General Theory of Crime

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November 29, 2012
General Theory of Crime
There has been much controversy and studies done on Gottfredson and Hirschi’s development of their book-length theory, General Theory of Crime. They discuss ideas and concepts concerning self-control and how that affects an individual’s likelihood of committing criminal acts. If a person lacks in self-control, they are more prone to being deviant given the correct circumstances and factors surrounding their situation. Considered to be such a simple theory, it offers empirical evidence and various explanations as to why deviant individuals choose a different path in contrast to non-deviant, rule-following individuals. However, while simple, it does work to explain a broad spectrum of ideas and provides space for interpretation. In this paper I will be discussing the ideas presented by Gottfredson and Hirschi in their theory regarding self-control as well as the historical and empirical studies done surrounding the General Theory of Crime. Michael Gottfredson is an American Criminologist who was also the provost at UC Irvine and is currently the president of the University of Oregon. Travis Hirschi, too, is an American criminologist who received his Ph.D. in sociology from UC Berkeley. He developed the Social Control Theory, which describes that the absence of social bonds and attachments to society can result in the increased likelihood of delinquency. In this theory, Gottfredson focused more on the societal controls on an individual. In 1990, Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi developed the theory of self-control, which focuses on the existence or the lack thereof self-control within an individual. Gottfredson and Hirschi make the switch from external control to those of internal causation. However, a relevancy does exist, for Hirschi believes that social controls can be used in explaining criminal behavior. Those controls have the competency to influence self-control, which according to Hirschi, is ingrained in an individual around the age of eight and should remain consistent from thereafter (Bernard et al. 2010). Corresponding with this theory, criminal acts are characterized as so: provide immediate gratification of desires; easy and simple gratification of desires; exciting, risky and thrilling; tend to provide few or meager long-term benefits; require little skill or planning; and often result in pain or discomfort for the victim (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990). As for the characteristics of the individuals who commit these criminal acts; they’re known to be impulsive, insensitive, physical, risk taking, short sighted, and non-verbal. A major cause of low self-control can said to be brought on by ineffective child rearing, meaning that if parents fail at appropriately disciplining, nurturing, and raising their children that can lead to low self-control which in turn causes a chain of delinquent and analogous behaviors. The General Theory of Crime is also known as a theory that explain all crimes at all times which could have the possibility of finding a resolution to ending all crime (Schulz 2004). In turn, the lack of self-control could therefore explain why individuals cannot not keep a stable job, do not perform well in school, or fall short in the ability to have healthy relationships with people. These events that can occur in an individuals life elaborates on the idea that low self-control can cause many things in one’s life to go astray. Gottfredson and Hirschi present an emphasis on how child rearing is one of the major components of an individual having low self-control. According to them there are 3 aspects that must exist in order for an individual to have a high amount of self-control and that is: monitoring and tracking child’s behavior, recognizing deviant behavior when it occurs and consistently and proportionately punishing the behavior upon recognition (Bernard et al. 2010). This General Theory of Crime also relates to the Classical and Rational Choice...
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