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Unit 3
Theories of Causation
Theories of Causation
Historical progression of theories:
Classical theory (rational choice, routine activities, deterrence
Biological theories (atavists, somotypes, twin studies, etc.)
Psychological theories (psychoanalytic, psychopathology,
Sociological theories (anomie, strain, social disorganization,
illegitimate opportunity, focal concerns, drift, neutralization,
labeling, differential association, theory of differential expectations)
Sociological theories of Conflict (radical, critical, Marxist, feminist)
Sociological theories of Control (bonding, general theory of crime)
Integrated theories (combining elements from biological,
psychological, and sociological theories)
Theories of Causation
Theories in a nutshell:
Demonology – the devil made me do it – the cure was trephining or
the drilling of holes in the skull to allow the demon to escape
Classical theory or free will approach
Origin: late 1700s, based on the writings of Cesar Beccaria and Jeremy
Main ideas:
People choose to commit crimes after weighing the benefits and costs.
Crime can be deterred by certain, severe, and swift punishment.
Basic assumptions:
crime is an exercise of free will, humans are rational beings
pain and pleasure determine behavior
crime weakens bonds between members of a society
punishment is a necessary deterrent for crime
punishment needs to be swift and certain in order to deter
punishment needs to fit the crime, it should be just
Theories of Causation
Rational choice theory stems from the free will approach. Main idea is
that delinquents weigh the costs and rewards and if they perceive a
favorable outcome then they will commit the crime.
Routine activities theory also follows from classical theory. Your
lifestyle determines whether or not you will commit crime or not. If
you drink, hang with a rough crowd, and commit risky behaviors
then your chance of being delinquent or a victim increase.
Grandma shuts up the house at 5 o’clock and is in bed by 8:00 –
routine activities theory would suggest her lifestyle would make her
unlikely to be a criminal or victim. Statistics tell us this is true.
Deterrence theory is also based on the free will principles. If
punishment is swift, certain, and severe, it is unlikely we will take a
risk on a particular crime. We have two types of deterrence,
specific and general. Specific deterrence means that individual will
not commit that crime again. General deterrence means society
looks at the chances of punishment and decides as a whole not to
commit that particular crime.
Theories of Causation
The Positivistic School of Criminology was the introduction of the scientific
method and empirical research to the study of crime. Biological theories
were the first to attempt studying crime in this manner.
Basic assumptions:
human behavior is determined by a large degree on biology
the tendency to be criminal can be passed on thru blood lines
biological atavism can exist in humans
Cesare Lombroso – the father of modern criminology. Lombroso conducted a
very faulty study on prisoners in Italy. He came to the conclusion that
criminals were “atavists” or “born criminals.” According to Lombroso, some
people were biological throwbacks – like the early caveman – and they had
no other choice but to be criminals in a modernized society.
Sheldon studied prisoners and decided to examine their body shapes. He
identified three somotypes: the endomorph (fat), the ectomorph (thin), and
the mesomorph (athletic). Is it any wonder he concluded mesomorphs
were found more often in prison? Men are at their physical best in their
late teens to early twenties, and that is the age range of typical criminals.
Theories of Causation
Other biological theories hold more promise than those early studies
Twin studies – there is an increased chance that if one identical twin
is criminal then the other is as well
Adopted studies – children whose biological parents were criminals,
but were adopted by law abiding citizens are more likely to be
criminal; likewise the children of law abiding citizens whose children
are adopted by criminals are unlikely to be criminals (role of
environment has not yet been explained adequately)
Biosocial criminology – the link between the physical body and
criminal behavior is still being studied through the examination of
chemicals in the brain
Theories of Causation
Psychological theory
Basic assumptions:
the individual is the unit of analysis
personality is key motivational feature
delinquency results from abnormalities, inappropriately conditioned
personality dysfunctions
develops in early childhood
This group of theories is based primarily on the works of Freud, the role of IQ,
and the ability to learn. Freud identified the id (unsocialized self), ego
(problem solver), and superego (mediator between the others).
Delinquency is thus the result of an uncontrollable id, an underdeveloped
superego, or a faulty ego.
Behaviorism is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of
observable behavior. Stimuli and response. It is hard to know what is
going on in a person’s mind, but we can see actions. Behavior is learned by
reacting or responding a certain way to a certain stimulus. Behavior can be
reinforced by rewarding the responses or extinguished by punishing the
response. Rewarded behavior is repeated behavior. Delinquency is the
result of being rewarded for criminal behavior (money, drugs, sex, etc.)
Theories of Causation
Sociological theories – structural theories
Anomie is a concept of Durkheim’s that describes the breakdown of
social norms or the disassociation of the individual from a general sense
of morality.
Robert Merton – Strain theory
Delinquency is the result of certain structural strains that pressure the
individual to become deviant. We all carry basically the same beliefs -we want material success and expect to achieve this success through
legitimate means. But some of us do not have the same opportunities to
achieve wealth. Anomie results when the means of achieving goals
becomes blocked.
There are two social structures in society – a value structure (goals) and a
normative structure (means)
drug dealer, car thief -- any illegitimate means of making money
drug addict, alcoholic
sleepwalking thru life
Theories of Causation
General strain theory – Robert Agnew (micro version)
Criminality results from negative affective states – anger and frustration
develop if goal is blocked
strain caused by failure to achieve positively valued goals
strain caused by the disjunction of expectations and achievements in
comparison to others
strain as the removal of positively valued stimuli from the individual
strain as the presentation of negative stimuli
Strain occurs and produces a negative affective state (depression, anger,
frustration, fear, disappointment). Antisocial behavior results from the
negative state produced.
Ecological/Social disorganization theory – The consequences of urban decay.
These areas are characterized by a general lack of social stability and
cohesion. It does not matter what group lives in these areas – the
delinquency rates will remain high for each group.
Walter Miller – focal points
Youth in disorganized areas develop their own standards of behavior and
values in order to better adapt to the harsh conditions under which they
live. Their values include: toughness, excitement, smartness, fate, and
Theories of Causation
Cloward and Ohlin – Illegitimate opportunity theory
 Deviance is not open to everyone, people in lower class areas get
exposed to more and thus have more opportunity.
Cohen – middle class measuring rod
 Delinquency is tied closely to failure in school. We measure success
in school with a “middle class measuring rod” – norms and values
thought to be associated with the middle class (deferred
gratification, nonviolent behavior, drive and ambition, etc.). Poor
youth or those living in a disorganized are will rebel against what
they cannot have. We call this -reaction formation – openly rejecting want one wants or aspires to, but
cannot obtain or achieve (protects self-esteem).
 Labeling theory
 This theory is not interested in the criminal/deviant act you
committed, but rather what happens after being caught. Getting
caught increases the chance of being “labeled” by someone with
authority (juvenile court system). Labeling increases the chances
that being delinquent becomes a master status. Because delinquent
becomes a master status, the juvenile commits more crimes than if
he/she had never been labeled.
Theories of Causation
Conflict/Radical/Critical/Marxist theories
Conflict occurs naturally in all societies. Conflict is the result of competition
for resources. These theories focus on the conflict that results from
differences in race, ethnicity, social class, and gender. These theories view
laws as being enforced for and by the powerful against the powerless.
Feminist theory
This theory is another branch of the conflict theory tree. The focus here is
on women’s experiences in areas of victimization, gender differences in
crime, and differential treatment by the juvenile justice network.
Control theories
Hirshi’s control bonding theory tells us why juveniles do NOT commit crime.
In other words, this theory reveals why we obey laws. Basically if a youth
is attached to non-deviant parents, involved in non-deviant activities
(sports, work, church, etc.), committed to non-deviant goals (education, for
example), and has non-deviant beliefs then it is unlikely the youth will
become deviant.
General theory of crime or low self-control theory
Gottfredson and Hirshi’s micro theory explains that juveniles commit crimes
because they lack discipline.
Theories of Causation
Integrated theories – combination of theories from multiple disciplines
Thorneberry – Interactional theory
Crime linked to deterioration of social bonds during adolescence:
weakened attachments, weakened commitment, and weakened
beliefs. Youth turns to others who share those beliefs. Interactions
with these deviant peers increase shaping actions.