Criminology Ch. 7: Social Process Theories

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Social Process Theory

The view that criminality is a function of people's interactions with various organizations, institutions, and processes in society
- All people, regardless of their race, class, or gender, have the potential to become delinquents or criminals


The process of human development and enculturation

Critical Elements of Socialization

1. Family relations
2. Peer group
3. School
4. Church

Effects of Socialization on Crime

1. Can reduce criminal inducements with a positive self-image, strong moral values, and support from parents, peers, teachers, and neighbors
2. The more social problems enountered during the socialization process, the greater the likelihood that youths will encounter difficulties as they mature

Types of Social Process Theories

1. Social Learning Theory
2. Social Control Theory
3. Social Reaction (Labeling) Theory

Social Learning Theory

The view that people learn to be aggressive by observing others acting aggressively to achieve some goal or being rewarded for violent acts

Types of Social Learning Theories

1. Differential Association Theory
2. Neutralization Theory

Differential Association Theory

People learn to commit crime from exposure to antisocial definitions
- Explains the presence of crime in all elements of social structure
- Explains why some people in high-crime areas refrain from criminality
- Can apply to adults and juveniles

Principles of Differential Association

1. Criminal behavior is learned as a by-product of interacting with others
2. Learning criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups
3. Learning criminal behavior involves assimilating the techniques of committing crime
4. The specific direction of motives is learned from perceptions of various aspects of the legal code as favorable or unfavorable
5. A person becomes a criminal when she perceives more favorable than unfavorable consequences to violating the law
6. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity
7. The process of learning criminal behavior involves all of the mechanisms involved in any learning process

Criticisms of Differential Association Theory

1. Fails to account for the origin of criminal definitions
2. Assumes criminal and delinquent acts are rational and systematic
3. Tautological (circular in reasoning)

Neutralization Theory

The view that law violators learn to neutralize conventional values and attitudes, enabling them to drift back and forth between criminal and conventional behavior
- Explains why many delinquents do not become adult criminals
- Explains why youthful law violators can participate in conventional behavior

Basics of Neutralization Theory

1. Criminals sometimes voice their guilt over their illegal acts
2. Offenders frequently respect and admire honest law-abiding persons
3. Criminals define whom they can victimize
4. Criminals are not immune to the demands of conformity

Techniques of Neutralization

1. Denial of responsibility
2. Denial of injury
3. Denial of the victim
4. Condemnation of the condemners
5. Appeal to higher loyalties

Social Control Theory

The view that people commit crime when the process binding them to society are weakened or broken
- Explains the onset of crime
- Can apply to both the middle and lower classes
- Has been empirically tested

Why do some people obey the rules?

1. Self-control
2. Commitment to conformity


A strong moral sense that renders someone incapable of hurting others and violating social norms

Commitment to Conformity

Develops with a strong commitment to conventional institutions, individuals, and processes

Contemporary Social Control Theory

Links the onset of criminality to the weakening of the ties that bind people to society

Four main elements of the social bond according to Contemporary Social Control Theory

1. Attachment
2. Commitment
3. Involvement
4. Belief

Social Reaction (Labeling) Theory

The view that people become criminals when labeled as such and when they accept the label as a personal identity
- Explains society's role in creating deviance
- Explains why some juvenile offenders do not become adult criminals

Key Elements of Social Reaction (Labeling) Theory

1. Behaviors that are considered criminal are highly subjective
2. Crime is defined by those in power
3. Not only are acts labeled, so too are people
4. Both positive and negative labels involve subjective interpretation of behavior

Successful Degradation Ceremony

A course of action or ritual in which someone's identity is publicly redefined and destroyed, and they are thereafter viewed as socially unacceptable

Primary Deviance

A norm violation or crime with little or no long-term influence on the violator

Secondary Deviance

A norm violation or crime that comes to the attention of significant others or social control agents, who apply a negative label with long-term consequences for the violator's self-identity and social interactions

Contributions of Social Reaction (Labeling) Theory

1. Identifies the role played by social control agents in crime causation
2. Recognizes that criminality is not a disease or pathological behavior
3. Distinguishes between criminal acts (primary deviance) and criminal careers (secondary deviance)
4. Contributes to understanding crime because of its focus on interaction as well as the situation surrounding the crime

Social Process Theories and Public Policies

1. Promote conventional lines of behavior
2. Focus on the families and schools to strengthen bonds
3. Reconfigure an offender's self-image
4. Diversion and restitution programs

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