Crime and Delinquency
(more content follows the advertisement below)
In 1939 Criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland proposed his theory of Differential Association in his Principles of Criminology textbook. Differential Association theory states that criminal behavior is learned behavior. Sutherland along with Richard Cloward, and Lloyd Ohlin attempted to explain this phenomenon by emphasizing the role of learning.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
To become a criminal, a person must not only be inclined toward illegal activity, he or she must also learn how to commit criminal acts. Sutherland’s differential association theory contends that people whose environment provides the opportunity to associate with criminals will learn these skills and will become criminals in response to strain.
If the necessary learning structures are absent, they will not. Sutherland relied heavily upon the work of Shaw and McKay, Chicago school theorists, in high rates of juvenile delinquency. Sutherland's theory of differential association still remains very popular among criminologists due to its less complex and more coherent approach to crime causation. It is also supported by much evidence.
Sutherland did not mean that mere association with criminals would lead to criminal behavior. What he meant was that the contents of patterns in association would differ from individual to individual. He viewed crime as a consequence of conflicting values. Differential association is a theory based on the social environment and its surrounding individuals and the values those individuals gain from significant others in their social environment.
According to Differential Association, criminal behavior is learned based on the interactions we have with others and the values that we receive during that interaction. We learn values from family, friends, coworkers, etc.; those values either support or oppose criminal behavior. Sutherland also noted that individuals with an excess of criminal definitions will be more open to new criminal definitions and that individual will be less receptive to anti-criminal definitions.
The theory does not emphasize who one's associates are but rather upon the definitions provided by those associations. Once techniques are learned, values (or definitions) supporting that criminal behavior may be learned from just about anyone.