Monday, June 9, 2008

Previous exam #1

Here are the questions from the most recent exam. These are from the first day, which is the general criminology day. My thoughts are in parentheses:

1. In the last decade researchers have increasingly sought to understand crime and deviance as life-course phenomena. One idea coming out of this perspective is that there are multiple trajectories of deviance as people move from childhood, into adolescence, and then adulthood. Of particular interest are potential "turning points" in the life course, and desistance from deviance in adulthood.

a. Compare and contrast the leading theoretical perspectives that have been proposed to explain the desistance process, including an evaluation of their relative strengths and weaknesses.

b. Which perspective [do] you find most useful? Why?

(The first part of the question is meant for a discussion on the merits of Moffitt vs. Sampson & Laub. One says desistance happens because people never intended/did not have it in them to be lifetime criminals, the other says it happens via life course transitions. The second part, I'm siding with S&L because of two articles they wrote (1997; 2006) and a litany of other life course research that shows how trajectories can be altered (Macmillan 2001, Macmillan and Hagan 2004, Hagan and Foster 2001, Hagan and Foster 2004); this research reflects the complexity and fragility of life course trajectories)

2. Emile Durkheim suggested that deviant behavior is functional for societies, citing as evidence the fact that no society lacks it.

a. Identify those forms of behavior that are newly being perceived as deviant and that are losing their deviant label.

b. Is there any pattern to the types of behavior that are newly labeled deviant and to those that are losing their deviant label?

(This question is taken directly from the final exam in the Deviant Behavior seminar, and I think I answered this one when I took that class, but I'd have to double check. The best way to approach this question is to talk about smoking as an example of something that is becoming deviant and homosexuality and mental illness as behaviors whose deviant label is disappearing. Environmentalism is an anecdotal example of something no longer considered deviant. I do not know the citations for this research off the top of my head, and need to study it further. The second part of the question speaks to social class differences in moral crusading because movements that begin at the bottom of the class ladder and attempt to work their way up inevitably fail, while top-down movements are the most successful.)

3. Larry Siegel has suggested that "the discovery of the chronic offender [has] revitalized criminological theory."

a. What do we know about the chronic offender?

b. What don't we know?

c. What research questions flow from emphasizing the distinction between sporadic and minor vs. frequent and serious levels of involvement?

d. What theories best explain serious and persistent patterns of criminal activity?

(This is a strange question, because we never talk about Larry Siegel in any seminar. The pieces of the question by themselves are not much of a problem, but the phrasing suggests we need to see what Siegel said, and who knows what he said. It also requires some research into chronic offenders, but the thrust of the question near the end is asking for something about Moffitt's life course perspective and/or Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime.)

4. Despite their centrality to virtually all of social life in America, race and ethnicity have occupied a curious place in criminological research. Although certainly not ignored, it is fair to say that race and ethnicity rarely have assumed center stage as major forces in their own right, on par with such variables as social class and neighborhood environment.

a. Do you agree with this assessment? If you do agree, why do you think this has been the case?

b. If you disagree, provide evidence from the theoretical and empirical literature that shows race and ethnicity to be major structuring and/or contextualizing forces in the causation of crime and delinquency.

c. What directions should future research take to understanding criminal inequality across racial and ethnic groups?

(This is a tricky one, this question gives you miles of rope to hang yourself with. The way I think I would answer it is to agree with the first part and talk about the dangers of associating race with class and biological deficiencies the likes of which were responsible for the eugenics movement. Skipping part B, the last part of the question you could talk about both social disorganization theory and the life course perspective, possibly even working GST in there as well. It's important here to talk about race-related research that has been conducted and the ways in which it can be expanded upon and future research questions coming from it)

5. Crime and deviance research faces a number of methodological issues, including (but not limited to) the following: multicollinearity, appropriate unit of analysis, selection effects, longitudinal vs. cross-sectional designs, the reliability and validity of official measures vs. self-report measures, and missing data. Select three (3) of these issues and discuss:

a. What is the concern/debate with this particular methodological issue?

b. How can scholars best overcome/deal with this issue?

(This is a straight methods questions that doesn't require too much in the way of citations. I'd talk about longitudinal vs. cross-sectional data, the reliability and validity of official measures vs. self-report measures, and probably appropriate units of analysis. There's plenty of research to use as examples of these issues, and I'm not too concerned about this one.)

6. The following scholars are among those who have been elected as President of the American Society of Criminology over the past 20 years: Robert Bursik, Julie Horney, Francis Cullen, John Laub, Ronald Huff, David Farrington, Margaret Zahn, James Short, Freda Adler, Delbert Elliot, Albert Blumstein, John Hagan, and Joan McCord. Choose any three (3) of these scholars -- what important contributions have each of them made to the discipline of criminology during their careers that might warrant their election to the presidency of ASC?

(Laub, Farrington, and Hagan would be the ones I would talk about, because each has done significant life course research and that is unquestionably the dominant position in criminology today. That said, I wouldn't answer this question).

Of these, I would answer 1, 2 or 3, 4, and 5. And I think that I'd have a good chance of passing this exam.

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