Criminology

This essay will attempt to explain a crime chosen from an article by applying a criminological theory. The article chosen is ‘Girl in critical condition after fire that killed mother and siblings’. The writer of the article describes the events of a suspected arson attack that killed five members of the family after their home was set alight. The article then mentions another suspected arson incident that caused damage to a car belonging to a family living opposite the victims, which appears to have been set alight at the same time (The Guardian, 2012).

The theory that will be applied to this article in an attempt to explain arson is Merton’s strain theory. The Oxford Dictionary defines arson as ‘the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property’ (Oxford Dictionary, 2012). The statistics show that large proportion of arsonists have a lower social background and are predominately young adult males (Home Office, 2011). Merton believed that criminal activity is thus the result of strain between culturally encouraged goals and the legitimate means of achieving them (Newburn, 2007).

The ‘American Dream’ makes an individual believe that they live in meritocracy where everyone has equal opportunity to succeed if they work and study. Unfortunately, the reality is that the socially approved means of achieving the financial success are not equally distributed (Carrabine et al, 2009). Causing the working class males to seek alternative, and therefore, illegitimate means of achieving these goals or lashing out and deliberately setting fire to public and private property.

The article previously mentioned states two suspected acts of arson, but because it happened to two neighbours it eliminates revenge as a motive as well as hate crime since the two neighbours were of different cultural backgrounds. Thus, strain theory can successfully explain arson committed by an individual frustrated by the status quo who took their frustrations out by vandalism, arson and damage (The Guardian, 2012; Lilly et al, 2011). Another possible way to explain arson is by using the social learning theory. Social learning theory was based on Bandura’s research and is best known by the Bobo doll experiment.

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Bandura proposed that human behaviour is learned at a cognitive level when a child imitates a behaviour they witnessed by others and will be especially influenced to mimic that behaviour if they are of high status to them. His aim of his research was to see whether children learned violent and criminal behaviour by observing aggression and imitating their role models’ actions (McLaughlin et al, 2003; Morrison, 1995). Explanation of crime, such as arson, could be found through the observed and consequently, learned behaviour of a family members, peers or role models on the TV.

Observational learning is primarily influential if those who model the behaviour are perceived to be rewarded for it. The BoBo doll experiment confirms this as when a child witnessed the model being punished he/she was least likely to copy the behaviour than when seeing the model was being rewarded with praise for their behaviour. This effectively explains arson in the young males as rappers, actors and video games have an overwhelming effect on the young person’s behaviour (Newburn, 2007; Rock, 2007).

In conclusion, strain theory can explain arson in terms of individuals frustration created by the socially approved goals and the unavailable legitimate means of achieving the goal. While, social learning theory explains arson by proving the behaviour is learned by observing models. However, both the theories fail to take into account individual differences. Bibliography: 1. Carrabine, E. , Cox, P. , Lee, M. , Plummer, K. and South, N. , (2009) Criminology: a sociological introduction (2nd edition), London, Routledge 2. Hill, A. 2012), ‘Girl in critical condition after fire that killed mother and siblings’, The Guardian, 17th October, 2012, p. 12 3. Home Office, (2011), Criminal damage and arson effective practice. Available at: http://www. homeoffice. gov. uk/publications/effective-practice/crime-effective-practice/criminal-damage-arson (Accessed: 17th October, 2012). 4. Lilly, J. Robert, Cullen, Francis T. , and Ball, Richard A. (2011), Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences (4th edition), London, SAGE Publications 5. McLaughlin, E. , Muncie, J. and Hughes, G. eds) (2003), Criminological Perspectives: Essential Readings (2nd edition), London, SAGE Publications 6. Morrison, W. , (1995), Theoretical Criminology: from modernity to post-modernism, London, Cavendish 7. Newburn, T. (2007), Criminology, Devon, Willan Publishing 8. Oxford Dictionary Online, (2012), Arson. Available at: http://oxforddictionaries. com/definition/english/arson , (Accessed 18th October, 2012). 9. Rock, P. (2007), ‘Sociological theories of crime’ in Maguire, M. , Morgan, R. and Reiner R. (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (4th edition), OUP

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