Differential Association Theory





Differential Association Theory

Criminals have been in existence within the community for a very long time, there is not even a single community that can claim that the society that they live in is crime free. As long as a place in inhabited by human being crime is bound to take place, as a result many questions have been asked as to the reason why some people commit crime. The paper will show the reasons why people engage in crime and the factors that contribute to people committing the crimes, and the reason why certain crimes take places mainly in one community and not the other. The paper will show the connection between, crimes and the conditions that are conducive to facilitate crimes.

Before looking at the reasons why people commit crimes it is essential to first know which acts in the community should be considered a crime. So that one is able to tell which action done by another human is a crime and which one is not a crime. According to a definition given by a man known as Hagan, “A crime is defined as any act that is contrary to legal code or laws.” Thus one needs to be aware of what the law regards as legal and what is regarded as not legal. In some countries certain actions which are seen as normal may be illegal in another country which in turn makes it a crime in those countries. Smoking of cigarette in public especially in the Capital city of Kenya Nairobi is considered as a crime. There are designated smoking zones that one is allowed to smoke, any one found smoking outside the designated areas can be arrested and charged. In another country one can smoke on the streets without the fear of being arrested (Hagan, pg 160).

Differential Association Theory

According to this theory put forward by Edwin Sutherland, for a crime to be committed there has to be some conditions that facilitates such crimes to take place. Where those conditions are absent crime is also absent. Sutherland acknowledges that even though some types of crimes are mostly associated with some minority communities, the whole community can not be looked down upon as criminals as there are some law abiding citizens from such communities. He points out that even among the most powerful and privileged individuals’ criminals can still be found among them. The theory put forward by Edwin Sutherland, focuses on crime at an individual level regardless of race, social class, or ethnic background (Crutchfield, pg 190).

Edwin Sutherland set out to develop a theory which would have the same characteristics as other scientific theories, namely, that “the conditions which are said to cause crime should be present when crime is present, and they should be absent when crime is absent.” Sutherland recognized that while some types of crime are more prevalent in minority communities, many individuals in those communities are law-abiding. Similarly, among the powerful and privileged, some are lawbreakers; some are not. His theory is intended to discriminate at the individual level between those who become lawbreakers and those who do not, whatever their race, class, or ethnic background (Sun, pg 130).


The argument put forward by Edwin Sutherland on the conditions that favor crime is true to a very large extent. Some of the environmental conditions that favor crimes include, darkness, lonely or abandoned alleys, easy escape routes. Most crimes are committed at night as the darkness provides enough cover for the person to commit crime without being noticed easily such as burglary. This is because during the day one can be noticed easily (Wright, pg 190).

Other crimes such as rape usually take place during the night even though at times it may happen during the day, but it is usually around lonely spots or alleys where there is little or no movement of people. Some crimes such as purse snatching mostly take place during the day even on crowded streets, but in such cases the criminals are always aware of the fastest escape route that they can use in case they are pursued (Sadd, pg 160).


There are some people who commit certain crimes not because they are criminals but because an opportunity has presented itself. A man walking down a street might notice another person dropping his wallet but instead of letting the other person know that he has dropped his wallet, he may choose to pick it and take all the money inside. The person might not be a criminal, but it is only that an opportunity presented itself.


Most crimes happen where there is no adequate security, which is why some types of crimes can be common in certain areas where security personnel are not present. Certain crimes such as burglary are common in minority communities’ habitats and not in places where the high and mighty live. The level of security in the two places vary, one may have even close circuit cameras and security personnel guarding the place, the area might also have gates which makes it impossible for an intruder to come in and out unnoticed (Crutchfield, pg 190).


For every crime to take place there must be a motive. The motives may vary but they are the ones pushing one to commit crime. A man may decide to steal some money in order to go and buy food for his starving children. Others steal to revenge against other people; this is most common among the wealthy people in the community, a wealthy man can decide to steal not that he needs the money but to punish the other person. The Strain theory although presents a different perspective. The theory suggests that most people commit crimes for individual gain or to satisfy individual needs and personal beliefs that crime is the only way that they can make it in life. A notion which is not true as not all people who commit crimes do so in the hope of making it in life, crimes such as rape do not make any one achieve anything in life or does not bring any financial benefits (Williams, pg 150).


Crime has been and will continue being part and parcel of any community as long as the conditions for such crimes to happen are present. From the Differential Association Theory it can be ascertained that crime can not be associated with such communities only, if the conditions that favor the crimes to take place in other sections of the society they would also take place. For every crime to take place the criminal must have a motive, without a motive then crime cannot take place. Criminals can only be stopped from committing certain crimes if the conditions that make it possible for them to commit those crimes are eliminated.

Work Cited

Wright, John D.. Hate crimes. London: Mason Crest Publishers, 2003. Print.Williams, Franklin P., and Marilyn D. McShane. Criminological theory. 4th ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2004. Print.Sun, Yongke, and Scott E. Thompson.Strain effect in semiconductors theory and device applications. New York: Springer, 2010. Print.Sadd, Martin H.. Elasticity theory, applications, and numerics. London: Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann, 2005. Print.Hagan, Frank E.. Crime types and criminals. New York: Sage Publications, 2010. Print.Crutchfield, Robert D.. Crime: readings. 3rd ed. New York: Sage Publications, 2008. Print.