Saturday, March 19, 2011

Term Paper on Differential Association Theory

Term Paper on Differential Association Theory

Sutherland’s differential association theory is one that relates deviant or criminal behavior back to the learning processes and environments the individual has received during the course of their lives. While this theory to explain certain acts of deviance can often times be used, it still has many flaws. First, the theory itself does not give a clear definition as to what criminal or deviant behavior is or is not. Sutherland refers to this as “favorable” or “unfavorable” messages that later are seen in the individual as behavior patterns. Due to the fact that deviance is impossible to give a concrete definition to, there would in turn be no specific rational or guidelines to its formation with the given individual’s behavior patterns. Second, this theory fails to explain where the completely individualistic or rare in character acts of deviance come from. How would it explain an entirely new act? If there were never any mentors or messages being received by the individual to behave in such a way, if it has never been done or even thought of for that matter in that manner, then what exactly sparked the person to do it? Third, Sutherland originally intended his theory to only be used to explain criminal acts, not deviance. Therefore, to extend his theory into the realm of deviance and sometimes further into conformity in general, it will fall flat on its face.


The conflict theory as explained by Bongerian states that deviance is motivated by the desire to succeed in competition or by the deprivation of actually losing or of being exploited by those who are winning. This theory supplies ample information as to the reasons behind a vast amount of deviance, however lacks the defending argument as to why certain individuals given the same situation abstain from the deviance. One good example that the book gives is that of a college student who is faced with failing grades that opts not to cheat given the opportunity to. What differentiates this individual from the other who does? Why do not all inferior students choose the alternative of cheating to that of receiving poor grades? There is no explanation for this in the conflict theory for deviance. The theory simply overlooks individual level variables such as the up bringing or disposition of the person. Another part of deviance, which is left out, is that of social control or laws within the community that restrain the individuals actions. Therefore, it is also important to look at the powers that would cause the individual to abide by the rules or not. A big factor of deviance is defined by the behaviors, which are acceptable, or what a person can or cannot do.

The Rational Choice theory mainly focuses on immediate situations. It is useful at times where the individual involved is given time to think about the deviance before acting it out. It is also very useful as a tool by which to judge or interpret the influences leading up to the moment of deviance. The Rational Choice theory suggests that costs and benefits are continually evaluated in the current situation as to the question of “what’s in it for me?”. Sadly, like many of its fellow theories, it too has its flaws. First, it addresses the person involving themselves in the deviant act as if they were simply a computer, walking around in the world with a constant yes/no device attached to their brain that decides the action based on a weighted scale. Where this theory might be true most of the time, there are always goings to be situations in which the given individual is simply carried away by the moment and does not even give a second of thought to his or her actions in the moment. Second, often times the deviant act is simply out of habit without any thought to it at all anymore. The original situation that presented itself in order to weigh the costs and benefits of the action is not longer relevant. The final flaw with this theory is that it is bad at predicting when an individual will misperceive the costs and benefits of deviance, and then it’s just screwed.

The social exchange theory states that the explanation of deviance is in the history of the interaction, which is never completely predictable, similar to the domino effect. Katz expands on this idea and creates an illustration for the fundamental principle of interaction between individuals and their environment or another person. He concludes that deviance is the situational progression of interaction, and in that sense is unique to every individual act of deviance. However, it is also important according to Katz to consider the bigger picture leading to the disposition of the situation and its progression. Luckenbill explains how even though each situation is unique unto itself, there are still certain, “typical” sequence of events that lead to the deviant act. He observes the attitudes and reactions of the individuals involved in the exchange as well as the number of stages leading up to the behavior. Throughout these stages the individuals involved acted in a manner they felt called for, and thus the uniqueness of each act of deviance. According to Sigmund Freud, all human behavior spawns from responses to the pushes of both instinctual and adaptations to the various psychic and social conflicts that instinctual drives bring out. This is the theory of inter-motivation, the unconscious. Most traits of deviance can be traced back to some prior learning situation, but for those that do not fit neatly into the profile, they are considered to be more of an instinctual or unconscious act. The human psyche deals with inherent, somewhat contradictory energy sources pressing for fulfillment, like instincts. These instincts represent impelling or pushing forces or needs. Conflicts between natural impulses and demands of what the outside world wants or will permit help to develop an internal psyche that then become sources of more conflict. A couple of parts that play into the equation would be: what the individual’s needs are, a rational between what is appropriate methods of meeting needs, and a set of moral standards about right and wrong that would prohibit certain behaviors. During these behaviors, often times the individual does not even know the rational behind his or her deviance. For the most part the interpretations of a person’s unconscious reasons for deviance are all dependent upon the specific therapist diagnosing them. Often times, lack of appropriate inner controls or patterned ways of adapting psychically will result in deviance from someone feeling guilty and not wanting to be punished or from regressing to an earlier stage of life in their unconscious. This theory also suggests four managements for conflict: identification, displacement, using defense mechanisms (ego defense), and transformation (repression). Overall, I really have no clue why so many scientists have tried to define and restrict the different forms of deviance and it’s causes because it is impossible to clarify an activity which varies so greatly from culture to culture, group to group, even family member to family member. There are too many variables involve in any given situation to pin down the exact cause for the individual’s behavior and thus no pattern to be seen that would incorporate deviance in it’s entirety, without exceptions to the rule.

During the social learning process, reinforcement and conditioned learning in developmental stages of life create the idea of what exactly defines a moral act. Another part of this theory is the fact that not only do individuals learn what constitutes deviance through their own experiences, but they also have the ability to observe and learn from others reactions to their behavior. As with most of the theories on morality, the social learning perspective also looks at why people have moral feelings, how those feelings might change over time, and how they work to inhibit deviant behavior. Although many theories attempt to explain why it is that some people have moral feelings and others do not, none has been able to develop a complete rational behind why or why not that fits for all instances. The social learning theory identifies a vast amount of variables that may influence the individual’s morality and their learning progressions for it. All the theories on the formation of morality are fine for explaining the general population, but as far as an individual basis, all of them fail. Attitudes, for the most part, are poor predictors on the ways in which that individual is going to behave. People tend to say what they feel is expected of them, but that does not always mean they are not acting in a controversial way behind closed doors. Although they may know what the social norm is, it may not always resemble their feelings on the particular deviance or simply actions as they see it. All of the morality theories also conveniently leave out those acts of deviance that are spur of the moment, without much thought, if any. Therefore, morality is taught by interaction and learned reaction to certain behavior within a society. If an individual lived by himself or herself on the planet, then there would be no morality per say, rather what benefits the individual and what does not. Morality theories attempt to make a connection between the formation of moral standards and deviant behavior, but it is still unclear and too vague to pin point the exact causes.

The extent to which social control effects the given individual varies upon the closeness he or she feels to their community or group that they socialize with. It is rooted in self-concepts, group approval, investments, caring, and beliefs, which are all responsive to external social environment. Indirect mechanisms of social control create constraints on the individual’s behavior unintentionally. This is why the formation of these constrains and their effectiveness varies upon the internal self-concept of the person receiving them. Direct mechanisms are possible because of the presence and strength of concerns for self, group approval, and caring, and its success is dependent partly on investments in group-linked things and partly on beliefs. Overall the social control theory only holds true when the individual feels close tot their community and seeks approval from others within it. When the individual become detached and distant, these controls have less of an impact upon the person’s behaviors and attitudes about certain activities. Although this theory looks at the types of social mechanisms given to the individual, it overlooks the degrees to which each of the variables effect them and it also fails to explain the relationship between the different mechanisms and which ones work in conjunction with others, etc… Why is it that most all theorist conveniently leave out certain aspects of society and the ways in which the many different influence effect specific situations? For example, this theory ignores the individual’s perceptual ability; how she or he cognitively processes information, and his or her personality, as well as the characteristics of potential social reactions like certainty, severity, and haste.

The control balance theory focuses on different types of deviance and their seriousness and gives a few reasons as to why they are considered more or less deviant than others. The first of which is predation, which involves “direct physical violence, manipulation, or property extraction by an individual or group for the benefit of a predator”. Basically it is dealing with issues such as: rape, homicide, robbery, assault, fraud, etc, the extremes of deviance when dealing with involving other individual people in their actions. Second, is exploitation, in which an individual or group uses others as “intermediaries or uses structural/organizational arrangements to coerce or to manipulate others, or to extract property from individuals of groups to benefit the exploiter”. Simply using others to their own advantage without any thought to the effects it might have on the individual or group being exploited. These deviants have no code of ethics that prohibit them from stealing from others. Third is defiance, which are acts “expressing contempt for, or hostility toward, a norm, or set of norms or to the individual, group, or organization with which that norm is associated”. On the whole, total disregard to the rules of the society in which they live. The forth type of deviant behavior outlined by the balance control theory is that of plunder, wherein individuals or organizations “pursue their own ends with disregard for how their behaviors might affect others”. One example of this is when a person or organization exhibits bad business ethics, without thought to the consequences experienced by those affected by their actions. The fifth and final form of deviance is decadence, which is “a collection of impulsive acts guided only by the whim of the moment, with no consistent or rational organization”. Mostly, spur of the moment ideas which turn into something deviant.

There are four identifiable societies according to the anomies theory. First, the balanced, or non-anomic societies are those where mostly there is equal stress on the goals to be achieved and on the means by which to achieve them. Basically they try to provide attainable goals with reasonable means to attain them for the average individual and they strive to have the society’s message reflect this. The last three the theory describes are ones in which high rates of deviance tend to be more prevalent due to the unbalanced and mixed signals which are receive by individuals in the community. The first of which is the “retreatist” society in which the society has no widespread, intensely emphasized cultural goals for people to try to achieve, nor does it have a set of prescribed means for achieving those goals. Complete frustration is had by all. Second, is the “ritualistic” approach in which too much emphasis is placed on one side of the balance between goals and the means by which to attain them. The third and final type of anomic society is “innovative” in which there is a great push to reach certain goals without much concern as to how they are met and by what means is necessary to accomplish the goals. These goals can be representing by books, media, folk tales, movies, or anything for that matter which is presented to the society’s citizens. This is why censorship is often times a means by which to try and shape the common goals and means by which to achieve them in America and others alike.

Practitioner organization is a way in which to evaluate the accuracy of a given theorists approach to deviance is valid. It looks at the types covered, which individuals or groups are participating in the behavior, and how deviant the act is. This continuum is broken up into three distinct zones: individualized, sub cultural, and fully organized. These zones take different types and areas of deviance and try to give some structure or organization as to how to categorize them and judge their various levels of deviance on the continuum created by the practitioner organization method. It is used to illustrate how certain forms of deviance fit into the different categories. It then goes on to explain how the general theories of individual deviance in order to show two things: “1) that the explanatory processes highlighted in the various theories will perform more effectively if the organizational characteristics of the deviance to be explained are taken into account and 2) that in some instances the theories are severely limited because they cannot be adjusted to apply to all forms of deviance on the continuum of organization”. These rationales for the categorizing of deviance into separate levels is useful and a good theory in that it allows the average person to grasp what’s being said about the particular form of deviance and have a better understand of it’s effects on the world around them.

The deterrence theory deals with things in the environment that supposedly restrain the deviant impulses that everybody are assumed to have, at least sometimes. The deterrence theory must categorize the different forms of deviance which include: individualized, sub cultural, and fully organized deviance which are simply too different in crucial ways relevant to this theory in order to not be thought about. It is also important that the deterrence theory keep in mind the organization technique when discussing ideas about constraint based on fear of costly consequences. Various levels of deviance differ in their severity and depending upon how organized a deviant group is can determine whether or not the individuals partaking in the behavior will get caught by the authorities or not. The more organized the activity, the more likely they are to get caught.

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