The types of evidence that support structural and agency based approaches

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Evidence is needed within the social sciences to support or reject a theory or claim. Evidence can be quantitative, in the form of data and figures, resulting from experiments, which can then be statistically analysed. Or evidence can be qualitative; in the form of observations/interviews. Quantitative evidence tends to be regarded as being more accurate as statistics can be used to work out definite values. However many psychologists argue qualitative evidence is just as valuable but in different ways.

Many studies have been carried out to investigate the causes of criminal behaviour. Research into the structural explanation of biology has looked closely at the behavioural likeness of identical and non-identical twins. It was found that identical twins display similar behaviour and likeness then non identical twins, their behaviour including criminal offences. The biological support of this being that identical twins share the same genetic makeup, while non-identical twins have different genes, this suggests behaviour is a result of genetic make up.

However the fact that identical twins are normally treated in childhood to be more alike, then non- identical twins makes this evidence less reliable, as social/environmental factors will also influence their behaviour significantly. Mednick carried out further research, into the behaviour of adopted children in relation to their biological parents and their adoptive parents. Mednick and colleagues used quantitative methods to study some 14,000 adopted children in Denmark. They looked at the criminal records of the biological and adoptive parents, as well as the records of the adoptee.

The results showed a strong relationship between the criminal behaviour of adoptive children and their biological parents. This evidence should be quite reliable as it is using a large sample, it seems to support the fact that criminal behaviour is hereditary and not due to environmental and social influences. However data has also shown that a child from a higher-class family who is then adopted by a low social class family is more likely to turn to crime compared to a child adopted by a higher-class family.

This seems to show that class environment also influences criminal behaviour and therefore it depends on individual circumstances. Mednick claims to have found a specific gene that is linked to criminal behaviour. He claims that people with less sensitive autonomic nervous systems are more likely to display criminal behaviour, because they have less sensitivity and response to the moral codes of society and to the world around them. This explanation of crime appears unable to explain corporate crimes; it can only be used to explain crimes committed by individuals.

Clarke and Coleman among others, researched the agency explanation of crime; the rational choice theory. They used qualitative methods, to talk to criminals and ask them questions to find out more about the ways they think and their feelings behind their actions. They believe that Criminals are rational, reasoning people and that they calculate the costs and benefits of crime and make their own choice to turn to it. They see crime as a career path, which is chosen.

However this explanation only seems to relate to crimes, which have a personal or financial gain, it doesn’t explain violent crimes or vandalism. Between April 1993 and March 1994 21% of crime was due to criminal damage and violent crime (p31, Intro workbook), rational choice theory doesn’t seem able to offer an explanation for these types of crimes which would be of no financial gain to a criminal. This explanation cannot explain crimes, which are committed on impulse, and it is hard to believe that all criminals are rational people.

We also wonder how much freedom of choice people actually have within our society. Neither biology nor the rational choice theory seem able to explain all types of crime. Looking at the evidence described in this essay it appears that in some cases criminal behaviour can be caused by biology, but that social influences will also play a part in the cause of criminal behaviour and that people have a limited amount of choice in committing criminal acts. The cause of crime also depends on people’s definition of crime and criminal behaviour, as this is open widely to interpretation.

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