Differential Association Theory

Topics: Criminology, Crime, Sociology Pages: 5 (1804 words) Published: June 15, 2011
The famous criminologist Edwin Sutherland developed Differential Association Theory in 1939. He felt that criminal behavior is behavior, learned, and is learned in face-to-face interactions with others. Differential association, which operates on the individual level, is where behavior is learned through interaction with others. Through this interaction an individual will learn the techniques and skills necessary to commit crime as well as the motives, rationalization, and attitudes necessary for the crime. This is achieved by determining whether the pros outweigh the cons using the factors of frequency, duration, priority, and intensity. Differential social organization is defined by the extent in which a society or group is in favor of crime or how much it is against it. The perception of the group will determine whether that group looks at certain actions as criminal or not, regardless of what the written laws state. Sutherland even went to the extent of giving some critiques of his theory. The first is opportunity, without it one cannot violate the law. The second is the presence or absence of alternatives; a person may have no other alternative except to steal to make money to live. Although he does not discuss crimes such as drug usage or crimes commonly referred to as “white collar crimes”, I believe his theory deals with these aspect as well. I also believe that there are social learning processes that could turn anyone into a criminal at anytime, anyplace and anywhere. Akers’ social learning theory further and more completely explains these types of crimes, however it is clear that he expanded on Sutherland’s concept of differential association as the basis for his theory. Many of the experimental tests for theories of crime that we have studied have concentrated on adolescents and reasons for juvenile delinquency. Although these tests support the theories tested for crime among adolescents and juveniles, they fail to mention or test the theories for crime among adults. Sutherland tested this theory on juveniles because delinquency is liberally a group crime.  This theory shows how criminals can socially learn deviant behavior from those around him/her. The problem with this research was determining which comes first, the delinquency or delinquent friends. In regards to the criticisms, differential association theory applies to most type of crime (lower class, upper class, juveniles and adults) it refines criminologist to the role of ideas, not social conditions as influence or criminal behavior.  The problem with this research was determining which comes first, the delinquency or delinquent friends.  Sutherland also argued that through a process of differential learning or association, individuals become exposed to norms and beliefs favoring deviant behavior. It is this process of exposure through which persons learn the techniques and attitudes favorable to committing deviant acts. In spite of its generally favorable arrival, distinctively among sociologists, the theory of differential association has not lacked its critics. For example, a common criticism, as found in Vold’s Theoretical Criminology (1958), claims that differential association fails to account for the obvious fact that not everyone who comes into contact with criminality begins to follow a criminal pattern. However, what such critics fail to account for is that the theory states “a person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law” (Sutherland, 1947). Thus, Sutherland never claimed individuals become criminal due to mere contact with crime, instead focusing on the ratio of definitions within the individual learned from various associations. Other popular criticisms reflect the kinds of criminal behavior failed to be explained by differential association. It has been said that the theory does not apply to perpetrators of “individual and personal”...
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