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Social Theories of Crime in Explaining Gang Violence Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jan 19th, 2020


A social theory is a correlation of principles in helping to understand social life. These theories are meant to be used as models to explain human behavior in relation to other forces. The frameworks in which the social theories are applied are founded on quantifiable social facts which can be tested scientifically.

It is the role of criminological theorists to collect data, build a hypothesis and eventually put them to test empirically. For a social theory to be valid, the hypothesis stipulated should be in line with research data. Innovative methods are sometimes used by criminal theorists to evaluate the validity of a social theory.

For instance criminologists could compare the effect of adding enforcement party in a particular field such as the National Hockey League. As the referees are increased in the field the number of penalties decreases. This could be compared to the crime sector where increasing the number of police decreases the crime rate in a given area (Siegel, 2009).

Disorganization theory

The theory deals with the surroundings in urban life in relation to rates of crime. The urban environment may be somewhat disorganized since the social entities such as schools, businesses and family setups are not discrete hence fail to function as required. Lack of jobs, inadequate schooling, poor housing, low earnings, and high number of illegitimate children characterize the state of social disorganization.

Those living under such conditions go through conflicts and desperation which leads to engagement in antisocial activities (Siegel, 2009). Gang violence results from such a set up where the rising cost of urban life dictates engagement in such activities as commercial prostitution.

Strain theory

According to Siegel, “strain theory holds that crime is a function of the conflict between the goals which people have and the means they can use to obtain them legally” (2009). For instance, many people aspire to acquire wealth, fame and power although their capabilities depends on class and those of lower class struggle to acquire their desires conventionally. As a result, they are filled with frustration, desperations and prejudice or what is described as strain.

They either become socially responsible by learning to live under their state or else could opt to engage in other socially unacceptable ways to acquire their desires e.g. through burglary, drug cartels or other violent activities just like in the disorganization theory (2009).

Cultural Deviance

This theory incorporates the strain theory as well as the social disorganization it points out that as a result of strain and societal segregation there is a particular culture that establishes for the low income earners in the disorganized setups. Therefore, specific aspects of this culture contradict with the ordinary social norms.

Criminal behavior accelerates in this neighborhood which is a way to conform to their practices and not a way to rebel from the societal norms. These practices are reflected into the upcoming generations through cultural transmissions (Siegel, 2009). In disorganized social setups, juveniles acquire criminal practices when they associate with gang members or even their older family members.

As a result, criminal traditions are retained in these social setups and even continue reinforcing them by mastering the art. The criminal traditions compete with the accepted social norms and outdo them thus the morally degraded practice is handed over from one generation to the next.

There is coherence in the practices in the disorganized neighborhoods and young children readily learn them as they interact socially thus high rates of gang violence. On the other hand, organized areas are characterized by convectional practices and are somehow insulated from external influence (Lillly et al, 2011).

Differential Association

The theory was proposed by Edwin Sutherland to point out the diffusion of delinquency. He stated that criminal activities are learnt in a social context. Individuals learn moral or immoral acts as they intimately interact with other individuals who belong to a particular group.

As learning occurs, there is transmission of immoral behaviors from the immoral persons and given the opportunity, an individual has a choice to act as such ( Winfree & Abadinsky, 2010). The theory emphasizes that those people conversant with the law are more likely to engage in criminal acts.

According to the theory, illegal behaviors are learnt in a similar way as learning of any other social behavior. Therefore criminal behavior expresses general requirements and principles hence, is wrong to conclude that criminal behavior such as gang violence results from general requirements and principles (Payne, 2005).

Techniques of Neutralization

According to Hagan, techniques of neutralization “refer to rationalizations or excuses that juveniles use to neutralize responsibility for deviant actions. In drift situations offenders can lessen their responsibility by exaggerating normal legal defenses (for example, shelf-defense or insanity) or by pointing to the subterranean values prevalent in the society” (2010).

They include; rejection of accountability e.g. where an offender appeals on family issues, economic constrains among others. The offender may also reject having done harm to someone for instance, by stating that taking drugs only harms him and others should not be concerned.

Another way of expressing techniques of neutralization is refusing to accept an offence since the assault was subjected to another criminal and thus was justified. It could also take the form where an offender condemns the legal system for instance by ascertaining that the judicial system is highly corrupt and is not worth to execute any judgment.

Finally, an offender may as well appeal to the judicial system claiming that he committed the crime to defend a gang or other people nearby (Hagan, 2010).

Social Bond Theory

The theory was put forward by Travis Hirschi and points out that delinquency occur if an individual’s bonds to a social entity deteriorate which declines the stake of the individual to conform. People conform to social norms because they fear that failure to do so may break the relationships with the society.

They thus are forced to conform not due to the legal inflictions that may arise but because they want to retain their image as required by the friends, peers, and family. The societal bonds comprise “attachment, commitment, involvement and belief” (Hagan, 2010).

Attachment is the bond towards significant institutions and other people. For instance, if an individual poorly relates to the family members, the character growth may be impaired and if there is poor relationship with a social institution such as a school, delinquency develops.

Commitment means the level of maintaining attention to the social-economic entity. If a person highly regards his position in the society or his career, there is a less likelihood for him being involved in crime.

Involvement encompasses being a contributor in rightful leisure and communal activities that consumes most of personal time thus, less chances to be involved in crime and therefore an individual preserves the personal image. Lastly, belief is the society’s ordinary practices stipulated by the law. These factors are dependent upon an individual’s exercise of freewill (Hagan, 2010).

Social Reaction Theory (Labeling Theory)

The theory explains the origin of continued delinquent actions as the societal communications and encounters similar to social bond theory. Therefore, illegal engagements are stipulated by social spectators’ reaction as opposed to the ethical substance of the unlawful operation.

The society may label an individual negatively and thus the judicial system as well. The person labeled is stigmatized and the society responds negatively which accelerates the immoral behavior of the person. Publicly revealing an act and labeling it delinquent causes the person to proceed with the deeds since he internalizes the traits that others anticipate of him (Laura & Zilney, 2009).

For instance, a young boy is termed as delinquent because he is defined by others as such and not because he acted unlawfully. This means that an act becomes delinquent due to the fact that others view it as ethically incorrect (Siegel & Welsh, 2009).


Hagan, F.E. (2010). Introduction to Criminology: Theories, Methods, and Criminal Behavior.7 Ed. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Laura J. Z and Zilney L. A. (2009). Perverts and predators: the making of sexual offending laws. United Kingdom: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Lilly, R. J., Cullen F. T, and Ball R.A. (2011). Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. 5 Ed. California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Payne, K.B. (2005). Crime and elder abuse: an integrated perspective. 2 Ed. Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Siegel, L. J. (2009). Criminology: Theories, Patterns and, Typologies.10 Ed. Belmont: Thomson Learning, Inc.

Siegel, L. J. and Welsh B. C. (2009). Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

Winfree, L. T. Abadinsky, H. (2010). Understanding Crime: Essentials of Criminological Theory. 3 Ed. Belmont: Cengage Learning

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