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Hirschi's Social Bond Theory in Criminology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2985 words Published: 3rd Jul 2018

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Travis Hirschi had an enormous effect on the field of criminology. His influence was most certainly felt the most in the subject of control theory. Hirschi’s theories were always plainly stated in layman’s terms so everybody could clearly understand them. Hirschi’s first theory: Social Bonds and Delinquency, states that delinquency arises when social bonds are weak or absent. This theory challenged Merton’s strain theory and Sutherland’s differential association theory. The question that is asked by these two theories is why people are motivated to commit crimes. Merton’s stated that it was the blockage of goals that pushed individuals to commit crime. Sutherland’s theory said that youths are taken in by deviant culture and they learn and adopt criminal behavior from those around him. Hirshi, on the other hand took the path less taken. For Hirshi, the question that his theory sought to answer was: Why don’t people break the law? Hirschi wanted to identify the nature of the social controls that determine when crime occurs. Hirschi called these social controls, “Social Bonds” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011)

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Hirschi’s social bond theory stressed four control variables that gave reason as to why people don’t break the law, with each representing a major social bond. The bonds are: Attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment refers to the emotional closeness that adolescents have with adults, role models, and most importantly parents. “Affectional Identification,” meaning that the youth aspires to be more like their parents or role models plays a large part in this bond (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). If the adults in their life are crime free, the youth is more likely to follow the same straight and narrow path. There is also a sense that parents know what their children are doing and where they are. This bond strengthens every time that there is interaction between the two parties as the interaction is usually on a personal basis. As a result of these things, parents have a form of indirect control. The indirect control works because their attachment to their parents makes them psychologically present. The second bond is The Social Bond of Commitment. Commitment involves the adolescents place in conformity. The youth does not want to blow their chances of having a great and bright future by doing something that they shouldn’t do. This is the common ratio of cost and benefit that is seen in other criminological theories and throughout life. The question it begs is; does deviating from the social norms to achieve certain means outweigh the potentially great losses that are also on the table. In order for this to be an effective bond, individuals must know and connect the deviance and reward and make a decision based on their own outcomes. Strain theory also uses the cost and benefit ratio; however it states that having high aspirations is what leads to deviance (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). Hirschi again stated the opposite was true; “Legitimate aspirations gave a stake in conformity that tied the individual to the conventional social order” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). The third social bond is The Social Bond of Involvement. Involvement is a way to prevent and deny access to criminal actions and deviant behavior through involvement in activities. If you are in school all day or at work, one would be much less likely to commit a crime. This bond theory is in its own way paying homage to the old saying, “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). The fourth and final social bond is The Social Bond of Belief. People want approval of others, so their actions tend to reflect the societal norms that are seen to be approved actions. Belief is the extent that youths embrace the moral validity of the law and other norms. Conforming individuals obey the law because it is seen as a legitimate and respected request to them. Ronald Akers stated that “Individuals offend because they are socialized to embrace criminal cultural beliefs” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). Where Hirschi stated that one does not need to learn to be a criminal because all humans are gratification-seeking beings and crime is easy to commit (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). The purpose of this paper is to bring light to the effects social bonds have on the likelihood to commit delinquent activities.

Attachment Theories are based on the view that human beings have a large desire to be accepted by others. This is usually a good thing; however, it can also help a delinquent mindset to form. The formation of strong bonds between the adult figure(s) in an adolescents life helps put a stop to delinquent activities before they even occur. However, those with insecure attachment to parents have problems with emotional regulation and impulse control acting on immediate rewards at the expense of long-term goals (Lac, Crano, Berger, & Alvaro, 2013). Attachment also applies to peers. Peer attachment was positively associated with self-esteem, self-control, and optimism, but these variables tended to be more strongly associated with parental attachment. However, inadequate bonding to a parental figure may present a risky shift to relying on peers engaged in activities outside of the norms of society (Lac, Crano, Berger, & Alvaro, 2013). These associations among peers that go wrong lead to drug use and drinking and activities such as that. In a study eight questions were asked in order to estimate how many of his or friends smoked cigarettes, used smokeless tobacco, drank alcoholic beverages, got drunk, smoked marijuana, used crack cocaine, used powder cocaine, and used heroin. The results showed that 84 percent of the test groups friends uses or have tried these substances (De Li). Under the Commitment bond, there is an underlying assumption that there is not much more time left in the act, project or whatever an individual is attempting to accomplish when weighing the pros and cons of a deviant act conceived. This is why there really is a burden to make a decision and make the right one according to the circumstances. Involvement in school is also an important form of commitment because it also acts as a stake in conformity which helps root people into social conformity (Krohn & Massey). People who do not hold strong beliefs in conventional values have nothing holding them to the bond and are therefore more likely to commit deviant acts. If any one or more of the four social bonds are weakened or severed, the chances of delinquent behavior increases significantly (Krohn & Massey). Even when Social Bonds fail, desistance is always an option for those who want to get back on the straight and narrow path. Desistance is the act of ceasing offending behavior. One ways that has been discovered to be effective is the development of an attachment bond to a wife or husband or getting a stable profession. Marriage is however found to be the best. Men who desisted from criminal activities were engaged in structured routines, they were socially bonded to wives, children and significant others. They learned to draw encouragement, resources, and social support from their relationships. The impact of social ties, life events, and socialization experiences was emphasized to desisting offenders in order for them to truly know what they will lose if they choose to offend again (Doherty). In regards to marriage, those with low self-control have much more room to change with the help of a stable healthy marriage than those with high self-control. The monitoring factor that comes along with the marriage territory plays a large role in that (Doherty). The monitoring factor is such an important one especially when one is growing up due to the fact that it prevents delinquency and reduces the chance that individuals will deviate when there is no monitoring occurring. A study found that low monitoring produced delinquency, although it was indirectly through low self-control and aggression. This is due to the adolescent getting a pretty clear impression that the parents don’t really care about what their kid is up to. And the mindset that most people would likely draw from that is, “If they don’t care, then why should I?” (Gault-Sherman, 2012). That mindset is related the attachment bond. They strive to be like their parents and copying is the greatest form of flattery.

When delinquents turn to crime, it is usually because that they feel that there is no other way to fulfill their needs at the current time. However, deep down it is due to the way that their parents raised them, their attachments to people, their involvement in extra activities, things that they’ve committed or not committed time to and their own personal set of beliefs that they hold dear to themselves. In the Attachment theory, the outcome of the adolescent is largely affected by how their parents raised them, and how the other important adult role models in their life treated them. Say for example that every day when a little boy came home from school, he is bullied by his father, neglected by his mother, picked on by his siblings and treated horribly by all. This is not going to have a positive effect on that little boy at all. This behavior will instill in him a warped sense of what’s ok due to affectional identification (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). The little boy may go to school the next day and bully another kid to make himself feel better, to feel like he is following in his father’s footsteps. This may seem like a easily fixed issue, but in reality, it most certainly is not. There is a high chance the boy all grown up will engage in delinquent behavior, even if he is not arrested. He will most likely beat and or bully his kids or wives and treat people terribly. When the delinquent actions aren’t confined to just the home, even more problems can arise which can lead the individual down an even steeper downward spiral. That is why it is such an important responsibility that the parents have to raise their children with love, attention, and compassion in order to help prevent even more delinquency being brought into the world. As individuals go through school, cheating is a huge aspect that they must try to avoid. It is such an easy action to perform, as it requires just a turn of the head during a test, or clicking send on an email full of test answers. Many people don’t even regard it as a delinquent act. Cheating is such a large obstacle because it directly relates to the social bond of commitment. Students spend at the minimum twelve years of their lives in school not including college. That’s a large portion of their life. If cheating makes it an easier twelve years for them, they may embrace that particular delinquent behavior in order to make the long journey ahead a little bit easier. Most individual’s mindset is that it isn’t fair if others can cheat and succeed, and they shouldn’t, which again begs the question of why don’t people commit crimes and or delinquent acts? All students, whether they cheat or not, have goals, dreams, careers to look forward to, and their futures at stake while going through school. This path with a destination deters some from cheating because they don’t want to risk losing all that they have worked so hard for just so they have an easier time on a test or don’t have to write their own original paper. Others on the other hand, do not particularly care about this tradeoff and decide to cheat anyway. This may be because they weighed the options, and they found cheating to be the best course of action and worth taking the risk to do so, or the individuals reasoning could be that they just don’t have any higher aspirations or goals. Whatever the case may be, parents, teachers, the community, and even officers of the law should do all in their power to emphasize the importance of being honest throughout school, and the impact that cheating and deviating could have on them if they were to lose sight of all that they had committed themselves to completing. This emphasis on commitment will help form more well-rounded individuals who are better adapted to function in society than those that choose to take the easy way out. The social bond of involvement plays a vital role in preventing delinquency in the modern world as well. When individuals have nothing to do, often they go looking for something. What they find may not be the best thing to do and in turn may have a very counter-productive effect on their life. Examples include joining gangs, underage drinking and smoking, partaking in the use of narcotics, stealing and the list goes on. Parents and schools often attempt to enroll their children and students into extracurricular activities in order to keep them occupied and out of the reach and influence that many unsavory activities can have on young and developing minds. The social bond of involvement and commitment are often connected because individuals often commit a large portion of their idle time to these activities and don’t want to risk being unable to participate in them again because they’ve committed a deviant act. In any case, involvement in healthy activities is very important in the fight to keep kids on the straight and narrow due to its ability to occupy their free time with productive activities instead of others that may lead them down a path towards delinquency. The more the importance of involvement is stressed, the better the chances that more and more individuals will keep away from crime. The final social bond that Hirschi brought light to is the social bond of belief. Belief is a strange and funny thing because some have a lot of it, while others have seemingly none. Those who don’t hold strong beliefs in the norms of society are not really bound by the bond of belief. When people believe that rules that are in place are actually there for a reason, they become bound to belief. This is usually a good thing, assuming that the rules in place are for the betterment of society as a whole and not just for the few. It’s also about respect in a way. Individuals who are taught to respect legitimate laws, people, and other such things are much less likely to deviate from them than one who is not taught to respect, but to instead rebel. Belief must be instilled from a young age during the same time the attachment bond starts to form. If parents believe that laws and other such things are legitimate, then their children will most likely recognize that and adopt the same into their behavior. Those whose parents have weak bonds with their children will have a much more difficult if not nonexistent time trying to instill these values and beliefs. It should be noted that belief can be completely abandoned in an instant and should be treated with the utmost fragility. The more parents, role models, and significant figures put emphasis on and utilize belief during the youth’s more impressionable years, the more likely it will be that the youth does not partake in deviant activities.

Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory has certainly accomplished what it set out to explain. The reason why people don’t commit crime is because of their attachments to other significant people in their lives, their commitment to finishing what they started and not losing their progress, their involvement in healthy non deviant behavior, and lastly the belief that laws and constraints are put into place for a good and legitimate reason. Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory has much strength in its favor and very few weaknesses. One of the weaknesses is that when adolescents are involved in a lot of delinquent activities outside of their home, the bond they have with their parents weakens. This is because Hirschi didn’t take into consideration that bonds change over time, and that strong bonds of attachment and involvement can take place among peers even when parental bonds are strong. One of the two bonds is bound to overcome the other. Another weakness that Hirschi’s theory has is that it is “based on the assumption that humans are naturally self-interested and thus need no special motivation to break the law” (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011). This is not a good assumption at all because not all people are similarly motivated. The strengths of Hirschi’s theory are their simplicity and that the actual applications of the bonds do lead to less delinquency occurring among youths. The practice of instilling these bonds in the youth of today is very important to the future to come. Everybody must do their part in the fight against delinquency.

Works Cited

De Li, S. (n.d.). the impacts of self-control social bonds on juvenile delinquency in a national sample of midadolescents. Deviant Behavior, pp. 351-373.

Doherty, E. E. (n.d.). Self-control, social bonds, and desistance: A test of life-course interdependence. Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Jornal, XLIV(4), pp. 807-833.

Gault-Sherman, M. (2012, February). It’s a Two-Way Street: The Bidirectional Relationship Between Parenting and Delinquency. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, LXXII(2), 121-145.

Krohn, M. D., & Massey, J. L. (n.d.). Social Control and Delinquent Behavior: An Examination of the Elements of the Social Bond. The Sociological Quarterly, XXI(4), pp. 529-544.

Lac, A., Crano, W. D., Berger, D. E., & Alvaro, E. M. (2013, August). Attachment theory and theory of planned behavior: An integrative model predicting underage drinking. Developmental Psychology, XLIX(8), 1579-1590. doi:10.1037/a0030728

Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2011). Criminological Theory. Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America: SAGE Publications.


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