Gottfredson and Hirschi vs. Sampson and Laub Term Paper

Pages: 7 (1853 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice

Life Course Crime

Factors Determining Criminal Behavior Over the Life Course: Contradictory Approaches with Similar Results

Studies of criminal behavior have necessarily been required to define the terms of their investigation, limiting the scope of observations and establishing a concrete perspective form which to conduct inquiries. This is a necessity in all areas of social research; there are very few (if, indeed, any) agreed-upon constants and absolutes when it comes to human or social development and behavior, and each researcher or research team must choose which assumptions it will rests its investigation upon. This makes for research that is necessarily somewhat subjective, and often these subjectivities are never explicitly acknowledged. All responsible research is grounded in the background and theories of researchers that came before, of course, but this does not mean that all responsible research into a specific subject area or even a detailed research question is consistent.

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When it comes to criminology, many factors must be defined and often can be defined in contradictory ways. The different perspectives held by researchers are not necessarily exclusive of each other, nor is one necessarily more correct than other. The very mutability of research perspectives and methodologies in the social sciences s a consistent problem that must be accounted for in order for research findings to be meaningful. This paper will examine two different perspectives on a highly specific issue in social research as a means of analyzing the contradictions that can be found in research perspectives without them necessarily appearing in research results.

Term Paper on Gottfredson and Hirschi vs. Sampson and Laub Assignment

Specifically, two different theories regarding the factors influencing criminal behavior over the life course will be analyzed. Two very different over-arching theories of criminality are examined, and though they are contradictory in their approaches and even in some of their conclusions both have sets of facts that seem to uphold these conclusions. The basic difference between these two studies lies in the primary object of the line of questioning employed: one theory looks inward to the criminal while the other looks outward to the society in which crime occurs. Despite the highly contradictory methodologies employed by the two different sets of authors and even some of the contradictory conclusions at which they arrive, there are actually some similarities in these research findings that suggest the perspectives could eventually be unified through more extensive research.

Gottfredson and Hirschi's General Theory of Crime

Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi developed a theory of criminal behavior and development over the life course that is detailed in their 1990 book, a General Theory of Crime. The simplicity of the book's title is not in the least misleading, as the argument contained within the book's pages is also immensely simple and direct (though no less scientifically valid for this simplicity, as exhaustive empirical and secondary research was clearly a part of this effort). This theory of crime remains highly controversial, especially in sociological circles, and is not widely adopted in political circles as there is very little that policy can do regarding long-term crime rates in this scenario (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990).

Essentially, Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) assert that criminal behavior, like most other "risky" and often illegal behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity without the use of protection, is simply the result of low levels of self-control. The lack of an individual's ability to control their immediate impulse for gratification, then, is the factor responsible for creating criminal behavior (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990). Furthermore, these authors assert that self-control abilities and patterns are learned elements of personality that are essentially set by age seven or eight, and thus it is the learning (or non-learning) of self-control and restraint that limits (or fails to limit) criminal behavior throughout the rest of an individual's life (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990). Those that develop the ability to appreciate future consequences and delay immediate gratification are less likely to engage in crime, while those that do not learn this same level of self-control are far more likely to engage in criminal behaviors as adults (Gottfredson & Hirschi 1990).

This theory is highly controversial not only for its simplicity, but also because it negates much research that has been conducted in this area. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) specifically state that longitudinal research into crime rates over the life course is no longer justified, if indeed it ever was, because criminal behaviors are wholly dependent on factors that can be measured during childhood. There is compelling evidence provided by the authors as they make their claims, but there is also abundant research by other authors showing a clear correlation between later life circumstances and events not accounted for here.

Sampson and Laub's "Crime and Deviance"

Two of the many studies that Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) claim to have rendered obsolete with their theory of crime are the 1990 and 1992 studies by Sampson and Laub that found a multitude of personal and sociological factors correlated with individuals' criminal behaviors over the life course. Robert J. Sampson and John H. Laub have long been researchers in the development of criminal behaviors and their persistence over the life course for many individuals, and they have been prolific authors on the topic, as well. Their findings do not necessarily negate the importance of levels of self-control in leading to criminal acts and ongoing criminal behaviors, but there are definitely parts of Gottfredson and Hirschil's (1990) theory of crime that are contradicted by this concurrent research.

Sampson and Laub (1992) found that there does appear to be an early onset of criminal delinquency in many individuals, and also concur with much previous research in finding that criminal behaviors often remain quite stable over the life course from a time of childhood and beyond. They also find, however, that crime rates spike in adolescence and then tend to decline, suggesting that factors during and after adolescents have a major impact on individual criminality (Sampson & Laub 1992). These same researchers also found that adult relationships and social networks can have a major influence on adult rates of criminality regardless of childhood and adolescent factors (Sampson & Laub 1990; Sampson & Laub 1992). Clearly, many of their findings contradict those of Gottfredson & Hirschil (1990).

Most salient in this regard is the continued influence on ongoing criminal behaviors of a variety of social factors well into adulthood, which definitely seem to indicate that such patterns are not merely based on self-control as learned in early childhood as has been suggested (Sampson & Laub 1990; Smapson & Laub 1992; Gottfredson & Hirschil 1990). Many individual factors, including marital status and occupation achievement, have a major impact on criminal behaviors engaged in by adults, with individuals in strong marriages and/or that have achieved high degrees of occupational success with clear and accessible opportunity structures far less likely to engage in continued patterns of criminal behavior even if these patterns were established in childhood and persisted throughout adolescence (Sampson & Laub 1990; Sampson & Laub 1992). In short, there are many different social factors that influence ongoing criminality over the life course according to these two researchers.

A Comparison of Contradictory Perspectives

Clearly, there are aspects of Gottfredson and Hirschil's (1990) and Sampson and Laub's (1990; 1992) research that are entirely incompatible with each other. It cannot be true that patterns of criminal behavior are set in childhood due to the learning (or not learning) of self-control at the same time that factors in adulthood influencing criminal behaviors are also believed to exist -- one of these theories, it initially seems, must be wrong. Either the psychological factor described by Gottfredson and Hirschil (1990) or the sociological factors described by Sampson and Laub (1990; 1992) must explain observed crime statistics.

In reality, of course, the truth is probably far more complex than a simple matter of choosing one of the two grand theories presented by these sets of authors. It is perhaps true, for example, that the psychological issue of self-control learning identified by Gottfredson & Hirschil (1990) is primarily responsible for criminal behavior, but that later social influences continue to develop learning in this regard. The finding by Laub et al. (1998) that lasting marital relationships have a gradual and cumulative effect on the reduction of criminal behaviors in adults with previous patterns of criminality supports this finding; the pattern of the effect is similar to that of learning that establishes lasting behavioral patterns in early childhood. Thus, perhaps self-control is being learned through the marital relationship in a way that it was ot learned from parental figures in childhood, confirming the findings of both pairs of researchers in certain regards and negating them in others.

In an earlier piece of research, Gottfredson and Hirschil (1986) had actually somewhat acknowledged the influence of later factors in reduction of criminal behaviors in finding that increase in age is met with a universal decline in criminal behavioral patterns. The authors assert that this phenomenon does not deserve the attention it receives, and that instead… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Gottfredson and Hirschi vs. Sampson and Laub.  (2010, November 23).  Retrieved July 4, 2020, from

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"Gottfredson and Hirschi vs. Sampson and Laub."  November 23, 2010.  Accessed July 4, 2020.