Sutherland - Differential Association



Sutherland argues that individuals learn criminal behaviour largely in the family and peer groups (including work groups). It is the result of two factors:

1) Imitation (observing those around them) 

2) Learned attitudes (socialisation within the group exposes the individual to attitudes and values about the law)

E.g. in his study of white collar crime, Sutherland found that group attitudes in the workplace often normalised criminal behaviour (e.g. by claiming that ‘everyone’s doing it).

Sutherland made nine propositons about how an individual would learn to commit crime in this process.

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The Propositions

1.Criminal behaviour is LEARNED
2.Criminal behaviour is learned in interaction with other persons. 3.The principle part of the learning of criminal behaviour occurs within personal groups.

4. When criminal behaviour is learned, the learning includes:

            (a) Techniques of committing the crime

            (b) The specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes.

5. The specific direction of motives is learned from definitions of legal codes as favourable or unfavourable.

6. A person becomes delinquent after an excess of definitions favourable to violation of law.

7. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.

8. The process of learning criminal behaviour by association with criminal and anti-criminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning.

9. This proposition means that needs and values alone do not explain crime. 

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- Crime often runs in families, this supports the idea that crime is learned from close groups.

- Matthews (1968) found that juvenile deviants are more likely to have antisocial friends, this would mean that they are more likely to commit crime and will likely be learning it from each other.

- Work group attitudes enable white collar crime by enabling it.

- The theory applies across gender, race and social class.

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- Not everyone that is exposed to 'criminal influences' becomes a criminal.

- It is difficult to test whether this is what makes someone deviant.

- People are individuals, they may learn crime differently to others (the way they may learn anything differently).

- It excludes the influence of role models on someone's learning (see operant learning theory).

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