Criminological literature reviews

About "The Jack Roller" by Clifford Shaw, "Asylums" by Erving Goffman, "Outsiders" by Howard Becker, "Conflicts as Property" by Nils Christie, "The Tearoom Trade" by Laud Humphreys, "Discipline and Punish" by Michel Foucault

Literature Review, 2016

11 Pages, Grade: 78


This review will attempt to critically analyse the methodology of six books. The themes and underlying themes will be reviewed, as will the ethical considerations made during the studies. The first five studies will be a brief overview of the themes, methodologies and ethical considerations. The final review will be a more in depth, 2500 word review. The relevance and contribution of the studies within the field of criminology will also be assessed. The books that will be reviewed are listed as follows.

The Jack Roller- Clifford Shaw

Asylums- Erving Goffman

Outsiders- Howard Becker

Conflicts as Property- Nils Christie

The Tearoom Trade- Laud Humphreys

Discipline and Punish- Michel Foucault

The Jack Roller –Clifford Shaw

The Jack Roller was one of the most iconic Chicago school studies written by Clifford Shaw in 1930, at the centre of this sociological case study was Stanley, the teenage mugger who was observed by Shaw over many years. A critical review will be attempted focussing on the chapter from ‘The Jack Roller, the lure of the Underworld’ (REF). Written in first person, Shaw (1930) solicited the life story of Stanley, an individual who strong arms or deceives drunk men on the city streets in order to rob them, also known as ‘jack rolling’. During this review, the methodology, ethical considerations, and relevance of this study will be critically examined and an attempt to determine the significance and contribution that this study has made within the field of criminology.

Shaw believed that poorly integrated areas produced delinquency, he believed that the key to changing delinquent behaviour was to place people in more conventional and integrated societies (Cullen and Wilcox, 2012). The purpose of the study was for Shaw (1930) to show that life histories, or own stories, could be used as a valid research method; and to demonstrate that they were the most suitable way of recording a delinquent’s life history. However, as Shaw progressed the study began to produce findings regarding Stanley’s desistance from crime, it quickly became known as a classic example of social learning theory (Gelsthorpe, 2001).

Shaw used a qualitative case study to demonstrate his findings, he allowed for change and used various techniques to show that the most successful method of observing delinquent behaviour was to use life histories (Evens et al., 2012). Life histories are a form of criminological research, linked to oral history, narrative interviewing and critical ethnography (Jup et al., 2010). They gather the story of a life and allow the participant to give their own version. Although The Jack Roller produced extremely intensive data, it had an extremely small sample. The study was described to be a true and valid version of events typical of that period, and in the methods it employed; the reader can easily follow Stanley’s life history (Evens et al., 2012). The validity of the study could be measured by comparing it to other life histories, had Shaw compared Stanley’s story to other delinquent studies it may have been easier to see if a pattern of delinquency had emerged. Shaw and Mackay went on to produce twenty other life history studies after The Jack Roller, exploring the own stories of other delinquents (Wilthrow, 2013). Shaw (1930) had full permission from the participant, ‘Stanley’, to publish his findings, and in doing so ensured the study was ethical.

Becker (1930) claims that the study is as relevant today as when it was originally published, and can still be used in the treatment of juvenile delinquency. However, it has been suggested by Thomas and Znaniecki (1958) that Shaw did not realise that his probation background could have influenced Stanley’s desistance from crime. Gelsthorpe (2007) likewise believed that Shaw did not recognise his own personal influence on Stanley’s life course, suggesting that the outcomes and the results of the study may have been different, had Shaw not been an influence.

Evidence has shown that The Jack Roller remains a relevant classic example of social learning theory, and successfully analyses the treatment of delinquent behaviour. Written in first person and almost completely unaltered by Shaw, the study proves to be accurate and relevant to the time in which it was written, although the end results may have been unknowingly influenced by Shaw himself. Shaw has demonstrated the importance of the method of life histories, and has influenced many other studies that have been researched in this way, both by Shaw himself and by other scholars, making The Jack Roller a highly influential contribution within the field of criminology.

Asylums – Erving Goffman

Asylums and the social settings of mental patients’, was a detailed field study written by Erving Goffman, and published in 1961. Erving Goffman remains to be one of the most widely read sociologists in the history of the discipline, and his work is still highly respected by social scientists (Trevino et al., 2003). During this review an attempt will be made to critically discuss the methodologies used by Goffman, and the underlying themes within his study of asylums.

Goffman provided a detailed account of the inmate world within asylums, painting a bleak picture of the social situation of mental patients, derived from his own model of total institutions (Weinstein, 1972). By examining the internal procedures and policies within the asylum, Goffman was able to produce one of the first sociological examinations of the social settings of mental patients (Seed, 2004). Goffman studied St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital during the 1950’s using qualitative methods and adopting a partisan view, he openly admits that he was immediately biased towards the patients, rather than the staff. He also states that upon entering the hospital to start his studies, that he had no great respect for psychiatry (Trevino et al., 2003). Comparing asylums to other total institutions such as prisons, concentration camps and military organisations, Goffman attempted to examine the relationship between the inmate and the institution. He argued that upon entry the inmate undergoes a series of degradations, humiliations and profanations leading to the curtailment of the self (Seed, 2004). The mortification of self, is still apparent today, within modern total institutions such as prisons; with the removal of possessions and the requirement to wear prison issue clothing resulting in the inmates self being threatened, much like the total institutions that Goffman described (Hunter, 2015).

However, Goffman’s work has been subjected to stern criticism from other scholars, who stated that it was biased, deficient, misinterpreted and misrepresented. Weinstein (1994), suggested that Goffman misjudged the situation of the patients because he wrote the book while divorced from day-to-day psychiatry. The ethics of Goffman’s methodologies during the study is also questionable, with the samples being those who were considered to be mentally ill in unsupervised interviews (Abrams, 2014). Levinson and Gallagher (1964), claim that the ideologies and aims of mental hospitals were ignored during Goffman’s study, and argued that not all asylums could be referred to as total institutions. Goffman (1961) could possibly have included the opinions of staff aswel as patients to give a broader view of total institutions, however, there were many studies of the opinions of staff, rather than that solely of patients.

The overwhelming success of ‘ Asylums ’ since its publication in 1961 has overshadowed the initial criticism it received. Goffman’s study achieved its then aim of presenting the view of the inmate. Modern total institutions still employ the same entry process as Goffman described, ‘ Asylums’ remains a relevant and true account of many aspects of the workings of the secretive world of the total institution.

Outsiders –Howard Becker

Outsiders’, written by Howard Becker (1963), offered one of the first clear explanations of labelling theory, although the term labelling theory was not used by Becker initially. An attempt will be made to evaluate the study of ‘ becoming a marijuana user’, the underlying themes and the methodologies used will also be examined. During the chapter ‘ becoming a marijuana user’, Becker emphasises that there are three different phases to becoming a marijuana user. He provided detail as to the cultural assimilation process that must occur for users to become part of the marijuana community (Crawford, 2014).

Becker’s study focussed on two main issues, the manner in which societal rules are constructed and applied to certain individuals, and secondly, the implications of labelling an individual as deviant (Herman, 1995). ‘ Outsiders ’, examined the activities of individuals referred to as ‘moral entrepreneurs’, who feel that there is evil in the world that needs to be stopped by means of creating a new set of rules, individuals who do not comply with these rules, are labelled as deviant (Herman, 1995).

The study of ‘ outsiders’, was a field research using participant observation, Becker was an interactionalist, examining social behaviour from the view point of the actor, and became an important figure of qualitative research of his time (Franzese, 2009). To investigate deviance, Becker turned to the deviants themselves, asking permission to use the participant’s own interpretations, which became the primary data for his research (Tewksbury et al., 2004). Using field studies and interviews, Becker (1963), allowed participants to emerge from behind the screen of public clichés and ignorance, allowing them to be able to speak for themselves, whilst ensuring that his study was ethical. The qualitative method is the most appropriate way to examine motivations, attitudes and beliefs, making this method highly suitable for Becker’s social study (Tewksbury et al., 2004).

Although Becker (1963), described deviance as merely a difference to societal norms, that does not require any further explanation, he fails to explain deviant behaviour of a higher level, such as heroin addiction or juvenile delinquency. Becker (1963), also failed to mention the isolation involved with becoming an ‘ outsider’, although the individual may find belonging within one sub-culture, they unknowingly become isolated from the rest of society, a much larger group.

Within Becker’s study of deviance, he suggested that an individual does not become deviant without a group to help them (Becker, 1963). However, little is considered, as to why the act was committed in the first place, he also failed to explain that deviant behaviour can be a result of several poor individual choices rather than choices made by a group (Laughey, 2006).

Outsiders ’, continues to be a seminal text on the interactionist approach to deviance in today’s society (Hermen, 1995). It has been the subject of much speculation, theorising and scientific study as Becker (1963), elaborated on the study of deviance from a social perspective. Becker (1963), through his case study of marijuana users, considered the process of how somebody becomes labelled as deviant, and remains to be one of the greatest contributions to labelling theory, although he did not realise this at the time.

Conflicts as Property- Nils Christie

Conflicts as Property’, was a short but very influential article written by Nils Christie in 1975, originally used as a lecture at Sheffield University in 1976, it became a foundational document for the restorative justice and community empowerment movement (Dubber, 2014). The connection is made between restorative justice and peace-making criminology, unknowing to Christie at the time, as he envisaged a community locally policed and controlled by the public (Westmari, 2003). Within the article Christie (1976), attempts to educate society on the concepts of viewing conflicts as property. During this review, an attempt will be made to evaluate underlying themes, methods used and the influence ‘conflicts as property’ has had within the criminological field.

Christie, was a Norwegian criminologist, who suggested that we have created a system in which our own personal conflicts are handled by specialists, and by treating conflict this way, we have turned it into property (Shaughnessy, 1992). He characterised the current criminal justice system as complicated, frightening, impersonal and hidden from the public view, and made suggestions that it has become mystified to the general public due to the ‘legal jargon’ in which the ‘specialists’ speak (Williams, 2005).

Conflicts as property’ has provided many of the underpinnings for contemporary restorative justice, both in theory and in practice, during his study Christie provided four important arguments relating to restorative justice, which were revolutionary at the time it was written (Strickland, 2009).

During his research, Christie evaluated the criminal justice system using secondary data within a comparative study (Crook, 2009). He suggested that, criminal justice, should perhaps not exist, he preferred a victim centred approach and suggested a lay orientated court which relied less on experts (Williams, 2005). Looking to the Norwegian justice system, he proposed an ideological version of how the criminal justice system should be, which would mobilise community resources, to meet the needs of the victim and the offender (Keating and McCarthy, 2003). To achieve this, Christie presented two methods of conflict resolution from two different cultures, Tanzania and Scandinavia and compared them to the current criminal justice system (Shaughnessy, 1992). After this study, Christie has unknowingly been coined into the term peace making criminology, due to his liberal approach (Schwartz and Hatty, 2003).

However, the disadvantages of the suggestions made within ‘ conflicts as property’, is that it does not offer a theory of crime and often creates an ideological criminal justice system that cannot be measured empirically (Moyer, 2001). Although Christie has looked beyond traditional explanations and appropriate responses involving punishment, it remains a philosophy, rather than a theory (Cullen et al., 2009). Due to Christies, powerful influence within the criminological field, his work and ideas were unquestioned, this may be unethical as his ideology may be misinterpreted by those who read it (Strickland, 2009). For example, the reader may decide to take the law into their own hands to deal with conflicts, rather than hand it over to ‘specialists’.

Christies communitarian approach has continued to inspire and create the foundations within contemporary restorative justice. Using ideologies around a comparative study and arguing from a liberal abolitionist approach, ‘ conflicts as property’ has inspired much pressure for change within the criminal justice system. Whilst emphasising that we have created the system in which conflicts are stolen by the professional’s, Christie has offered a well-considered alternative approach, in which, conflicts can be resituated back where they belong, in the hands of the community (Dubber, 2014).

The Tearoom Trade- Laud Humphreys

The tearoom trade’ was written by Humphreys in 1975, although his research started five years prior to this in 1970. This study is best known for its putatively unethical qualitative methods, as Humphries observed homosexual activity within the local tearooms (Copes and Miller, 2015). In 1974 Humphreys was the first sociologist to declare himself as being homosexual, and over four decades later this study still triggers many debates around the ethics and research methods used (Galliher et al., 2004). This review will attempt to critically analyse the methodologies used by Humphries and whether these were the best methods possible, an attempt will also be made to examine the ethical implications within this study. The main purpose of Humphreys study was to investigate what type of person used the tearooms and why.

Humphreys observed homosexual activity within local tearooms, tea rooming is American slang for homosexual activity, with two people participating and one other person watching (Association, 2014). Whilst posing as a ‘watch queen’ Humphries would pretend to be participating in the activity, rather than researching it, for Humphries the participation was more of a means of access, rather than a methodology (O’ Reilly, 2014). Humphreys used a qualitative ethnographic method within his study, conducting interviews with participants, as well as observing them in their natural environment, providing descriptive detail of their activities (Gallager et al., 2004). His research was not deductive, Humphrey intended to collect his data then a theory should emerge from his findings (O’Reilly, 2011).

However, Humphreys study has received much criticism, due to his unethical ways of performing research, whilst posing as a watch queen, Humphreys did not inform participants that he was a researcher, therefore misrepresenting his true purpose (Copes and Miller, 2015). He also wherever possible recorded the license plate numbers of participants, using the vehicle bureau he traced the participants to their home address for further questioning (Association, 2014). He then pretended to be researching on behalf of a medical survey, again deceiving participants of his true purpose. It has been suggested that Humphries may have been sued for invasion of privacy, had it not been for the fact that he researched a group rendered as powerless due to possible embarrassment (DePauw and Newman, 2014).


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Criminological literature reviews
About "The Jack Roller" by Clifford Shaw, "Asylums" by Erving Goffman, "Outsiders" by Howard Becker, "Conflicts as Property" by Nils Christie, "The Tearoom Trade" by Laud Humphreys, "Discipline and Punish" by Michel Foucault
Criminological studies with social sciences
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ISBN (eBook)
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Foucault Sociology, Stanley cohen
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Susan Bailey (Author), 2016, Criminological literature reviews, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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