The Criminal Area: A Study in Social Ecology

By Terence Morris | Go to book overview

IX
SOME CASE HISTORIES

T HE stereotype is invariably misleading, and among delinquents and criminals it is in some ways harder to establish the basis of such a generalisation when the characteristic they have in common, the fact of having broken the law, is often no more than a facade behind which lies an infinite variety of motivation, personality and circumstance. Much of the justification for the sociological study of anti-social or deviant behaviour lies in the fact that the actions of individuals go to make up trends which can be studied as objectively as natural phenomena, quite independently of specific motivations. In this way it can be demonstrated that delinquency is related to the facts of social class, to age, to sex, to the extent of urbanisation and so on. But it remains that the delinquent is nevertheless an individual whose behaviour is a response to a complex set of stimuli from both without and within himself, whose personality has unique elements which separate him out from his fellows. It is surely due to the unique quality of the individual human personality that some break the law while others do not, in circumstances which press equally heavily upon every member of a family or social group.

Clifford Shaw has written of the need for what he calls a "situational analysis" of delinquency, and in collecting the case histories of the 79 children in the Probation and Approved School sample it was hoped to discover precisely this kind of material. The case histories which follow are only few in number and have been selected in order to demonstrate some of the arguments in this book. Needless to say they have been completely anonymised.

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