Different theories and perspectives of crime and deviance

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Over the centuries, many criminologists and sociologists have studied and researched different theories and perspectives of crime and deviance. According to Cartwright (2010) Emile Durkheim was the first to clearly establish the logic behind the functional approach to the study of crime. Moreover, Emile Durkheim first used the term "anomie" and developed the anomie theory which refers to "lawlessness or normlessness, unregulated choice or aspirations, or a collapse of social solidarity" (Cartwright, 2010, p. 54).  Durkheim also argued that crime and deviance were intrinsically linked to all healthy societies (Sampson & Laub, 1992). Durkheim's work is thought to be "one of the purest examples of control theory" (Cartwright, 2010, p.68). Durkheim felt that reinforcement from the law, the courts and the criminal justice system would help keep the social bonds of society balanced when they were weakened. Social bonds, according to Durkheim were any informal forces of integration such as shared values, beliefs, and attitudes that create an attachment to society (Cartwright, 2010, p. 68). Crime and deviance take various forms and involve various concepts and theories. The General Strain Theory, as outlined by Saco & Kennedy (1998) focuses on negative relationships and it is apparent when "individuals are not treated the way they would like to be treated" (Sacco & Kennedy, 1998, p.102). As a result, people manifest anger, fear, and frustration which may result in delinquent behaviour.  The social control and rational choice theories assume that there is nothing unique about criminal behavior. These theories investigate why more individuals don't commit crimes. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the social control and rational choice theories in relation to criminal behaviour.   


The central idea of the social control theory is that crime and deviance could result when an individual's bond to society is weak of broken. Sampson and Laub (1992) suggest that social ties embedded in adult transitions explain variations in crime unaccounted for by childhood deviance.  

One of the forms of social control theory is the Containment theory developed by Walter Reckless (1967). Reckless believes that there are inner containment (self- control), outer containment (social bond), internal pushes (anger management), and external pulls (surrounding elements like job, media, or delinquent friends) which can influence an individual's delinquent behavior (Sampson & Laub (1992). The assumption is that there is a containing external social structure which holds individuals in line and that there is also an internal buffer which protects people against deviation of the social and legal norms.  

Another form of the social control theory is the social bond theory by Travis Hirschi (1969) which emphasizes a strong social bond with society is negatively correlated with crime rates. The four elements of Hirschi's social bond theory are: attachment to families, commitment to social norms and institutions, involvement in activities, and a belief that these things are important. If they exist together they could constrain engagement in criminal activity (Cartwright, 2010). This theory is rooted and derived from the general theory of crime. The basic difference between the general theory of crime and the social bond theory is the focus on peers and peer groups of individuals. 

The general theory of crime initiated by Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990), implied low self-control as the cause of crime because people will weigh the cost and effects of committing a crime; if the pleasure of committing a crime outweighs the penalty of punishment as the cost, crime will likely occur. The theory encompasses the development of criminal behavior of individuals in a given society, as well serves as an age-graded life course perspective. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) emphasize that low self-control is caused by "ineffective or incomplete socialization and ineffective child-rearing" (Cartwright, 2010, p. 71), and give suggestions to caregivers to provide proper child care. However, Sampson and Laub (1992) have pointed out that Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) have denied that adult life-course transitions can have real effect on adult criminal behavior. They write, "Gottfredson and Hirchi argue that ordinary life events (e.g. jobs, getting married, becoming a parent) have little effect on criminal behavior because crime rates decline with age whether or not these events occur "(Sampson & Laub, 1992, p. 70). Gottfredson and Hirschi also emphasized that crime emerges early in life course before sociological variables appear, so "the latter cannot be important, even in modifying known trajectories" (Sampson & Laub, 1992, p. 70). Sampson and Laub (1992) also criticize Gottfredson & Hirschi's (1990) hypothesis "because individual differences in the predisposition to commit crime emerge early and are stable, childhood and adult crime will be positively correlated" (Sampson & Laub, 1992, p. 70).  Sampson and Laub (1992) also disagree with the notion of stability and continuities of crime over the life course and believe that trajectories, transitions, and turning points over the life course play an important role determining delinquency because they can redirect one's life path.  

Hagan, Gillis and Simpson (1985) present the power control theory as another form of social control. They argue that parental positions in the work force affect patriarchal attitudes in the household. Patriarchal attitudes, in turn, result in different levels of control placed on boys and girls in these households. Finally, differing levels of control affect the likelihood of children taking risks and ultimately engaging in deviance. In other words, because of the greater levels of control placed on girls in patriarchal households, there are greater gender differences in delinquency in such households in that boys are more delinquent than girls (Cartwright, 2010).  

The Labeling Theory is the view that the  labels people are given affect their own and others' perception of them, thus channeling their behavior either into deviance or into conformity. Labeling can have positive or negative effects. Many people believe that the labeling theory focuses on the negative consequence of stigmatizing the individuals who are labeled as criminal, delinquent, and or deviant. Moffitt (1991) refers the "closing of doors" (Sampson & Laub, 1992, p. 77) as an analogy to diminished life chances, negative social reactions and consequences generated from labeling a person delinquent (Sampson & Laub, 1992). The specific deterrence occurs when an individual is caught and punished for a crime, discouraging the offender from committing the crime again. With general deterrence, laws and enforcement are designed and implemented to produce and maintain the image that "negative" and disruptive behaviors will receive negative attention and punishment. Although specific individuals become the object of enforcement activities, general deterrence focuses on reducing the probability of deviance in the general population. An example of general deterrence is the death penalty for premeditated murder. Cartwright notes that "if you see the news reports about the execution of a murderer, then theoretically you will think twice before murdering someone yourself" (Cartwright, 2010, p. 78). However, Sacco and Kennedy (2008) question whether deterrence actually works. They note that an informal sanction, "situational deterrence" might be more effective than formal sanctions (future punishment). Situational deterrence is an emotional fluctuating state that occurs when family, friends, job and reputation are removed from a crime offender as a punishment to deter future crime committing (Cartwright, 2010, p. 79).  

The rational choice theory generally begins with consideration of the choice of behavior in individual decision making. This theory borrows from the economic approach of pain versus gain: weighing the costs and benefits of committing a crime. This theory is predicated on the assumption that humans have sets of hierarchically ordered preferences, or utilities (Sacco & Kennedy, 2008)  


Linkage between age and crime has long been thought to be closely related in past sociological studies. Sampson and Laub (1992) pointed out that studies in the past based on the age-crime curve have failed to address the life-span implications. According to Sampson and Laub (1992), salient events and socialization in adulthood, trajectories, transitions, and turning points play a large role in the life course in determining the likelihood to commit a crime. Trajectories refer to long-term patterns and sequences of behavior; transitions are embedded in trajectories, which are marked by specific life events evolve over shorter time spans (Sampson & Laub 1992). The importance in addressing the difference between the two is that transitions can be turning points that modify life trajectories. For instance, success at school or work can be triggering life events that may modify trajectories, which can eliminate antisocial behaviors later in life. By having said that, continuities and stability of crimes are not directly correlated to early antisocial behavior as stated in the stability hypothesis (early childhood delinquency shows higher antisocial behavior rates when they turn into adults).  


Although delinquency theory in general has taken a stand on many questions about the relative importance of institutions (for example, the school is more important than the family), control theory has remained decidedly eclectic, partly because each element of the bond directs attention to different instiAlthough delinquency theory in general has taken a stand on many questions about the relativetutions. Conception of stability traditionally used in criminology is quite narrow and has been frequently misinterpreted. When analyzing the stability of age-crime curves, it is more efficient to map individual trajectories embedded in the life course.