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More criminological theories


The following is a list of some more theories that have been developed to explain why people do or do not commit crimes. Each theory lists the theorists who developed it and a brief explanation of the theory.

Criminological theories

Routine activities theory

By Felson and Cohen

Variables that affect a criminal event are:
  • Motivated offenders
  • Suitable targets
  • Capable guardians
The rate of criminal victimization is increased when there is a convergence in space and time of the three elements.

Theory of the born Criminal

By Lombroso
  • Criminals are physically different from law-abiding people and these differences demonstrate the biological causes of criminal behavior.
  • A born criminal is an "atavism," a throwback to an earlier stage of evolution.
  • The insane criminal is mentally unfit for society.
  • Criminals are motivated by passion and have an uncontrollable urge to commit crimes.

Theory of the super-male criminal

By Fox

XYY chromosomes in certain males make them super males and prone to be violent criminals.

Psychoanalytic theory

By Friedlander

  • Looks into the mind of the criminal. 
  • Crime is only a symptom of the psychic conflict between the id, ego, and superego. 
  • Crime arises from abnormal maturation, poor early relationships with parents, or repressed sexuality or guilt.

Personality theory

By Hathaway

Criminals have abnormal, inadequate, or specifically criminal personalities that differentiate them from law-abiding people.

Inherited Criminal theory

By Menick

Some genetic factor is passed along from parent to offspring which causes an inherited susceptibility to succumb to crime.

Positivist theory

By Comte
  • Everyone will conform in the absence of motivations to not conform.
  • Internal and External Controls Theory by Reiss and Nye
  • Delinquency is the failure of personal and social controls.
  • Rewards for conformity and punishment of deviance.
  • Categories of social control:
  • Direct control is punishment
  • Indirect control is pain or disappointment one might cause in one to which one has close relationships.
  • Internal control is a conscience or a sense of guilt.

Differential association theory

By Sutherland

Criminal behavior is developed through a differential association with those who commit crimes or those who are law-abiding

The theory states:
  • Criminal behavior is learned.
  • It is learned in interaction with other persons.
  • It occurs within intimate groups.
  •  Learning includes:
  • Techniques for committing crimes.
  • Motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes.
  • Things learned can be favorable or unfavorable to committing crimes.
  • A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law.
  • Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.
  • Learning involves all the mechanisms that are involved in any other type of learning.
  • Although criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by them since non-criminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values.

Containment theory

By Reckless

There are factors that push toward delinquency such as poverty and blocked opportunities), or that pull delinquency into it such as gangs or delinquent subcultures:
  • Outer containment. Parents and schools.
  • Inner containment. Strong conscience or good self-concept.

Drift theory

By Matza

Drift is when kids use neutralization to get an episodic release from conventional moral restraints and the drift in and out of delinquency.

Self-control theory

By Gottfredson and Hirschi
  • People with high self-control will be less likely at all periods of life to engage in criminal acts.
  • Once formed in childhood, self-control stays stable throughout life.

Labeling theory 

By Lemert or Becker

Labels that are placed on people may be because of their behavior or the labels may cause their behavior.

Social disorganization theory

By Shaw and Mckay

Social order, stability, and integration are conducive to conformity and disorder and mal-integration are conducive to crime and deviance.

Shaming theory

By Braithwaite
  • Shaming. Social disapproval which invokes remorse in the person shamed or condemnation by others who are aware of the shaming.
  • Disintegrative shaming. Involves no attempt to reconcile the shamed offender with the community.
  • Redintegrative shaming. Shaming followed by efforts to reintegrate the offender back into the community.

Anomie theory

By Merton
  • Dissociation between valued cultural ends and legitimate societal means to those ends.
  • Causes strain to take advantage of whatever effective means to income or success they can find, legal or illegal.
  • Modes of adaptation:
  • Conformity
  • Innovation
  • Ritualism
  • Retreatism
  • Rebellion

Delinquent subculture theory

By Cohen
  • Non-utilitarian
  • Malicious
  • Negativistic
  • Versatility
  • Short term hedonism
  • Group autonomy

Functionalist theory

By Davis

Views law as functioning for the greater public welfare, it serves the interests of everyone. Laws serve symbolic functions to condemn certain behaviors even if they do not deter them.

Focal concerns of lower-class culture theory

By Miller
  • Delinquent behavior is a youthful adaptation to a distinct lower-class culture
  • Focal concerns of the lower-class are:
  • Trouble
  • Toughness
  • Smartness
  • Excitement
  • Fate
  • Autonomy

Integrated-structural Marxist theory 

By Colvin and Pauly

  • Practices of parents in the socialization and discipline of their children reflect the kind of control that the parents are themselves subject to in the workplace.
  • Left realism  
  • Don’t believe crime is from class struggle
  • A square of crime operates to produce crime
  • Peace-making
  • They liken crime to war and declare it is time to try peace between offenders, victims, police, and the community using mediation, reconciliation, and reintegration of the offender into the community.

Power-control theory

By Hagan

Family social structure derives from the position spouses occupy in their work inside and outside the home. Non-supportive and contrary evidence in tests.

Self-concept theory

By Reckless and Dinitz
  • The way a person considers themselves as either "good" or "bad."
  • A good person may have an insulated self-concept that enables them to resist delinquency.

Lifestyle-exposure theory

By Gottfredson

Demographic differences in the likelihood of victimization are attributed to differences in lifestyles

Routine activities theory

By Cohen and Felson
  • Routine activities or lifestyles in conventional society provide an opportunity structure for crimes.
  •  Cultural conflicts
  • Conflicts arise when:
  • Codes of conduct clash on the border between groups.
  • The Law of one group extends into another group.
  • One cultural group migrates into another.


  • Agnew, R. (1985). A Revised Strain Theory of Delinquency. Social Forces, 64, pp. 151-167.
  • Agnew, R. and White, H. R. (1992). An Empirical Test of General Strain Theory. Criminology, 30(4), pp. 475-500.
  • Akers, R. L. (1997). Criminological Theories: Introduction and Evaluation. 2nd Edition. Los Angeles, California: Roxbury Publishing Company.
  • Brezina, T. (1996). Adapting to Strain: An Examination of Delinquent Coping Responses. Criminology, 34(1), pp. 39-60.
  • Bursik, R. J. (1988). Social Disorganization and Theories of Crime and Delinquency: Problems and Prospects. Criminology, 26, pp. 519-551.
  • Colvin, M. and Pauly, J. (1983). A Critique of Criminology: Toward an Integrated Structural-Marxist Theory of Delinquency Production. American Journal of Sociology, 89(3), pp. 513-551.
  • Gottfredson, D. C., McNeil III, R. J., and Gottfredson, G. D. (1991). Social Area Influences on Delinquency: A Multilevel Analysis. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 28(2), pp. 197-226.
  • Hagan, J. (1988). Structural Criminology. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.
  • Jeffery, C. R. (1990). Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Englewood Cliff, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  • Sampson, R. J. and Groves, W. B. (1989). Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social-Disorganization Theory. American Journal of Sociology, 94(4), pp. 774-802.
  • Tittle, C. R. and Villemez, W. J. (1977). Social Class and Criminality. Social Forces, 456, pp. 474-503.
  • Tittle, C. R., Villemez, W. J., and Smith, D. A. (1978). The Myth of Social Class and Criminality: An Empirical Assessment of the Empirical Evidence. American Sociological Review, 43, pp. 643-656.
  •  Thornberry, T. P. and Christenson, R. L. (1984). Unemployment and Criminal Involvement: An Investigation of Reciprocal Causal Structures. American Sociological Review, 49, pp. 398-411. 
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