The third chapter of Criminological Theory (Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 2011), “Rejecting Individualism,” continues the historical overview of the different schools of criminological thought started in chapter two. The focus of this section is on the social origins of crime, having established prior that a violation of the law cannot exist in a vacuum, devoid of community, a punitive apparatus, and rules. The shift from an individual approach to a societal responsibility shows not the only development in criminological thought but also an attempt to lean towards collective responsibility for personal delinquency.
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The Chicago school, given much coverage in the chapter, shows an attempt to explain the origins of crime not from an individual perspective, but as people being the product of their surroundings. The main idea, a step away from personal culpability, was that “the poor were pushed by their environment – not born – into lives of crime” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 41). This is not taking responsibility for the committed offense, as “society cannot be blamed for [a criminal’s] violent actions, but the social inequalities he perceives go some way to explain his developing anger and frustration” (Canter & Youngs, 2016, p. 284). This approach, nonetheless, does not focus on alternate possibilities of inequality other than socio-economic, such as gender or racial origins of societal discrimination.
The chapter also presents other theories on the social origins of crime, such as through non-homogeneous composition of society, disorganization (visible through city districts), and weakening of societal control of individuals moving from tight-knit communities. The offered explanation of adherence to delinquent behavior bases itself on Asker’s social learning theory, where “continued involvement in crime, therefore, depends on exposure to social reinforcements that reward this activity” (Lilly et al., 2011, p. 49). Unfortunately, all of the concepts mentioned above only tackle the adoption of a criminal lifestyle from an external source, not the extrinsic genesis of it. However, the nature of the chapter justifies this approach, which lies in the fact that the undertaking of illegal activity is not solely the result of individual predisposition.
Points of Interest
City-development processes explain the development of the thought of the Chicago school but leave out the societal changes within the criminological community. A paper by Canter and Youngs (2016) states that “social processes not only influence the prevalence of crime but also how it is investigated” (p. 285). While the research by Canter and Youngs (2016) deals mainly with primary respondents to unlawful activity, it is important to acknowledge this when considering the theories of the Chicago school of criminology. The fact of interest in the Chicago crime scene already advances criminological thought, but equally as important remains the shift in attitudes regarding the placement of blame for delinquency. This shift stems from a thought acute even today, which is “how much of society’s resources are devoted to dealing with, or preparing for the possibility of, crime” (Canter and Youngs, 2016, p. 283). The link between the social nature of a human with the society they exist in, hence, becomes not just a setting for a criminal misdemeanor but a possible stimulating factor of it.
The chapter allows for an immersive excursus into 20th century American criminological thought, giving additional attention to the Chicago school and the theories that focus on the social origins of delinquency. The main idea is presented as that of collective liability for the creation of conditions for crime commitment, unfortunately without going into detailed gendered or racial subtext and opting to focus more on socio-economic inequality. Hence, taking the responsibility of student-oriented reading as a moral guide, the chapter “Rejecting Individualism” focuses more on the educational aspect than on ethical orienteering.
Canter, D., & Youngs, D. (2016). Crime and society. Contemporary Social Science, 11(4), 283-288. Web.
Lilly, J., Cullen, F., & Ball, R. (2011). Criminological theory: Context and consequences (5th ed.). Washington, DC: SAGE.
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