Contemporary Crime

Bearing in mind all of the social, political, and economic changes that take the world by storm from decade to decade, it doesn't seem all that shocking to know that certain developments also give rise to new types of crime.

Contemporary Crime Contemporary Crime

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Table of contents
    • In this article, we'll briefly look at the meaning of contemporary crime and consider examples of contemporary crime.
    • We'll consider some contemporary theories of crime and causes of crime as a contemporary social issue.
    • Next, we'll look at the types of contemporary crime, including crimes due to globalisation, the media, green crime and state crime.

    You can find more in-depth explanations of each of these types of crime at Globalisation and Crime, Media and Crime, Green Crimes, and State Crimes.

    Contemporary crime: meaning

    In criminology or criminal sociology, the word 'contemporary' is used to refer to the state and occurrences of the modern world. Studies from previous decades and centuries can help us identify trends in crime over time, as well as distinguish how patterns in crime have changed in tandem with new developments.

    When we discuss 'contemporary crime', we're talking about the crime that takes place in contemporary society. This doesn't necessarily mean that these crimes are specific to modern society - it's more accurate to say that developments in modern society can give rise to different crimes in different ways.

    Contemporary crime: examples

    While it may seem like plenty of crimes are unique to contemporary society, most can be traced back to older times in interesting ways. For example, theft before the era of online banking and e-commerce involved break-ins and pickpocketing.

    Today, while these types of crimes still occur, they're more likely to exist in the form of internet scammers or online hacking.

    Other examples of crime in contemporary society include:

    • Air and water pollution-related crimes,
    • Identity theft,
    • Censorship, and
    • The international trade of counterfeit goods

    Contemporary theories of crime

    Several sociological theories explain the causes and effects of crime from their unique perspectives. The main theories of crime include:

    • Functionalism

      • Strain theory

      • Status frustration theory

    • Marxism

    • Interactionism

      • Labelling theory

      • Deviancy amplification theory

    • Right and left realism

    Causes of crime as a contemporary social issue

    Contemporary Crime, Yellow crime scene tape reading CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Crimes related to globalisation, the media, the environment and the state are commonly discussed as crimes in contemporary society.

    Based on the theories listed above, there are several distinct explanations for why crime has happened historically and why it happens now.

    For example, Marxists explain contemporary crime by pointing toward the criminogenic nature of capitalist society. This means that people are driven to crime because of the values of ownership, materialism, and greed that capitalism encourages.

    Furthermore, some left realist theorists of crime consider that the media has glamorised consumerism and materialism so much that all those who do not have access to these things (such as members of the working class) are tempted to turn to crime to achieve them.

    You can find out more in Sociological Theories of Crime.

    Types of contemporary crime

    Let's take a look at the various crimes that have been identified by sociologists as particularly prevalent in modern/contemporary society.

    Globalisation and crime in contemporary society

    David Held (1999) defines globalisation as:

    the widening, deepening and speeding up of the worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of life, from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual".

    This involves the shifting and sharing of goods, services, and information across these spaces, which has also allowed crime itself to transcend borders.

    There are several forms of globalisation. With them come various types of globalised crime.

    Economic globalisation and crime

    The ease with which we can move goods and services across borders means corporations have gone transnational and can now engage in such operations all over the world.

    Hobbs and Dunningham (1998) identify the 'glocal' (global and local) system which gives rise to transnational organised crime, such as tax evasion, through local connections and global distribution networks.

    Cultural globalisation and crime

    Globalisation has resulted in the mixing and understanding of cultures all over the world. On the flip side is the fact that, as globalisation takes people to foreign places, there is an increased chance of clashes and misunderstandings about culture. This is proven to have caused crimes committed by international terrorist organisations.

    Technological globalisation and crime

    The rise and development of technologies have resulted in a spike in various types of new and modernised crimes. Examples of this include:

    • Information and identity theft, either from companies or individuals,

    • The Dark Web, and

    • Cybercrime.

    The media and crime in contemporary society

    The media is a key point of contention in the study of crime in contemporary society. The media is believed by many theorists to have a significant impact on the level of crime itself, and how certain social groups are perceived in relation to crime.

    The key tenets of the study of media and crime are:

    Labelling theory in the media

    This interactionist approach states that people become criminals when they have been labelled as such, based on stereotypes and power dynamics between social groups (such as class and ethnicity).

    This is theorised to cause moral panics, whereby the media exaggerates the prevalence of crime and causes the public to become scared or sceptical of certain social groups (such as working-class youth).

    This is reflected in Stanley Cohen's study of two working-class youth groups called the mods and rockers, whose media representation caused panic among the public and caused these groups to become disproportionately targeted by the police.

    Oversimplification of causes of crime

    The media has also been criticised for misrepresenting the causes and prevalence of crime by oversimplifying its coverage. For instance, ignoring the broader social context which causes people to commit crimes is often done to protect the reputation of those in power.

    This lack of objectivity makes it so that the criminal is presented as lawless without a reason when, in reality, they may have been subjected to harsh circumstances which cause them to turn to deviance.

    Media effects on violence

    It is often theorised that the media has an impact on our collective conscience - but whether this is direct or indirect, immediate or gradual is subject to a lot of disagreement.

    There have been many sociological and psychological studies conducted to test this phenomenon, with many of them centred on the effects of aggression and violence in the media.

    Albert Bandura's famous Bobo doll experiment tested the effects of children viewing violent behaviour, whether live or through media (a live-action or animated video).

    The participants (all young children) watched adults interacting with a roly-poly doll. When ultimately brought to a similar doll themselves, those who witnessed violent behaviour were more likely to replicate it. The children who viewed adults acting non-violently towards the doll didn't exhibit violence themselves, either.

    This study is often cited as evidence of behaviour replication, either through desensitisation, or imitation of the media.

    Green crime in contemporary society

    Simply put, green crimes are damaging to the environment and, in turn, to all living beings on the planet. Similarly to most sociological phenomena, green crimes are not restricted to a single territory - their causes, prevalence, and impacts transcend borders and can occur on a local or international scale.

    Ulrich Beck (1992) pioneered the concept of the 'risk society', stating that the workings of modern society - and the technology that governs it - make it so that our environment is now inherently risky. According to Beck, this issue is global - no one group is more at risk than another.

    There are two key types of green crimes:

    • Primary crime directly impacts the environment, including:

      • air pollution,

      • water pollution,

      • endangering species, and

      • deforestation.

    • Secondary crime involves a breach of the laws that regulate the environment, including:

      • state violence against environment action groups.

    State crime in contemporary society

    According to Green and Ward (2005), state crimes are those committed by, or on behalf of, the state. This can involve government entities breaking their domestic (local) laws, or breaching international laws.

    Contemporary Crime, White House, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Identifying and punishing state crimes is complicated as their perpetrators are not always obvious.

    There are several types of state crimes, including:

    • Crimes by law enforcement,
    • Political crime,
    • Economic crime,
    • Social or cultural crime, and
    • International crime.

    Core international crimes

    Core international crimes are an important category to consider when studying state crimes. They are defined as crimes that take place on a large scale, such that they threaten the well-being of humanity overall. The most salient examples of core international crimes include:

    • War crimes,

    • Genocide, and

    • Crimes against humanity.

    After World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was developed to promote and codify human rights laws. The three core responsibilities of the state that are given by the UDHR include:

    1. Not violating human rights,

    2. Protecting individuals and groups against violations, and

    3. Taking steps to ensure individuals exercise their rights.

    Navigating state laws is extremely complicated, as states cannot be (and are not) always held accountable for violating or failing to ratify certain regulations.

    Contemporary Crime - Key Takeaways

    • Functionalism, Marxism, interactionism, and realism are the core sociological theories which explain crime in sociology. Crime in contemporary society is not necessarily unique to the modern world - developments in modern society have given rise to different crimes being committed in different ways.

    • Globalisation refers to the increased interconnectedness of the world (including economic, cultural, and technological development). This has resulted in crime becoming more globalised and less restricted by national borders.

    • Labelling, media representations, and media effects are the key points of consideration in the study of the link between media and crime, with previous studies focusing particularly on media violence.

    • The concept of the 'risk society' has been used to explain that technological developments make it so that modern society is inherently 'risky', and increasingly harmful to the environment. Primary green crimes directly harm the environment, while secondary green crimes breach environmental regulations.

    • The perpetrators and victims of state crimes can be difficult to identify. State crimes include crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide, which the UDHR has been established to attempt to regulate.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Contemporary Crime

    What is contemporary crime?

    In sociology, 'contemporary crime' is that which is committed in modern, contemporary society. While these crimes might be unique to the modern era, new developments (such as technology) give rise to new ways of committing these crimes.

    What are the contemporary crime theories?

    Several sociological theories seek to explain the prevalence of crime in contemporary society, including strain theory, labelling theory, and left realism.

    What are the main causes of crime in contemporary societies?

    While it is difficult to identify all the causes of crime in contemporary society, globalisation and the media have been highlighted as contemporary developments that are notable causes of crimes today. 

    What are the causes of contemporary crime in sociology?

    Different perspectives identify different causes of crime in contemporary societies. For example, Marxists and left realists argue that the materialistic nature of capitalism, promoted by the media, is the cause of a lot of crime nowadays. 

    How can contemporary crime be prevented?

    Different perspectives identify different solutions to crime in contemporary societies. Common examples include target hardening, increasing surveillance, reform in law enforcement, and improved welfare services.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Cohen claimed that the media produced exaggerated reports on the disturbance between the two groups which created tension among the masses. True or false?

    Contemporary crime is a crime that did not exist before the rise of modern society. True or false?

    Whose study is often cited as evidence of the effects of violent media?

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