Outline and Critically Evaluate the Version of 'Control Theory' Provided by Travis Hirschi(1969) in Causes of Delinquency - Criminology Essay Example

There were three types of ways to explain deviant behavior - Outline and Critically Evaluate the Version of 'Control Theory' Provided by Travis Hirschi(1969) in Causes of Delinquency introduction. The first way was strain theory, which emphasize conformity cannot satisfy force people into deviance. The second way was cultural theory; it says deviant behavior was a set of standards that were not accepted by the powerful society. Control theory was the last way to explain deviant behaviors, which explain the reason of people was free to commit delinquent acts, was the broken social tie. Control theories have a long history. Most of their basis was assume that every individual was born free to break the law.

Therefore, commit crime was natural. However, society makes rules, laws and ties to bind citizens to take part in the set of standards which were accepted by the social order. We see buying food was natural but take food as crime. Control theories explain how the societies convince people to live with the rule that the societies give us. Travis Hirschi has written a book called “Causes of Delinquency” in 1969, which brings a new control theory towards juvenile delinquency. In his book, he criticized Strain Theory and ignores American tradition.


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It was a new idea to explain juvenile delinquency at that time. However, it cannot fully interpret crime and juvenile delinquency in nowadays. In the period from 1950 to 1964, the total number of juvenile who being arrested has increase from 14,539 to 961,132 in the America bureau of the census. (David, 1995, 58) It increased sixty six times and it was a rapid growth in the juvenile delinquency. It was a serious problem in America at that time. Therefore, there were many theory came out and described the reason of juvenile delinquency at that time.

Many control theories were brought out at that time and Travis Hirschi brought his own control theory at that time too. There were many control theories existed before Travis wrote his book. For example, Skes and Matza have written a book called “Techniques of Neutralization” in 1957. They explained that people will try to denial when they do anything they perceive as wrong. They denial the responsibility to the people who force or command them to commit deviant acts. They denial there was no victim or no one was hurt while they were committing deviant behaviors.

Control theories were explaining deviants committed by the lower class children. This form of control theory was the main trend of control theory at that time. However, Travis ignored the American tradition and main trend of control theory at that time and published his book in 1969. He brought a brand new control theory, which has also been called social bonding theory. Travis’s control theory in 1969 took a negative view at human nature. (James, 2006, 191) He saw human beings were selfish and we made decisions based on which gives us the greatest benefit to our needs.

He said everyone was free to commit crime or deviant acts and there were no relationship between social class and delinquency. He thought the reason of crime appears was broken down of American family. Social bond was the main reason that affects us to not commit crime. The reason that we did not commit crime was we all afraid of losing the important relationships with the people we though who were significant to us. For example, parents, teachers, peers and even employers. If we commit crime or deviant acts, we might have risks in damaging the relationships between the people who were important to us.

Therefore, he brought out four major social bonds that assuring conformity which were attachment, commitment, involvement and belief. Attachment means if we want to maintain ties with others those were meaningful to us, we will create conformity towards the society. According to Travis, The stronger this bond, the more likely the person was to take it into account when and if he contemplates a criminal act. (Travis, 1969, 83) He thought attachment was the most important among the four elements of social bond.

It was because it referred to the amount of time children spend with their parents and teachers. They would learn to receive values and respects towards others and follow the social order by staying with their parents at home and teachers at school. If Teenagers attach well with family and school, they might not fall into subculture in order not to let their parents and teachers down. Commitment referred to the cost factors if they committed any delinquent acts or behaviors. Social bond made deviance acts more costly. People had too much to lose if they were being caught.

They felt fear of the consequences if they commit crime, thus, they do not commit crime. Going to college or obtaining a high-status job was counted to commitment because if teenagers were being caught, they would get criminal record and cannot found a high-status job in the future. Travis explained that the reason of people committed crime was they do not have as much to lose. Involvement means how much a teenager participates in conventional society. If he was too busy doing conventional things, it was hard for him to find time to engage in deviant behavior. Tarvis, 2003) The more conventional things a teenager needed to do in his daily life, the harder they can found time to involve in deviant behavior. Ever more, teenagers who were engrossed in conventional activities, they could not even think about deviant acts in their daily life. For example, if the schedule of a teenager was full of lessons, activities and homework, he would not have time to commit crime and deviant acts. Furthermore, activities related to future goals and objectives were also count on involvement. Belief was the last element in the social bond.

It referred to the acceptance of conventional values, legitimacy and norms. If an individual accepted the rules and norms from the society, he will obey the law and behave as what the social norm want him to behave. For example, if a teenager accepted the social norm of being a good student, he would act as a good student and tried his best to study well in school. However, if that teenager do not accepted the social norm of being a good student from the social norm, he would not act as a good student and might try to commit crime or deviant behaviors.

It was also the main reason that why there were so much juvenile delinquency in the period from 1950 to 1964. It was because the broken down of American family was very serious. People did not believe in American dream, which was the social norm at that time. Therefore, teenagers started committing crime. It was a brand new theory that only discussing the relationship between the social bond and crime with ignoring the factors of social class and intelligence of an individual. However, it was over simplified the factors other than social bond and the research method of the book “causes of delinquency” was controversial.

There were three main problems in control theory that brought out by Travis in 1969. The first main problem was the way of research that Travis did in “Causes of delinquency”. The sample and data that the book collected were from self-report, questionnaire and police data. The proportion of using self-report in the book was the problem. Most of the supporting in the book were self-reports. There has to be uncertain about the accurate congruence between what person’s say they do or have done and what in fact they behave. (Arnold, 1988, 192) The validity of self-report studies was being questioned.

We could not guarantee that ass people who did the self-report were not lying. Therefore, there were vulnerabilities in the theory. Moreover, the credibility of official data that the book used was much higher than questionnaires and self-reports. However, when there were any sensitive issues like juvenile crime, people would give incorrect information to the researcher because they did not want the teenager who involved receiving any labeling. Therefore, this might devaluated the official results. The explanations of the doubt among the theory were disputed.

For example, when Travis was talking about the relationship between Father’s education and delinquency act by white boys in page seventy of the book, he concluded that the two factors were unrelated. He explained that the reason of unrelated in five ways. One of the way was the samples used in delinquency was invalid for this purpose. It was contradiction between the usages of self-report. He used self-report to explain every situation but in some relationship that self-report can explain, he blamed that there were effects of some third variable and the self-report measure was invalid for those purpose.

However, he did not said what were the third variables and was there any evidence supporting the two factors were unrelated. Furthermore, the accurate of Hirschi’s assumption was arguable because the way that he did the measurement was questionable. He relied on responses to inquiries and not on behavioral measures. (Arnold, 1988, 192) be believes that people will behaved as what they told him. For example, an individual said he was close to his family; Hirschi had to assume that the individual might had dinner with his family every night and chat with his family for everything.

However, Hirschi did not go further about the degree of the closeness and was there any difference between the individual’s close and Hirchi’s close. Therefore, there were vulnerabilities in the research of this theory. The second main problem was the theory cannot explain all the juvenile delinquency and it ignored many important factors. It cannot explained why some people committed delinquency while they were young but becoming an adults that abided by the law when they grow up. Hirschi thought criminality was contrary to pursuit of long-range goals. William S, 1989, 66) Therefore, the theory could not explain why people might commit crime when they became adults. It was an limitation for the theory for could not explain the juvenile offender’s future. It did not explain why some bonds were weak among some individuals. The theory only explained if the individual had weak social bonds, he would have higher chance to commit crime. However, Hirchi did not say why the individual fail to develop social bonds from the start. The theory ignore the gender difference was an important factor that affect juvenile commit delinquency.

Hirschi’s social control theory has been widely criticized due to its lack of attention to female crime. (Chester, 2003) In the book of “Causes of delinquency”, Travis had not separated the measures with male and female. The data he grouped in the books were only comparing factors with just white boys or mix grouped of boys and girls. Therefore, we could not see any furthermore study if there were any difference between the boys and girls towards social bond. According to Ronald J. Berger’s research, there were important sex and race differences in family interaction dynamics. Ronald J, 2009) The violent behavior between boys and girls were actually different. It was because the boys and girls undergo different developmental processes. (Kelley et al. , 1997, 9) Girls were precocious; they might have higher chance to have antisocial behaviors during juvenile period. Travis did not do any research on gender or race different. Therefore, the theory could not tell us was there any relation between precociousness and family interaction or race and family interaction. Moreover, the theory ignored the psychological factors. It did not ascertain the background of the self-reporter.

An individual had tight tie with family did not equal that his family was harmonious. If an individual had physically punitive and substance-abusing parents, he might engage in antisocial and other risk-taking behavior after reach the age of adolescent. (James, 2009, 108) If the individual was suffering from conduct disorders, he might still commit crime by his free will. However, the reason for him to commit crime was not the broke down of social ties but was his illness. Therefore, Travis should state well that the theory was only available for the mentally normal teenagers.

Furthermore, the theory ignored the factor of motivation and impulse. Motivation was the flash point that why people committed crime. Crime might occur when the motivation was strong even with a strong social control. However, Travis stated that his theory only needed to explain why people commit crime and he thought it had no need to explain why there were people not committing crimes. Therefore, he could not use both control and motivation to explain juvenile delinquency. The last main problem of the control theory was it could not solve the serious juvenile delinquency at that time.

According to the America bureau of the census from 1964 to 1974, the total juvenile that arrested increase from 961,132 to 1,168,073. (David, 1995, 58) It means even Hirschi’s control theory had new ideas with ignoring traditional American tradition, people did not accepted it and it fail to control the number of juvenile delinquency. Another reason that the theory could not stop the number of juvenile delinquency increase was the theory did not seeing deviation as problem. Hirschi said we would commit crime if we dared to break the ties with significant others, such as parents and peers.

Therefore, the theory did not provide any significant solutions for preventing or reducing juvenile delinquency. Moreover, the solutions that brought out by Hirschi were not effective. To build up a social tie needed years of times. Therefore, the effect of Hirschi’s control theory might be seen in twenty years before it was raised. If Hirschi’s control theory wanted to become credible and effective for the reality, it should combined with other’s theories or took the advantages of other’s theories. It can use other factors like shame.

It was because shame had the strongest deterrent effect in producing conforming behavior. (Katherine, 2004, 361) Hirschi could combine shame and social ties together and tried to find whether there were any relationships on them. A good theory should contain several elements. First, it should explain why some individuals might commit crime and why some might not. Second, it should have statistic to support its’ arguments. Third, it should able to apply in any place and any races. Last, it should able to explain all kind of crime.

The Hirschi’s control theory had narrowed itself in only explaining juvenile delinquency, but, it failed to explain the serious delinquency. It had statistic to support its’ arguments, but the supporting could be more reliable and it might increase its’ credibility. It was not able to apply in every place in the world because Hirschi establish this theory based on the broken down of American dream. Therefore, if this theory could use more factors to relate to social bond, it might become more credible and more people would accepted it even it was beyond the traditional control theory.

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