by the powerful. Moreover, even though such crimes are committed they are amply discussed publicly and, as a rule, they are severely punished. It is worthy of mention that even a suspicions concerning crimes committed by a representative of power or of some leading politician may lead to the end of his/her professional career and, traditionally, such allegations undermine the current position of such a person.

In stark contrast, in less developed countries, where the crimes committed by the representatives of the ruling elite are practically a norm, the cases of the severe punishment of a criminal are quite rare and often the crimes committed by those in power remain unnoticed by or unknown for the wide public since such countries do not have traditions of publicity. It should be pointed out that the crimes in such countries often remain uninvestigated and the criminals remain unpunished that stimulate them to commit further crimes as they realize the inability of the judicial system to persecute them. Moreover, in developing countries crimes committed by those in power are widely used by their opponents to gain the power by means of revealing the crimes to the public. But, as a rule, the allegations are not transformed into trials and, what is more, the allegations in the commitment of crimes are often mutual. As a result, the public gets confused and cannot really influence the powerful while judicial system remains passive, being highly corrupt itself.

At first glance, the example of developing countries seems to be rather exceptional than normal for people living in developed countries but, in actuality, it reveals the essence of crimes committed by the powerful and helps better understand the lessons that can be learned from such crimes. To put it more precisely, the crimes committed by the powerful demonstrate that the criminal behavior is typical to all people and the social position or well-being of an individual is not a guarantee that prevents him/her from the commitment of crimes.

At the same time, the crimes committed by those in power may be also viewed as much more serious than crimes committed by ordinary people since those in power actually represent the entire society, or even the elite of society.

This means that society gave the power to these people but they used it in a criminal way. In such a way, they do not simply commit an ordinary crime like a theft, for instance, but they commit the crime against society which gave them great power.

Obviously, such people create a negative image of the entire society and reveal the fact that this society is in a profound crisis since even the ruling elite is characterized by the deviant behavior. In other words, such crimes reveal the fact that crimes are committed on all levels and the more crimes are committed by those in power the more affected by this problem is the entire society. The reason is quite obvious since the ruling elite is supposed to represent the best part of society. Consequently, if its representatives commit crimes, than crime is a norm for this society.

However, the crimes committed by those in power also reveal another side of crime. In fact, the crimes committed on the highest level may be used as the tool of political or economic struggle against opponents. In fact, it is often argued that allegations concerning crimes committed by representatives of the ruling elite are just unfair methods of struggle of their political or economic opponents. This trend is particularly obvious in developing countries but it can also be traced in developed countries as well. For instance, the notorious Watergate scandal may be viewed as a proof of the fact that a crime committed by one party may be used by its opponents in their own political interests since Nixon had to retire after that scandal and the political power he represented apparently lost in the struggle with its major opponent. However, this example is quite exceptional for developed countries but, nonetheless, it is necessary to remember about the enormous effect that allegations or suspicions in the commitment of a crime may produce on the professional career of a representative of the ruling elite.

In such a way, it is possible to conclude that crimes are committed on all levels and the powerful part of society is not an exception. At the same time, the analysis of the number and significance of crimes committed by those in power can provide an opportunity to learn the extent to which crime is a norm for a particular society and what is the criminological situation in society, at large. Naturally, the level of crimes of those in power may vary but, nevertheless, the high number of crimes indicates to the profound crisis in society. Finally, crimes committed on the highest level may be also a part of the political struggle.

Crime designed out’

Historically, human society rejected crimes as a destructive factor which undermines stability within the community.

In the course of time, people developed more and more sophisticated schemes and tools of struggle against crime. At the same time, the development of criminology contributed considerably to the development of new more effective ways of prevention of crimes since one of the major goals of criminology is to reveal the essence of crime, its causes and develop effective means of its prevention. Obviously, to fulfill the major goal to eliminate crimes, criminology needs to fully realize what crime actually is in order to be able to understand all the constituting elements and factors leading to crime. Such understanding will unquestionably help prevent crimes in the future and, thus, minimize their negative effect on society.

First of all, it should be said that criminologists attempted to design crime out since the beginning of the development of this science. The first works on crime focused on the problem of crime and punishment where criminologists attempted to structure and understand crime and develop the most effective punishment. Naturally, in the course of time the views of criminologists on this problem evolved considerably nevertheless, the essence of the science, its major goals and attempts to design crime out still remain among the major priorities of modern criminology.

In such a situation, a logical question arises whether crime can be designed out at all, or probably it is an unsolvable problem. Taking into consideration the history of criminology and its achievements in this field it is actually possible to estimate that it would be hardly possible to fully design crime out. The reason for such a conclusion may be found in the development of criminology itself. The history of the development of this science indicates to the fact that, initially, it appeared in response to the growing number of crimes committed in society and crimes became one of the major problems that had to be solved.

Obviously, to resolve the problem of crime criminologists needed to clearly define the types of crimes, their structure and causes and, only after that it would possible to find effective punishment and ways of prevention of crimes that ideally should lead to the total elimination of crime. However, despite a considerable progress of criminology, crime still remains one of the most serious problems of practically all societies worldwide.

In order to explain such a paradoxical situation, when crime remains undefeated and, what is more, it even remains undefined, it is necessary to refer to the major factors that prevent criminologists from eventually design crime out.

In this respect, it should be said that it is probably necessary to start with the clear definition of crime since it is primarily necessary to know what is supposed to be designed out. Unfortunately, the problem of clear definition of crime still remains relevant and it is still unresolved. This is why the designing of crime out is also quite problematic.

Furthermore, it should be said that, despite the progress of criminology, crimes also evolve in a way. This means that, even though crimes in principle remain the same, it is still hardly possible to distinguish what actually makes the action of an individual criminal because the views and interpretation of crimes are constantly changing and it is hardly possible to design a crime out if an action that today is a norm, this action will be a crime tomorrow. Even the structural elements of crime are in dispute since for different societies similar crimes may be viewed in different ways. For instance, the destruction and defiling of tombstones may be viewed as a crime offending purely moral feelings of people while, in some highly religious countries, it may be viewed as the offense of religious views and feelings of people.

Also, it is necessary to remember about the punishment since it also affects the designing of crime out. To put it more precisely, in order to better understand crime, properly structure it, it is necessary to remember about the punishment since, a criminologist should be conscious of the fact that his definition and structuring of crime will influence the punishment of a criminal. At the same time, the punishment is equally important to the eventual elimination of crime since often crime is viewed as a socially unacceptable action that should be punished more or less severely depending on the norms and the level of development of a particular society. This is why the development of the effective and, what is more important, fair and just punishment for a crime is also important to criminologists in their efforts to design crime out.

Finally, it is necessary to remember about the prevention of crime as one of the major goal of criminology which apparently affects the efforts of criminologists to design crime out. To put it more precisely, crime may be designed out only on the condition that the effective ways of its prevention are known. Otherwise, it will be impossible to design crime out since, even though criminologists have a profound knowledge of the essence of crime, its structure, causes, effects and punishment, they will hardly be able to prevent it and fully understand the mechanism which forces people to continue commit crimes because criminologists are unable to effectively prevent crime. It should be said that prevention is a constituent element which contributes to the full understanding of crime as a social phenomenon.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that modern criminology has achieved really great results in the study of crime but it can hardly design crime out. The major reasons for such a conclusion are the lack of agreement on the definition of crime, the constantly changing views of criminologists on crime under the impact of society, and the lack of effective punishment and prevention of crime which are necessary to betted understanding of crime as an anti-social action that should be eliminated.

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