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The meaning of crime
The meaning of crime

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1.3 Summary

  • Crime has multiple meanings. Those meanings are socially constructed. The most important differences in the meanings of crime occur between strictly legal definitions and those that relate crime to the breaking of other codes and conventions – normative definitions. These may be formal moral codes like religions, or more informal codes of socially-acceptable behaviour.

  • Both these ways of thinking about crime vary historically, across societies, and amongst different social groups. They are almost always in some kind of conflict. Many legally-defined crimes are considered to be legitimate acts in other contexts.

  • This difference partly explains why many legally-defined criminal acts do not result in prosecution or imprisonment. So crime can simultaneously be normal and abnormal.

  • A fuller explanation requires looking at the social processes involved in getting from an act to a conviction and asking how, at each stage of the process, social forces construct and shape choices and decisions made by individuals.