Understanding the Similarities to Strain Theory and General Theory of Crime

In my research I found that the strain theory has many components. Strain theory was developed from the work of Durkheim and Merton and taken from the theory of anomie. Durkheim focused on the decrease of societal restraint and the strain that resulted at the individual level, and Merton studied the cultural imbalance that exists between goal and the norms of the individuals of society. Anomie can be broken down into two levels. The first of these levels is the macroside of anomie, which is manifest in the inability of society to set limits on goals and regulate individual conduct.

The microside of anomie, also known as strain theory, is focused on the reasons behind the increased likelihood of deviance that results from the breakdown of society. According to this microside of anomie, the decrease in societal regulations creates an increase pressure to commit deviant acts. (Agnew, 1992) Robert Agnew’s revisions of the strain theory address many of the criticisms of the original strain theory. According to the original strain theory, an increase in aspirations and a decrease in expectations should lead to an increase in delinquency; however, this was not found to be the case.

Also, the original strain theory predicted a concentration of delinquent behavior in the lower class, but research proved that delinquency was also common in the middle and upper classes. Other variables are also neglected by this theory of strain, such as the abandonment of crime in late adolescence and the quality of family relationships. Agnew broadened the scope of strain theory to include many more variables that addressed the criticisms of the original strain theory.

He attempted to explore strain theory from a perspective that accounted for goals other than money and that considered an individual’s position in social class, expectations for the future, and associations with criminal others. Agnew’s general strain theory is based on the general idea that “when people are treated badly they may get upset and engage in crime”. The general strain theory identifies the ways of measuring strain, the different types of strain, the link between strain and crime, and policy recommendations based on the theory. (Agnew, 1992) There are three major types of strain according to general strain theory.

They are the failure to achieve positively valued goals, the loss of positive stimuli, and the presentation of negative stimuli. The first strain results from an individual’s failure to achieve positively valued goals. Agnew noted that there are three different types of goals for which members of the society strive. The first of these is money. Money is a cause of strain when it is not available to the individual through legitimate means. Agnew found that monetary strain was related to crime in a limited fashion, and that the previous studies may not be accurately measuring all aspects of monetary goal blockage.

The findings from this study do seem to confirm that delinquents desire to gain large amounts of money. (Agnew, 1996). Another type of positively valued goal is that of status and respect. This is an especially important factor in regard to masculine status. This type of status differs culturally, but in order for an individual to prove their masculinity, they may resort to crime to achieve that status. Traits that are associated with masculinity are often displayed through criminal behavior.

Autonomy, the power over oneself, is the third type of goal that s valued in a society. Strain induced by autonomy mainly affects adolescents and the lower class because of their position in society. Agnew proposed that the need for autonomy can result in delinquency and crime, as the individual tried to assert autonomy, achieve autonomy, and relieve frustration against those who have denied the individual autonomy (Agnew, 1992). Strain from the outside environment can cause many negative feelings in an individual including defeat, despair, and fear, but the feeling that is most applicable to crime is anger (Agnew, 1992:59).

Agnew asserted that individuals become angry when they blame their negative circumstances and relationships on others (Agnew, 1992:59). Anger was found to incite a person to action, lower inhibitions, and create a desire for revenge (Agnew, 1992:60). Anger and frustration may also enable the individual to justify crime (Agnew, 1995b:390). Agnew especially stressed that individuals who are subject to repetitive strain may be more likely to commit crime or delinquent acts (Agnew, 1992:60).

This is due to the fact that other coping strategies for the strain are taxed, the threshold for negative relations is pushed to the limit, the individual may become hostile and aggressive, and the individual at any time may be high in negative arousal (Agnew, 1992:61).. In essence, general strain theory proposed that an increase in strain would lead to an increase in anger, which may then lead to an increase in crime (Agnew, 1992:61). These previously mentioned goals turn into strain when the individual is faced with certain disjunctions in their life.

The first of these disjunctions is the one that is the focus of previous strain theories, the disjunction between aspirations and expectations. This is founded on the principle of culturally bound goals and values that are accepted by everyone but yet not available to everyone. This idea of the American Dream then causes strain and frustration in the individual who cannot achieve this dream through legitimate means. This theory has been criticized because it does not explain middle class crime, it only focuses monetary goals, social class is the only barrier that is considered, and it does not specify why some turn to deviance.

The loss of positively valued stimuli Agnew’s research in the stress literature led him to the discovery that the removal of positive stimuli can also cause strain. This loss could manifest itself in the form of a death or a broken relationship with a friend or romantic partner, or it could be a result of the theft of a valued object. According to Agnew, the strain that is felt by the individual die to the loss could lead the individual to delinquency as the individual attempts to prevent its loss, retrieve what was lost, or seek revenge on those who removed the positive stimuli (Agnew, 1992).

The presentation of negative stimuli According to Agnew (1992), this type of strain had been largely left out of criminology. However, some research has been done on adolescent pain-avoidance behavior and the inability of juveniles to legally avoid noxious stimuli. Some examples of negative stimuli that an adolescent might face are child abuse, neglect, adverse relations with parents and teachers, negative school experiences, adverse relations with peers, neighborhood problems, and homelessness. Agnew, 1992) In my next research I found that the General Theory of Crime Came from Professor Travis Hirschi one of the most notorious Control Theorists. He enriched the field of criminology with his significant studies and his outstanding work for over several decades. In 1990 Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi wrote the book “A General Theory of Crime”.

Compared to the originally presented control theory over twenty years earlier, this one is a more refined version of this theory. LaCunninghamst, 2006) In the theoretical framework of self-control theory, the primary concept merges in the theoretical fields of control theory with rational decision, routine activities, and biological and psychological explanations. Integral to their explanation is that deviancy and deviant behavior are different concepts. People who engage in defying acts are seen as having low self-control. They engage in many conventional behaviors, but due to low self-control, they are predisposed to committing deviancy if opportunities arise.

This explanation explains all types of deviant behavior. Wikstrom &Treiber, 2007) According to Gotfredson and Hirschi, the causes of deviancy are impulsive personalities, low self-control, weakened social bonds, and criminal opportunities. An impulsive personality is developed by certain biological and psychological factors. Low self-control is a product of impulsive personality combined with social factors such as deviant parents and poor supervision. Weakened social bonds are the product of low self-control and the subsequent development of alternative attachments, involvements, commitments, and beliefs.

This more practical theory evolved to affirm that self-control is the general concept around which all of the known facts about crime can be organized the definition of crime according to the authors is “Acts of force or fraud undertaken in pursuit of self-interest”. A person’s likelihood to engage in criminal activity or not can supposedly is explained through low self-control, the same way high self-control explains an individual’s tendencies of conforming to social norms and laws. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) The concept of self-control is not deterministic.

The authors noted that people involved with crime also exercise resembling behaviors that provide short-term gratification. Some examples of risky related behaviors are drug abuse, tobacco use, gambling, excessive drinking, irresponsible sex, dangerous operation of motor vehicles. These kinds of behaviors may be noticeable in criminal’s individuals who seek thrills and enjoyment. (LaCunninghamst, 2006). One out of the six elements of self-control presented by Gottfredson and Hirschi states that crimes require little skill or planning.

This is undoubtedly food for criticism due to the fact that many criminals do plan their criminal acts and often are quite professional at these activities. In fact there have been many notorious criminals of above average of higher intelligence who showed extreme skills in planning and analyzing the criminal acts they were about to commit. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) It is more likely that an abused and neglected child will show more impulsive, insensitive, physical (as opposed to mental), risk-taking, short-sighted, and nonverbal tendencies and leans more towards the analogous criminal acts outlined above.

Travis does not mention or even to consider the fact that according to medical studies, 6-9% of the children are suffering from a disorder called Attention-Deficiency-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD). This genetic disorder shows the exact same characteristics than Hirsch’s idea of a neglected or abused child. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) Parents need to apply appropriate positive and negative reinforcement methods and conduct proper supervision. This will – according to the theorists, help their children to develop the self-control needed in order to make the right decisions in life and resist the temptations offered by crime.

A child with the right amount of self-control and social skills is much more likely to succeed in the future. The Self-Control Theory believes that parental incompetence complements the inability of a community to monitor the behavior of its residents. It was suggested by Hirschi that laws will continue to fail their purpose as a deterrence or rehabilitation method. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) Gottfredson and Hirschi believe that a child growing up under those unwanted family conditions are much more likely to develop characteristics such as Impulsivity, Insensitivity, Immediate gratification and Adventuresomeness.

According to the two theorists evidence of these traits early in life can be used to predict any kind of crime. If those characteristics in a child are not prevented it will – again according to the theory, most likely develop into shortsightedness, inability to profit, poor judgment and miscalculation of pain. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) Those in Hirschi’s mind the fruits of low self-control and the involvement in crime. So either through criminal engagement or theoretically equivalent events, such as financial ruin, these low Self-control traits is determined for failure.

The whole argument is compatible with the social contract assumption that everyone has equal chances for ruin or failure. The idea that a criminality is forever because a person does not simply outgrow of criminality is not quite understandable to me. In my opinion the low self-control theory is a pessimistic and mechanic theory. It almost seems that there is nothing society can do about it except to take on the task of early traits detection selective incompetence. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) Discussion The main cause from Hirschi’s contribution to the world of criminology has made a significant impact.

He believed in the idea that weak social bonds may set an individual free to assess the benefits of crime. A General theory of crime presents a more specific control theory that recognizes self-control, rather than societal control, as the root of criminality or conventionality. Parental upbringing is greatly emphasized as it is the source of socialization that inserts self-control in a child, though other factors play an elemental role in the process of proper or improper socialization. Despite all the criticism his two major theories, the control theory of delinquency and self-control theory, are quite popular to this day.

Overall, Hirschi’s contributions to the field of criminological thought have been significant and are worth consideration. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) The results indicate that (1) both stability and change have causal implications for one’s offending behavior and (2) with but one exception, these effects do not vary between high and low criminal propensity groups. (Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub, 2003) According to the authors children with behavioral problems are more likely to become problem teenagers and eventually adult offenders.

They stated that criminal tendencies are created very early in a child’s life and that the level of self-control depends on the quality of parenting in a child’s early years. Gottfredson and Hirschi are indicating that parenting is the most important factor when it comes to establishing self-control. (LaCunninghamst, 2006) Recent research has found that this traditional view of strain theory is not as applicable to criminality as other theories such as control and differential association theory (Burton, Cullen, Evans, and Dunaway, 1996).

Due to these problems, the general strain theory continues to cite other sources of strain that can be applied to a broader aspect of an individual’s life. Another source of strain due to goal blockage is the disjunction between expectations and actual achievements. This disjunction rests on the outcome of an individual’s behavior. Strain is increased when the actual achievements of an individual are less than that which the individual had expected (Agnew 1992). The third type of disjunction occurs when the actual outcome that an individual faces is not the just/fair outcome that he/she felt was deserved.

Individuals do not need to have a specific outcome in mind, but based on their input, they have an idea of what would be a fair outcome. This leaves room for social comparisons for individuals to judge their inputs and outcomes against those of others (Agnew, 1992). Conclusion When we look at several lines of theory—utilitarian/deterrence, behavioral psychological accounts, rational choice, and social learning—share the basic premise that people are always striving to maximize benefits and rewards, while minimizing costs or problems.

In learning theories, however, when an action produces more reward than cost, it is repeated and is thereby said to have been reinforced. Through repetition and continuous reinforcement, patterns of behaviors become fixed and predictable. And sometimes when reinforcements are paired with verbal or other kinds of stimuli, certain attitudes, skills, and values are also learned so that they then activate the behaviors connected with them.

The primary concept merges in the theoretical fields of control theory with rational decision, routine activities, and biological and psychological explanations in the differences in criminal behavior among individuals. The modifications in crime at different times in the lifecycle. With the differences in crime rates among societies, cities, communities, neighborhoods, or other sociopolitical units, and the differences among social situations in criminal outcomes.

Such theories the reinforcement values of different acts and reactions may depend on concepts of equity and justice as well as on the actual distribution of rewards and costs within a given social environment suggest that to explain and predict criminal behavior; one has only to understand the pattern and extent of reinforcement to which a person has been exposed. But understanding reinforcement histories requires knowing the things that gratify or cause pain for an individual in various contexts. When you bring all these theories together they are basically explaining how they coincide with one another.