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Theory in Criminology

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  1. Theory in Criminology 1. What is theory? 2. Theory Construction 3. Theory Evaluation

  2. What is Theory? • Theory is a set on interconnected statements or propositions that explain how two or more events or factors are related to one another

  3. Example • Children who experienced harsh and inconsistent punishment are more likely to become deviant Harsh Inconsistent Punishment Violence

  4. Two ways to build a theory • Deductive Approach (theory, hypothesis, research design, observations, empirical generalizations, new theory) • Inductive Approach (research design, observations, empirical generalizations, new theory)


  5. Examples Inductive approach Deductive approach • Physical abuse in childhood is associated with future violence • Is child neglect also related to violence perpetration later in life? • Survey of a group of incarcerated criminals about their childhood experiences • Theory about how the impact of child neglect is similar/different from child abuse in terms of its criminogenic effect • How do burglars select their targets? (research question) • Field study of active burglars • Face-to-face interviews with burglars about the ways they select the targets • Theory about how a household can become a target for burglary

  6. A Model of the Research Process THEORY Deduction FINDINGS HYPOTHESIS Analysis Induction Operationalization DATA GATHERING RESEARCH DESIGN Measurement

  7. Criteria for Evaluating Theory • Logical consistency • The scope • Parsimony • Testability • Empirical validity • Usefulness and Policy implications

  8. Logical consistency • Propositions of a theory have to be logically stated and internally consistent

  9. The Scope • The Scope of a theory refers to the range of phenomena which it proposes to explain • A theory that accounts only for the crime of check forgery may be accurate, but it is obviously very limited in scope • Gottfredson and Hirschi posit that both imprudent and criminal behaviors can be predicted by a common characteristic: lack of self-control

  10. Parsimony • Parsimony (simplicity of theory’s structure) • The theory based on fewest assumptions and requiring the fewest propositions is considered the superior theory

  11. Differential Association Theory is based upon these nine postulates: 1. Criminal behavior is learned 2. Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with others persons in a process of communication 3. The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups 4. When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes techniques of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes simple and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes 5. The specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable to committing deviant acts

  12. Differential Association is based upon these nine postulates: 6.A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law 7. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity 8. The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anticriminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning 9. While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those general needs and values, since non criminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values

  13. Testability • Testability by objective and repeatable evidence (theory which are untestable are not scientific)

  14. Untestable theories • A theory may propose that males who rob banks are motivated by an unconscious impulse to resolve their guilt over their childhood sexual attraction toward their mothers

  15. Untestable theories • If we find enough bank robbers who fit this description, then the theory is supported • If research uncover that bank robbers claim their only motive is money then that does not mean that the theory is rejected • Denial of these feeling by robbers supports the theory, because the same unconscious impulse that motivated them to rob also rendered them unconscious of their true motivation

  16. Empirical validity • Empirical validity means that a theory has been supported by research evidence • None of the theories is found to be entirely true or false • The questions is, what degree of empirical support does the theory have (weak or strong)

  17. Usefulness and Policy implications • Every criminological theory implies a therapy or policy • The better the theory explain the problem, the better it is able to guide efforts to solve the problem

  18. Causation in criminology • Causation is a relationship that holds between events, objects, variables, or states of affairs

  19. Can we observe causality? • It is not possible to detect a cause empirically • We can rarely directly sense a cause • We merely induce their existence from our experience of the association of two or more events • Can we observe how a hard blow to the arm causes a bruise?

  20. Causality • How do we know if A causes B? • Time • Association • No other factor causes both (spuriousness)

  21. Time • It is usually presumed that the cause chronologically precedes the effect • In a strict reading, if A causes B, then A must always be followed by B. • Smoking and lung cancer (What goes first?)

  22. Association/correlation • Changes in X cause changes in Y • For example, football weekends cause heavier traffic, more food sales, etc. • We must be very careful in interpreting correlation coefficients • Just because two variables are highly correlated does not mean that one causes the other

  23. Examples • Ice cream sales and the crime rate are correlated (both increase during summer) • The number of cavities in elementary school children and vocabulary size have a strong positive correlation

  24. Crime Ice Cream Sales Spuriousness?

  25. Summer Time Crime Ice Cream Sales Spuriousness?

  26. Vocabulary size Cavity Spuriousness?

  27. Age Vocabulary size Cavity Spuriousness?

  28. Controversy around causation • Not all scholars agree that uncovering discovering the universal laws that underlie human behavior should be a focus of our research

  29. What is different about people? • Human beings are qualitatively different from the objects of study in the natural sciences (rocks, stars, chemical compounds, etc) • Humans think and learn, have an awareness of themselves and their past • These unique human characteristics are the reason for the debate how criminology should look like

  30. Examples of subjective realities • Elephant and four blind men

  31. More examples (four temperaments) The same situation evokes absolutely different reactions. How can we apply causation here?

  32. Thomas’s theorem (1928) • Another argument against causality • “If people define situation as real, they are real in their consequences” • This theorem is related to the subjectivity of reality • Examples?... • What do you think of causality in sociology now?

  33. How to solve the problem of causality? • Interpretative approach does not say that social behavior is chaotic • There is some pattern in human behavior • But this pattern is not due to the causal laws • It is created out of the system of social conventions people generate during their interactions