Today’s criminology arena is engulfed with crime complexity and dynamism as a result of ever changing society that affects the nature of crimes and criminals. Amidst these changes, various original theories prove to be inadequate and limited in their scope in explaining crimes, crime control and criminal behaviors. As a result, therefore, criminologists turned to integrated theories of criminology in attempt to offers a more compelling and a precise explanation to crime. However, the outstanding issue remains to be the effectiveness of the integrated theories approach in explaining causation and prevalence of criminals, crime and informing crime control.
Thus, to validate this approach taken by many criminologists, evaluation of its strengths is worth of a study curiosity. In this regard, this paper shall discuss the strengths of integrated theories of crime to evaluate whether they hold a promise as far as criminology is concerned.
According to Barak (1998b), he describes integrated crime theories as theories that seek to provide a more thorough perspective on how and why crime occurs than individual theories can provide on their own.
The development of integrated theories approach is said to have been stimulated by limitations of existing theories in offering explanation of the crime, the notion of criminal careers approach and developmental criminology (Vila, 1994) played central role in their development. Three approaches in integrating individual theories according to Barak (1998b) are: structural, conceptual and assimilation. The conceptual approach involves bringing pre-existing theories together and demonstrates they are achieving comparable results. In other words, the approach is intended to blend the elements of individual theories into new theories. The structural approach usually links existing theories in a new format. While the assimilation approach allows union of different theories into large conceptual frameworks without considering the conditional effects and interactive relationships that these theories may have on each other (Barak 1998b; Taylor, 1999).
In attempt to integrate various criminological theories, theorists have combined certain individual theories to create integrated theories of crime and punishment. Examples of theorists that have done good work in integrating theories are Thornberry and Elliott. For instance, Elliott’s theory hypothesized that labeling and strain tend to reduce social control (Elliott, Susan and Rachelle, 1979). For example, negative associated with school failure has a profound effect on the individual’s emotional bond to conventional others and investment in conventional society. While low social control tends to increase the likelihood of association with delinquent peers, that in turn promotes the social learning of crime for the affected individual.
Integrated theorizing by Thornberry tries to integrate social learning and control theories (Stuart and Barak, 1999). In his integration, Thornberry argue that low control at the social institutions such as school and home promotes association with delinquent peers, hence may lead to adoption of beliefs favorable to delinquency (Vila, 1994; Stuart and Barak, 1999). He also observed that causes of crime have reciprocal effects with each other. For instance, an individual that experiences low parental attachment increases the individual’s likelihood of association with delinquent peers. In turn, association with delinquent peers reduces attachment to parents as much of time and concentration is given to peers than parents. Furthermore, Thornberry reiterates that crime causes varies in the course of one’s life. For example, parent’s effect on delinquency is weaker in old adolescents and stronger in young children.
Strengths of Integrative theories
Today our society is in the era of multicultural and postmodern worlds of criminal justice and criminology characterized by post-structuralism, post-feminism, post-Marxism, and post-affirmative action, criminologists from various schools of thought appreciate the value of integrative theories in enhancing our understanding to crime (Taylor, 1999). By taking the integrative theories path, criminologists have adopted perspectives that are no longer grounded in “positivist” versus “classical” views of human nature and social interaction in relation to explanation of causation of crime. This is a far much reaching approach as opposed to traditional theories which divided the society and persons into sociological entities, biological, psychological, cultural (Barak, 1998b, p. 209). This on the positive scale was partially correct, while on the negative scale proved to be quite inadequate as they ignore more factors than they consider. Therefore, this implies that most traditional theories have limited range and application.
In response to the limited scope and application of the traditional theories, criminologists are turning to integrative theories as a mean of integrating criminologies. However, the outstanding question is validating the rational behind criminologists turning to integrative theories, rather than the popularity gained by these integrative theories among various stakeholders. Therefore, this is a point of contention that shall be closely examined in attempt extract out the usefulness of integrative theories to criminologists that aid approach to gain support and recognition.
Integrative theories of crime appeal to criminologists due to its diversification to the extent that the integration allow for a creative plurality of knowledge based frameworks that enhances better understanding of crime and criminals (Taylor, 1999). This is applauded in both modernist and postmodernist modes of thought in relation to crime explanation. Evidently, it is clear that some integrative theories focus on crime, justice, and social control; others focus on criminal behavior and criminal activity; and others still focus on punishment and crime control (Barak, 1998b). Additionally, some of the integrative theories are formalistic comprising of a number of propositional statements from one or two theories within the same field of study; while others are less formalistic and consist of conceptualizing interactive relations between various levels of human structural relationships, motivation and social organization. Therefore, these special domains engulfed in integrative theories enable criminologists to understand many interpretations accrued to crime causation (Pearson and Neil, 2005, p. 141).
Strength of integrated theories of crime is that they are easily broken down into a variety of explanations of crime and punishment by use of specific integrated theories. This is in the sense that specific integrative theories usually focus on a single form of criminality like crimes that relate to rape. This is opposed to the general integrated theories which try to make a sensible explanation of crime from a relatively broad range of harmful activities such as structural forms, interpersonal and organizational (Pearson and Neil, 2005). Furthermore, integration of theories that take into consideration both postmodernism and modernism forms prove to be effective. For instance, postmodernist forms of integration central tenet emphasize the ever-changing voices of plurality bear insight into providing meaning for the local sites of crime such as community, law and justice, since these scenes of crime are constituted by social and harmful personal relationships (Barak, 1998b). While on the other hand, the modernist forms of integration its central tenet emphasizes on the centrality of theory in scientific endeavors and in the construction of causal models capable of predicting transgression (Pearson and Neil, 2005). Thus, it’s evident that integration of theories using postmodernist form implies that the focus is more broadly on non-conformity and deviance. Application of modernist forms of integration implies that criminologist will have confined themselves to criminality.
Integrated theories realize efficiency in its approach to crime than initial theories in aspect of their integrated bodies’ theories. These approaches offers explanations to crime and punishment by specifically venturing into three models such as micro-macro models that focus on kinds-of-culture, social structure-macro models focus on kinds-of-organization and social process-micro models that focus on kinds-of-people (Braithwaite, 1998). This can be clearly perceived by illustrations from various examples.
First, Quinney (1997) in his work of Class, State and Crime provides an integrative theory presented through development and contradictions of capitalism in our society. In this theory, from a political economy of crime and crime control perspective he argues that crime can be best explained from a class-structural perception. In this regard, class and structure in the society interconnects in the sense that crimes of repression and dominations are most likely to be committed by agents of control and capitalists. While the crimes of resistance and accommodation is more likely to be committed by the ordinary and working individuals. Therefore, the social structure of the capitalistic society has an impact on the crime causation due to specific differential opportunities for crime class. Additionally, the theory advocates that deviant behavior of the poor varies in relation to mixed land use, dilapidation, population density, transience, and poverty. This example from Quinney work illustrates the social-structure macro models application to the criminology world.
Second, he integrated theory of psychologically and socially dynamic theory advanced by Colvin’s (2000), combines elements of strain theory, self-control theory, social learning theory and social support theory. This theory proves to be relevant in aspects of both production and reduction of crime and punishment since it focuses on four dimensions of control of consistency and coercion. This dimensions covered are critical as they have a profound different effects on non-criminal and criminal outcomes whether applied to chronic street criminals, white-collar rule breakers, or exploratory offenders. This integration shows how differential levels of consistency and coercion appear in macro and micro processes of social control involving larger economic and cultural forces in society (Colvin, 2000). Therefore, this integration geared towards non-coercive society aim at altering and preventing the erratic coercive dynamics in the background and foreground of most criminality, especially in its habitual forms.
The integrated theories of crime are more concerned with integration of knowledge rather than theories per se (John, 2003). in this respect, the theorists of integrative theories aims at creating a more compelling and precise explanatory models of crime and punishment that make linkages within the entire range of interdisciplinary knowledge. This is far much opposed to the traditional singular theories that pursued the cause-and-effect predictions of theoretical integration within, or even between disciplines (Braithwaite, 1998).
For instance, Vila (1994) theory of evolutionary ecological encompasses a multiplicity of disciplinary causal factors and bases of knowledge, in the sense that the theory integrates different levels of analysis. At one level of analysis, the theory derives its content from disciplines of social psychology such as learning, strain, labeling, and control, while at the second level of analysis is Vila examines changes across the disciplines over time in aspects of parental influence in individual’s life from infancy to adulthood and behaviors of social actors in regard to resource acquisition and retention and the. Therefore, the knowledge approach in the construction of integrated theories provide a synthesis of both interdisciplinary domain and it is problem-oriented rather than discipline-oriented approach of traditional theories in relation to understanding criminal behavior (Vila, 1994, p. 328).
In conclusion, the paper has examined the strengths of integrated theories of crime and punishment which can be perceived in terms of the ways of seeing integration, integrating bodies of theory, and integrating bodies of knowledge. The paper also supports the integrated theories of crime and crime control because of their cross analysis and incorporation of the basics of the original theories that yields a more precise and compelling crime explanation. The explanations arrived at help modern criminologist to find answers to critical questions in relation to understanding the nature of the crime. These questions are: Why do people perform criminal acts? Is it something in their genes? Is it something in the hand of fate? Or is it something that they learn? Integrative theories therefore, answers these questions to aid criminologists understand the trends of crime prevalence and occurrence in order to better contribute towards crime combating.
Furthermore, integrative theories are more specific to domains of crime in today’s society as conceptualized from the nature of their theorizing. Thus, focus of integrative theories can be streamlined in to sub categories of theory objectives. These categories of integrative theories objective are: those theories that focus on individual, group and/or environmental origins of crime; those theories that attempt to integrate several other individual theories in an effort to provide a more compelling explanation of crime; those theories that connect crime to the social, political and economic conditions reflected in America’s capitalistic society; and those theories that focus upon the role of social control agencies in creating, perpetuating or intensifying crime.
Although integrative paradigm looks strong and holds out the promise, the ways of theorizing and applicability parts of integrative theories vary greatly within the theories. As a consequence, it implies that integrative theories lack viable framework for synthetic work having emerged from study of crime and punishment from other theories. Therefore, more has to be done than desired in relation to achieving measurable results in this field of integrative theorizing. When this is done, criminologist world shall be sure that integrative paradigm shall be the truly interdisciplinary enterprise to actualize the sentiments that ‘integrative theories, integrating criminologies”.
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