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Three Major Theories in Criminology

1. Social Control Theory
2. Social Learning Theory
3. Labeling Theory/Social Reaction Theory

Hirschi's Control Theory

A person's bond to society prevents him or her from violating social rules. If the bond weakens, the person is free to commit crime.
- Strengths: Explains the onset of crime; can apply to both middle and lower class crime; explains its theoretical constructs adequately so they can be measured. Has been empirically tested.
- Research Focus: Measuring the association between commitment, attachment, involvement, belief, and crime.

Differential Association Theory

People learn to commit crime from exposure to antisocial definitions.
- Strengths: Explains onset of criminality; 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.
- Research Focus: Measuring definitions toward crime; influence of deviant peers and parents.

Religion and Belief

Kids who are involved in religion are less likely to engage in delinquency.

Social Learning Theory

Criminal behavior is learned through human interaction.

Social Control Theory

Human behavior is controlled through close associations with institutions and individuals.

Social Reaction Theory (Labeling Theory)

People given negative labels by authority figures accept those labels as a personal identity, setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Strengths: Explains the role of society in creating deviance; explains why some juvenile offenders do not become adult criminals; develops concepts of criminal careers.
- Research focus: Determining whether self-concept is related to crime. Showing how the differential application of labels produces crime; measuring the effect of stigma.

Hirschi's Social Bond Theory

Elements of the social bond:
- Attachment: family, friends, community.
- Commitment: future, career, success, personal goals.
- Involvement: school activities, sports teams, community organizations, religious groups, and social clubs.
- Belief: honesty, morality, fairness, patriotism, responsibility.

General Theory of Crime (GTC)

A more specific control theory that recognizes self-control, rather than societal control, as the root of criminality or conformity.
Great emphasis is placed on parental upbringing, for this is the source of socialization that instills self-control in a child, though others play an integral role in the process of proper or improper socialization.

Edwin H. Sutherland: Differential Association Theory (Social Learning Theory)

* Considered the preeminent U.S. criminologist.
* First put forth his theory in his 1939 text, Principles of Criminology. (final version in 1947)
* Died in 1950.
* Donald Cressey, his long-time associate, continued his work.
*Differential association remains one of the most enduring explanations of criminal behavior.

Sutherland and Social Learning Theory

Criminality stemmed neither from individual traits nor from socioeconomic position; instead, he believed it to be a function of a learning process that could affect any individual in any culture. Acquiring a behavior is a social learning process, not a political or legal process. Skills and motives conductive to crime are learned as a result of contacts with procrime values, attitudes, and definitions and other patterns of criminal behavior.

Principles of Differential Association (Social Learning Theory)

- Criminal behavior is learned.
- Learning is a by-product of interaction.
- Criminal techniques are learned.
- Perceptions of the legal code influence motives and drives.
- Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.

Moral Entrepreneurs

Reactions and definitions are shaped by individuals who determine the content of the criminal law and impose sanctions according to their standards of right and wrong.

Differential Enforcement

Law is differentially applied depending on the offenders. (Racial Profiling)

Primary Deviance

In labeling theory, an offender's original act of violating the law.

Secondary Deviance

In labeling theory, the continued pattern of offending based on an individual's adjustment to society's negative social reaction.


In labeling theory, occurs when a negative label applied to an individual has an enduring effect on that person's self-identity.

The Labeling Process

- Initial criminal act.
- Detection by the justice system.
- Decision to label.
- Creation of new identity.
- Acceptance of labels.
- Deviance amplification.

Diversion Programs

a policy implication of the labeling theory. Diversion programs are designed to prevent youth and adult offenders from being formally processed through the justice system.

Contextual Discrimination

Refers to judges' practices in some jurisdictions of imposing harsher sentences on African Americans only in some instances, such as when they victimize whites and not other African Americans.

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