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Discuss: Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory

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  1. Introduction
  2. Discussion
  3. Conclusion

The aim of this report is to discuss Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, providing an outline of the main themes of Sutherland's theoretical approach explaining crime causes and offering a review of the main implications of the theory. Numerous experts have looked at the different elements that generate crime and deviant behavior. A great number of sociologists, psychologists and criminologists have studied the circumstances and background that makes crime possible, in order to identify the main reasons and causes of crime by looking at the learning process that generates crime. In other words, these experts have tried to identify and examine the process that takes place inside the mind of criminals and makes them take part in criminal activities. The most significant of these theories are those suggested by Edwin Sutherland.

In this respect, studies like those carried out by Sutherland have looked at the role played by psychological issues and disorders. The Differential Association Theory is a theory on crime and deviancy developed by Edwin Sutherland during the thirties. Unlike other experts like Eleanor and Sheldon Glueck, who stated that deviancy is generated by numerous factors, Sutherland attempted to provide an integrated criminological theory to explain the reasons why crime takes place (Marshall, 1994). He argued that crime and deviancy are essentially learned. In 1939, Sutherland published his conclusions in ?Principles of Criminology?, book in which he describes his Differential Association Theory and provides the main conclusions of his theoretical approach to explaining the causes of crimes.

Sutherland's theories on the causes of crime have been very influential for criminologist, sociologists and psychologists. Unlike other commentators, Sutherland is not focused on personality traits. Instead, he looked at the social and situational factors that generates crime, what generates a shift in the mind of the individual and makes him or her learn deviant conduct. Sutherland's Differential Association Theory has been very influential in the work of other experts like the American psychologist Milgram. In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error refers to the tendency to overestimate personality traits when attempting to explain the observed behavior of human beings, without taking situational factors into consideration .

[...] Sutherland, E. H. (1947) Principles of criminology. Chicago : J. B. Lippincott (4th Edition) . Zimbardo, P. G. (1970). The human choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and chaos. In W. J. Arnold & D. Levine (Eds.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: Vol. 17 (pp. 237-307). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Zimbardo, P. G. (1999). Stanford Prison Experiment Slide Show. Zimbardo, P. G. (1999). The Psychology of Evil. Stanford University http://www.sonoma.edu/users/g/goodman/zimbardo.htm Zimbardo, P. G., Haney, C., Banks, W. [...]


[...] Social leaming and deviant behaviour: A specific test of a general theory, American Sociological Review, 44. p. 636-655. Hollinger, R. C. (2011) ?The London Riots: Could It Happen Here??. http://www.lpportal.com/editorial/columns/itemlist/user/72- richardchollingerphd.html Marshall, G. ed. (1994), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Sociology (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Matsueda, R. L. (2006) ?Differential social organization, collective action, and crime. Springer Science + Business Media. http://faculty.washington.edu/matsueda Miller, W.J., & Matthews, R. A. (2001). Youth employment, differential association, and juvenile delinquency. Sociological Focus, 34, p. 251-267 O'Grady, W. [...]

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