Control Theory

15246 Words Sep 1st, 2013 61 Pages
6
The Complexity of Control
Travis Hirschi 1935– University of Arizona Author of Social Bond Theory

Hirschi’s Two Theories and Beyond

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ravis Hirschi has dominated control theory for four decades. His influence today is undiminished and likely will continue for years, if not decades, to come (see, e.g., Britt & Gottfredson, 2003; Gottfredson, 2006; Kempf, 1993; Pratt & Cullen, 2000). Beyond the sheer scholarly talent manifested in his writings, what accounts for Hirschi’s enduring influence on criminological theory? Three interrelated considerations appear to nourish the appeal of his thinking. First, Hirschi’s theories are stated parsimoniously. This means that his theory’s core propositions are easily understood (e.g., the lack of
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His goal was to start a theoretical fight; he succeeded (see also Kornhauser, 1978). Again, as a control theorist, he argued that these two perspectives asked the wrong theoretical question: Why are people motivated to commit crimes? For differential association theory, the answer was that youths are enveloped by a deviant culture that they learn in interaction with others. This positive learning—that is, learning to value crime—is what moves them to break the law. For strain theory, the blockage of goals creates a frustration that is the engine that drives individuals into crime. Hirschi, however, asserted that these theories were explaining something that did not require explanation—motivation. If humans would by their natures seek the easy and immediate

The Complexity of Control

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gratifications inherent in crime, then they did not need to learn to want to commit crimes or be driven into crime by unbearable strains in order to break the law. In effect, such criminal cultural values and strains were redundant and thus did not explain who would be a delinquent and who would not be a delinquent. For Hirschi, of course, the proper theoretical question was: Why don’t people break the law? What differentiate offenders from non-offenders are the factors that restrain people from acting on their wayward impulses. The theoretical task thus
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