Criminology has evolved over decades through the works of criminologists attempting to explain the causal factors of crime within the societies. This paper explores such causal factors by analyzing the theory of differential association by Sutherland and the general theory of crime proposed by Gottfredson and Hirschi. Moreover, the paper aims to explore the relationship between the two viewpoints and their implication in society today.
The basic elements of Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory are opportunity and propensity for crime. As crime is defined as actions of strength or wrongdoing conducted to serve self-interest, this control theory posits that the incidence of crime is higher in societies where opportunities of criminality are available and individuals have less self-control. It is the criminality of the potential offender that is the decisive factor for crime to occur. Self-control is an attribute that develops during the early life of an individual. Therefore, the role of appropriate parental supervision to recognize deviant behavior and to administer effective interventions at an early age is highly important to develop restraint. A lack of self-control in parents may also be reflected in the child.
The development of sufficient self-control enables individuals to overcome the temptation of crime in contrast to those who lack restraint and live in the moment. Such individuals strive for “money without work, sex without courtship, revenge without court delays” (1990, p. 89). Due to a lack of self-control, such individuals are considered unreliable and possess little conscientiousness. The theory extends its application to all forms of crime (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). Although the concept of restraint is important in conducting oneself appropriately within a society, it cannot be termed as the sole factor for the occurrence of crime. Deviance is not always a result of impulsive decisions taken for self-gratification, in many instances, crime is a planned activity. An example of such strategic crime is the Shafia murder case where the perpetrators consciously set up the murder and even influenced the media. It was not an act of impulsive individuals rather it was an informed decision backed by extensive planning.
Edwin Sutherland proposed the theory of differential association and presented nine propositions to explain how crime occurs. Attributing crime as a behavior learned through social interaction within intimate groups, Sutherland posits that individuals not only learn the techniques to commit a crime but also the rationalization to justify offense (Siegel, 2016). Since individuals attach different interpretations to violation of law, these interpretations differ based on intensity, frequency, and priority. The theory can be explained through an example of media romanticizing criminals. Exposure to such media may influence individuals to associate a favorable rationalization to crime thereby encouraging them to engage in similar behavior. Moreover, the propensity to commit a crime must be supported by the necessary skill to carry it out. These skills may be complex and require time and practice to master (Sutherland, Cressey, & Luckenbill, 1992). Although Sutherland’s theory is highly regarded in the field of criminology, it fails to account for individual differences and personality traits. It does not explain the rebellion in individuals who are raised in an environment that does not espouse crime.
Although both theories present different causal factors for crime, a similar aspect of the two theories is the role of learning in the development of delinquent behavior. Since self-control is learned during the initial years and the role of parenting and other social institutions is regarded as important, a similar idea is observed in Sutherland’s theory. Conclusively the two theories highlight the importance of nurturance and social interactions in approaching deviant behavior. The role of effective intervention to develop self-control and appropriate attitudes, techniques, motives, and values are important to ensure that individuals do not internalize delinquent behavior.
Gottfredson, M., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A General Theory of Crime. Stanford University Press.
Siegel, L. J. (2016). Criminology: The Core. Cengage Learning: Boston, MA.
Sutherland, E. H., Cressey, D. R., & Luckenbill, D. F. (1992). Principles of Criminology. Rowman and Littlefield.