Christopher. 2001. “Crime and Class.” Volume 5, pages 2906-10 in International Encyclopedia of the Social
and Behavioral Sciences, edited by Neil J. Smelser
and Paul B. Baltes.
Those attempting to summarize the relationship between criminal behavior and social class are quickly buried under an avalanche of seemingly contradictory research findings. The first part of this entry reviews these empirical generalizations and suggests some conceptual and methodological distinctions that may be useful in interpreting them. This discussion is oriented around three issues: (1) the measurement of crime, or the violation of the criminal legal code, such as discrepancies between self-reported and official law violation; (2) the measurement of class, or groupings of those sharing similar positions or interests, including relational versus gradational categorizations and class origins versus immediate class positions; and, (3) broader methodological concerns, such as sampling, levels of analysis, and qualitative versus quantitative approaches. The second part of the entry outlines some promising recent theoretical and empirical advances: (1) investigating reciprocal relations, particularly the effect of official sanction on subsequent legitimate attainment; (2) elaborating the class-crime relation and specifying interactions with factors such as gender; and, (3) cross-national and comparative research on crime and class. The entry concludes by taking stock of classic and recent work and posing some remaining questions and future directions for research.