The cause of the Crime by Travis Hirschi

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According to Travis Hirschi's social control theory, when people have undergone a weakened relation to society, they appear to participate in illegal activities (Wiatrowski, Griswold & Roberts, 1981). The theory also implies that the social constraints in a given area dictate the creation of criminal behaviour, that is, the conduct of delinquents only arises if the limits on anti-social behaviour are weakened. Therefore, the absence of the connection and attachment to the society implies that the individual does not feel prohibited to anything and hence there is an increase in the likelihood of people engaging in criminal activity. The basic premise of this theory is that individuals are driven by the desire to satisfy their goals and therefore will eventually weaken such social bonds as the attachment, commitment, and involvement (Wiatrowski, Griswold & Roberts, 1981). Notably, the theory has its strong points, and most importantly, the focus on pointing out that the crime results from the social connections individuals have with the society, which tends to the role the society has in an individual’s behavior development. However, the manner in which the theory bases on perceiving the rise of deviant behavior as resulting from the broken bond in the society disregards the possibility of lonely individuals getting engaged in criminal activities as a way to find connection in the criminal groups.

Robert Merton’s strain theory holds that the social structure is set to encourage much deviance (Tierney & O’Neill, 2013). For instance, the societal expectations and norms tend to put much pressure on the individuals, and therefore, the individual will most likely develop or become a member of deviant subset in the society so as to feel accepted. Besides, the more people tend to focus on attaining the expected goals, the higher the possibility for them engaging in deviant behavior as a means to succeeding. The theory is founded on a premise that crime occurs due to the disjunction between the societal norms and the means (Tierney & O’Neill, 2013). One key strength of the theory is that the theory offers an explanation of why individuals end up exhibiting deviant behavior because of the social structure and as a way of adapting to the societal demands. However, the focus on individualistic perspective on crime while ignoring the group factored crime.

The differential association theory as developed by Edwin Sutherland was put across as an attempt to provide an explanation to the causes of crime in such a way that, the presence of these factors implied that the crime will be present, and also the absence of the causes indicates the absence of the crime (Dobrow, 2016). As a result, Sutherland came up with four key propositions which seemed to indicate that the occurrence of the crimes depended on social learning and experiences one has in the society. Hence, the probability of a criminal activity occurring depends on the kind of interaction an individual has with other individuals, and also the mechanisms to learning the criminal behavior and criminality exist within groups which tend to have different intensity and frequency of occurrence (Vito & Maahs, 2015). The theory is based on the premise that the complex situation in which a crime occurs cannot be separated from the previous life experiences of the offender. By explaining the link between the experiences an individual has with the society, the theory offers one of the key strengths as it provides an explanation of why people who grow up in a particular social setting are prone to exhibit deviant behavior (Dobrow, 2016). Contrarily, the focus on deviant behavior by Sutherland makes it difficult to determine the learning process.

Neutralization theory that was proposed by Gresham Sykes and David Matza, who were both criminologists, offers an explanation on why criminals engage in the criminal activities while negating their culpability (Maruna & Copes, 2005). In their defense, the criminologists suggested that the teens, just like criminals, tend to be caught between law abiding and rule-breaking behavior, and most importantly, they understand that the former is wrong. Hence, the theory holds that the criminals engage in the criminal activities despite being aware of how wrong the activity is (Maruna & Copes, 2005). Neutralization theory is founded on the premise that people tend to justify their crimes and therefore creating conducive environment for the deviant behavior to reoccur. The manner in which the theory appreciates the possibility for individuals to be aware of the right means to abide by the rule forms one of the central strengths of the theory. On the other hand, focusing on accepting responsibility for the crime committed as a way to reform is one of the weaknesses of the theory.

Classical philosophy offers a more comprehensive explanation on the criminal behavior compared to the positivist philosophy. For instance, since the classical perspective focuses on pleasure and pain principle, it can be noted that people often engage in deviant behavior to avoid much effort to attain their goals and also gain greater benefits (Vito & Maahs, 2015).


Dobrow, J. A. (2016). Differential Association Theory. The Encyclopedia of Crime & Punishment.

Maruna, S., & Copes, H. (2005). What have we learned from five decades of neutralization research?. Crime and justice, 32, 221-320.

Tierney, J., & O’Neill, M. (2013). Criminology: Theory and context. Routledge.

Vito, G. F., & Maahs, J. R. (2015). Criminology. Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Wiatrowski, M. D., Griswold, D. B., & Roberts, M. K. (1981). Social control theory and delinquency. American sociological review, 525-541.

October 07, 2021

Crime Life Sociology

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