Are we really anti-social criminals?

Anti-social behaviour has become an increasing problem in recent years and sociologists have examined the reasons for this in order to determine whether it is a real issue or merely a moral panic created by media amplification. Anti-social behaviour is usually associated with young people, and it is normally males who gain a worse reputation with the police and society for being ‘hoodies’, also, football hooliganism is another aggressive, predominately masculine culture that is depicted in the media more and more and is already a severe problem for police, especially since some football fans are in bitter, violent rivalry with the opposing teams’ fans.

It is important to distinguish between what is actually anti-social behaviour and what is a social construct created by the media. Some recorded anti-social behaviour is not serious or indeed, really anti-social but has been created by a fear of groups of young people, especially around town. Paul Willis did a study on macho lads and found that since they were labelled as disobedient by teachers and the police they began to believe and live up to this label, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although, statistics show that over the past few years a ‘ladette’ culture has appeared with female crime rising by around a quarter whereas male crime has remained at a steady level. All over the country men are telling their girlfriends, “leave it, it’s not worth it!” 🙂

Anti-social behaviour occurs due to boredom and the lack of places for young people in city areas to go in the evenings. For instance, over the past view years the amount of free youth clubs has declined meaning that young people find other places such as parks or even bus stations to meet and here they are seen as a threat by the neighbourhood and so become known as anti-social. The media has exaggerated this with help from the government and the introduction of ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) which were designed as a caution young people and were meant to put them off repeating deviant or criminal acts. The media reported where and when these ASBOs were being given out and so created a minor moral panic in certain neighbourhoods. Moreover, instead of being a deterrent to young people, having an ASBO was seen more as a badge of honour in some areas. In fact ASBOs were more affective for the middle classes, who are neither the main problem nor the main target group. (ASBOs have recently been replaced by CBOs – Criminal Behaviour Orders).

Marxists would argue that the media reports large amounts of anti-social behaviour in order to keep attention away from white-collar crime and the activities of the upper classes. Hence, media amplification serves to unite society against groups of young people who are most likely to be working class; an example of this was researched by Jock Young (1971) who used Becker’s ideas on the labelling theory in order to study marijuana users. He found that the police saw them as lazy, dirty drug addicts although at first they were not causing any trouble. Over time they became ostracized from mainstream society and so lived up to their negative label as deviant. The media coverage on the early hippies greatly emphasised the amount of drugs being taken and the amount of deviant or criminal acts being committed and as a result the hippies took to these labels and created a deviant subculture since they were excluded from the rest of society.

Of course, occasionally, a member of the middle to upper class will be singled out as deviant, and used as an example that white-collar crime isn’t ignored. Just think of Jimmy Carr’s tax avoidance, although it wasn’t illegal, it was a deviant act that led to criticism from both politicians and the media. For once, News International and David Cameron were seen as being able to take the moral high ground (not a regular opportunity for either).

Overall, over the years the media has had a profound influence on levels of anti-social behaviour due to its broad scope across society which ensures everyone in the country is aware of social issues that may or may not be exaggerated in a bid to attract readers, watchers or listeners. Is what we see in the media a true picture? Can we really trust our stereotypical images of ‘the criminal’?

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7 thoughts on “Are we really anti-social criminals?

  1. This is a thought-provoking post. I do think that there is far too much about so-called anti-social behaviour in the media and I think that it adds to the pervading myth that children should be feared as a default position. It is no doubt that there is criminal and anti-social behaviour going on but I worry about the self-fulfilling prophecy ythat you mentioned. Hopefully, when I become a teacher, I will have a clearer understanding of these misunderstood youths.

  2. Interesting post! I have a daughter who is about to enter this age group, so it is interesting to me. I wonder, too, if some of it just gets romanticized and so it becomes attractive to some youth.

    • In some ways the allures of misbehaviour is romanticized, generally by peers. Overall, it’s males which suffer more from negative peer pressure, research shows girls are more likely to congratulate each other on higher grades whereas boys view doing well in school as undermining their masculinity and so act up.

  3. I would agree that social deviance is culturally defined, and often a moving target manipulated to serve various nefarious roles through the clever use of labels, I do not think that is the whole picture. There must be a weakness to exploit before it can be exploited. I see social violence, in the sense you are speaking such as football hooligans, etc. as a symptom. It is a cultural expression of the inability of a social structure to meet some social need in a constructive manner, so it comes out as a cultural expression of frustration. I do not propose to have the capacity to diagnose any and all social ills, but I know that as people mature there is an inherent need to be a valuable part of a community. They hunger to have some sort of meaningful impact. In the absence of avenues to behave in constructive ways to satisfy that innate hunger, it will be expressed destructively.

    Perhaps it is a good idea to see broader cultural behaviors the same way we see small children. Their communication skills are purer as are their hierarchy of needs. When they cry it is often because a need is not being met. A hunger, a pain, need for sleep etc. Youth need avenues to be initiated into the larger community in ways that provide then with a sense of contribution, and that that contribution is recognized and valued. With a lack of social framework to allow this to happen, violence (crying) emerges from the culture. The reason ASBOs worked in middle class neighborhoods more or less as intended and had the opposite effect in poorer ones was because there was more opportunity for those middle class kids to redirect their energy toward something constructive and valuable, where poorer kids were just crying to have an impact, at least some kind of impact. Even a herding dog is born with a need to fulfill a specific purpose. If it is not given a constructive job, it will find one of its own, and it will not be constructive. We either respond to the innate hunger we all have to be of significance, or we pay the social price of the cries (sometimes violent cries) of a disenfranchised population. It is as plain as that from my perspective.

    • Excellent points. I suppose ASBOs in poorer areas gave the teenagers a sense of being recognised by society, although that attention was negative, it was the attention they craved. Seeing as though they struggle to attain acknowledgment in academia they turn to disruptive behaviour instead (Paul Willis’ ‘macho lads’). It’s interesting how you can link the actions of babies to that of young adults, I’d never though of it that way before.
      As for the need to fulfill a purpose; Merton (a functionalist thinker) uses a similar theory in that in America everyone is striving for the same ‘American dream’ it’s just that not all achieve it through legitimate means.

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