Nowadays, plenty of social problems have not been solved. Moreover, some of them keep progressing. Among the most dangerous problems for people is crime. Crimes have always existed in any society, which means there have always been some reasons for people to engage in criminal activity. Even though the level of crime now is lower than in the 1990s, it is still quite high. Consequently, there is a need to analyze this problem using Blumer’s theory of interactionism.
This theory can give answers about reasons for crimes and help people avoid becoming criminals. In many cases, crimes can be analyzed as a collective behavior. However, one should not be mistaken, considering crime as an easily solvable problem. In this regard, everything depends on a person, and results will appear only if they want to change. Crime is a serious social problem, but Blumer’s theory of interaction helps understand the reasons of such actions from sociological perspective.
Description of the Theory
Herbert Blumer was the inventor of the term symbolic interactionism. He spent years exploring features of human behavior and trying to find an ideal theory that could help analyze society. As Carrabine et al. (2014) claim, “The analysis of social divisions is central to the sociological enterprise” (p. 6). For Blumer, society is a chain of interactions, or a process of producing meanings that help streamline social relationships. Like George Mead, Blumer distinguishes two levels of interaction – non-symbolic and symbolic ones. Moreover, for him, differences between them are visible. Thus, non-symbolic interaction is a characteristic feature of nature, while symbolic one, determined by the presence of communication between the participants of interaction through the use of symbols, is inherent only in human society. Non-symbolic interaction is included in the formation of installations. Furthermore, installation is a certain orientation of the individual, directed to act in a certain way in a certain situation; installation is a plan of action, depending on the significant nature of the object or situation, to which it is directed. The installation includes two aspects: the sensual (affective) and the symbolic one (the symbolic aspect is central, and the sensual is added). Actions or meanings are constructed in a social context. Thus, by accepting the role, the individual adjusts their actions to the actions of others, seeking to learn what they do and what they will do. In the constructed action, as opposed to the implemented one, the individual assesses and interprets the situation, in which they act. In other words, one thinks over the designed action and not the implemented one.
One of the main points of Blumer’s theory implies that human activity is performed in relation to objects, based on the values that individuals give them. Values are changed and applied by means of interpretation, or the process that each individual uses in relation to the signs (symbols) surrounding them. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes how people can create their own social worlds particularly using symbols (Quist-Adade, 2018). Blumer’s reasoning can be concretized in the following simple example. A piece of paper on the table is what a person can write their thoughts on, an apple is something that can be eaten. In other words, people act on things (objects) based on the meanings that they have about them.
Meanings are not inherent in things themselves and are not something individual. Such meanings arise in the process of interaction and fit into it, which makes them a social phenomenon. At the same time, these meanings are set and transformed by the process of their interpretation by people. Consequently, one of the main tasks of sociology is the study of the ways, in which people actually interpret the meaning of objects within their daily social life. Thus, for a sociologist, an acting person stops to be a simple performer of some external requirements. On the contrary, the main results are the creative outcomes of the activities of the subjects of interaction that are manifested in the process of their interpretation of symbols, signs, and values of certain objects. As a follower of George Mead, Blumer considered his identification of the problem of social interaction as a great contribution to sociology. From a sociological point of view, society is a symbolic interaction (Blumer, 1969). Therefore, Blumer emphasizes the possibility of applying this concept to the characterization of an individual’s activity (actions), which can be achieved with the help of ordinary empirical observation.
Description of the Topic
One of the most pressing problems of modern time is the high level of crime that does not seem to show any tendency for decrease. In one way or another, this problem is found in all countries without an exception. In this sense, crime is a global danger. Crimes against the person (murder, bodily harm, and rape), against the personal property of citizens (robbery, theft, fraud, and extortion), official offenses, economic crimes, and so on are quite dangerous as they disrupt society in various aspects. Terror is particularly dangerous as it is aimed at eliminating and suppressing political opponents by criminal means. History shows that the most authoritarian regimes have always resorted to violence and terror when they needed to find solutions to political, economic, ideological, and other difficult situations. In each case, the crime situation is the result of many factors that reflect the genetic, causal connection of crime with social reality. A sociology of crime and deviance is a collection of relatively independent versions of sociology (Downes, Rock, & McLaughlin, 2016). Sociologists also apply the concepts of crime situation (criminological background) in law science and law enforcement practice. The latter is much broader, and it includes such structural elements as factors affecting crime, law enforcement, policy makers, and so on.
Crime remains a serious problem for the society. However, the former Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, mentions that crime is not a sociological phenomenon (Hester & Eglin, 2017). For example, the top 10 countries with the highest crime rate include Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Honduras, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Brazil, El Salvador, Namibia, Jamaica, and Afghanistan (Numbeo, 2018). According to the FBI statistics, which could be seen in Appendix, the most popular crime in the USA in 2017 was larceny theft, aggravated assault, and robbery. Therefore, the sociological understanding of this phenomenon needs to study crime as an immanent property of humans since it is in their very nature. In this case, the internal predisposition of an individual to commit a crime is, firstly, the tendency to destruction, as an element of human nature, and secondly, the answer to the challenges of society. Another aspect of the sociological understanding of the phenomenon of crime is the possibility of studying it within dialectical categories. In particular, such pairs of categories as common and individual, phenomenon and essence need to be studied. Thus, in the first case, crime itself acts as a common and crime as a single one, while in the second, the diversity of crimes committed in society and crimes are correlated as a phenomenon and essence, and the causes of crimes act as something that connects the former with the latter. Finally, the sociological analysis of crime involves the disclosure of the basic laws of this phenomenon as well as the possibilities for creating ideological foundations that contribute to changing negative behavior in society.
Blumer has also introduced the sociological meaning of collective behavior. Such a behavior is not reduced to a simple sum of individual actions. This phenomenon acquires a qualitatively new content due to the quantitative totality of the actions of individuals. Thus, collective behavior is determined by significant symbols that characteristic of a particular culture, especially those that arise in a particular social situation. Collective behavior has internal dynamics, determined by the assimilation of certain social currents, their production, and reproduction. When the destruction of significant symbols occurs, spontaneous interactions emerge, for example, rallies, panic about the exchange of banknotes, or angry outbursts of sports fans. Spontaneous collective behavior, as a rule, is manifested in the conditions of the violation of established values and habits or the disruption of significant symbols that regulate established permanently current social activities. However, there is a certain form of social interaction called circular reaction. The excitement of one individual is transmitted to the other, thus acquiring mutual responsibility, but the intensification of this reaction leads to social anxiety. Collective behavior manifests itself in labor disputes, political protests; while it could be limited to a small group of people, it can also cover huge regions. Usually, crimes happen in cities or states with low social level. In such places, robbery, assault, murder, or other crimes can be normal actions. From a young age, criminals are connected with people who use drugs or steal things, which is why young people find such a behavior acceptable. This example is a typical collective behavior as described by Blumer.
Blumer’s theory of social interactionism allows to analyze such a major social problem as crime. Even though Blumer’s views were criticized, his ideas are still quite useful for modern society. His theory allows to understand the nature of collective behavior. Unfortunately, crime problem cannot be solved in one moment. For this goal to be accomplished, many things must happen, and the most important among these is a desire of people themselves. They must want to change something in their lives, but there will be no positive result if such people are pleased with the way they live. Therefore, much time will have to pass until the critical mass of changes in society leads to finding at least a lasting solution to the problem of crime.