Social Theory Examination Paper

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9 March 2016

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The way individuals learn to interact with society as children tends to predict how they will interact with society and respond to its environments as adults. There are social theories that help the understanding of why individuals choose deviant behaviors and how they progress through life. Social process theories view criminal and deviant criminal behaviors as evolving mechanisms learned through societal interaction. Social development theories view deviant and criminal behaviors as part of a maturation process. Social theories are conclusions that have come about based on the response of individuals to their environments, what they have been taught, what they have learned through their experiences, and how they react to those experiences in society. Social process theories views criminality as s function of people’s interactions with various groups and institutions in society. A person’s behavior is greatly influenced by the positive and negative reinforcements of their behavior. This influence can be referred to as the differential reinforcement theory. The differential theory states that the process of learning deviant behavior and the process of learning conventional behavior is the exact same process. The idea is that criminals are not taught to be completely bad and typical members of society are not taught to be completely good. No criminal breaks all of the rules and no member of society obeys all of the rules. Instead, some sense of balance is created and as time goes on a social group is adopted.

The individual makes a choice to be a deviant or normal member of society based on what is reinforced. Negative reinforcement discourages a particular behavior. Positive reinforcement encourages a particular behavior. The rewards for a particular behavior often dictates which behavior the individual chooses to continue based on the results of the reward. As a child, if rewards are given for good behavior, doing chores, making good grades in school, being respectful and things of that nature, the child is likely to continue the behavior which in turn produces a continuation of good responsible behavior that is accepted by society. This behavior is conducive of a law abiding, productive member of society. On the other hand, if the child commits a deviant act or exhibits deviant behavior and is rewarded for them, or is not punished or reprimanded for such behavior, they will likely continue those types of behaviors as well. For example, if a young girl has an older sister who steals from stores and does not get caught, but continues to have all the nice things she has stolen, the younger sibling will want those things as well and will likely use stealing as a method of obtaining those things because that is the behavior that has been seen and learned by her. She is in a way encouraged by this deviant act.

According to Akers (2006), “Deviant behavior can be expected to the extent that it has been differentially reinforced over alternative behavior…..and is desirable or justified.” (p. 206). Criminal behavior is committed when the bonds to society are weakened. The person loses touch with what is right versus what is wrong or they never learn the difference. All individuals have the capability to commit crime, but often times the fear of what people will think of them tends to keep them from committing crimes if they are attached to society through friends, organizations, peers, or family. The four elements that govern this type of choice are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

The video on Pelican Bay is a great example of these social process theories. Most of the inmates that were locked up continued their behavior inside of the prison as if they were still on the streets. They learned that fighting and killing were a way of life no matter what type of environment they lived in. They killed while in prison and some even ordered hits on the outside from inside prison walls. In a sense nothing had changed only the method of getting it done. The video raised awareness of the violent crimes that occur within the Pelican Bay prison system. The inmates seemed to have control of the facility and various crimes were often committed at the same rate or more so inside of the prison. This is because reaching Pelican Bay is considered to be an accomplishment to many inmates. Once they reach Pelican Bay, they have “made it” within the penal system. Once they make it there, the individuals have an image to maintain.

They have to prove that they are worthy of being there by continually committing murders, beat downs, ordering hits, and disobeying and disrespecting the staff. In the video it was mentioned that the inmates often left the prison worse than when they came. The stay at the institution did little to no good to aid in some type of rehabilitation, but it reinforced the deviant behavior that was already present and possibly created more deviant behavior. The individual left a worse criminal than when he came. This is because his behavior while in prison was rewarded by his peers. More than likely he gained respect, rank in some gang, and a name associated with his behavior. This video was an example of what the social process theory is. The inmates reacted according to where they were and what they were affiliated with. They were inmates in a prison housed with other inmates who have committed various crimes.

One definition of social development is the process of organizing human energies and activities at higher levels to achieve greater results. Being that negative behavior was reinforced and rewarded to the inmates at Pelican Bay by their peers, the inmates continued those negative behaviors and even done so at a higher level than normal to receive greater status. This part of their society has taught them the rule of survival of the fittest. In a prison setting such as Pelican Bay, there is no room for the weak. The weak would be those who are considered “snitches” for telling when the rules are being broken or when someone has harmed another person. In a prison environment, being a snitch is a death sentence. The deviant behavior by those inmates is so harsh and deviant that the person who did the hit for individual behind bars was killed for not doing it in a way that was subpar to the way that the person who ordered the hit thought it should be done. Somewhere down the line in the lives of these criminals, deviant behavior became a way of life and was approved so the behavior was continued even in a place where they are punished for their deviant behavior.

Social development theory attempts to explain qualitative changes in the structure and framework of society that helps the society to better realize its aims and objectives. Society develops in response to contact and interaction between human beings and their material, social, and intellectual environment. The presence of external threats, the pressure of social and physical conditions, and the complexities of human behavior prompt humans to experiment, create, and innovate ways of living under different stimuli. Basically, a way to survive, think, and behave is created based on the environment of the individual. Development is a process of social change and is not to be confused with merely policies and programs instituted for specific reasons. Development requires resources, such as money, technology, and a supporting infrastructure. Development is also a result of society’s capacity to organize these resources to meet challenges and opportunities. Not everyone faces the same challenges, nor do they have the same opportunities. An individual can be underdeveloped as well. Many individuals tend to seek what they lack in society from somewhere else. This does not always lead to deviant behavior, but if that is what is accepted and developed, it will be what is repeated. The rate at which development occurs depends on the level that the society is in.

Society develops over centuries. Human development normally proceeds from experience to comprehension. The fact that experience precedes knowledge can be taken to mean that development is an unconscious process that gets carried out first, while knowledge becomes conscious later on. If a person’s parents always obeyed the law, always went to work, and were kind and gentle to their children, this behavior unconsciously becomes repeated by the children. It is the same way as a boy who is raised with a father who beats the mother. The boy unconsciously learns to beat on women and to devalue them. Children learn by what they see and experience quicker than what they learn by being told. Unless the child who has watched his father beat his mother learns differently, he is more than likely to continue that type of deviant behavior. The concept that experience precedes knowledge is very relevant and believable. Before children learn to read, they learn by examples and their own experiences. If they touch a hot stove and get burned they learn the stove is hot quicker than they would by the mother simply telling them the stove is hot. That is the same thing that has happened with the adults in Pelican Bay who continuously exhibit deviant behavior. Their experience teaches them they need the violence to survive. It is quite sensible to assume that over time they have heard or been taught that deviant behavior is wrong and leads them to ridiculed and punished by society, but the experiences that they have had has taught them that this behavior is necessary. Being that humans often surround themselves with people who are like-minded, they are also accepted by their peers.

Another aspect on social development theory is being an innovator. One has to be taught how to generate new ideas and new methods to solve problems. In society it is done on a daily basis. A husband may need more money, so he finds a second job to generate more income, but a person who has exhibited deviant behavior may rob a local convenience store as a means to obtain more income. In their minds they have not committed a crime, but simply found a way to solve a problem within their family’s finances. They have become an innovator in their minds Not all deviant behavior is based on bad intentions. Often times, the behavior is justifiable to person who commits the behavior. They may feel they have to shoot someone to keep from being killed themselves. That is known as justification. Many deviants feel that they are justified in their actions even when society tells them that the behavior is wrong. They see no other means around their situation. The individual will have to be taught how to innovate legal means and solutions to their problems. They have to be taught that at no time is stealing or taking from someone justified. This can prove to be very hard to do if they have only their experiences to go by. They will have to form a whole new way of thinking.

In the social process theory, it is believed that people can learn to commit crimes even if they have not experienced committing crimes or been raised that way. One does have control over their own actions. It is also believed that society recognizes when a person has a propensity to commit a crime before they actually commit a crime. One way of examining this is when a child is observed hurting animals or other children at an early age. Also, there is a labeling theory where it is believed that once a person has been labeled a criminal, they will more than likely become a career criminal. If society knows these things, why not take better actions such as providing the young child who abuses animals, therapy on how to control his desire to do so? The consequences of society changing social policies to help future generations would be very beneficial to future generations. There would be help in the form of counseling to those children who exhibit those criminalistics behaviors, but counseling and programs for those who have already committed crimes. There should be system in place that helps them to return to society in a new way. Even if they choose the same way of life, the opportunity to do something different should still be made available to them. Many criminals want a new way of doing things, but are caught in the vicious cycle of criminal behavior with no knowledge of how to live without committing crimes.

In conclusion, a person basically learns by the experiences they have in life more than they learn by being taught. Social process theory relates a person’s criminal life or criminal activity to what groups or interactions that the person has. Social development theory relates a person’s criminal behavior to what the person has learned in society from peers, family, and those that influence how they have developed as a person. In both theories, the behaviors are learned from experience and interactions. Education and therapy for individuals who have tendencies to commit deviant behavior or who have already committed deviant behavior can greatly affect the way they react to certain situations in society. Society can change the way deviants are viewed and labeled. Education and time are needed in order to deter criminal behavior in society.

Akers, R. (2006). Parental and peer influences on adolescent drug use in Korea. Asian Journal of Criminology. Schmalleger, F. (2012). Criminolgy today: An interactive introduction. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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"Social Theory Examination Paper" StudyScroll, Mar 9, 2016.

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StudyScroll. (2016). Social Theory Examination Paper. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 4-Jun-2023]

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