Social Bond Theory in the Wire

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Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory Describes D’Angelo Barksdale in The Wire
Travis Hirschi’s dissertation, which eventually became a well-respected and commonly used book in criminology, had within it one of the most influential theories of crime that was tested with data and supported with results. The dissertation became known as Causes of Delinquency and was published in 1969 (Kozey, 2012). The general theory states that delinquency takes place when a person’s bonds to society are weakened or broken, thus reducing personal stakes in conformity. D’Angelo Barksdale’s character from HBO’s series The Wire is a model of how this theory works, and throughout the first season of The Wire, he proves that his character fits into this theory.

Hirschi’s Social Bond Theory focuses on when in the absence of control; a person is most likely to commit crimes. These controls are bonds to society; therefore, when those bonds to society are broken or weakened, a person tends to commit crime. Shoemaker states, “Variance in delinquency is to be explained by weakened social bonds” (Shoemaker 1996:244). People conform to societal bonds because people are afraid of disrupting these bonds; people do not want to harm their friends, family, or job. Those who do not commit crime aren’t doing so because they have developed certain things to be attached to, not because they have learned from their parents or friends not to and not because they have do not have strains in society.

Hirschi defined his “social bonds” with four main elements that are interlinked with each other. His four social bonds are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief. Attachment was Hirschi’s most important social bond; Hirschi says “[the theory] assumes that the bond of affection for conventional persons is a major deterrent from crime” (Hirschi 1969:83). Attachment refers to one’s bond to others such as family or friends or institutions such as school or church. When a person has a weak attachment to a person or institution, they are more likely to become a delinquent because this may impair personality development. For instance, if a person has a strong relationship with their father, that person is less likely to commit crime because they do not want to disappoint their father. A strong attachment to school is important as well because it is shown a strong relationship with school is seen as particularly instrumental in straying away from delinquency. A poor relationship may not strictly be about not having a great chemistry. Hirschi states, “Any measure of the extent to which a boy is willing to condemn police, teachers, and parents will very much resemble the measures we have used as indicators of ‘attachment.’ For example, it is easy to see the bearing of many items used previously on such statements as: ‘Police, it may be said, are corrupt, stupid, and brutal. Teachers always show favoritism and parents always ‘take it out’ on their children” (Hirschi 1969:211). Hirschi’s second social bond is commitment, and commitment involves the level of intention and dedication towards staying vested in school and positively affecting their society and economy (Hagan 2008:165). So if a person has put a lot of effort into something such as maintaining the pursuit towards a degree or if a person has worked hard to achieve a higher status at a job, than that person is less likely to commit crime. This social bond may help explain why there is the spike in the crime-age graph. Adults have much more to lose than a teenager; therefore, they are much less likely to engage in activities that could jeopardize their standing at their job. Adults, also, have significantly more commitments than juveniles, such as a career, a family, and a precedence of being held to a higher standard.

Involvement is Hirschi’s third social bond. Involvement is how much the person’s engaged in legal activities within their community. These activities could include charity work, coaching a...
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