Chapter 8 – Social Process Theories of Crime: Social Learning, Differential Association, Neutralization, and Social Control Theories
Documentaries and Films and News Segments:
Prison Pump – https://gem.cbc.ca/media/cbc-docs-pov/season-2/episode-2/38e815a-00f7b58aa46
Basic Idea and Major Theorists
Social Process theories hold that criminality is a function of individual socialization and the socio-psychological interactions people have with the various organizations and institutions of society. They focus on the socialization of youth and attempt to identify the developmental factors – family relationships, peer influences and educational difficulties – which lead them first into delinquent behaviour then into adult criminality. Humans are seen as “social blanks” that can be shaped and influenced by the ways others treat them. Social control theory argues that learning is affected by the strength of people’s bonds to conventional role models. Neutralization theorists believe that the bonds are present very early and that people learn how to erode them and free themselves from the moral inhibition not to break rules.
Social learning theory assumes that humans commit crime as a result of learning and socialization experiences with significant others. Sutherland’s (1939 – Principles of Criminology) differential association theory outlines the way in which people learn to be criminals through their interaction with other criminals and how they come to acquire a criminal identity. Edwin Sutherland (1883-1950) founded this approach in criminology arguing that delinquents and criminals, including white-collar criminals, learn to commit crime just as non criminals learn to behave conventionally, through socialization with significant others in primary groups (Sutherland, 1949). Sutherland’s differential association theory posits that criminals learn knowledge, skills, rationalizations, and justifications for rule-breaking activity just as non-criminals learn the same skills for conforming behaviour, and it is the extent to which they associate with them relative to associating with conventional groups that determines whether they will choose to commit crime. Sutherland uses his theory to develop his classification of professional type criminals such as professional thieves, explaining how they develop specific sets of norms and codes of conduct that they apply to themselves in their criminal activity.
In some ways, Neutralization theory is an extension of one aspect of social learning theory. Neutralization theory is found in the works of C. Wright Mills (1916-62) with his concept “vocabularies of motive” (1940). It was applied by Sutherland’s student Donald Cressey in his study of embezzlers (1953). Cressey showed how embezzlers consider their action in advance in order to decide whether they will likely be able to excuse or justify it afterward should they be subject to questioning, and they use phrases such as “borrowing” rather than stealing to justify their actions. Neutralization theorists (Mills, 1940, Cressey, 1953, Sykes and Matza, 1957, 1964) believe that crime can become a behavioural option for people when their commitment to conventional values and norms is neutralized by excuses and justifications that render them morally free, but not compelled to break rules.
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