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Various Crime Theories

I am going to briefly discuss Control Theories, and then look at how control theory is both similar and different than social learning theory and strain theory. Control theories characterize a vast group of theories that attempt to explain crime by looking at factors external to the person that prevent them from engaging in anti-social behaviors (Beaver). Control theories position is because conformity cannot be taken for granted, non-conformity like crime, and delinquency can be expected when social controls are less effective (Beaver).  Control Theory is not so much as a theory of deviance as it is a theory of conformity (Lilly, et. al, 2011). Instead of asking why some people commit crimes it suggests that crime and delinquency are going to occur unless people abide by all the social demands that are placed on them (Lilly, et. al, 2011). In other words when controls are present, crime does not occur, but when controls are missing committing crime is possible and often does occur (Beaver). It may also be argued that delinquent acts are caused from forces outside of the individual and beyond his control such as unloving parents, bad peers, or a bad neighborhood (Sykes & Matza, 1957). The origins of control theories of crime and delinquency can be found in part of the work of sociologist Emile Durkheim (Lilly, et. al, 2011).

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Strain theory looks at strains that come from external factors to the individual. For example, Merton believed that America was an unusual society that put too much emphasis of making money, and not being content with what you have. When the social structure fails to provide sufficient means to obtain success goals in the prescribed fashion, an increase in the rate of crime is the probable result (Chamlin & Cochran, 1995).  Strain theory is like control theory in the sense that control theory also states that crime and delinquency will occur if people do not abide by social demands that are put on them. Another area that is similar regards to external issues that can cause problems. For example, Agnew believes that strain can also result from the inability to escape legally from painful situations (Agnew, 1992). As mentioned above Control theory also mentions that delinquent acts can be caused from unloving parents, friends, or a bad neighborhood. If a parent is unloving and mean to their child, it certainly could cause issues. The child could act out and break the law in the process from the Strain from the parent. I see a similarity here because Control theory does mention that if a parent loses control that the juvenile could act out and commit crimes. A parent could certainly lose control if they are too hard on their child.  Strain theory is different from control theory because control theory unlike strain theory asks: why do some people conform” (Beaver)? Control theories argue that if someone is left to their own devices, all those people will end up committing crimes (Beaver). Strain theory does not look at that side of it, and neither does social learning theory.

Social learning theory identifies parents, friends, the media, and other role models as potential causes of crime (Beaver).  Social learning theory is different than both control theory, and strain theory because this theory looks at crime being caused by learning criminal behavior from others. The major hypothesis of social learning theory is that criminal behavior is learned by watching others commit crimes (Beaver). That said there is a similarity that I see between social learning theory, strain theory, and control theory. Negative Stimuli from parents, and friends can have an impact on a person. Bad peers can certainly influence someone to commit crimes by teaching them how to do it (Social learning theory).  Also, by just hanging out with “bad peers” could cause potential issues (Control Theory).  According to Reiss, the delinquent peer group is looked at as a function consequence of the failure of both personal and social controls (Beaver). If the juvenile delinquent resolves his dilemma by insisting that he must always help his buddy or never tell on a friend this could throw him into difficulties with the dominant social order (Sykes & Matza, 1957).

Although Control theory, social learning theory, and strain theory are very different theories there are in my opinion some similarities between them. They were all influenced by the Chicago School so it makes sense that I could find a few similarities in the theories. Although, the accent was different among the many control theorists, two related areas from the Chicago School remained important, and one was the interpretations of human nature, and the nature of community (Lilly, et. al, 2011).


Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency. Criminology. Vol. 30, No. 1. Pg. 47-87.

Dr. Kevin Beaver Power Point Presentation. Individual- level Strain Theory. Florida State University (2021).

Dr. Kevin Beaver Power Point Presentation. Social Learning Theory. Florida State University (2021).

Dr. Kevin Beaver week 6 notes. Control Theories. Florida State University (2021).

Lilly, JR., Cullen, FT., & Ball, RA., (2011). Criminology Theory: Context and Consequences 5th edition. Thousand Oaks, Ca.

Sykes, GM.  & Matza, D. (1957). Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review. Vol. 22. No. 6. Pg.664-670.

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