In this blogpost, Sudhi Ranjan Bagri, Student, National Law Institute University, Bhopal writes about what is crime, society and their relationship 


When we talk about crime and society, it becomes important to know about both the term i.e. crime and society. So the first question to be asked is: What is crime?

A crime is an act, omission or event, the commission of which is prohibited by law, and which if committed leads to prosecution by and in the name of the state rather than an individual person and, upon conviction, to punishment of some form administered by agents of the state rather than the payment of compensation.

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Therefore from the above definitions, we can define crime to mean any wrong morally or socially committed by one or group of persons against another person or state that are prohibited by the state and when convicted punishment if inflicted by the state rather than the individual wrong person.   There are different types of crime such as; crimes against person, crimes against property, organized crimes, occupational crimes, and political crimes as well as corporate crimes.

Crime has three main elements:

  • Crimes are acts prohibited by law. A hidden assumption is the definition of law.
  • Crimes so defined are prosecuted by agents of the state/government, not by private individuals.
  • The result of conviction is a punishment, not compensation to the injured party (if there is one).

What is society?

The term ‘society’ has been derived from a Latin word ‘socious’ that means association and companionship. Thus, society means ‘A larger group of individuals, who are associated with each other.’ According to sociologists, society is a group of people with a common territory, interaction, and culture. Social groups consist of two or more people who interact and identify with one another.

Insofar as it is collaborative, a society can enable its members to benefit in ways that would not otherwise be possible on an individual basis; both individual and social (common) benefits can thus be distinguished, or in many cases found to overlap.

Society can also consist of like-minded people governed by their own norms and values within a dominant, larger society. This is sometimes referred to as a subculture, a term used extensively in criminology.

Characteristics of society:

For language, work division and living in society, food, air, and water is essential. Some requisites are inevitable for the systematic and regulated co-ordination of society. It is necessary to have different roles and conditions of people in any society.

Language is necessary for communication between them. Nature, style and grammar of a language may vary. In ‘Society’, every active member of the society is also a sociologist because he has some information about society for residing in it and for participating in its activities. On the basis of this knowledge, he thinks about his social life, about his family, neighborhood, city, village, and nation, becomes a member of a group, participates in religion, tradition, custom and culture and solves day-to-day problems of life.

Explaining the characteristics of the society in the book ‘Sociology of India,’ it is said that every human society appears similar to other human societies and basically social interaction and social relations to appear the same in all human societies. Along with this many social institution like marriage, family, brotherhood etc also exist in every society in one or the other form. Every society is facing a large number of social problems i.e. poverty slums, unemployment, prostitution etc. Besides these, there are some characteristics which are common to every society.

Every society has certain characteristics, which are unique. Any type of societies – primitives, rural, urban, tribal of civilized are identified differently from other society due their unique characteristics. A number of outcomes of culture appear different in two similar societies. In this way for the study and analysis of every society, different concepts and principles are made.

Society’s role in defining crime

Crime is basically defined through the eyes of society. An act is not a crime until society doomed it to be and if society considers some act not opposed to their group sentiments than that act is not a crime at all. Crime is an act which offends and threatens the society, and thus such acts need to be punished. The basic reasons behind the making of law are to penalize those who commit a crime and these laws are the result of society’s need to stop happening of such acts. An example can be taken to understand it better- much earlier witchcraft was considered as a crime and was punishable. At that time, people were very religious and believed in black magic or witchcraft and thought that witches were helping devil in his evil work. So witchcraft became a crime and also ground to prosecute someone believed to be practicing witchcraft.

Society plays an important role in defining crime as this leads to making of law which will prevent it from happening. Society’s outlook on the particular act is important in defining crime because, for example, if society doesn’t consider giving bribe as a crime then it will not be counted as crime and no law will be made on that although it morally incorrect.

Role of popular media images of crime

The media have a significant influence on the general portrayal of crime in society. The images that permeate the popular consciousness of crime are mainly generated by, and reflected in, the electronic and print media. Obviously, the media have a tremendous impact in terms of how crime is generally defined in society.

According to the media, in both fictional and factual types of programs and reportage, crimes tend to be defined primarily as ‘street crime’. Such crime is thus associated with personal terror and fear, and violence is seen as central. Crime is sensationalized, with important implications for the fear of crime among certain sections of the population. This fear is heightened by the way in which crime is seen to be random in nature, with anyone and everyone a possible target for victimization.

As well, there is often the idea that crime is related to morality, and specifically to the decline of that morality. What is ‘wrong’ is plain for all to see? Furthermore, the ‘criminal’ is distinctive and identifiably different from everyone else in society. Overall, the idea is that there is a continuing “law-and-order’ problem in society, and that thing is constantly getting worse.

The media is important not only in shaping our definitions of crime and crime control but introducing legal changes and reinforcing particular types of policies strategies. It has been demonstrated that the interests of the police and the media are entwined; they have a symbiotic relationship in that the media relies upon the police for much of their information, and the police uses the media to portray certain images relating to their work.

The media thus conveys a sensationalized image of crime, and a protective view of police and policing practices- and they make unusual events usual events in our life.

Changes in crime

Over a period of time with the change in society many changes in crime have also emerged owing to the technology and innovations. Earlier it was the thinking of people that crimes are mostly committed by the person of deprived class to attain materialistic things and to attain that there were not much legitimate means, so they opt to do it in illegitimate ways. But not only crimes are done by poor people but also by rich people, however, they most of the time manage to cover their traces of the crime. Crime can be committed by anyone regardless of their economical, political or social positions. It is suggested that crime does not disappear it simply changes. So, criminals learn newer and better ways to commit a crime. So, here are some crimes that emerged over the time with changes occurred in society and technology:

  • Cybercrime,also called computer crime, has become popular these days. The crime is committed using the computer as a means to commit illegal acts such as cyber pornography, committing fraud, infringing the intellectual property, stealing identities, or violating privacy. Cybercrime, especially through the Internet, has become prominent with the advancement of technology.

New criminal opportunities are created with the innovation in technology. Cybercrime is generally an attack on information about individuals, corporations, or governments. Although such attacks lack physical element, they do happen on the personal or corporate virtual body as in the digital age our virtual identities are essential elements of everyday life.

  • White collar crime– Prof. Edwin Sutherland in 1941 introduced for the first time the concept of White collar crime. He defined white collar crime as “crime which is committed by individuals of respectability and belonging to high-class

Examples of such type of crimes include false advertisements, copyright or trademark infringement, etc. generally committed by entrepreneurs, businessman, industrialists and other persons of repute in the course of their business in order to earn huge profits.

Negative impacts of crime

In most cases crime led to negative effect to the society economically, socially as well as politically. The following are the negative impacts of crime in the society today:-

Hinders development in the society

Crime often hampers the development of the society. For instance, the increase in crime rate compels the government to invest money in reducing the crimes instead of investing such money into productive sectors. Huge sums of money are spent on building prisons, purchasing instruments to combat crime as well as making payment to people involved in Criminal Justice System. In this way, preventing crimes increases expenses of the government thereby hindering the development of society.

Led to death of people

The number of people dying yearly increases with the increase in crime rate in a country. Crimes lead to the death of people either directly or indirectly. Directly crime causes death through violence like the one which took place on September 11 in 2001 in the USA where a terrorist attack at Pentagon and World Center killed approximately 2996 people, and more than 6000 people were injured.

Destruction of property

Property worth crores are destroyed due to crimes being committed. Destruction of properties is one of the serious impacts of crimes in the societies. The crimes which result in damage to the property includes vandalism, juvenile offenses, and other violent crimes. 

It increases the cost of living within the society.

The commission of crimes in the society, also results in an increase in the cost of living in the society. This comes about in several ways such as the cost is taken by the society to prevent crimes, cost incurred to investigate and prosecute criminal as well as the cost incurred by the society in keeping those imprisoned for criminal doings. For example, once the lawbreaker is prosecuted he/she has to be incarcerated. Housing, clothing and feeding criminals is expensive.


It can be concluded that the crime is a combination of different things in our life, the first and the most important being money clear from the phrase “money is the cause of all evil.” When there is a dearth of money and an individual is unable to fulfill his needs, then he commit different types of crimes just to avail money. Another essential cause for committing a crime is  the feeling of revenge. Crime and society, they both exist in society, and their relation is dependent on each other. Crime is always committed in society as it is the society which labels particular act as crime or not. And where there is society, crime is likely to happen because of social conflict and other factors as explained above.


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