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This is your answer to one of your criminology masters assignments...
HAHA, let's see if this goes over like a lead balloon.
Identify two criminological theories covered in this course that operate at multiple levels of analysis. Compare and contrast those theories with respect to how well they explain criminality at the different levels. Which theory do you think is more effective at this task? Why?
The challenge to traditional and modern criminology theories is their ability to explain deviance and criminality at the various micro and macro levels of analysis. A true test of any scientific theories’ validity is its ability to be “scaled” up or down. Many traditional scientific theories often use ratio analysis for this purpose. By definition, ratios are truisms that are devoid of measurement scale and are valid regardless of the body of evidence being tested. In modern engine mechanics, Air to Fuel ratios (AFR’s) are measured in relation to vehicle performance. This is an example of a theory that bridges the micro and macro levels, an AFR of 12:1 indicates 12 molecules of air meet 1 molecule of fuel, or 12 pounds per minute of air meet 1 pound per minute of fuel. Regardless of the measurement scale, an AFR of 12:1 will always indicate the same engine performance phenomenon known as rich best torque (RBT) or the highest fuel ratio that will retain the best torque value for any engine (Hartman, 2004, P. 122).
Social scientific theories seek to achieve the same level of empirical study that can be scaled to a ratio. The holy grail of Criminological theories would provide a Crime to Person Ratio (CPR) in regards to individualistic theories or a Crime to Income Ratio (CIR) if using a social process theory. These ratios would hold true for a family, neighborhood, state and country with almost zero deviation. The problem with implementing such a theory is the variables measured. In the AFR example, the variables are finite, causal; time sequenced and lacks almost any spuriousness. The fact that criminology theories cannot be measured as such is due to the sheer number of variables, both social and psychological (Bernard, 2010, P. 354).
The challenge can be demonstrated with both the Strain Theory and Thornberry’s Interactional Theory. Durheim’s initial formulation of strain theory known as the Human Ecology Theory focused on the macro level. Classical strain theory maintained that rapid social changes created more crime due to the breakdown of social controls (Bernard, 2010, P.133). Until these normalizing controls were replaced crime would rise, and once the society’s upheaval normalized, it would subside. If strain theories postulations were correct, a Crime to Strain ratio (CSR) could theoretically be created.
Durheim’s successor Bennet did in fact make a similar observation, if Durheim were true “the rate of increase in crime would be directly proportional to the rate of growth in society” (Bernard, 2010, P.126). This was disproven by Bennet, especially in regards to violent crime; there was some support for the causal relationship between strain and property crime, but not violent crime when economic inequality was also added to the theory (Bernard, 2010, P.126). As these theories become more descriptive and trend toward integration, they become much more difficult to measure and the causal relationships become so complex they are all but impossible to prove.
Cohen adapted Durheim’s strain theories to explain delinquency in boys; specifically gangs. His micro level theory centered on the subculture of young, lower income people (typically male) who’s life goals of becoming middle class was left unfulfilled. This creates strain as they see an almost taunting aspect to their lives that they are exposed to a respectful and middle class lifestyle and denied the ability to achieve it. This strain manifested in two deviant ways; one lead the individual into a life of productive crime whereby they acquire the trappings of the middle class illegally, and two to reject the goals themselves and seek out a hierarchy within a deviant society rejecting the outside world (Cullen, 2011, P.176).
Cohen’s version could be scaled as well; at the macro level this theory can be applied to deviant nations, which leads to various “gangs” outside the mainstream. Iran, WW2 Nazi Germany, the modern Middle East and Panama under Noriega are all good examples of this phenomenon. Iran has continually rebuffed any efforts to improve their global standing in no small part because to exercise power of their people, the leaders have rejected everything western and invoked a gang-like mentality in order to retain power. This is very similar to Germany, Panama and the Middle East all of whom were at one time defined by their anti-Americanism / anti-Westernism. By rejecting western values and substituting their own, they were able to gain status among their people rather than worry about losing status among the nations of the world. The more they defy international pressure and sanctions, the stronger the bond seemed to be between members of these national gangs.
Strain theory and deviant behavior is a viable theory at both micro and macro levels. It is however, better suited to the micro level as the concept of normalized and legal behavior can lose focus in regional and international studies due to culture and political differences across the globe. While the determination whether a United Nations body has a right to enforce standards of conduct on a sovereign nation is not entirely clear cut, a microcosm of U.S. society has clear cut laws for behavior and lacks similar cultural divides. It can therefore be viewed as mostly homogenous and deviant behavior can be more readily identified, observed and studied in order to determine the motivation for its existence. The fact that the population and laws must be homogenous in order for proper application of Strain theory indicate that a Crime to Strain ratio (CSR) cannot be utilized, this indicates that a variable is missing from the theory and cannot be accounted for.
Thorberry’s Interactional theory combines two traditional criminology theories, the control and social learning theories. The primary purpose is to bridge the causal gap between deviant environment and deviant behavior. Thornberry felt that the existing theories were limited in the unidirectional nature of their explanations of deviance (Bernard, 2010, P. 314). Deviant cultures cause delinquent behavior which at the same time delinquent behavior affects the peers one attaches himself/herself to. This bidirectional approach abandons the time sequencing standard in order to simplify the sheer number of variables involved in criminality. Thornberry’s theory would indicate that a Crime to Deviant Interaction ratio (CDR) should be scalable if deviant interactions counted both behaviors and peer groups.
Longitudinal research has generally supported this theory, with the peer groups providing the strongest bidirectional causal relationship (Bernard, 2010, P. 316). At the micro level, the Interactional theory does provide personal variables outside of social settings to help explain crime and delinquency such as personal beliefs in conventional values. Additionally, the Macro aspects of the Interactional theory show how peer groups, urban settings and other societal control factors influence delinquency. Overall, the Interactional theory provides a good explanation of the multivariable nature of delinquent behavior. The Interactional theory would lend itself to micro and macro levels as the explanatory nature is fuller than Strain theory and the fact Thornberry abandoned the time sequencing standard. However, the very descriptive nature of the theory would weaken its ability to be measured. The causal relationship and time sequencing variables are too complicated to lend itself to proper scientific study.
The laws of physics seek to explain why certain physical properties behave in the manner they do, and that once understood, these physical properties can be predicted to occur in the future. This lends itself to scientific study at the micro and macro level by the use of ratio analysis. Regardless of how complicated modern engines get, these theories can be used at any level of analysis and will provide limited deviation. In fact, high levels of deviation and lack of predicability indicate a poorly defined scientific theory. Strain theory is less suited for multiple levels of analysis than Interactional theory primarily because it is simpler and less explanatory. The Interactional theory is more integrated and therefore captures more of the dynamics for criminality and would theoretically make it more predictive. However, it’s very generality and number of variables makes it difficult to measure and prove. Interactional theory is a better criminology theory at multiple levels of analysis but indicate than there is still a missing causal relationship to all criminological theories that has yet to be determined. The best theories are the simplest ones that completely explain the data with little or no deviation at any unit of analysis, and as of yet that does not exist.
Bernard, T. & Snipes, J. & Gerould, A. 2010. Vold's Theoretical Criminology. New York. Oxford Press.
Cullen, F. & Agnew, R. 2011. Criminology Theory: Past to Present (Fourth Edition).
New York. Oxford Press.
Hartmen, J. 2004. How to Tune and Modify Engine Management Systems. Minneapolis, Minnesota. Motorbooks Press.
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