constitutive criminology | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminology

Constitutive criminology views crime as a socially constructed concept influenced by cultural definitions, power dynamics, and media portrayal.

Constitutive Criminology is a theoretical framework within the realm of criminology. Unlike traditional criminology theories that focus on the psychological, biological, or social factors influencing criminal behavior, constitutive criminology argues that our understanding of crime and criminal behavior is primarily shaped by social and cultural definitions.

Social Construction of Crime

The fundamental premise of constitutive criminology is that crime is not an absolute or fixed concept. Rather, it’s a socially constructed phenomenon that changes over time and varies across different cultural contexts. This means that what is considered a crime in one society or at one point in history may not be seen as a crime in another. These definitions of crime are not objective realities but are created through social interactions and cultural beliefs. For instance, certain acts like drinking alcohol are seen as criminal in some societies, while in others, they are completely acceptable behaviors.

Power and Politics in Defining Crime

Constitutive criminologists argue that the definitions of crime are greatly influenced by the socio-political context. Power dynamics and political ideologies often play a significant role in what behaviors are classified as criminal. Those in power can manipulate the law to criminalize behaviors that threaten their position while normalizing behaviors that reinforce their power. This perspective highlights the fact that crime is not always about individual wrongdoings but can also be a reflection of power struggles within a society.

Labeling and the Criminal Justice System

Another key aspect of constitutive criminology is its focus on how the labeling of certain behaviors as criminal can shape criminal justice policies and practices. For instance, laws and regulations are often formulated based on societal definitions of crime. These laws then dictate how the criminal justice system responds to these behaviors, from policing and prosecution to sentencing and rehabilitation. The labeling of a person as a criminal can have profound effects on their life, influencing everything from their employment prospects to their social relationships.

Media and Public Perception of Crime

In addition to legal and political structures, constitutive criminologists also study how cultural phenomena, such as media and public discourse, shape our perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system. Media representations of crime can play a significant role in shaping societal attitudes toward crime and influencing public policy. The way crimes are reported, which crimes are given attention, and how criminals are portrayed can all shape public perception of crime and impact the policies and practices of the criminal justice system.

In conclusion, constitutive criminology provides a unique perspective on understanding crime. It emphasizes that our understanding of crime is not a fixed or objective concept but is instead deeply influenced by societal and cultural factors. This theoretical approach underscores the importance of examining the broader social and cultural context in which crime occurs and how these definitions shape the operation of the criminal justice system.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/14/2023


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