- Control theories can be traced back to Hobbes and Aristotle, who state that it is in human nature not to be satisfied, and that crimes
are not always committed out of necessity.
- One of the principle control theorists, Ron Clarke, states that despite its improved theory, it still meets hostility from criminologists.
- The neglect of control theory may be due to the unpopularity in liberal sociological work, which appears to support discipline,
punishment, and regulation.
- Jackson Toby proposed a more sociological version of control theory by asserting that delinquents were distinguished from non-
delinquents by their minimal „stake in conformity‟.
- A lack of conformity and presence of opportunities creates deviance.
- There is a strong connection between control theory and rational choice theories.
Sociological Control Theories of Deviance
The Contribution of Travis Hirschi
- Hirschi states that the common property of control theories is their assumption that „delinquent acts result when an individual‟s bond
to society is weak or broken.
- He specifies four elements of that social bond: attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.
- Commitment signifies that the person invests time, energy, in a certain line of activity, like getting an education.
- Involvement is the behavioural counterpart of commitment – a person who is engaged in conventional activities has little time to
engage in deviance.
- Belief refers to how there is a variation in people‟s values, and they should obey the rules of society.
- These four variables interact to produce an ideal-typical portrait of a non-delinquent who is strongly attached to conventional others,
strongly committed to conventional activities, heavily involved in them, and imbued with a strong belief in the need to obey the rules.
- The conformist is bonded to others; the deviant is not.
- Control theory is interested in why most people DON‟T commit deviance.
- Hirschi‟s study on parental supervision showed that parental supervision is inversely related to delinquency. Parents of non-
delinquents reported higher supervision.
The Contribution of Steven Box
- Steven Box tried to align control theory with labelling theory, and created a delinquency theory that was sensitive to the issue of
- He wanted to find out why social class and ethnicity have such weak links with delinquency in self-report surveys, but such strong
links in official statistics.
- The answer he offers is that the first capture „primary‟ and the second „secondary‟ deviations.
- With official intervention, the more powerful members of society are at an advantage, and as a result, official deviants are
- Motivation to commit deviance is also important for Box compared to earlier control theorists.
- The decision of a person to deviate depends on what he makes of the issue of secrecy, skills, supply, and social and symbolic support.
- Marriage, the onset of work, and military service may be turning points in a person‟s life.
- Conversely, involvement with the criminal justice system and imprisonment may interrupt or undermine a person‟s participation in
stabilizing social environments, stigmatize the offender, and prevent him from returning to the „straight‟ world.
- The criminal justice system can also be criminogenic.
- The appeal of control theory has strong links with the political demise of rehabilitation and the call for a return to sentences based on
- Control theory lends itself to the technology of crime control and agrees that crime is caused by inadequate preventative measure.
This is quite explicit in “situational” control theories.
“Situational” Control Theories
The Contribution of Clarke
- The focus of situational control theories is on the technical, cost-benefit aspects of crime. It has to do with the opportunities of crime
available in the environment and the risks attached to criminal activity.
- In the short term, reducing the opportunities for deviance produces results more quickly than trying to influence psychological events
or social conditions. - Situational crime prevention theories are consistent with a model of the offender as capable of rational choice.
The Economist‟s Angle
- Becker adopted the economist‟s assumptions that people will offend if the utility of doing so exceeds the utility of not doing so.
- He argued that offending was not a matter of motivation, but of costs and benefits weighed by people who choose deviance because
of the benefits it brings the offender.
- Control theory is in line with theories of social learning and rational choice, and it has no difficulty in accepting that the bulk of crime
is committed by people who would not ordinarily be thought of as criminal at all.
- Control theory enriches its possibilities because explanation is focused on the criminal event.
- What Clarke terms „standing decisions‟ can, over time, become changed norms and values.
- Measures for crime prevention have two linked emphases: reducing the physical opportunity for offending, and increasing the risk of
an offender being caught.
- An example of this is “target hardening” (making a desired target harder to manage), which led to a decline in burglaries at
- The most exciting application of this approach is to see the environment as the offenders see it.
- Signs of occupation, surveillance by neighbours, and ease of access are crucially important in the decision to break into a house.
- Neighbours are more important than that police in preventing break-ins.
- The second prong of the preventative approach builds on the assumption that there is a good deal of potential for making use of the
surveillance role of employees who come into regular contact with the public.
- Control theory has translated the physical environment into a terrain patrolled, watched, and guarded by numerous official and
unofficial custodians (Ex. doormen, caretakers, parking lot attendants).
The Contribution of Newman
- Oscar Newman‟s study has been the most discussed theory on the passive controls that can be mobilized by improvements in housing
- The street had evolved as an arena for diverse activities and safe associations, particularly for children at play, the presence of street
vendors, and ease of surveillance from houses and shops.
- The criticism is that high-rise housing complexes have created areas of space of an „indefensible‟ character.
- Another criticism was that Newman was insensitive to the effects of different policing strategies.
- According to Newman, crime can be reduced by redesigning housing complexes so that entrances can be controlled, the movement of
strangers restricted, spatial ambiguity reduced, and monitoring improved.
The Broken-Windows Hypothesis
- The broken windows hypothesis by Jacobs and Wilson argues that broken windows, graffiti, and malicious damage were held to be
the visible and obvious signs of a neighbourhood that was in decay and was open to depredation and about which no one effectively
- Broken windows signified that social control had been eroded as families move out and unattached adults move in.
- The new argument was that intervening in this cycle of communal deterioration by joining local residents with the police in
campaigns to discourage pan-handling and littering could reverse a decline and bring about a reinvigoration of informal social
- Sampson and Raudenbush criticize this whole argument as being tautological and ignoring collective efficacy.
The Idea of Surveillance
- Underlying Foucault‟s metaphor of surveillance is Bentham‟s panopticon, a design for a prison conceived in the late 18 century. th
- The panopticon was meant to be a vast, circular building with cells housing prisoners around its rim, with a dimly lit central tower
with inspectors at its centre.
- The prisoners found it difficult to tell whether there was someone supervising in the tower.
- Also, the introduction of closed circuit televisions around cities was thought to reduce crime rates due to increased surveillance, but
crime is not reduced that easily.
- Two intellectual influences are at work in this new vision of control centered more on „operational efficiency‟.
- The first is the analysis of the partial retreat of a now “hollowed-out” State and its formal agencies of control into core activities
centered on the maintenance of order over especially troublesome groups and areas.
- Surveillance is becoming more diffuse. - The second influence is a growing criminological emphasis on the importance of “risk”. Beck proposed that risks are phenomena
mediated by people‟s dependence on social institutions.
- The control of risk is a new control strategy.
Miscellaneous Theories of a Control Character
- Control has three separate usages in the sociology of deviance.
- First, there are control theories which take control variables of different kinds to be the most significant causes of deviance.
- Second, there is control as a substantive phenomenon in its own right, that is, sanctions that are brought to bear against deviancy.
- Third, there is that aspect that all theories of deviance that deals with control, either implicitly or explicitly. (Ex. labelling theory
views controls that are applied differently as secondary deviation).
- In general, it would be incorrect to call the third set of theories control theories, since the weakness or absence of controls is caused
by adherence to alternative cultures or subcultures, rather than by random events that serve to deregulate individual families.
Psychology and Control
- The archetypal example of psychological theories is Eysenck‟s theory of crime and personality, and its social variant, Trasler‟s
concept of „inadequate socialization‟.
- The main premise of Eysenck‟s theory is that extroverts are more resistant to conditioning than introverts and that in all contexts save
a criminal sub-society, extroverts will tend to be more amenable to criminality than introverts.
- Transler argued that, in addition, the techniques of child socialization employed by lower-class families were less efficient than those
used by the middle class in the reinforcement of inhibition. The typical delinquent on this basis would be the lower-class, neurotic
- Psychological control theories of the kinds first developed by Eysenck have more recently been resuscitated in a new guise, which is
described by some as radical behaviourism sympathetic to rational choice theory.
- Low self control is associated with a lack of discipline, training, or nurturing and those are properties vested in a number of
institutions, including schools, and family.
Feminism and Control
- Feminist criminologists adopting a control perspective retorted that the fact that women commit less crime made them important
analytically, asking how it was that women offended so rarely.
- It was held that differential controls are applied quite differently in private and public space.
- The public sphere is held to be a male preserve, and the less effective formal disciplines exercised there are more likely to propel
young men into the justice system and hence towards secondary deviance.
Routine Activities Theory
- Cohen and Felson founded the routine activities theory and argued that the focus of attention should shift to the ordinary
circumstances of offending and to simply models of rational choice rather than more complicated descriptions of human motive and
- Echoing Hirschi, they hold that the big question is not why people commit deviance, but why everyone does not.
- Unlike situational crime prevention theorists, they are macro-sociological and they concentrate on „broad social trends‟.
- The main tenets of the routine activities theory are: first, that the probability of offending will be affected by the manner in which
„likely offenders‟, „suitable targets‟, and „capable guardians‟ converge in space and time, and secondly, that those factors will reflect
the commonplace structures of social life.
- For example, an increase in the number of cars is liable, not only to expand the number of „suitable targets‟, but also to make it easier
for likely or motivated offenders to travel widely and anonymously, conceal stolen goods, and make a rapid departure.
- Moreover, such increased car ownership will act to spread housing more thinly in space, reduce population density, and lessen the
number of capable guardians who might witness and report suspicious phenomena.
- Cohen and Felson produced a list of propositions: 1) opportunities play a role in causing all crime; 2) crime opportunities are highly
specific; 3) all crime opportunities are concentrated in time and space; 4) crime opportunities depend on everyday movements and
The Problem with Control Theory
- Norms and values cannot easily be reduced to attachments as control theorists contend.
The Problem with Situational Control Theory - Clarke argues that the idea of reducing opportunities merely results in deviance being displaced to some other time or place has been
the major argument against situational crime prevention.
- Most situational theory cannot always explain its findings. It tends to be a one-dimensional sociology that is unable to theorize
motive and meaning, not only in relation to expressive delinquency, but also in regard to deviance in general.
- Ex. both Switzerland and the US have guns in most homes, but there is huge violence only in the US. These differences have nothing
to do with opportunity, but with the overall culture of the two countries.
- There are also dangers that situational crime control may prove self-defeating in unforeseen ways.
- First, as Clarke acknowledges, there is the danger that it acts repressively, excluding particular groups defined as risks from private or
semi-public space and subjecting the population as a whole to surveillance techniques.
- Second, situational prevention may operate regressively as the bill for semi-officialdom to monitor stores, public buildings, and
transport systems is heaped on the consumer regardless of ability to pay.
- Third, it may deflect attention from attempts to make those difficult social and economic changes that control theorists regard as too
remote for contemplation, such as the reduction of inequality.
- In its emergence in the 1970s, the term radical criminology seemed a contradiction in terms. This was because of the concerted
attempt to differentiate criminology from the sociology of deviance.
- The work of Gramsci, Habermas, and Althusser seemed to provide a basis for grasping the „total inter-connectedness‟ of deviance
and capitalist society.
- The appeal of the application of Marxist theory to deviancy studies was also increased by the growing visibility of what came to be
termed “the deviance of the powerful”.
- Marxist theories were ideal for analyzing corporate crime.
The “New” Criminology
- The most vigorous attempt to critique existing approaches by a neo-Marxist alternative occurs in the work of Taylor, Walton, and
- Critical criminology constituted wide range of critiques of traditional approaches to deviance.
- The main criterion by which such approaches were evaluated and found lacking was their capacity to provide a fully „social theory of
- Their own model for a fully social theory is Marxism.
- They took issue with eight major approaches.
- First, with the classical school, they did not think it was capable in reconciling forms of inequality rooted in property relations.
- Second, the „appeal‟ of positivism was viewed in being neutral, but it ignored social factors.
- Theories such as ecology, anomie, and labelling are found lacking in terms of their potential as a basis for a „fully social‟ theory of
deviance, because they dehumanize the deviant or fail to furnish an adequate context of political economy, or both.
- In all of these approaches, partial gains are offset by significant flaws.
- They attempt to synthesize the gains and eliminate the flaws by recovering them for a fully Marxist model of deviance and control.
- The only form of society that holds potential to be crime free is one embodying the principles of “socialist diversity”.
- Socialism entails an absence of material differences and a willed commitment to equality. It removes the rational for property
offences, which constitute a majority of crime in today‟s society.
- “Diversity” entails a commitment to the toleration of minority beliefs and activities which many formally socialist states proscribe,
such as drug use, sexual deviance, and gambling.
The Birmingham School
- The Birmingham School added the important dimension of culture to the study of deviance.
- While its members‟ interests were diverse and embraced the fields of industrial relations, the media, and race relations, the unifying
feature of their work was the reproduction of order in capitalist Britain.
- The Birmingham School held that in a class society, youthful deviance is most profoundly lodged in the refusal to accept relations
with authorities that administer institutions based on a rule-bound set of interests that are ultimately those of the capitalist ruling
- However, these studies took very little note of societal reactions to deviance and of the details of the manifestations, both social and
economic, of the “contradictions of capitalism”.
- In Policing the Crisis, a classic of critical criminology, Hall makes a most ambitious attempt to integrate these various levels of
analysis around the phenomena of mugging. - The study opened with a painstaking examination of the „facts‟ that were held to justify the importation from the US of the term
mugging, to describe cries of robbery with violence in England.
- A „referential context‟ is built up in which the meaning of mugging is taken to be the growing social malaise of the inner city, a
symbol of urban violence long associated with America.
- The orchestration of consensus by police, the media, and judiciary now assumes a vox populi role, in which the media represent the
judiciary as speaking for the public and the judiciary can quote the media as evidence of the strength of public opinion.
- At this point the media, without any recourse to conspiracy, operate as an “ideological State apparatus”.
- The second stage of the analysis concerns the particular response elicited by the case of Paul Storey and two accomplices, who
mugged an elderly man and whose sentences were for 20 and 10 years.
- The English ideology of crime underlines the reaction to mugging.
- Certain key symbols recur: the family, the need for discipline, and the police and the law as guarantors of these core values to which
the working class adhere to as fiercely as others.
- The Black mugger is the perfect “folk devil” and scapegoat for all the social anxieties produced by the change to an affluent but
- Unable to generate a political solution to these problems, the working class response is that of corporate, defensive class
consciousness, regressing to the exclusion and stereotyping of a surrogate enemy.
- If crime is one of the few symbolic sources of unity in an increasingly divided and embittered class society, then the State, faced with
a “crisis of hegemony” will need little incentive to use the “war against crime” as a source of re-legitimation.
- As Policing the Crisis points out, these themes of political and economic crisis, ideological struggle, and race, came together within
an organic conjuncture that was aggravated by the rapid deterioration in Britain‟s economic condition.
- The State‟s main concern was to define the crisis away, and remove the focus on class relations.
- The “politics of mugging” emerged so that policing the Blacks amounted to policing the crisis.
Radical Criminology in America
- In America, like Britain, radical criminology moved from a „radical liberal‟ stance to more thorough commitment to a Marxist
position in the 1970s.
The Contribution of Platt
- Tony Platt was also interested in the relationship between deviance and capitalism, except he dealt with the phenomenon of “street
- He supported the idea that street crime is not simply a by-product of the capitalist mode of production; rather, it is shown to be a
phenomenon widespread to capitalism.
- Platt pointed out that the highest incidence of violent and property crime is among poor and unemployed working class young men.
- The conditions in which crime and deviance was political in the past were destroyed by capitalism.
- “Social banditry” was purged as a form of “expressive deviance” by the new technologies of control and superseded by as a means of
rebellion by the rise of the political organization and the working class movement.
The Contribution of Reiman
- A latter-day “new criminologist” is Jeffery Reiman, who is able to blend the ideas of Taylor, Walton, and Young, Marxism, and the
Birmingham School together.
- In his famous The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, Reiman claims that the American justice system methodically created a
misleading image of the deviant as young, black, working class, and male – an image that filters out the middle class and the white
collar offender via differential treatment.
- The American justice system, argues Reiman, generates and reproduces crime by criminalizing drug use, maintaining recidivist-
producing prisons, neglecting issues of inequality, and stigmatizing offenders so that re-entry to the conventional world is blocked.
- A continuing source of inspiration for Marxist criminologists has undoubtedly been the longer-standing project of socialist historians
to recover what is called “history from below”.
- The focus of such work has been on deviance and resistance to ruling-class power, rather than more predatory victimization.
- Pearson sought to explain violence against ethnic minorities in part by using the same framework: Paki-bashing in the UK is related
to immigrant resentment in taking jobs.
- Mathieson and Fitzgerald saw the prison as a functional and continuing necessity for capitalist society.
- The offences of the powerful and their relative immunity from prosecution and penal sanction were a central theme for Marxist
analysis, though it was first explored by Sutherland. - This argument is based on these propositions
1) White collar crime is real
2) White collar crime differs from lower class crime principalling in the application of the criminal law.
3) The theories of the criminologists that suggest crime is due to poverty or sociopathic conditions associated with poverty
are invalid because they do not apply to white-collar criminals.
4) A theory is needed that will explain both white-collar criminality and lower class criminality.
5) A hypothesis is suggested in terms of differential association and social disorganization.
The Emergence of Left Realism
- In the 1980s, in response to external critics and to a series of changing circumstances, there was a revolution within radical
- Jock Young architected “left realism”, which inserted itself between what was defined as the hysterical overreaction of „law and
order politics‟ and the gross insensitivity to deviance by the left in Britain.
- It is an approach that has had analytic and political promise.
- Young looked for a way to mediate between the political right and left.
- It became less plausible to contend that critical themes were ignored and that the bourgeois sociology of deviance exercised
- On the contrary, sociology was awash with critical argument.
- First, a number of radical theorists discovered that there were new contexts and opportunities for practical engagement.
- Second, left realists who taught social workers and probation officers became bowed down under the repeated retort “if it‟s alright for
you, we‟ll talk”.
- Third, the rise of feminism in the 1970s generated an attack on critical analysis. Feminist criminology identified new topics for
- Left realism then had one beginning in an emphasis on the female victim, and another beginning in victim surveys which made it
clear that it was not the bourgeoisie but the proletariat who were the chief victims of crime.
- Crime surveys became a crime-fighting tool for the left.
- In the “square of crime”, there are four minimal elements necessary for the definition of a crime. In this square, the four corners are
the offender, the victim, police agencies, and the public.
- When an offence is committed, there is a victim who is hurt by the offender‟s action; the offence then elicits a formal response by
agencies of government enforcing the law, and the public sees the act as an offence.
- To produce crime, each of these elements must be present and must interact socially to produce crime.
- Left realists have advocated improved street lighting to reduce crime and the fear of crime, better street design to foil prostitutes, and
better co-ordinated policing.
- They would use crime surveys to establish more effective police priorities.
- Within radical politics, left realism was a new beginning. It has a political agenda, but in its evolution it has become more and more a
practical administrative sociology of the le