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Social Process Theories (From Criminology, Seventh Edition, P 220-253, 2000, Larry J. Siegel, -- See NCJ-185178)

NCJ Number
Larry J. Siegel Ph.D.
Date Published
34 pages
Social process theory views criminality as a function of people's interactions with various organizations, institutions, and processes in society; people in all walks of life have the potential to become criminals if they maintain destructive social relationships.
Social process theory has three main branches: (1) social learning theory stresses that people learn how to commit crimes; (2) social control theory analyzes the failure of society to control criminal tendencies; and (3) labeling theory maintains that negative labels produce criminal careers. The social learning branch of social process theory suggests that people learn criminal behavior much as they learn conventional behavior. Differential association theory, formulated by Sutherland, holds that criminality results from a person's perceiving an excess of definitions in favor of crime over definitions that uphold conventional values. Akers has reformulated Sutherland's work using psychological learning theory, and he calls his approach differential reinforcement theory. Sykes and Matza's theory of neutralization indicates that young people learn behavior rationalizations that enable them to overcome societal values and norms and break the law. Control theory maintains that all people have the potential to become criminals but that their bonds to conventional society prevent them from violating the law. The containment theory advocated by Reckless suggests that a person's self-concept aids his or her commitment to conventional action. Hirschi describes the social bond as containing elements of belief, commitment, attachment, and involvement, and weakened bonds allow young people in particular to behave anti-socially. Social reaction or labeling theory holds that criminality is promoted by becoming negatively labeled by significant others. Research on labeling theory, however, has not supported its major premises and critics have charged the theory lacks credibility as a description of crime causation. Social process theories have greatly influenced social policies and have controlled both treatment orientations and community action policies. 189 notes, 2 tables, 8 figures, and 7 photographs