1. What is Crime?
A key social institution that constructs our idea of what is crime today is the media (Surette, 2011) (see 3 Media and Crime). The media is effective in amplifying particular threats, sometimes to the point of generating moral panics and constructing representations of groups (e.g., youth, the working class, and racialised communities) as posing a threat to public well-being. As the media is largely privately owned, crimes of the upper classes (e.g., insider trading, fraud, and environmental crimes) are often filtered out. The media also plays a role in establishing a distance between “us” and “them” through a process of Othering, in which criminals are depicted as fundamentally different from the rest of the population and therefore deserving, if not requiring, incarceration.
Throughout this textbook, you will see crime approached in both a legalistic way and as a social construction (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). These two views are not mutually exclusive. Criminal law itself is a social construct, and the process of creating crime and criminals is dependent on law for its legitimation. But as you will see, the two ways of thinking about crime (i.e., legalistic vs. social constructionist) come into play in different ways depending on the topic or theory you are learning. If you can hold this tension in mind while you read this book, you will be well on your way to thinking like a criminologist.