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Theoretical Developments in Criminology

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51 pages
This chapter reviews four categories of 20th-century theoretical developments in criminology: theories of individual differences in offending, theories of variation in offending through the lifecycle, theories of diversity of crime rates among social entities, and theories of differences among social situations in criminal outcomes.
The most intense theoretical efforts have focused on individual variations in offending. Six major themes in theories of individual differences in criminal behavior have emerged: personal defects, learning, strain/deprivation, identity, rational choice, and control/integration. Each of these themes promotes a fundamental concept or causal process that is plausible and empirically viable. Criminologists have recently begun to focus on criminal propensity as it varies throughout the lifespan. Moffitt's two-path theory contends that as a result of neuropsychological deficits, some people have a more or less constant pattern of misbehavior throughout life. Others go through limited periods in which they have high probabilities of offending, primarily in the teen years. The age-graded theory emphasizes that career patterns of offending stem mainly from the nature and quality of an individual's social bonds as they intersect with and help crime turning points in the lifecourse. A third prominent line of theorizing in criminology attempts to explain why crime rates vary from society to society or among such social units as cities or communities. These theories can be broadly divided into those that focus exclusively on macro-level phenomena and processes; those that apply at the macro-level but have individual-level analogs; and those that simply reify individual-level explanatory principles for application to aggregates. The fourth category of theories, theories about differences in criminal behavior among situations, focuses on the immediate contexts of criminal behavior. Situations can be viewed as unique arrangements of physical and social stimuli that emerge from the various social settings to which individuals are exposed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of signs of progress and directions for the future. 224 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000