Differential association theory was Sutherland's major sociological contribution to criminology; similar in importance to strain theory and social control theory. These theories all explain deviance in terms of the individual's social relationships.
Sutherland's theory departs from the pathological perspective and biological perspective by attributing the cause of crime to the social context of individuals. "He rejected biological determinism and the extreme individualism of psychiatry, as well as economic explanations of crime. His search for an alternative understanding of crime led to the development of differential association theory. In contrast to both classical and biological theories, differential association theory poses no obvious threats to the humane treatment of those identified as criminals."(Gaylord, 1988:1)
The principle of differential association asserts that a person becomes delinquent because of an "excess" of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law. In other word, criminal behavior emerges when one is exposed to more social message favoring conduct than prosocial messages (Sutherland, 1947).
Sutherland argued that the concept of differential association and differential social organization could be applied to the individual level and to aggregation (or group) level respectively. While differential association theory explains why any individual gravitates toward criminal behavior, differential social organization explains why crime rates of different social entities different from each other's.
The first explicit statement of the theory of differential association appears in the 1939 edition of Principles of Criminology and in the fourth edition of it, he presented his final theory. His theory has 9 basic postulates. 1. Criminal behavior is learned.
This means that criminal behavior is not inherited, as such; also the person who is not...