Sociological Theories of Crime
There are a number of respected sociological theories of crime and criminality, and in this paper four of those theories -- social control theory, strain theory, differential association theory and neutralization theory -- will be reviewed in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. Also, of the theories discussed, one or more will be referenced in terms of the relevance to a recently convicted offender.
Social Control Theory
According to professor Larry Siegel social control theories put forward the notion that everyone has the potential to become a law-breaker, and the society offers multiple opportunities for illegal activity. The attraction for some people to deal drugs or steal cars, Siegel explains, is that there is "…the promise of immediate reward and gratification" (Siegel, 2011, p. 248). And so, Siegel continues, given the attraction of crime for many, and the benefits for some, his question is: why do people obey the rules at all? Why don't more people break the law?
His answers include what other theorists would reply to that question. The "choice theorist" would answer that question by saying people fear getting punished for wrongdoing (Siegel, 248). The "structural theorists" would observe, "…obedience is a function of having access to legitimate opportunities"; and "learning theorists" would posit that obedience is learned (acquired) through "contact with law-abiding parents…" peers and teachers, Siegel explains (248).
But the social control theorists, in sharp contrast to the other theorists, believe that people obey the law because "internal and external forces" are guiding the passions and behaviors of people; and moreover, because most people have been thoroughly socialized, they have developed "a strong moral sense, which renders them incapable of hurting others and violating social norms" (Siegel, 248). Moreover,...
The originator of the social control theory, Hirschi, believes that "any form of social attachment is beneficial, even to deviant peers and parents"; but Siegel believes certain forms of social involvement / attachment "may support and nurture antisocial behavior" (249).
Differential Association Theory
Edwin Sutherland is considered one of the most important, most respected criminologists in the twentieth century, according to Ronald Akers writing in his book Criminological Theories. Akers notes that Sutherland pioneered studies of professional thieves and white-collar crime. His Differential Association theory was finalized in 1947 and it posited that "criminal behavior is learned" and it is learned in "…interaction with other persons in a process of communication" (Akers, 1999, p. 60).
And when criminal behavior is learned, that process of learning, in Sutherland's theory, includes the following: a) techniques of "committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes very simple"; and b) the specific direction of "motives, drives, rationalizations and attitudes" (Akers, 60). As to the motives and drives, their "specific directions" are learned as "favorable or unfavorable" from the definitions of legal codes; and a person turns into a delinquent because of what Sutherland called "…an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law" (Akers, 60).
What Sutherland means by that last statement is that when there are illegal concepts in the mind of the criminal that have more appeal to him than warnings against breaking the law, he will then commit crimes. Learning criminal behavior through associations with criminals, and with "anti-criminal patterns" is really no different than the usual processes that one employs in any other learning situation (Akers, 61). The most important of all the propositions that Sutherland expressed, according to Akers, is the principle that a person commits criminal acts because he has learned…
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