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Crime is a Social Construct: Illicit Drug Use in Australia


There will be always contentions and debate among law enforcement agencies, academicians, the media and the general public regarding the perspective from which one should view illicit drug use. Some will contend that illicit drug use, as a deviant behaviour is a reality or a local crime. It is important to note that behaviours become criminal activities through social construction. A crime refers to an act that violates stipulated rules and which warrant community condemnation and punishment. It takes place when a person violates rules through open act, neglect or omission. While some behaviour can be viewed as a crime in one society, the same behaviours can be viewed as an act of honour in another society. The legal status of a conduct lies in the social reaction to the conduct and not in the content of the conduct itself. Shifts in the legal condition of behaviours are instigated through social movements. Drawing from illicit drug use in Australia, this essay contends that crime is socially constructed.

Australia holds the highest proportion of users of illicit drugs in the world. Over ten percent of working-age populace in Australia use cannabis with over 1.9 million persons between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five using cannabis (Carswell, 2014). According to experts, the increase in the use of cocaine, cannabis, solvents and inhalants, hallucinogens and other illicit drugs is because of economic and social inequalities (Carswell, 2014). There is unquestionably increased demand for illicit drugs triggered by social and economic conditions. Research indicates that the use of illicit drugs is closely related to criminal activities. Jones (2012) indicates that although the use of illicit drugs harm users and their families, a great portion of the total cost of illegal drug use is borne by society in the form externalities particularly, drug-related crimes. The number of offenders imprisoned for drug-related crimes is increasing in Australia. Given that the highest number of those detained for criminal activities are regular users of illicit drug, it is undeniable that the use of illicit drugs is a causative factor to crime in Australia and elsewhere (Bennett & Holloway, 2005) . Therefore, illicit drug use is a phenomenon that cuts across socioeconomic categories. Besides contributing to the involvement in covetous criminal activities, illicit drug use is a crime by itself because it contravenes rules and it warrant community condemnation and punishment. Given that illicit drug use is triggered by social and economic conditions, it can be said that crime is a response to the social conditions of a perpetrators. In this view, crime is socially constructed.

Social construction is a controversial and influential perspective on sociology. Social construction contends that the societal concepts and the practical upshots that flow from using them are constructions of social interaction. These constructions only make sense within the communities in which that interaction occurs. Social construction theory suggests that crime is a label developed in social interaction. However, when the label is developed, it holds both practical and symbolic realities. People bestow the society with symbols and react to meanings contained in these symbols (Chilenski & Greenberg, 2009). Language and other symbolic aspects codify these meaning, and by using language, people impose a grid on reality with law forming a powerful grid structure. In this case, people establish terms of crime and punishment that allow them to categorize and differentiate different events. Proponents of social construction contend that because language and other symbolic systems are products of socialisation, it is a choice option to recognise given events as crimes. Crimes differ from nations to nations and among different cultures (Burchfield, 2009). Evidently, different societies react differently to crimes. Crimes depend on the established laws and who defined the laws besides how the media represent the crimes to society (Ursin, 2014). As a result, crime is a social constructed phenomenon that is different through different cultures and societies.

With respect to social construction perspective, definition of a crime depends on how society interprets certain actions. Crime entails an act that is punishable by law and a specific act of deviance that contravenes society’s formal laws and rules (Qintero, 2012). In Australia, illicit drug use is a crime because it breaks Australian laws and rules. Vast assortment of conducts are seen as criminal or deviant because they contravene normative or legal prescriptions (Barnett & Mencken,2002). Every society is founded on a moral consensus with crime viewed as an upshot of social interaction. Social interaction entails negotiated procedures that entail the rule-violator, the lawyers, lawmakers, media, courts and the police who define one’s behaviour as criminal. Although behaviour such as illicit drug use may be labelled as criminal activities, it is not the behaviour itself that constitutes a crime. Instead, behaviour is criminalised by a procedure of social reaction and perception as applied and explained by law agents. Crime subsists only when the law and the label are successfully employed to an individual behaviour. A crime is labelled as a crime based on how the behaviours are perceived and reviewed by the society. Social construction maintains that society creates crimes because it establishes the laws that entails the infringement of which comprises of a crime. The society creates crimes and deviance through making the rules that constitutes deviance and applying the rules to certain people and labelling them as outsiders (Berger, 2009).

Deviance does not include the act committed by a person, but instead an upshot of the application by others of sanctions and roles to a criminal. With respect to social construction, behaviour becomes a crime when it is prohibited by criminal law. Criminal law entails the body of certain rules relating to human behaviour, which a political authority has promulgated and applies equally to all members of a society (Berger, 2009), Devoid of laws, a society would lack social order. Thereby laws are established for social control purpose. The social construction of crime entails crime as determined by social situations and factors. In this view, crime is not influenced by psychological or biological causes; instead, crime is a reaction to the situation of society. Illicit drug use is punishable by law in Australian. Using illegal drugs whether by swallowing, injecting, inhaling and smoking is an offence in Australia (Lupton, 1995). With respect to Marxist theory of criminal law and crime, behaviours can be defined as criminal only when it is in the interest of the ruling class to view them as crimes. The Marxist theory considers crime as a reality that exists only when those in society establish it. Behaviours are criminalised to maintain political control and to counter the perceived threat to the legality of those in power (Muncie & McLaughlin 2001).However, illicit drug use is a socially constructed crime in Australia. Some of the drugs that are viewed as illicit in Australia are legal in some other countries. This aspect demonstrates the social construction of crime where crime varies from society to society. The division of illicit and legal drug differs among societies. For instance, Tobacco may be smoked publicly in some places where in other places it is prohibited by law. The laws of diverse nations and states differ in terms of the specific substance they forbid and in the drug-linked actions they outlaw. In fact, many societies view drugs in different and contradictory ways. While others consider some drugs as interesting, fun, liberating and curative, others consider them as deadly and demonic. In this perspective, classification of which substances are legal and illegal depends on a given society.

Criminalisation of drugs is subject to social and political whims. According to (Lindgren, 2005), criminalisation of drugs use is not constant, but it is a product of social construction determined by political and social factors. For instance, the international pressure specifically the need to conform to successive international treaties determines the legality and illegality of some drugs (Pogrebin, Stretesky, Unnithan, & Venor, 2006). As a result, Australia views illicit drug use as deviance from the societal norms via formalised rules. Although the country perceive illicit drug use of what is indeed harmful, but defines illicit drug use as a crime based on certain knowledge paradigms. These paradigms are derived from discourse and relations of power. However, the power is not exclusive but rather offers subjects that assess the society in depth. The power is established by the society and does not solely depend on the state. Crime and law are created by power and power is created by society. In this regard, crimes such illicit drug use are socially developed. For society to function productively, it different aspects must function in balance and tandem. The balance of different aspects of society triggers social order. Interpreters who include the judges and other stakeholders in the society shape the law that criminalises illicit drug use in Australia. In this view, the judges construct the illicit drug use crime. This is a clear indication that criminal activities get their meanings from the actors where the perspective of crime is based on the societal context as well as personal narrative and experiences of people.

Behaviour or an act becomes a social concern through a procedure of successful making of claims by social groups that develop a given description of a problem and endeavour to mobilise given forms of social response such as imprisonment. Illicit drug use is a crime punishable by law in Australia. Therefore, the society, the lawmakers and law enforcers socially construct the crime of illicit drug use in Australia. For instance, when law enforcers lower the supply of illicit drugs in the country, the market prices rises. With the rise in the market price caused by reduced illicit drug supply, the amount of crime to fund the illicit drugs increases. The most prevalent source of finances in dealing in illicit drugs and effects of prohibition hold indirect role on increasing the size and profitability of illicit drug use and trade. As the actions of law enforcers succeeds momentarily in reducing the illicit drug use and reducing the supply of these drugs, prices of the drugs increases thereby increasing the profits that in turn make users to become traders, market become more diversified which in turn stimulate increased demand. The increased demand is mirrored in the increased arrests of illicit drug users and traders. Therefore, illicit drug use is a social construct that in most cases follows legal prohibition. More so, illicit drug use crime is socially developed in the form of labelling people and transforming them into criminals. In addition, the media socially construct crime through media coverage. Media coverage influences public opinions about crime and support punitive policies such as death penalty (Leverentz, 2012). Crime narratives also shape the meaning and nature of crime. The narratives illuminate public opinions towards crimes. Attitudes towards crimes, punishment and crime policies mirror general issues about crime.


Behaviours lead to crimes via social construction. While some behaviour may be viewed as criminal in some societies, in others they can be viewed as actions of honour. Behaviours are considered a crime when they violate the criminal law. Laws are established by the society for society. Therefore, crime is not a reality, but a social construction. This is because crime is caused by social situations and factors, and has nothing to do with psychological and biological causes. In Australia, the rise of illicit drug use is not caused by psychological or biological factors. Illicit drug use is caused by social situations and factors such as unemployment. When illicit drug users are stigmatised by society, they demonstrate an increased chance of offending. The reactions of a society can make an individual to become a criminal. Labelling of individuals makes them change from being deviants into criminals. As a result, crime is a social construct because it involves reactions to inequalities in the society and state of a society.


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