Theories in criminology

In the field of criminology, understanding the motivations behind criminal behavior is crucial to developing strategies for preventing crime from occurring in the first place and for responding to it when it does. Numerous theories that attempt to explain why people perpetrate crimes have surfaced over time. Theoretical approaches have been continuously investigated both singly and in combination in an effort to find ways to lower crime rates and various types of crime.

David, an artist who came from a low-income background, made a livelihood by copying and selling the works of art and paintings of others. Most of the paintings he sold had the signatures of the artists were in the art many people thought it was original and fell for the scam. In 1966 one of the owners of the paintings saw paintings in New York City which had his name. He immediately knew the paintings were not his. He informed the police about his discovery. David was arrested and spent 23 years in prison. But after serving his imprisonment term, he continued selling fake paintings art.

A tycoon called Howard was the victim of forgery because of his high standard of living he became an easy target Clifford who was an ordinary man who was trying to make end meet. Clifford contacted a publishing company and told them he had a letter with Howard signature giving him permission to write Howard's story. A huge company paid Irving $765,000 to writing the book. Irving bravely started writing it not knowing that Howard will never know since he had a mental illness and that he never went anywhere. He was shocked some years later when Howard knew what was going on. Irving was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Social Disorganization Theory

Social disorganization theory of crime was started by Clifford X. Shaw and Henry W. McKay through research which was conducted in Chicago in 1942. The theory suggests that disorganized communities are characterized by low income which leads to poverty and weakened social stability. The theory also tried to explain the significant ratio of crime that happened in neighborhoods in Chicago. The founders of this theory realized that the crime rates were high and they only existed in some parts of Chicago for a particular period in spite of the changes in the racial and ethnicity composition of these neighborhoods. This discovery contributed to the belief that areas ecological conditions determine the rates of crime over the characteristics residents (Social Disorganization Theory).

The pioneers of the theory come up with the following assumptions

The collapse of community-based controls and individuals who live in poverty stricken areas naturally respond to their surrounding conditions.

The significant development of the movement of people in the poor urban area of immigration in urban disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The businesses that are close to the poor communities are influenced by the "ecological approach" of competition and dominance.

Poverty stricken urban neighborhoods has led to emergence of criminal beliefs that have replaced societal values

Recent studies have suggested that this theory continues to domineer in giving the impact of neighborhoods attributes especially poverty racial/ethnic residential mobility on the number of crimes. The social disorganization theory has been used in analyzing the criminal behavior.

Application of the theories

Social disorganization theory

The theory applies to the crimes of forgery mentioned; many people in disorganized communities look for the easiest way to make many so that they can alleviate their lives. Most of the fraud crimes happen in areas where there are weakened society structures and also there is decay in the societal values and beliefs.

Social disorganization theory explains that there are several other factors impacts a community's ability to grow and have stable structures of social relationship. Clifford who lived in the low-income area and an ordinary man wanted to make his life better, but in his community, he was not able to engage in the legal way of earning a living. Therefore he resorted in forging Howard's signature so as to make money and change his lifestyle.

This theory is applied in the area that experience socioeconomic hardships and great mobility among residents. These neighborhoods are disadvantaged and most of the time people move out of this area as soon as they can, but also they are immediately replaced by someone else who is new in the area. The result of this scenario is over and above the ethnic mixture that is constantly on the move. These areas lack conventional structures that are responsible for providing social guidance, such as community organizations, churches, schools and stable families. These areas also require a social structure that gives directions to the young people who always end up committing crimes.

In the recent past, scholars of this theory have employed new ways of obtaining data including the use of surveys. However, use of individual thought and behavior attention turned more to own thought and behavior processes which are opposed to group dynamics.

The Strain Theory

The strain theory was developed by Robert K Merton in 1957. The theory suggests that the society exerts pressure on people to achieve socially accepted goals even though there are no resources to do so (Stress and strain theories which may lead people to crime, 2015). With these individuals in the society may result in people to committing crimes so as to keep up with the societal expectations. People may decide to start selling drugs or engage in prostitution so as to be financially secured. The societal strains are:

Structural: It refers to the system at the societal level that influences how people see their needs.

Individual: These are the resistance and pains that people go through as they try to look for means to cater for their needs.

Strain theory states that people use crime to move away from the strain or use crime to pursue against the source of the strain revenge. Individuals may also use crime to reduce their negative emotions. For Instance, people who are unemployed may engage in theft or start selling drugs for them to get a source of livelihood and start using drugs for them to feel better (Crime Causation: Sociological Theories - Strain Theory - Delinquency, People, Money, and Negative).

The strain theory has developed several other theories that explain why people commit crimes

General strain theory (GST): This theory was developed by Robert Agnew in 1992. The basis of this theory was that individuals who experience strain became upset and if the strain persists, they eventually commit the crime to cope with the situation. The principle in this theory is that people's emotions lead to committing. The fundamental of this theory is that emotion influence one to commit a crime.

Application of the theory

The strain theory can be applied in the two crime scenarios of forgery. The society expects individuals to work hard to that they can make money to sustain them, but when they can't find a means to get the money they resort to crime such as forgery. Money is needed to buy anything that one needs in life and also expensive items. When all this pressure of wanting to live a better lifestyle increases, and there is no money to lead such life, many people prefer to get money through an illegal channel by committing crimes. This is true for people living in poverty and also those in the middle-class level of living of whom the society has given them high expectation about life. As a result, these people encounters stress in their day to day life which in turn make them attempt to get money through crime so as to sustain their lives. In the mentioned crime scenario of forgery of artwork,

Cheating in an exam can be used as an example to explain a strain theory whereby college students are required to get good grades and eventually graduate. This is a culturally considered goal for every college student, and for them to achieve these goals they are expected to study hard and do a lot of learning which is also a culturally valued goal consider a simple act of student deviance: stealing an exam. All college students are entitled to get excellent grades that will make them graduate, and this should be their culturally-valued goals. They are meant to do this by studying hard and learning lots other culturally valued goals. When the students are not able to achieve these goals some may decide just to continue going to class even though they know they will not get good grades, some choose to give up with college education altogether. Some students will still want to achieve these goals but decide that they will pass their exams by all means and they do this by cheating in exams.

David wanted to get money from art but did not have the resources to do his paintings making him forge other people's artwork which resulted to him being imprisoned. Though David served many years in jail, he still continued selling fake art so as to earn a living out of paintings.

Another reason why people engage in crime is the desire for status and respect from the community. This often leads to individuals committing crimes so as to earn money which in turn makes them gain respect in the community because people want to be noticed, regarded and highly respected by others.

Strengths and weaknesses of the theories

One of the strengths of the strain theory is it covers a larger scope, unlike other theories which include a particular reason why people commit the crime. When comparing the two theories in this paper, social disorganization theory focuses on the structure of the society and that individuals in that society are living in poverty. The theory also argues that the social structures in the community are weak which implies that there is no adherence to law and order in that community. While strain theory suggests that people commit crime because they are forced to by the pressure, they experience trying to make a living, but they lack the resources to do so. In this theory, people are driven by emotions thus leading people to commit the crime.

One of the strengths of Social disorganization theory is this theory can be used in research to examine the effects community disorganization and also help to come up with solutions that will contribute to reducing crime in the society. This theory also helps in identifying the weakness and need of the people in the different disorganized communities (Social disorganization theory).

One of the weaknesses of this theory is that it concentrates only on structural factors that lead people to commit crimes is that it ignores other factors such as race and politics.

The strain theory focuses on the general strain on both people lower and middle class and can be easy to subscribe due to its broad scope rather than just focusing on the people living below the poverty line. One of the strengths of the strain theory is that it brings out the relationship between anger that is caused by the strain and the criminal activity committed. However, this theory fails to explain why some individuals may go through pressure but will resort to not engaging in crime.

General Strain Theory ignores other factors that may influence people to commit the offense such as area neighborhoods' ethnicity and only focus on the people emotions. The Strain Theory is incomplete on its own but can be put together with other theories so as to be helpful other reasons why people engage in crime (Stress and strain theories which may lead people to crime, 2015)


Crime Causation: Sociological Theories - Strain Theory - Delinquency, People, Money, and Negative - JRank Articles. Retrieved from Theories-Strain-theory.html#ixzz4axfONk1z

Social Disorganization Theory. Retrieved from

Social disorganization theory: The role of attenuated culture on crime. Retrieved from

Stress and strain theories which may lead people to crime (2015). Retrieved from

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