Scholars have supported classical theory as the best descriptive model of crime. This paper makes a comparison to different theories of crime in comparison with the classical theory of crime with intent to arrive at a position in support or against the stance of these other scholars, that classical theory is the best descriptive model of crime. Classical Theory, which developed in the mid 18th century, was based on utilitarian philosophy.

Cesare Beccaria, author of On Crimes and Punishments (1763–64), Jeremy Bentham, inventor of the panopticon, and other classical school philosophers argued that people have free will to choose how to act; that deterrence is based upon the notion of the human being as a 'hedonist' who seeks pleasure and avoids pain, and a 'rational calculator' weighing up the costs and benefits of the consequences of each action; that punishment (of sufficient severity) can deter people from crime, as the costs (penalties) outweigh benefits, and that severity of punishment should be proportionate to the crime.

Classical theory ignores the possibility of irrationality and unconscious drives as motivational factors. Positivist Theory - presumes that criminal behavior is caused by internal and external factors outside of the individual's control. Positivism can be broken up into three segments which include biological, psychological and social positivism. Lombroso, an Italian prison doctor sometimes regarded as the "father" of criminology, was one of the largest contributors to biological positivism.

Lombroso’s work suggested that physiological traits such as the measurements of one's cheek bones or hairline, or a cleft palate, considered to be throwbacks to Neanderthal man, were indicative of "atavistic" criminal tendencies. Enrico Ferri, a student of Lombroso, believed that social as well as biological factors played a role, and held the view that criminals should not be held responsible when factors causing their criminality were beyond their control.

Adolphe Quetelet made use of data and statistical analysis to gain insight into relationship between crime and sociological factors. He found that age, gender, poverty, education, and alcohol consumption were important factors related to crime. Criminologists have since rejected Lombroso's biological theories, due to lack of wide range statistical data from which he drew the inferences (with control groups not used in his studies). Differential Association/ Social Learning (Sub cultural) Theory –asserts that Crime is learned through association.

As formulated by Sutherland(1947), the theory postulates that “one commits criminal acts because his accepted “definitions” of law as something to violate are in “excess” of his accepted definitions of the law as sometimes that can, must or should be obeyed”(quoted in Akers 1977, p. 40). Sutherland’s theory has been thoroughly explicated by Cressey (in Sutherland and Cressey 1978) and has been expanded on by Akers (1977) and Burgess and Akers (1966) with conceptualizations from operant conditioning theory(skinner 1953; Whaley and Malott 1969).

The criminal acts learned might be generally condoning criminal conduct or be justifying crime only under specific circumstances. Interacting with antisocial peers is a major cause of crime. Criminal behavior will be repeated and become chronic if reinforced. When criminal subcultures exist, many individuals can learn associatively to commit crime and crime rates may increase in those specific locations. Other researchers suggested an added social-psychological link. Edwin Sutherland suggested that people learn criminal behavior from older, more experienced criminals that they may associate with.

However, Learning theory does not situate its process in a larger social structure context that would give it specific form and probabilities for patterns of content. Strain Theory is based on the assumption that goals which are desirable by middle-class standards are shared throughout society. Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin Agnew asserts that when individuals cannot obtain success goals (e. g. money, status in school), they experience strain or pressure. Under certain conditions, they are likely to respond to this strain through crime.

The strains leading to crime, however, may not be linked to goal blockage (or deprivation of valued stimuli) but also to the presentation of noxious stimuli and the taking away of valued stimuli. Strain Theory falls short of attempting to explain the origin of the expectations and discrepant opportunities. The theory merely asserts a goals-means disjuncture as an integral feature of “industrial society”. This silence points, once again, to the need for a more precise conceptualization of the overall structural context that shapes expectations, structures of opportunity, and the correspondence between them.

Control theories - Another approach is made by the social bond or social control theory. Instead of looking for factors that make people become criminal, these theories try to explain why people do not become criminal. Travis Hirschi identified four main characteristics: "attachment to others", "belief in moral validity of rules", "commitment to achievement" and "involvement in conventional activities”. The more a person features those characteristics, the less the chances are that he or she becomes deviant (or criminal). On the other hand, if those factors are not present in a person, it is more likely that he or she might become criminal.

Hirschi expanded on this theory, with the idea that a person with low self control is more likely to become criminal. However, Control Theory can be criticized for not specifying exactly how bonds fail to develop or how they may be severed. This theoretical silence is the consequence of control theory’s almost exclusive focus on the bonded or unbounded individual while it takes the structure of authority and actions of social control agents as an unexamined given as bonds arise out of the relation between individuals and authorities.

Labeling Theory - Labeling theory refers to an individual being labeled in a particular way and was studied in great detail by Howard Becker. It arrives originally from sociology but is regularly used in criminological studies. It is said that when someone is given the label of a criminal, they may reject it or accept it and go on to commit crime. Even those that initially reject the label can eventually accept it as the label becomes well known particularly amongst their peers. This can become even more profound when the labels are about deviancy and it is said they can lead to deviancy amplification.

Labeling Theory made several essential contributions to the construction of a comprehensive criminology theory as follows: For its recognition that no act is intrinsically deviant; the theory’s renewal (Mills 1943) of the rejection of presumed pathology in deviant behavior; the theory’s incorporation of agencies of social control as a necessary focus of adequate criminology inquiry; and the theory’s utilization of symbolic interactionist concepts linking individual behavior and immediate social milieus as reciprocal processes ( Becker 1963; Garfinkel 1967; Schur 1971).

Nevertheless, the specific areas of potential analytical refinement, the silence concerning “primary deviance” imply that an adequate criminological theory cannot be confined to the labeling theorist a historical, a structural preoccupation with immediate sanction-application environment (milieu) and its role-reorganization effects on the offender. Klein (1986) conducted a test which showed that labeling theory affected some youth offenders but not others.

Conflict theory and radical criminology arose as an aggregate of attempts to deal with some of the questions about the overall social structure left unanswered by the labeling theory. These two theories are similar in their critical posture toward the prevailing social order but are distinguished by their conceptualization of the nature of the social order. Conflict theory holds that society is based on conflict between competing interest groups; For example the rich against the poor; management against labourers; the majority against the minority; men against women; adults against children etc. hese kind of dog-eat-dog theories also have their origins in the 1960s and 1970s, and are characterized by the study of power and powerlessness. Radical criminology tends to adopt an instrumentalist-Marxian perspective of contemporary society as dominated by a unified, capitalist ruling class. Despite their disparate pluralistic-monolithic caricatures of social power, the conflict and radical approaches both assume an untenable voluntarism with regard to whomever they view as powerful (authorities, interest groups, ruling classes, etc. . paradoxically, it is as if the more powerful one is in exerting one’s “will” to shape the social order, the more external one is to that social order-impervious to its structural constraints and omnipotent over it. Neither conflict theorists nor radical criminologists have developed a coherent and refined conceptualization of social structure. Integrative theories or integrating criminological perspectives is not a particularly new endeavor. It dates at least as far back as Merton (1938), Sutherland (1947), and Cohen (1955).

However, it was not until the 1970s and the 1980s that integrative models began to "take-off" and challenge the non-integrative or one-dimensional theories and models of crime and/or punishment. Throughout this developing period of integration, many criminologists remained skeptical about the merits and potentials of integrative models. Some turned to the "vertical" elaboration of older one-dimensional theories, others abandoned theory altogether in preference for the "horizontal" bits and pieces of knowledge that come from multiple disciplines that study crime and punishment.

Nevertheless, by the turn of the 21st century, the integrative paradigm had become the newly emerging paradigm in criminology and penology. The integrated theories that have recently emerged (see Elliot et al. 1979; Johnson 1979) attempt to tie together the theoretical fragments of conventional criminology. In addressing one of the theoretical silences of conventional control theory, integrated theory attempts to weave together the disconnected socialization settings of control theory into a unified conceptualization of socialization processes.

Integrated theories follow the individual through life – cycle encounters with various socializing agencies (families, schools, peer groups), inquiring at each step whether initially strong or weak bonds to the conventional order are being attenuated or reinforced as early socialization experiences “interact” with later ones. By incorporating additional concepts from strain, labeling, and learning theories, integrated theorists attempt to reconstruct theoretically the individual processes of becoming, or not becoming, delinquent. Conclusion Theories are just hypothesis waiting to be debunked.

Theories are far from a reality. Every crime is a unique story. Theories may be partially correct, but in reality they are product of a human tendency generalization, to exaggeration, to categorization of someone’s behavior. Otherwise, it is an effort made to understand something that we do not understand as well as the tendency to find some general meaning that can be equally applied on the same or similar cases. Theoretical perspectives used in criminology include psychoanalysis, functionalism, interactionism, Marxism, econometrics, systems theory, postmodernism, etc.

It is evident from the above discussion therefore that many different causes and correlates of crime have been proposed with varying degree of empirical support. In my view therefore, the best descriptive model of crime are the integrated theories due to their comprehensive approach to crime.

Reference list

  • Beccaria, C. (1963). On crimes and punishments, trans. H. Paolucci. Englewoods Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc. p 17
  • Lombroso, Cesare, (1876) L’uomo delinquente (The criminal man). Milano: Hoepli.
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