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Coercion, Social Support, and Crime: An Emerging Theoretical Consensus

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 40 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2002 Pages: 19-42
Mark Colvin; Francis T. Cullen; Thomas Vander Ven
Date Published
February 2002
24 pages
This paper reviews recent theoretical developments in criminology to demonstrate that two interconnected themes provide the basis for a new consensus in theory and crime policy.
Across a wide variety of theories, two general themes are emerging: coercion causes crime; and social support prevents crime. Although these statements are generally true, this paper develops some important caveats in the discussion that highlight the nuances in the interplay between social support and coercion. These themes are interconnected and provide the basis for developing an integrated theory in criminology that can form a new theoretical and public policy consensus about crime. The authors first examine the theme of coercion as a cause of crime as it has emerged in the criminological literature over the past two decades. "Coercion" can be defined as "a force that compels or intimidates an individual to act because of the fear or anxiety it creates." This force can emerge from impersonal sources, such as economic compulsion or state power, or from interpersonal sources in which an individual coerces another for purposes of compliance. Coercion can also involve the actual or threatened removal of social supports. The theme of coercion is based in the strain theory tradition of criminology. The authors then explore the emerging theme that social support prevents crime. "Social support" is defined as "the delivery (or perceived delivery) of assistance from communities, social networks, and confiding partners in meeting the instrumental and expressive needs of individuals." As with coercion, social supports can occur at both the micro-level and macro-level of society. The theme of social support has for some time informed research in physical and mental health and is connected to recent developments in social capital theory. The authors propose a differential social support and coercion theory of crime that ties these emerging themes in criminology together in a new integrated theory. The theory argues that to reduce crime, societies must enhance the legitimate sources of social support and reduce the forces of coercion. These efforts must occur at several levels of society and as part of crime prevention programs and programs designed to rehabilitate offenders. 83 references