Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless


This paper critically analyzes the chapter from the book by Lilly, Cullen, and Ball (2011). The primary aspect of the discussion of the chapter is the origins, development, and impact of the containment theory by Reckless, which is a part of control theory. The paper investigates and critically evaluates principal aspects of the theory’s emergence as well as its primary assumptions. A comprehensive analysis, which discusses the importance of the control theory for contemporary criminology, is included.

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The attempt to theorize and explain the underlying causes of crime and deviant behavior was always one of the central aspects of criminology as well as social studies in general. For this paper, Chapter 5 from the book by Lilly, Cullen, and Ball (2011) was chosen for the discussion. This essay aims to critically evaluate the contents of the chapter to synthesize the principal aspects of it to develop a comprehensive conclusion.

Critical Assessment of the Source

In the chapter under consideration, the authors argue that the majority of criminologists interpreted the concept of conformity in a way that led them to relatively wrong conclusions about the nature of the crime. As Lilly et al. (2011) state, these criminologists supposed that conformity is the natural order of things, and thus crimes and deviant behavior, in general, are the result of personality defects, social disorganization, and inequality of opportunity. However, the authors suggest that such aspects of social life as speaking a certain language, obedience to traffic regulations, avoiding urination or defecation in public are all products of collective efforts from the person’s parents, teachers, and his or her effort.

In the context of this perspective, the concept of conformity appears to be different from how it is described by criminologists. The authors develop the following definition: “nonconformity such as crime and delinquency is to be expected when social controls are less than completely effective” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 80). Therefore, it is possible to suggest that conformity appears to be not the natural state of things, but instead, it is the social construct of a highly complex nature that controls people’s lives to a certain extent. Accordingly, the chapter is dedicated to the exploration of the control theory as a distinct approach to theorizing the reasons for deviant behaviors.

As it is argued by the authors, the origins of the control theory could be traced to the work of Durkheim and the Chicago school which was the theoretical foundation of the mentioned approach (Lilly et al., 2011). However, the control theory itself was developed by Walter C. Reckless, who called it the “containment theory” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 88). The core of the Reckless’ theory is that in the highly complex contemporary societies there are numerous factors that can “push” a person toward crime or “pull” him or her toward misbehavior (Lilly et al., 2011).

The primary purpose of the theory was to explain why conformity remains to be the common state of societal life, despite existing “pushes” and “pulls.” Accordingly, Reckless considered that there are two groups of determinants, namely outer containment factors (which included social norms and roles) and inner containment factors. For the theorist, inner containment was the most important factor as he perceived such aspects as self-concept and goal orientation to be more powerful controlling instruments than social norms (Lilly et al., 2011). Since social environments, in which an individual exists, might change rapidly due to the increased social mobility of contemporary society, inner containment factors are the only stable and reliable source of control that can prevent a person from committing a crime.


The theoretical work of Reckless had a significant impact on the development of the other criminologist theories and social studies in general. It is possible to observe that the containment theory appears to be efficiently explaining the causes of the increased criminality within the last century. It also provides the researcher with the opportunity to investigate how social circumstances and individual characteristics of a person influence the probability of committing a crime or avoiding deviant behaviors.

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Lilly, J. R., Cullen, F. T., & Ball, R. A. (2011). Criminological theory: Context and consequences (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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"Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless." StudyCorgi, 23 June 2021,

1. StudyCorgi. "Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless." June 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. "Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless." June 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless." June 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Origins, Development, and Impact of the Containment Theory by Reckless'. 23 June.

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