Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20/Evidence in the Nature of Crime
This chapter investigates the use of evidence in explaining the existence and nature of crime from a multitude of disciplinary perspectives. It analyses methodological disciplinary histories to highlight evidence as an ongoing issue in interdisciplinary research.
Historical and Methodological Issues
Crime is defined as the intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under criminal law. The following two historical examples demonstrate that a monodisciplinary approach can be socially disruptive, as methodologies inaccurately portray criminal evidence.
Firstly, law as an anthropological construct defines what is considered a crime, which has allowed the mischaracterisation of evidence to support political agendas, demonstrated by the case of judicial bias in the Weimar Republic. Figure 1 shows the judge harshly prosecuting leftist criminals, portrayed by the caption "we are going to protect the Republic from you", compared to the caption "we will protect the Republic for you" to right-wing criminals (seen on the right-hand side) who committed similar crimes. This demonstrates how the same laws can be used to protect or prosecute based on political agenda by changing the narrative derived through evidence analysis.
Furthermore, Cesare Lombroso's Atavism Theory, suggests criminals were subhuman compared to non-criminals based on specific inherited physical attributes. His theory faced criticism due to poor methodology and the reductionist approach that relied on and consequently perpetuated racial stereotypes. This shows how correlation can be misinterpreted as causal relationships.
Current Disciplinary Perspectives
The Homo Economicus is the main assumption which classical and neo-classical economic theories are based upon, which has largely influenced the perception of the criminal as a 'rational profit maximiser', who analyses the costs and benefits of committing a crime. Ultimately, a criminal act is pursued if the total pay-off, considering costs of sanctions such as fines or imprisonment, are higher than the pay-off from alternative legal methods to procure money.
The utility function illustrates the basic model of crime as a positive function of income (where utility derived from committing a crime varies according to income):
Where U is individual's utility function, P is the subjective perception of the risk of being caught and convicted, Y is monetary income from committing the offence, and f is the monetary equivalent of the punishment. If the utility is positive, the rational individual will choose to commit the crime but will not if the utility function is negative.
Evidence is based upon economic models relying on assumptions to simplify reality, where empirical tests focusing on statistical analysis are predominantly carried out. The key methodological assumption of rationality used in research has enforced this monodisciplinary silo, however, though scholars reject the primary assumption, the rigorous statistical tests used have impacted methodologies in sociology, highlighting that using interdisciplinary research methods provides more representative evidence.
Biology explains the aetiology of criminal behaviour from a neurological perspective, focusing on brain-body interactions as well as studying particular hormones.
Neurophysiological research shows that brain abnormalities affecting our ability to feel emotions such as fear, guilt and empathy, are involved in behavioural symptoms of psychopathy. In a clinical study, individuals displaying violent and psychopathic traits had significantly reduced amygdala volumes since childhood, and tended to carry out premeditated crimes, whereas those displaying impulsive aggression demonstrated amygdala hyperactivity. This confirms the notion of biological evidence in explaining the sub-types of criminals and that biological risk factors aid in predetermining future criminal behaviour. Nonetheless, although there is a correlation between structural brain abnormalities and psychopathic behaviour, more research needs to be undertaken to examine whether a causal relationship exists between them.
Furthermore, in a separate study, researchers concluded that individuals with relatively high baseline testosterone levels were 28% more likely to engage in criminal behaviour compared to those with relatively low levels, suggesting that higher levels can be associated with aggression and dominant behaviour typical in criminals. However, testosterone levels are inaccurate measures as they fluctuate throughout the day in response to various environmental stimuli, making correlation to deviance difficult to conclude.
Therefore, as “biology is not destiny”, a holistic view is needed to understand criminal acts. Other factors such as social and environmental interventions need to be considered as it can mitigate the relationship between biological risk factors and crime, reducing the prevalence rate of crime in society.
One of the most prominent claims in sociology is that social realities are dynamic, and thus, what is recognised as a crime by law could depend on cultural and geographical differences. Therefore, there can be no homogeneous agreement about what constitutes a crime, where even felonies such as murder or mutilation, which for most western individuals would be considered severe, first-degree crimes, are acceptable parts of some tribal traditions.
Hence, sociological studies focus more on individual factors and public arenas when looking for evidence behind criminal behaviours, such as age, ethnicity or parental and social background. This type of systematic characterisation of social groups, called typological evidence, is based on Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, arguing criminal behaviour lies in the values we acquire through our social circles. This was originally a counterargument to the biological evidence suggesting deviant behaviour is rooted in an individual's DNA.
Furthermore, sociologists believe that criminal behaviour is more of a reaction to a social phenomenon, rather than an action of the individual. This interpretation is an essential part of Emile Durkheim's Labelling Theory, that sees the evidence for crime in social prejudice, as individuals become deviant when a deviant label is applied to them.
Sociological evidence is rooted in a combination of empirical research and interpretive analysis to reach a comprehensive conclusion. The effective dual-methodology draws from multiple disciplines, serving as a stepping stone for a whole new discipline, criminology. However, those opposing sociological methodologies suggest that, because of its partially interpretive nature, explanations of evidence often do not devote enough attention to "white-collar" crimes and can act "selectively" when evaluating research. For example, studies focus predominately on male experience rather than looking at intersectionality between gender, race, and class.
Historically, conscious misinterpretation of evidence was used to further political and racial supremacy, criminalising minority ethnic groups and anti-governmental beliefs. However, presently, despite accessibility to advanced evidence, misunderstanding of the nature of crime is still prevalent due to interpretation from a monodisciplinary perspective.
Economics is founded on unrealistic assumptions of human nature, disregarding qualitative and theoretical evidence, while primarily utilising quantitative empirical data. Furthermore, biological methodology does not prove causal relationships, such as the correlation between amygdala volume and psychopathic behaviour. Had the analysis included sociological perspectives, it would have taken into account the interaction between biological and environmental aspects. In comparison, sociology acknowledges that both quantitative and qualitative evidence is essential to understand how sociocultural factors influence the nature of crime.
Due to problems caused by monodisciplinary perspective in research, there is a need for interdisciplinary scholars to overcome the disconnection by employing a holistic outlook. As we have witnessed through historical examples, ulterior motives influence conclusions drawn from evidence to support the discipline's objective, whereas an interdisciplinary researcher would be void of bias. Therefore, to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the nature of crime and further issues, in-depth, interdisciplinary research methods and analysis must be employed.
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