Introduction Theories are important tools in explaining and understanding our society as well as the world around us. In criminology, theories help in understanding the working of the criminal justice system and the different players in the system. They explain the ways things are, as opposed to the way they are meant to be. They explain the different aspects of criminal behavior and punishment. Theories are not inherent good or bad, but they can be utilized for good or bad purposes.
Theories explaining criminal behavior can be explained from two main levels: micro-level, which is individual perspective and macro-level, which is structural perspective. Theories can explain crime from the wider picture (macro-level) or in an individual level (micro-level). However, changes in this area of study have brought in the prospect of explaining crime from a combined micro-macro point of view (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). This paper discusses the two theories, their differences and prospects of integrating the theories to come up with one that is more effective in covering all the elements of criminology.
Micro-level perspective Theories explaining criminal behavior from the individual perspective seek to explain why some people involve themselves in criminal acts while others do not. This means that the theories explain the characteristics or personal traits that cause an individual to be a criminal. These theories focus basically on biological and individual variations among persons. They occasionally seek to understand how structural phenomena influence individual behavior, but this is not the primary focus of the theories (Shoham 2001).
Micro-level theories in delinquency explain that a youngster will pursue criminal behavior to the extent that he recognizes himself with real or make-believe individuals from whose perspective his criminal characteristic seems acceptable. They will become delinquents where they want to be like these people who are supposed to be their role models. For instance, where a youngster identifies himself with the characters of Lucky Luciano or Lepke Buchalter, he or she will be tempted to associate with a gang or join one of their juvenile cadres.
This is one of the simplest ways of explaining this theory in delinquency (Shoham 2001). Deep understanding of this theory can be understood from the autobiographies of Jean Genet. Genet spent most of his life in criminal and deviant gangs and in prisons. His work is the explanation of life as a delinquent and a criminal. He reveals his criminal self-image as compared to the lawful ‘opposite’ society. He was born out of wedlock and abandoned by his mother as a baby in his crib. In his formative age, he was under the care of Assistance Publique that late put him in a foster home in a peasant community.
Later Genet realized that he was different from other youngsters in the village. He did not belong to the community since he was adopted and his foster family did not fully accept him. He did not have any identity since he was a child with no mother or father. The village within which he was adopted was a close community, and he came to realize that in the family he was “Jean the little bastard. ” Everyone made it clear to him that he did not belong. The other children in the family used him as a scapegoat for any mishap or misdeed.
He became a well thought-of for all the bad attributes in the family and the community (Akers 1985). Genet’s personality and internal sense of identity became reference images and descriptions instilled on him by the ‘relevant others. ’ Since like all other children he was in a state of ‘other directedness’ he longed to be accepted and loved. He would do anything for his family and community to fully accept and live him. Therefore, Genet conformed to the character built of himself by the community. For his case, an inner-directed alternative image was not there.
He refers to his need to be what the community accused him of. He is quoted claiming: “I owned to being the coward, traitor, thief and fairy they saw in me” (1964: 176). Genets desire to please his family and community by being what they wanted him to be is an indication of acquiescence and submission. He willingly and almost ecstatically entered into the depths of negativity. He finally came to realize who he was. The community had provided him with an image he never had. Since the image was of a pederast and crook, it had to be sharpened diligently.
This subconscious reaction was one aspect of a recurring ambivalence towards the community and his family. There was a collision between his longing for love and acceptance by his foster family and their terrible rejection of him. Despite the fact that he had acquired the image they had cast on him, they still went ahead and rejected him. This made him feel cheated and thus enter into delinquency for a double purpose. One of the purposes was to perfect the image, since he felt that maybe he had not achieved what the others wanted of him and had to be more vile and evil.
Genet (1949) writes that when he resorted to evil, “I know it is the only thing that has sufficient power to communicate enthusiasm to my pen, a sign in this case of my perfected allegiance to that daring to pursue a destiny that is against all rules” (p. 87). The other purpose was ambivalence towards the community revealed by his response against the norm (Shoham 2001). The mythogenic clashes within him prepared him for the outward achievement of differential identification. This is achieved where a delinquent seeks criminal and deviant role models.
“In children’s hells, in prisons, in bars, it was not heroic adventures that I sought; I pursued there my identification with the handsomest and most unfortunate criminals” (Genet  1964:86). Some recognition with criminal personalities and a longing to play criminal roles are related to Glaser’s (1956) theory of criminal behavior. Differential identification theory assumes inherent recognition with the criminal personality before external criminal behavior is revealed. The case of Genet offers an illustration of how inward mythogenic conflict can be a motivation and drive to delinquency.
Other children likely to join delinquent gangs and get involved with crime are those children who face denial and lack of acceptance by their families. Every child wants to be loved and accepted by his or her family. Most of the children involved in delinquent gang are those who have suffered neglect, violence and sexual abuse by their parents. As a result, violence becomes conditioned and linked to love. They become delinquents and violent since this is the only way they have leant to deal with life and to get what they want in life (Weatherburn and Lind 2006).
Besides differential identification theory in the micro-level model of juvenile delinquency, there is the differential association model. This theory states that a youngster learns criminal activities through interaction with others in a communication process. The communication is usually verbal, but can involve some aspects of non-verbal communication. The key part in the process takes place in close personal groups. Where delinquent behaviors are learnt, the learning process comprises methods of committing crime and the motivations, drives, attitudes and rationalization.
The motivations and drives are learned within legal systems as favorable and unfavorable. Therefore, when a youngster becomes a delinquent, it is normally due to an excess in descriptions favorable in committing the crime as opposed to descriptions unfavorable to committing the crime. This is the basic principle of differential association theory. Delinquents have inherent attitude that inclines them to crime. They have known the advantages of the crime and this is why they get involved in it. They are convinced that the benefits of their acts surpass the costs.
Whoever they learn the criminal behavior from has made them to believe that they can benefit from it. Delinquents will always go for the acts they have leant through interaction since they are beneficial (Hirschi 1969). Theories have existed in the past describing divorce, death or incapacitation of one or both parents as a cause of delinquency. Nevertheless, more current researches have shown that the problem is not the condition but the defective socialization process due to the unfortunate condition.
Defective socialization process due to strain and family discord is a possible cause of juvenile delinquency and criminal activities. The key etiological issues are the faults in the norm-sending process due to unfortunate situations in the fundamental socializing institution, which is the family. This point is in line with the argument of Ivan Nye (1958) who observed that the rates of juvenile delinquency are considerably higher in families that are together, but unhappy and in problems as compared to broken or divorced families.
Burt (1925) realized that irregularities in child discipline and unreliable and indefinite demands are more associated with juvenile delinquency as compared to consistent treatment. Therefore, there is a general agreement between researchers in the link between inconsistent child discipline, disrupting family life and juvenile delinquency. According to Shaw and McKay (1942), regular family tension and disagreements are greater contributing factors to delinquency as compared to actual divorce.
This means that a youngster is likely to become a delinquent where the socialization in the basic socialization agency is flawed (Shoham 2001). Children with normative barriers may become associated with delinquent or street gangs, otherwise known as the street culture. This is supported by the argument of Newcomb (1958) that: “adolescents frequently find relief from puzzling, inconsistent, and confusing situations by… anchoring themselves to an age-mate world” (p. 326). The ‘street culture’ offers some sense of security available in a straightforward and regular normative system.
The values in this culture are simply described in black and white. This world offers a clear viewpoint, rather than the mystified value system within the family that they are used to. There is also satisfaction of the strong juvenile need for security and belonging. The youngster will join a group that consists of others with the same needs, thus gaining further emotional security. Where a preventive normative barrier against criminal behavior has not been reinforced at home or other socializing institutions, there is the possibility of a child being absorbed in the street culture.
Therefore, this offers the road to differential association and other factors that result in association in a criminal sub-culture (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). There have been theories that argue that some people are involved in criminal activities as a result of Genetic abnormality. Lombroso which is an advanced idea of atavism claims that criminals represent a savage, which is an earlier form of mankind. Others like Hoorten (1949) stated that there are significant biological differences in criminals and non-criminals (cited in Shoham 2001).
Burglars are said to be short headed, blond haired, and with non-protruding jaws, while Robbers tend to be long wavy haired, with short ears, and broad faced. Some of such researchers have claimed that there are individuals who have inherent criminal traits. This is the reason why it is possible for some students who bully in elementary schools to turn out to be delinquents as they grow. There might be internal attributes in delinquents and criminals that cause them to commit crime (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Macro-level explanation
In contrast, from the macro-level perspective, theorists seek to explain criminal behavior from a social or group perspective. They seek to understand the structural condition and social, communal and organizational variations in the rates of crime among them. For instance, there could be an explanation of why some neighborhoods are prone to crime than others. The simple way of identifying whether a theory is micro- or macro-level is to look at what the theory predicts. In case the expression of crime is in rates, then the theory is macro-level.
This is because it is only a group that has a rate. Many of the theories of crime especially those dealing with psychology and biology explain crime from the individual perspective (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Most of the structural theories in criminology put emphasis on either basic associations without any explanatory context, for example age, race etc, or particular underlying argument that link precursor variables, such as population density, home ownership etc with criminal inclination. Two of the strongest theories under structural theories are control and social disorganization theories.
There are other particular theories under these two larger groups. These theories are related to one another and treat criminal behavior as the unavoidable result of some structural factors (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). The phase between the individual level recruitment in delinquent behavior and the structural engagement of social aggregates in criminal activities is an intermediate one. From the structural point of view, the paper analyses group delinquency or gangs. According to Cloward and Ohlin (1961), there are three types of delinquent sub-cultures.
One of them is a criminal sub-culture that is common in societies or areas where there is a close association between adult and juvenile criminals. This is in line with the argument that there is an intimate link between criminal and conventional factors. These elements result in illegitimate opportunity structures that offer substitute means to achieving objectives. This sub-culture is mostly involved in fencing operations, property, and organized crimes. The second kind of sub-culture is conflict sub-culture that arises in societies or areas where there are no legitimate or illegitimate opportunity structures.
This is mostly common in slum areas, explaining why such areas are prone to gang violence. Such areas can be described as socially disorganized. Failure to have opportunity structures lead to frustrations among youngsters. Criminal acts tend to be violent as the youth are searching for status and reputation. The last kind of sub-culture is retreatist sub-culture that has double failures. It comprises of those who lack both legitimate and illegitimate means of achieving goals. This is similar to the explanation of micro-level delinquency since the youth tend to hold the society for their failure.
The difference here is that the society is truly to blame for the lack of opportunities while in micro-level, it is the individual who refuses to follow the dictates of the society for one reason or another. In order to escape their frustrations, youngsters in such circumstances tend to turn to alcohol and substance abuse leading to other criminal behaviors. This argument is in line with the argument of Merton (1968) involving the difference between social goals and objectives and institutional means for achievement of the goals and objectives (Shoham 2001).
Structural explanation of delinquent gangs can be illustrated from the documentary by the Coroner of Little Rock, Arkansas. This documentary is on the murders by violent gangs in Los Angeles. It is about violent gangs in 1992 and 1993 revealing killings by youngsters whose longing to be incorporated in legitimate structures were frustrated by social lack of opportunities. To vent their frustrations, they resorted to ‘gang banging. ’ They were involved in shooting and killing their rival gang members. The gang banging provided the youths with what they termed as ‘honor’, ‘nation’ ‘love’ and ‘life’.
The youths who revealed more courage in the conflicts were awarded more honors by their peers in the gang. The gangs were referred to as nations which offered meaning to the members which included besides membership, belonging and loyalty impossible for them in the society outside the gang. They believe that they have love since they have each other and their needs are being met in a way that was not possible in the families. They feel comfortable since violence and mistreatment is what they are used to. They come from families where they are mistreated and abused (Weatherburn and Lind 2006).
Economic and social factors can also be used in explaining delinquency and delinquent gangs. There are some societies that have provided the youths with a favorable environment for crime. Some crimes can be related to the belief of Jacob Frank that “to uphold the Torah is to infringe it”. This is in line with the thinking that in a society dominated by evil and crime, the only way to survive is to embrace it. Crime is constructed as a normative system that is opposed to morality and practicing it seems like a norm. The rejection of morality and law makes anything possible and permissible.
Socialization is the key to achieving ego identity. Human beings are always striving to partake an all-encompassing whole. Where one avenue towards this realization is blocked, it seeks another avenue. There are two distinct developmental states: from birth to early orality; and from later orality onwards. During the initial stage, any fixation taking place thereby imprinting characteristics on the developing personality is not listed by a distinct self that is in a position to discern between the elements which are the roots of the fixation-causing trauma, and itself as a receiver.
This is unlike when the same happens during the late orality. During the initial stage, the youngsters get used to the evils of the society since they are introduced to them as norms (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). When the core personality continuum is related to behaviors of groups or cultures, they conform to a social character. The socializing institutions transmit the values and norms of the group, which a person then internalizes. The culture has generalized characters that can be gauged and determined on a set scale. The traits can be associated with the characters of individuals within that culture.
Fromm’s (1973) derives his definition of social character from the fact that: “Systems of child training . . . represent unconscious attempts at creating out of human raw material that configuration of attitudes which is the optimum under the tribes’ particular natural conditions and economic-historic necessities” (cited in Riesman 1950:19). The transmission of social character is through learning and socialization in the community. The social character refers to a psychological type that is revealed by a collectivity, and not by the individuals that comprise it.
A group can implant this social character in an individual, offering a significant connection between phyloGenetic and ontogenetic centers of the character structure. Criminal inclination can thus be imprinted on youngsters through tolerance of the society to evil and immorality (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Economic factors that lead young people to delinquency are the society’s lack of economic strength to achieve the goals set by the society. Some groups within a community have fewer opportunities to enable them to attain the objectives and values that the society has set for them.
These values, goals and objectives are so valued by the society such that youths will do anything possible to achieve them. The main problem is the fact that the youths are not rational enough to compromise and survive without some of these things. Where the youths are in a society where achievement of these goals is impossible through legal means, they seek to achieve them through illegal means (Cloward and Ohlin 1961). The society has insisted on the need to achieve these goals without providing adequate and equitable means of achieving them.
This is the reason why it can be argued that the society or culture leads youngsters into delinquency. There are conventional goals that are set for individuals by the society. However, there is disparity in achievement of these goals. What the lower-class youths are led to want and their ability to achieve is a source of major conflicts of adjustments. Failure to achieve these objectives through legitimate means can lead to delinquency. Cloward and Ohlin (1961) and Cohen (1955) agree on the fact that another key ingredient to delinquent behavior is externalization or internalization of responsibility for inability to achieve goals.
Furthermore, individuals aspire for different levels of societal objectives. Some want to achieve a lot while others comfortable with having a little. Where a youth holds the system responsible for not being in apposition to achieve his objectives, he will be tempted to be a delinquent. The youth might become a delinquent as a way of venting his anger on the system that has come up with the objectives and failed to provide means of achieving such objectives (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Differential opportunity within a community is a major factor that contributes to delinquency.
One of such opportunity is where items are easy targets for thefts. Sometimes a society may present objects in such a position that they are targets for thieves. In such a case, there is no effort that is put in getting such items. In this case, stealing seems to be a normal action and does not seem like a criminal act. There are societies that have presented crime as a preferred livelihood. In this case, youths will be easily swayed to criminal activities because it seems good (Shoham 2001). Differences
Where an individual gets into criminal behavior by acting in the opposite of the social norm, then he or she operates from a micro-level perspective. In contrast, from the macro-level point of view, delinquent acts in line with the social norm in society that is already incline to crime. For instance, Genet acted at a micro-level perspective by defying the culture and striving to rise above it. Where in the case of micro-level the society would be angry with delinquencies, in macro-level perspective the society tends to tolerate the acts since it is the one that is the root cause of the behavior.
Delinquency from a macro-level point of view results to the society being prone to and tolerant of crime. In individual level, it is the individual who is usually inclined to crime (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). While macro-level theories look at the structural features of the entire society that are conducive to crime, micro-level theories focus on the individual as the one with inherent criminal qualities. Macro-level theories are also geared towards the explanation of group or community differences in criminal behavior instead of individual behavior.
While micro-level theories look at the meaning of criminal inclination in interpersonal relations, macro-level theories look for fundamental background in the structural features of wider aggregates like a society (Thornberry 1989). Integrating micro- and macro-level explanations Over the last few decades, theories explaining criminal behavior have increased in diversity. The study of criminology has broadened throughout the behavioral and social sciences and therefore the number of theorists adopting theories are no longer founded in classical vs.
positivist worldviews of human behavior and social interrelations. Criminologists have come up with diverse schools of thought in explaining the causes, effects and treatment of crime in criminal justice systems (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). While the root causes of criminal behavior tend to be diverse, theories in criminology tend to focus on one factor explanatory models. Reliance on these kinds of models leads to theories that explain only a few aspects of the variance in criminal behavior.
The only way to cater for this problem is to come up with an integrated model of micro- and macro-level theories explaining crime and delinquency. The definition of theoretical integration is “the act of combining two or more sets of logically interrelated propositions into one larger set of interrelated propositions, in order to provide a more comprehensive explanation of a particular phenomenon” (Thornberry, 1989, p. 75). Scientific progress in criminology has been hindered by the availability of many theories that compete against each other striving to explain the same kind of behavior.
As a result, the profusion of theories hinders their development by dispersing research attention. Integration will make it possible for research to focus on fewer theories. The current theories are in a position to explain around 20 percent of variance in criminal behavior. This is not enough to support the effectiveness of a theory in terms of prediction, prevention and treatment. Through integration, it is possible to increase the explanation of variance in criminal behavior (Shoham 2001).
The individual perspective in criminology explains delinquency in relation to the mythogenes that are initially implanted in a developing child and which generate with social and economic conditions being available and right, an individual and at times a group that operate in strong terms the myths that structure the wider society. The delinquents and the people who react to them do not understand the difference between their own desire and the structural systems that construct them. Where the society influences the individual into delinquency, then the understanding is on the macro-level perspective.
Delinquents transcend their own psyches for they operate out of their desire in their young minds; a desire structured by the culture they have inherited. The line between individual perspective and structural perspective is not clear in explaining delinquency. Additionally, there are some aspects that are explained in the same way by the two theories. In order to fully understand criminal behavior, there is need to account for individual behavior and the social structure within which crime occurs. There is need to integrate micro- and macro-level theories so as to fully explain the complexity of delinquency in the society.
This integration is important in recognition and reconciliation of inconsistencies of each theory to overcome the flaws in each of them. This means that the integrated model will borrow from the strengths of both levels to come up with a powerful theory in explaining crime and delinquency (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Integration of individual and structural explanations in criminology will take into consideration both micro- and macro-level variables and processes. Focus on behavioral perspectives brings forth another level that has been abandoned in the explanation of criminology, the microsocial level.
This level encompasses both the traits of situations and continuing interrelation processes. This means that there will be a single theory instead of many theories dealing with the same issue. The theory that will be created will be more effective after taking the best of all the others (Weatherburn and Lind 2006). Conclusion This paper discussed macro-level and micro-level theories in explaining delinquency, their differences and prospects of integrating the theories to come up with one that is more effective in covering all the elements of criminology.
Theories explaining criminal behavior from the individual perspective are the ones that are referred to as micro-level theories and seek to explain why some people involve themselves in criminal acts while others do not. The macro-level perspectives otherwise referred to as structural theories seek to explain criminal behavior from a social or group perspective. While structural theories look at the structural features of the entire society, micro-level theories focus on the individual as the one with inherent criminal characteristics.
Macro-level theories are also geared towards the explanation of group or community differences in criminal behavior instead of individual behavior. While micro-level theories look at the meaning of criminal inclination in interpersonal relations, macro-level theories look for fundamental background in the structural features of wider aggregates like a society. There is need to integrate the two theories to borrow the strengths of both while eliminating the weaknesses. All the theories explain the same thing from different perspectives, which is not effective in explaining all the aspects of criminal behavior.
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