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Is crime normal or pathological or both

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Many early social theorists view crime as being pathological, a disease within society, but more recently, theorists have started to believe that crime is a normal, functioning part of society today. I will try and explain some theories regarding both views then conclude by answering the above question – is crime normal or pathological?


The view that crime is pathological mainly stems from functionalist approaches which believe that conformity and harmony is the norm for a healthy society. Within this society, crime was viewed as dysfunctional and a social problem that was not normal within our culture.

Cesare Lombroso conducted a lot of research regarding pathological crime and mainly studied the biological features of criminals. He believed that there were certain physical characteristics that all criminals possessed such as: large hands and feet, unusual torsos and tattoos. These were mainly due to “biological throwbacks to an earlier stage of evolution” (Croall 1998:41) and were believed to explain why people committed crime.

Other pathological thinkers believed that criminal traits could be inherited. It was seen to be a major scientific breakthrough when the discovery of the “criminal gene” came about. Studies showed that many criminals possessed a different pattern of chromosomes than normal, containing an extra “Y” chromosome. Later studies concerning this topic greatly disproved this theory however as it was shown that many non-offenders also contained this extra chromosome.

Biological factors were also believed to relate to pathological crime and many theorists believed that biochemical processes within the brain may be a cause of this. They thought that crime was due to things such as allergies etc. but this proved to be inconclusive as the same traits were found in people who did not commit crime.

Another theory that regarded crime as being pathological involved mental illness. Some people believed that schizophrenics would turn to crime because of their deficiencies and blamed many crimes on such illnesses. It was later discovered, however, that the mentally ill are no more likely to commit crime than anyone else.


Crime can also be viewed as a normal part of society today and can be caused by many other non-biological factors such as culture, socio-economic position and social environment.

The first theorist to fully propose this theory was Emile Durkheim. He conducted research within different societies and found that crime existed within every one of them. This led him to the conclusion that since crime exists within every culture, it must therefore be normal. However, he did think that a distinct balance was needed in order to prevent crime from becoming pathological. Too much crime leads to disintegration and too little crime leads to stagnation within society.

Durkheim also proposed the theory of anomie or state of normlessness. This refers to a state where people have hardly any constraints or moral standards to guide them and also a lack of regulation. Durkheim believed that society assumes an anomic form during the transition from mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity (Downes & Rock 2003) and this, in turn, created aspirations that could hardly ever be fulfilled and led people to constantly search for the unattainable. Anomie could end up leading to individuals committing suicide or crime.

nother group of theorists that aided in theorising that crime is normal are the Chicago School sociologists. They tried to research more in depth into the lives of people within the city in the 1920s and 30s and made a strong link between crime and urban growth or decay. Quoting from Croall (1998:50), “the concentration of such a wide variety of deviant lifestyles in the inner city indicated what they saw as social disorganization which, to them, was brought about by a natural process of city growth”.

This sums up the ideas that these theorists were trying to get across perfectly. They believed that the transition zone was the main area of crime within cities and that this was an inevitable result of the natural growth of the city. Because there was so much mobility (people moving in and out) within the transition zone this created an area of “social disorganization” (Muncie & McLaughlin 1996:156) and in turn, created higher rates of crime within these areas. They concluded that crime was seen as normal and that individuals were just behaving naturally within their own environment.

Subcultures also provide another view illustrating that crime is normal and not pathological. Subcultures are said to arise from a smaller, minority group breaking away from the main culture and forming their own. Within these smaller groups, crime is a normal, attractive occurrence. There are two basic views regarding subcultures: American subcultural views and British subcultural views. One theory behind subcultures can be related to Merton’s theory (American subcultural theories) since they adapt his theories about cultural goals and approved means. Another way of relating subcultures to the normality of crime is by seeing subcultures as a rebellion against the main culture (British subcultural theories).

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