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Lecture 4

Sociology 2267A/B Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Travis Hirschi, General Strain Theory, Michael R. Gottfredson

Course Code
SOC 2267A/B
Tara L Fidler- Bruno

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Lecture 4: New Theoretical Perspectives
- Until recently, explanations of youth crime were dominated by theoretical perspectives
such as strain, differential association, social control, and labelling
- Past two decades have seen new and more complex theoretical perspectives:
o General theory of crime
o General strain theory
o Age-graded theory of social control
o Control balance theory
o Differential coercion theory
The General Theory of Crime: Self control
- Outlined by Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi (1990)
- Focuses on the key concept of self-control, the ability to restrain oneself from momentary
- Underline principle: as human beings we want to pleasure pleasure and avoid pain, some
people are less able to resist temptations these people can be characterized by low self-
- Six characteristics of low self-control
Characteristics of Low Self-Control
1. Impulsivity: make decisions without thinking, very little foreword thinking, doesn’t
matter whether or not its criminal, just do it response
2. Lack of Diligence: try to take quickest path to destination even if the long-term
consequence is negative, take the path that is the least difficult, ex: cheating on a test
instead of studying
3. Risk-taking: things that are adventurous, the thrills, the excitement, doing things without
having consideration or concern about the safety of what you’re doing – different kinds
of acceptable, not a problem: skiing, negatively: gambling. Set values on what adventure
and thrills are allowed
4. Physicality: physical elements, whether or not they have the strength, fast enough,
capacity of actually hurting somebody
5. Insensitivity: doesn’t care about the feeling or property of others, only concerned about
their own gratification
6. Low Frustration Tolerance: people get angrier easier, people without this characteristic
let it go
- These characteristics aren’t biological things they are social things
o Low self-control: mental disorders ADHD, make sense of who is going to be a
criminal, criminalize a vulnerable set of the population
- These characteristics can be taught
Causes of Variation in Self-Control
- Low self-control is the result of an absence of training or infective or incomplete
- We must teach self-control to young people
- Teaching self-control requires that caregivers:
o Monitor a child’s behaviour: something we can do socially

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o Recognize characteristics of low self-control
o Sanction and correct behaviours
- Child-rearing can be undermined in a variety of ways
- Low self-control difficult to alter after ages 8-10
o Controversial
o Duty as a parent to focus on children, after these ages’ things can’t be altered
o We continue our socialization through our life course
- Theory is limited in its ability to explain its social process
- Important: convenience and opportunity
o Need opportunity and it needs to be a convenient opportunity
o Crime can’t happen without convenience
The General Theory of Crime
- Doesn’t explain shit
General Strain Theory
- Focuses on emotions and how other things can influence
- Outlined by Robert Agnew (1992, 2001)
- Focuses on emotional reactions to negative situations and details how other factors can
influence people in their choice to cope with strain through criminal or noncriminal
- Identifies three broad types of strain that result from people’s negative relationships
with others and that are thought to lead to crime
o Believed to be the reason why people engage in crime or how they cope with it
Types of Strain
1. Failure to achieve goals: (1) having certain aspirations you want to achieve (2) having
expected achievements and they don’t match up with actual ones (3) just/fair outcomes
and the actual outcomes hardest one to deal with (parents’ perspective) world is not fair
so it’s hard to explain, work so hard but don’t get what you were hoping to achieve out of
2. Removal of positive stimuli: imagine or anticipate it happening and that’s enough to
produce and emotional response when something you really value gets taken away, you
experience strain, ex: losing a parent, a breakup
3. Presentation of negative stimuli: actual or anticipated, ex: experiencing child abuse,
negative school environment, bullying, being victimized
- Allows us to experience the strain, doesn’t explain the crime
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